NQ Scottish History

Minority of James VI

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James VI was born in Edinburgh on 19 June 1566 and was christened at Stirling on 17 December 1566 in a Catholic service. In February 1567 his father was murdered at Kirk o’ Field, close to the royal palace at Holyrood. Following his mother’s marriage to Bothwell and her subsequent abdication, James was crowned king at Stirling on 29 July 1567.

James VI was fostered at Stirling Castle by the Earl and Countess of Mar. Being fostered by a noble family was a common experience for royal heirs. As an adult, and fearing kidnap or assassination, James VI ordered that his eldest son, Henry, should be fostered by the Countess of Mar at Stirling Castle.

From the age of four James VI was educated by George Buchanan assisted by Peter Young and two other tutors. The young king studied Greek, Latin, French, English, history, arithmetic, astronomy and geography. As an adult, James VI could write in Scots to friends and government officials and in English to Elizabeth I. In 1580 dancing lessons were added to the young king’s curriculum. Also, James VI was instructed in Protestant theology. Contemporaries agreed that James VI was a very well educated monarch for his time.

George Buchanan was a stern tutor who is said to have had his monarch subjected to regular beatings. He was also a poet and playwright with an international reputation. Buchanan did not see education as something to be handed down to young people when they attended classes, and then forgotten when they left. He regarded education as a continuous process which involved hard work, but some play.

The school room of James VI included bows, arrows and golf clubs as well as books. Buchanan’s overall aim was that his royal pupil would to develop an inquiring and critical approach to study. Through the study of Greek and Latin texts James VI would learn about grammar, literature, history, politics and philosophy. James VI remembered his tutor with fear and admiration for the rest of his life.

Regent Moray 1568–1570

The first of the regents who governed Scotland on behalf of the young James VI was his mother’s half-brother, the Earl of Moray. Regent Moray had to deal with Mary’s supporters in Scotland, who still held Stirling and Dumbarton castles. He knew that more Scottish nobles would be prepared to support Mary, if it suited them.

In July 1568, Mary had named Châtelherault as her Governor in Scotland, and the Earl of Argyll as his deputy. But in the spring of 1569, both men changed sides and joined Moray. Without prominent leaders, Mary’s supporters – or Marians – found it difficult to help their Queen.

Moray set out to win the support of the Protestants. He agreed to enact the laws passed by the Reformation Parliament in support of the Kirk in 1560. Mary had never agreed to these laws. Moray then began to take action against Catholic priests. This pleased the Protestants and it weakened a group who still supported the queen.

Moray wanted Elizabeth of England to recognise him as Regent of Scotland. He also wanted more money from her. When some English rebels fled to Scotland, Moray arrested them and promised to send them back if she agreed to his requests. But before Elizabeth could reply, Moray was murdered. He was shot at Linlithgow in January 1570 by a supporter of Mary called James Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh. Archbishop Hamilton, who was still holding Dumbarton Castle for the Marians, had encouraged the assassin.

  • Drawing of the assassination of Regent Moray

Regent Lennox

After Moray’s death, his supporters could not agree on a new leader. Finally, they asked Elizabeth I to decide. They hoped she would send money to help her choice of regent govern Scotland. Elizabeth I chose the Earl of Lennox, father of Darnley and grandfather of James VI. The Scots were more divided than ever, especially after Lennox re-opened the investigation into his son’s murder.

Lennox captured Dumbarton Castle and hanged Archbishop Hamilton. Mary’s supporters continued to hold Edinburgh Castle and, from there, to control the city. The parliament which Lennox held in 1571 was called the ‘Creeping Parliament’ because the delegates had to be careful in case they were attacked by the castle’s Marian garrison. Mary’s supporters held their own parliament in the Edinburgh Tolbooth, its proper meeting place, but it was not as well attended.

That autumn, Lennox arranged for another parliament to meet in Stirling. It was well attended, but Mary’s supporters tried to kidnap its leaders. In the fighting, Lennox was killed. The Earl of Mar, who had fostered James VI since 1567, became regent. A year later Regent Mar also died.

Regent Morton

Morton became regent after Mar in November 1572. He took steps to consolidate his authority. The deaths of Argyll and Châtelherault meant that, for a long time, he had no rivals. Morton wanted a strong alliance with England, but he did not want to be Elizabeth’s puppet.

At the same time, the English queen’s policy towards Scotland changed for a number of reasons. There had been a failed plot by English Catholics to replace her with Mary and Elizabeth I recognised the value of support from a pro-English, anti-Marian faction in Scotland. In the Treaty of Blois between England and France the French agreed to England pacifying Scotland. At Perth in February 1573 most Marians recognised Morton as regent. The capture of Edinburgh Castle in April 1573 was achieved when English siege guns bombarded the castle garrison into surrender.

Morton wanted to restore law and order in Scotland after a long period of civil war and disorder. Courts were held regularly and law-breakers were punished. There was a particular problem with lawlessness in the Borders, which Morton tackled by taking hostages, imposing heavy fines and showing mercy when he thought this would encourage people to behave themselves in the future.

Morton made all town councillors make an oath of loyalty to the king and the Kirk. He made ministers take an oath that agreed to the king’s control over the Kirk. He appointed bishops to organise the Kirk. This angered some Protestants who wanted the Kirk and the government to be separate. Morton ignored their complaints.

Morton never managed to balance Scotland’s budget. He tried to obtain money from Elizabeth I, but he never received enough to solve his problems. Finally, he devalued the currency to half of its earlier value. This solved his problem.

Morton’s strong control over Scotland made enemies. When King James was almost 12 years old, two of Morton’s noble rivals appealed directly to him to settle a dispute. Morton felt his authority was being undermined and therefore resigned.

King James then announced that, aged 12, he was old enough to rule. But three months later Morton was back in power as ‘First Lord of the Council’. He turned against the powerful Hamilton family and they had to flee abroad. Morton confiscated their land and blew up all their fortified houses and castles so they could cause no more trouble in the future.

Esmé Stewart, a Frenchman, was heir to the Earl of Lennox. He came to Scotland to secure his inheritance. He also managed to enchant King James, who showered him with honours. Morton’s opponents saw their chance. With Lennox’s secret support, they claimed that Morton was ‘art and part’ to Darnley’s murder. Morton was arrested in December, 1580, and executed the following June. Esmé Stewart did not retain his influence for long. He was exiled when King James was kidnapped by rivals and he died shortly afterwards.