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Timeline of Scottish History

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On March 4, 1578, a strong band of nobles, led by Argyll, presented so firm a front that Morton resigned the Regency; but in April 1578, a Douglas plot, backed by Angus and Morton, secured for the Earl of Mar the command of Stirling Castle and custody of the King; in June 1578, after an appearance of civil war, Morton was as strong as ever.  After dining with him, in April 1579, Atholl, the main hope of Mary in Scotland, died suddenly, and suspicion of poison fell on his host.  But Morton’s ensuing success in expelling from Scotland the Hamilton leaders, Lord Claude and Arbroath, brought down his own doom.  With them Sir James Balfour, deep in the secrets of Darnley’s death, was exiled; he opened a correspondence with Mary, and presently procured for her “a contented revenge” on Morton.

Two new characters in the long intrigue of vengeance now come on the scene.  Both were Stewarts, and as such were concerned in the feud against the Hamiltons.  The first was a cousin of Darnley, brought up in France, namely Esme Stuart d’Aubigny, son of John, a brother of Lennox.  He had all the accomplishments likely to charm the boy king, now in his fourteenth year.

James had hitherto been sternly educated by George Buchanan, more mildly by Peter Young.  Buchanan and others had not quite succeeded in bringing him to scorn and hate his mother; Lady Mar, who was very kind to him, had exercised a gentler influence.  The boy had read much, had hunted yet more eagerly, and had learned dissimulation and distrust, so natural to a child weak and ungainly in body and the conscious centre of the intrigues of violent men.  A favourite of his was James Stewart, son of Lord Ochiltree, and brother-in-law of John Knox.  Stewart was Captain of the Guard, a man of learning, who had been in foreign service; he was skilled in all bodily feats, was ambitious, reckless, and resolute, and no friend of the preachers.  The two Stewarts, d’Aubigny and the Captain, became allies.

In a Parliament at Edinburgh (November 1579) their foes, the chiefs of the Hamiltons, were forfeited (they had been driven to seek shelter with Elizabeth), while d’Aubigny got their lands and the key of Scotland, Dumbarton Castle, on the estuary of Clyde.  The Kirk, regarding d’Aubigny, now Earl of Lennox, despite his Protestant professions, as a Papist or an atheist, had little joy in Morton, who was denounced in a printed placard as guilty in Darnley’s murder: Sir James Balfour could show his signature to the band to slay Darnley, signed by Huntly, Bothwell, Argyll, and Lethington.  This was not true.  Balfour knew much, was himself involved, but had not the band to show, or did not dare to produce it.

To strengthen himself, Lennox was reconciled to the Kirk; to help the Hamiltons, Elizabeth sent Bowes to intrigue against Lennox, who was conspiring in Mary’s interest, or in that of the Guises, or in his own.  When Lennox succeeded in getting Dumbarton Castle, an open door for France, into his power, Bowes was urged by Elizabeth to join with Morton and “lay violent hands” on Lennox (August 31, 1580), but in a month Elizabeth cancelled her orders.

Bowes was recalled; Morton, to whom English aid had been promised, was left to take his chances.  Morton had warning from Lord Robert Stewart, Mary’s half-brother, to fly the country, for Sir James Balfour, with his information, had landed.  On December 31, 1580, Captain Stewart accused Morton, in presence of the Council, of complicity in Darnley’s murder.  He was put in ward; Elizabeth threatened war; the preachers stormed against Lennox; a plot to murder him (a Douglas plot) and to seize James was discovered; Randolph, who now represented Elizabeth, was fired at, and fled to Berwick; James Stewart was created Earl of Arran.  In March 1581 the king and Lennox tried to propitiate the preachers by signing a negative Covenant against Rome, later made into a precedent for the famous Covenant of 1638.  On June 1 Morton was tried for guilty foreknowledge of Darnley’s death.  He was executed deservedly, and his head was stuck on a spike of the Tolbooth.  The death of this avaricious, licentious, and resolute though unamiable Protestant was a heavy blow to the preachers and their party, and a crook in the lot of Elizabeth.


