Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 29.djvu/138

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
James I
of Scotland
132

government, agriculture and trade, peace and war, currency and finance, church and state. Some of the statutes, as that relating to the coin, were never carried out; others were temporary; but it is from this parliament that the Scottish statute-book known in the courts dates. For the first time since Robert the Bruce, Scotland had effective legislation, directed by the king, and accepted by the clergy, barons, and burghs. Parliament now became annual. James had learned from the Lancastrian kings the value of a national assembly as a support against nobles who were petty kings, engaging in private war, and administering private law in their own courts. Several of the statutes of this and subsequent parliaments were copied from the more advanced constitution of England.

Before the end of 1424 Duncan, earl of Lennox, father-in-law of the late regent, was arrested and imprisoned at Edinburgh. A second parliament, at Perth, 12 March 1425, continued, and a third, on 11 March 1426, repeated the same politic legislation. The most important acts provided for registration of infeftments, or titles to land, in the king's register; prosecution of forethought felony by the king's officers; personal attendance in parliament of prelates, barons, and freeholders; revision of the old books of law by a committee of the three estates; punishment of heretics with the aid of the secular arm; prayers to be said by the clergy on behalf of the king and queen; a judicial committee or sessions, the first attempt to introduce a central court, to sit thrice a year; the punishment of idle men, and the regulation of weights and measures.

More important than the legislation was the coup d'état by which, on the ninth day of the parliament of 1425, the late regent, his younger son Alexander, with other nobles, including Archibald, earl of Douglas, William Douglas, earl of Angus [q. v.], George Dunbar, earl of March, twenty-six in all, were arrested. The castles of Falkland and Doune, the chief seats of the late regent, were seized; Isabella, the daughter of Lennox, and wife of the regent, was imprisoned, while her husband was sent to Caerlaverock. James, youngest son of the regent, the only one of the family who escaped, raised a force in the highlands, and, aided by Finlay, bishop of Lismore, burnt Dumbarton and slew Sir John, the Red Stewart of Dundonald, the king's uncle, but, pursued by the royal forces, fled by way of England to Ireland, from which he never returned. Meanwhile the parliament, adjourned to Stirling, met on 18 May 1425, to pass judgment on Albany and his kin. An assize of twenty-one nobles and barons, with Atholl, the king's uncle, as foreman, sat on the 22nd, in presence of the king, and made quick work of the charges. The record is not extant, and under the general term robbery (roboria) of one of the chronicles (Extracta ex Chronicis Scotiæ, p. 220) must be understood all the illegal acts of the regency. The ‘Book of Pluscarden’ calls their crime treason. Walter was convicted, and beheaded on the day of trial; his father, his brother Alexander, and his grandfather, Lennox, on the following day; and at the same time five retainers of Albany were hanged and their quarters sent to different towns. Some pity for the victims appears in the contemporary chronicles. This startling victory is to be attributed to the fact that the clergy were on the king's side. With the exception of the Bishop of Argyll no prelate supported Albany. James conciliated the bishops by a strict enforcement of the law against heresy, a copy of the Lancastrian statute, and by confirming their privileges. James also had the support of the ablest of the smaller barons, the natural rivals of the older nobles. Moreover he had gained the commons by good laws and impartial justice. He thus initiated the constant policy of the Stewart kings—to rely on the clergy and the burghs in order to withstand the great feudal lords.

The chief offices in the new administration were bestowed on those who had taken a leading part in James's restoration. Some of the new officers, however, like Lauder, bishop of Glasgow, and Sir John Forester of Corstorphine, the chamberlain, had already served under the regent. The heads of the house of Douglas—Archibald, earl of Douglas, William Douglas, earl of Angus, and James Douglas of Balvenie—had separated themselves from the regent, but their allegiance to James was doubtful, and had to be retained by fear. The strength of James lay in Lothian, where his adherents held the castles of Dalkeith, Dunbar, the Bass, and Tantallon; in the south-west, where they held Caerlaverock; and in Fife, where Wardlaw, his old tutor and chief adviser, held St. Andrews, and the king himself held Doune and Falkland. The possession of Perth and Dundee, Edinburgh and Stirling, gave him control of the chief burghs. The regent's party had more influence in the less civilised west, the country of Lennox, and in the highlands.

The lowlands being now safe, and the whole line of Albany cut off, the lawless condition of the highlands urgently called for strong measures. James summoned a parliament in the spring of 1427 to Inverness, where