Notes on Scottish History

Information from 'Scottish Kings' by Gordon Donaldson

The last of the male line of Scotland's native royal family was inaugurated as King Alexander III in 1249. Alexander was led into the open air, from the abbey church of Scone to the moot-hill nearby, and the central act was the setting of the King upon a stone which, though normally kept in the church, was taken out of doors for the occasion. Homage was rendered to the new monarch, and no doubt he took an oath so that the reciprocal responsibilities of king and people were demonstrated. Then, when all else was over, a Highland bard bowed low before the new King and hailed him in Gaelic as 'Alexander, King of Alba, son of Alexander, son of William, son of Henry, son of David', and so recited his pedigree back to 'Fergus, the first King of the Scots in Scotland'.

The Scots could, in sober fact, trace their King's lineage with some authenticity back to a Fergus, the son of Eric, who had come from Ireland to settle with his people in Dalriada (Argyll) around the year 500.

A far greater antiquity than that was claimed for the royal line, and for the Scots themselves, in remarkable flights of fancy which suggest that Scotland's most gifted composer of fiction was a nameless propagandist who lived at some unknown date in the Middle Ages. It was related that the Scots derived their origin from Gaythelos (whence, allegedly, Gael), son of a King of Greece, who went to Egypt in the days of Moses. He married the eponymous Scota, daughter of Pharaoh, and led his family from Egypt to Spain. From that country several colonies of their descendents went to Ireland, the last of them under Simon Brek, and under Simon's grandson, so the story went on, the Scots passed over into northern Britain and gave the name of Scotia to that part of the island.

In the year 330 BC the Scots who had thus settled in Scotland elected as their King Fergus, son of Ferehard, who was reckoned Fergus I and from whom the dynasty was dated.

Under the rule of the line of Fergus the Scots remained in Scotland for seven centuries. In AD 360, however, after King Eugenius (Ewen) had been slain by the Picts and Britons, the Scots, under his brother Ethodius and his nephew Erc, were driven back to Ireland.

In the fifth century they returned under Fergus, son of Erc, and reoccupied Argyll. From Fergus, son of Erc, the succession continued down to Kenneth, son of Alpin, who united the Picts with the Scots under his rule, in a kingdom called Alba (the territory north of the Forth and Clyde).

History knows nothing of any settlement of Scots in Scotland at any point earlier than about 500, but with Fergus, son of Erc, myth more or less connects with history, and Kenneth, son of Alpin, is authentic enough as the first King of the Picts and Scots.

It is significant of much in the Scottish attitude to the monarchy that the Highland bard who recited Alexander III's pedigree in 1249 regarded him as the latest in a line of upwards of 100 kings.

Some versions of the legend related that the Scots had in all their wanderings taken with them a sacred stone, which, according to one account, had been the pillow on which the patriarch Jacob had slept when he had his miraculous dream at Bethel. On this stone, sometimes called a marble seat, the kings of the Scots had always been installed. It was said by some to have been for a time at Iona after it was brought from Ireland, and later legend placed it for a time also at Beregonium and Dunstaffnage, two fortresses on opposite sides of the mouth of Loch Etive in Argyll. After the union of the Picts and Scots it found its home at Scone.

At King Alexander III's inauguration, therefore, both the use of the stone and the recital of the pedigree placed him in continuity with a long past. Only later accounts (coloured by later practice) say that he was crowned, and, although the Scottish kings are depicted as wearing a crown at least from the time of Edgar (1097-1107), there is no contemporary evidence that the placing of a crown on the king's head had yet, in Alexander III's time, become part of the rite of inauguration. The stone of Scone was not yet a 'coronation stone'. If there was no crowning, it was even more significant that there was no annointing. This sacramental action, the most sacred and most Christian part of a coronation ceremony, had not yet been introduced to Scotland. The pope, although he did not yield to the English demand that he should explicitly forbid the annointing or crowning of Scottish kings, had given way to English pressure to the extent of declining to concede the right to be crowned and annointed.

When Alexander died in 1286, his grandaughter was entitled to succeed by the declaration of 1284. In order to maintain the cohesion of the country and carry on the administration, six 'Guardians' - two earls, two bishops and two barons - were 'appointed by common counsel' or 'chosen by the community of the realm'. By this time men had long been accustomed to see as the symbol and instrument of administration a King's seal, depicting the sovereign enthroned on one side and the sovereign on horseback on the other. For the use of the Guardians there was now produced an impersonal great seal, depicting the lion rampant, the armorial bearings of the King of Scots, on one side, and St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, on the other. Here, plain to see, was an expression of belief in the nation and state of Scotland, even when the sovereign was a little girl across the sea in Norway.

The concept was to be severly tried in the next two decades. The Maid of Norway died on her way to Scotland in 1290, leaving the realm without even a titular head. The Guardians continued to rule during the interregnum. The competing claims of those who thought they were entitled to the throne were submitted to Edward I of England, whose insistence that he should first be acknowledged as overlord of Scotland met with protests from those who spoke for what they called 'the community of the realm'. Edward's adjudication was in favor of John Balliol.Balliol, like his predecessors, was inaugurated by being set upon the stone of Scone. After four years, Balliol, or Balliol's people, found Edward's overlordship intolerable, but the consequence was that Balliol was deposed by Edward and dismissed to France, while Scotland was overrun by the English.

