He was a natural son of K. James V. and brother by the father's side to Mary queen of Scots; in his infancy he was put under the celebrated George Buchanan, who instilled such principles into his mind in early life, as by the divine blessing made him an honour to the Scottish nation.
The reader cannot expect a very minute detail of all the heroic and patriotic deeds of this worthy nobleman, considering the station which he filled, and his activity in the discharge of the duties belonging to it.
He was the principal agent in promoting the work of reformation from popery. On the first dawning of it in the year 1555, he attended the preaching of Mr. John Knox at Calder, where he often wished that his doctrine had been more public, which was an open profession of his love and zeal for the true religion.
He went over to France with some other Scottish noblemen at the time of his sister's marriage with the dauphine, where his companions were supposed to have been poisoned, for they died in France: He escaped by the interposition of a kind providence, but retained a weak and disordered stomach all his life; this did not however unfit him for these services which he did to religion and his country after this.
In the year 1556, he and Argyle wrote to Mr. Knox at Geneva, to return to Scotland, in order to further the reformation. Upon which, after having been detained some time at Diep, Mr Knox returned in the year 1559, and went to St. Johnstoun, where the reforming congregation resorted to him; which coming to the ears of the queen-regent, she sent the earl of Argyle and Lord James (for that was the earl of Moray's title at this time) to know the intent of so great an assembly. Mr. Knox returned this answer, That |her enterprize would not prosper in the end, seeing that she intended to fight against God, &c.| Upon receiving this reply, she summoned them to depart from the town of St. Johnstoun; but afterwards hearing of the daily increase of their numbers, she gave them leave to depart peaceably, with many fair promises, that they should meet with no further danger. On which they obeyed and left the town, but they had no sooner done so, than she with her French guards entered it in a most outrageous manner, telling the inhabitants, That no faith should be kept with heretics. -- This flagrant breach of promise provoked Lord James to that degree, that he left the queen, and joined the lords of the congregation (for so they were afterwards called). As soon as the queen got intelligence of this, she sent a threatening letter to him and Argyle (for they stuck together on almost all occasions) commanding them to return, but to no purpose; for they went to Fife, and there began to throw down and remove the monuments of idolatry: Here they continued for some time; but being informed that the queen intended to go to Stirling, they went off from Perth late in the night, and entered Stirling with their associates where they immediately demolished the monasteries, and purged the churches of idolatry. Such was the zeal of these worthy noblemen for the interest of the reformed religion in Scotland.
From Stirling they marched for Edinburgh, purging all the superstitious relicts of idolatry out of Linlithgow in their way. -- These summary proceedings alarmed the queen regent, insomuch that her zeal for the Romish idolatry, gave way to her fears about her civil authority. To make the conduct of these reformers the more odious to the unthinking part of the nation, she gave out that they were in open rebellion against her, and that they made a pretence of religion, but that the real design was to set lord James on the throne (there being now no male-heir to the crown), These insinuations she found means to transmit to lord James himself, in a letter said to be forged in the names of Francis and Mary the king and queen of France, wherein he was further upbraided with ingratitude on account of the favours they pretended that they had shown him, and threatened to lay down his arms and return to his allegiance. To this letter, (notwithstanding there were strong reasons to suspect it was forged) he nevertheless returned a resolute answer, declaring that he was not conscious to himself, either in word or deed, of any offence either against the regent or laws; but in regard the nobility had undertaken the reformation of religion, which was delayed, and seeing they aimed at nothing but the glory of God, he was willing to bear the reproach which the enemies of religion would load him with, neither was it just for him to desert that cause which had Christ himself for its head and defender, whom, unless they would voluntarily deny, they could not give up that enterprise in which they were imbarked.
While these things were transacting, the lords of the congregation being then in and about Edinburgh, there were to the number of 3000 French landed at Leith at different times, to support the queen regent, between whom and the lords of the congregation there were several skirmishes, with little success on either side; yet the lords retired to Stirling, leaving the French for a time masters of the field, but not without apprehensions of danger from the arrival of an English fleet, which was then expected. In the mean time, they went over to Fife, spreading devastation every where around them without resistance: Whereupon the queen regent thus expressed herself, |Where is John Knox's God now, my God is stronger, even now in Fife.| This impious boast lasted not long, for Argyle and lord James went to the town of Dysart immediately to stop their career along the coast. The French were 4000 strong, besides the Scots who adhered to them; the army of the congregation were not above 600 men, yet they behaved with such courage and resolution, as for twenty days successively they faced this army, and for each man they lost in every skirmish, the French lost four. As an evidence of the uncommon attention which these two noblemen bestowed on this business, they never put off their cloaths during the whole time, and slept but little.
