The House of Stewart (or ‘Stuart’ as it later became) was established by Robert II of Scotland during the late 14th century and the Stuart’s rule spanned from 1371 to 1714.

The title High Steward of Scotland was first bestowed on Walter the Steward back in about 1150 by David I. Malcolm IV made the position hereditary. Walter’s son inherited the title and took the surname Stewart, and so began The Stewarts. The historical origins of the title lay in the role of the king’s food bearer: in practice it meant a very senior adviser and member of the court.

The 6th High Steward played an important role at the Battle of Bannockburn and married the king’s daughter. They had one child, Robert Stewart. Robert acted as Regent during the enforced absences from Scotland of his cousin, King David II. And when David died without children in 1371, Robert became King Robert II, the first King of the House of Stewart.

In 1390, Robert II died and his eldest son John Stewart, Earl of Carrick ascended the throne as Robert III but without authority to rule directly. John had fought alongside his father against his grand Uncle David II, but submitted to him soon after. He married Anabella Drummond, daughter of Sir John Drummond of Stobhall before 31 May 1367 and was given the earldom of Atholl.

It was turbulent times. King Robert III had a young son and feared for his life, he attempted to send him to France for his own safety, but the boat was intercepted by the English and James, future monarch of Scotland.  The young boy was taken captive, he was only 12 years old. The soul heir to the Stewart dynast was now a hostage, a bargaining chip.

Robert, already an ill man, is said to have died from the shock on hearing the news. For the next 18 years James would be the prisoner of the English King, Henry IV (and later Henry V). So the English now held the King of Scotland hostage.

Again the English had the same demands as before. If Scotland wanted their King back they would have to submit to English overlordship, to give up Independence. But the Scots weren’t going to play by the English rules and claimed to be managing fine without a King. James was left, a prisoner of the English.

During this absence the Scottish court was dominated by James uncle, Robert Stewart, 1st Duke of Albany. The Duke resolutely refused to pay the ransom demanded by the English for the return of James.

For a while James was shunted from one prison to another when suddenly his Royal privileges were restored and he was given free run of the court of Henry V.  James was understandably grateful, but now he was a new kind of prisoner.     James’ hatred for the  Albany Stewarts grew and grew, while he was imprisoned they had prospered.  The captive James enjoyed life at the English court and plotted revenge on the Albany Stewarts.

But Henry’s motives weren’t exactly pure, he had a war to finish in France and needed a new ally to fight an old war. But across the channel it wasn’t just the French that Henry was up against, it was the Scots. Henry thought he had the perfect weapon to try and divide the Scots and the French. James was King of Scotland, so James could tell the Scots to pack up and go home.

James knew what was expected of him and followed his instructions to tell Scots that were holding a village under siege to surrender.  But William had misjudged this. In England and France the monarch had complete control over their subjects, people would unquestioningly follow them and their orders, even to certain death, but Scotland was different. King and Kingdom didn’t mean the same thing at all, Scotland was more than one individual, it was a community. A loose by resiliant network of loyalties. So the Scots ignored their King and fought on.  After a bloody battle at the seized village Henry was set on revenge, he ordered the execution of all the surviving Scots saying they were traitors to their King, James I. James never forgot about this and understood that he had been made to act as a puppet by a foreign King and had been defied by his subjects. He was humiliated.

It was only on the death of Robert Duke of Albany that James’ ransom was finally paid. In 1424 James finally returned to Scotland to wreak his revenge on the Albany Stewarts, executing the leading members of the family. James returned to Scotland at the age of 30 years old. Scotland was alien to him. James tried to reform Scotland to be along similar lines to that of England; the way the court functioned, he also changed political and financial arrangements. He believed he was sweeping clean the greed and corruption that had been spread by the Albany Stewarts while he was being held prisoner. Many began to question his claim for the throne saying it wasn’t legitimate. This became increasingly heated until it finally resulted in open rebellion. A group of Scottish nobles who supported the claims of the offspring from Robert II second marriage attacked the king while he stayed at Friars Preachers Monastery in Perth. In a desperate attempt to escape James smashed through the floorboards of his apartment and leapt into the sewers. In a cruel irony, days earlier James had ordered the sewers blocked to stop his tennis balls from being lost. The assailants cornered him and stabbed him to death.

His wife and children had escaped, so in 1437 his son, also called James became King James II, King of Scots. The rival branch of the Stewart Clan who had murdered his father were all put to death. There were two main groups fighting for control of the young King and the court. This came to a head with what was to be termed ‘The Black Dinner’. William Crichton and Alexander Livingston arranged a meeting with their rivals, the powerful Douglases, at Edinburgh Castle. With the young king present, Crichton and Livingston murdered the 6th Earl of Douglas and his younger brother. But despite of this, it was the Douglases that came to dominate the Scottish court, not something King James II was happy about. The King even went on to stab William Douglas, 8th Earl of Douglas at a dinner party. After much fighting with the Douglases James was killed by accident, a gun exploded while he was firing a salute to the Queen.

