Summary Of Queen Mary

During the reigns of James IV. and James V., Scotland emerged from

barbarism into comparative civilization. Shut out, as it had previously

been, from almost any intercourse with the rest of Europe, both by the

peculiarities of its situation, and its incessant wars with England, it

had long slumbered in all the ignorance and darkness of those remote

countries, which even Roman greatness, before its dissolution, found it

impossible to enclose and retain within the fortunate pale of its

conquests. The refinement, which must always more or less attend upon the

person of a king, and shelter itself in the stronghold of his court, was

little felt in Scotland. Though attached, from long custom, to the

monarchical form of government, the sturdy feudal barons, each possessing

a kind of separate principality of his own, took good care that their

sovereign's superior influence should be more nominal than real.

Distracted too by perpetual jealousies among themselves, it was only upon

rare occasions that the nobles would assemble peaceably together, to aid

the king by their counsel, and strengthen his authority by their

unanimity. Hence, there was no standard of national manners,--no means of

fixing and consolidating the wavering and turbulent character of the

people. Each clan attached itself to its own hereditary chieftain; and,

whatever his prejudices or follies might be, was implicitly subservient to

them. The feuds and personal animosities which existed among the leaders,

were thus invariably transmitted to the very humblest of their retainers,

and a state of society was the consequence, pregnant with civil discord

and confusion, which, on the slightest impulse, broke out into anarchy and


Many reasons have been assigned why the evils of the feudal system should

have been more severely felt in Scotland than elsewhere. The leading

causes, as given by the best historians, seem to be,--the geographical

nature of the country, which made its baronial fastnesses almost

impregnable;--the want of large towns, by which the vassals of different

barons were prevented from mingling together, and rubbing off, in the

collision, the prepossessions they mutually entertained against each

other;--the division of the inhabitants, not only into the followers of

different chiefs but into clans, which resembled so many great families,

among all whose branches a relationship existed, and who looked with

jealousy upon the increasing strength or wealth of any other clan;--the

smallness of the number of Scottish nobles, a circumstance materially

contributing to enhance the weight and dignity of each;--the frequent

recourse which these barons had, for the purpose of overawing the crown,

to leagues of mutual defence with their equals, or bonds of reciprocal

protection and assistance with their inferiors;--the unceasing wars which

raged between England and Scotland, and which were the perpetual means of

proving to the Scottish king, that the very possession of his crown

depended upon the fidelity and obedience of his nobles, whose good-will it

was therefore necessary to conciliate upon all occasions, by granting them

whatever they chose to demand; and, lastly--the long minorities to which

the misfortunes of its kings exposed the country at an early period of its

history, when the vigour and consistency, commonly attendant upon the acts

of one mind, were required more than any thing else, but instead of which,

the contradictory measures of contending nobles, or of regents hastily

elected, and as hastily displaced, were sure to produce an unnatural

stagnation in the government, from which it could be redeemed only by

still more unnatural convulsions.

The necessary consequences of these political grievances were, of course,

felt in every corner of the country. It is difficult to form any accurate

estimate, or to draw any very minute picture of the state of manners and

nicer ramifications of society at so remote a period. But it may be stated

generally, that the great mass of the population was involved in poverty,

and sunk in the grossest ignorance. The Catholic system of faith and

worship, in its very worst form, combined with the national superstitions

so prevalent among the vulgar, not only to exclude every idea of rational

religion, but to produce the very lowest state of mental degradation.

Commerce was comparatively unknown,--agriculture but imperfectly

understood. If the wants of the passing hour were supplied, however

sparely, the enslaved vassal was contented,--almost the only happiness of

his life consisting in that animal gratification afforded him by the

sports of the chase, or the bloodier diversion of the field of battle.

Education was neglected and despised even by the wealthy, few of whom were

able to read, and almost none to write. As for the middle and lower

orders, fragments of rude traditionary songs constituted their entire

learning, and the savage war-dance, inspired by the barbarous music of

their native hills, their principal amusement. At the same time, it is

not to be supposed that virtue and intelligence were extinct among them.

There must be many exceptions to all general rules, and however

unfavourable the circumstances under which they were placed for calling

into activity the higher attributes of man's nature, it is not to be

denied, that their chronicles record, even in the lowest ranks, many

bright examples of patience, perseverance, unsinking fortitude, and

fidelity founded upon generous and exalted attachment.

