Scotland: Peeps at History - G. E. Mitton

Two Crowns and One King

It you took the train from Edinburgh to Stirling and there got off and walked up to the castle, you would have a long climb. When you reached the battlements and looked down, you would see that what you had climbed was really a great cliff, which gradually slopes upward through the town, but on the other side is as steep and precipitous as any cliff bordering the sea-coast. Looking over the battlements, you can see spread below a wide plain through which winds the River Forth. In the days when bridges were few a river often proved a very effective defense. The old bridge, which you can see from the castle, is one of the oldest in Scotland, and when bands of armed men were advancing from north or south they crossed over it; we have heard of the use Wallace made of this bridge when he defeated the English so triumphantly. Therefore, with its river below and its cliff for a foundation, you can see what a magnificent place for a fortress Stirling Castle is. From the very earliest days of history there has been some sort of a castle here, and many dark scenes took place in it.

In this story we are dealing with James VI. of Scotland, who became James I. of England. He had been christened with splendor at Stirling, and he remained there when his mother, Queen Mary, fled into England. He had been King since her abdication, and the Earl of Moray was at first Regent.

When James was a small child of between three and four, the Regent Moray was shot in the streets of Linlithgow by a man who belonged to Queen Mary's party, for there were still some who wished her to come back and be Queen again. Another Regent had to be chosen, and the Earl of Lennox, who was Darnley's father, and therefore the young King's grandfather, was appointed. This was very irritating to the Queen's party, who had killed Moray only to have him replaced by someone who, from their point of view, was worse. They kept breaking out in insurrection, and at last attacked Stirling itself. The Regent and the Earl of Morton, another powerful noble, had houses in the town, and as the attack was made in the very early hours of the morning, they were caught asleep and taken prisoners. Luckily the Earl of Mar, who was Governor of the castle, defended himself and his young Sovereign so well that the conspirators did not get into the castle. Instead of that their troops began sacking and pillaging until they had to be drawn off in disorder.

The Earl of Lennox died from a wound he had received in this fight, and after a little time Parliament elected the Earl of Mar to be Regent in his place. After only a year Mar died too, and the Earl of Morton became Regent, though Lady Mar continued to look after the little King, who was too young to be left entirely to the care of men.

Though he was a king, James had by no means an easy time; he had many attendants and tutors, of whom the principal was a very clever scholar called George Buchanan, who wrote a History of Scotland. He was most severe with his little pupil, and some-times whipped him, which made Lady Mar cry. James was not a strong boy; until he was seven he could hardly stand because his legs were weak.

There is a picture of him in the National Portrait Gallery in London, which shows him as a pale, dull-looking child, with cropped hair of a light reddish color. He is dressed according to the fashion of the time, in a tight green waistcoat pulled into a point at the waist, and very full, stuffed-out brocade knee-breeches. He holds a hawk on his arm, but looks as if nothing in the world interested him. However, it was rather the custom then for artists to smooth every bit of expression out of their sitters' faces, so he may have been more alive than he appears. He was certainly a clever boy, and made such progress under Buchanan that at this time he could turn a chapter of the Bible "out of Latin into French, and out of French into English, as well as few men could." The Latin he learned then he never forgot, and he was fond of using it in his speech in later life.

He lived very quietly and uneventfully at Stirling, with just a little hunting and a few games to break the monotony of his lessons, until he was about fourteen, and then a new interest came into his life. A nephew of the late Earl of Lennox, who had lived all his life in France, came to the Court; he was gay, and a delightful comrade, and King James lost his heart to him. James was himself Earl of Lennox, because his father, Darnley, had been the late Earl's eldest son, but he had never used the title, and he bestowed it upon the newcomer. This man began to plot against the Regent Morton, who had now been in power for many years, and had made a number of enemies. At last a charge was brought against Morton of having been concerned in the murder of Darnley. That crime had taken place fourteen years before. Nevertheless, the Earl was tried, found guilty, and beheaded. Thus for the moment the new Earl of Lennox, being high in the King's favor, held the chief power. It was not likely that this would be allowed to continue, for there were other noblemen in Scotland who considered that they had much more right to direct the boy-King, and among them was the Earl of Cowrie, so created the year before, having previously been Lord Ruthven.