Andrew Murray and William Wallace, when they temporarily liberated most of Scotland from English occupation in 1297, described themselves as leaders of 'the army of the kingdom of Scotland' and also professed to act in name of the community of the realm. After the defeat of Wallace at Falkirk (1298) there were once more Guardians, described as 'appointed by the community of the realm' and as acting 'with the whole community of the realm', and they maintained resistance to the English until 1305. There are traces of a continuing belief in a kind of impersonal crown, distinct from the person of the monarch. This had been illustrated by the appearance of the lion rampant on the seal of the Guardians in 1286, and in 1304, when the realm was again without a king, the defenders of Stirling Castle against the English declared that their allegiance was to 'the Lion'.

In 1305 King Edward, after completing the conquest of Scotland, prepared an Ordinance for the government of the 'land' of Scotland. This seemed to extinguish the Bruce prospect of achieving kingship through Edward, but even so it has never been determined why, at a time when Scottish resistance had to all appearances been finally curshed, the younger Carrick should suddenly choose what seems a singularly inopportune moment to launch a new rising against the English and pronounce himself King Robert I. The sacred stone had been removed from Scone to Westminster by Edward I after he deposed Balliol, but Bruce's followers gathered at the traditional scene of royal inaugurations at Scone. The blessing of the church was not wanting, for there were Scottish churchmen patriotic enough to defy not only Edward of England but also the pope, who at this time was supporting the English claims. The only recorded rite was the placing on his head of a circlet of gold - a coronella or coronetta - by Isabella, Countess of Buchan, sister of the Earl of Fife (who was himself in English custody at the time.

Until late in his live, Bruce had no lawful child save a daughter, Marjory, and in April 1315 it was declared in a parliament at Ayr that should the King die without a son the throne was to go, with Marjory's consent, to Edward Bruce, the King's brother. After Edward were to come his male heirs, and Marjory was to succeed only should Edward, also, die without male heirs. Little more than three years later, Edward Bruce was dead, and Marjory also was dead, but she had married Walter, the Steward of Scotland, and in 1316 had given birth to a son, Robert. A parliament at Scone in 1318 therefore declared that, should King Robert die without male heirs, Robert, son of the Steward, was to succeed. Although Robert Stewart, the son of Walter and Marjory, had been declared heir presumptive in 1318, the accession of the house of Stewart was long deferred.

King Robert I did not, after all, die without male heirs, for his son, David, was born in 1324 and succeeded in 1329. The Scottish request for the return of the stone of Scone from Westminster had not, indeed, been successful, but King Robert had taken steps to secure for the monarchy something better than that hoary relic. He had sent ambassadors to the pope with a request that the Scottish Kings might be annointed and crowned. The papal bull granting this privilege reached Scotland only after the liberator King was dead, but it was in time for the inauguration of David II, who was thus the first Scottish King to be solemnly crowned and annointed. Bruce's coronella of 1306 had fallen into English hands and had gone the way of the earlier insignia of Scottish royalty, but no doubt King Robert had commissioned the making of a more splendid crown - which, enriched by the spoils of Bannockburn, he could well afford. A small sceptre was specially made for the hands of the seven-year-old David when he was annointed and crowned at Scone in 1331.

The full sovereignty of David II's kingdom had been recognized by both the King of England and the pope. Peace existed between Scotland and England and David himself was married to Joanna, sister of the English King.

Edward Balliol was crowned at Scone in 1332, and in 1334 King David was sent to France for safety. In 1336 Edward III was complaining of Scots who 'asserted that they held of the Lion and of none other'. A second war of independence had to be waged to free the land again from English occupation.

By 1341 it was safe for King David to return, but in 1346, on an invasion of England, he was captured at the battle of Neville's Cross. David remained a prisoner in England for eleven years, and was liberated only on an unertaking by the Scots to pay a ransom. David was childless, and on more than one occasion he was a party to negotiations whereby the Scottish crown was to pass on his death to the English King or an English prince, but the Scottish parliament rejected such proposals.

David II died in 1371, and his nephew, the Steward, succeeded him with a statutory title under the Act of Succession of 1318. On 27 March 1371, the day after he had been crowned and annointed at Scone, the King, with the consent of the prelates, earls, nobles and great men of the kingdom, declared that on his death his eldest son, John, Earl of Carrick and Steward of Scotland, should succeed him on the throne. Although the crown had come to the Stewarts through a female, it was now laid down that it was not to be transmitted through a female, except possibly on the extinction of all the male lines descended from Robert II. The male line of the first of the five sons continued in unbroken, though tenuous, succession until the death of James V in 1542. At that point (when, as it happened, the male lines of all the other sons of Robert II had long died out), the crown went not to any male but to the late King's infant daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots.

