In January 1399 an attack on King Robert III (r. 1390-1406) and his ministers stimulated a general council at Perth to re-appoint David Stewart, Duke of Rothesay, as Robert’s lieutenant for three more years. When that expired, Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany, and the fourth Earl of Douglas had him arrested, and he died in Albany’s castle of Falkland. England’s Henry IV invaded Scotland in 1400 over a border dispute without success. On February 21, 1401 the three estates in Parliament at Scone passed a law to enable the poor to get the services of the lieutenant, and they no longer had to give pledges to bring a lawsuit. In January 1402 Rothesay resigned and used force to take £94 custumars of Dundee and Montrose. Then he went to St. Andrews and took over the bishop’s castle. King Robert wrote to the Duke of Albany. He and Earl Archibald the Tyneman of Douglas had Rothesay, the heir apparent, arrested. He was taken to the manor of Falkland and died there in March of dysentery or hunger. A general council met at Edinburgh on May 16, and the King declared that Albany and Archibald were innocent.
Also in 1402 the Scots’ admiral came back from negotiating with France with many French ships under his command so as not to break the Anglo-French truce. They attacked English ships for several months, causing a precipitous fall in Scotch exports and customs for a few years. In a feud George Dunbar, the Earl of March, raided the eastern borders to try to get his land back from Archibald Douglas. In September the Scots led by the earls of Douglas, Angus, and Moray retaliated by invading northern England, plundering their way to Newcastle. While returning they were confronted at Homildon Hill on September 14 by English forces led by Hotspur (Henry Percy) and the Earl of March. The Scots were defeated and had 82 nobles killed or captured. Four earls including Albany’s son Murdoch Stewart of Fife and a dozen barons were made prisoners. Hotspur retained Douglas, who arranged to pay his ransom by fighting for his captor in his rebellion against Henry IV. The Scots decided it was futile trying to fight the English and did not oppose Hotspur’s raid the next year. Hotspur was killed at Shrewsbury on July 21, 1403, and Douglas was captured by King Henry, who made a truce with Scotland until 1406.
In June 1405 the Earl of Northumberland and other rebels took refuge in Scotland. Archibald’s younger brother James was warden of the March and burned the town of Berwick, and in a letter on July 26 he defied Henry. The Percies also found refuge in Scotland, and Hotspur’s son Henry and Prince James were tutored by Bishop Henry Wardlaw in St. Andrews castle.
Albany’s power had become harder to challenge. Prince James was brought up in France because King Robert was afraid of his brother, the Duke of Albany. On March 14, 1406 English pirates captured James at sea, and he was taken to the Tower of London. When King Robert heard his son was captured, he stopped eating and died on April 4. In June the three estates meeting at Perth appointed his closest relative Albany to govern as regent for the absent King James I who was 12 years old. Henry IV granted Scottish merchants licenses to trade in England. Albany’s son Murdoch Stewart and the Earl of Douglas were still being held for ransom. In February 1408 Northumberland went back to England and was killed at Yorkshire. Douglas had been given parole in March 1407; but he failed to return to England when it expired at Easter 1409. In June the Tyneman restored the estates of the Earl of March, who returned in October.
After Robert Umfraville raided the Forth and took thirteen ships, Alexander Stewart, the Earl of Mar, stole the Thomas of London in early 1409. In May some local men captured Jedburgh castle, and Albany had it destroyed. March’s son Patrick seized Fast castle. Douglas paid his ransom in 1410, and the Douglases burned Roxburgh by 1411. On February 28 Bishop Wardlaw founded Scotland’s first university at St. Andrews, and Pope Benedict XIII confirmed it on August 28, 1413; but James I did not confirm it until 1432. In 1414 Benedict granted half the money due the papacy from Scotland’s vacant benefices for the ransom of James I. A feud between the Highlanders led by Albany’s nephew Donald, Lord of the Isles, and the Lowland Stewarts was fought at Harlaw on July 24, 1411. Both sides claimed victory as they suffered heavy losses. Donald retreated to the Isles while the governor installed a garrison in Dingwall castle in the autumn. In August 1414 some Lollards in London claimed that Richard II was alive in Edinburgh, and by 1417 Albany claimed he had spent £733 on his maintenance. On June 12, 1415 Euphemia resigned her earldom of Ross, and Albany’s son claimed it and Buchan on May 13, 1417. In July 1415 Scots broke the truce and resumed raiding the borders.
Leading Scots including James I, Archibald Douglas, and James Haldenstone, the Prior of St. Andrews, recognized Pope Martin V who had been elected by the council at Constance on November 11, 1417. This was ratified by the general council at Perth in October 1418 and by the regent Albany.
Hotspur’s son Percy had been a fugitive in Scotland since 1405, and on February 28, 1415 he was exchanged for Murdoch and became the Earl of Northumberland. Murdoch was released for a ransom of £10,000. After Henry V went to France in July 1417, the Duke of Albany and the Earl of Douglas attacked Roxbury and Berwick; but they had to retreat when the English sent relief forces. In 1419 Scotland sent troops to aid France led by Albany’s son John Stewart, Earl of Buchan, and the Tyneman’s son Archibald Douglas, Earl of Wigtown. Henry V paid for James I to go to France as his ally. When the town of Melun surrendered on November 17, 1420, he had the Scottish garrison hanged as traitors to James.
By 1420 Scotland’s debt had increased to £4,397 (Scots), and Albany had often loaned part of his £1,000 annual salary by not collecting it. He died on September 3 and was succeeded by his son Murdoch. His government was weakened by contrary actions taken by his son, Walter Stewart of Fife, and Scotland’s finances collapsed. On March 22, 1421 the Scots led by Buchan, Wigtown, and Darnley defeated and killed the Duke of Clarence at Baugé just north of the Loire River. That year Henry V began negotiating the release of King James for a large ransom, hostages, and withdrawal of Scottish troops from France, but Henry died in 1422.
Yet on December 4, 1423 James was traded for 50,000 marks (£33,333), 27 hostages, and a truce between England and Scotland; he married Henry V’s cousin Joan Beaufort on February 2, 1424. This improved Anglo-Scotch relations although the Scottish army did not leave France. About 6,000 Scottish men, mostly archers, remained to help the Dauphin, and they enjoyed French pay and booty. Archibald the Tyneman and John Stewart, Earl of Buchan, led new recruits to France during Lent, but on August 17 they were badly defeated at Verneuil, and James Douglas and Buchan were killed.
Soon after returning to Scotland, on May 13, 1424 James had Walter Stewart and two other nobles arrested. James was crowned at Scone. A few days later Parliament met for the first time in about twenty years, but at least ten parliaments were held in the next twelve years. They banned violent feuds and private wars, and a tax of one shilling per pound imposed on all income and movable goods in the kingdom raised nearly 40,000 English nobles in two years. Then it was stopped because of complaints. Foreign merchants could only purchase export goods in Scotland from Scottish merchants, and new export duties were put on herring, horses, sheep, and some skins. Queen Joan gave birth to Margaret at Christmas.
By the end of 1424 Robert Graham had been arrested, and in March 1425 Duke Murdoch and some of his family including his father-in-law Duncan, Earl of Lennox, were seized. Murdoch’s youngest son James Stewart revolted in Lennox, and he burned the burgh of Dumbarton on May 3, killing the King’s uncle John, the Red Stewart of Dundonald. On May 24 nobles in Parliament found Murdoch, his two oldest sons, and the elderly Lennox guilty, and they were executed, the first political executions in Scotland since 1320.
Customs receipts increased from £2,779 in July 1422 to £4,400 in May 1425. On June 8 Inchmurrin castle surrendered, and James gained the earldom of Lennox. James Stewart and his followers went into exile in Ireland. James stopped annuities, cancelled Murdoch’s debt, and extended crown lands to increase his annual revenue to about £8,000 (Scots), but his ransom of £33,333 sterling (£66,666 Scots) was supposed to be paid in five years. So he imposed a 5% tax on lands and goods in 1424. Bower collected £18,000 (Scots) the first year; but only about £26,000 was raised before it was abandoned. Linlithgow castle was destroyed in the fire of 1424, and James spent £5,000 rebuilding it as a palace.
