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James I

(1394—1437) king of Scots

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king of Scots (1406–37). James was the third son of Robert III (1390–1406), and was born in July 1394. By the age of 7, he was the sole surviving male and heir to the throne. In 1405–6 the country was racked by civil war, with the rump of Robert III loyalists supporting the young Prince James against a formidable Albany/Douglas faction. Early in 1406 events came to a head when James took ship for France, only to be captured at sea (22 March) and delivered to Henry IV of England. Less than a fortnight later Robert III died (4 April), and James became king at the age of 12, uncrowned and in English hands for the next 18 years.

These were the formative years of James I's life, instilling in him an admiration for English royal government. Already suspicious of the Albany Stewarts, James had his fears of Albany ambitions further fuelled by the release of Duke Robert's son and heir Murdac (Albany) from English captivity in 1416. The king had to wait a further eight years for his own release.

James re‐entered Scotland in April 1424, in his 30th year, bringing with him an English wife, Joan Beaufort. Having taken part in English wars in France, on occasion against his Scottish subjects, he can hardly have been popular; and he was saddled with a ransom of £40,000 sterling.

Despite this inauspicious start, James possessed virtues which earned him praise. Abbot Bower describes his many accomplishments, including prowess in sports, music, and literary pursuits: the king was the author of the autobiographical love poem ‘The Kingis Quair’. He was, untypically for the Stewarts, a faithful husband, and Queen Joan responded loyally by producing twin sons and a string of daughters.

In his efforts to increase the authority, resources, and security of the crown, James launched pre‐emptive strikes against members of his nobility. The Albany Stewarts were all but annihilated in 1425. The earl of Douglas was suddenly arrested in 1431, the earl of March in 1434. James's failure at the siege of Roxburgh (August 1436) was followed by Sir Robert Graham's abortive attempt to arrest him during a general council, and his murder at Perth (20–1 February 1437) by Walter Stewart, earl of Atholl. Ultimately the king was the victim of his own methods; Atholl, seeing his influence in Strathearn threatened by the king, responded with his own pre‐emptive strike.

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