James I, King of Scotland, sealed the Treaty of Durham, which saw his release from English captivity, on the 28th of March, 1423.
James I, King of Scots, and part time poet, was the first of the Jameses, but his real name was John. It was changed, because John was an unlucky name for a King, a notion harking back to John Balliol. James I was nominal King of Scots from April, 1406, when he was twelve. That was when his father, Robert III, also christened John and renamed for the same reason, had died. During his minority, his uncle Robert, the Duke of Albany ruled in his stead as he had done for James' ever weakening father. But that isn't the whole story, for James
didn't get to rule Scotland in person until May, 1424; a couple of months shy of his thirtieth birthday.
James Stewart, to be James I, was born in Dunfermline Monastery on the 25th of July, 1394. After the death of his mother, Annabella Drummond, he was placed under the care of Bishop Henry Wardlaw of St. Andrews. Soon after that, however, Robert III decided to send him to France. That was largely down to the disturbing fact that, in 1402, the King’s elder son, David, Duke of Rothesay, had been starved to death in Falkland, after being imprisoned on the orders of his uncle Robert the Regent. Albany was effectively the ruler of Scotland, as Regent, because by this time the King was an invalid. James was by then the only surviving heir – and vulnerable to a fate similar to his brother's. The invalid King wisnae taking any chances and, in March, 1406, Jamesie Stewart set sail for France. He never made it.
On the way to France, James’ ship, the Maryenknecht out of Danzig, which was also carrying a cargo of wool and hides, was captured by English sailors. He was promptly sent to Henry IV, who refused to admit him to ransom. Just a month later, on the death of his father, Robert III, James became King of Scotland, but Henry still refused a ransom. James was, therefore, a king in name only as he remained a captive in England, with his rule and government being carried on by Albany. The Regent showed no anxiety to procure his nephew's release; he had little incentive to give up the rule of Scotland to his nephew, after all.
At first, James was confined in the Tower of London, but in June, 1407, he was removed to the castle at Nottingham, from where about a month later he was taken to Evesham. His education was continued by capable tutors, and he became, perhaps, more cultured than any other prince of his age. When Henry V became King, in March, 1413, James was again imprisoned in the Tower of London, but soon afterwards he was taken to Windsor and treated with great consideration by the English king.
In 1420, when Albany died, he was succeeded as Regent by his son, Murdac (Murdoch), who had also been a captive in England, until his release in 1415. He didn’t press for James’ release either. Unsurprisingly, you might think, but funnily enough it is surprising, to some extent, when you realise that Murdoch had been a fellow 'holiday maker' in England, along with James. Nevertheless, in that same year, James did leave England. He was sent to take part in Henry's campaign in France in order to provide a justification for treating the Scottish auxiliaries, who provided the backbone of French resistance to the English, as rebels. He went back to France in 1421, still with the idea of creating embarrassment for France’s Scottish allies. That move led to him being pitted against 6000 of his own subjects in open warfare. And we think 21st century world politics are shadowy and hypocritical!
After Henry's death in 1422, negotiations for James’ release began in earnest, with the representatives of the infant Henry VI. In September, 1423, James went to York with the English embassy to play a direct role in the talks to which Murdac had been forced to agree. The outcome was that the Scots undertook to pay 60,000 Merks for the return of their King. This was for what was euphemistically termed “his expenses in England.” By the terms of the agreement, James was to wed a noble English lady, and on the 12th of February, 1424, he was married to Jane Beaufort, daughter of the Earl of Somerset. Ten thousand Merks of the payment was remitted as Jane's dowry.
At Durham, on the 28th March, 1424, James acted as bona fide ruler of Scotland for the first time in person, sealing on his own the Treaty that confirmed his release. Just over a week later, at Melrose, the return to Royal government was completed by Duke Murdac’s surrender of his seal of office into the King’s hands.
A year later, James arrested Murdac and his son, Alexander, together with several others. They were all sentenced to death and executed at Stirling. This was just the beginning, as the King went on to arrest many turbulent northern chiefs. His whole policy was directed towards crushing the power of the nobles and in this he was very successful. Expeditions reduced the Highlands to order and Earldom after Eearldom was forfeited. However, his vigor aroused the desire for revenge and at length cost James his life. But that’s another story.
An interesting postscript is that James was the author of at least two poems, the ‘Quair’ and ‘Counsel’ (a short piece of three stanzas). The ‘Quair’ (preserved in the Selden manuscript, which is held in the Bodleian) is an allegorical poem of the cours d'amour type, written in seven-lined Chaucerian stanzas and extending to 1379 lines. It was composed during James's captivity in England and celebrates his courtship of the Lady Jane Beaufort.