JAMES I. (1394–1437), king of Scotland and poet, the son of King Robert III., was born at Dunfermline in July 1394. After the death of his mother, Annabella Drummond of Stobhall, in 1402, he was placed under the care of Henry Wardlaw (d. 1440), who became bishop of St Andrews in 1403, but soon his father resolved to send him to France. Robert doubtless decided upon this course owing to the fact that in 1402 his elder son, David, duke of Rothesay, had met his death in a mysterious fashion, being probably murdered by his uncle, Robert, duke of Albany, who, as the king was an invalid, was virtually the ruler of Scotland. On the way to France, however, James fell into the hands of some English sailors and was sent to Henry IV., who refused to admit him to ransom. The chronicler Thomas Walsingham, says that James’s imprisonment began in 1406, while the future king himself places it in 1404; February 1406 is probably the correct date. On the death of Robert III. in April 1406 James became nominally king of Scotland, but he remained a captive in England, the government being conducted by his uncle, Robert of Albany, who showed no anxiety to procure his nephew’s release. Dying in 1420, Albany was succeeded as regent by his son, Murdoch. At first James was confined in the Tower of London, but in June 1407 he was removed to the castle at Nottingham, whence about a month later he was taken to Evesham. His education was continued by capable tutors, and he not only attained excellence in all manly sports, but became perhaps more cultured than any other prince of his age. In person he was short and stout, but well-proportioned and very strong. His agility was not less remarkable than his strength; he excelled in all athletic feats which demanded suppleness of limb and quickness of eye. As regards his intellectual attainments he is reported to have been acquainted with philosophy, and it is evident from his subsequent career that he had studied jurisprudence; moreover, besides being proficient in vocal and instrumental music, he cultivated the art of poetry with much success. When Henry V. became king in March 1413, James was again imprisoned in the Tower of London, but soon afterwards he was taken to Windsor and was treated with great consideration by the English king. In 1420, with the intention of detaching the Scottish auxiliaries from the French standard, he was sent to take part in Henry’s campaign in France; this move failed in its immediate object and he returned to England after Henry’s death in 1422. About this time negotiations for the release of James were begun in earnest, and in September 1423 a treaty was signed at York, the Scottish nation undertaking to pay a ransom of 60,000 marks “for his maintenance in England.” By the terms of the treaty James was to wed a noble English lady, and on the 12th of February 1424 he was married at Southwark to Jane, daughter of John Beaufort, earl of Somerset, a lady to whom he was faithful through life. Ten thousand marks of his ransom were remitted as Jane’s dowry, and in April 1424 James and his bride entered Scotland.
With the reign of James I., whose coronation took place at Scone on the 21st of May 1424, constitutional sovereignty may be said to begin in Scotland. By the introduction of a system of statute law, modelled to some extent on that of England, and by the additional importance assigned to parliament, the leaven was prepared which was to work towards the destruction of the indefinite authority of the king, and of the unbridled licence of the nobles. During the parliament held at Perth in March 1425 James arrested Murdoch, duke of Albany, and his son, Alexander; together with Albany’s eldest son, Walter, and Duncan, earl of Lennox, who had been seized previously; they were sentenced to death, and the four were executed at Stirling. In a parliament held at Inverness in 1427 the king arrested many turbulent northern chiefs, and his whole policy was directed towards crushing the power of the nobles. In this he was very successful. Expeditions reduced the Highlands to order; earldom after earldom was forfeited; but this vigour aroused the desire for revenge, and at length cost James his life. Having been warned that he would never again cross the Forth, the king went to reside in Perth just before Christmas 1436. Among those whom he had angered was Sir Robert Graham (d. 1437), who had been banished by his orders. Instigated by the king’s uncle, Walter Stewart, earl of Atholl (d. 1437), and aided by the royal chamberlain, Sir Robert Stewart, and by a band of Highlanders, Graham burst into the presence of James on the night of the 20th of February 1437 and stabbed the king to death. Graham and Atholl were afterwards tortured and executed. James had two sons: Alexander, who died young, and James II., who succeeded to the throne; and six daughters, among them being Margaret, the queen of Louis XI. of France. His widow, Jane, married Sir James Stewart, the “black knight of Lorne,” and died on the 15th of July 1445.
During the latter part of James’s reign difficulties arose between Scotland and England and also between Scotland and the papacy. Part of the king’s ransom was still owing to England; other causes of discord between the two nations existed, and in 1436 these culminated in a short war. In ecclesiastical matters James showed himself merciless towards heretics, but his desire to reform the Scottish Church and to make it less dependent on Rome brought him into collision with Popes Martin V. and Eugenius IV.
James was the author of two poems, the Kingis Quair and Good Counsel (a short piece of three stanzas). The Song of Absence, Peblis to the Play and Christis Kirk on the Greene have been ascribed to him without evidence. The Kingis Quair (preserved in the Selden MS. B. 24 in the Bodleian) is an allegorical poem of the cours d’amour type, written in seven-lined Chaucerian stanzas and extending to 1379 lines. It was composed during James’s captivity in England and celebrates his courtship of Lady Jane Beaufort. Though in many respects a Chaucerian pastiche, it not rarely equals its model in verbal and metrical felicity. Its language is an artificial blend of northern and southern (Chaucerian) forms, of the type shown in Lancelot of the Laik and the Quair of Jelusy.
Bibliography.—The contemporary authorities for the reign of James I. are Andrew of Wyntoun, The Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland, edited by D. Laing (Edinburgh, 1872–1879); and Walter Bower’s continuation of John of Fordun’s Scotichronicon, edited by T. Hearne (Oxford, 1722). See also J. Pinkerton, History of Scotland (1797); A. Lang, History of Scotland, vol. i. (1900); and G. Burnett, Introduction to the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1878–1901). The Kingis Quair was first printed in the Poetical Remains of James the First, edited by William Tytler (1783). Later editions are Morison’s reprint (Perth, 1786); J. Sibbald’s, in his Chronicle of Scottish Poetry (1802, vol. i.); Thomson’s in 1815 and 1824; G. Chalmers’s, in his Poetic Remains of some of the Scottish Kings (1824); Rogers’s Poetical Remains of King James the First (1873); Skeat’s edition published by the Scottish Text Society (1884). An attempt has been made to dispute James’s authorship of the poem, but the arguments elaborated by J. T. T. Brown (The Authorship of the Kingis Quair, Glasgow, 1896) have been convincingly answered by Jusserand in his Jacques I er d’Écosse fut-il poète? Étude sur l’authenticité du cahier du roi (Paris, 1897, reprinted from the Revue historique, vol. lxiv.). See also the full correspondence in the Athenaeum (July-Aug. 1896 and Dec. 1899); W. A. Neilson, Origins and Sources of the Court of Love (Boston, 1899) pp. 152 &c., 235 &c.; and Gregory Smith, Transition Period (1900), pp. 40, 41.