Chapter IX; James II., 1437-1460, 23 Years, pp.68-77.

[History of Scotland Contents]

Accession of James II.,                                                        1437 
Douglas and his brother put to death,                             1440 
The king marries Mary, daughter of the Duke 
of Gueldres,                                                              1449 
The king kills Douglas in Stirling Castle,                          1452 
Death of James II.,                                                                1460

    1.  When James I. was murdered, the heir to the Scottish crown was but six years old. Though the kings of Scotland had been wont to be crowned at Scone, it was thought safer, after the terrible tragedy at Perth, that the coronation of the young king should take place at Holyrood. He was accordingly crowned there as James II. During the king’s minority the nobles again became troublesome. They defied the laws, and oppressed the poor; two of them in particular, Sir William Crichton, governor of Edinburgh Castle, and Sir Alexander Livingston, governor of Stirling, strove to increase their power and authority by securing the custody of the king’s person, and ruling in his name. 

    2.  The queen at first put herself and child under the protection of Crichton, in Edinburgh Castle. But Crichton raised her suspicions by his attempts to keep the young king away from her. She said that she was going on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady at Whitekirk, in East Lothian, concealed the king in her luggage, and, when the vessel that she pretended was to take her to East Lothian had got clear of Leith harbour, it was steered up the Forth, and she and her young charge were thus conveyed to Stirling, where they were gladly received by the governor of the castle, Sir Alexander Livingston. This made Livingston the rival of Crichton, and for a time gave him the ascendency. 

    3.  The Earl of Douglas, who had been appointed lieutenant of the kingdom, could have put down their rivalry; but he died in 1439, leaving as his successor his son William, a youth of sixteen years. In the same year, the queen, for the sake of protection, married “the Black Knight of Lorn.” 

    4.  Crichton was not content to let his rival keep possession of the king. Taking a force with him to Stirling, he captured the young king as he was taking his morning exercise in the royal park, and carried him back in triumph to Edinburgh. The two rivals after this came to terms, and Crichton was induced by certain rewards to let Livingston again have charge of the king. 

    5.  The young Earl of Douglas became conspicuous for his haughtiness and his display of power. A thousand men-at-arms rode in his train. He neglected to give homage to the king, and held a sort of rival parliament within his own domains. Crichton and Livingston resolved that young Douglas should be put to death. With much show of kindness, he was invited to visit the young king in Edinburgh Castle. Unconscious of treachery he came, bringing his younger brother, David, with him. While they were being entertained there, a black bull’s head, the signal of death, as they well knew, was placed upon the table. They leaped up in dismay, but they were seized by armed men, subjected to a mock trial, condemned, and immediately executed. 

   6.  It is probable that the execution of the Douglases was not a mere act of private vengeance on the part of Livingston and Crichton, but that it was dictated by motives of state policy. The House of Douglas had become so great a power in the state as to be almost beyond the control of the royal authority. The Douglases were dear to the people on account of their patriotism. A Douglas had supported Wallace in his struggle for independence. The “Good Lord James” had fought valiantly along with Bruce throughout his whole career, and had died while endeavouring to carry out the king’s last request. The Douglas who fell in the arms of victory at Otterburn had added greatly to the military fame of his countrymen. When the Border counties were occupied by the English, it was always the Douglases who were foremost in recovering them. They had also done good service against the English in France, and Archibald Douglas, the father of the murdered youths, had obtained many domains in that country, and the great Dukedom of Touraine. They had large estates in different parts of Scotland, and ruled with almost absolute sway two-thirds of the country south of the Forth. It was believed, moreover, that Archibald Douglas, the brother of the Good Lord James, had married Dornagilla, a sister of the Red Comyn, the daughter of Baliol’s sister, and had by her a son, the Third Earl of Douglas; and that thus the Douglases, being descended from the elder daughter of David, the Earl of Huntingdon, had a better claim to the crown than the Stewarts, who were descended from the younger daughter. 

    7.  The Third Earl of Douglas was really the offspring of an illegitimate son of the Good Lord James, and his mother was not the fabled Dornagilla, but Beatrice, daughter of Sir David Lindsay of Crawford. The belief in their royal descent, however, was current at the beginning of the reign of James II. This belief, and conduct on the part of the young Douglas scarcely compatible with the condition of a subject, may have led to the suspicion, that, if opportunity occurred, he might seek to found a new royal dynasty, and may have influenced Crichton and Livingston to put him and his to death. 

