Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Brothers at War

The second episode of the Neil Oliver series, The Rise of the Clans, on SBS dealt largely with a family feud to determine who should be King of Scotland. This time the focus was on the Stewart family.

Background
Robert I of Scotland (Robert the Bruce) married Isabella of Mar possibly in 1296 and they had a daughter Marjorie (1296-1316). Isabella died in the same year. In 1302 he married Elizabeth de Burgh and they had four children - Matilda (1310-1353), Margaret (1315-1346), David (1324-1371) and John (1325-1346). There were also a number of illegitimate children.

When King Robert I died in 1329 he was succeeded by his son David - David II of Scotland. David was five years old. When David died in 1371 he had no children so the succession went to his nephew, who became Robert II of Scotland (1316-1390), a grandson of Robert the Bruce.

One of Robert the Bruce's trusted supporters, especially during the Battle of Banockburn in June 1314, was Walter Stewart, High Steward of Scotland. In 1315 Walter married Marjorie, daughter of the king. On 2 March 1316, their son, Robert, was born. Unfortunately shortly before the birth, Marjorie had been thrown from a horse and died when her son was born. Robert became Robert II of Scotland, the first King of the House of Stewart.

In 1336 Robert married Elizabeth Mure (1320-1355) and they had four sons and six daughters. The eldest son was John (1337-1406) who took the name Robert III when he became king in 1327 as it was believed that the name, John, had been tarnished by a previous leader, John Balloil. The three other sons were Walter, Earl of Cathress (1338-1362), Robert, Duke of Albany (1340-1420) and Alexander, Earl of Buchan (1343-1405).

Robert II had given each of the sons part of his kingdom to rule while he was king. After his death tensions increased between the brothers leading to a power struggle over several generations resulting in the assent of the Stewarts as kings of Scotland. The power struggle forms the basis of this episode of The Rise of the Clans.
Actor playing Robert Duke of Albany
In 1388, before he became king, (John) Robert III had been kicked by a horse and was severely injured - an accident from which he never recovered. He was crowned at Scone on 14 August 1390 and remained king for nine years until it was decided that he was too ill to reign effectively and he was replaced by his son, David, as Lieutenant of Scotland assisted by King Robert's younger brother, Robert, Duke of Albany.

Shortly before Robert III was removed from power,  his son, David assisted by the Duke of Albany had been involved in a campaign against the Macdonald clan who wnated to expand their territory. Although Donal Macdonald had an army of 10,000 men actual battle was averted with Donal Macdonald submitting to the rule of the Stewarts.

In 1400 Henry IV decided to invade Scotland and took a large army to Edinburgh to insist on David paying homage to him. David remains in the castle at Edinburgh and refuses to see the King of England. Meanwhile, Robert III's youngest brother, Walter has decided that he wants additional land and has also brought his army to Edinburgh. Walter does not come to David's aid but instead camps with his army outside the city. David remains inside the castle and after two weeks the English army is low on food and other supplies and returns south to England.

To the other Scottish leaders, David was considered a coward and Walter and the Duke of Albany decided to conspire together to remove him from power. In 1401 David was arrested on trumped up charges and imprisoned in the castle of his Uncle Robert where, in 1402, he eventually died of starvation, aged twenty-four. David's father was distraught. The heir to the throne was now his second son, James, aged eleven. To protect James, Robert III arranged to send James to France. However the ship was seized by English pirates who returned their prisoner to England where he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Another prisoner in the Tower of London was Murdoc, the eldest son and heir of Robert, Duke of Albany.

Robert III died in 1406 and was buried at Paisley Abbey. The heir to the throne was imprisoned in England. Robert, Duke of Albany and his brother Walter, now promoted to Earl of Athol, had control of Scotland. Their other brother, Alexander, had died. But not everyone was happy with this arrangement. Donal Macdonald made an arrangement with James that if he could arrange for his release from England, Macdonald would have the land he wanted including the Earldom of Ross. In1411 battle ensued between the Macdonalds and the Stewarts - the Battle of Harlow. The Macdonald challenge failed and they retreated back to their homelands. James remained in prison.

By 1415 James was living at Windsor Castle. He was still a prisoner but had some freedom with access to women, tennis, gardening and poetry. It was at the castle that he met his future wife, Joan Beaufort. Meanwhile, the Duke of Albany eventually paid his son's ransom. The Duke was now an elderly man and needed an heir. But no-one in Scotland was prepared to pay for the release of James. In 1420 Robert, Duke of Albany, died Murdoc became Guardian of Scotland.

Walter continued to expand his land taking over the land that had belonged to his brother, Alexander, and obtaining the loyalty of the clan chiefs. But he wanted more. He decided to make a deal with James to assist in James' return to Scotland with the hope of obtaining the lands of Strathearn. The English agreed to return James to Scotland for ransom of £40,000 in instalments and also promised seven years peace.
Scene from Brothers at War, Joan, James and Walter
In February 1424 James married Joan Beaufort and they then travelled north to Scotland. James had now spent half his life in England and wanted to have the same power in Scotland that kings had in England. James' royal authority was challenged by some of the clan chiefs and initially James sought assistance from his Uncle Walter. To have this power and image required money which the kingdom could not really afford. James also needed to avenge the death of his brother, David. He waited for a year and then he had Murdoc tried as his family was responsible for the death of his brother. Murdoc's execution upset a number of people including a man named Robert Graham, head of the Graham Clan.

Concern about the spending of the new king causes unrest among the Clan chiefs. James has built new castles and priories and improved the armoury of the country. His ransom has only been partly paid. James decides that taking control of some of his uncle's land, including Strathearn, will bring in some of the required revenue. This, of course, further antagonises Walter.

Robert Graham and Walter began to plot the demise of James. Walter's grandson, Robert of Atholl, befriended James and became Chamberlain of the Royal Household. This position provided him with information as to all the movements of the king. The plan is hatched to kill both King James and his queen.

On 21 February 1437, Robert of Atholl allows a party of assassins, led by Robert Graham, to enter the royal bedchamber. James hears them coming and escapes into the sewers. The men attack and injure some of the women, including the queen, however they decide not to kill them. Once James is located, Robert Graham kills him. Walter was not pleased when he learned that the queen was still alive and she would protect her son, the new king. She would also demand revenge.

Joan proved to be ruthless when ordering the brutal execution of all those involved in the death of her husband including Robert Graham, Robert Atholl and Walter Atholl. The civil war within the Stewart Clan was now over leaving James II of Scotland, with the support of his mother, as ruler of Scotland.

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