Page images
PDF
EPUB

of justice and the defence of the kingdom formed two principal subjects of consideration; and his attention to the commercial interests of the state was equally active, though not equally enlightened. The acts of the legislature upon this subject are pervaded by that jealousy of exportation, and the narrow policy in restricting the settlement of Scottish. merchants in foreign parts, which mark an unenlightened age. During the detention of the monarch in England, the Flemings, as allies of that kingdom, had committed repeated aggressions on the Scottish merchant vessels, and the king, on his return, had removed the staple of the Scottish commerce to Middleburg in Zealand. Soon after, however, an embassy from the states of Flanders arrived at the Scottish Court, with the object of procuring the restoration of the trade, and James not only received the envoys with distinction, but consented to their request, on the condition of more ample privileges being conferred on his subjects who traded to these parts.*

About this time the queen was delivered of a daughter; and, with an affectionate recurrence to the virtues of the sainted consort of Malcolm Canmore, the princess was christened Margaret. The event was received with almost as much satisfaction in France as in Scotland; and Charles the Seventh, anxious to procure the assistance of that country in his protracted struggle with the arms of England, immediately opened a negotiation for the marriage of the Dauphin with the infant daughter of James. Stewart of Derneley, Constable of the Scottish Army in France, and the Arch

* Fordun, vol. ii. p. 484.

bishop of Rheims, visited the Scottish Court; the king returned his answers to their proposals by Leighton, Bishop of Aberdeen, and Ogilvy, Justiciar of Scotland, and it was determined that after five years the parties should be solemnly betrothed, and the princess conveyed to the Court of France.* It was another part of the prudent policy of James, to cultivate the friendship of the Church, to secure the co-operation of the numerous and influential body of the Catholic clergy, in the execution of his schemes for the reduction of the country under a system of order and good government; and with this view we find him about the same time despatching an embassy to the Court of Rome, and directing a Commission to the Bishop of St. Andrews, by which that prelate was empowered to resume all alienations of ecclesiastical lands which had been granted under the administration of the two Albanies. The deed also conferred upon him the dreaded power of placing the party under the anathema of the Church.

The collection of the sum due for the king's ransom, was a matter of grave consideration; and in the first Parliament after his return, a tax of twelve pennies in the pound was directed to be levied upon the whole lands of the kingdom;ť but, as the zeal of the people cooled, complaints were made of the impoverishment and distress which were occasioned by so general a burden; and James, admonished by the defalcation in the second collection, with equal prudence and generosity, directed that no further efforts should be

* Fordun, vol. ii. p. 484.
+ Acts of the Parliament of Scotland, vol. ii. p. 4.

made to levy the imposition.* In his third Parliament, which assembled at Perth on the 12th of March, 1425, the administration of justice, throughout every portion of the kingdom, was provided for by the institution of a new ambulatory court, denominated the “ Session." It consisted of the chancellor and certain persons of the three estates, to be selected by the king, who were to hold their sittings, three times in the year, at whatever place the royal will should appoint, for the determination of all causes and quarrels which might be brought before them.t Another material object was the amendment of the laws, and their promulgation throughout the most distant parts of the country. For this purpose a committee of six of the most able and learned counsellors, to be chosen from each of the three estates, was directed to examine the books of the law, Regiam Majestatem and Quoniam Attachiamenta, to explain their obscurities, reconcile their contradictions, and, in the ancient and simple language of the times, “ to mend such as need mending." Copies of the statutes of the realm were directed to be distributed to all sheriffs throughout the country; and these judges were, in their turn, enjoined to publish them in the principal places of their sheriffdom, and to furnish copies to all prelates, barons, and other persons in authority, who applied for them.

Although enjoying a profound peace, both at home and abroad, James did not neglect that warlike policy which is its best preservation; armed musters, or "weapon schawings," were appointed to be held

* Fordun, vol. ii. p. 482.
+ Acts of Parliament, vol. ii. p. 11.

in every county, under the superintendence of the sheriff, four times in the year, at which all capable of bearing arms were compelled to attend, for the purpose of having their weapons inspected, and devoting a portion of their time to the cultivation of warlike exercises. The baron, the yeoman, the wealthy burgher, the hind, the vassals of the church, were all equally called out on such occasions. Every yeoman, between sixteen and sixty years of age, was obliged to furnish himself with a bow and a sheaf of arrows; gentlemen, possessing ten pounds value in land, were to arm themselves with sword, spear, and dagger, a steel cap and iron greaves, or leg-harness; and those of less substance, in proportion to their estate; whilst it was made incumbent on all merchants trading beyond seas, to bring home along with their other cargoes, a good store of harness and quilted armour, besides spears, bows, and bowstrings. During his residence in England, and his campaigns in France under Henry the Fifth, the Scottish monarch had personally witnessed the fatal superiority of the English archers. He had himself arrived at great perfection in this martial exercise, and he was anxious to promote it amongst his subjects.

The king next directed his attention to a still more arduous inquiry—the state of the Highlands and Isles; but he soon found, that without his personal presence in these remote districts, little success could be anticipated. He determined, therefore, to remedy this defect, and set out on a progress to Inverness, with a resolution not to return till he had effectually reduced the northern portion of his dominions under the control of legi

timate authority. The condition of the Highlands at this period, so far as we can discern it by the feeble light of contemporary history, was in a high degree rude and uncivilized. There was to be found in them a singular admixture of the ScotoNorman, Celtic, and Scandinavian races. The tenure of lands by charter and seisin, the rights of the overlord, the duties of the vassal, the bonds of manrent, the baronial jurisdiction, the troops of armed retainers, the pomp of feudal life, and the ferocity of feudal manners, were all there to be met with in as full force as in the more southern parts of the kingdom. “ Powerful chiefs of Norman name and Norman blood had penetrated into their remotest fastnesses, and ruled over multitudes of vassals and serfs, whose strange and uncouth appellatives proclaim their difference of race in the most convincing manner. But the gloomy castles and inaccessible fortresses of these northern regions were also inhabited by many fierce chiefs of the pure Celtic race. They spoke a different language, lived under a totally different system of manners from the Norman barons, and regarded all intrusion into a country which had been originally their own, with mingled feelings of disdain and abhorrence. Over their separate septs or clans, these haughty potentates exercised an equally despotic authority as the baron over his military followers; and, whilst both disdained to acknowledge an allegiance to the monarch, of whose existence they were scarcely aware, and derided the authority of laws which they hardly understood, the perpetual disputes

* History of Scotland, vol. iii. p. 251.

« PreviousContinue »