The next twenty years were occupied with the strife of Kirk and King, whence arose “all the cumber of Scotland” till 1689.  The preachers, led by the learned and turbulent Andrew Melville, had an ever-present terror of a restoration of Catholicism, the creed of a number of the nobles and of an unknown proportion of the people.  The Reformation of 1559-1560 had been met by no Catholic resistance; we might suppose that the enormous majority of the people were Protestants, though the reverse has been asserted.  But whatever the theological preferences of the country may have been, the justifiable fear of practical annexation by France had overpowered all other considerations.  By 1580 it does not seem that there was any good reason for the Protestant nervousness, even if some northern counties and northern and Border peers preferred Catholicism.  The king himself, a firm believer in his own theological learning and acuteness, was thoroughly Protestant.

But the preachers would scarcely allow him to remain a Protestant.  Their claims, as formulated by Andrew Melville, were inconsistent with the right of the State to be mistress in her own house.  In a General Assembly at Glasgow (1581) Presbyteries were established; Episcopacy was condemned; the Kirk claimed for herself a separate jurisdiction, uninvadable by the State.  Elizabeth, though for State reasons she usually backed the Presbyterians against James, also warned him of “a sect of dangerous consequence, which would have no king but a presbytery.”  The Kirk, with her sword of excommunication, and with the inspired violence of the political sermons and prayers, invaded the secular authority whenever and wherever she pleased, and supported the preachers in their claims to be tried first, when accused of treasonable libels, in their own ecclesiastical courts.  These were certain to acquit them.

James, if not pressed in this fashion, had no particular reason for desiring Episcopal government of the Kirk, but being so pressed he saw no refuge save in bishops.  Meanwhile his chief advisers—d’Aubigny, now Duke of Lennox, and James Stewart, the destroyer of Morton, now, to the prejudice of the Hamiltons, Earl of Arran—were men whose private life, at least in Arran’s case, was scandalous.  If Arran were a Protestant, he was impatient of the rule of the pulpiteers; and Lennox was working, if not sincerely in Mary’s interests, certainly in his own and for those of the Catholic House of Guise.  At the same time he favoured the king’s Episcopal schemes, and, late in 1581, appointed a preacher named Montgomery to the recently vacant Archbishopric of Glasgow, while he himself, like Morton, drew most of the revenues.  Hence arose tumults, and, late in 1581 and in 1582, priestly and Jesuit emissaries went and came, intriguing for a Catholic rising, to be supported by a large foreign force which they had not the slightest chance of obtaining from any quarter.  Archbishop Montgomery was excommunicated by the Kirk, and James, as we saw, had signed “A Negative Confession” (1581).

In 1582 Elizabeth was backing the exiled Presbyterian Earl of Angus and the Earl of Gowrie (Ruthven), while Lennox was contemplating a coup d’état in Edinburgh (August 27).  Gowrie, with the connivance of England, struck the first blow.  He, Mar, and their accomplices captured James at Ruthven Castle, near Perth (August 23, “the Raid of Ruthven”), with the approval of the General Assembly of the Kirk.  It was a Douglas plot managed by Angus and Elizabeth.  James Stewart of the Guard (now Earl of Arran) was made prisoner; Lennox fled the country.  In October 1582, in a Parliament at Holyrood, the conspirators passed Acts indemnifying themselves, and the General Assembly approved them.  These Acts were rescinded later, and James had learned for life his hatred of the Presbyterians who had treacherously seized and insulted their king. {144}

In May 1583 Lennox died in Paris, leaving an heir.  On June 27 James made his escape, “a free king,” to the castle of St Andrews: he proclaimed an amnesty and feigned reconciliation with his captor, the Earl of Gowrie, chief of the house so hateful to Mary—the Ruthvens.  At the same time James placed himself in friendly relations with his kinsfolk, the Guises, the terror of Protestants.  He had already been suspected, on account of Lennox, as inclined to Rome: in fact, he was always a Protestant, but baited on every side—by England, by the Kirk, by a faction of his nobles: he intrigued for allies in every direction.

The secret history of his intrigues has never been written.  We find the persecuted and astute lad either in communication with Rome, or represented by shady adventurers as employing them to establish such communications.  At one time, as has been recently discovered, a young man giving himself out as James’s bastard brother (a son of Darnley begotten in England) was professing to bear letters from James to the Pope.  He was arrested on the Continent, and James could not be brought either to avow or disclaim his kinsman!

