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Reign Of James VI

On March 4, 1578, a strong band of nobles, led by Argyll, presented so firm a front that Morton resigned the Regency; but in April 1578, a Douglas plot, backed by Angus and Morton, secured for the Earl of Mar the command of Stirling Castle and custody of the King; in June 1578, after an appearance of civil war, Morton was as strong as ever. After dining with him, in April 1579, Atholl, the main hope of Mary in Scotland, died suddenly, and suspicion of poison fell on his host. But Morton’s ensuing success in expelling from Scotland the Hamilton leaders, Lord Claude and Arbroath, brought down his own doom. With them Sir James Balfour, deep in the secrets of Darnley’s death, was exiled; he opened a correspondence with Mary, and presently procured for her “a contented revenge” on Morton.

Two new characters in the long intrigue of vengeance now come on the scene. Both were Stewarts, and as such were concerned in the feud against the Hamiltons. The first was a cousin of Darnley, brought up in France, namely Esme Stuart d’Aubigny, son of John, a brother of Lennox. He had all the accomplishments likely to charm the boy king, now in his fourteenth year.

James had hitherto been sternly educated by George Buchanan, more mildly by Peter Young. Buchanan and others had not quite succeeded in bringing him to scorn and hate his mother; Lady Mar, who was very kind to him, had exercised a gentler influence. The boy had read much, had hunted yet more eagerly, and had learned dissimulation and distrust, so natural to a child weak and ungainly in body and the conscious centre of the intrigues of violent men. A favourite of his was James Stewart, son of Lord Ochiltree, and brother-in-law of John Knox. Stewart was Captain of the Guard, a man of learning, who had been in foreign service; he was skilled in all bodily feats, was ambitious, reckless, and resolute, and no friend of the preachers. The two Stewarts, d’Aubigny and the Captain, became allies.

In a Parliament at Edinburgh, Novr 1579, their foes, the chiefs of the Hamiltons, were forfeited, they had been driven to seek shelter with Elizabeth, while d’Aubigny got their lands and the key of Scotland, Dumbarton Castle, on the estuary of Clyde. The Kirk, regarding d’Aubigny, now Earl of Lennox, despite his Protestant professions, as a Papist or an atheist, had little joy in Morton, who was denounced in a printed placard as guilty in Darnley’s murder: Sir James Balfour could show his signature to the band to slay Darnley, signed by Huntly, Bothwell, Argyll, and Lethington. This was not true. Balfour knew much, was himself involved, but had not the band to show, or did not dare to produce it.

To strengthen himself, Lennox was reconciled to the Kirk; to help the Hamiltons, Elizabeth sent Bowes to intrigue against Lennox, who was conspiring in Mary’s interest, or in that of the Guises, or in his own. When Lennox succeeded in getting Dumbarton Castle, an open door for France, into his power, Bowes was urged by Elizabeth to join with Morton and “lay violent hands” on Lennox (August 31, 1580), but in a month Elizabeth cancelled her orders.

Bowes was recalled; Morton, to whom English aid had been promised, was left to take his chances. Morton had warning from Lord Robert Stewart, Mary’s half-brother, to fly the country, for Sir James Balfour, with his information, had landed. On December 31, 1580, Captain Stewart accused Morton, in presence of the Council, of complicity in Darnley’s murder. He was put in ward; Elizabeth threatened war; the preachers stormed against Lennox; a plot to murder him (a Douglas plot) and to seize James was discovered; Randolph, who now represented Elizabeth, was fired at, and fled to Berwick; James Stewart was created Earl of Arran. In March 1581 the king and Lennox tried to propitiate the preachers by signing a negative Covenant against Rome, later made into a precedent for the famous Covenant of 1638. On June 1 Morton was tried for guilty foreknowledge of Darnley’s death. He was executed deservedly, and his head was stuck on a spike of the Tolbooth. The death of this avaricious, licentious, and resolute though unamiable Protestant was a heavy blow to the preachers and their party, and a crook in the lot of Elizabeth.

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