Held prisoner in England from the age of 12, James I returned
to his country as king in 1424, heralding the return of effective
government for the first time in over 30 years. He was the first
in a series of effective and intelligent Stewart kings who energetically
took royal authority to all corners of the country, and he introduced
a mass of reforming legislation. But his avaricious appropriation
of land made him unpopular, and he was assassinated in Perth
by disgruntled nobles.
King in name at age six, James came into his authority in 1450
and marked the event by crushing the nobles who wielded power
during his minority. He re-enacted many of his fathers laws
and brought peace and prosperity to the country for a short time
before his untimely death, killed in a freak explosion by one
of his expensive imported cannons.
Another active, able and voracious Stewart ruler, Jamess
seemingly incessant demands for money alienated the nobles, and
his policy of pursuing peace with England, though visionary, was
deeply unpopular. He was accidentally killed in a revolt by his
nobles, led by his son, the future James IV.
The charismatic, charming and intelligent James IV was Scotlands
renaissance prince. A patron of the arts, he kept one of the foremost
courts of his day; introduced legal reforms and expanded
education; and travelled the country extensively to exercise his
personal power. The humanist scholar Erasmus said of him, He
had a wonderful intellectual power, an astonishing knowledge of
everything, and unconquerable magnanimity, and the most abundant
generosity. Jamess marriage to Margaret Tudor, daughter
of Henry VII of England, ultimately brought the Stewarts to the
throne of England. But it was the Auld Alliance with France that
caused James to invade England in September 1513; James and many
of his nobles died in pointless and muddy defeat at Flodden, leaving
Scotland rudderless before the stormy winds
of religious and political change blowing in from Europe.
James V shared the Stewart traits of efficiency and energy, and
was another effective ruler.
Like his father, he was a patron of the arts, but unlike him he
was also avaricious f and vindictive. In 1538 he married Mary
of Guise; tragically, the couples first children, two
sons, died within a month of one another in 1541. Relations with
England deteriorated into war in 1542, but the Scots were defeated
at Solway Moss. Jamess already strained health was broken
by the defeat, and he died six days after the birth of his new
Learned, moderate, vigorous and possessed of a first-class mind,
James VI has stood the tests of history to emerge as one of the
most successful of all Scottish monarchs.
His parentless early years were bleak, and when he came into his
power James was forced to take on not just powerful nobles but
the ambitious new Church of Scotland, too. He was more than a
match for all, proving himself in the process the shrewdest of
political operators. He ruled the country as effectively from
Edinburgh as his hard-working and far-travelled predecessors had
done by personal authority. In 1603 James succeeded to the English
throne, but the more intimate and personal Scots style of rule
did not suit the sense of dignity and reserve demanded of the
English monarch, and James was often ridiculed and misunderstood.
His policies in Ireland were also disastrous, with repercussions
that continue to the present day.