James Douglas,4th Earl of Morton (c. 1516 – 2 June 1581, aged 65) was the last of the four regents of Scotland during the minority of King James VI. He was in some ways the most successful of the four, since he won the civil war that had been dragging on with the supporters of the exiled Mary, Queen of Scots. However, he came to an unfortunate end, executed by means of the Maiden, a predecessor of the guillotine.
James Douglas was the second son of Sir George Douglas of Pittendreich, Master of Angus, and Elizabeth Douglas, daughter David Douglas of Pittendreich. He wrote that he was over 61 years old in March 1578, so was probably born around 1516.Before 1543 he married Elizabeth, daughter of James Douglas, 3rd Earl of Morton. In 1553 James Douglas succeeded to the title and estates of his father-in-law, including Dalkeith House in Midlothian, and Aberdour Castle in Fife. Elizabeth Douglas and her two elder sisters, who were married to Regent Arran and Lord Maxwell, suffered from mental ill-health. Their children either did not survive to adulthood, or in the case of three daughters were declared legally incompetent in 1581. James also had five illegitimate children
At the start of war of the Rough Wooing, James and his brother David communicated with Henry VIII of England on the possibility of their surrendering Tantallon Castle to the English army that burnt Edinburgh in 1544. However, four years later he defended Dalkeith Palace against the English and was captured in June 1548, "sore hurt on the thigh [in those times often a euphemism for the male genitalia]" and taken as a hostage to England. After the Treaty of Boulogne brought peace, in 1550 James returned from captivity in England and was exchanged for the English soldier John Luttrell, and began to use his title of "Earl of Morton."
In 1559 James's political activities and allegiances during the Scottish Reformation were at first equivocal, but in February 1560 he signed the Treaty of Berwick which invited an English army into Scotland to expel the Catholic regime of Mary of Guise.He took part in the unsuccessful embassy to England in November 1560 to treat for the marriage of Elizabeth I of England to James Hamilton, 3rd Earl of Arran.
In 1563 he became Lord Chancellor of Scotland. Though his sympathies were with the reformers, he took no part in the combination of Protestant reformers in 1565, but he headed the armed force which took possession of Holyrood palace in March 1566 to effect the assassination of David Rizzio, and the leading conspirators adjourned to Morton's house while a messenger was sent to obtain Queen Mary's signature to the "bond of security".
The Queen, before complying with the request, escaped to Dunbar, and Morton and the other leaders fled to England. Having been pardoned, Morton returned to Scotland early in 1567, and with 600 men appeared before Borthwick Castle, where the Queen had taken refuge after her marriage to Bothwell. Morton attended the remarkable stand-off at the battle of Carberry Hill in June 1567, Mary's new husband, James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell offered to settle the matter by single combat. When Patrick, Lord Lindsay took up the challenge, Morton gave Lindsay the sword of his ancestor, Archibald Douglas, 5th Earl of Angus. Mary vetoed a fight, and surrendered.Morton took an active part in obtaining the consent of the queen, while she was imprisoned at Lochleven Castle, to her abdication in July 1567. When Mary escaped from Lochleven, he led the vanguard of the army which defeated her forces at the Battle of Langside in 1568, and he was the most valued privy counsellor of the Earl of Moray during the latter's brief term of office as Regent of Scotland.
Scotland was now ruled by Regents on behalf of Mary's infant son, James VI of Scotland, who faced a civil war. James Stewart, Regent Moray, Mary's half-brother, was assassinated in Linlithgow and then Matthew Stewart, Regent Lennox died from a gunshot wound after a struggle on the streets of Stirling. On 18 November 1571, the new Regent, John Erskine, Earl of Mar, sent Morton with Robert Pitcairn, Commendator of Dunfermline and James MacGill of Nether Rankeillour to negotiate with Elizabeth's representative Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, Governor of Berwick upon Tweed. Mar wanted English help to capture Edinburgh Castle from Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange who held it for Mary, Queen of Scots. Regent Mar hoped that Morton could arrange for 12 cannons, 3000 foot soldiers, and wages for the 800 Scottish foot soldiers and 200 horsemen already in the field. Morton was instructed to offer six hostages to England from the sons of the nobility who supported James VI. He also discussed returning the Earl of Northumberland to England who was a fugitive after the failed Rising of the North.
A week later Morton wrote to Hunsdon with the same request, urging an attack in winter because the Castle was vulnerable when the Nor' Loch was frozen. Hunsdon replied that Elizabeth still hoped for a peaceful settlement, but he would send an estimate of the expedition's cost to Elizabeth. Morton received a token payment. The English rebels were handed over. The treaty for military aid was still not finalised when Mar died at Stirling in October 1572.
