The basic fact in the history of the Scottish state is fear of England. English kings, for England’s safety from rear attack, time and again tried to annex Scotland to the English crown. Scotland, to protect itself, accepted alliance with England’s perennial enemy, France. Thereby hangs this chronicle.
With bows and arrows and battle-axes the Scots won freedom from England at Bannockburn (1314). Robert Bruce, having there led them to victory, ruled them till his death by leprosy (1329). His son David II, like Scottish kings from time beyond memory, was crowned on the sacred “Stone of Destiny” in the abbey of Scone. When Edward III of England began the Hundred Years’ War with France he thought it wise first to secure his northern front; he defeated the Scots at Halidon Hill, and set up Edward Balliol as his puppet on the Scottish throne (1333). David II regained the crown only by paying the English a ransom of 100,000 marks ($6,667,000?). As he left no direct heir at his death (1371), the kingdom passed to his nephew Robert Stuart, with whom the fateful Stuart dynasty began.
The war of Britain’s two halves against the whole was soon resumed. The French sent an army to Scotland; Scots and French ravaged the border counties of England, took Durham, and put to death all its inhabitants—men, women, children, nuns, monks, priests. Playing the next move in this royal chess, the English invaded Scotland, burned Perth and Dundee, and destroyed Melrose Abbey (1385). Robert III carried on; but when the English captured his son James (1406) he died of grief. England kept the boy king in genteel imprisonment until the Scots signed the “Perpetual Peace” (1423), renouncing all further co-operation with France.
James I had picked up, in captivity, considerable education, and an English bride. In honor of this “milk-white dove” he composed, in the Scots tongue, The King’s Quair (i.e., book), an allegorical poem of surprising merit for a king. Indeed James was remarkable in a dozen ways. He was one of the best wrestlers, runners, riders, archers, spearmen, craftsmen, and musicians in Scotland, and he was a competent and beneficent ruler. He imposed penalties upon dishonest commerce and negligent husbandry, built hospitals, required taverns to close at nine, turned the energies of youth from football to martial exercises, and demanded a reform of ecclesiastical discipline and monastic life. When his active feign began (1424) he pledged himself to put down chaos and crime in Scotland, and to end the private wars of the nobles and their feudal despotism; “if God gives me but a dog’s life I will make the key keep the castle and the bracken keep the cow”—i.e., end robbery of homes and cattle—“through all Scotland.”7 A Highland thief robbed a woman of two cows; she vowed that she would ne’er wear shoon till she had walked to the King to denounce the weakness of the law. “You lie,” said the thief; “I will have you shod”; and he nailed horseshoes to her naked feet. She found her way to the King nevertheless. He had the robber hunted down, had him led about Perth with a canvas picture of the crime, and saw to it that the brute was safely hanged. Meanwhile he quarreled opportunely with obstructive barons, brought a few to the scaffold, confiscated excess holdings, taxed the lords as well as the burgesses, and gave the government the funds it needed to replace many tyrannies with one. He called to the Parliament the lairds—proprietors of the lesser estates—and made them and the middle class an offset to the nobles and the clergy. In 1437 a band of nobles killed him.
The sons of the nobles whom he had cut down in life or property continued against James II their struggle against the centralizing monarchy. While the new king was still a lad of seven his ministers invited the young Earl of Douglas, and a younger brother, to be the King’s guests; they came, were given a mock trial, and were beheaded (1440). Twelve years later James II himself invited William, Earl of Douglas, to his court at Stirling, gave him a safe-conduct, entertained him royally, and slew him on the charge that he had had treasonable correspondence with England. The King captured all English strongholds in Scotland but one, and was blown to bits by the accidental explosion of his own cannon. James III paid the penalty of his father’s lawlessness; after many ferocious encounters he was captured by nobles and summarily killed (1488). James IV married Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII; through that marriage Mary Queen of Scots would later claim the English throne. Nevertheless, when Henry joined Spain, Austria, Venice, and the papacy in attacking France (1511), James felt bound to help Scotland’s old ally, now so imperiled, by invading England. On Flodden Field he fought with mad courage while many of his men turned and fled; and in that disaster he died (1513).
James V was then but a year old. An involved struggle ensued for the regency. David Beaton—an ecclesiastic distinguished by ability, courage, and appreciation of women—secured the prize, was made Archbishop of St. Andrews, then Cardinal, and trained the young King in fervent allegiance to the Church. In 1538 James married Mary of Lorraine, sister of Francis, Duke of Guise, the leader of the Catholic party in dogma-divided France. The Scottish nobility, increasingly anticlerical, looked with interest at the current divorce of England from the papacy, envied English lords appropriating or receiving church property, and took “wages” from Henry VIII to oppose their King’s alliance with France. When James V waged war on England the nobles refused to support him. Defeated at Solway Moss (1542), he fled in shame to Falkland, and died there on December 14. On December 8 his wife had given birth to Mary, who, six days old, became Queen of Scots.
Beaton produced a will in which the late King had named him regent for the infant Queen. The nobles questioned the authenticity of the document, imprisoned the Cardinal, and chose as regent James, Earl of Arran; but Arran released Beaton and made him chancellor. When Beaton renewed the alliance with France, Henry VIII resolved on merciless war. To his army in the north he sent orders to burn and destroy everything in its path, “putting nan, woman, and child to fire and sword without exception where any resistance shall be made,” and particularly “sparing no creature alive” in Beaton’s St. Andrews.8 The army did its best; “abbey and grange, castle and hamlet, were buried in a common ruin”;9 for two days Edinburgh was sacked and burned; farm villages for seven miles around were pillaged and razed; 10,000 horned cattle, 12,000 sheep, 1,300 horses, were led away to England (1544). Sir James Kirkcaldy, Norman Leslie, and other Scottish gentlemen offered to help the English “burn places belonging to the extreme party in the Church, to arrest and imprison the principal opponents of the English alliance, and to ‘apprehend and slay’ the Cardinal himself.”10 Henry welcomed the offer, and promised a thousand pounds toward expenses. The plan fell through for a time, but was carried out on May 29, 1546. Two Kirkcaldies, two Leslies, and a numerous band of nobles and cutthroats forced entry into the Cardinal’s palace, and slew him almost in fragrante delicto, “for,” said Knox, “he had been busy at his accounts with Mistress Ogilvy that night.”11“Now, because the weather was hot,” Knox added, “it was thought best, to keep him from stinking, to give him great salt enough, a cope of lead... to await what exequies his brethren the bishops could prepare for him. These things we write merrily.”12 The assassins retired to the castle of St. Andrews on the coast, and awaited aid from England by sea.
Arran resumed charge of the government. To assure French help he promised the infant Queen Mary Stuart to the French dauphin; and to prevent her seizure by the English she was clandestinely sent to France (August 13, 1548). The accession of Mary Tudor in England ended for a time the danger of further English invasions; Catholicism now ruled on both sides of the border. French influences prevailed upon Arran to resign the regency (1554) to Mary of Lorraine, mother of the absent Queen. She was a woman of intelligence, patience, and courage, who yielded only to the overwhelming spirit of the age. Dowered with the culture of the French Renaissance, she smiled tolerantly at the rival religious dogmas that raged around her. She ordered the release of several imprisoned Protestants, and allowed such freedom of preaching and worship to “heretics” that many English Protestants, fleeing from Mary Tudor, found refuge, and were allowed to form congregations, under Mary of Lorraine. She was the most humane and civilized ruler that Scotland had known for centuries.