James acquired the earldom of Buchan in 1424, and the next year he used legal irregularities to confiscate Fife, Menteith, and Lennox. John Cameron became the King’s secretary, and in 1425 he was made bishop of Glasgow over the objection of Pope Martin V. That year a law provided for free legal counsel for the poor, and an act recognized crafts by authorizing each craft to elect a deacon. In May 1427 Cameron became chancellor. In the summer of 1429 he was charged before the Roman court with taking away rights from the Church. James sent an embassy to defend him, and a truce was reached.
James had only paid about £6,000 in ransom when he stopped paying installments in 1427 and abandoned the hostages. In August 1428 about fifty northern magnates were summoned to the royal court at Inverness and then arrested, and a few were tried and executed. That year Charles VII asked for Scottish help, and they renewed their alliance. James betrothed his oldest daughter to the Dauphin Louis and promised to send 6,000 troops; but they stayed in Scotland as John Stewart of Darnley was killed defending Orléans against the English on February 12, 1429; only a few Scots helped Jeanne d’Arc save France. James actually aided the English by maintaining a truce with them until 1436. Sumptuary statutes in 1430 restricted luxuries, and unacceptable clothes could be forfeited to the King. To protect public health beggars and lepers were not allowed in crowded communities. On October 16 Queen Joan gave birth to twin sons. James renewed the truce with the English on December 15, 1430.
After he stopped paying the ransom, the tax was spent on artillery, jewelry, and luxuries from Flanders for the court. He spent so much tax privately that in 1431 Parliament insisted that tax for a Highland expedition be stored in a locked chest. When the expedition was cancelled, the tax was ended. That year James imprisoned his cousins, Earl Archibald of Douglas and John Kennedy of Cassillis. In the summer of 1431 James sent an expedition to punish a rebellion at Inverlochy. His policies increased the conflict between the Highlanders and the Lowlanders. The Scottish parliament had passed a law against heresy, and on July 23, 1433 Paul Crawar was tried and burned at the stake.
In 1435 James confiscated March. That year the English raided Piperden in Berwickshire, and their alliance with Burgundy collapsed. On June 25, 1436 Princess Margaret married the 13-year-old Dauphin Louis at Tours. James let the English truce expire and besieged Roxburgh with his army in August. After a fortnight the army abandoned the siege, and the general council at Edinburgh passed anti-English statutes in October. James became so unpopular that he was assassinated by a conspiracy on February 21, 1437 in Perth.
The plotters of regicide had been led by Robert Graham of Kinpunt and Robert Stewart, grandson of Earl Walter of Atholl, and Walter himself who was next in line to the throne after 6-year-old Prince James. They were angry because David Atholl had died as a hostage for James I in England. At least 15 other hostages also died in England, and the Roxburgh failure was also unpopular. Yet Graham and Stewart were easily arrested and executed.
James II was crowned king of Scotland on March 25, 1437 at the age of six. His cousin Archibald Douglas led the government as lieutenant-general. During the reign of James II (1437-60) the English were weakened by their losing the Hundred Years War in France and then by the civil war later called the Wars of the Roses. England and Scotland agreed on a truce in 1438 that lasted ten years. William Lord Crichton was sheriff of Edinburgh and replaced Bishop Cameron as chancellor in May 1439. The next month Archibald Douglas died of illness, but a new lieutenant-general was not appointed.
On August 3 the Lothian baron Alexander Livingston imprisoned Queen Joan and James Stewart, whom she married on September 21. After Joan resigned the regency, she was released. As governor of Stirling castle, Livingston had custody of young King James. Chancellor Crichton was given a salary of 700 marks, and in August 1440 Robert Erskine was given custody of Kildrummy castle in Mar, both until James came of age. At a dinner in Edinburgh castle on November 24 the Chancellor seized the Douglas brothers William and David, and after a trial they were beheaded. Their estates were not confiscated but were inherited by James Douglas who was called “the Gross” while their co-conspirator Malcolm Fleming of Biggar and Cumbernauld was punished with forfeiture before his execution. His son Robert Fleming appealed and was allowed to succeed to the lands. Then he married the daughter of James the Gross, who had been responsible for the death of his grandfather in 1406 and his father in 1440.
Before the death of James I he made his nephew James Kennedy bishop of Dunkeld. Pope Eugenius made him the commendator of the abbey of Scone in September 1439. After Bishop Wardlaw’s death on April 9, 1440 Kennedy was transferred to St. Andrews. He led the papalist party, and the meeting of the three estates in May 1441 forbade any Scot to “go to Basel or adhere to the council or obey it.”1 Pope Felix, who was elected by the council at Basel, provided some Scots with positions while Eugenius appointed others. At a provincial Scottish council in July 1442 the bishops provided by Eugenius deprived and excommunicated those appointed by Felix. When James the Gross, his son, and William Croyser, who supported Basel, began issuing counter-deprivations, prelates fled at night. Croyser went to Basel in October with Thomas Livingston, and they persuaded the Council to support Douglas; but on their way home the archdeacon Croyser was captured by bandits and imprisoned at Strassburg.
James the Gross maintained a close relationship with Livingston, but he died on March 25, 1443 and was succeeded by his son William, the eighth earl of Douglas. He managed to re-unite most of the Douglas lands except Annandale and lands in France. William tried to use the Livingstons against the Crichtons. In the spring Kennedy replaced William Crichton as chancellor; but he resigned a few weeks later, and James Bruce, Bishop of Dunkeld, was appointed.
King James appointed William Douglas lieutenant-general in July 1444, and he led a royal force that demanded the tower-house of Barnton surrender on August 20. George Crichton, who was admiral of Scotland and sheriff of Linlithgow, lived there and defended it before capitulating. Douglas had it destroyed, but William Crichton still held Edinburgh castle. A general council met at Stirling in late October and proclaimed the Crichtons rebels. The Black Douglases and Livingstons announced that King James II had reached his majority, and on November 29 he participated in the siege and capture of Methven castle. Crichton had his allowance increased from 700 marks to £700. James the Red Douglas, Earl of Angus, failed to answer a charge of rebellion, and on July 1, 1445 his lands were declared escheated if he did not appear within a year. Yet William Douglas dominated the Parliament of 1445.
Bishop Kennedy and the Queen patronized the Observant Franciscans which had been founded by Bernardino of Siena. Kennedy was also chancellor of the University of St. Andrews and made peace with the town. James II confirmed the privileges of the University in 1445. Bishop Turnbull became bishop of Glasgow in 1447. The University of Glasgow was founded after the King’s petition in January 1451 to Pope Nicholas V resulted in a bull conferring the same privileges and immunities as the University of Bologna. Turnbull became its first chancellor. James II took the University of Glasgow under his protection in April 1453. Turnbull died in 1454 and was succeeded by Andrew of Durisdeer, who had implemented reforms at the University of Paris in 1452.
In 1448 the English made an armistice with France. In October the English led by the Earl of Northumberland invaded Sark and raided Annandale, but on October 23 a Scottish force led by Hugh Douglas, Earl of Ormond, routed them. England’s war with France soon resumed, and Scotland renewed its alliance with France on December 31. In 1449 the English burned Dunbar and Dumfries while the Scots set fire to Alnwick and Warkworth. On July 3 James II married Mary of Guelders, a relative of Duke Philippe of Burgundy, and he promised her an annual income of £5,000 (Scots).
William Crichton became chancellor again in April 1448. That year Robert Livingston became controller, and he loaned the King £930, which was due by April 1, 1450. James Livingston was made chamberlain in the summer of 1448, alienating the Black Douglases, and he married his daughter Elizabeth to Earl John of Ross on September 23, 1449. King James had Robert and Alexander Livingston arrested, and they were tried before Parliament on January 19, 1450 and were beheaded two days later. The next day a charter assigned the Queen’s dower, bestowing on her the earldoms of Atholl and Strathearn with other revenues.
