Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Stewart, David (1378?-1402)

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STEWART, DAVID, Duke of Rothesay (1378?–1402), only surviving son of Robert III of Scotland, by Annabella Drummond, daughter of John Drummond of Stobhall, was born about 1378. After the succession of the father, who was originally called John, earl of Carrick, to the throne as Robert III, the son succeeded to the title of Earl of Carrick. About 1396 he was entrusted with the government or pacification of the northern parts of the kingdom (Chamberlain's Accounts quoted in Tytler's History, ed. 1868, ii. 5). He showed himself able and energetic, but rash, headstrong, and unscrupulous. The bodily defects and mild, if not weak, personality of Robert III unfitting him for the personal duties of government, the management of the affairs of the kingdom had been entrusted to the Earl of Fife, the king's brother [see Stewart, Robert, first Duke of Albany]; but at a meeting of the estates held in January 1398–1399 it was resolved that David, earl of Carrick, as heir to the throne, should be appointed lieutenant of the kingdom with full sovereign powers (Acta Parl. Scot. i. 572). About the same time he was created Duke of Rothesay, and his uncle, the Earl of Fife, was created Duke of Albany, these being the earliest examples of the use of the ducal dignity in Scotland. Shortly after his accession to the regency he was betrothed to a daughter of the Earl of March, but the proposed marriage having aroused the jealousy of the Earl of Douglas, he induced Rothesay, by the bribe of a splendid dowry, to prefer his daughter Elizabeth Douglas, to whom Rothesay was hastily married at Bothwell. Determined on revenge, March then proceeded to England, and induced Henry IV as lord superior to undertake an expedition against Scotland to chastise the unfaithful swain. March, aided by Hotspur and Lord Thomas Talbot, made also a preliminary incursion against Rothesay, but was totally routed near Cockburnspath. Nor did the more formidable array under Henry accomplish anything of a satisfactory nature. Learning its approach, Rothesay, who commanded the castle of Edinburgh, sent Henry a public cartel of defiance. To the challenge he deigned no reply; but his march against Edinburgh failed either to awe Rothesay or to entice him to offer battle; and Henry, baffled of his purpose, withdrew again into England without a blow being struck.

In 1402 the triennial period of Rothesay's government as regent had expired. How far he had misused his power it is impossible to determine, but Albany at least deemed it desirable that he should be removed; and while it was impossible that one of his audacity could be superseded except by force, his successor's tenure of office would have been insecure so long as he remained at large. To effect his purpose, Albany made a paction with Archibald, earl of Douglas—who was offended with Rothesay for his unfaithfulness to his wife, the sister of Douglas—and with Sir William Lindsay of Ramornie, whose sister had been one of Rothesay's victims. It so happened that after the death of Bishop Trail of St. Andrews, Rothesay had arranged, in accordance with royal custom, to occupy the castle of St. Andrews until the bishop's successor should be appointed. As his term of office had expired, his purpose was illegal, and while proceeding to St. Andrews he was intercepted near Strathtyrum, and placed in confinement in the castle which he had hoped to occupy. Thence shortly afterwards he was carried by Albany and Douglas to Falkland, and confined in a dungeon, where according to one story he was starved to death, and according to another died of dysentery (27 March 1402). In any case it is unlikely that he would have regained his liberty while Albany lived. He was buried privately in Lindores Abbey. At a meeting of the council held at Holyrood, 16 May 1402, an inquiry was held into the cause of his death, and Albany and Douglas were formally—but in very equivocal terms—declared innocent (see specially the narrative with authorities quoted in Tytler's History, ed. 1868, ii. 20–22). John Wright, one of his keepers in Falkland, received a special allowance from Albany (Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, iv. 135), which he could scarce have been paid had there been nothing that Albany wished concealed. The dukedom was by charter, 22 Nov. 1409, transferred to Rothesay's brother, afterafterwards James I of Scotland; and by an act of parliament, 22 Nov. 1409, the dukedom of Rothesay, with the earldom of Carrick, &c., was vested in the eldest son and heir-apparent of the sovereign.

[Exchequer Rolls of Scotland; Acta Parl. Scot.; Tytler's Hist. of Scotland and authorities therein quoted. A powerfully dramatic account of Rothesay's death by starvation occupies the thirty-second chapter of Scott's ‘Fair Maid of Perth.’]

T. F. H.