Gateway to the Classics: Scotland's Story by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Scotland's Story by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall

James V., The King of the Commons—The Fall of the Red Douglases

All the land was filled with mourning and fear—mourning for the King and all his gallant host, fear of the English. But in this terrible time, the men who were still left showed themselves to be both wise and brave. They sent out a proclamation calling upon all who were fit to carry arms, to gather to defend their country. They forbade the women to weep and wail in the streets, for that did no good, but only increased the misery. They told them rather to go to the churches and pray for help to the God of Battles.

The English, however, were not strong enough to follow up their terrible victory, and their leader sent his soldiers to their homes. So the time of panic and despair passed away.

Then the wise men of Scotland gathered and crowned their little King, James v. He was only two years old, and it was amid tears rather than rejoicings, that the crown was placed upon his head.

At first the Queen-mother, Margaret, was made Regent. She was clever and beautiful, but she was very young, being only twenty-four, and she soon married the young and handsome Earl of Angus, the head of the Douglas family, and grandson of Bell-the-Cat.

This displeased many of the people. They thought that the widow of their King humbled herself in marrying a subject, and they said that now she had no more right to be Regent. They remembered, too, that she was the sister of the King of England, and they thought that she might wish to make friends with England. So they sent to France to ask John, Duke of Albany, to come to be Regent.

This John was the son of that Robert of Albany who had fled to France after rebelling against his brother, James iii. He was therefore a cousin of the little King, and, it seemed to most people, the best man to govern until the King should be old enough to rule himself. But Albany, having lived all his life in France, was far more of a Frenchman than a Scotsman. He was accustomed to the gay life of the French court, and he was not very anxious to give up his idle life there, in order to come to rule over Scotland. But many of his friends persuaded him that it was his duty. So he came, bringing with him a gay train of knights and nobles.

At first Albany seemed to rule well. Soon, however, it was seen that he was not strong enough for the hard task of governing such a fierce people as the Scots. He was neither clever enough nor brave enough, and the haughty manners of his French friends made both him and them hated.

The great Scottish nobles formed into different parties, each quarrelling with another and each struggling for possession of the King. Henry of England, who was always plotting to gain power in Scotland, secretly encouraged these quarrels. So gradually there arose two parties, one called the French and the other called the English. Albany was at the head of the French party, Angus and the Queen-mother at the head of the English.

Amid all this quarrelling, the land was once more given up to lawlessness. In the Islands, in the Highlands, on the Border—where the greatest and fiercest families lived, there was bloodshed and robbery. Twice Albany gave up the task of governing this wild nation; twice he returned to it. But the Scottish people grew to hate him more and more. So a third time he went back to France, and this time he never returned.

Soon after the Duke of Albany had gone for the last time, Angus came into power. He took possession of the young King, and ruled in his name. He filled all the posts with his own relatives and friends, so that the Douglases did as they liked. No man dared oppose them. No man could get justice or redress unless he was a Douglas or a friend of the Douglases.

When James was sixteen, he was declared old enough to rule. But although James was supposed to be King, he was really the Earl's prisoner. It was Angus who ruled the land, and he ruled the King too. The Earl made him ride through the country, on pretence of doing justice and punishing thieves and traitors. But there was little justice done, and there were no greater thieves and traitors than in the King's own train.

King James hated Lord Angus and the Douglases, and the longer he was kept prisoner, the more he hated them. Several times the King's friends tried to free him, but always in vain. The Douglases were too strong. "Your grace need not think to escape us," said one of them to the King, "if our enemies had hold of you on one side, and we on the other, we should tear you to pieces ere we should let you go." This speech James neither forgot nor forgave.

At last the Douglases became so sure of their power, that they grew careless of guarding their prisoner. One night they left him alone in Falkland palace with only the captain of the guard and a few soldiers to watch him.

As soon as James knew this, he made up his mind to escape. He was trembling with joy at the thought of being free, but outwardly, he kept calm. Calling the head huntsman, he gave orders for a hunting party next morning. "I shall make a great day of it," he said, "so tell all the gentlemen round about who have speedy dogs, to be ready by four o'clock in the morning."