In the month of June the queen regent died, and a little after her Francis king of France died likewise, by which Scotland was delivered from this foreign army. -- About this time lord James went over to France, to visit his sister Mary; after settling matters in Scotland as well as he could, he was attended by a splendid retinue, but appears to have met with a cold reception: After several conversations with Queen Mary, she told him, That she intended to return home. During his stay at Paris, he met with many insults on account of his known attachment to the reformed religion: A box containing some valuable things was stole from him; several persons were likewise hired to assassinate him in the street: he was apprized of his danger by an old friend of his own, but not before he was almost involved in it, being instantly surrounded by a rabble, calling out Hugenot, hugenot, and throwing stones; he made his way through them on horseback. Soon after this he left Paris, and returned home in May 1561, with a commission from the queen, appointing him regent until her return, which was in August following, when, as Knox expresses it, |Dolour and darkness came along with her,| for tho' justice and equity were yet administered, and crimes were punished, because the administration of civil affairs was yet in the hands of lord James, who for his management of public concerns was beloved by all, yet upon the queen's arrival, French levity and dissipation soon corrupted the court to a very high degree.
About this time a banditti called the moss-troopers broke in upon the borders of Scotland, committing very alarming depredations, by robbing and murdering all that came in their way. The queen sent lord James with a small force to oppose them, not with the intention that he might have the opportunity of acquiring military reputation, but to expose him to danger, that, if possible, she might get rid of him, for his popularity made her very uneasy, and his fidelity and boldness in reproving her faults, and withstanding her tyrannical measures, made him still more the object of her hatred and disgust. But, contrary to the expectations of many, God so prospered him in this expedition, that in a short time he brought twenty-eight ring-leaders of this band to public execution, and obliged the rest to give hostages for their better behaviour in time-coming. Thus he returned crowned with laurels, and was immediately created earl of Marr, and in the February following he was made earl of Moray, with the universal approbation of all good men. Some thought this act of the queen was intended by her to conciliate his affections, and make him of her party. About this time he married a daughter of the earl of Marshal, according to Knox, (Buchanan says, the earl of March); the marriage was made publicly in the church of Edinburgh; after the ceremony was over, the preacher (probably Mr. Knox) said to him, |Sir, the church of God hath received comfort by you, and by your labours unto this day; if you prove more saint therein afterward, it will be said that your wife hath changed your nature, &c.|
It may be observed, that hitherto the nobility appeared very much united in their measures for promoting the interest of religion; this was soon at an end, for the noblemen at court broke out into factions: Among whom the earl of Bothwel, envying the prosperity of Moray, stirred up some feuds between him and the Hamiltons, which increased to that height, that they laid a plot for his life, which Bothwel took in hand to execute, while he was with the queen his sister at Falkland; but the earl of Arran detesting such an action, sent a letter privately to the earl of Moray discovering the whole conspiracy, by which he escaped that danger: Bothwel fled from justice into France, but his emissaries were not less active in his absence than they had been while he headed them in person, for another design was formed against his life, by one Gordon, while he was with the queen at Dumbarton. But this proved ineffectual also.
Soon after, the queen received letters from the pope and her uncles the Guises of France, requesting her to put the earl of Moray out of the way, because, they found by experience, that their interest in Scotland could not prosper while he was alive; upon this the faction against him became more insolent and appeared in arms: they were at first suppressed, but soon assembled again, to the number of eight hundred men: This body he was obliged to fight, with little more strength, in which he could confide, than an hundred horse; notwithstanding this disparity, by the divine blessing, he obtained a complete victory, killing of them a hundred and twenty, and taking a hundred prisoners, among whom were Huntly himself and his two sons; it is said he did not lose a single man. He returned to Aberdeen with the prisoners, late in the night, where he had appointed a minister of the gospel to meet him, with whom he returned thanks to God for such a deliverance, exceeding the expectations of all men.
The earl of Bothwel was soon after this recalled by the queen from France; upon his arrival, Moray accused him for his former treasonable practices, and commenced a process at law against him. Bothwel knew he could not stand an open scrutiny, but relied upon the queen's favour, which he knew he possessed in a very high degree, and which increased so much the more as her enmity to Moray on account of his popularity was augmented. This led her to join more warmly in the conspiracy with Bothwel against his life; a new plot was the result of their joint deliberations, which was to be executed in the following manner; Moray was to be sent for, with only a few attendants, to speak with the queen at Perth, where Lord Darnly (then in suit to her for marriage) was; they knew that Moray would speak his mind freely, upon which they were to quarrel with him, in the heat of which David Rizzio was to strike the first blow, and all the rest were to follow: But of this design also he got previous intelligence by a friend at the court, nevertheless he resolved to go, until advised by one Patrick Ruthven; he turned aside to his mother's house, and there staid till this storm was over also.
