In 1400 Albany, and the 4th earl of Douglas (brother-in-law of the duke of Rothesay), confessed before the Estates that they had arrested the prince, and were cleared of the guilt of his subsequent death. They kept him, first in the castle of St Andrews, and then at Falkland, where he perished; some said of dysentery, others, of starvation.
Restored to the regency, Albany permitted his son, Murdoch, with Douglas, to retort on a successful raid by Percy and the traitor March. They were defeated by English archery, as usual, at Homildon hill: Murdoch and Douglas were captured. Percy, dissatisfied with Henry's treatment of him in the matter of ransoms, led an army into Scotland which was to have trysted at Cocklaw with Albany and the whole forces of the realm, and invaded England. But Douglas and Percy left Cocklaw before Albany came up, and hurried to join hands with the Welsh rebel, Glendower. The hostile forces met at Shrewsbury, and Shakespeare has made the result immortal. Percy was slain; Douglas was the prisoner of England.
The young prince of Scotland, the first James, was on his way to seek safety in France, during an interval of truce, but was James I. captured on the high seas by English cruisers. (The dates are obscure, but James was in the Tower by February-March 1405-1406.) His father's death followed (4th of April 1406). Albany sent, within a year, envoys to plead for his release; and again, in 1409, but vainly. An interval of peace occurred, among a series of border battles, and the heresy of Lollardy was attacked by the clergy; Resby, who had been a priest in England, was burned in 1407 at Perth. The embers of Lollardy, not extinguished by the new central fountain of learning, the university of St Andrews, smouldered in the west till the Reformation.
“The wicked blood of the Isles,” the Macdonalds, descendants of island kings, now made alliance with England; Donald, eldest son of the Lord of the Isles, having an unsatisfied claim on the earldom of Ross, which Albany strove to keep in his own family. The greatest of highland hosts met at Ardtornish castle, now a ruin on the sound of Mull: they marched inland and north, defeated the Mackays of Sutherland and were promised the plunder of Aberdeen. The earl of Mar, with a small force of heavily-armoured lowland Cavaliers, stopped and scattered the plaided Gael at Harlaw (1411). The knights lost heavily, but Donald did not plunder Aberdeen (see Elspeth's ballad of Harlaw, in The Antiquary). Next year Albany received the submission of Donald at Lochgilp in Knapdale, and the Celts were, for the moment, useless to their allies of England.
Time went on: Albany's son, Murdoch, was set free, but in 1410 the captive King James much resented Albany's neglect of himself. His letter is written in Scots. Albany died in 1420; his regency, with that of his son Murdoch, produced the anarchy which James, when free, combated at the cost of his life. Meanwhile France demanded and received auxiliaries from Scotland, who fought gloriously for French freedom. Their great victory, where the duke of Clarence fell, was at Baugé Bridge (1421), where the Stewarts and Kennedys, under Sir Hugh, were specially distinguished. In 1424 the Scots, with the earl of Buchan and the earl of Douglas, were almost exterminated at Verneuil, some five months after King James, already affianced to the Lady Jane Beaufort, was released. He never paid his ransom, and his noble hostages lived and died south of Tweed: one cause of his unpopularity.
Tradition tells that James vowed “to make the key keep the castle, and the bush keep the cow,” even though he “lived a dog's life” in the endeavour. His reign was a struggle against anarchy and in the cause of the poor and weak. He instantly arrested Murdoch, son of Albany, and Fleming of Cumbernauld, met parliament, dismissed it, retaining a committee (“the Lords of the Articles”), and took measures with landlords, who must display their charters; appointed an inquest into lay and clerical property; and imposed taxes to defray his ransom. The money could not be collected, and the edicts against private wars and the maintenance of armed retainers were hard to enforce. James next arrested Lennox and that Sir Robert Graham whose feud proved fatal to the king. In March 1425 he met his second parliament, relying on a council of barons with no great earl but Mar. He next arrested Albany's secretary and the Lord Montgomery: the story, accepted by our historians, that he also seized twenty-six notables, has been finally disproved by Sir James Ramsay. No Scottish king ever embarked on such a coup d'état as the arrest of “the whole Scottish House of Lords,” and Knox, who attributes a much, larger design to James V., must have been deceived by rumour. Albany (Murdoch), his son, and Lennox, were tried and executed: Albany's son, James, in revenge burned Dumbarton. The king appears to have been avenging his private wrongs, or destroying the three nobles pour encourager les autres. Parliament now insisted on inquisition for heretics: an act was passed (which never took effect) against “bands” or private leagues among the nobles: the Covenant was called “the great band,” by Cavaliers in days to come. More important was the establishment of a new court of justice, the court of Session, to sit thrice in the year. Yeomen were bidden to practise archery, to which they much preferred football and golf.
The highlanders were next handled as the lowlanders had been; a parliament was held at Inverness and a number of chiefs who attended were seized, imprisoned or executed. The Lord of the Isles, when released, burned Inverness (1429), but, being pursued, he was deserted by Clan Chattan and Clan Cameron (probably the clans represented on the ordeal of battle on the Inch of Perth). The Lord of the Isles made submission, but Donald Balloch, his cousin, defeated Mar near Inverlochy, later fled to Ireland, and was reported dead, though he lived to give trouble. James was unjustly repressing highland anarchy: from the highlands came his bane.
James now granted his daughter, a child, to the Dauphin, later Louis XI.; but, as Jeanne d'Arc said, “the daughter of the king of Scotland could not save Orleans,” then (1428-1429) besieged in a desultory manner by the English. In February 1429 the Scots under the oriflamme were cut to pieces in “The Battle of the Herrings” at Rouvray. The surviving Scots fought under Jeanne d'Arc till her last success, at Lagny, under Sir Hugh Kennedy of Ardstinchar in Ayrshire, but James (May, June 1429) made a treaty of peace with Cardinal Beaufort, which enabled Beaufort to send large reinforcements into Paris, where the Maid, deserted by Charles VII., failed a few months later.
In October 1430 was born the prince destined to be James II. The king and the Estates were curtailing the judicial privileges and jurisdiction of the clergy; and the anti-pope, Peter de Luna, quarrelled with the country on this ground. Scotland then deserted his cause for that of Martin V., but quarrels between church and state did not cease, and a legate arrived to settle the dispute a few days before the king's murder. James had already threatened the Benedictines and Augustines for “impudently abandoning religious conduct,” and had founded the Carthusian monastery in Perth, that the Carthusians might offer a better example. A reformation by the state seemed at hand, but the religious orders fell deeper in odium and contempt during the next hundred and thirty years. Doctrine, too, was endangered by heretics, one of whom, a Hussite named Paul Crawar, was burned at Perth in 1433.
In 1427 James seized, as a male fee, the earldom of Strathearn, gave the earl by female descent the title of Menteith, and sent him to England as a hostage for his ransom. He was nephew of the Sir Robert Graham whom James had arrested at the beginning of his reign: Graham's anger was thus rekindled. The earls of Mar and March also lost their lands, on one pretext or another: James's policy was plainly to break the power of the nobles.
The English translation (1440) of a lost contemporary Latin history of the events avers that Sir Robert Graham rose in Death of James I. parliament, denounced James as a tyrant and called on the barons to seize their king: Graham was taken, was banished from court, was confiscated and fled to the Atholl hills. He thence intrigued with the old earl of Atholl (heir to the crown if the ancestors of James by Robert II.