Guide to Scotland
   Gateway to the British Isles since 1996
A Brief History of Scotland

Presented by Peter N. Williams, Ph.D.

Chapter 4: Turmoil After The Bruce

Robert Stewart died in 1390 after a reign that can hardly be called peaceful. Nobles fought among themselves especially over the highly disputed lands along the English border. The battle of Otterburn, or Chevy Chase, in 1388 between the Douglas's and the Percy's only typified much of what went on in lawless Scotland. It was unable as a nation to take advantage of the English problems; trying to hold on to their possessions in France. The infighting continued during the reign of Robert III, a disabled cripple who left the governing to his younger brother, the Duke of Albany who himself virtually abdicated in 1399.

Poor old Scotland!! The heir to the throne was the unfortunate Robert's son, James, who was sent to France by his father so that he would be safe from the Regents. He never reached his intended destination. His ship was captured by pirates and taken to London where he was held hostage and remained for 18 years despite being proclaimed James I at the death of his father in 1406. The Scottish nobility took full advantage of the king's absence and built their own estates into minor, but powerful kingdoms. The Douglas family owned the strongest of these minor kingdoms. Even the monarchy could not ignore the strength of this powerful family.

So, the pattern was set for years to come. In the northwest, the MacDonald lords continued to hold sway as autonomous monarchs, ignoring the central government. They had even formed a series of alliances with the English kings that were renewed by Henry IV in 1408. The powerful MacDonalds then tried to extend their lands even further and allied with the MacLeans. They marched across Scotland to try to capture the important city of Aberdeen. However, after a battle against the forces of the Regent, they were forced to return westward.

In 1413, England's Henry IV was succeeded by his son Henry V whose glorious victories in France gave him more one half of that nation.

To help him in his fight against the all-conquering English, the Dauphin of France relied upon the auld alliance and called upon Scotland for help. It was immediately forthcoming. Under Albany's son Buchan, thousands of Scottish soldiers helped reverse the fortunes of the war. When Henry V died in 1422, he cursed the Scots nation. He is purported to have stated, "Wherever I go, I find them in my beard." What a pity for the future of the Celtic nations that the Welsh rebellion under Owain Glyndwr had ended in failure a decade earlier.

Owain had himself crowned Prince of Wales in 1404 at a parliament in Machynlleth. He received envoys from Scotland, France and Castile and had formed an alliance with powerful English Lord Henry Percy (Hotspur). The capture of James I of Scotland in 1406 and the failure of Percy dashed all hopes of the Welsh leader to capture the Crown of Britain from its English usurpers and restore it to its rightful owners. The death of Henry V would have been an ideal time for France, Scotland and Wales to join forces in a three-pronged attack upon England.

Be as that as it may, a long tradition of mutual respect and support began between the kingdoms of Scotland and France in 1422. The fighting qualities of the Scots soldiers, no less than those of the Welsh were matched by their capacity for consuming vast quantities of food and drink: they thus earned their sobriquets Sacs a vin and Mangeurs de mouton. Buchan was aided for his help to the Dauphin by becoming Constable of France and Commander-in-Chief of the French armies. For his help, Douglas was rewarded with the Duchy of Touraine.

Albany, the Regent for so many years, died in 1420. It was time for James I to return to Scotland. Conditions were favorable. Henry V was dead, James was on good terms with young Henry VI's regents who were in control of England and the English had been at with France for so long that they did not wish to get involved militarily with their northern neighbors. In 1424, after marrying Henry VI's cousin Joan, James came back home to practice the skills of statecraft he had learned during his many years at the English Court. His expertise was sorely needed because much of his country was in complete disarray.

The trouble was that Scotland had been in a state of administrative chaos for so long, that many of the nobility were not willing to surrender any of their prerogatives to a central government presided over by the new king. James had to forcibly seize property from the Regent Albany. He then ordered the Highland Chiefs to a Parliament at which he had many of them arrested and some even executed. Next, He dealt forcibly with a rebellion led by Alexander of the Isles and the Western clans, who was also in opposition to his attempts at centralizing the government. In the Lowlands, where Douglas and the Earl of March had been causing trouble, James took command of the Crown Forces himself and succeeded in restoring the situation.

Following his redress of the imbalance between Crown and Nobility, James made his principal residence at Linlithgow, which he made into a magnificent palace. In 1428, he formally renewed the Auld Alliance with France, sending a large Scottish force to fight successfully for Charles VII and Joan of Arc against the armies of England. Turning to affairs at home, James then began an ambitious program of social and legislative reform, earning the title of Rex Legifer, the Law Giver.

Chapter 4: Turmoil after The Bruce Continued