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contented to be little more than a nominal sovereign ; and, on the other hand, it was not long before the aristocracy were convinced that the time had arrived when they must consent quietly to part with no small portion of that license to do wrong which they had arrogated to themselves under the unprincipled administration of Albany. Some sacrifice they were probably ready to make rather than come into collision with a monarch of whose indomitable energy of character they had witnessed some appalling specimens; but James had determined to abridge their authority still more effectually than they imagined, and he began with the most powerful baron in the country-the Earl of March,
The extent, and, still more, the situation of his estates, rendered this feudal potentate a person of high consequence, and entrusted him with a power which was too great for a subject. He possessed the strong castle of Dunbar, and his lands, which stretched out into a little principality along the borders, gave him a command of the principal passes by which an enemy could enter. It was thus a common saying that March held at his girdle the keys of the kingdom; and the frequent attempts on the part of England, during the whole course of our history, to seduce the Earls of March from their allegiance, sufficiently proved that the kings of that country were well aware of the importance of the accession. Nor had James to go far back for a proof that this exorbitant power was a thorn in the side of the country. The Earl who then wielded it was in. deed more pacific and unoffending than his fore. fathers; but his father, a man of powerful talents and restless ambition, had been the cause of great misery to Scotland. We have seen that when the Duke of Rothsay, James's elder brother, broke his plighted faith to Elizabeth of Dunbar, March's daughter, this haughty baron fled in disgust to England; and, renouncing his allegiance, invaded his native country in company with Hotspur *. The calamitous defeat at Homildon had been chiefly ascribed to his military skill, and for eight years he had remained in England an able renegade, attached to the interests of Henry the Fourth. These were circumstances which it was natural should impart to James an early antipathy against this baron; and his return to Scotland, on the accession of Albany, where he continued to enjoy the favour and protection of the usurper, was not calculated to diminish the impression. The elder March, whose career we have just described, continued to reside in Scotland from 1408 to 1420, the period of his death, in the full possession of his hereditary power and estates, and his son succeeded quietly to the immense property of his father.
Certainly, in strict justice, nothing could be more irregular than all this. The elder March had been guilty not of an act but of a life of treason ; and there can be no doubt that, under Robert the Third, his whole estates were forfeited to the Crown. Albany's government, on the other hand, was one long act of usurpation, that of his son Murdoch stood exactly in the same predicament; and although by their authority the father and the
* Vol. ii., Lives of Scottish Worthies, p. 240.
son had been permitted for sixteen years to possess their estates, yet it will not admit of a doubt that, according to the strict principles of the feudal law, this could not remove the sentence of forfeiture ; James rightly reasoned that nothing short of an act of pardon and indemnity by his father or himself could have restored the Earl to the legitimate possession of the lands which he had forfeited. Till then, in the eye of the law, his blood was tainted, his title extinct, his possessions the sole property of the Crown, and he himself a nameless and landless traitor : but although such were the strict principles by which we must consider the situation of this powerful baron, the King appears, for ten years after his return to his do minions, to have permitted him to enjoy his hereditary estate and title. It may be observed, however, that the Earl of March was one of those barons who were arrested by James immediately previous to the execution of Duke Murdoch and his sons; and it is quite possible that some transaction may have then taken place, of which no record now remains, but which, if known, would have placed the conduct of the king in a less harsh light than we view it through the meagre records which have been left. Yet, it must be allowed that all that we know of the character of this monarch renders it probable that he dissembled his designs against March till he found himself strong enough to carry them into execution, permitting him to enjoy his title and his lands, but abstaining from every act which might be pleaded on as having removed the forfeiture.
The period, however, had now arrived when the long-protracted sentence was to be enforced against him. In the Parliament which assembled at Perth, in January, 1434, the question regarding the property of the late Earl of March, and its reversion to the crown, was discussed with great solemnity. The advocates of the king, and the counsel for the person then in possession, were first heard, after which the judges declared it to be their unanimous opinion, that, in consequence of the treason of Lord George of Dunbar, formerly Earl of March, the lands held by that baron, and the feudal dignities attached to them, had reverted to the King, to whom as the fountain of all honour and property, they now belonged. The strict justice of this sentence could not be questioned, and it met with no opposition either from the Earl or his adherents; but it becomes not a sovereign to inflict, on all occasions, the extremest sentence of the law, and nei. ther the nobility nor the people could see without emotion a baron of ancient and noble lineage reduced at once to the condition of a nameless outcast, and estates, which for many centuries had been possessed without challenge, torn from his hands to enrich the coffers of the Crown. The King himself appears to have been solicitous to soften the blow to March: he created him Earl of Buchan, and out of the revenues of this northern principality bestowed on him an annual pension of four hundred marks ; but he disdained to accept a title which he considered as a badge of his degradation, and, forsaking his country with mingled feelings of grief and indignation, retired to England*.
In a former Parliament, a statute had been passed by which all alienations of lands made by the governor of the realm, in consequence of the demise of a bastard, were declared to be revocable by the Crown, although the transaction had been completed by feudal investiture. It is by no means unlikely that this was connected with other acts, by which all transactions of Albany and Murdoch, in relation to the landed property of the kingdom, might become subject to challenge. These statutes, when viewed in connexion with the fate of March, were enough to alarm the nobility, and by degrees, as the stern character of the King developed itself, and the patient but unbending vigour with which he pursued his designs became apparent, a dark suspicion began to arise in their minds that should he live to complete them, the power and independence of the Scottish aristocracy would be at an end. They could not conceal from themselves that, if rigidly scrutinised, the titles by which they held their estates were, in some cases, as questionable as that of March, and their conscience probably brought to their recollection many transactions during James's captivity in England, which if strictly investigated, approached indefinitely near to treason. These circumstances did not fail to create feelings of distrust and insecurity on the part of his nobles towards their sovereign, which, although concealed at present under an affected acquiescence in the royal will, could not long exist in a fendal government, without leading to some open rupture. An unusual transaction took place before the Parliament was dissolved; the King