Pope Nicholas V declared 1450 a jubilee year, and Bishop Kennedy and William Douglas went on a pilgrimage to Rome. That year Douglas had royal charters confirm his control over Galloway and Selkirk. James II retaliated for his loss of Selkirk by over-running the lands of William Douglas in 1450, taking Wigtown and western Galloway. Douglas returned to Scotland in April, and the King gathered an army against him; but the Parliament in July and October 1451 made him give the lands back. On August 21 Douglas’s henchman Patrick Thornton killed John Sandilands of Calder, a kinsman of James II. The King summoned Earl William to Stirling castle and granted Douglas a guarantee of safe conduct. Douglas had supported the revolt of the Earl of Ross, and James stabbed Douglas to death on February 22, 1452.
Douglas brothers tried to retaliate in March, but they were only supported by Lord Hamilton and about 600 men. That month Earl John of Ross rebelled and took the castles of Inverness, Urquhart, and Ruthven in revenge of his Livingston relatives. On May 18 at Brechlin royalist forces led by the Earl of Huntley defeated the Earl of Crawford, a Douglas ally, with heavy losses. Queen Mary gave birth to James (III) in late May 1452.
At the Parliament in Edinburgh in June the King accused William Douglas of conspiracy, rebellion, and refusing to help the King against rebels, and he ordered an investigation of William’s death. Crawford was forfeited, and James Douglas was summoned to Parliament which met again on August 26. The Black Douglases negotiated a submission and forgave the killers of William. James II promised to help James Douglas to consolidate his lands by letting Douglas marry his widowed sister-in-law. A papal dispensation was issued on February 27, 1453 to end the wars. The Black Douglas faction was reconciled with the King, and Crawford was restored. James gave up Wigtown in exchange for the Earl’s bond of manrent in an attempt to be fair. James in April sent Douglas as a commissioner to negotiate a renewal of the truce with England. On May 22 Douglas and his three brothers with Hamilton were given English safe-conducts for four years.
In 1454 Chancellor Crichton died, followed by two of his relatives in August. Factionalism declined, and Parliament affirmed old statutes of justice. However, in March 1455 the King attacked James Douglas as a rebel, defeating him and his brothers. James Douglas fled to England, and at the Edinburgh Parliament in June the Douglas estates were forfeited. James II wrote to King Charles VII of France that the Douglas castles had been leveled. Parliament met again on August 4 and passed an act that devastated the Black Douglases. They also passed a law of annexation that gave the King control over lands his enemies had lost. The monarchy had become dominant over the nobles. The Parliament at Stirling in October worked on defense and passed thirteen ordinances. The year 1455 was also a time of pestilence. After James II became 25 in November he revoked all previous alienations of crown property except those for the Queen and his second son.
The Scots kept the truce with England until 1455. They attacked Berwick that year and Northumberland in 1456. James II sided with the Duke of York against Henry VI; but after another failed attack on Berwick in 1457, a truce was made on June 20 that was eventually extended to 1468. In one year James II granted about two hundred remissions that were purchased by itinerant legal officers. The King also made ecclesiastical appointments, and the Pope did not contest them. King James led another invasion that besieged Roxburgh again in late July 1460. When Queen Mary arrived on August 3, cannons were discharged. One exploded and killed James II, but the Scottish army continued the siege. The Roxburgh garrison surrendered, and the castle was destroyed.
The oldest son of James II was crowned James III on August 10, 1460 at the age of eight. Parliament met on February 23, 1461 and listened to complaints. The regency council became divided into two factions led by Queen Mary and Bishop Kennedy. When Duke Richard of York took power in England in October, Henry VI and his mother Margaret of Anjou took refuge at Dumfries. After Richard died in December, Margaret led a force of Scots, Welsh, and other northerners who won the second battle of St. Albans on February 17, 1461, but they were defeated in March by Richard’s son who became Edward IV. Lancastrians suffered another defeat on March 29, and Margaret fled back to Scotland with Henry VI and noble Lancastrians. In exchange for their hospitality Berwick surrendered to Scotland on April 25. They also promised to cede Carlisle, but the Scots could not take it in May.
In February 1462 the Earl of Ross, Donald Balloch, and his son began supporting Edward IV in exchange for payment. James III considered their activities at Inverness treasonable, but the three estates postponed their case. Kennedy wanted a Scottish-Lancastrian alliance, but Mary of Guelders was the niece of Duke Philippe of Burgundy who supported the Yorkists. On March 17 Mary loaned £290 to Margaret, and she went to Brittany and to Louis XI of France. The Earl of Warwick came to Dumfries, and in April he made a truce with Queen Mary; but Kennedy prevented the Parliament from appointing any envoys. Yet Mary and some young lords negotiated with Warwick at Carlisle.
On January 5, 1463 Earl George Douglas of Angus and Pierre de Brézé rescued the garrison of Alnwick from Warwick and his men. In July the young James III and his army went with Henry VI, Margaret, and Mary to besiege Norham castle. Warwick retreated, and Lord Balvenie was captured and executed at Edinburgh. Margaret, Henry VI, and de Brézé went to Burgundy. George Douglas died in March, and Queen Mary died in December. James III visited northern England, and on June 11, 1464 he agreed to a 15-year truce with Edward IV, who began paying pensions to bishops Kennedy and Spens of Aberdeen. Kennedy died on May 24, 1465 and was succeeded by Patrick Graham. In December they extended the truce to 1519.
Andrew Stewart of Avondale was chancellor from 1460 to 1482, and Lothian archdeacon Archibald Whitelaw was secretary 1462-93. On July 9, 1466 Alexander Boyd abducted young James III and took him to Edinburgh castle, but in the October Parliament the King declared that Boyd had been obeying his command. Boyd was granted remission and was appointed keeper of the royal person with royal authority. Mary, the sister of James, was given to marry Thomas Boyd who had been made Earl of Arran. In 1467 Alexander’s older brother, Lord Robert Boyd, succeeded Lord James Livingston as chamberlain. That year the Observants were organized as a Scottish province more than a decade before the older Dominicans and Franciscans.
On September 8, 1468 James III agreed to marry Margaret of Denmark who brought a dowry of 60,000 florins secured by Orkney and Shetland. Scotland got Orkney immediately and Shetland after they were married on May 28, 1469; these islands became a permanent part of the Scotland’s kingdom. Margaret was crowned at Edinburgh in November. That month the Boyds were charged with treason. Robert Boyd and his son fled, and three Boyds were sentenced to death and forfeiture on November 22; but only Alexander Boyd was beheaded for the abduction in 1466.
In May 1471 the Scottish Parliament began preparing to defend against a Yorkist invasion, but the danger passed. On April 6, 1472 James III asked Pope Sixtus IV to suppress the priory of Coldingham and transfer its revenues to his royal chapel. This was granted, but James struggled for possession of them with the Humes for the rest of his life. On August 17 the Pope approved St. Andrews becoming an archbishopric see with Patrick Graham as archbishop. On March 17, 1473 Queen Margaret gave birth to James (IV). The Parliament in July complained that Edward IV failed to provide safe-conducts for Scottish commissioners protesting breaches of the truce. In June 1474 James III proposed a marriage between his infant son and Edward’s 5-year-old daughter Cecily. On October 26 they agreed with her dowry set at 20,000 marks to be paid to James in installments.
In July 1475 King Edward IV crossed over to France with a large army that included the Earl of Douglas and Lord Boyd. Before departing, Edward leaked information about the treaty he made in London with Earl John of Ross in 1462. In July 1476 John MacDonald appeared before the Parliament in Edinburgh and resigned the earldom of Ross and other lands to the King. James got a safe conduct in May 1476 with four hundred attendants, but his pilgrimage was delayed until March 1478 when his retinue was a thousand people. A marriage contract was made on February 2, 1479 between James’s sister Margaret and Anthony Woodville, the Earl of Rivers. However, before she was to depart in November, it became apparent that she was pregnant. The father, Lord William Crichton, was eventually charged with treason before Parliament on December 30, 1483.
