Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Scott, James (fl.1579-1606)

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SCOTT, Sir JAMES (fl. 1579–1606), politician, was the grandson of Sir William Scott or Scot (d. 1532) [q. v.], and eldest son of Sir William Scott of Balwearie and Strathmiglo, by his wife Janet, daughter of Lindsay of Dowhill; he was served heir to his father in 1579. In December 1583 his name appears at a band of caution for the self-banishment of William Douglas of Lochleven (Reg. P. C. Scotl. iii. 615). On 4 March 1587–8 he was called to answer before the privy council, along with the turbulent Francis, earl of Bothwell, and others, for permitting certain border pledges to whom they had become bound to escape (ib. iv. 258). At the coronation of the queen on 17 May 1590 he was dubbed a knight, but his enjoyment of the royal favour was of short duration. A catholic by conviction, and fond of fighting and adventure, he gave active and unconcealed assistance both to the Earl of Bothwell and to the catholic earls of Angus, Erroll, and Huntly. He seconded Bothwell in his attempt to seize the king at Falkland Palace on 28 June 1592 (Moysie, Memoirs, p. 95), and having, for failing to answer concerning the ‘late treasonable fact,’ been, on 6 June, denounced a rebel (Reg. P. C. Scotl. iv. 765), he on 10 Nov. obtained caution to answer when required, and not to repair within ten miles of the king's residence without license (ib. v. 21). At the convention of estates held at Linlithgow on 31 Oct. 1593 he was appointed one of the sham commission for the trial of the catholic earls (ib. p. 103), and, as was to be expected, favoured the act of abolition passed in their favour. It was probably through him that Bothwell arranged his interview with the three catholic earls at the kirk of Menmuir in Angus in 1594, when a band was subscribed between them which was given into Scott's keeping (Moysie, p. 121); but by the accidental capture of Bothwell's servant the plot was discovered, and Scott was immediately apprehended and lodged in the castle of Edinburgh. On 23 Jan. 1595 he was brought to the Tolbooth gaol, and kept there all night. On being interrogated he delivered up the band, and, according to Calderwood, made a confession to the effect that ‘the king should have been taken, committed to perpetual prison, the prince crowned king, Huntly, Erroll, and Angus chosen regents.’ Notwithstanding this extraordinary revelation, ‘he was,’ says Calderwood, ‘permitted to keep his own chamber upon the 29th of January, and was fined in twenty thousand pounds, which the hungry courtiers gaped for, but got not’ (History, v. 359). Calderwood also publishes the heads of the band (ib. p. 360), and Scott's confession is fully noticed in the record of the meeting of the privy council of 11 Feb. (Reg. P. C. Scotl. v. 205). Nevertheless the matter does not appear to have been taken very seriously by the council, it being only too manifest that if the earls had the will, they had not the power to effect any such revolution. On 25 Jan. Scott obtained a remission under the great seal, much to the chagrin of the ministers of Edinburgh, who desired the task of excommunicating him (cf. Calderwood, v. 365). On 29 Aug. 1599 he was required to give caution that he would keep the peace (Reg. P. C. Scotl. v. 748). If during the remainder of his life he eschewed entangling himself in politics, there is evidence that he remained, as heretofore, restless and unruly. Having on 5 Nov. 1601 been denounced for failing to answer a charge of destroying the growing corn of Patrick Pitcairne of Pitlour (ib. p. 301), he on 16 Oct. 1602 found caution in three thousand merks not to harm him (ib. p. 702). On account of his repeated fines, Scott was compelled to sell various portions of his estates, until in 1600 all that remained in his possession was the tower and fortalice of Strathmiglo, with the village and the lands adjoining. On 13 Dec. 1606 a decree was passed against him lying at the horn for debt (ib. vii. 251), and various other decrees at the instance of different complainers were passed on subsequent occasions (ib. passim). Before his death the remaining portions were disposed of, and he left no heritage to his successor. The downfall of the family affected the popular imagination, and gave birth to traditions more or less apocryphal. According to one of these, although his inveterate quarrelsomeness made him lose his all, he was very mean and miserly; and on one occasion, while looking over his window directing his servants, who were throwing old and mouldy oatmeal into the moat, he was accosted by a beggar man, who desired to be allowed to fill his wallet with it. This the harsh baron of Balwearie refused, whereupon the beggar pronounced his curse upon him, and declared that he himself should yet be glad to get what he then refused. The date of his death is not recorded. By his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Andrew Wardlaw of Torrie, he had two sons, William and James, and a daughter Janet, married to Sir John Boswell of Balmuto.

[Reg. P. C. Scotl. vols. vi–viii.; Calderwood's Hist. of Scotland; Moysie's Memoirs (Bannatyne Club); Leighton's Hist. of Fife; Douglas's Baronage of Scotland, p. 305.]

T. F. H.