    8.  The death of the Douglases caused no commotion in the state. No attempt was made to avenge it. Their sister, “the Fair Maid of Galloway,” could not inherit the Dukedom of Touraine, as it was a male fief. She got part of the Scottish estates, and her grand-uncle, “James the Fat,” got the rest, together with the title. The Great House of Douglas was thus weakened for a time, but it soon again recovered much of its power and influence. “James the Fat” died in 1443, and was succeeded by his son William, an able and ambitious man. He made friendship with Livingston, and got himself made lieutenant-general of the kingdom. He obtained a divorce from his wife, married the Fair Maid of Galloway, and thus reunited the Douglas estates, and made the House of Douglas as powerful in Scotland as ever. 

    9.  In 1449 the young king married Mary, the daughter of the Duke of Gueldres. Many knights came from the Netherlands along with the bride, and they were honoured with tournaments and other chivalrous entertainments. They noticed with wonder the power and haughty bearing of Douglas, who came to these martial displays with 5000 men at his back. As the king grew to man’s estate, Douglas showed more and more that he meant to act in defiance of the royal authority, if not destroy it altogether. He formed a league for mutual defence with Lindsay, the Earl of Crawford, called Earl Beardie, and sometimes, from the ferocity of his temper, the Tiger Earl, who, from his castle of Finhaven, ruled in the counties of Perth, Angus, and Mearns, with almost absolute sway, and with the Earl of Ross, who was equally powerful in the north of Scotland. He endeavoured to get as many as possible of the lesser nobility to act along with him in contemning the king’s authority. He summoned them, especially those in the neighbourhood of his Castle of Thrieve, to attend a kind of parliament which he held there. 

    10.  When Sir John Herries of Terregles retaliated upon some followers of Douglas, who ravaged his lands, Douglas made him prisoner, and, contrary to a positive order from the king, caused him to be executed. Sir Patrick Thornton, a dependant of the House of Douglas, murdered Sir John Sandilands of Calder, a kinsman of the king, and was protected by the disloyal earl. 

    11.  Maclellan, the tutor or guardian of the young Lord of Bomby, and ancestor of the Earls of Kirkcudbright, was summoned to attend one of the disloyal meetings of the vassals and retainers of the House of Douglas. Maclellan refused, was seized and taken to the Castle of Thrieve, situated on an island in the river Dee in Galloway. The king, at the urgent request of Maclellan’s uncle, Sir Patrick Gray, the commander of the royal guard, wrote a letter to Douglas, entreating him as a favour to deliver the tutor of Bomby into the hands of his relative. Douglas had just risen from dinner when Sir Patrick arrived, and suspecting the occasion of his coming, refused to open the letter till Sir Patrick had dined also. While he was feasting Sir Patrick, he whispered to an attendant to have Maclellan immediately executed in the court-yard of the castle. When dinner was over, Douglas read the letter, thanked Sir Patrick for bringing it, and said he would comply instantly with the king’s gracious command. The earl led his guest to the court-yard, and said, while his servants lifted a bloody cloth from the body of the murdered Maclellan, “There lies your sister’s son, but he wants the head, the body is at your service.” “My lord,” said Gray, when he had mounted his horse, “if I live you shall pay for this day’s work.” He then galloped off. Douglas gave orders to chase him, but thanks to his good horse, Gray, after a hot pursuit of nearly 60 miles, reached Edinburgh in safety. 

    12.  Though the king had passed his majority and taken the government into his own hands, he had to dissemble his resentment, for the House of Douglas was too powerful to be openly quarrelled with. He put down the Livingstons, and took as his chief adviser the good and wise Bishop Kennedy of St. Andrews, by whom the Douglas league with Crawford and Ross is said to have been discovered. 