The Parliament in March 1479 had to deal with many feuds between Scottish nobles and the conflict between King James and his brothers Alexander, Duke of Albany, and John, Earl of Mar. Albany was admiral of Scotland and warden of the East and West March. He was imprisoned that spring in Edinburgh castle but escaped to his castle of Dunbar and then to the French court. Dunbar was taken, and the Earl of Mar was arrested by December. He died from the medical treatment of bleeding, and his earldom of Mar was forfeited to the crown. James had set a precedent in the October 1479 Parliament when the life, lands, and property of the Dunbar captain John Ellem of Buttirdene and twenty of his associates were forfeited. The Duke of Albany had been divorced in 1478, and on January 19, 1480 he married Anne de la Tour in France. That year the fifth earl of Angus (“Bell-the-Cat”) burned Bamburgh.
In early 1481 Edward IV sent his envoy Alexander Legh to warn James that he was illegally occupying Berwick, Coldingham, and Roxburgh, that he had not done homage, that Edward wanted to restore Douglas, and that Prince James should come to England by May for his promised marriage. That April the three estates took defensive measures. The army of Scotland was assembled but did nothing and was dismissed. A cardinal legate in England ordered James to stop the war or face interdict. James disbanded his army, but Edward sent a fleet to Inchkeith.
Parliament met again in spring 1482 and prepared for war. James offered to pay for the garrison at Berwick, and the Parliament promised about £2,000 a month. After Louis XI of France failed to restore him, the Duke of Albany joined Edward, and on June 10 at Fotheringhay castle he proclaimed himself “Alexander, King of Scotland.” James assembled his army near Edinburgh in July and led them himself. James III was unpopular for having accepted money in exchange for remissions of major crimes. The debased coinage had created inflation, causing hunger among the poor. Harry’s poem The Wallace, written in the 1470s, criticized James for forming an alliance with England. The poem The Thre Prestis of Peblis in the 1480s satirized the King for corrupting justice and relying on young counselors. Some resented the King making Thomas Cochrane the Earl of Mar after his brother died. The Earl of Angus and Robert Douglas arrested Cochrane, and he was hanged along with Thomas Preston, William Roger, and other courtiers.
James III was captured at Lauder Bridge in July 1482 and taken to Edinburgh castle and kept there by his uncle of Atholl. The rebels let the army disband, leaving Scotland open to the English invaders who moved from Berwick to Edinburgh in August. On August 2 Archbishop William Scheves, Bishop James Livingston of Dunkeld, the Earl of Argyll, and Chancellor Avondale made peace with Richard of Gloucester and remitted and restored Albany and his followers in exchange for his recognizing James III. The Duke of Gloucester returned to the siege of Berwick while Albany made a show of relieving the siege. The town of Berwick capitulated on August 24. Avondale was replaced by Bishop James Laing of Glasgow. Albany besieged Edinburgh castle but freed James in late September. On November 16 James III granted two charters to the city of Edinburgh, confirming its property and allowing it to hold its own sheriff courts. That month King Edward was provisioning the town of Berwick and the castle. Albany was made the earl of Mar and the Garioch. When Parliament met on December 2, Scheves, Argyll, and Avondale were absent as were the lairds. Albany was not appointed lieutenant-general.
After Laing died on January 11, 1483, Bishop Livingston became chancellor. The next day Albany sent the Earl of Angus, Lord Gray, and James Liddell of Halkerston as envoys to Edward IV. On February 11 they signed a treaty at Westminster with the Earl of Northumberland and English commissioners. Albany promised to help restore Douglas, and Edward committed to supporting Albany as king of Scotland. Yet on March 19 the Duke of Albany was forced to sign a humiliating indenture at Edinburgh. On April 13 Pope Sixtus IV nullified the election of George Carmichael to replace the late Laing as bishop of Glasgow. On May 17 Albany was summoned to appear before Parliament on June 27 to face charges of treason, and he and Liddell were sentenced to forfeiture on July 8. He went to France and died from a jousting wound in August 1485.
After Charles VIII became king of France, he sent an envoy in March 1484 to renew the old alliance with Scotland. Richard III had taken power in England in 1483, and he made a truce with Scotland in September 1484. After Henry VII replaced Richard in August 1485, he began negotiating with James III and made a three-year truce at London in July 1486. James offered his second son, also named James, in marriage to Edward IV’s daughter Katherine, sister of Henry VII’s queen. Queen Margaret died in July 1486, and James sought the hand of Edward IV’s widow Elizabeth Woodville. England and Scotland were at peace for the first time in two centuries, though the Scots threatened Berwick, now held by the English, in September 1485, September 1487, and January 1488.
At the Parliament in October 1487 there were more lairds than earls and lords, and they supported the King. Parliament assembled again in January 1488 with even more lairds. On February 2 James Shaw, the keeper of Stirling castle, released Prince James to the King’s adversaries. James III replaced Argyll as chancellor with Bishop Elphinstone on February 18. By March an insurrection had begun, and the King left Edinburgh on one of Andrew Wood’s ships on March 23. James appointed Bishop Elphinstone and five other commissioners to negotiate, but four of them returned home. The King was persuaded to fight, and the royalist army marched through Stirling on the way to the rebels at Linlithgow. Rebel leaders took written oaths not to harm James III. The armies met on June 11 near the famous battlefield of Bannockburn, but this battle was named after Sauchieburn. The royalist forces were pushed back, and James III was killed.
On June 12, 1488 the peace of 15-year-old James IV was proclaimed. Within a week his supporters found £24,517 of the former King’s treasure, and in 1492 they were still searching for his hoard. The Earl of Argyll became chancellor again, and the new top officials were mostly Hepburns and Homes. Few attended the coronation of James IV on June 24, and the first Parliament of his reign was delayed for several months while they consolidated power. On June 25 John Hepburn became Keeper of the Privy Seal, and the next day Patrick Hepburn was made keeper of Edinburgh castle and sheriff. They made a three-year truce with England’s Henry VII on October 5, and the Parliament at Edinburgh began the next day. The Parliament proclaimed that the new king and his supporters were completely innocent of the previous king’s death. They cancelled all grants made by James III after February 2, 1488. They confirmed Alexander Home as Chamberlain for life, and Lord Robert Lyle presided over treason trials in October.
In January 1489 the Parliament raised the see of Glasgow to an archbishopric with privileges similar to York’s. During the first two years Chamberlain Alexander Home and other Homes benefited from 22 great seal charters while the Hepburns received nine. On September 12 a meeting at Aberdeen denounced the new government for not punishing those who had killed James III. Six days later the new council meeting at Stirling on September 18 restored David Lindsay, a loyalist of James III, to the dukedom of Montrose; but this was only for his lifetime, and after his death James gave Montrose to the Grahams. This was to mollify an uprising led by Lord Forbes and the Master of Huntly who joined with the defenders of Dumbarton in burning the town and driving away besiegers. Lennox led a force with northern insurgents, but on October 11 they were attacked and defeated by the King and Lord Drummond near Aberfoyle. The defenders of Dumbarton did not capitulate until December. However, the Parliament in February 1490 annulled the sentences against the Earl of Lennox, his son Matthew, and Lord Lyle, and they pardoned the 130 people in Dumbarton castle who had forfeited lands for having burned the town. The Master of Huntly and Earl Marischal were only sued in civil courts. The government of James IV was secure.
