1. In the social condition of the Scottish nation, from the reign of James I. to the union of the crowns, there was many an ebb and flow, but on the whole there was progress. James I. tried to enforce the laws and to curb the power of the nobles, and lost his life in the attempt. During the reigns of James II. and James III. the country was in a lawless condition. Crichton and Livingston strove for possession of the king, the Douglases acted as independent lords rather than as loyal subjects, the Boyds abused their position by making themselves rich and powerful at the expense of others, and the nobles hanged the king’s favourites, put himself under restraint, and defeated him in battle. James IV. made great efforts to have justice done, to repress and punish crime, and to promote the agriculture, trade, and commerce of the country.
2. When James V. came to a man’s estate he did a good deal to make law prevail, but his efforts were only partially successful. The minority of Mary was a time of great anarchy. The churchmen, who had often used their influence in softening the rude manners and restraining the oppression of the barons, had now become so corrupt, licentious, and ignorant, that they lost the respect of the people. For the support they gave to the French party in the state they also lost the favour of many of the nobility. These and other causes, combined with the spread of the Protestant doctrines, brought about the destruction of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, and the establishment of the Presbyterian form of worship.
3. The Reformation of the Church was a step in advance; but it was not followed by a general reformation of the social condition of the people. Many of the nobles were still greedy and grasping, and not a few of them have been accused of being reformers as much from a desire of getting possession of the church lands as from zeal for true religion. The Regent Moray ruled with a firm hand, but the succeeding regents had to contend with the turmoil of the civil war between the queen’s party and the king’s party. The Raid of Ruthven, the Gowrie Conspiracy, and the strife that accompanied these events, show that the nobles were as unscrupulous as ever.
4. Education by means of universities and schools had been brought within the reach, not only of the nobility, but also of the common people; and so successfully were Latin, and the sciences of those times taught, that, in the sixteenth century, learned Scotsmen were to be found teaching in almost every university in Europe.
5. Since the time of James I. the royal dwellings, the castles of the nobility, and the houses of the people had undergone a wondrous improvement. Palaces like those at Stirling, Linlithgow, Falkland, and Holyrood showed that a richer style of architecture had begun to prevail. The old square peel tower had in many cases been surmounted with turrets and other decorations in the French fashion, such as may still be seen in the castles of Glammis, Fyvie, Craigievar, and Crathes.
6. The town houses had become more substantial, being built of stone and lime, and sometimes, as in the High Street of Edinburgh, rising to a great height. Even in villages and country cottages there was some improvement, but there was still much filth and slovenliness everywhere. It is questionable if the Scottish nation was in 1603 so rich and comfortable as it had been in the reign of Alexander III., but the people were, at the union of the crowns, alive with the spirit of religion and politics, and their progress to a far higher civilization than that to which they had ever before attained was rendered not only a possibility but a certainty.