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Timeline of Scottish History

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Reflections on his Reign

Alexander's person was majestic; and although his figure was too tall, and his bones large, yet his limbs were well formed, and strongly knit. His countenance was handsome, and beamed with a manly and sweet expression, which corresponded with the courageous openness and sincerity of his character. He was firm and constant in his purposes; yet, guided by prudence and an excellent understanding, this quality never degenerated into a dangerous obstinacy. His inflexible love of justice, his patience in hearing disputes, his affability in discourse, and facility of access, endeared him to the whole body of his people; whilst his piety, untinctured with any slavish dread, whilst he acknowledged the spiritual supremacy of the popedom, rendered him the steadfast friend of his own clergy, and their best defender against any civil encroachments of the see of Rome. In his time, therefore, to use the words of the honest and affectionate Fordun,—"The church flourished, its ministers were treated with reverence, vice was openly dis couraged, cunning and treachery were trampled under foot, injury ceased, and the reign of virtue, truth, and justice, was maintained throughout the land." We need not wonder that such a monarch was long and affectionately remembered in Scotland. Attended by his justiciary, by his principal nobles, and a military force which awed the strong offenders, and gave confidence to the oppressed, it was his custom to make an annual progress through his kingdom, for the redress of wrong, and the punishment of delinquents. For this purpose, he divided the kingdom into four great districts; and on his entering each county, the sheriff had orders to attend on the kingly judge, with the whole militia of the shire, and to continue with the court till the king had heard all the appeals of that county, which were brought before him. He then continued his progress, accompanied by the sheriff and his troops; nor were these dismissed till the "monarch had entered a new county, where a new sheriff awaited him with the like honours and attendance.

In this manner the people were freed from the charge of supporting those overgrown bands of insolent retainers which swelled the train of the Scottish nobles, when they waited on the king in his progresses; and as the dignified prelates and barons were interdicted by law from travelling with more than a certain number of horse in their retinue, the poor commons had leisure to breathe, and to pursue their honest occupations.

In Alexander's time, many vessels of different countries came to Scotland, freighted with various kinds of merchandise, with the design of exchanging them for the commodities of our kingdom. The king's mind, however, was unenlightened on the subject of freedom of trade; and the frequent loss of valuable cargoes by pirates, wrecks, and unforeseen arrestments, had induced him to pass some severe laws against the exportation of Scottish merchandise. Burgesses, however, were allowed to traffic with these foreign merchantmen; and in a short time the kingdom became rich in every kind of wealth; in the productions of the arts and manufactures; in money, in agricultural produce, in flocks and herds; so that many, says an ancient historian, came from the West and East to consider its power, and to study its polity. Amongst these strangers, there arrived in a great body, the richest of the Lombard merchants, who offered to establish manufacturing settlements in various parts of the country. They specified among other places the mount above Queensferry, and an island near Cramond, and only asked of the king certain spiritual immunities. Unfortunately, the proposal of these rich and industrious men, for what cause we cannot tell, proved displeasing to some powerful members of the state, and was dismissed; but from an expression of the historian we may gather, that the king himself was desirous to encourage them, and that favourable terms for a settlement would have been granted, had not death stept in and put an end to the negotiation.

The conduct pursued by this king, in his intercourse with England, was marked by a judicious union of the firmness and dignity which became an independent sovereign with the kindliness befitting his near connexion with Edward; but, warned by the attempts which had been first made by the father and followed up by the son, he took care, that when invited to the English court, it should be expressly acknowledged-fthat he came there as the free monarch of an independent country.

To complete the character of this prince, he was temperate in his habits, his morals were pure, and in all his domestic relations, kindness and affection were conspicuous. The oldest Scottish song, which has yet been discovered, is an affectionate little monody on the death of Alexander, preserved by Winton, one of the fathers of our authentic Scottish history.

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