James I, king of Scotland

James I, 1394–1437, king of Scotland (1406–37), son and successor of Robert III. King Robert feared for the safety of James because the king's brother, Robert Stuart, 1st duke of Albany, who was virtual ruler of the realm, stood next in line of succession after the young prince. Albany had already been suspected of complicity in the death of James's older brother, David Stuart, duke of Rothesay. Accordingly, in 1406 the king sent James to France for safety, but the prince was captured on the way by the English and held prisoner until 1424. So, although James technically succeeded his father in 1406, the regent Albany ruled until his own death and was succeeded by his son, and the king's ransom was arranged only at the insistence of Archibald Douglas, 4th earl of Douglas, and other nobles. The king had been well educated by his captors, Henry IV and Henry V of England, who had treated him as a royal guest. Shortly before his return to Scotland in 1424, James married Joan Beaufort, daughter of the earl of Somerset. The Kingis Quair [the king's book] (rev. ed. by W. W. Skeat, 1911), the story of his captivity and his romance with Joan, is usually considered to have been written by him. It and other poems attributed to him would establish him as one of the leading poets in the Chaucerian tradition. James was crowned at Scone and set about governing energetically. He asserted his authority over the nobility, ruthlessly exterminating members of the Albany family and a number of other barons and reducing the Highland clans to order. He also achieved important financial and judicial reforms and sought to remodel the Scottish Parliament, which he convened annually, along English lines. His plans for including burghers in the Parliament and improving commerce and the army were opposed by his militantly feudal nobles, and his vindictiveness, cupidity, and quick temper understandably diminished his popularity. He was assassinated by a group of nobles, one of whom, the earl of Atholl, probably hoped to claim the throne. However, James was succeeded by his son, James II.

See biography by J. Norton-Smith (1971).

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