After 1489 feuds caused more crime and disorder than anything. In 1490 the Drummonds burned 120 Murrays in the kirk of Monzievaird, and King James had the Master of Drummond executed to show that a person of rank could be punished. The three estates wanted stricter justice, and James was glad to receive more wealth and property in fines and confiscations. John Ramsey was acting as a commissioner for James IV while spying for Henry VII in collaboration with the Earl of Buchan and perhaps the Earl of Angus, who at the end of 1490 with his son made a pact with Henry VII, taking his side in case of war. Angus became chancellor of Scotland in early 1493, but he was replaced by Huntly in 1497. On January 9, 1492 Robert Blackadder became the first archbishop of Glasgow. In February the Parliament passed an act offering a reward for detecting the killers of James III. Scotland made a treaty with France on March 4 to counter England.
On June 25, 1493 Scotland extended its truce with England for seven more years to 1501. A comprehensive act of revocation ended James IV’s tutelage on June 26. Royalist forces took over John MacDonald’s castle of Dunaverty in July 1494, but their new governor was quickly hanged. On February 18, 1495 John Lord Drummond became justiciar. That month Chancellor Elphinstone founded King’s College in Aberdeen for laymen as well as clerics that was approved by James IV and Pope Alexander VI. Hector Boece had studied with Erasmus in Paris and became the first principal. The Scottish universities usually followed Paris on law, but Aberdeen used Orléans as its model for civil law. In June 1496 the Parliament passed the Education Act ordering every major landowner to send his oldest son to school and the university while encouraging the teaching of Latin in grammar schools. After this the Parliament of James IV only met to pass laws in March 1504, February 1506, and on May 8, 1509, though they heard judicial cases between the 1504 and 1506 sessions; none of these later Parliaments voted taxes.
In November 1495 Scotland provided hospitality for Perkin Warbeck, the English pretender. The Archbishop of Glasgow was sent twice to negotiate with Fernando and Isabel of Spain. Warbeck married the Earl of Huntley’s daughter Catherine Gordon on January 13, 1496. In May the King challenged Henry VII to a duel for Berwick, but this offer was rejected. On September 19 the Scots and Warbeck invaded England and raided the valley of the Till; but none of the English joined his cause, and James IV left after a few days. The Spanish ambassador Don Pedro de Ayala mediated a seven-year truce during the siege of Norham on September 30. Warbeck left Scotland with his wife in July 1497.
After he died in 1504, King James gave the highest ecclesiastical position in Scotland to his 11-year-old illegitimate son, Alexander Stewart, thus controlling the archbishopric himself. In 1508 Alexander was sent to Padua, and he was tutored in Greek by Erasmus at Siena. He came back and administered the diocese for three years, providing for the education of twenty poor clerks in 1512. James IV also supported the Observants because they were popular and helped the poor.
James IV was a bachelor but had a series of mistresses who bore him children, starting with Marion Boyd who gave birth to Alexander Stewart in 1493. Margaret Drummond became his mistress in 1496, but she and her two sisters died after a suspicious breakfast in 1502. Janet Kennedy was granted the lordship of Bothwell and bore the King his son James Stewart, Earl of Moray, in 1499. On January 24, 1502 James IV agreed to a treaty of perpetual peace with England, promising to wed Henry VII’s daughter Mary Tudor with a dowry of £10,000 sterling, equal to about £35,000 (Scots). They were married on August 8, 1503 in Edinburgh, and she bore him four sons. After this marriage James IV had friends but no major foreign enemy. James was a renaissance king and was interested in ships, guns, tournaments, clothes, music, and scientific experiments with alchemy and surgery.
In March 1504 Parliament passed a law to punish begging, and they sent bands to the South and Middle Borders to enforce order. That month James promised he would not grant remissions for premeditated murder, though remissions continued. He also revoked all donations, gifts, acts, statutes, and other things previously done. That summer James participated in raids with the warden of the English March, Lord Dacre, for several weeks hawking and hanging people. The Hepburns were authorized to punish the hostile Armstrongs.
In the early 1500s a movement tried to revive the lordship of the Isles and the Highlands for Donald Dubh. The royalist forces gradually regained control, and a naval squadron led by Huntly overcame the insurgents’ last stronghold at Stornoway in October 1506. Donald Dubh was finally arrested in August 1507 and was imprisoned in Stirling castle. The Campbells and the Gordons governed for the King in the Highlands. In 1506 James authorized the building of a large fleet to please Louis XII, to impress the Isles in the north, to suppress foreign piracy in the North Sea, and to help him get appointed commander of a crusade against the Ottoman Turks. James began supporting a college of surgeons. In 1507 printing came to Scotland.
James IV also received money from those purchasing remission for crimes. During his reign he granted 182 for manslaughter, 88 for forethought felonies, 71 to rebels and outlaws, 69 for theft, and 31 for oppression. The residents of Argyll, Bute, and the Cumbraes were given general remissions, and many nobles were granted specific remissions. Legal proceedings were delayed by 168 purchased respites. Most of the royal income came from crown lands. Landholders were taxed so that the King could favor those at court. Attendance at Parliaments gradually declined, and the last Parliament of the reign was held in 1509. In 1511 James renewed letters of marque for Andrew Barton, who in June fought the English admiral Edward Howard and was killed. James demanded that Howard be arraigned in the warden court to no avail. England and Scotland were close to war, but on November 3 Louis XII intervened to reconcile James and Henry VIII. On April 10, 1512 Queen Margaret gave birth to a son named James (V), her only child by the King who lived more than two years. That month Louis promised James that he would support him in his claim to the English crown.
After Pope Julius II died, John Barton brought munitions from France to Scotland on March 20, 1513. Then he took Bishop Forman to the French and papal courts. On May 24 James IV wrote to Henry VIII suggesting that they both join a truce made by France and Aragon. James reassured his French allies in June by having vessels in the Forth made ready for war, and sailors were ordered to mobilize in July. On June 25 the great Gaelic chief of Ulster, Hugh O’Donnell, made a defensive alliance with Scotland. James imposed a spear tax on the burghs and sent an ultimatum to Henry on July 26. The fleet sailed on to France, and the greatest ship Michael was sold to Louis for 40,000 francs. James had the warden Lord Home raid Northumberland with about 5,000 men early in August, and they burned seven villages but were damaged by an English ambush, losing more than 500 men. On August 22 Scots crossed the Tweed and attacked Norham castle. On that day Thérouanne capitulated to Henry. The Scots captured Norham and took a week to take over the castles of Etal and Wark. Lady Heron, a rumored friend of James, surrendered Ford castle on September 4. James set it on fire the next day and crossed the Till. Desertion reduced Scottish forces which now barely outnumbered the 20,000 English.
On September 9 the Scots advanced to Branxton Hill. King James commanded a battalion and came near the Earl of Surrey before he was killed along with his son and Chancellor George Hepburn. The Scots continued to fight but suffered heavy losses, losing nine of their 22 earls, fourteen lords of Parliament, and about 10,000 soldiers while the English lost about 1,500.
Since James V was only one year old in 1513, Parliament met at Stirling and confirmed his mother Margaret, sister of Henry VIII, as the first regent. The Earl of Arran and Lord Fleming went to France in September. A party favoring the French wanted her replaced by the next in line, John Stewart, Duke of Albany, who had been born and raised in France by a French mother and could not speak Scottish. After Arran and Fleming came back, a general council on November 26 agreed to send for Albany. France’s Louis XII negotiated a truce with England in March 1514, and the peace made in August. They included Scotland in the treaty without its consent and warned them that Scottish raids into England could nullify the treaty. On April 30 Margaret gave birth to the posthumous son of James IV.
Though favoring the English, Margaret managed in July 1514 to reconcile the parties in Scotland. However, she turned to the house of Douglas and on August 6 secretly married Archibald Douglas, the 6th Earl of Angus. That month she was persuaded to appoint Albany, and on September 18 the Council decided she had forfeited her two infant sons by James; but she and her supporters took them to Stirling castle. The Douglases supported Margaret, and in November Gavin Douglas summoned a rival parliament to the one called by Chancellor James Beaton, Archbishop of Glasgow. Also in 1514 the Earl of Argyll became the first justice-general.
