Imagens da página

he could give a great deal of time to these delightful studies, for he says, ' My custom was in the morning to arise early as day, O happy exercise !'l The three poems that have been attributed to him are, The King's Quhair— that is, the King's Quire or Book—Christ's Kirk on the Green, and Peebles to the Play. The specially beautiful passage of the King's Quhair is that wherein he describes his first glimpse of Jane Beaufort, his future wife, when, as he leant out of the window of his chamber in Windsor Castle, relieving the tedium of the long hours by 'seeing the world and folk that went forby,' his eyes lighted on the Lady Jane, who in the garden ' walked so very womanlie.' She was the daughter of the Duke of Somerset, the brother of Henry IV.,' and the very bride that policy would have chosen for the King of Scots. But besides all that James acquired from books and masters, what a priceless education for a king must have been the contemplation of the excellencies and the defects of the English constitution, of the national industries, and of that consumate general Henry Fifth's French campaign.2 In France Henry carried all before him, until we have seen that the Scots, true to the ancient League, sent over 7000 men, and reversed his fortunes in the victory of Beaugd. Soon after Henry brought over his captive King of Scots, who acted with great wisdom his peculiarly trying part of accompanying Henry, who treated him more as a beloved guest than as a captive, in battles against his own countrymen. But the time was now at hand when the work for which he had been so long training was to begin. It had been the inter

1 The King's Quhair, canto ii.

8 In 1413 Henry of Monmouth succeeded Henry of Bolingbroke; in 1415 he revived the claim of Edward III. to the French crown. France was at this time distracted by the incapacity of Charles vI., and by the conflicting claims of the Dukes of Orleans and Burgundy. est of the first Regent Albany that James should remain in England as long as possible, but during the listless rule of his son, movements were set on foot to bring him home. Duke Murdac could not control his own sons, far less could he govern Scotland, and his first-born having offered him a gross insult, he exclaimed in exasperation, 'Since thou wilt give me neither reverence nor obedience, I will fetch one home whom we must all obey.' He had heard enough about the prisoner in Windsor Castle to believe what he said. In 1424 the negotiations for his liberation were concluded, and in the Lent of that year James travelled northwards with his young Queen Jane, who, he says, was the 'fairest and the freshest young flower that ever I saw.'1 They kept Easter in Edinburgh, and then proceeded on to Scone, where they were crowned by the King's old preceptor, the Bishop of St. Andrews. From the moment of his coronation James's earnest desire was to do right, and to be faithful to the 'five talents' of a kingdom that had been committed to his keeping. Feudalism in Scotland had now reached the worst development to which the system was liable. A king had become a mere name, and as his revenues were so reduced he had ceased to be even an ornament. The decline of veneration for the sovereign line is traceable to the fact that the House of Stuart was a new royal family, and the loyalty towards it was altogether different from that which had bowed down before the immemorial line of Atholl, whose last sovereign slept in Dunfermline. The nobles had long been oblivious of the disagreeable fact that they were subjects; and every baron was in his degree an independent prince, who claimed to administer justice within his own territories according to his own lights. Deadly feuds, descending, a sad inheritance, from

1 The King's Quhair, canto ii.


father to son, distracted every fair Highland glen; and what was equally fatal to peace and to good order, leagues of mutual defence with equals, and bonds of manrent with inferiors, were common associations of strength. Besides this, the absence of large cities, to whose very existence good order was essential, was seriously felt, and the mountainous nature of the country,1 provided many an unapproachable crag as a safe home for the breaker of the laws. It was well indeed for the feeble and the oppressed that the King, who could write so tenderly of love and beauty, was to show a stern side to his character, and to be terrible in just retribution. His most perilous task, and that wherein he was to bring his Christian and civilized will to struggle with many wills, often defiant of all laws, human and divine, was the humiliation of the nobility, the extinction of that proud spirit holding itself above all forms of government but its own, and revelling in the power of life and death; and the restitution of those possessions which had been wrested from the Crown, or otherwise doubtfully acquired, and which had tempted their unlawful heads to a dangerous rivalry with their sovereign. In the great revolution which property underwent in the reign of Robert I., when the estates of most of the ancient barons, which were forfeited by Edward I. and granted to Englishmen, were seized by new masters, there was inevitable confusion, and many possessed their lands by titles extremely defective. James determined, by an immediate and vigorous coup d'etat, to lay a foundation for his undertaking. Accordingly, eight months after his restoration he arrested simultaneously twenty-eight of the most probably culpable barons, including his cousin the late Regent, with his two sons, the Lords Walter and Alexander Stewart, and his fatherin-law, the Earl of Lennox. Their trial took place in May, and being found guilty of abuse of the King's authority com

mitted during the regency, and of other particular transgressions the records whereof have perished, they were beheaded on the Heading Hill of Stirling. Undoubtedly these men had grievously injured the King and the country by permitting his protracted captivity in a foreign land, but all their known misdemeanour has been generally held as insufficient to justify the severity of their punishment. Having thus exhibited to the nation in general, and to the aristocracy and his own noble kindred in particular, this stern and never-to-be-forgotten lesson, James spent the next few years chiefly in presiding at Parliaments. Immediately after his coronation he had convoked a Parliament whereat certain excellent statutes were enacted. 'By the help of God, though I should myself lead the life of a dog, I shall make the key keep the castle, and the bush secure the cow,' he exclaimed in burning indignation at sight of his brave and faithful peasantry crushed under the legislation of their proud lairds.



* His good deeds all unnumbered.'


The Acts of the thirteen Parliaments of James I. are carefully preserved, and form the introduction to the history of Scottish law. A Parliament in those days consisted of the greater barons, of ecclesiastics, and a few representatives of boroughs. The burgesses made their first appearance in company with the clergy and the baronage in the reign of John Baliol, to whose arrangement in 1295, for the marriage of his son Edward with a princess of France the seals of the greater boroughs were appended. They next appear in a Parliament held at Cambuskenneth by Robert I. in 1326, when with the clergy and the baronage they grant their Sovereign for the remainder of his life the ' tenth penny' of all farms and rents to be levied upon every freeholder in the kingdom. Henceforth the burgesses formed an important portion of the community.1 James exempted the lesser barons from personal attendance, and permitted them to elect representatives from the various shires.

To James we are indebted for the revision and correction of the national books of the law, called the Regiam Majestatem

1 See Scotland under her Early Kings, vol. ii. pp. 152, 153.


« AnteriorContinuar »