A new Lennox, son of the last, was created a duke; a new Bothwell, Francis Stewart (nephew of Mary’s Bothwell), began to rival his uncle in turbulence.  Knowing that Anglo-Scottish plots to capture him again were being woven daily by Angus and others, James, in February 1584, wrote a friendly and compromising letter to the Pope.  In April, Arran (James Stewart) crushed a conspiracy by seizing Gowrie at Dundee, and then routing a force with which Mar and Angus had entered Scotland.  Gowrie, confessing his guilt as a conspirator, was executed at Stirling (May 2, 1584), leaving, of course, his feud to his widow and son.  The chief preachers fled; Andrew Melville was already in exile, with several others, in England.  Melville, in February, had been charged with preaching seditious sermons, had brandished a Hebrew Bible at the Privy Council, had refused secular jurisdiction and appealed to a spiritual court, by which he was certain to be acquitted.  Henceforward, when charged with uttering treasonable libels from the pulpit, the preachers were wont to appeal, in the first instance, to a court of their own cloth, and on this point James in the long-run triumphed over the Kirk.

In a Parliament of May 18, 1584, such declinature of royal jurisdiction was, by “The Black Acts,” made treason: Episcopacy was established; the heirs of Gowrie were disinherited; Angus, Mar, and other rebels were forfeited.  But such forfeitures never held long in Scotland.

In August 1584 a new turn was given to James’s policy by Arran, who was Protestant, if anything, in belief, and hoped to win over Elizabeth, the harbourer of all enemies of James.  Arran’s instrument was the beautiful young Master of Gray, in France a Catholic, a partisan of Mary, and leagued with the Guises.  He was sent to persuade Elizabeth to banish James’s exiled rebels, but, like a Lethington on a smaller scale, he set himself to obtain the restoration of these lords as against Arran, while he gratified Elizabeth by betraying to her the secrets of Mary.  This man was the adoring friend of the flower of chivalry, Sir Philip Sidney!

As against Arran the plot succeeded.  Making Berwick, on English soil, their base, in November 1585 the exiles, lay and secular, backed by England, returned, captured James at Stirling, and drove Arran to lurk about the country, till, many years after, Douglas of Parkhead met and slew him, avenging Morton; and, when opportunity offered, Douglas was himself slain by an avenging Stewart at the Cross of Edinburgh.  The age reeked with such blood feuds, of which the preachers could not cure their fiery flocks.

In December 1585 Parliament restored Gowrie’s forfeited family to their own (henceforth they were constantly conspiring against James), and the exiled preachers returned to their manses and pulpits.  But bishops were not abolished, though the Kirk, through the Synod of Fife, excommunicated the Archbishop of St Andrews, Adamson, who replied in kind.  He was charged with witchcraft, and in the long-run was dragged down and reduced to poverty, being accused of dealings with witches—and hares!

In July 1586 England and Scotland formed an alliance, and Elizabeth promised to make James an allowance of £4000 a-year.  This, it may be feared, was the blood-price of James’s mother: from her son, and any hope of aid from her son, Mary was now cut off.  Walsingham laid the snares into which she fell, deliberately providing for her means of communication with Babington and his company, and deciphering and copying the letters which passed through the channel which he had contrived.  A trifle of forgery was also done by his agent, Phelipps.  Mary, knowing herself deserted by her son, was determined, as James knew, to disinherit him.  For this reason, and for the £4000, he made no strong protest against her trial.  One of his agents in London—the wretched accomplice in his father’s murder, Archibald Douglas—was consenting to her execution.  James himself thought that strict imprisonment was the best course; but the Presbyterian Angus declared that Mary “could not be blamed if she had caused the Queen of England’s throat to be cut for detaining her so unjustly imprisoned.”  The natural man within us entirely agrees with Angus!

A mission was sent from Holyrood, including James’s handsome new favourite, the Master of Gray, with his cousin, Logan of Restalrig, who sold the Master to Walsingham.  The envoys were to beg for Mary’s life.  The Master had previously betrayed her; but he was not wholly lost, and in London he did his best, contrary to what is commonly stated, to secure her life.  He thus incurred the enmity of his former allies in the English Court, and, as he had foreseen, he was ruined in Scotland—his previous letters, hostile to Mary, being betrayed by his aforesaid cousin, Logan of Restalrig.

On February 8, 1567, ended the lifelong tragedy of Mary Stuart.  The woman whom Elizabeth vainly moved Amyas Paulet to murder was publicly decapitated at Fotheringay.  James vowed that he would not accept from Elizabeth “the price of his mother’s blood.”  But despite the fury of his nobles James sat still and took the money, at most some £4000 annually,—when he could get it.

