JAMES I.—THE POET KING, HOW HE REIGNED,
AND HOW HE DIED
To Prince James in his prison, the days were dark, and
long, and dreary, but brighter days were near. Regent
Albany died, his son Murdoch ruled weakly and badly,
Scotland longed for a King again, and at last the prison
doors were opened—Prince James was free.
In those days, when a prisoner was set free, he had to
be ransomed. That is, a large sum of money had to be
paid for him. But as James had been unlawfully seized
when the two countries were at peace, the English could
not demand a ransom. Instead, they sent the Scots a
bill for all that had been spent on educating and keeping
their King. Just as if the Scots had wanted the English
to keep their King from them all these years !
As soon as James was free, he married the beautiful
lady of the garden—‘ his fair heart’s lady,’ he called her.
Her name was Jane Beaufort, and she was a relation of
the King, and a very great lady. The English were glad
that James wanted to marry this lady, for they thought
she would make him keep peace with England, and not
help the French any more. Lady Jane, too, loved Prince
James. She had heard much about him at the English
court. Perhaps that May morning she had glanced up
at his window, and seen him as he knelt to watch her
while she walked in the garden.
280 SCOTLAND’S STORY
They were married with great pomp and ceremony in
London, and then this King and Queen, a happy pair of
lovers, travelled slowly northward to their kingdom.
They were followed by a train of English knights and
nobles, who had learned to love James, and as they neared
the Borders, the greatest of the Scottish barons came to
meet their King. Then with rejoicing and feasting they
moved on to Scone, where the King and Queen were
James found the land in a dreadful state. Under
Murdoch of Albany’s weak rule, the nobles had grown
more and more proud and unruly. Each acted like a
King. No one thought of keeping the laws if he did
not choose to do so. The land was little else than one
wide den of robbers.
James set himself at once to bring order into this con
fusion. Two or three days after he was crowned, he
called a Parliament He was busy himself, and he kept
his Parliament busy too. He went through all the laws,
doing away with some, making others more plain and
secure. He made the proud nobles show how they came
to be possessed of the lands they held, and many of them
who had taken other men’s goods and lands by force,
were punished. ‘ Let God but grant me life,’ cried James,
‘ and there shall not be a spot in my dominions where the
key shall not keep the castle, and the furze-bush the cow,
though I myself should lead the life of a dog to bring it
By this James meant that people should learn to keep
the laws so well, that cattle would not need to be watched
and guarded, and that people might live quietly in their
homes, and not need an army of soldiers to keep them
safe from attack.
Soon after James came to the throne, Regent Murdoch
HOW THE POET KING REIGNED 231
and his sons were seized, tried, and condemned, for the
evil deeds that they had done, while the King was in
prison in England. They were first shut up in Stirling
Castle, and afterwards their heads were cut off.
For thirteen years James continued to rule wisely and
sternly. He brought peace to the land, and comfort to
the people, but many of the proud nobles hated him,
because he had lessened their power.
‘ For he had tamed the nobles’ lust,
And curbed their power and pride,
And reached out an arm to right the poor
Through Scotland far and wide ;
And many a lordly wrong doer
By the headsman’s axe had died.’
The King had many enemies, and chief among them
was Sir Robert the Graham. One day in Parliament Sir
Robert rose in his place and cursed the King, calling him
a tyrant. For this and other misdeeds all his possessions
were taken from him, and he was banished from the land.
Then he, and others with him, formed a plot to kill the King.
It was winter time, and James, having made up his
mind to spend Christmas at the Monastery of the Black
Friars at Perth, with all his court journeyed northward.
As he was about to step into the boat to cross the river
Forth, he was stopped by an old woman. ‘My lord
King,’ she cried, ‘ go not over. If you cross this water
you will never return again.’
For a moment the King hesitated. The woman
seemed so earnest that he could not help being struck
by her words. ‘ Go,’ he said to a knight who rode with
him, ‘ ask the woman more nearly what she means.’
The knight went, but he could make nothing of the
old woman. All she would say was that some one called
Hubert had told her to warn the King. ‘ Heed her not,
Sire,’ said the knight, as he came back, ‘ she is but a half
So the King went on and thought no more of the old
woman and her warning, and soon the gay procession
arrived safely at Perth. Day after day was spent in
merrymaking. Christmas passed. The New Year came,
and still the King stayed on.
One evening, after a day of feasting and pleasure,
James sat playing at chess with a knight of the court
whom he had nicknamed the King of Love. ‘ Sir King
of Love,’ he said laughing, ‘ I read not long ago that a
king should be killed in Scotland this year. That must
be either you or me, for we are the only two Kings in the
land. So I warn you to look to yourself.’ The courtiers
around laughed at the King‘s jest, although there were
some there who knew only too well that his gay words
would soon become true.
The court had been unusually gay that day. The
evening, filled with games, singing, and storytelling had
passed quickly, so it was late before the last courtier had
gone, but still the King, dressed in a loose robe, stood by
the fire, chatting with the Queen and her ladies, before
going to bed.
But while the King and Queen had been merrily pass
ing the time in song and laughter, Robert the Graham
and his friends had been preparing their wicked plans.
