might have representatives of its own in parliament. Parliament, however, was very much under the control of the nobles, and replied with a counter-proposition—which it embodied in an act (Acts of Parl. of Scotland, iv. 130)—that such ministers ‘as at any time his Majesty shall please to provide to the office, place, title, and dignity of ane bishop, abbot, or other prelate,’ should have votes in parliament. Nothing imported the allowance of any spiritual jurisdiction to the prelates, though a wish was expressed in the act that the king should treat with the assembly on the office to be exercised by them ‘in their spiritual policy and government of the church.’ James had therefore to choose between throwing in his lot with the old nobility, who wanted posts and dignities for their younger sons, and the new clerical democracy, which he had discovered to be, after all, less liable than he had once feared to be led away by the extreme zealots.
For some months James seems to have hoped to follow the latter course. On 7 March 1598 an assembly met at Dundee. There was the usual amount of manœuvring on the part of James, and Andrew Melville was excluded by an unworthy trick. The assembly agreed, though only by a small majority, that fifty-one representatives of the church should sit in parliament, and that a convention of a select number of ministers and doctors should decide on the mode of their election, the decision of the members only to be binding in case of unanimity. The convention met at Falkland on 25 July 1598, and decided that each representative should be nominated by the king out of a list of six; but the convention was not unanimous, and the question was thus relegated to the next general assembly (Calderwood, vi. 17).
In the autumn of 1598 James adopted the opposite idea of keeping the clergy in order by nominees of his own. How completely this alternative policy soon took possession of James's mind appears from the ‘Basilikon Doron,’ a book written by him as a guide for the conduct of his eldest son, Henry, when he became a king. This book, which, though not published till 1599, was in existence in manuscript in October 1598 (Nicholson's Advices, October 1598; State Papers, Scotl. lxiii. 50), is full of hard hits at those ministers who meddled with state affairs, and acted as tribunes of the people against the authority of princes. To remedy this disorder he advised his son to ‘entertain and advance the godly, learned, and modest men of the ministry … and by their provision to bishoprics and benefices’ to banish the conceited party; and also to ‘re-establish the old institution of three estates in parliament, which cannot otherwise be done.’
In another book, ‘The True Law of Free Monarchies,’ published anonymously in September 1598 (Calderwood, v. 727), James set forth more distinctly his theory of government. Kings were appointed by God to govern, and their subjects to obey; but it was the duty of a king, though he was himself above the law, to conform his own actions to the law for example's sake, unless for some beneficial reason. Further, though subjects might not rebel against a wicked king, God would find means to punish him, and it might be that the punishment would take the form of a rebellion.
The chief resistance to the crown at this time came from the clerical zealots. In November 1599 James held a conference of ministers at Holyrood, urging them to consent to the appointment of representatives of the church, to hold seats in parliament for life, and to give to their representatives the name of bishops. James's proposal was, however, rejected (ib. v. 746), and though an assembly held at Montrose in July 1600 agreed to the appointment of parliamentary representatives, it limited their appointment to a single year, and tied them down by restrictions which made them responsible to the assembly for their votes (ib. vi. 17).
In the course of the year James was once more brought into violent collision with the clergy. The Earl of Gowrie and Alexander Ruthven were the sons of the Earl of Gowrie who had been executed early in the reign, and bore a deep grudge against James on account of their father's death. On 5 Aug. 1600 Alexander Ruthven enticed James to his brother's house in Perth, and induced him to come into a chamber in a tower, locking the doors behind him. It is probable that the intention of the brothers was to keep the king there, and then, after persuading his followers to disperse by telling them that he had ridden off, to put him in a boat on the Tay and to carry him off by water to the gloomy and isolated Fast Castle, on the south shore of the Firth of Forth, where they might murder him or dispose of him at their pleasure. (The whole story is discussed in Burton's Hist. of Scotland, vi. 90.) The plan was, however, frustrated by the king's struggles, in the course of which he contrived to reach a window and to call his followers to his help. The arrival of a few of them on the scene was followed by a fray, in which Gowrie and his brother were both slain by a young courtier, James Ramsay. The 5th of August was appointed to be held as a day of annual thanksgiving for James's escape.