James I of Scotland

James I of Scotland
   James I, king of Scotland, is the purported author of the early 15th-century ROMANCE called The KINGIS QUAIR (The king’s book), a poem owing a great deal to CHAUCER. Thus James (if he is indeed the poem’s author) is one of the earliest and most accomplished of the poets called the “Scottish Chaucerians.” As king, James was popular, especially with the common people, but he made enemies among the nobility and was assassinated on February 20, 1437. James was born at Dunfermline in Fife. He was the second son of King Robert III and Annabela Drummond, but became heir apparent when his older brother was murdered, allegedly by the Duke of Albany, his own uncle. As the boy James was traveling to France in 1406, he was kidnapped by English pirates and delivered to the English king Henry IV. Henry imprisoned the young Scottish prince, who soon became king when his father died shortly after James’s abduction. James was an English prisoner for 18 years. He apparently received a good education in captivity, and perhaps was acquainted with the French nobleman and poet CHARLES D’ORLEANS, who was being held prisoner at the same time as James. Upon his release from prison in 1424, James married Lady Joan Beaufort, who was the daughter of John Beaufort, earl of Somerset, and the granddaughter of JOHN OF GAUNT and Chaucer’s sisterin-law, Katherine Swynford. Joan is, purportedly, the heroine of The Kingis Quair.
   In James’s absence, his uncle Albany served as Scottish regent, and upon Albany’s death in 1420, his son Murdoch became governor.When James returned, it was to a country in serious disorder. James acted quickly to eliminate rivals to his authority and to suppress the nobility, with the support of the clergy and the middle class.Murdoch and his family were executed. James concerned himself with the proper administration of justice for the commons, he promoted and kept peaceful relations with both England and France, he was a patron of the arts, and he asserted his direct control over the state treasury. But a group of dissident nobles, led by Sir Robert Graham and Walter Stewart, the earl of Atholl, assassinated him in Perth in 1437.
   There is some question as to whether The Kingis Quair was in fact written by James. There is no contemporary reference to his being a poet, and it is only in the 16th century that he is mentioned as the author of The Kingis Quair.He is named the author in a manuscript colophon (a scribal addition at the end), where it is asserted that he wrote the poem for Joan Beaufort. Certainly the imprisoned king in the poem who falls in love seems clearly autobiographical, and there is no compelling reason to deny James’s authorship of the poem. Other poems that have been attributed to him over the years—“The Ballad of Good Counsel,” “Christis Kirk on the Green,” and “Peblis to the Play”—seem to have no real claim to his authorship.
   ■ Balfour-Melville, E. W. M. James I, King of Scots, 14061437. London:Methuen, 1936.
   ■ James I of Scotland. The Kingis Quair. Introduction, notes and glossary by John Norton-Smith. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971.
   ■ The Kingis Quair of James Stewart. Edited by Matthew P. McDiarmid. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1973.
   ■ Scheps, Walter, and J. Anna Looney. Middle Scots Poets: A Reference Guide to James I of Scotland, Robert Henryson, William Dunbar, and Gavin Douglas. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1986.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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