The earl of Moray foreseeing what would be the consequence of the queen's marriage with Lord Darnly, set himself to oppose it, but finding little attention paid to any thing he said on that subject in the convention of estates, he chose rather to absent himself for some time, and accordingly retired to the border, where he staid until the queen's marriage with Darnly was over.
The remarkable tragical events which succeeded, disgusted Moray more and more at the court; with these the public are well acquainted: The murder of Darnly, and Mary's after-marriage with the assassin of her husband, has occasioned too much speculation of late years, not to be known to every one in the least acquainted with the Scottish history. Moray now found it impossible to live at a court where his implacable enemy was so highly honoured; Bothwel insulted him openly; whereupon he asked leave of the queen to travel abroad, and she, being willing to get rid of him at all events, granted his desire, upon his promise not to make any stay in England. He went over to France, where he remained until he heard that the queen was in custody in Lochlevin, and that Bothwel had fled to Denmark; and then returned home. Upon his arrival he was made regent, by the joint consent of the queen and nobles, anno 1567, during the young king's minority.
He entered on the exercise of his office as regent, in the spring following, and resolved with himself to make a tour through the whole kingdom to settle the courts of justice, to repair what was wrong, &c. But his adversaries the Hamiltons, perceiving, that by the prudence and diligence of this worthy nobleman, the interest of religion would be revived, than which nothing could be more disagreeable to them, who were dissipated and licentious in an extreme degree, they could not endure to be regulated by law, and never ceased crying out against his administration. They fixed up libels in different places, full of dark insinuations, by which it was understood that his destruction was meditating. Some astrologers told him that he would not live beyond such a day; by which it appeared they were not ignorant of the designs formed against him. All this had no effect upon his resolution; his common reply was, That |he knew well enough he must die one time or other, and that he could not part with his life more nobly, than by procuring the public tranquillity of his native country.| He caused summon a convention of estates to meet at Glasgow for the redress of some grievances, which that part of the country particularly laboured under.
But while he was thus engaged, he received intelligence that the queen had escaped from Lochlevin castle, and was come to Hamiltoun, where those of her faction were assembling with the utmost haste, whereupon a hot dispute arose in council, whether the regent, and his attendants should repair to the young king at Stirling, or stay and observe the motions of the queen and her party; but in the very time of these deliberations, a hundred chosen men arrived in town from Lothian, and many more from the adjacent country were approaching: This made them resolve to stay where they were, and refresh themselves for one day, after which they determined to march out and face the enemy. But the queen's army, being 6500 strong, resolved to make their way by Glasgow to lodge the queen in Dumbarton castle, and afterwards either to fight the regent, or protract the war at pleasure.
The regent being let into this design of the enemy, drew his army out the town, to observe which way they intended to pass; he had not above 4000 men; they discovered the queen's army passing along the south-side of the river Clyde. Moray commanded the foot to pass the bridge, and the horse to ford the river, and marched out to a small village, called Langside, upon the river Cart. They took possession of a rising ground before the enemy could well discover their intention, and drew up in the order of battle. The earls of Morton, Semple, Hume and Patrick Lindsay on the right, and the earls of Marr, Glencairn, Monteith with the citizens of Glasgow, were on the left, and the musqueteers were placed in the valley below. The queen's army approaching, a very brisk but short engagement ensued; the earl of Argyle, who was commander in chief of the queen's troops, falling from his horse, they gave way, so that the regent obtained a complete victory; but, by his clement conduct, there was very little blood spilt in the pursuit. The queen, who all the while remained with some horse at about the distance of a mile from the place of action, seeing the rout, escaped and fled for England, and the regent returned to Glasgow, where they returned thanks to God for their deliverance from popery and papists, who threatened to overturn the work of God among them. This battle was fought upon the 13th of May, 1568.