After the death of Bishop Elphinstone in October, Margaret and her brother, Henry VIII, appointed Gavin Douglas to be archbishop of St. Andrews, and he took the castle. The Albany faction elected the prior John Hepburn, and he drove out Douglas. By the end of the year Lord Alexander Home, the Earl of Arran, and James Beaton were handling affairs and favored Albany’s regency. Yet Arran, Home, and the earls of Lennox, Glencairn, and Eglinton signed a petition to remove the King from Albany’s custody. They were supported by the Highland chiefs Donald MacDonald of Lochalsh, MacLean of Duart, and MacLeod of Dunvegan who seized royal castles. Henry VIII claimed he was protector of Scotland, and he demanded that Albany be dismissed.
The Duke of Albany arrived at Dumbarton with eight ships in May 1515. He summoned a Parliament for July 12 and was elected regent. He forced Margaret to surrender and give up the princes, and the youngest son died in Albany’s custody in December. She declined to flee to England and while pregnant by Angus retired to Edinburgh. She ended up at Harbottle castle in northern England where she gave birth to Margaret, who later became Countess of Lennox. Albany invited her to return to Scotland where she could keep her property if she returned what belonged to the King. She came back but visited London in 1516 for a year without her husband who made peace with Albany. He appointed Andrew Forman to be archbishop of St. Andrews, defying Pope Leo X who wanted his own nephew there.
In 1516 Lord Alexander Home and his brother tried to lead a revolt against the Regent, but they were captured, tried, and executed in October. Albany left Scotland for France on June 8, 1517, and he negotiated the treaty of Rouen on August 26. Scotland promised to help France in a war against England, and François promised one of his daughters to the child James; but the treaty was never ratified. Albany stayed in France for the next four years while Scotland was governed by his regency commission that consisted of two archbishops, the earls of Angus, Huntly, Arran, and Argyll, and the Duke’s agent Antoine d’Arcy de la Bastie. A French knight had been murdered by the Home clan who blamed him for the execution of Alexander Home. D’Arcy de la Bastie went to investigate but was murdered by George Home on September 18, 1517.
Soon after Henry IV became king of England in December 1399, he ordered the absentee act of 1380 implemented, requiring all those with land, benefices, or offices in Ireland to live there and defend them against the “Irish rebels.” Those with good reasons for being absent could use substitutes. Violators would have two-thirds of their profits forfeited to the Irish exchequer, though most of them were not drawing revenues anyway. In April 1400 Henry ordered that Art Mac Murchadha was to receive an annuity of 80 marks, but he attacked County Wexford the next year and suffered retaliation from Dublin, killing many of his hired kern from Munster. Also in 1400 many colonists were killed or drowned in a naval battle with Scots off Strangford. In May 1401 Henry IV appointed his 11-year-old son Thomas of Lancaster as his lieutenant in Ireland with an annual salary of 12,000 marks; but the next year he could not secure payment, and many of his unpaid captains left. Henry IV often settled crown debts by assigning revenue not yet collected. In 1401 the Welsh leader Glyndwr sent messengers urging Irish chieftains to join his rebellion against the English, but the messengers were captured and beheaded. In 1405 citizens of Dublin attacked the O’Byrnes, slaughtering 500, and the Prior of Conal led a force against the Irish in Kildare and killed 200.
In June 1405 Bishop John Dongan of Down was appointed to protect liberty in Ulster, and he negotiated with the Gaelic Irish and the Scots. The English commissioned the bishop to make peace with Donald, lord of the isles, and his brother John. Donald claimed the earldom of Ross in June 1411, and in July the struggle erupted as the battle of Harlaw in Scotland. In 1405 Art Mac Murchadha went to war again, and his 80 marks annuity was restored. In 1407 Lancaster’s salary was reduced to 7,000 marks, and in 1411 he was still owed £5,000. The Earl of Kildare went to see Lieutenant Thomas in 1408; but he was arrested and had to pay a ransom of 300 marks while his castles were plundered.
In November 1414 John Talbot, Lord Furnival, became lieutenant for 4,000 marks, but it was reduced to 3,000 after the first year. He got into a feud with the fourth “White” Earl James of Ormond that lasted nearly thirty years. Ormond lorded it over the counties of Cork, Limerick, Kerry, and Waterford. Talbot’s campaign against the Gaelic Irish succeeded in 1415 by pacifying O’Nele and other chieftains in the midlands and Ulster, and the next year he went to England to ask for payment. He had to pass on his debts to others, and the parliament of 1421 accused him of extortion and oppression. Art Mac Murchadha continued his fighting until his death in early 1417, and he was succeeded by his son Donnchadh. He attacked Dublin but was captured by Talbot in May 1419 and imprisoned for eight years. His brother Gearalt plundered and burned Wexford in 1422.
In February 1420 James Butler, the fourth earl of Ormond, was appointed lieutenant, and he already owned extensive property in Ireland. His annual salary was only 2,500 marks, and he had to collect as much as he could in Ireland. In 1423 O’Neill and O’Donnell with other Ulster chiefs attacked Dundalk, defeated the English, and forced them to pay “black rent” (blackmail). In autumn 1424 Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, arrived with English and Welsh troops, and five Ulster chiefs led by Eoghan O’Neill did homage to him; but Mortimer died of plague in January 1425. Ormond held hostages and was given 50 marks for their upkeep. In July 1427 the released Donnchadh was granted 80 marks for bringing peace to the Leinster Irish; but Gearalt was too strong to be overcome, and Wexford bought peace by paying him 213 marks.
The annual receipts of the Irish exchequer averaged £1,000 between 1420 and 1445. Armies were quartered in the local countryside, and this was resented. In 1443 when Ormond was lieutenant, the Earl of Desmond and the Butlers sided with him in his quarrel against Talbot. In the 1440s Ormond was accused of having members of his household knighted and elected to the parliament to increase his control. The Irish parliament was colonial as the Gaelic Irish were excluded. John Talbot had become the Earl of Shrewsbury in 1442, and he was reappointed lieutenant in 1445. He arrived the next year with a force of 700 men to put down the rebellion, but he could do little outside the Pale. His brother Richard was archbishop of Dublin and chancellor.
Use of the term “Pale” has been traced back to 1446 when Aodh Ruadh Mac Mathghamhna promised he would not take anything out of the “English pale” against the law. In the first half of the fifteenth century the territory in Ireland controlled by the English decreased steadily. The Lancastrian dynasty was busy consolidating its power and fighting the French. After that Hundred Years War ended, they were struggling against the Yorkists for control of England. This neglect enabled the native race to recover two-thirds of Ireland for their native language and culture. Some of the French aristocrats learned Irish instead of English. Outside the shrinking Pale that was governed from Dublin, the people were ruled by the feudal class, the great earls, and the Gaelic chiefs.
Cork suffered from Irish and English rebels invading in 1400, and in 1423 the mayor complained they could no longer pay the annual fee to England. The English stronghold in the northeast was the castle at Carrickfergus, but in 1403 the King’s enemies burned down the town. The English Pale extended in the north to the town of Carlingford. Wicklow was south of Dublin but was surrounded by the O’Byrnes, and by 1416 it was too far away from colonists to be defended.
In 1410 the Irish parliament forbade any Irishman opposing the King to leave the country. In 1413 a law expelled all Irishmen and Welshmen from England or they would lose their goods and be imprisoned. In September all the sheriffs announced they had to leave by Christmas Day. Irish and Welsh clerks at Oxford could stay, and others purchased licenses from the King. In 1415 less than half of the 33 dioceses in Ireland were connected to the English administration in Dublin. In March 1417 Henry V ordered all Irish lieges to return to their country to guard it against rebels. After 1422 all Irish students attending Oxford or Cambridge needed a letter of recommendation from the chief governor of Ireland, and the Irish were not admitted equally into English law schools until 1440. That year England started assessing Irish immigrants for the poll-tax on aliens, and in 1441 the English born in Ireland were exempted from the tax; but protests led to repealing the tax on the Irish in December 1442.
