Christmas. As he was about to cross the Forth a highland woman shouted, ‘An ye pass this water ye shall never return again alive.’ He took up his residence in the cloister of the Black Friars at Perth. While playing a game of chess with a knight, nicknamed the ‘King of Love,’ James, referring to a prophecy that a king should die that year, said to his playmate: ‘There are no kings in Scotland but you and I; I shall take good care of myself, and I counsel you to do the same.’ A favourite squire told James he had dreamt ‘Sir Robert Graham would slay the king,’ and he received a rebuke from the Earl of Orkney. James himself had a dream of a cruel serpent and horrible toad attacking him in his chamber.
These stories were not written down till after the event, but enough was known of Sir Robert Graham to lead men to dream or to invent stories of the coming danger. In the parliament of 1435 Graham, the uncle and tutor of Malise, earl of Strathearn, whose earldom the king had seized, had taken hold of James in the presence of the three estates, and said that he arrested him in their name for his cruel conduct and illegal acts. Graham relied on a promise that the lords would support him, but they failed to keep it, and himself being arrested, was banished to the highlands, where he openly rebelled and a price was set on his head. Graham then tried, but failed, to incite the nobles to revolt at the parliament of Edinburgh in October 1436, but succeeded in procuring a secret promise of assistance from Atholl, the king's uncle, and Sir Robert Stewart, Atholl's grandson, a young man in great favour with the king, who had made him his chamberlain, and at Roxburgh constable of the army. The object of Graham and his friends was to place the crown on the head either of Atholl or his grandson. On the night of 20 Feb. 1437, when James and his courtiers, Atholl and his grandson among the rest, were amusing themselves with chess and music, reading romances and hearing tales told, the highland woman who had already warned James again appeared in the courtyard and asked an audience, but the king put her off till the morning. About midnight he drank the parting cup, and the courtiers left. Robert Stewart, the last to leave, tampered with the bolts, so that the doors could not be made fast. While James was still talking with the queen and her ladies round the fire, the noise of horses and armed men was heard. James, suspecting it was Graham, wrenched a plank from the floor with the tongs, and hid himself in a small chamber below. Catherine Douglas, afterwards called ‘Bar-lass,’ one of the queen's maids, heroically barred the door of the house with her arm, which was broken by the incursion of Graham and his followers. James's hiding-place was soon discovered. After two of the band were thrown down by the king, Graham thrust a sword through his body. Those who saw the corpse reported that there were no less than sixteen wounds in the breast alone. The alarm spread to the king's servants and the town, and the conspirators, who could not have effected their object without the aid of traitors in the king's household, fled. Before a month had elapsed all the leaders were caught, and within forty days tortured and executed with a barbarity which was deemed unusual even in that age. The king was buried in the convent of the Carthusians, where his pierced doublet was long kept as a relic. His heart was sent to the Holy Land and brought back in 1443 from Rhodes by a knight of St. John, and presented to the Carthusians. The highly coloured and circumstantial narrative of his death translated from Latin into English by John Shirley about 1440 is nearly contemporary, and has been accepted by historians. Yet it omits the heroic act of Catherine Douglas.
Affectionate and somewhat melancholy in his youth, James was as a king decided, stern, severe, even cruel to enemies and breakers of the law, yet amiable and playful with friends, and, though regardless of the interests, even the rights, of the great lords, was zealous for those of the people. The story that he shod with horseshoes the chief who had done the same to a poor woman, is consistent with the retributive justice of his time and his own character. His attempts to reform the Scottish on, or even in advance of, the model of the English constitution of the fifteenth century led to his ruin; but he left a monarchy with a stronger hold on the loyalty of the nation, and a nation freer from feudal tyranny. Though James only lived to see the marriage of his eldest daughter, that union led to the marriage of her sisters with foreign princes, and forged new links in the connection between Scotland and Europe. It was said of him by Drummond that, while the nation made his predecessors kings, he made Scotland a nation. His children were: Margaret [q. v.], afterwards wife of Louis the Dauphin, subsequently Louis XI; Elizabeth, or Isabel, betrothed in 1441 to Francis, count of Montfort, whom she married in 1442, when he had become by his father's death Duke of Bretagne; Alexander and James, twins, born 16 Oct. 1430, of whom the former died young and the latter succeeded his father as James II; Joan or Janet, who, although dumb, married