During the next fifteen years the reign of James, and his struggle for freedom from the Kirk, was perturbed by a long series of intrigues of which the details are too obscure and complex for presentation here.  His chief Minister was now John Maitland, a brother of Lethington, and as versatile, unscrupulous, and intelligent as the rest of that House.  Maitland had actually been present, as Lethington’s representative, at the tragedy of the Kirk-o’-Field.  He was Protestant, and favoured the party of England.  In the State the chief parties were the Presbyterian nobles, the majority of the gentry or lairds, and the preachers on one side; and the great Catholic families of Huntly, Morton (the title being now held by a Maxwell), Errol, and Crawford on the other.  Bothwell (a sister’s son of Mary’s Bothwell) flitted meteor-like, more Catholic than anything else, but always plotting to seize James’s person; and in this he was backed by the widow of Gowrie and the preachers, and encouraged by Elizabeth.  In her fear that James would join the Catholic nobles, whom the preachers eternally urged him to persecute, Elizabeth smiled on the Protestant plots—thereby, of course, fostering any inclination which James may have felt to seek Catholic aid at home and abroad.  The plots of Mary were perpetually confused by intrigues of priestly emissaries, who interfered with the schemes of Spain and mixed in the interests of the Guises.

A fact which proved to be of the highest importance was the passing, in July 1587, of an Act by which much of the ecclesiastical property of the ancient Church was attached to the Crown, to be employed in providing for the maintenance of the clergy.  But James used much of it in making temporal lordships: for example, at the time of the mysterious Gowrie Conspiracy (August 1600), we find that the Earl of Gowrie had obtained the Church lands of the Abbey of Scone, which his brother, the Master of Ruthven, desired.  With the large revenues now at his disposal James could buy the support of the baronage, who, after the execution in 1584 of the Earl of Gowrie (the father of the Gowrie of the conspiracy of 1600), are not found leading and siding with the ministers in a resolute way.  By 1600 young Gowrie was the only hope of the preachers, and probably James’s ability to enrich the nobles helped to make them stand aloof.  Meanwhile, fears and hopes of the success of the Spanish Armada held the minds of the Protestants and of the Catholic earls.  “In this world-wolter,” as James said, no Scot moved for Spain except that Lord Maxwell who had first received and then been deprived of the Earldom of Morton.  James advanced against him in Dumfriesshire and caused his flight.  As for the Armada, many ships drifted north round Scotland, and one great vessel, blown up in Tobermory Bay by Lachlan Maclean of Duart, still invites the attention of treasure-hunters (1911).


Early in 1589 Elizabeth became mistress of some letters which proved that the Catholic earls, Huntly and Errol, were intriguing with Spain.  The offence was lightly passed over, but when the earls, with Crawford and Montrose, drew to a head in the north, James, with much more than his usual spirit, headed the army which advanced against them: they fled from him near Aberdeen, surrendered, and were for a brief time imprisoned.  As nobody knows how Fortune’s wheel may turn, and as James, hard pressed by the preachers, could neglect no chance of support, he would never gratify the Kirk by crushing the Catholic earls, by temperament he was no persecutor.  His calculated leniency caused him years of trouble.

Meanwhile James, after issuing a grotesque proclamation about the causes of his spirited resolve, sailed in October to woo a sea-king’s daughter over the foam, the Princess Anne of Denmark.  After happy months passed, he wrote, “in drinking and driving ower,” he returned with his bride in May 1590.

The General Assembly then ordered prayers for the Puritans oppressed in England; none the less Elizabeth, the oppressor, continued to patronise the plots of the Puritans of Scotland.  They now lent their approval to the foe of James’s minister, Maitland, namely, the wild Francis Stewart, Earl of Bothwell, a sister’s son of Mary’s Bothwell.  This young man had the engaging quality of gay and absolute recklessness; he was dear to ladies and the wild young gentry of Lothian and the Borders; he broke prisons, released friends, dealt with wizards, aided by Lady Gowrie stole into Holyrood, his ruling ambition being to capture the king.  The preachers prayed for “sanctified plagues” against James, and regarded Bothwell favourably as a sanctified plague.