Waterford was also raided from the sea by Bretons, Scots, and Spaniards, and in 1430 they received a three-year grant of £30 to repair their fortifications. Many Irish towns had to spend much of their revenues on defenses. In 1442 Drogheda citizens complained that repairing fortifications cost them more than £140 a year. The Earl of Shrewsbury retired in 1447, and his son and heir James Butler became the earl of Wiltshire as well as the fifth earl of Ormond. The parliament at Trim that year outlawed Irish customs, and any man who did not shave his upper lip was considered an enemy.
Richard, Duke of York, was appointed lieutenant of Ireland on July 30, 1447 to begin in December, but his arrival with an army at Howth was delayed until July 6, 1449. His stipend for the first year was 4,000 marks and then £2,000 annually for the next nine years. He was given complete control over the Irish administration, and he had inherited the earldom of Ulster and the lordship of Connacht from Elizabeth de Burgh as well as the lordships of Trim and Leix from his uncle Edmund Mortimer. Most of these areas were held by “Irish enemies” and “English rebels.” York marched north, and Mag Aonghusa, Mac Mathghamhna, Mac Uidhilin, and O Raghallaigh submitted by August 15. Enri O’Neill came to terms at Drogheda twelve days later on behalf of his family and subjects. O’Neill agreed to discipline Gaelic Irish rebels in Ulster, and York promised to investigate offenses against O’Neill, who also gave York 300 cattle. He brought the earls of Desmond and Ormond together by having them both sponsor the baptism of his son George, Duke of Clarence.
York summoned the great council to Dublin in October, and they prohibited the exaction of food and entertainment by English soldiers. However, they also made it legal to kill robbers in the Pale, and this became an excuse for murder. York summoned a parliament to Drogheda in April 1450, but after this Mag Eochagain of Meath led an uprising with other chieftains, burning Rathmore and other villages. After failing to get funds from England, York compromised with Mag Eochagain. In August 1450 York returned to England to face accusations of treason.
The fifth Earl of Ormond became lieutenant in the spring of 1453 and nominated Archbishop John Mey of Armagh as his deputy. However, York did not recognize his lieutenancy, and in February 1454 England began retaining the money assigned to Ireland. That year commissioners recruited workers to improve defenses in the four Pale counties of Meath, Louth, Kildare, and Dublin. After York became protector of England in April 1455, his position in Ireland was not questioned. The Earl of Ormond had not come to Ireland, and without him or York there disorder increased. Over Ormond’s claims to manors the Fitzgeralds of Kildare came into conflict with Edmund and William Butler, causing much destruction in Kildare and Meath. The feud continued with Kildare on York’s side and the Butlers supporting Lancaster.
York was too busy to be concerned with Ireland, but his lieutenancy was renewed in 1457. He returned to Ireland in the fall of 1459 with his son, the Earl of Rutland, fleeing from the victorious Lancastrians. In November the English Parliament attainted York for treason and stripped him of all his offices, appointing the Earl of Ormond and Wiltshire to govern Ireland. However, York still controlled Ireland, and the parliament he summoned to Drogheda in February 1460 confirmed his authority. The messenger Overy who brought writs for the arrest of York, was arrested himself, tried, convicted, and hanged. The Irish parliament then made the following bold declaration of its independence:
The land of Ireland is and at all times
has been corporate of itself,
by the ancient laws and customs used in the same,
freed of the burden of any special law of the realm of England,
save only such laws as by the lords spiritual and temporal
and the commons of the said land
had been in great council or parliament there
held, admitted, accepted, affirmed, and proclaimed
according to sundry ancient statutes thereof made.2
In April 1460 Henry VI ordered all boats crossing from England to Ireland arrested and kept in custody until their masters had royal licenses. He also tried to recruit Gaelic Irish lords to fight against York.
During the 15th century the MacMurroughs claimed the kingship of Leinster while in the north the O’Neills were considered king of Ulster. In 1419 a large army of O’Kellys, Burkes of north Connacht, MacDermotts, and Toirdhealbhach Ruadh’s son Cathal Dubh invaded Clanricard to expel William Burke; but they were defeated by Tadhg O’Briain and the armies of Thomond and Clanricard. Cathal Donn became king of Connacht for thirteen years. An Calbhach O’Conchobhair became king of Offaly in 1421. He submitted to Talbot in March 1425, renounced black rent on Meath, and paid a fine of 1,000 marks. In September 1427 Hubert Tyrell helped An Calbhach rob and burn the town of Mullingar. He continued to threaten colonists until his death in 1458.
Eoghan and his cousin Domhnall struggled for power among the O’Neills until Eoghan submitted in 1426. After O’Cathain killed Domhnall in 1432, Eoghan was acclaimed king of Ulster. In 1433 many Scots invaded Ireland to help Eoghan O’Neill fight Niall O’Domhnaill. Eoghan forced Neachtan to submit in 1442. Neachtan was killed by his nephews in 1452, and Eoghan O’Neill’s son Enri arbitrated a settlement of Tir Conaill, giving half to Neachtan’s son Ruaidhri and half to the sons of Niall Garbh. The son Domhnall then killed Ruaidhri in 1454, but he was slain by Enri O’Neill in 1456. Eoghan had resigned in 1455, and Enri was recognized as king of Ulster by Neachtan’s son Toirdhealbhach.
James Butler was earl of Ormond from 1404 to 1452, and James Fitzgerald was earl of Desmond 1411-63. Unlike the Burkes, they remained connected to the Dublin administration. Butler led an expedition in 1452 enforcing submission, but he died on his return. His successors preferred English politics to Irish supremacy, and Desmond became the major Irish power.
Concubinage was common among the clergy in Ireland. The English dominated the Franciscans, Augustinians, and Dominicans in Ireland, but the Observants were respected for their independence. Church property was often violated. In 1447 the Earl of Desmond spared neither churches nor women when he raided Kilkenny and Tipperary. In 1454 Archbishop Mey excommunicated Enri O’Neill for having plundered the Armagh diocese. Marriage laws were difficult to enforce as many couples became partners without the church.
After Richard of York died on December 30, 1460, his son Edward IV inherited the earldom of Ulster; but he was busy ruling England. He tried to give the eighth earl of Desmond a turn as deputy after the Kildares. In 1464 Edward appointed his ruthless constable John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, who was called the “Butcher of England” as his lieutenant in Ireland. He delayed in going there, and Desmond made Thomas, the seventh earl of Kildare, chancellor. Worcester arrived with 500 English archers in October 1467 and began a parliament at Dublin on December 11. The parliament moved to Drogheda in February 1468, and a bill declared Desmond and Kildare traitors. Within ten days Desmond was arrested and beheaded by Worcester’s orders on February 14. The council elected the Earl of Kildare justiciar by October and then held a parliament. Worcester left Ireland in 1470 and was executed by Lancastrians on October 18. James, the sixth earl of Desmond, married Margaret O’Brien, starting the pattern of Desmond Geraldines marrying Irish women.
In February 1471 the Lancastrians appointed Duke George of Clarence as lieutenant of Ireland with Thomas Kildare as his deputy until he died in March 1477. Edward IV returned to power in April 1471. Kildare accepted him and apparently was justiciar and then deputy again after Edward confirmed Clarence as nominal lieutenant in March 1472. Edward sent the knights Gilbert Debenham and Robert Bold with two others to Ireland before the parliament of March 1474, and they created a military order called the Fraternity of St. George. Kildare headed the guild that administered the 120 archers and 40 horsemen. Debenham was reinforced with 400 archers in September for one year.