On 24 November 1572, a month after the death of Regent Mar, Morton, who had been the most powerful noble during Mar and Lennox's rule, at last reached the object of his ambition by being elected regent. As Regent of Scotland, Morton expected the support of England and Elizabeth, and a week after his election, he wrote to William Cecil, Lord Burghley following his discussions with the English ambassador Henry Killigrew;
The knowledge of her Majesty's meaning has chiefly moved me to accept the charge (the Regency), resting in assured hope of her favourable protection and maintenance, especially for the present payment of our men-of-war their bypast wages, "without the quhilk I salbe drevin in mony great inconvenientis."
In many respects Morton was an energetic and capable ruler. His first achievement was the conclusion of the civil war in Scotland against the supporters of the exiled Mary, Queen of Scots. In February 1573 he effected a pacification with George Gordon, 5th Earl of Huntly, the Hamiltons, and other Catholic nobles who supported Mary at Perth, with the aid of Elizabeth's envoy, Henry Killigrew.Edinburgh Castle still held out for Mary under the command of William Kirkcaldy of Grange and William Maitland of Lethington, and after a long siege the castle was taken on 27 May 1573, aided by English artillery and soldiers which finally arrived under William Drury.
The ensuing execution of the leaders of the Castle garrison men put an end to the last chance of Mary's restoration by native support. In July 1573 Morton had the king's chamber at Stirling Castle panelled, 60 new gold buttons made for his clothes, and gave him a football.While all seemed to favour Morton, under-currents combined to procure his fall. The Presbyterian clergy were alienated by his leaning to Episcopacy, and all parties in the divided Church disliked his seizure of its estates. Andrew Melville, who had taken over as leader of the Kirk from John Knox, was firmly against any departure from the Presbyterian model, and refused to be won by a place in Morton's household. Morton rigorously pursued the collection of a third of the income from every Church benefice, a revenue that had been allocated to finance the King's household. Morton had discretion to exempt persons and institutions from paying these thirds, and the historian George Hewitt found no striking evidence of bias in Morton's exemptions.
In 1577, as a signal of continuing Royal favour, Morton was granted the barony of Stobo, being the first of thirty barons of that title that stretch from the sixteenth century to the present day. However, over the next few months, opposition to Morton grew led by the Earl of Argyll and the Earl of Atholl, both leading Roman Catholics and members of the Queen's party, in league with Alexander Erskine of Gogar, governor of Stirling Castle and custodian of the young James VI.
Morton was finally forced to resign as Regent in March 1578, but retained much of his power. He surrendered Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, the Great Seal and the jewels and Honours of Scotland, retiring for a while to Lochleven Castle, where he busied himself in laying out gardens. On 10 March, James VI issued a proclamation recognising that many in Scotland 'misliked' the regiment of Morton, who had now resigned, and James would now accept the burden of the administration. The King was eleven years old.
Queen Elizabeth wrote to her agents in Scotland expressing her astonishment and displeasure, because, as she was convinced her influence had brought Morton to the regency, so his forced resignation reflected badly on her. If Morton was now to be accused of bad government, she instructed her diplomats Thomas Randolph and Robert Bowes to defend him by saying that his accusers should have first appealed to England to pressure Morton to reform his administration.
On 27 April 1578, by the action of John Erskine (son of Regent Mar) and his brothers, the Commendators of Cambuskenneth and Dryburgh, Morton gained possession of Stirling Castle and the person of the king, regaining his ascendancy. On 12 August 1578, the forces of his opponents faced his army at Falkirk, but a truce was negotiated by two Edinburgh ministers, James Lawson and David Lindsay, and the English resident Robert Bowes. A nominal reconciliation was effected, and a parliament at Stirling introduced a new government. Morton, who secured an indemnity, was president of the council, but Atholl remained a privy councillor in an enlarged council with the representatives of both parties. Shortly afterwards Atholl died (allegedly of poison) and suspicion pointed to Morton. His return to power was brief, and the only important event was the prosecution of the two Hamiltons who still supported Mary. In the spring of 1579, the Scottish government's forces moved to crush the power of the Hamilton family in the west, and Claude Hamilton and his brother John Hamilton fled to England. Morton would later deny that this was his initiative.The final fall of Morton came from an opposite quarter.
In May 1579, at St Andrews, an eccentric called Skipper Lindsay publicly declared to Morton in the King's presence during the performance of a play that his day of judgement was at hand. In September, Esmé Stewart, Sieur d'Aubigny, the king's cousin, came to Scotland from France, gained the favour of James by his courtly manners, and received the lands and earldom of Lennox, the custody of Dumbarton Castle, and the office of chamberlain. The young James VI was declared to have reached his majority and formally began his personal rule with some ceremony in Edinburgh in September 1579, and the period of the Regents was concluded.