It has been said, that under the reigns of the Fourth and Fifth James, the

moral and political aspect of the Scotch horizon began to brighten. This

is to be attributed partly to the beneficial changes which the progress of

time was effecting throughout Europe, and which gradually extended

themselves to Scotland,--and partly to the personal character of these two

monarchs. France, Germany, and England, had made considerable strides out

of the gloom of the dark ages, even before the appearance of Francis I.,

Charles V., and Henry VIII. James IV., naturally of a chivalric and ardent

disposition, was extremely anxious to advance his own country in the scale

of nations; and whilst, by the urbanity of his manners, he succeeded in

winning the affections of his nobles, he contrived also to find a place in

the hearts of his inferior subjects, even beside that allotted to their

own hereditary chieftain,--an achievement which few of his predecessors

had been able to accomplish. The unfortunate battle of Flodden, is a

melancholy record both of the vigour of James's reign, and of the national

advantages which his romantic spirit induced him to risk in pursuit of the

worthless phantom of military renown.

James V. had much of the ardour of his father, combined with a somewhat

greater share of prudence. He it was who first made any successful inroads

upon the exorbitant powers of his nobility; and though, upon more

occasions than one, he was made to pay dearly for his determination to

vindicate the regal authority, he was, nevertheless, true to his purpose

to the very last. There seem to be three features in the reign of this

prince which particularly deserve attention. The first is, the more

extensive intercourse than had hitherto subsisted, which he established

between Scotland and foreign nations,--particularly with France. The

inexhaustible ambition of Charles V., which aimed at universal empire, and

which probably would have accomplished its design had he not met with a

rival so formidable as Francis I., was the means of convincing the other

states of Europe, that the only security for their separate independence

was the preservation of a balance of power. Italy was thus roused into

activity, and England, under Henry VIII., took an active share in the

important events of the age. To the continental powers, against whom that

monarch's strength was directed, it became a matter of no small moment to

secure the assistance of Scotland. Both Francis and Charles, therefore,

paid their court to James, who, finding it necessary to become the ally of

one or other, prudently rejected the empty honours offered him by the

Emperor, and continued faithful to France. He went himself to Paris in

1536, where he married Magdalene, daughter of Francis. She died however

soon after his return home; but determined not to lose the advantages

resulting from a French alliance, he again married, in the following year,

Mary of Lorraine, daughter to the Duke of Guise, and the young widow of

the Duke of Longueville. Following the example of their king, most of the

Scotch nobility visited France, and as many as could afford it, sent their

sons thither to be educated; whilst on the other hand, numerous French

adventurers landed in Scotland, bringing along with them some of the

French arts and luxuries. Thus the manners of the Scotch, gradually began

to lose a little of that unbending severity, which had hitherto rendered

them so repulsive.

The second peculiarity in the reign of James V., is the countenance and

support he bestowed upon the clergy. This he did, not from any motives of

bigotry, but solely as a matter of sound policy. He saw that he could not

stand alone against his nobles, and he was therefore anxious to raise into

an engine of power, a body of men whose interests he thus identified with

his own. It is remarkable, that even in the most flourishing days of

Catholicism, when the Pope's ecclesiastical authority extended itself

everywhere, Scotland alone was overlooked. The king was there always the

head of the church, in so far as regarded all ecclesiastical appointments,

and the patronage of his bishoprics and abbeys was no slight privilege to

the Scottish monarch, denied as it was to other kings of more extensive

temporal jurisdiction. James converted into benefices, several of the

forfeited estates of his rebellious nobles, and raised the clergy to a

pitch of authority they had never before possessed in Scotland. He acted

upon principle, and perhaps judiciously; but he was not aware, that by

thus surrounding his priests with wealth and luxury, he was paving the way

for their utter destruction, and a new and better order of things.

It will be useful to observe, as the third characteristic of this reign,

the encouragement James gave to the arts and sciences. For the first time,

education began to take some form and system. He gave stability to the

universities, and was careful to select for them the best teachers. He was

fond of drawing to his court men of learning and genius. He was himself a

poet of considerable ability. He had likewise devoted much of his

attention to architecture--his fondness for which elegant study was

testified, by his anxiety to repair, or rebuild, most of the royal

palaces. He established also on a permanent footing, the Court of Session,

or College of Justice; and though his reign, as a whole, was not a happy

one, it probably redounded more to the advantage of his country than that

of any of his predecessors.

At his death, which took place in 1542, at the early age of 30,

accelerated by the distress of mind occasioned by the voluntary defeats

which his refractory nobles allowed themselves to sustain, both at Falla

and Solway Moss, Scotland speedily fell into a state of confusion and

civil war. The events which followed are indissolubly connected with the

subject of these Memoirs, and are related at length in the succeeding