At the parliament in Dublin in January 1477 a law was passed removing the pay for the Fraternity and requiring persons defending the Pale to do so at their own expense. The council elected Earl Thomas of Kildare as justiciar again. He died on March 25, 1477, but his son Gerald, the eighth earl of Kildare, was elected justiciar. On July 6 King Edward appointed Lord Henry Grey of Ruthin as deputy and provided him with 200 archers and a subsidy for two years. Kildare refused to recognize Grey, who was recalled. Kildare was forgiven and became the King’s deputy, and he was paid £100 a year from 1481 to 1483.
After Edward IV died in 1483, Earl Gerald of Kildare was elected justiciar to Edward V. Richard III appointed his son Edward lieutenant. Kildare was confirmed as his deputy, and the parliament at Dublin in 1484 transferred royal revenues to Kildare. After Henry VII took power in 1485, Kildare supported the ten-year-old Lambert Simnel, who was pretending to be Clarence’s son Edward of Warwick. Kildare accepted his claim and held a parliament in the name of “Edward VI.” Kildare’s brother Thomas, the Earl of Lincoln, appealed to Edward IV’s sister Margaret, Duchess of Flanders, and she sent 2,000 German mercenaries who landed in Dublin on May 5, 1487. Simnel was crowned “Edward VI” on May 24. Their army invaded England; but they were defeated in Lincolnshire on June 16, and Thomas was killed with 4,000 others. Kildare and other Yorkists were pardoned on May 25, 1488.
King Henry sent Richard Edgecombe to Ireland in June 1488 to absolve Kildare, who traveled to England in 1489 and swore he would be loyal to Henry VII. The King summoned Kildare again in 1491, but he was too busy arbitrating conflicts to go. In November the fugitive Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be Edward IV’s son Richard, arrived in Cork with Yorkist agents. The next month the King sent Thomas Garth with 200 soldiers. On June 11, 1492 they dismissed Kildare as deputy and Portlester as treasurer. Archbishop Fitzsimons of Dublin was appointed deputy and was aided by Kildare’s enemy, James Ormond. Later in the year Ormond’s soldiers clashed with Kildare’s men in Dublin. On March 30, 1493 Kildare was pardoned if he sent his son to the King within six months. Desmond and his family were pardoned in April. Henry VII abolished the “coyne and livery” of quartered soldiers in the Pale, and the Anglo-Irish in the Pale were to enforce their laws. All but one hundred English soldiers were withdrawn by the end of 1493.
The FitzGerald earls of Desmond were led by Thomas, the eight earl (1463-68), James, the ninth earl (1468-87), and Maurice, the tenth earl (1487-1520) in their Munster territories. The Earl of Kildare managed to escape and achieved a reconciliation. The earls of Kildare were the most dominant rulers of Ireland during the era of Thomas, the seventh earl of Kildare (1456-78) and Gerald, the eighth earl (1478-1513).
The fifth earl of Ormond was executed during the English wars in 1461, and his heirs were excluded from their territory until they were revived by James Butler of Ormond in 1491 for six years and then by his rival Piers Butler. He governed for the absent Thomas, the seventh earl of Ormond (1477-1515) and became earl in 1516. In the northwest Red Hugh O’Donnell governed from 1461 to 1505. Papal agents also collected tax in Ireland. Octavianus de Palatio (Spinelli) was archbishop of Armagh from 1478 to 1513.
In June 1494 James Ormond was sent back to Ireland and was made constable of Limerick castle. On September 12 the four-year-old Prince Henry (VIII), Duke of York, was appointed lieutenant of Ireland with Edward Poynings as his deputy. Bishop Henry Deane of Bangor became chancellor; Hugh Conway went as treasurer; and the English chief justices Thomas Bowring and John Topcliffe also went along. Poynings landed at Howth on October 13 with a thousand men and hired 226 soldiers. Many of the Gaelic Irish gave up their lands, and some refusing had their property destroyed. Poynings called the parliament to meet at Drogheda on December 1. The famous chapter 9 or “Poynings’ law” required the consent of the King for the parliament to meet, and no bills could be passed that had not already been approved by the royal council. This law effectively gave the King of England a veto over all Irish laws. The constables of the King’s castles at Dublin, Trim, Athlone, Wicklow, Greencastle, Carlingford, and Carrickfergus had to be Englishmen born in England. The resumption of all royal land granted since 1327 used exemptions to favor those cooperating with the administration. Private war was banned, and the chief governor could only use force in his jurisdiction. Quartering soldiers was restricted, and a statute against Gaelic Irish customs was revived. Private persons were not allowed to keep firearms.
On February 27, 1495 the Earl of Kildare was arrested for treason, and the next week Poynings sent him to England, where he was put in the Tower of London. The Earl’s brother James Fitzgerald reacted by expelling the small royal garrison from Carlow castle. Poynings sent James Ormond to besiege the castle in April. The city of Cork, the Earl of Desmond, and Lord Barry of Munster announced they were supporting the pretender Warbeck. Desmond used forces to blockade Waterford and raided Butler territories. A fleet sent by Emperor Maximilian and commanded by Warbeck joined the siege of Waterford in July. English reinforcements arrived in June, and in August they marched south with gentry from the Pale and citizens of Dublin. Desmond retreated with Warbeck, who took refuge in Scotland with James IV. The Earl of Kildare submitted to Henry VII in March, and his son was kept as a hostage for three years in England where he was educated. Treasurer Conway greatly increased revenues collected in Ireland, and in two years by July 1496 they had sent £18,303 sterling back to England.
On January 1, 1496 Bishop Deane succeeded Poynings, and he still had 330 English soldiers and 100 hired kern. As his second wife Kildare married the King’s cousin Elizabeth St. John, and he returned to Ireland in September with his wife and Ralph Verney. Kildare was appointed deputy for ten years and took the oath on October 2. He could appoint all officers except the treasurer and chancellor. He cooperated with the absentee Earl Thomas of Ormond, with Piers Butler, Earl of Desmond, and with the city of Waterford. Ormond renounced his hostility to Kildare and agreed to pay the Deputy two-thirds of his revenues.
In March 1498 England authorized a parliament for August, though the parliament did not meet at Dublin until March 1499. The double subsidy of 1494 was reduced to a single subsidy but was authorized for ten years. Kildare visited England again in 1503, and his sixteen-year-old son Gerald married the King’s ward, Elizabeth Zouche; they went back to Ireland together. Kildare was taking in much of the revenues directly, and he built up the county of Kildare. In 1504 he led a major campaign into Connacht in the west, and they were victorious in the battle of Knockdoe involving 10,000 men on August 19. That year Kildare appointed his son Gerald treasurer.
At the council meeting on December 3, 1506 Chancellor Cardinal Morton spoke for the King about a threatened war by O’Briain, and they approved an expedition with at least 6,000 men. Parliament was authorized and met in October 1508 and three more times by the summer of 1509. Henry VIII became king in April and summoned Kildare on July 28. Kildare made excuses and did not receive his patent as deputy until June 1510. Kildare’s enemies increased, and he gathered forces to take on O’Briain. During a battle in the midlands in 1511 Kildare was wounded, and he declined and died on September 3, 1513.
At the age of 25 his son Gerald became the ninth earl of Kildare. He was elected justiciar, and Henry VIII confirmed him as deputy on November 26. Archbishop Rokeby was chancellor. The Anglo-Irish complained that Gerald was favoring his Gaelic Irish friends over them. The young Kildare went to England with Hospitaller prior John Rawson, Rokeby, and William Darcy in 1515, leaving Lord Gormanston behind as justiciar. Gerald got a new patent, and Rokeby was reappointed as chancellor. Kildare was authorized to hold a parliament in Ireland that met on February 25, 1516 and continued on and off until October. The subsidy was renewed, and absentees lost their licenses.
1. Quoted in Scotland: The Later Middle Ages by Ranald Nicholson, p. 335.
2. Statute rolls of the parliament of Ireland, reign of King Henry VI, ed. H. F. Berry (Dublin, 1910), p. 645 as quoted in A New History of Ireland, Volume II: Medieval Ireland 1169-1534 ed. Art Cosgrove, p. 564.