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King James I of Scotland has an interesting and tragic history. I recently wrote about his father, Robert III of Scotland, and I have decided to do a small series on this tragic Scottish king. This will come in at least three sections, if not more.


James I, King of Scotland (late July 1394 – February 21,1437), was the the youngest of three sons to King Robert III and his wife Annabella Drummond. James was born in Dunfermline Abbey and was not suspected to become Kingof Scots but by the time he was eight both of his elder brothers were dead. The eldest, Robert, had died in infancy and his second brother, David, Duke of Rothesay, died suspiciously in Falkland Palace while being detained by his paternal uncle, Robert, Duke of Albany. Although the Duke of Albany was exonerated by parliament, the vast majority of scholars do believe that the Duke of Albany did have an active hand in the death of his nephew the Duke of Rothesay.

The issues that put the life of young Prince James in peril stems from a complex struggle for power amongst the various branches of the House of Stuart after it had only recently mounted the Scottish throne and faced threats from England. King Robert III was unpopular at this time and apposed by his brother the Duke of Albany. Along with the Duke of Albany, the other key noble opposing King Robert III was Archibald, 4th Earl of Douglas. The Earl of Douglas was the eldest legitimate son of Archibald Douglas, 3rd Earl of Douglas and Joanna de Moravia of Bothwell, he was born either at Threave Castle or at Bothwell Castle c.1372 and was known as the Master of Douglas until his accession to the Earldom. Prior to 1390 he had married the Princess Margaret of Carrick, a daughter of King Robert III of Scotland.

In 1399 the Earl of Douglas, along with the Duke of Albany and Albany’s son Murdoch, justiciar North of the Forth, and the bishops Walter of St Andrews and Gilbert of Aberdeen, met at Falkland Castle because the general council criticised Robert III’s governance for the failure to pacify the Gaelic areas in west and north. The outcome of this meeting was that King Robert III was forced to surrender power. He did not surrender power to Douglas or to Albany, but instead to his son and heir the Duke Rothesay. This release of power was to last for a period of three years. Many Scottish nobles supported Douglas and Albany rather than Rothesay. This also motivated Albany to get rid of the Duke of Rothesay. With the Nobles support of Douglas and Albany is considered the source of the reasoning why the two were exonerated so willingly by the Scottish Parliament for the death of the Duke of Rothesay.

Removing Douglas and Albany from the equation created a source of the friction between and the rest of the Scottish Royal house and the nobility because Douglas and Albany were considered to be the only fit antidote to George Dunbar, Earl of March and his renewed hostility with Robert III and the Duke of Rothesay. These hostilities would also involve Henry IV and his English troops.

The conflict between Earl of March and the Duke of Rothesay occurred when the Rothesay married decided to marry Mary Douglas, daughter of the Earl of Douglas rather than remarrying Elizabeth Dunbar as previously agreed. In consequence of this slight upon his family’s honour, the Earl of March renounced his allegiance to Robert III and retired into England, placing himself under the protection of King Henry IV. In 1401 he made a wasteful inroad into Scotland, and in June 1402 he was victorious against a small Scottish force at the Battle of Nesbit Moor. At the subsequent Battle of Homildon Hill he again fought on the English side.

With the death of the Duke of Rothesay fears for James’s safety grew through the winter of 1405–1406 and plans were made to send him to France to keep him out of reach of both the Duke of Albany (the Earl of Douglas died in 1400) along with the Earl of March and his garrisons. In February 1406 James was accompanying nobles close to his father when they clashed with supporters of the Earl of March, forcing the prince to take refuge in the castle of the Bass Rock, a small islet in the Firth of Forth. He remained there until mid-March when he boarded a vessel bound for France, but on March 22 while off the English coast, pirates captured the ship and delivered James to Henry IV of England. The ailing Robert III died on April 4, 1406 and the 12-year-old James, now the uncrowned King of Scots, was a prisoner of the English king.

Part II: Captivity in England.