Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany

Last updated

Robert Stewart
Duke of Albany
Earl of Fife
Robert of Albany.jpg
Lithograph of the reverse of the 1413 seal of Robert Stewart as Governor of Scotland
Bornc. 1340
Dundonald Castle
Died3 September 1420 (aged c. 80)
Stirling Castle
House Stewart (Albany branch)
Father Robert II of Scotland
Mother Elizabeth Mure

Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany (c. 1340 – 3 September 1420) was a member of the Scottish royal family who served as regent (at least partially) to three Scottish monarchs (Robert II, Robert III, and James I). A ruthless politician, Albany was widely regarded as having caused the murder of his nephew, the Duke of Rothesay, and brother to the future King James I of Scotland. James was held in captivity in England for eighteen years, during which time Albany served as regent in Scotland, king in all but name. He died in 1420 and was succeeded by his son, Murdoch Stewart, Duke of Albany, who was executed for treason when James returned to Scotland in 1425, almost causing the complete ruin of the Albany Stewarts.


Early life and ancestry

Robert Stewart was the third son of the future King Robert II of Scotland (1316–1390) and of Elizabeth Mure of Rowallan. His parents' marriage was deemed uncanonical at first, which, in some circles, gave their children and descendants the label of illegitimacy, but the granting of a papal dispensation in 1349 saw their remarriage and their children's legitimisation. Robert's grandfather was Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward of Scotland (1293–1326) and his father was the first monarch of the House of Stewart. His maternal great-grandfather was Robert the Bruce (1274–1329), legendary victor of the Battle of Bannockburn.

Robert Stewart was raised in a large family with many siblings. His older brother John Stewart (1337–1406) became Earl of Carrick in 1368 and would later be crowned King of Scotland under the name Robert III.

In 1361 Stewart married Margaret Graham, Countess of Menteith (1334–1380), a wealthy divorcee who took Robert as her fourth husband. His sister-in-law's claim to the Earldoms of Menteith and Fife allowed him to assume those titles, becoming Earl of Menteith and Earl of Fife. In 1362 the couple had a son and heir, Murdoch Stewart (1362–1425), who would in time inherit his father's titles and estates.

Stewart was responsible for the construction of Doune Castle, which remains largely intact today. When Stewart became Earl of Menteith, he was granted the lands on which Doune Castle now stands. Building may have started any time after this, and the castle was at least partially complete in 1381, when a charter was sealed here. [1]

Politics and war

Doune Castle, built by Stewart, still stands today. Doune Castle - front.jpg
Doune Castle, built by Stewart, still stands today.
Falkland Palace, where Robert Stewart's nephew, the Duke of Rothesay, died in mysterious circumstances. Falkland Palace.jpg
Falkland Palace, where Robert Stewart's nephew, the Duke of Rothesay, died in mysterious circumstances.

Scottish politics in the late fourteenth century was unstable and bloody, and much of Albany's career was spent acquiring territory, land and titles, often by violent means. [2]

During the reign of their infirm father as King Robert II (1371–1390), Robert Stewart and his older brother Lord Carrick functioned as regents of Scotland, kings in all but name, with Albany serving as High Chamberlain of Scotland. He also led several military expeditions and raids into the Kingdom of England. Fife ensured at the December 1388 council meeting that the guardianship of Scotland would pass from Carrick (who had recently been badly injured from a horse-kick) to Fife. [3] [4] [5] There was general approval of Fife's intention to properly resolve the situation of lawlessness in the north and in particular the activities of Alexander, Earl of Buchan, Lord of Badenoch and Ross, his younger brother. [4] Buchan was stripped of his position of Justiciar North of the Forth, which would soon be given to Fife's son, Murdoch Stewart. Father and son would now work together to expand their family interest, bringing them into violent confrontation with other members of the nobility such as Donald McDonald, 2nd Lord of the Isles. [2]

The Earl of Carrick acceded to the throne as King Robert III in 1390. His "sickness of the body" caused control of the kingdom to eventually devolve in 1399 to his son and heir apparent, David. [6] In 1398 David had been created Duke of Rothesay and Robert had been created Duke of Albany, the first two dukedoms created in the Scottish Peerage. Power had begun to shift away from Albany and towards his nephew.

