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Timeline of Scottish History

A timeline of events in Scottish History!. Scroll through a growing chronology of events and click on them for more details and links


Scone, with its sacred stone, being so near Perth and the Highlands, was perilous, and the coronation of James II. was therefore held at Holyrood (March 25, 1437).  The child, who was but seven years of age, was bandied to and fro like a shuttlecock between rival adventurers.  The Earl of Douglas (Archibald, fifth Earl, died 1439) took no leading part in the strife of factions: one of them led by Sir William Crichton, who held the important post of Commander of Edinburgh Castle; the other by Sir Alexander Livingstone of Callendar.

The great old Houses had been shaken by the severities of James I., at least for the time.  In a Government of factions influenced by private greed, there was no important difference in policy, and we need not follow the transference of the royal person from Crichton in Edinburgh to Livingstone in Stirling Castle; the coalitions between these worthies, the battles between the Boyds of Kilmarnock and the Stewarts, who had to avenge Stewart of Derneley, Constable of the Scottish contingent in France, who was slain by Sir Thomas Boyd.  The queen-mother married Sir James Stewart, the Black Knight of Lorne, and (August 3, 1439) she was captured by Livingstone, while her husband, in the mysterious words of the chronicler, was “put in a pitt and bollit.”  In a month Jane Beaufort gave Livingstone an amnesty; he, not the Stewart family, not the queen-mother, now held James.

To all this the new young Earl of Douglas, a boy of eighteen, tacitly assented.  He was the most powerful and wealthiest subject in Scotland; in France he was Duc de Touraine; he was descended in lawful wedlock from Robert II.; “he micht ha’e been the king,” as the ballad says of the bonny Earl of Moray.  But he held proudly aloof from both Livingstone and Crichton, who were stealing the king alternately: they then combined, invited Douglas to Edinburgh Castle, with his brother David, and served up the ominous bull’s head at that “black dinner” recorded in a ballad fragment. {61}  They decapitated the two Douglas boys; the earldom fell to their granduncle, James the Fat, and presently, on his death (1443), to young William Douglas, after which “bands,” or illegal covenants, between the various leaders of factions, led to private wars of shifting fortune.  Kennedy, Bishop of St Andrews, opposed the Douglas party, now strong both in lands newly acquired, till (July 3, 1449) James married Mary of Gueldres, imprisoned the Livingstones, and relied on the Bishop of St Andrews and the clergy.  While Douglas was visiting Rome in 1450, the Livingstones had been forfeited, and Crichton became Chancellor.

The Douglases, through a royal marriage of an ancestor to a daughter of the more legitimate marriage of Robert II., had a kind of claim to the throne which they never put forward.  The country was thus spared dynastic wars, like those of the White and Red Roses in England; but, none the less, the Douglases were too rich and powerful for subjects.

The Earl at the moment held Galloway and Annandale, two of his brothers were Earls of Moray and Ormond; in October 1448, Ormond had distinguished himself by defeating and taking Percy, urging a raid into Scotland, at a bloody battle on the Water of Sark, near Gretna.

During the Earl of Douglas’s absence in Rome, James had put down some of his unruly retainers, and even after his return (1451) had persevered in this course.  Later in the year Douglas resigned, and received back his lands, a not uncommon formula showing submission on the vassal’s favour on the lord’s part, as when Charles VII., at the request of Jeanne d’Arc, made this resignation to God!

Douglas, however, was suspected of intriguing with England and with the Lord of the Isles, while he had a secret covenant or “band” with the Earls of Crawford and Ross.  If all this were true, he was planning a most dangerous enterprise.

He was invited to Stirling to meet the king under a safe-conduct, and there (February 22, 1452) was dirked by his king at the sacred table of hospitality.

Whether this crime was premeditated or merely passionate is unknown, as in the case of Bruce’s murder of the Red Comyn before the high altar.  Parliament absolved James on slender grounds.  James, the brother of the slain earl, publicly defied his king, gave his allegiance to Henry VI. of England, withdrew it, intrigued, and, after his brothers had been routed at Arkinholm, near Langholm (May 18, 1455), fled to England.  His House was proclaimed traitorous; their wide lands in southern and south-western Scotland were forfeited and redistributed, the Scotts of Buccleuch profiting largely in the long-run.  The leader of the Royal forces at Arkinholm, near Langholm, was another Douglas, one of “the Red Douglases,” the Earl of Angus; and till the execution of the Earl of Morton, under James VI., the Red Douglases were as powerful, turbulent, and treacherous as the Black Douglases had been in their day.  When attacked and defeated, these Douglases, red or black, always allied themselves with England and with the Lords of the Isles, the hereditary foes of the royal authority.

Meanwhile Edward IV. wrote of the Scots as “his rebels of Scotland,” and in the alternations of fortune between the Houses of York and Lancaster, James held with Henry VI.  When Henry was defeated and taken at Northampton (July 10, 1460), James besieged Roxburgh Castle, an English hold on the Border, and (August 3, 1460) was slain by the explosion of a great bombard.

James was but thirty years of age at his death.  By the dagger, by the law, and by the aid of the Red Douglases, he had ruined his most powerful nobles—and his own reputation.  His early training, like that of James VI., was received while he was in the hands of the most treacherous, bloody, and unscrupulous of mankind; later, he met them with their own weapons.  The foundation of the University of Glasgow (1451), and the building and endowment of St Salvator’s College in St Andrews, by Bishop Kennedy, are the most permanent proofs of advancing culture in the reign of James.

Many laws of excellent tendency, including sumptuary laws, which suggest the existence of unexpected wealth and luxury, were passed; but such laws were never firmly and regularly enforced.  By one rule, which does seem to have been carried out, no poisons were to be imported: Scottish chemical science was incapable of manufacturing them.  Much later, under James VI., we find a parcel of arsenic, to be used for political purposes, successfully stopped at Leith.

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