John Stewart of Dundonald, the ‘Red Stewart’, captured Dumbarton Castle from the Earl of Lennox, on behalf of James I, on the 11th of November, 1424.
John Stewart of Dundonald was one of six Johns who were sons, in one way or another, of Robert II, King of Scots. Robert II wasn’t Scotland’s most effective King, but he was extremely good at one thing; procreation. Randy Robert II had at least twenty-one children at the last count so it’s not surprising that more than one of them got called John. How could he have remembered their names; particularly when they were fathered by several different women? Calling them John was an easy way out of having to keep coming up with new names. The eldest of the legitimate Johns was born in 1337, to Robert’s first wife, Elizabeth Mure. That John Stewart, who was the Earl of Carrick, became King Robert III of Scotland and he took the name of Robert, because he felt that Kings with the name of John had not had very good luck. The eldest of all the Johns was known as the ‘Black Stewart’ and he was born illegitimately in 1336 to Mora Leitch. The next in line was born to an unknown mistress in 1340 and he was known as the ‘Red Stewart’. Another John was brought into the world in 1342 and his mother was Marion Carney. The last two Johns were born to an unknown mother or mothers; one in Cardney, in 1344 and another, who became Sir John Stewart, at some unknown time, nine months after Robert had enticed someone into his bed chamber.
Robert II came to the Throne somewhat fortuitously after the death of David II on the 22nd of February, 1371. Robert was the seventh High Steward of Scotland and the son of the sixth, Walter, a hero of Bannockburn, who had married Princess Marjory, the daughter of Robert I, Robert the Bruce as was. In 1318, Robert the Steward had been declared heir presumptive to the Throne and when David II died with no issue, Robert stepped up to the Throne at the age of fifty-five. By all accounts, by that time, he had stopped procreating as the last child we have a date for was Walter Stewart, who was born in 1368 and became the Earl of Atholl. Robert II was the first Stewart to ascend the Throne of Scotland and his direct male line ended with James V. It is from Robert II that the Royal House of Stuart and the present dynasty of Great Britain are descended.
The John Stewart, who was known as the ‘Black Stewart’, because of his dark complexion, was granted the lands of Bute, Arran and Cumbrae by his father and, about 1385, he was also granted the hereditary office of Sheriff of Bute. The grant of lands was confirmed by a charter of his half brother John, aka Robert III, in 1400, and it is from this Sir John that the Stuarts of Bute are descended. Sir John Stewart of Dundonald, on the other hand, was known as the ‘Red Stewart’. We don’t know why. Presumably, because he had a ruddy complexion or he had red hair. Some records suggest that the ‘Red Stewart’ was made Constable of Rothesay Castle, but that surely fell to his ‘Black’ brother along with the Sheriffdom of Bute, for the obvious reasons, but mibbies nae. Sir John ‘the Red’ was also Lord of Burley.
In April of 1424, the grandson of Robert II, who had been crowned James I, returned to Scotland from captivity in England. In his absence and in his name and in succession, both his uncle Robert and his cousin Murdoch had ruled Scotland as Regent with the title of Duke of Albany. James I set about clearing out all the Nobles who he felt were a threat to his reign and he did so quite ruthlessly. On the 13th of May, he caused the arrest and imprisonment of several prominent Nobles, including Walter Stewart, the eldest son of the Duke of Albany, and ordered the capture of the Stewart Earl of Lennox, father-in-law of Albany. The task of apprehending Lennox was given to the ‘Red Stewart’, Sir John Stewart of Dundonald, which he duly achieved on the 11th of November, 1424, when he captured Dumbarton Castle and promptly seized and imprisoned Lennox.
The following spring, on the ninth day of a Parliament, which began at Perth on the 12th of March, James I arrested a total of thirty further Barons and Knights. Those included Murdoch, the Duke of Albany, his son, Sir Alexander Stewart, the Earls of Douglas, March and Angus, and David Stewart, the Earl of Strathern, yet another son of Robert II, but not called John. James also imprisoned Murdoch’s wife Isobell in Tantallon Castle. These proceedings were specifically directed against the Duke of Albany and his family, and many of the others were released after a very short imprisonment. Murdoch’s fate was sealed in a Parliament, which assembled at Stirling in May. A court was held in Stirling Castle on, the 26th of May, 1425, where Walter Stewart was tried before the King and a jury of twenty one barons, found guilty, condemned, and immediately beheaded. The following day, Murdoch, his son Alexander and the aged Earl of Lennox were tried, convicted, and sentenced to death, with all their lands and titles forfeited. They were executed on Heading Hill and buried in the Church of the Black Friars. However, their severed heads weren’t buried as those were taken to Tantallon Castle and cast into the dungeon beside Murdoch’s wife with the express purpose of driving her insane.
Sir John Stewart of Dundonald, the ‘Red Stewart’, was then in possession of Dumbarton Castle, but he had a vengeful, surviving son of Murdoch to contend with at the last. That son is variously described as James ‘the Gross’ or James ‘the Fat’ or, more correctly, Sir James Mhor Stewart. When Sir James Mhor heard that his father, brothers, and grandfather had been imprisoned and executed by James I, he raised a small force and came down out of the Highlands to descend upon Dumbarton. He attacked Dumbarton Castle and took his vengeance by burning it to the ground, and with it, its Governor, Sir John ‘the Red Stewart’ of Dundonald, his own great-uncle and an uncle of the King.
After the sacking of Dumbarton and the judicial murder of ‘the Red’ Sir John Stewart, James Mhor fled to England, where he remained in exile until 1429, before going to Ireland. There, he called himself King of Scots and began to mass an army with the intention of invading the west coast of Scotland. Unfortunately for him, he died in 1451, before his English allies and the MacDonald Lord of the Isles could muster enough forces to make a realistic attempt on the Scots throne.