On 31 December 1580, an associate of Lennox, James Stuart, Earl of Arran, son of Lord Ochiltree and brother-in-law of John Knox, had the daring to accuse Morton at a meeting of the council in Holyrood of complicity in the murder of Darnley, and he was at once committed to custody in Holyroodhouse and taken to Dumbarton Castle in the Lennox heartland.Some months later Morton was condemned by an assize for having taken part in Darnley's murder, and the verdict was justified by his confession that the Earl of Bothwell had revealed to him the design, although he denied participation, "art and part", in its execution.
He was executed on 2 June 1581. The method of his execution was the Maiden, an early form of guillotine modelled on the Halifax gibbet. According to tradition, he brought it personally from England, having been "impressed by its clean work", [ citation needed ]but doubt has been cast on this. It was actually ordered to be made by Edinburgh's Town Council in 1564, David Hume of Godscroft appears to have initiated the Morton legend in his History of the House of Douglas (1644). His corpse remained on the scaffold for the following day, until it was taken for burial in an unmarked grave at Greyfriars Kirkyard. His head, however, remained on "the prick on the highest stone", (a spike) on the north gable of the ancient Tolbooth of Edinburgh (outside St Giles Cathedral), for eighteen months until it was ordered to be reunited with his body in December 1582. Morton's final resting place is reputedly marked by a small sandstone post incised with the initials "J.E.M." for James Earl of Morton. The post is more probably a Victorian marker for a lairage. In the very unlikely event that a marker were permitted for an executed criminal, the inscribed initials would have been "J.D." and, secondly, it would have been cleared away in 1595 when all stones were removed from Greyfriars.
After the execution of her husband, Morton's wife, Dame Elizabeth Douglas was found by an inquest to be incapable of managing her affairs, as she was "idiot and prodigal" in the language of the time. King James VI signed a warrant to appoint a legal guardian called an "administrator and tutor" to supervise and protect her property.
The title of Earl of Morton passed by charter to the son of Dame Elizabeth Douglas's sister Beatrix, John Maxwell, 8th Lord Maxwell. Maxwell had been in dispute with Regent Morton over the title, and while the former Regent was in prison, Maxwell had made a contract with the Duke of Lennox on 29 April 1581. Lennox would work to give Maxwell rights over the Morton earldom, and make him the legal guardian of James Douglas and Dame Elizabeth's three daughters. The three sisters, like their mother would be declared incapable by a "brieve of idiotry". In 1586, however, the title was given to Archibald Douglas, 8th Earl of Angus, a nephew and legal heir of Regent Morton. Maxwell was still able to use the title, though it did not descend to his heirs.
The barony of Stobo was confiscated by the Crown but eventually re-granted by charter to Sir John Maitland, Lord Chancellor of Scotland in 1587.
James Douglas started building Drochil Castle in 1578, for his own use three years before his death. It was no more than half built and never finished. The ruins of the castle overlook Peebles and the valleys of the Tarth Water, Lyne Water and River Tweed. At Aberdour Castle in Fife, Morton's lodging survives with its terrace overlooking the Firth of Forth. Morton also extended his residence at Dalkeith Palace, but these works have long since been demolished.
Morton commissioned extensive reconstruction at Edinburgh Castle after the siege, including the Portcullis Gate where his heraldic insignia of a heart can still be seen, and the iconic half-moon battery which fronts the castle and conceals the remains of buildings destroyed in 1573. On his orders, galleries, stables, and other new buildings were constructed at Stirling Castle and Holyroodhouse, and rooms refurbished and furnished for the use of the King.During his resignation in March 1578, Morton pointed out to the officers of the Scottish exchequer that the royal houses were "now in better case than they were at the beginning of his regiment."
Morton is a character in Liz Lochhead's play Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off .
Nigel Tranter's novel Lord and Master (originally called The Master of Gray, the first part of a trilogy of that name) includes an account of Morton's fall from power and his execution.
Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley was the second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. From his marriage in 1565, he was king consort of Scotland. He was created Duke of Albany shortly before his marriage. Less than a year after the birth of his and Mary's only child, King James VI of Scotland and I of England, Darnley was murdered at Kirk o' Field in 1567. Many contemporary narratives describing his life and death refer to him as Lord Darnley, his title as heir apparent to the Earldom of Lennox, and it is by this appellation that he is known in history. On his mother's side he was a great-grandson of King Henry VII of England.
James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray, a member of the House of Stewart as the illegitimate son of King James V, was the Regent of Scotland for his half-nephew, the infant King James VI.
Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox was a leader of the Catholic nobility in Scotland. He was the paternal grandfather of King James VI of Scotland and I of England. He owned Temple Newsam in Yorkshire, England.