    13.  The king, thinking that he could talk Douglas over, and induce him to break the bond, invited him to a personal conference at Stirling Castle in 1452. Douglas having got a “safe-conduct” from the king, promising that he would be safe to go to the court and return from it, arrived in Stirling on the 13th of January. The king, with Douglas and they respective friends, dined and supped with much cordiality and courtesy. After supper, James took Douglas into an inner chamber, and in the course of conversation urged him to give up the bond. Douglas haughtily refused, whereupon the king in a fit of passion exclaimed, “If you will not break the league, this shall,” and stabbed him with his dagger. Sir Patrick Gray, who was at hand, glad of the opportunity of being avenged on Douglas for the murder of his nephew, came in and felled him with a pole-axe. His body was flung from the window into the court below. It was a foul deed, but unpremeditated. 

    14.  Four brothers of Earl Douglas had come to Stirling with him. The eldest of these was at once acknowledged his successor in the earldom. They gathered what forces they could and surrounded the castle, but it was unassailable. They dragged the king’s safe-conduct at a horse’s tail through the streets of Stirling, pillaged the town, and, not thinking that enough, sent back Sir James Hamilton of Cadzow to burn it. For some time after, civil war raged from the Solway to the Moray Firth. 

    15.  The Gordons had become a powerful family in Strathbogie, and the Laird of Strathbogie, “The Cock of the North,” as he was called, was created Earl of Huntly. King James made him lieutenant-general of the kingdom. He attacked the Tiger Earl near Brechin, and defeated the Linsdays there on the 18th of May, 1452. The Tiger Earl as he fled to Finhaven Castle, was heard to say, that he would readily abide seven years in hell, to have such a victory as Huntly had won that day. he soon afterwards made submission to the king and was forgiven. Huntly afterwards marched to the north and burned half the town of Elgin. 

    16.  Thus the league was broken, but James, the successor of the murdered Earl Douglas, still defied the king, who marched through his territories and seized his castle, but came to terms with him. The quarrel was renewed. The royal army took Douglas’s Castle of Abercorn. Douglas raised an army of 40,000 men, and was marching through Lanarkshire, when the Hamiltons refused to go against the king, and the army was broken up. The Earl of Angus, a younger branch of the House of Douglas, took the part of the king against his kinsman. Many of the Border families joined Angus, who, from the colour of his hair was called the Red Douglas. Angus defeated his kinsman’s army at Arkinholm. Douglas had to flee to England. His lands were forfeited, and many of them came into the possession of Angus. Thus the Red Douglas was said to have put down the Black

    17.  There was now rest in the land, and the king, acting under the counsel of Bishop Kennedy, passed acts for preventing the disposal of the crown estates by gifts to subjects, for the encouragement of industry, the repression of beggars, and the defence of the kingdom. 

    18.  In 1460 James resolved while civil war was raging in England, to endeavour to drive the English out of Roxburgh and Berwick. He began with Roxburgh, and John of the Isles came to assist him. Cannon were then a novelty in Scotland. The king had in his siege train a monster gun, which James I. had bought in Flanders, and which never had been much bused. It was made of bars of iron hopped together like the great gun called Mons Meg, which may still be seen in the castle of Edinburgh. The hoops were too wide, so that oaken wedges had to be driven between them and the bars to keep the latter close and tight. The king was curious to see the working of this cannon, and when it was fired, the discharge drove out the wedges, one of which killed him and wounded Angus who stood beside him. Thus fell King James II., in the thirtieth year of his age and twenty-third of his reign. 

   19.  This king possessed neither the learning nor the accomplishments of his father, but he was upon the whole a good king and was much lamented by his subjects. From a red mark on one side of his face he had been called “James of the Fiery Face.”

    20.  It is gratifying to think that amid the troubles of this reign, even while the king was struggling for the independence of his crown with the House of Douglas, the cause of learning was not lost sight of. The foundation of Glasgow University, in 1450, shows, that amid the civil strife and fighting of that time, there were civilizing influences at work. 