After James I's death, his six-year-old son was crowned as James II. James had been born at Holyrood on 16 October 1430. The only physical feature in his person about which we have information is a large birthmark which caused him to be known as 'James of the Fiery Face'. In 1449 James married Mary, only daughter of Arnold, Duke of Gueldres, and by her had six children. It was very shortly before his marriage that James II, at the age of eighteen, first became personally an active agent in policy and government, and the situation which confronted him than had a certain resemblance to that which his father had had to deal with when he returned from England in 1424. Once again power and office had been engrossed by a single family.

The Livingstons, who had risen to eminence in James II's minority, were not, like the Albanys, of the royal house, and, far from being competitors for the crown, were not even of the highest rank amont the nobility. The events through which such a family had established its ascendancy are obscure. At first after James I's death, his widow, Queen Joan, was associated in the administration with the fifth Earl of Douglas and Bishop Cameron of Glasgow, who was chancellor; but in May 1439 Cameron was replaced as chancellor by Sir William Crichton and in the following month Douglas died. Shortly afterwards the Queen married Sir James Stewart of Lorne. This marriage to a subject, and one not of the first rank, may have been thought to disqualify the Queen from any further part in government, and if she and her husband had any thought of seizing power, they were thwarted by Sir Alexander Livingston, who arrested them and let them go only on condition that they were not to retain custody of the young King. Livingston and Chancellor Crichton for a time competed for the keeping of the King's person, then for a time collaborated, but by 1445 Livingston had become the senior partner in the alliance and Crichton was ousted from the chancellorship. By 1449 the Livingstons were well entrenched in office. Sir Alexander was justiciar; Sir James was chamberlain; Robert Livingston of Linlithgow was comptroller; John Livingston was master of the mint; and the captains of the castles of Stirling, Dumbarton, Doune and Methven were all Livingstons. They obviously had a tight grip on government finance, they controlled much crown property, and in Stirling and Dumbarton they held two of the castles which could be reckoned among the keys of the kingdom.

Their fall was sudden and spectacular. On Monday, 23 September 1449, we are told by a contemporary chronicler, 'James of Levingstoun was arrestit be the King, and Robyn [Livintston of] Kalendar, capitane of Dunbertane, and Johne of Levingstoun, capitane of the castell of Doune, and David Levingstoun of the Greneyardis, with syndry uthiris. And sone after this, Schir Alexander Levingstoun was arrestit, and Robyn of Levingstoun of Lithgow, that tyme comptrollar. And James and his brother Alexander and Robyn of Lithgow war put in the Blacknes, and thair gudis tane within xl dayis in all places, and put under arrest, and all thair gudis that pertenit to that party. And all officeris that war put in be thaim war clerlie put out of all officis, and all put doun that thai put up. And this was a gret ferlie [marvel].' [Ref: Auchinleck Chronicle, quoted A. I. Dunlop, Bishop Kennedy (1950, 106)] It was a change of government with a vengeance.

The circumstances of the Livingstons' fall are as obscure as those of their rise to power. We do not know the grounds, either real or ostensible, on which they were thus arrested and two of them put to death. But, as had been the case with some of James I's actions, the reason for the proceedings against the Livingstons may have been the inroads they had been making on the resources of the crown. One of the Livingstons to be executed was captain of Methven Castle, the other was custumar of Linlithgow: now, the castle of Methven and the customs of Linlithgow were part of the marriage portion of Mary of Gueldres, who had arrived in Scotland in June 1449 and was married to James on 3 July, and, on the day after the Livingstons' execution, parliament confirmed the marriage portion. It would seem that it had been forcibly brought home to James that financially as otherwise he was too much at the mercy of the Livingstons, and it may even be possible to detect the hand of the new Queen, stimulating her husband to satisfy her financial claims and at the same time assert his authority. Even so, the overthrow of the Livingstons was thought so high-handed that some justification was felt necessary, and a supplication to the pope stated that Livingston of Callendar had been guilty of 'rebellion and other excesses'. Any tendency to theorise about high principles on the part of the King and his advisers may, besides, be checked when it is noted that James owed the Comptroller the sum of 1,000 lbs. and that by the death and forfeiture of his creditor, he was absolved from any need to repay the sum.

Possibly the greatest mystery is how a King of Scots, at the age of eighteen, had the means to deal with a powerful family in such a sudden and ruthless manner. But this is tied up with the question how the Livingstons had themselves established their ascendancy and had ousted Crichton and other competitors for office. It may be that the key is to be found in the manoeuvrings of the great house of Douglas. There are certainly reasons for believing that the eighth Earl of Douglas had helped to set Sir Alexander Livingston up and that he may have decided in 1449 to pull him down; indeed, the Douglases may all along have been the real power behind the Livingstons.

It was certainly the Douglases, and not the Livingstons or any other lesser family, who constituted the significant threat to the crown in this region.

Clan Livingstone
Highland Livingstons

The Misty Origins of the Barclays
Mention of Sir John Livingstone, 4th of Dunipace.

The Thomson Family
Mention of John Livingston and William 6th Lord Livingston

Dorothy CUNINGHAME Ancestry
Family tree showing Livingstons

Livingston of Callendar
Web site set up by Robert James Sewell in February 2001

lmoore@hal-pc.org

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