Logs of wood had been placed across the moat, the
locks and bolts had been taken from the royal rooms,
and everything done that would make the entrance of
Now, as the King talked, a fierce Highland war-cry
was heard without. The clang of swords, the rush of
feet, came to his ears. The gleam of torches in the court
yard without showed through the uncurtained windows.
HOW THE POET KING DIED 238
At once the thought of treachery flashed upon the
King’s mind. He sprang to the door to fasten it. Alas !
the lock was broken, and the heavy bar used as a bolt
was gone Turning quickly to the window, he tried to
break or bend the iron bars with which they were
guarded. But strong though he was, he could not move
them. That way there was no escape.
The noise and tumult were coming ever nearer and
nearer. The terrified Queen and her ladies huddled
in a corner, trembling. But one brave lady, called
Catherine Douglas, stood by the door, her arm thrust
through the iron loops where the bolt should have been.
She at least would do what she could to keep the traitors
out. The King looked round hopelessly. What was to
be done. His eye fell upon the tongs by the fireplace.
Seizing them, he forced up a plank in the floor, and jump
ing down into the vault below, let the plank fall into its
place again. He might have escaped that way, for a
little square hole led from the vault to the open air. But
alas ! only three days before, the King himself had given
orders to have it built up, for when he played tennis
in the garden his balls would often roll into the hole and
be lost. So now he could only stand in the vault and
wait, listening anxiously to the sounds above.
Scarcely had the King disappeared when three hundred
Highlanders, armed with drawn swords, battle-axes, and
weapons of all kinds, rushed into the room. Brave
Catherine tried in vain to keep them back. They broke
her pretty white arm, and rudely threw her from the door
as they burst it open and dashed in. Ever afterwards,
Catherine was called Catherine Barlass, because of her
The room filled with armed men, and the ladies,
terribly frightened, ran away, trying to hide. The Queen
234 SCOTLAND’S STORY
alone was so struck with terror that she could not move.
With pale face and staring eyes she stood, gazing at
the scene. One of the ruffians struck her, and would
have killed her, had not Robert Graham‘s son stopped
him. ‘ For shame,’ he cried, ‘ what would you do to the
Queen ? She is but a woman. It is with men that we
have to do. Let us on and find the King.’
Then they swept through the rooms, leaving the
Queen alone, sobbing bitterly. Everywhere they searched,
—in cupboards and wardrobes, under beds and couches,
but nowhere was the King to be found. At last, mad
with disappointment and anger, they turned and left the
wrecked and ruined rooms.
Then the King, hearing no noise, and thinking that all
was safe again, lifted the planks which covered his hiding-
place, and made ready to come up. At this minute the
traitors returned. One of them had remembered the vault
below the floor. ‘ Ha,’ he cried in wicked glee, as he tore
up the plank and saw the King, ‘ the bridegroom is found
for whom we came, and for whom we have sought so
With his drawn sword in his hand, one knight leaped
down into the vault. The King caught him by the
shoulders, and threw him down. A second knight
jumped down. But the King seized him too, and threw
‘ Of his person and stature was the King
A man right manly strong,
And mightily by the shoulder blades
His foe to his feet he flung.
‘ And he smote and trampled them under him ;
And a long month hence they bare
All black their throats with the grip of his hands
When the hangman’s hand came there.’
HOW THE POET KING DIED 285
King James was a mighty, strong man, and he was fight
ing for his life. But he had only his naked hands with
which to fight, and his enemies were armed to the teeth.
Then Sir Robert Graham, seeing how James struggled
with the two men, also sprang into the vault, sword in
Even James could not fight with three men at once.
‘ Have mercy,’ he cried.
‘ Cruel tyrant, you never had mercy on the lords and
nobles,’ replied GrahanL ‘ You shall have no mercy
‘ Then, for the salvation of my soul, let me confess my
sins to a priest.’
‘ You shall never have other confessor than this same
sword,’ replied Graham fiercely ; and therewith he pierced
the King through the body, so that he fell to the ground.
Others followed the Graham, till the King lay dead with
sixteen wounds in his brave heart
Then the traitors sought for the Queen, and would
have killed her too. But she had fled to warn the people
of the town, who now came hurrying in. They came
too late. The King was slain, and the traitors fled.
‘ ’Twas in the Charterhouse of Perth,
In the fair lit Death-chapelle,
That the slain King’s corpse on bier was laid
With chaunt and requiem-knell.
‘ In his robes of state he lay asleep,
With orb and sceptre in hand,
And by the crown he wore on his throne,
Was his kingly forehead spann’d.
‘ And the Queen sat by him night and day,
And oft she knelt in prayer,
All wan and pale in her widow’s veil
That shrouded her shining hair.
‘ And “ Oh James ! ” she said,—“ my James ! ” she said—
Alas for the woeful thing,
That a poet true and a friend of man,
In desperate days of bale and ban,
Must needs be born a king.’
But first, if you want to come back to Scotland's History and Legends again, just add www.historyandlegends.com to your bookmarks or favorites now! Then you'll find it easy!
Also, please consider sharing our Scottish History and Legends website with your online friends.
Copyright © 2000-present Donald Urquhart. All Rights Reserved. Designated trademarks and brands are the property of their respective owners. Use of this Web site constitutes acceptance of our legal disclaimer.