James Hamilton, 3rd Earl of Arran (1537–1609) was a Scottish nobleman and soldier who opposed the French-dominated regency during the Scottish Reformation. He was the eldest son of James Hamilton, Duke of Châtellerault, sometime regent of Scotland. He was of royal descent, and at times was third or fourth in succession to the Scottish crown; several royal marriages were proposed for him, but he eventually never married. He went to France with Mary, Queen of Scots, and commanded the Scots Guards. After returning to Scotland, he became a leader of the Protestant party against Mary and her French supporters. However, he went insane in 1562 and was confined for the rest of his life.
William Douglas, 6th Earl of Morton was the son of Robert Douglas of Lochleven and Margaret Erskine, a former mistress of James V of Scotland.
John Erskine, Earl of Mar was a Scottish politician, the only son of another John Erskine and Annabella Murray. He is regarded as both the 19th earl and the 2nd earl.
Dumbarton Castle has the longest recorded history of any stronghold in Scotland. It overlooks the Scottish town of Dumbarton, and sits on a plug of volcanic basalt known as Dumbarton Rock which is 240 feet (73 m) high.
The Raid of Ruthven was a political conspiracy in Scotland which took place on 22 August 1582. It was composed of several Presbyterian nobles, led by William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie, who abducted King James VI of Scotland. The nobles intended to reform the government of Scotland and limit the influence of French and pro-Catholic policy, and to prevent or manage the return of Mary, Queen of Scots from England. Their short-lived rule is known as the "Ruthven" or "Gowrie Regime".
Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange was a Scottish politician and soldier who fought for the Scottish Reformation but ended his career holding Edinburgh castle on behalf of Mary, Queen of Scots and was hanged at the conclusion of a long siege.
Archibald Douglas, Parson of Douglas, was also Parson of Glasgow, a Senator of the College of Justice, Ambassador to Queen Elizabeth I of England, and a notorious intriguer.
Captain James Stewart, Earl of Arran was created Earl of Arran by the young King James VI, who wrested the title from James Hamilton, 3rd Earl of Arran. He rose to become Lord Chancellor of Scotland and was eventually murdered in 1595.
George Douglas of Pittendreich was a member of the powerful Red Douglas family who struggled for control of the young James V of Scotland in 1528. His second son became James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton and Regent of Scotland. Initially, George Douglas promoted the marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots and Prince Edward of England. After war was declared between England and Scotland he worked for peace and to increase the power of Mary of Guise, the widow of James V.
Alexander Erskine of Gogar, was a Scottish landowner and keeper of James VI of Scotland at Stirling Castle.
The Marian civil war in Scotland (1568–1573) was a period of conflict which followed the abdication of Mary, Queen of Scots, and her escape from Lochleven Castle in May 1568. Those who ruled in the name of her infant son James VI fought against the supporters of the Queen, who was exiled in England. Edinburgh Castle, which was garrisoned in her name, became the focus of the conflict and surrendered only after an English intervention in May 1573. The conflict in 1570 was called an "intestine war in the bowels of this commonwealth", and the period was called soon after an "intestine war driven by questions against authority."
The Cunninghams of Drumquhassle were a family of the landed gentry in Scotland from the early 16th century to the mid-17th. They are linked to the Cunninghams of Kilmaurs in Ayrshire, being descended through junior lines via the Cunninghams of Polmaise. At their greatest extent, their lands included Mugdock-Mitchell and the house at Killermont, covering the part of parishes of Strathblane and New Kilpatrick. John Cunningham, the third laird held several positions of responsibility within the Scottish court, including Master of the Royal Household for James VI and a Collector General of tax during the regency of the Earl of Lennox, but his involvement in the power struggles between the Scottish nobility and the court of Elizabeth I of England also led to his demise and he was executed for treason in 1585. Over the next century, the family lost its land and power – in the mid-17th century, the Cunninghams sold their country house in Drumquhassle in rural Stirlingshire and it passed to the Govane family.
Patrick Lindsay, 6th Lord Lindsay of the Byres, (1521–1589), Scottish courtier and Confederate lord.
Robert Pitcairn (1520?–1584) was a Scottish administrator, diplomat and judge, secretary of state and commendator of Dunfermline.
Annabell Murray, Countess of Mar (1536–1603), was a Scottish landowner, courtier and royal servant, the keeper of the infant James VI and his son Prince Henry at Stirling Castle
George Douglas of Parkhead,, was a Scottish landowner, mining entrepreneur, Provost of Edinburgh, and Keeper of Edinburgh Castle.
James Stewart, 1st Lord Doune (1529-1590) was a Scottish landowner.
The Earl of Mar
| Regent of Scotland|
| Lord High Admiral of Scotland |
The 4th Earl of Huntly
| Lord Chancellor of Scotland |
The 5th Earl of Huntly
The 5th Earl of Huntly
| Lord Chancellor of Scotland |
The 5th Earl of Argyll
|Peerage of Scotland|
| Earl of Morton |