James’ son also called James succeeded to the throne as James III. He was just a child. James III was an unpopular King, which even led to rebellion. James wanted to create an alliance with England. He had very tense relationships with his brothers Alexander, Duke of Albany, and John, Earl of Mar,  they threatened to end his reign. John, Earl of Mar died in suspicious circumstances in Edinburgh, and then Alexander was exiled after being charged with treason.

Finally, in an ultimate blow, the Kings own son joined in with a revolt. He was jealous and angry that the father had always favoured his younger brother and feared that his right to succeed his father as King would be denied.   He joined the rebel lords at only 15 years of age. King James had raised an army but at sometime in the battle of Sauchieburn James was killed, so James’ son who was in the rebel army became James IV the next King of Scotland.

History calls James IV the first true Renaissance king of Scotland. James was to become a passionate patron of the arts and sciences and Scotland flourished because of this. During his reign the first printing press was established in 1305. James brought order to Scotland. He managed to succeed in what the previous Kings had’t and ended the influence of the Lords of the Isles, from that time onwards, this title would be held by the King of Scotland.

In 1502 he signed a Treaty of Perpetual Peace with Henry VII of England and James married Henry’s daughter, Margaret Tudor in 1503. This was a massive step forward to bring unity between the two warring nations. As well as their future offspring would have legitimate claims for both the throne of Scotland and England. Peace lasted until 1513 when due to the ‘Auld Alliance’ signed by John Balliol in 1295 James was honour bound to aid the French in their invasion of England. At the battle of Flodden it was a blood bath, the Scots were slaughtered, James was among them.

Again the Scottish throne passed to an infant son and again there was much political unrest as fractions all manoeuvred and vied for control of the Kingdom. The role of regent passed to James’ Mother, Margaret Tudor, Archibald Douglas (6th Earl of Angus and second husband of Margaret), and John Stewart (2nd Duke of Albany). Douglas went on to kidnap the young King and keep him hostage for 3 years. James managed to escape and punished the Douglases. James was married twice, both to French noble women, strengthening the ties with France but causing the ties with England to weaken. It was the time of the Protestant reformation and Henry VIII was on the throne in England. England invaded Scotland and it was a series of military defeats for Scotland. James was not a well man and had retreated. On the 8th December 1542, Mary of Guise gave birth to their daughter, Mary. On the 14th December James died. She was their only child so automatically became Queen.

At only 5 years old the young Queen was betrothed to Henry VIII’s son, Edward. But Scotland was largely Catholic and so many were opposed to this Union with a Protestant. This caused what was known as ‘The Rough Wooing’. The agreement was broken and the betrothal was off. So alliance turned again to France and betrothed the young queen to Francis, the four-year-old heir to the French crown, and sent Mary to be raised at the court of Henry II. In 1558 they were married but this didn’t last long as sadly in 1559 Francis died of an ear infection leaving Mary a widower at the age of 18. Mary returned to Scotland. Scotland by now was largely Protestant and Mary was treated with much suspicion. The government was Protestant led, Mary’s rule was very subdued and was initially completely dominated by the government.

In 1565, Mary married her cousin the Earl of Darnley but it wasn’t a happy marriage.  Mary had fallen in love with her advisor, the Earl of Bothwell. At a dinner party, the Queen sat,  now heavily pregnant. Her husband and a group of men murdered Rizzio stabbing him 56 times in front of her.  Rizzio was an Italian secretary.  Darnley claimed that Mary was having an affair with him, the Earl of Bothwell was also present at the dinner party.

Mary’s son James was born in June 1566 and the next year Darnley was killed in an explosion, it was thought to be murder. Mary waited three months before marrying the Earl of Bothwell – the chief suspect in Darnley’s murder. The Scottish nobility turned against her and Bothwell was exiled and Mary was forced to abdicate in July 1567. Mary was imprisoned in Lochleven Castle and her infant son James was made king.

James did not actually take control until 1581. He proved to be a shrewd ruler who effectively controlled the various religious and political factions in Scotland. Now Elizabeth I was Queen of England. In 1586 James and Elizabeth I became allies under the Treaty of Berwick. They remained united even after she executed James’ Mother in 1589. James married Anne of Denmark. Three of their seven children survived into adulthood.

In March 1603, Elizabeth died and James became king of England and Ireland in a remarkably smooth transition of power. After 1603 he only visited Scotland once, in 1617. And so this became the end of the Scottish Monarchy.

Kings and Queens from the House of Stewart

Robert II (1371-1390)

Robert III (1390-1406)

James I (1406-1437)

James II (1437-1460)

James III (1460-1488)

James IV (1488-1513)

James V (1513-1542)

Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587)

James VI (1567-1603)