A strange conspiracy within Clan Campbell, in which Huntly and Maitland were implicated, now led to the murder, among others, of the bonny Earl of Murray by Huntly in partnership with Maitland (February 1592).

James was accused of having instigated this crime, from suspicion of Murray as a partner in the wild enterprises of Bothwell, and was so hard pressed by sermons that, in the early summer of 1592, he allowed the Black Acts to be abrogated, and “the Charter of the liberties of the Kirk” to be passed.  One of these liberties was to persecute Catholics in accordance with the penal Acts of 1560.  The Kirk was almost an imperium in imperio, but was still prohibited from appointing the time and place of its own General Assemblies without Royal assent.  This weak point in their defences enabled James to vanquish them, but, in June, Bothwell attacked him in the Palace of Falkland and put him in considerable peril.

The end of 1592 and the opening of 1593 were remarkable for the discovery of “The Spanish Blanks,” papers addressed to Philip of Spain, signed by Huntly, the new Earl of Angus, and Errol, to be filled up with an oral message requesting military aid for Scottish Catholics.  Such proceedings make our historians hold up obtesting hands against the perfidy of idolaters.  But clearly, if Knox and the congregation were acting rightly when they besought the aid of England against Mary of Guise, then Errol and Huntly are not to blame for inviting Spain to free them from persecution.  Some inkling of the scheme had reached James, and a paper in which he weighed the pros and cons is in existence.  His suspected understanding with the Catholic earls, whom he merely did not wish to estrange hopelessly, was punished by a sanctified plague.  On July 24, 1593, by aid of the late Earl Gowrie’s daughter, Bothwell entered Holyrood, seized the king, extorted his own terms, went and amazed the Dean of Durham by his narrative of the adventure, and seemed to have the connivance of Elizabeth.  But in September James found himself in a position to repudiate his forced engagement.  Bothwell now allied himself with the Catholic earls, and, as a Catholic, had no longer the prayers of the preachers.  James ordered levies to attack the earls, while Argyll led his clan and the Macleans against Huntly, only to be defeated by the Gordon horse at the battle of Glenrinnes (October 3).  Huntly and his allies, however, dared not encounter King James and Andrew Melville, who marched together against them, and they were obliged to fly to the Continent.  Bothwell, with his retainer, Colville, continued, with Cecil’s connivance, to make desperate plots for seizing James; indeed, Cecil was intriguing with them and other desperadoes even after 1600.  Throughout all the Tudor period, from Henry VII. to 1601, England was engaged in a series of conspiracies against the persons of the princes of Scotland.  The Catholics of the south of Scotland now lost Lord Maxwell, slain by a “Lockerby Lick” in a great clan battle with the Johnstones at Dryfe Sands.

In 1595, James’s minister, John Maitland, brother of Lethington, died, and early in 1596 an organisation called “the Octavians” was made to regulate the distracted finance of the country.  On April 13, 1596, Walter Scott of Buccleuch made himself an everlasting name by the bloodless rescue of Kinmont Willie, an Armstrong reiver, from the Castle of Carlisle, where he was illegally held by Lord Scrope.  The period was notable for the endless raids by the clans on both sides of the Border, celebrated in ballads.

James had determined to recall the exiled Catholic earls, undeterred by the eloquence of “the last of all our sincere Assemblies,” held with deep emotion in March 1596.  The earls came home; in September at Falkland Palace Andrew Melville seized James by the sleeve, called him “God’s silly vassal,” and warned him that Christ and his Kirk were the king’s overlords.  Soon afterwards Mr David Black of St Andrews spoke against Elizabeth in a sermon which caused diplomatic remonstrances.  Black would be tried, in the first instance, only by a Spiritual Court of his brethren.  There was a long struggle, the ministers appointed a kind of standing Committee of Safety; James issued a proclamation dissolving it, and, on December 17, inflammatory sermons led a deputation to try to visit James, who was with the Lords of Session in the Tolbooth.  Whether under an alarm of a Popish plot or not, the crowd became so fierce and menacing that the great Lachlan Maclean of Duart rode to Stirling to bring up Argyll in the king’s defence with such forces as he could muster.  The king retired to Linlithgow; the Rev. Mr Bruce, a famous preacher credited with powers of prophecy, in vain appealed to the Duke of Hamilton to lead the godly.  By threatening to withdraw the Court and Courts of Justice from Edinburgh James brought the citizens to their knees, and was able to take order with the preachers.

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