Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Kirkcaldy, James

KIRKCALDY or KIRKALDY, Sir JAMES (d. 1556), of Grange, lord high treasurer of Scotland, was descended from the elder branch of a family which at a very early period had been settled in Fifeshire, his father being William Kirkaldy of Grange. Introduced to the court of James V by his father-in-law, Sir John Melville of Raith, he soon became a special favourite of the king, who made him a lord of the bedchamber, and on 24 March 1537 appointed him lord high treasurer of Scotland. He was one of the chief opponents of the ambitious political projects of Cardinal Beaton and the ecclesiastics. It was chiefly owing to his persuasion that the king refused to sanction the punishment of a number of noblemen and barons whose names had been inscribed by Cardinal Beaton on a ‘scroll’ as guilty of heresy (Knox, Works, i. 82–4; and more at length in Sir James Melville's Memoirs, pp. 60–2). He also advised the king to check the power of the ecclesiastics and increase the revenues of the crown by retaking possession of the benefices as they fell vacant (ib. p. 63). The supporters of Beaton were afraid to oppose his statements in his presence; for, according to Sir James Melville, he was ‘a stout, bold man,’ ready to maintain his words at the point of the sword. But during his absence from court, at the marriage of his second son to the heiress of Kelly, they persuaded the king to grant a warrant for his imprisonment. Arriving, however, suddenly in Edinburgh, he obtained an interview with the king before the warrant could be executed, and got it countermanded (ib. p. 67). According to Melville it was during the absence of Kirkcaldy at this time that James V was induced to withdraw from his engagement to meet Henry VIII at York (ib.) After the rout of Solway (25 Nov. 1542) the king on his way to Falkland visited Kirkcaldy's house at Hallyards, but Kirkcaldy himself was absent (Knox, i. 90). Chiefly by the persuasion of Kirkcaldy, the Earl of Arran, on the death of the king shortly afterwards, was induced to assume the regency, in order to counteract Cardinal Beaton's attempt to place himself and three other persons in the regency (ib. i. 93; Sir James Melville, Memoirs, p. 71). The cardinal nevertheless soon persuaded Arran to dismiss Kirkcaldy from the treasurership. In the following year Crichton, laird of Brunston, informed Henry VIII that Kirkcaldy and the Master of Rothes were prepared to apprehend or slay the cardinal if assured of his support. Henry VIII approved of the scheme, but through precautions taken by the cardinal it was for the time frustrated (see especially ‘Historical Remarks on the Assassination of Cardinal Beaton’ in Appendix to Tytler, History of Scotland). Kirkcaldy, however, never lost sight of his purpose; although he did not take an actual part in the assassination of the cardinal in 1546, he was one of its main instigators, and on the evening succeeding the assassination joined the murderers in the castle of St. Andrews. On 9 March he, along with others in the castle, signed a contract with the king of England, engaging to promote a marriage between Prince Edward and Mary Queen of Scots and to further the unity of the two realms. On the surrender of St. Andrews castle in the following July he was carried a prisoner to France, where he was confined in the castle of Cherbourg (Knox, i. 225). According to Knox, strenuous efforts were made to induce Kirkcaldy and the other prisoners to attend the mass, but they remained obdurate (ib.) Through the intercession of the queen-dowager they were released in July 1550 (ib. p. 233). Kirkcaldy died some time in 1556. By his wife, Janet Melville, daughter of Sir James Melville of Raith, he had five sons: Sir William [q. v.], Sir James, hanged on the same scaffold with Sir William in 1573, Sir David, Thomas, and George. Of his four daughters: Marjory was married to Sir Henry Ramsay of Coluthie; Agnes, to Sir Robert Drummond of Carnock; Marion, to William Semple, second baron of Cathcart; and Elizabeth, to Sir John Mowbray of Barnbougle.

[Knox's Works; Sir James Melville's Memoirs; Crawfurd's Officers of State, pp. 374–5.]

T. F. H.