Murder of the Duke of Rothesay

However, the English soon invaded Scotland, and serious differences emerged between Albany and Rothesay. In 1401, Rothesay was accused of unjustifiably appropriating sums from the customs of the burghs on the east coast and confiscating the revenues of the temporalities of the vacant bishopric of St Andrews. [7] Rothesay had also in conjunction with his uncle, Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan, confronted Albany's influence in central Scotlandas soon his lieutenancy expired in 1402 Albany acted swiftly and ruthlessly. Rothesay was arrested and imprisoned in Albany's Falkland Castle where he died in March 1402. [8] Rothesay's death probably lay with Albany and Douglas who would have looked upon the possibility of the young prince acceding to the throne with great apprehension. Albany certainly fell under suspicion but he was cleared of all blame by a general council, which found that 'by divine providence and not otherwise, it is discerned that he [Duke Rothesay] departed from this life.' [9] [10]

However, even though Albany was exonerated from blame, suspicions of foul play persisted, suspicions which never left Rothesay's younger brother the future James I of Scotland, and which would eventually lead to the downfall of the Albany Stewarts. John Debrett, writing in 1805, was in no doubt of Duke Robert's motives and guilt:

"This Robert, Duke of Albany, having obtained the entire government from his brother, King Robert, he caused the Duke of Rothesay to be murdered, thinking to bring the Crown into his own family". [11]

After Rothesay's death, the King began to fear for his second son, James, who fled Scotland for his own safety. Debrett continues:

"to avoid the like fate, King Robert resolved to send his younger son James, to France, then about nine years old, who being sea-sick, and forced to land on the English coast...was detained a captive in England eighteen years. At these misfortunes King Robert died of grief in 1406." [11]

Regent of Scotland

Arms as Regent of Scotland Royal Arms of the Kingdom of Scotland.svg
Arms as Regent of Scotland
Site of the Battle of Harlaw, where in 1411 Donald McDonald, 2nd Lord of the Isles fought the Stewarts to a bloody standstill. Bennachie from the east.jpg
Site of the Battle of Harlaw, where in 1411 Donald McDonald, 2nd Lord of the Isles fought the Stewarts to a bloody standstill.

After the death of his brother, King Robert III, Albany ruled Scotland as regent. His young nephew, the future James I of Scotland, remained in exile and imprisonment in England for 18 years. Albany made little effort to secure the young Prince's ransom and return to Scotland, focusing his energies instead on securing his own power and interest.

Albany's political triumph did not settle his differences with the other members of the nobility, in particular Donald Macdonald, Lord of the Isles, who in 1411 led an army of clansmen from the Isles and Northwest Highlands into open battle with the Stewarts. This conflict began when Albany had attempted to secure the Earldom of Ross for his second son, John, despite Macdonald's superior claim. [12] At the Battle of Harlaw (known as "Red Harlaw" on account of its savagery) [13] on 24 July 1411, losses were heavy on both sides, though Macdonald left with 9,000 men and the Earl of Mar and his lesser forces lay bleeding on the battlefield. The Lord of the Isles eventually prevailed in his claim to the Earldom of Ross. [14]


The Stewart army was led by Albany's nephew, Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar, who later sat on the jury of knights and peers which convicted Albany's son Murdoch Stewart, Duke of Albany and two of his sons of treason, virtually annihilating the Albany Stewarts.

Marriage and family

Stewart's son, John Stewart, 2nd Earl of Buchan, in a late-18th-century engraving. Buchan was killed at the Battle of Verneuil in 1424. John, Earl of Buchan.jpg
Stewart's son, John Stewart, 2nd Earl of Buchan, in a late-18th-century engraving. Buchan was killed at the Battle of Verneuil in 1424.