   Summary. – James II. was crowned at Holyrood in 1437. During his minority the country fell into disorder. Two of the nobles, Crichton and Livingston, strove for power and possession of the king. The queen and the young king were at first in Edinburgh Castle with Crichton, but the queen, with the child his in her luggage, escaped to Stirling where Livingston was governor. The Earl of Douglas, who could have put down their rivalry, died in 1439. Crichton took a force to Stirling and recaptured the young king, after which he and Livingston came to terms and put to death the young Earl of Douglas and his brother David. Their sister, the Fair Maid of Galloway, got part of the estates; the rest and title went to James the Fat, who died in 1443. His son, William, married the Fair Maid of Galloway (1449), and by uniting their estates made the House of Douglas as powerful as ever. Douglas made a league with the Earls of Crawford and Ross for mutual defence, and defied the king’s authority, by executing Herries of Terregles and Maclellan, tutor of Bomby. Bishop Kennedy discovered the league of the three earls, and made it known to the king, who, thinking that he could induce Douglas to give it up, invited him to Stirling Castle and advised him to break the bond. When Douglas refused, the king stabbed him, and was assisted by his followers in putting him to death. The Earl of Huntly defeated the Earl of Crawford near Brechin, burned the town of Elgin, and thus helped to break the league. The new Earl of Douglas raised an army of 40,000 men, but the Hamiltons refused to join him in fighting against the king. The Earl of Angus, called the Red Douglas, sided with the king against his kinsman, and defeated his army at Arkinholm. Douglas fled to England, and Angus got his estates. The king, when civil war was raging in England, determined to take Roxburgh from the English, but was killed while watching the firing of a cannon in 1460.

   Questions:- Who strove for power during the minority of James II.? How did the queen and her son escape from Edinburgh to Stirling? What great noble might have put down the rivals? In what manner did Crichton capture the young king? Give an account of the young Earl of Douglas and the manner in which he was put to death. Mention some of the services which the Douglases had done for their country. How did the House of Douglas become strong again after the murder of the earl and his brother? Give an account of the league that Douglas formed against the king’s orders. Relate the manner in which Maclellan was put to death. Who became the king’s adviser? Relate how the king put Douglas to death, and how the other members of the league were treated. Give an account of the king’s death. When was Glasgow University founded?
trag’-e-dy, fatal event.  com-pat’-ible, conistent, suitable. 
min-or’-i-ty, being under age.  dyn’-as-ty, race of kings. 
de-fied, set at nought.  com-mo’-tion, stir, disturbance. 
con-cealed’, hid.  con-tem’-ning, despising. 
lug’-gage, travelling packages, trunks.  re-tal’-i-at-ed, returned like for like in the way of revenge. 
steered, directed by the helm.  rav’-aged, laid waste. 
a-scend’-an-cy, upper hand.  an’-ces-tor, forefather. 
lieu-ten’-ant, commander in room of another.  re-tain’-ers, dependants owing military service. 
con-spic’-u-ous, noted, distinguished.  ur’-gent, pressing. 
haugh’-ti-ness, proud hearing.  ma-jor’-i-ty, age fit for ruling. 
un-con’-scious, having no thought of.  dis-sem’-ble, conceal. 
sub-ject’-ed, made to undergo.  re-sent’-ment, anger. 
mo’-tives, intentions.  con’-fer-ence, meeting for consultation. 
dic-ta’-ted, suggested.  cor-di-al’-i-ty, heartiness. 
pa’-tri-ot-ism, love of country.  cour’-te-sy, politeness. 
val’-iantly, bravely, stoutly.  un-pre-med’-i-ta-ted, not thought of beforehand. 
car-reer, active course of life.  un-as-sail’-a-ble, couldnot be attacked with success. 
off-spring, descendant.  for’-feit-ed, lost right to, alienated. 
fa’-bled, feigned, told of as a mere story,  re-pres’-sion, putting down. 
cur’-rent, common, general.  grat’-i-fy-ing, pleasing. 
fief, an estate held on condition of military service.  foun-da’-tion, establishing.  

Ho’lyrood, abbey and palace at Edinburgh. 

East Loth’ian, Haddingtonshire. 

Tourraine, a province in France, the chief town of which is Tours on the river Loire. 

Guel’dres, a province of Holland. 

Neth’erlands, Holland. 

Kikcud’bright, county town of Kirkcudbrightshire, at the mouth of the river Dee. 

Cad’zow, an old castle on the Avon, near Hamilton, in Lanarkshire. 

Strathbog’ie, a district on the Bogie, in Aberdeenshire. 

Ab’ercorn Castle, in Linlithgowshire, dismantled in 1455. 

Ar’kinholm, on the Esk, in Dumfries-shire

4 thoughts on “Chapter IX; James II., 1437-1460, 23 Years, pp.68-77.

  1. Very good article and also the subject of an Historical Fiction novel I’m writing.

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