enacted, and eighteen added, the most important of which provided for the proclamation of a general peace throughout the realm; the penalties of rebellion and treason, and of trespass by officers in the execution of their offices; the endurance of leases, notwithstanding sale or mortgage of the lands, and against spoliation or harrying of crops and cattle—enactments much needed in favour of the poor labourers of the ground; against sorners and masterful beggars; against the building of towers and fortalices; for the administration of civil and criminal justice, the revision of the laws, and the preservation of the purity of the coinage. Before the parliament rose a special charter was granted, at the request of the queen and the bishops, giving the latter the right of disposing of their goods by testament. A series of charters of lands in favour of the Earl of Douglas were confirmed. Crichton the chancellor and his brother the admiral also received considerable grants of land.
This legislation proves that James was prepared to govern in his father's spirit, as a king of the nation against breakers of the law, however powerful. In November he had some quarrel with the Earl of Douglas. During Douglas's absence in Rome James seized and demolished Douglas Craig, one of his castles, besieged others, and forced his vassals to swear fealty to the crown. Douglas, on his return in 1451, made peace with James, and at the parliament of Edinburgh on 25 June obtained a re-grant of his estates. In spite of these favours, he intrigued with the English court, and in the autumn the existence of a bond between Douglas and the Earls of Crawford and of Ross against all men, not excluding the king, was discovered. The lawless acts of Douglas forced James to take decisive measures against his too powerful vassal. Douglas was induced, by a safe-conduct under the privy seal, to visit the king at Stirling on 21 Feb. 1452. James received him well, entertaining him at dinner and supper on the following day, Shrove Thursday. But after supper, at seven o'clock, James led him to an inner chamber, challenged him with the existence of the bond with the earls, charged him to break it, and on Douglas's refusal stabbed him with a knife. On 17 March James, the brother and heir of the murdered earl, with a band, rode through Stirling and denounced the murderer. James was then at Perth, on his way against the Earl of Crawford. Before they met, Crawford had been defeated at Brechin Muir by the Earl of Huntly on 17 May. ‘Far more were with the Earl of Huntly than with the Earl of Crawford, because he displayed the king's banner’—a significant proof that James, like his father, was more popular than the great earls. On 12 June 1452, in a parliament at Edinburgh, James denied having given a safe-conduct to Douglas. The estates absolved the king of breach of faith, and declared Douglas had been justly put to death. The earl's brothers, however, posted a letter of defiance on the door of the parliament hall. The Bishop of St. Andrews, Crichton, and other barons who joined in the declaration received grants of land, and several of them were raised to the dignity of peers. It is noted by the chronicler that some of the grants of land were made by the king's privy council, and not by parliament. The Earl of Crawford, who had joined the bond with Douglas, was attainted in the same session. Immediately afterwards the king, having assembled his feudal levy on Pentland Muir to the number of thirty thousand, marched south, and wasted the Douglas lands in Peebles, Selkirk, and Dumfries. The raid, however, led to the submission of James, the new earl of Douglas [see Douglas, James, (1426–1488) ]. In the spring of 1453 James led his forces north of the Tay, and received an equally speedy submission from the Earl of Crawford, who died soon after. As James had already made terms with Ross, the formidable confederacy of the three earls was dissolved, and the crown was strengthened by the new nobility against any attempt to revive it. The deaths in 1454 of Crichton the chancellor, of his son (lately created earl of Moray), and of his brother forced James to rely still more upon himself, and upon Bishop Kennedy as his principal adviser. But the Earl of Douglas was still intriguing with the English. In the beginning of March 1455 James resolved anew to crush the Douglases. After demolishing their castle of Inveravon, James passed to Lanark, where he defeated Douglas. He then wasted with fire and sword Douglasdale, Avondale, and the lands of Lord Hamilton in Lanark, and returned to Edinburgh. From Edinburgh he went south to the forest of Ettrick with a host of lowlanders, destroying the castles of all who would not take the oath of fealty. Coming back to Edinburgh, he laid siege to the castle of Abercorn, on the Forth, in the first week of April, when Lord Hamilton, acting on the advice of his uncle, Sir James Livingstone, came and made his submission, in return for which he was appointed sheriff of Lanark. Before the end of the month Abercorn was taken by escalade. Meantime men ‘wist not wheare the Douglas was.’ On 1 May his three brothers, the Earls of Ormonde and Moray and Lord Balvenie, were