After this the regent summoned a parliament to meet at Edinburgh; which the queen's party laboured to hinder, with all their power. In the mean time, letters were received from the queen of England, requiring them to put off the meeting of parliament until she was made acquainted with the whole matter, for she said, She could not bear with the affront which her kinswoman said she had received from her subjects. -- The parliament however assembled, and after much reasoning it was resolved to send commissioners to England to vindicate their conduct; but none consenting to undertake this business, the regent resolved upon going himself, and accordingly chose three gentlemen, two ministers, two lawyers, and Mr. George Buchanan to accompany him; and with a guard of 100 horse they set out, and arrived at York, the appointed place of conference, on the 4th of October. After several meetings with the English commissioners to little purpose, the queen called the regent up to London, that she might be better satisfied by personal conversation with him, about the state of these affairs. But the same difficulties stood in his way here as at York; he refused to enter upon the accusation of his sister the queen of Scots, unless Elizabeth would engage to protect the king's party, provided the queen was found guilty.
But, while matters were thus remaining in suspence at London, Mary had stirred up a new commotion in Scotland by means of one James Balfour, so that the regent found himself exceedingly embarrassed, and therefore resolved to bring the matter to a conclusion as soon as possible. After several interviews with the queen and council, in which the regent and his party supported the ancient rights of their country, and wiped off the aspersions many had thrown on themselves, which Buchanan narrates at large, book XIX, A decision was given in their favours, and the regent returned home loaded with honours by Elizabeth, and attended by the most illustrious of the English court, escorted by a strong guard to Berwick, and arrived at Edinburgh on the 2d of February, where he was received with acclamations of joy, particularly by the friends of the true religion.
During his administration, many salutary laws in favour of civil and religious liberty, were made, which rendered him more and more the object of popish malice. At last they resolved at all events to take his life; the many unsuccessful attempts formerly made, only served to render them more bold and daring. Though the queen was now at a distance, yet the found means to encourage her party, and perhaps the hope of delivering her at length, gave strength to their resolution. One James Hamilton of Bothwel-haugh, nephew to the arch-bishop of St. Andrews, incited by his uncle and others, undertakes to make away with the regent, when a convenient opportunity offered itself: He first lay in wait for him at Glasgow, and then at Stirling, but both failed him; after which, he thought Linlithgow the most proper place for perpetrating that execrable deed; his uncle had a house near the regent's, in which he concealed himself, that he might be in readiness for the assassination. Of this design the regent got intelligence likewise, but paid not that regard to the danger he was exposed to, which he should; and would go no other way than that in which it was suspected the ambush was laid; he trusted to the fleetness of his horse in riding swiftly by the suspected place; but the great concourse of people who crouded together to see him, stopped up the way. Accordingly, he was shot from a wooden balcony, the bullet entering a little below the navel, came out at the reins, and killed the horse of George Douglas behind him: The assassin escaped by a back-door. The regent told his attendants that he was wounded, and returned to his lodgings; it was at first thought the wound was not mortal, but his pain increasing, he began to think of death. Some about him told him, That this was the fruit of his lenity, in sparing so many notorious offenders, and among the rest his own murderer; but he replied, |Your importunity shall not make me repent my clemency.| Having settled his private affairs, he committed the care of the young king to the nobles there present, and without speaking a reproachful word of any, he departed this life on the 24d of January, 1570. according to Buchanan, 1571. but according to Spotiswood, 1569.
Thus fell the earl of Moray (whom historians ordinarily call, The good regent) after he had escaped so many dangers: He was certainly a worthy governor. Both Buchanan and Spotswood give him the following character: |His death was lamented by all good men, who loved him as the public father of his country, even his enemies confessed his merit when dead; they admired his valour in war, his ready disposition for peace, his activity in business, in which he was commonly very successful; the divine favour seemed to shine on all his actions; he was very merciful to offenders, and equitable in all his decisions. When the field did not call for his presence, he was busied in the administration of justice; by which means the poor were not oppressed, and the terms of law-suits were shortened. -- His house was like a holy temple; after meals he caused a chapter of the bible to be read, and asked the opinions of such learned men as were present upon it, not out of a vain curiosity, but from a desire to learn, and reduce to practice what it contained.| In a word, he was both in his public and private life, a pattern worthy of imitation, and happy would it be for us, that our nobles were more disposed to walk in the paths which he trode; -- for, |Above all his virtues, which were not a few, he shined in piety towards God, ordering himself and his family in such a sort as did more resemble a church than a court; for therein, besides the exercise of devotion, which he never omitted, there was no wickedness to be seen, nay not an unseemly or wanton word to be heard. A man truly good, and worthy to be ranked amongst the best governors, that this kingdom hath enjoyed, and therefore to this day honoured with the title of The good Regent.|