Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Crichton, William (d.1454)
CRICHTON, Sir WILLIAM, Lord Crichton (d. 1454), chancellor of Scotland, descended from a very old family in the county of Edinburgh, one of whom is mentioned as early as the reign of Malcolm I, was the son of Sir James Crichton of the barony of Crichton. He is first mentioned in Rymer (Fœdera, x. 309) among the nobility who met James I at Durham on his return from his long detention in England. At the coronation of James I in 1424 he was knighted and appointed one of the gentlemen of the bedchamber. Along with other two ambassadors he was sent in May 1426 to treat with Eric, king of Norway, and soon after his return he was constituted one of the king's privy council and master of the household. At the time of the assassination of James I in 1437 he was in command of Edinburgh Castle, a position which this event rendered of much greater importance, inasmuch as it afforded an asylum for the queen and the infant prince. The queen soon discovered that the charge of the young prince had been taken from her by Crichton into his own hands. On pretence of superintending the expenses of the household he seized on the royal revenues, and surrounding himself by his own creatures ousted every one else from a share in the government. In these circumstances the queen had recourse to a clever stratagem. At the conclusion of a visit of some days which she had been permitted to pay her son she concealed him in a wardrobe chest and conveyed him, along with some other luggage, to Leith, and thence by water to her jointure-house at Stirling, at that time in the command of Livingston of Callendar. Apparently in reference to Crichton an act was passed at the ensuing parliament, by which it was ordained that where any rebels had taken refuge within their castles or fortalices, and held the same against lawful authority, &c., it became the duty of the lieutenant to raise the lieges, to besiege such places, and arrest the offenders, of whatever rank they might be (Acts of the Parliament of Scotland, ii. 32). Livingston, having raised his vassals, laid siege to the castle of Edinburgh in person, whereupon Crichton secretly proposed a coalition with the Earl of Douglas. As the earl not only declined the proposal, but added that it would give him great satisfaction if two such unprincipled disturbers of the public peace should destroy each other, they resolved to make truce with each other and combine against the Earl of Douglas. The castle of Edinburgh was delivered into the hands of Livingston, who presented the young king with the keys of the fortress. On the morrow Livingston and Crichton shared the power between them. The office of chancellor was taken from Cameron, bishop of Glasgow, a partisan of the house of Douglas, and bestowed upon Crichton between 3 May and 10 June 1439; while the chief management in the government and the guardianship of the king's person was committed to Livingston (Register of the Great Seal, 1424–1513, p. 49). As the Earl of Douglas died on 26 June following, no opposition was made to this powerful coalition, which for a while had virtually absolute control of the affairs of the kingdom. To protect herself the queen married Sir James Stewart, the black knight of Lorne, but he was immured by Livingston in the dungeon of Stirling Castle, upon which the queen consented to resign the government of the castle into the hands of Livingston as the residence of the young king. Crichton, now becoming jealous of the authority wielded by Livingston, rode to Stirling during the latter's absence at Perth, and under cover of the night concealed a large number of his vassals in the wood near the royal park of Stirling. When the young king rode out early in the morning for his usual pastime of the chase, he was suddenly surrounded and conveyed to Linlithgow, and thence to the castle of Edinburgh. Through the mediation of Leighton, bishop of Aberdeen, and Winchester, bishop of Moray, a reconciliation took place between Livingston and Crichton, the former being again entrusted with the care of the young king, while greater share than formerly was given to Crichton in the management of the state. In order to make themselves secure of their authority they now determined to compass the death of the young Earl of Douglas, and, having obtained evidence against him for high treason, enticed him to the castle of Edinburgh, and after a hurried form of trial caused him to be beheaded in the back court of the castle. The succeeding Earl of Douglas having entered into a coalition with Livingston, Crichton fled to the castle of Edinburgh, which he began to fortify and store with provisions against a siege. Summoned by Douglas to attend the parliament at Stirling to answer to the charge of high treason, he responded by a raid on the earl's lands (Auchinleck Chronicle, p. 36). Meantime his estates were confiscated to the parliament, but after the castle of Edinburgh had been invested for nine weeks he surrendered it to the king on condition of not only being insured against indemnity, but of retaining the greater part of his former power and influence. From this time Crichton, who had entered into a coalition with Bishop Kennedy, his successor as chancellor, remained faithful to the king in his struggle against the ambitious projects of the Earl of Douglas, assisted by Livingston. In 1445 he was created a baron by the title Lord Crichton, and along with Kennedy was the chief adviser of the youthful monarch. In 1448 he was sent with two others to France to obtain a renewal of the league with that country, and to arrange a marriage between James and one of the daughters of the French king. After arranging a friendly treaty they, by advice of the French king, who had no daughter of a suitable age, proceeded to the court of Arnold, duke of Gueldres, where they were successful in arranging a marriage with Mary, his only daughter and heiress. Crichton was present in the supper chamber at Stirling in 1452 when James stabbed Douglas to death with a dagger. Crichton died in 1454. So much had the king been dependent on his advice that the courtiers dreaded to announce to him his great loss. He founded the collegiate church of Crichton 26 Dec. 1449. By his wife Agnes he had a son James, second lord Crichton (1430–1469), who, under the designation of Sir James Crichton of Frendraught, was appointed great chamberlain of Scotland in 1440, and held that office till 1453; and two daughters, Mary, married to Alexander, first earl of Huntly, and Agnes, married first to Alexander, fourth lord Glaumis, and secondly to Ker of Cessford.
[Crawford's Officers of State, 31; Douglas's Scotch Peerage (Wood), i. 609; Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, vol. i.; Acts of the Parliament of Scotland; Auchinleck Chronicle; Major, De Historia Gentis Scotorum; the Histories of Tytler and Hill Burton.]