The Earl lived at a castle called Ruthven or Huntingtower, in Perthshire. King James had often been there to hunt; even to the end of his life hunting was his favorite sport. In August, 1581, when he was just over fifteen, he went as usual, and was received as the guest of the Earl, but when he woke up in the morning he found the castle surrounded by armed men to the number of 1,000, and realized that he was a prisoner in the hands of the family of which the Earl of Cowrie was the head. It is said that the boy wept on finding himself a prisoner, and was sternly told, "Better bairns greet than bearded men," meaning that his continuing under the influence of his favorite would cause much misery to his subjects. This incident is known as the Raid of Ruthven.

The King was allowed to go to Perth, and Stirling, and Edinburgh, but wherever he went he was attended by the armed men of the Ruthven family, who kept him away from his favorite Lennox. This went on for about ten months, and then, by a combination of the other nobles, jealous in their turn, the Ruthven power was swept away, and the Earl himself suffered the fate of many others who had dared too much, for he was beheaded.

When James was nearly twenty-one the news of his mother's trial and execution came, but apparently it touched him very little, which was perhaps natural, as he could never remember having seen her.

James had now the full power in his own hands, and there was no more question of any risings on behalf of the unknown mother. He began to think about marriage, and eventually proposed for the second daughter of the King of Denmark, who was called Anne. After some delay arrangements were made for this match, and as James was unwilling to cross the sea himself, he sent a proxy to represent him; the proxy carried through the ceremony, and started back to bring the bride across the stormy North Sea to Scotland. Very stormy it proved, and the poor girl, probably miserably seasick, and homesick too, at leaving her own country and friends, and going to a husband she had never seen, had the further misfortune to be driven by the wind on to the coast of Norway.

This aroused all the chivalry in James's nature, and though a voyage was not to be lightly undertaken in the small sailing-ships of that day, he insisted on going over to the rescue himself. So he sailed to Norway, and first carrying his Queen, as she then was, back to Denmark, where there was much feasting in their honor, he finally brought her safely home in May, after having joined her in the middle of November!

James was now a married man, and as the years went on sons and daughters were born to him; but it was not until he was thirty-four that the most exciting incident of his life happened to him. At that date the sons of the dead Earl of Gowrie made a desperate attempt to capture him and hide him in their town house at Perth, but the King behaved with great bravery and presence of mind, and the affair came to nothing.

This curious plot, known as the Gowrie Conspiracy, could only have been invented by two foolish boys, because it is difficult to see what the brothers could have done with the King even if they had overpowered him; they would hardly have dared to kill him, and it would have been impossible to hide him for long when it was known that he had last been seen in their house. It was altogether a mad scheme.

Three years later came the greatest change of all in James's life, for Queen Elizabeth died, and he became King of England as well as of Scotland. The Queen died in Richmond Palace, and naturally there were many men who would have liked to be the first to carry the tidings to the Scottish King. Robert Carey, a relation of the Queen's, knowing that she was ill, waited outside the windows of Richmond, and when the end came, his sister, who was one of the Women of the Bedchamber, dropped a ring out to him in token that all was over. This was at three o'clock on a Thursday morning in the end of March, 1663, and Carey, by hard riding night and day, only stopping to change horses and take the absolutely necessary refreshment, arrived at Holyrood, in Edinburgh, on Saturday night; it was considered a tremendous feat. The news was not unexpected, because Elizabeth had been ill for long, sitting gazing at nothing, hardly answering when spoken to, and refusing to take any nourishment.

On April 5, King James, with a large body of attendants, left Edinburgh, and on May 6, a month afterwards, he reached London. Henceforth his Court was in England. But though he was King of the two countries, they were still two separate countries, England and Scotland; there was no union until much later, and that must be kept for another story. James reigned for twenty-two years after this, and was succeeded by his son Charles I., as his eldest son, Prince Henry, had died. King James will always have the special claim to remembrance because of two facts—first, he was the first King to wear the two crowns, so in him was fulfilled the old saying, that "wherever the stone of Scone should be there should Scottish Kings reign"; and, secondly, that in his reign, and with his approval, was issued the complete English translation of the Bible known as the Authorized Version. It was King James who appointed companies of scholars to compare the best Hebrew and Greek texts with a careful study of what had already been translated. This version was issued in 1611, eight years after James became King of England, and will always be associated with his name. In 1911 was celebrated what is called its Tercentary, meaning the three-hundredth anniversary of its publication.