« PreviousContinue »
upon the death of David, Earl of Strathern, it ought to have reverted to the crown. He accordingly dispossessed Malise Graham, and seized the estates of Strathern; but, to reconcile his nobility in some degree to the severity of such a proceeding, he conferred the life-rent of the earldom upon Athole, and erected the new earldom of Menteith in favour of Graham.
At the time that he was thus deprived of his paternal inheritance, Malise was in England, detained as one of the hostages for the payment of the money due by James; but Robert Graham, his uncle, indignantly remonstrated against the wrong done to his nephew; and, finding his representations ineffectual, determined on revenge. The character of this baron was of that dark and powerful kind which made him a dangerous enemy. He was cruel, crafty, and eloquent; he could conceal his private ambition under the specious veil of zeal for the public good; he pursued his purposes with a courage superior to the sense of danger, and followed the instinct of his revenge
with a delight unchecked either by mercy or remorse.
Of all these qualities he gave ample proof in the events which followed.
It may be doubted whether he at first ventured to explain to the nobles, whom he had attached to his party, any more serious design than that of abridging the power of the king, under which they had lately suffered so severely, and resuming into their own hands not only the lands of which they had been deprived, but the feudal prerogatives which had been, by the late acts of the legislature, so materially curtailed. Animated by this desire, it was determined that they should draw up a list of their grievances, for the purpose of presenting it to the monarch. The first was an easy task to discontented men; but all shrunk from laying it before the Parliament; till Graham, having first made them promise that they would support him against the royal displeasure, undertook the dangerous commission. His daring character, however, hurried him into an excess for which his associates were not prepared. He described, in glowing colours, the tyranny of the government; adverted to the ruin which had fallen on the noblest houses; to the destruction which might be meditated against them at that moment, by a prince who wrested the ancient laws and customs of the kingdom to suit the purposes of his own ambition; and, appealing to the barons who surrounded him, implored them to save themselves and the country, were it even at the ex- , pense of subjecting to restraint the person of the sovereign. This audacious speech was pronounced in the royal presence; and the barons, habituated to respect, or rather to fear their prince, gazed silently on each other. It was a moment of fearful suspense; and all hung upon the resolution of the monarch. But this was a quality in which James was never deficient. A glance of his eye convinced him that his enemies were hesitating; he started from his throne, and, in a stern voice commanding them to arrest the traitor who had dared to insult him to his face, was promptly obeyed. The result, for the time, appeared to strengthen the party of the king; and Graham, uttering imprecations against the weakness of his associates, was
hurried to prison, soon after banished from court, and his estates confiscated to the crown.
It is evident, I think, that this first plot, which concluded in the banishment of Graham, and the temporary triumph of the king, must be distinguished from the second conspiracy, whose terminatio was so fatally different.
The first was an association of the barons, entered into for the purpose of imposing some restraint upon that unscrupulous severity with which they were treated. That a large proportion of his nobility were disaffected to the government of James cannot be doubted; and the sudden arrival of the queen in the camp before Roxburgh, the immediate disbanding of the army, and the return of the monarch to his dominions, demonstrate very clearly that he had received information of the association against him, and that he suspected
his enemies were amongst the leaders of his army. But whilst such was the case, it is equally clear that the conspiracy was against the authority, not against the life of the monarch, and that the farthest point to which Graham had brought his associates was to make a bold and simultaneous effort to abridge the power of which they had lately experienced such mortifying effects. In this first association, also, it is manifest that Athole and Stewart took not a more prominent part than others of the nobility. We
may be assured that a sovereign possessed of the vigour and acuteness of James, having received so appalling a warning, would not rest till he had thoroughly investigated the whole matter; and the single banishment of the principal traitor appears to prove, that although aware of the disaf
fection which had united his nobility against him, he deemed the disease too general to render it prudent in him to make it the subject of punishment.
In the mean time, Graham, a proscribed and landless fugitive, buried himself in the recesses of the Highlands, where he brooded over his wrongs, and meditated a desperate revenge. But it is impossible to deny that there was something great in the mode in which he proceeded. He sent a letter to the king, in which he renounced his allegiance, defied him as a cruel tyrant, who had ruined his house, and warned him that, whereever they met, he would slay him as his mortal enemy. The circumstance was well known at court; and men aware of the dark character of its author, and the fierce spirits whom a man of his family and connexions might muster for the accomplishment of his purposes, wondered at the indifference with which it was received; but, although James despised his threats, as proceeding from a vagabond traitor, a proclamation was made for his apprehension, and a large sum fixed on his head. It is from this moment we may date the connexion between Graham and the Earl of Athole; and now the conspiracy appears to have been concerted, which aimed at nothing less than the destruction of the monarch, and the settlement of the crown upon the children of Euphemia Ross. In unravelling this dark plot, it must be recollected that Athole was the son of Robert the Second, by Euphemia Ross, the second queen of that monarch. It is said to have been early predicted to him by a Highland seer, that he should not die before his
brows were encircled by a crown, and a singular and unexpected combination of events had undoubtedly brought him not very far from the accomplishment of the prediction. By the murder of the Duke of Rothsay, the death of Albany, and the execution of Murdoch and his sons, the whole descendants of the first marriage of Robert the Second were removed, with the exception of James the First and his son, an infant. Although nothing could be more legitimate or unquestionable than the right of the king then reigning to the throne, still we are not to wonder that Athole, whose reasonings were coloured by his ambition, easily persuaded himself there was a flaw in his title. Robert the Third, he contended, had been born out of lawful wedlock, and that no subsequent marriage could confer legitimacy upon a child so situated; the extinction of the line of Albany and Buchan therefore opened up the succession to the children of the second marriage of Robert with Euphemia Ross, and these children were himself and David, Earl of Strathern. Shallow as were these pretences-for Athole could not be ignorant of the papal deed which destroyed all his reasonings--they appeared sufficient to his ambition, and the example of Henry the Fourth, who had expelled from the throne his hereditary sovereign, upon a claim still more unsound, held out encouragement to the Scottish conspirators. With the exception of Graham, Athole, and Stewart, the other persons engaged in the plot were few in number, and of low rank. Christopher and Thomas Chambers, who appear to have been dependants on the House of Albany, and a knight named Hall, with his brother,