Albany married twice. Firstly, in 1361, he married Margaret Graham, Countess of Menteith (1334–1380), a wealthy divorcee who took him as her fourth husband. His sister-in-law's claim to the Earldoms of Menteith and Fife allowed him to assume those titles after marriage. The couple had eight children, seven daughters and a son:

Margaret died in 1380 and Albany subsequently married Muriella Keith, with whom he had three children:

Death and legacy

Duke Robert's nephew, James I of Scotland, would wreak his revenge on the Albany Stewarts. King James I of Scotland.jpg
Duke Robert's nephew, James I of Scotland, would wreak his revenge on the Albany Stewarts.
Albany's son, Murdoch Stewart, Duke of Albany. Muireadhach Dux Albaniae.JPG
Albany's son, Murdoch Stewart, Duke of Albany.
Dunfermline Abbey, where Albany was buried Dunfermline Abbey Geograph.jpg
Dunfermline Abbey, where Albany was buried

The Duke of Albany died in 1420 in Stirling Castle and lies buried in Dunfermline Abbey in Fife. He was succeeded as Duke of Albany and Regent of Scotland by his son, Murdoch Stewart, Duke of Albany. But Murdoch would not enjoy his power for long. In 1425, the exiled King James, captive in England for 18 years, finally returned to Scotland and executed Murdoch and most of his family for treason, causing the almost complete ruin of the Albany Stewarts. [2] [16]

Murdoch Stewart's sole surviving male heir was his youngest son, James the Fat, who fled to Ireland after a brief rebellion against the King over the arrest of his father and brothers. James remained in Ireland, unable to return, and died there in 1429. He was never able to inherit his father's titles, since they had been declared forfeit.

Albany's great-grandson, James "Beag" Stewart (c. 1410–1470), would eventually secure a pardon from the King and return to Scotland, though the family would never recover their lost estates. James "Beag" Stewart is the ancestor of the Stewarts of Ardvorlich on Lochearnside, whose family history is recounted by Sir Walter Scott in A Legend of Montrose. [17]

Albany in fiction

Nigel Tranter's Stewart Trilogy covers the period when Albany was an important figure in Scotland.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">James I of Scotland</span> 15th-century King of Scots

James I was King of Scots from 1406 until his assassination in 1437. The youngest of three sons, he was born in Dunfermline Abbey to King Robert III and Annabella Drummond. His older brother David, Duke of Rothesay, died under suspicious circumstances during detention by their uncle, Robert, Duke of Albany. James' other brother, Robert, died young. Fears surrounding James's safety grew through the winter of 1405/6 and plans were made to send him to France. In February 1406, James was forced to take refuge in the castle of the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth after his escort was attacked by supporters of Archibald, 4th Earl of Douglas. He remained at the castle until mid-March, when he boarded a vessel bound for France. On 22nd March, English pirates captured the ship and delivered the prince to Henry IV of England. The ailing Robert III died on 4 April and the 11-year-old James, now the uncrowned King of Scots, would not regain his freedom for another eighteen years.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Robert II of Scotland</span> King of Scots from 1371 to 1390

Robert II was King of Scotland from 1371 to his death in 1390. The son of Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward of Scotland and Marjorie, daughter of King Robert the Bruce, he was the first monarch of the House of Stewart. Upon the death of his uncle, King David II, Robert succeeded to the throne.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Robert III of Scotland</span> King of Scotland from 1390-1406

Robert III, born John Stewart, was King of Scots from 1390 to his death. He was also High Steward of Scotland from 1371 to 1390 and held the titles of Earl of Atholl (1367–1390) and Earl of Carrick (1368–1390) before ascending the throne at about the age of 53 years. He was the eldest son of Robert II and Elizabeth Mure and was legitimized by the second marriage of his parents and by papal dispensation in 1349.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Duke of Albany</span> Title in British peerage

Duke of Albany is a peerage title that has occasionally been bestowed on the younger sons in the Scottish and later the British royal family, particularly in the Houses of Stuart and Hanover.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Earl of Carrick</span> Title applied to the ruler of Carrick

Earl of Carrick is the title applied to the ruler of Carrick, subsequently part of the Peerage of Scotland. The position came to be strongly associated with the Scottish crown when Robert the Bruce, who had inherited it from his maternal kin, became King of the Scots in the early 14th century. Since the 15th century, the title of Earl of Carrick has automatically been held by the heir apparent to the throne, thus the current holder of the title is Prince William, Duke of Rothesay.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan</span> Earl of Buchan

Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan, Alasdair Mór mac an Rígh, and called the Wolf of Badenoch, was the third surviving son of King Robert II of Scotland and youngest by his first wife, Elizabeth Mure of Rowallan. He was the first Earl of Buchan since John Comyn, from 1382 until his death. Alexander married the widowed Euphemia I, Countess of Ross, but they had no children. He did have a large family by his longtime mistress, Mairead inghean Eachainn. Alexander was Justiciar of Scotia for a time, but not an effective one. He held large territories in the north of Scotland before eventually losing a large part of them. Alexander is remembered for his destruction of the royal burgh of Elgin and its cathedral. His nickname was earned due to his notorious cruelty and rapacity, but there is no proof that it was used during his lifetime.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Earl of Atholl</span> Scottish title between 10th–17th centuries

The Mormaer or Earl of Atholl was the title of the holder of a medieval comital lordship straddling the highland province of Atholl, now in northern Perthshire. Atholl is a special Mormaerdom, because a King of Atholl is reported from the Pictish period. The only other two Pictish kingdoms to be known from contemporary sources are Fortriu and Circinn. Indeed, the early 13th century document known to modern scholars as the de Situ Albanie repeats the claim that Atholl was an ancient Pictish kingdom. In the 11th century, the famous Crínán of Dunkeld may have performed the role of Mormaer.

The Earl of Fife or Mormaer of Fife was the ruler of the province of Fife in medieval Scotland, which encompassed the modern counties of Fife and Kinross. Due to their royal ancestry, the earls of Fife were the highest ranking nobles in the realm, and had the right to crown the king of Scots.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Earl of Menteith</span> Ruler of the province of Menteith

The Mormaer or Earl of Menteith was the ruler of the province of Menteith in the Middle Ages. The first mormaer is usually regarded as Gille Críst, simply because he is the earliest on record. The title was held in a continuous line from Gille Críst until Muireadhach IV, although the male line was broken on two occasions. A truncated version of the earldom was given two years later to Malise Graham, 1st Earl of Menteith, in compensation for loss of the Earldom of Strathearn, which was a likely result of the execution of the Duke of Albany.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Murdoch Stewart, Duke of Albany</span> Duke of Albany, Earl of Fife & Menteith

Murdoch Stewart, Duke of Albany was a leading Scottish nobleman, the son of Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany, and the grandson of King Robert II of Scotland, who founded the Stewart dynasty. In 1389, he became Justiciar North of the Forth. In 1402, he was captured at the Battle of Homildon Hill and would spend 12 years in captivity in England.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Isabella, Countess of Lennox</span>

Isabella of Lennox (d.1458) was the ruler of Lennox, from 1437–1458, and last in the line of Mormaers or native Scottish rulers. As the wife of Murdoch Stewart, 2nd Duke of Albany (d.1425), she was also Duchess of Albany (1420–1425), but in 1425 her family would be almost completely destroyed when her husband, father and two sons were executed by King James I of Scotland because of their rebellion. Only one son, James the Fat, would escape their family's punishment, and he would die in exile in Ireland. Isabella succeeded in escaping the fate of her family, and would eventually regain her title and estates, retiring to her castle in Loch Lomond where she raised her grandchildren. She would eventually live to see the assassination of her family's opponent, King James. Though none of her four sons survived her, her grandson Andrew Stewart, 1st Lord Avandale would in time rise to become Lord Chancellor of Scotland.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Archibald Douglas, 4th Earl of Douglas</span> 14/15th-century Scottish nobleman and soldier

Archibald Douglas, 4th Earl of Douglas, Duke of Touraine, was a Scottish nobleman and warlord. He is sometimes given the epithet "Tyneman", but this may be a reference to his great-uncle Sir Archibald Douglas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">James Douglas, 7th Earl of Douglas</span> Scottish nobleman

James Douglas, 7th Earl of Douglas, 1st Earl of Avondale, latterly known as James the Gross, and prior to his ennoblement as James of Balvenie, was a late mediaeval Scottish magnate. He was the second son of Archibald Douglas, 3rd Earl of Douglas, and Joan Moray of Bothwell and Drumsargard, d. after 1408.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar</span> 15th-century Scottish nobleman

Alexander Stewart was a Scottish nobleman, Earl of Mar from 1404. He acquired the earldom through marriage to the hereditary countess, and successfully ruled the northern part of Scotland.