Having arranged everything with the huntsman, James called for his supper, "for," he said, "I want to go early to bed so that I can have a good sleep before the morning. Go you to bed too," he added to the captain, "for you will have good hunting to-morrow and must be up early."

Then the captain, thinking all was safe, set the watch and went to bed.

But the King was neither in bed nor asleep. Impatiently he waited and listened until all was quiet within the palace. Then when the last sound had ceased and all were asleep, he awakened a little page whom he might trust. "Go quietly to Jockie Hunt the stable boy," he said, "ask him for a suit of clothes, and tell him to saddle three horses."

The page did as he was bid. Jockie, who was the King's friend, had long been willing to help him, and was only waiting for an opportunity which had now come. Soon, dressed like a stable lad, and mounted upon a swift horse, the King passed out of the palace gates with Jockie and his page. The guards let them pass. It was nothing unusual for servants to be sent on errands even at a late hour, and the guards knew too that preparations for a great hunt next day were afoot. So the three rode out without any questions being asked.

Once beyond the palace gates, the King set spurs to his horse and rode hard. Fast as the good horse galloped, it seemed but slow to the impatient King. The cool night air whistled past, the trees rustled and whispered, startled night birds flew across the path as the three galloped along, every stride bringing them nearer and nearer to freedom.

At last, just as day began to break, they thundered over Stirling Bridge. "Bar the gates," cried James to the warder, "let no man pass as you value your life." Then weary but joyful he rode slowly on to the castle, where friends awaited him.

Over the drawbridge and under the heavy portcullis he rode. With tired, happy eyes, he watched the bridge rise and the heavy gate fall. Kneeling, the Governor presented him with the keys, while the soldiers shouted "God save your Majesty." He was King at last.

Worn out, but happy, James went to bed with the keys of the castle safe under his pillow.

Meanwhile, late that night George Douglas, the brother of the Earl, had returned to Falkland Palace.

"Where is the King?" he asked of the watchmen.

"His Majesty is asleep," was the reply. "He intends to go hunting to-morrow at dawn, so has gone early to rest."

Douglas, hearing this, and believing all to be safe, went to bed also. But towards morning he was awakened by a loud knocking at the door. It was hastily opened. "Where is the King?" asked a man who stood there.

"He is in bed, asleep," replied Douglas, much astonished.

"No, no," replied the man, "this night he crossed over Stirling Bridge. I am sure it was he that I saw."

At that Douglas sprang from his bed, and ran to the King's door. It was locked. Again and again he knocked but could get no answer. Then putting his shoulder against it, he burst the lock and rushed into the room. It was empty. The window was wide open. The bed had not been slept in, and upon it lay the fine clothes which the King had thrown off when he dressed himself in Jockie's shabby suit.

"Treason! treason!" shouted Douglas, "the King is gone." Soon the whole palace was astir. High and low they hunted, but the King could not be found. "You shall have good hunting in the morning," the King had said to the captain. Now he knew the meaning of the King's words.

Post haste a messenger was sent to the Earl with the news. Mad with anger, he hurried back to Falkland, and gathering their followers, the two brothers set out for Stirling.

But as they rode, a herald came galloping towards them. When he saw the Douglases he halted. Blowing his trumpet, he unfolded a paper and in a loud voice he read the King's proclamation. This proclamation forbade the Earl of Angus or any of his kin or friends, to come within the space of six miles of the King, on pain of death.

Having listened to the King's command, the Douglases consulted together as to what had best be done. "Do not heed this fellow. Let us ride forward," said one. But the Earl and his brother decided that it would be wiser to obey the King. So turning their horses, they rode sadly away. Their power was broken.

Soon afterwards James called a Parliament, and one of his first acts was to send Angus and all his family into exile. "For I avow that Scotland cannot hold us both," he said. So the Red Douglases fell as the Black Douglases had fallen, and never more during the reign of James v. did a Douglas have power in Scotland.

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