Alexander Leslie, Earl of Ross was a Scottish nobleman. Born between 1367 and 1382, he was the son of Walter Leslie, Lord of Ross and Euphemia I, Countess of Ross. In around 1394 he became Earl of Ross and sometime before 1398 he married Isabel Stewart, daughter of Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany. They had one child, Euphemia. He died at Dingwall, Scotland on 8 May 1402.

Mariota, Countess of Ross was the daughter of Euphemia I, Countess of Ross and her husband, the crusading war-hero Walter Leslie, Lord of Ross. Upon the death of her brother, Alexander Leslie, Earl of Ross, she became the heir-presumptive of her niece Euphemia II, Countess of Ross although her husband Domhnall of Islay, Lord of the Isles pressed Mariota's superior claim to the earldom.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Clan Stewart</span> Scottish clan

Clan Stewart is a Scottish Highland and Lowland clan. The clan is recognised by Court of the Lord Lyon; however, it does not have a Clan Chief recognised by the Lord Lyon King of Arms. Because the clan has no chief it can be considered an armigerous clan; however, the Earls of Galloway are now considered to be the principal branch of this clan, and the crest and motto of The Earls of Galloway's arms are used in the Clan Stewart crest badge. The Court of the Lord Lyon recognises two other Stewart/Stuart clans, Clan Stuart of Bute and Clan Stewart of Appin. Clan Stuart of Bute is the only one of the three clans at present which has a recognised chief.

William Douglas, 2nd Earl of Angus was a Scottish nobleman and soldier. The son of George Douglas, 1st Earl of Angus and Princess Mary of Scotland, he was a grandson of King Robert III.

Margaret Graham, Countess of Menteith was a Scottish noblewoman. She held the title Countess of Menteith in her own right, having inherited the title c. 1360 from her mother, Mary, Countess of Menteith, who was married to Sir John Graham. Graham was styled Earl of Menteith during his marriage with Mary, whom he predeceased. The Menteith region was situated partially in southwest Perthshire and partly in Stirlingshire.

Alan II, Earl of Menteith was a Scottish Nobleman.



  1. Fawcett, Richard (1994). Scottish Architecture from the accession of the Stuarts to the Reformation, 1371–1560. Architectural History of Scotland. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN   0-7486-0465-0.
  2. 1 2 3 Roberts, John L., p.16, Feuds, Forays and Febellions: History of the Highland Clans 1475-1625 Retrieved November 2010
  3. The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707, K.M. Brown et al eds (St Andrews, 2007-2019), 1388/12/1. Date accessed: 11 October 2019
  4. 1 2 Grant in Jones, et al., New Cambridge History p. 361
  5. Grant in Tuck & Goodman, War and Border Societies, p. 51
  6. The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707, K.M. Brown et al eds (St Andrews, 2007-2019), 1399/1/3. Date accessed: 11 October 2019
  7. Boardman, David Stewart, duke of Rothesay, ODNB
  8. Grant in Jones et al., The New Cambridge Medieval History, p. 362
  9. Barrell, Medieval Scotland. p. 149
  10. Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707, 14 May 1402, Edinburgh.
  11. 1 2 Debrett, John, p.233, The peerage of England, Scotland, and Ireland, London (1805) Retrieved November 2010
  12. Mackie, p.96
  13. Mackie, p.97
  14. "Donald of the Isles and the Earldom of Ross: West Highland Perspectives on the Battle of Harlaw" by Iain G. MacDonald, Harlaw Remembered, commemorating the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Harlaw, June 9, 2011, The Elphinstone Institute, University of Aberdeen.
  15. Skene, William Forbes (1837), The Highlanders of Scotland: Their Origin, History, and Antiquities, J. Murray, pp. 73–4
  16. McAndrew, Bruce A., p.5, Scotland's Historic Heraldry Retrieved November 2010


Peerage of Scotland
New creation Duke of Albany
Succeeded by
Preceded by Earl of Fife
Preceded by Earl of Menteith
With: Margaret Graham
Preceded by Earl of Buchan
Succeeded by