Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Stewart, Robert (1340?-1420)

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STEWART, ROBERT, first Duke of Albany (1340?–1420), regent of Scotland, born about 1340, was third son of Robert, earl of Strathearn (afterwards Robert II) [q. v.], by Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Robert Mure of Rowallan. His parents' marriage took place some seven years after his birth. Robert III [q. v.] and Alexander Stewart, earl of Buchan [q. v.], were his brothers. In 1360 he was sent to England as hostage for David II. After his marriage, by papal license (Theiner, Vet. Mon. p. 317), 9 Sept. 1361, to Margaret, countess of Menteith, daughter of the Countess Mary and Sir John Graham, he was known as Lord of Menteith, and he was present, as a baron, at parliaments held at Scone in 1367, 1368, and 1369. On 28 Feb. 1371, the day after his father's coronation, he swore fealty as Earl of Menteith (Acta Parl. Scot. i. 545). On 30 March following an indenture was made between him and Isabel, countess of Fife, widow of his brother Walter, who died in 1360, by which the countess agreed to acknowledge him as her heir-apparent (Harl. MS. 4694, f. 8, part published in Sir Robert Sibbald's History of Fife, and printed in Sir William Fraser's Red Book of Menteith, ii. 251–4). Henceforth, therefore, he held the style and designation of Earl of Fife and Menteith, the earldom of Fife being the older creation.

In 1371 and 1372 the Earl of Fife and Menteith was, along with his elder brother, John, earl of Carrick (afterwards Robert III), engaged in presiding in the courts of redress on the borders (WYNTOUN, Chronicle, bk. ix. chap. i. line 31). On 7 Feb. 1373 he had a charter from the king making him and his heirs male hereditary governors of the castle of Stirling, with the power to appoint and dismiss the constables and janitors of the castle; and during his term of office he did much to improve and strengthen its defences. At a meeting of the parliament held at Scone on 4 April of the same year it was declared that, failing the king's eldest son and his heirs, the succession should devolve on the Earl of Fife and Menteith and his heirs (Acta Parl. Scot. i. 549).

On the death of Sir John Lyon of Glammis, high chamberlain of Scotland (4 Nov. 1382), the Earl of Fife and Menteith was chosen to succeed him, and he held this office until 1407, when he resigned it in favour of his son John Stewart, earl of Buchan [q. v.] The Earl of Fife was one of the leaders of the expedition into England in 1385 in concert with the French admiral, John de Vienne, when after a reconnaissance of Roxburgh Castle, then held by the English, but deemed too strong to be carried by assault, the joint Scots and French force proceeded to Berwick, and crossing into Northumberland captured Wark Castle, and ravaged the country to the gates of Newcastle. Information then reaching them of the approach of a large force under the Duke of Lancaster, they fell back on Berwick, and, while permitting the English army to march by Liddesdale and Teviotdale to Edinburgh, they again entered England by the western marches and devastated Cumberland (Wyntoun, bk. ix. chap. vi. lines 54 &c.); Fordun, ed. Goodall, ii. 401; Froissart, ed. Bochon, ix. 144–55). After the departure of the French, whose assistance the Scots deemed too dearly purchased by the expense incurred in supporting them, the Earl of Fife and Menteith accompanied the Douglases on another great plundering raid; entering England by the Solway Sands, they ravaged the fruitful western borders as far as Cockermouth, whence they returned with great store of booty (Wyntoun, bk. ix. chap. vii. lines 31 &c.; Fordun, ii. 462–3). By these successful raids the earl had won such renown among the Scots that, when in 1388 the council decided on an expedition into England under his leadership, no less than twelve hundred men at arms and forty thousand infantry assembled under his standard on the day of tryst at Yetholm. Having so large a force at his disposal, and obtaining information that the English wardens had determined to invade Scotland as soon as they learned in what direction the Scots intended to advance, the earl determined to baffle them by forming his army into two separate divisions, and himself with the larger division, comprising two-thirds of the troops, entered the western marches by Liddesdale and Carlisle, while the Earl of Douglas with the remainder proceeded to ravage Northumberland and Durham. Of the doings of the western raiders there is no definite information, their achievements being overshadowed by the glorious feat of the other division, which, though at the cost of the Earl of Douglas's life, won the great historic victory of Otterburn (Wyntoun, bk. ix. chap. viii.; Fordun, ii. 404).

The earl had now attained a position of commanding importance in Scotland, and his father being old and infirm, while his elder brother John, earl of Carrick, had been severely weakened in health by the kick of a horse, which rendered him unfit for active exertion, it was agreed at a meeting of the estates in 1389 that he should be elected guardian of the kingdom until the Earl of Carrick should recover from his weakness, or until the latter's eldest son David should be able to assume the government (Acta Parl. Scot. i. 555). Immediately afterwards the Earl of Fife and Menteith set out with a large force for England to meet a challenge of the Earl of Nottingham, marshal of England and warden of the eastern marches, who had declared his readiness to engage in fair fight any Scottish force, though double in numbers to his own; but finding Nottingham entrenched in a position of great strength, from which he declined to move out, the earl returned immediately to Scotland (Wyntoun, bk. ix. chap. ix. lines 33 &c.; Fordun, ii. 414). Shortly afterwards the French, having concluded a three years' truce with England, induced the Scots to agree to a suspension of hostilities.

On the death of Robert II, 13 May 1390, and the succession of his eldest son, John, earl of Carrick, who took the title of Robert III, the Earl of Fife and Menteith, in accordance with the previous agreement, retained the office of governor, and continued to be entrusted with the chief administration of affairs. In 1397 he was sent with his nephew, David, earl of Carrick, to compose the distractions in the north of Scotland, and on 16 March 1397–8 he was appointed, along with the Earl of Carrick, a commissioner to meet with John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, and other English commissioners at Hawdenstank to arrange their mutual differences (Rymer, Fœdera, viii. 35; Cal. Documents relating to Scotland, 1359–1507, No. 502). At a parliament held at Perth on 28 April following he was created Duke of Albany—from Albania, the ancient name of the country between the Forth and the Spey—his nephew David, earl of Carrick [see Stewart, David, Duke of Rothesay], being created Duke of Rothesay (Wyntoun, bk. ix. chap. ix. lines 65 &c.; Fordun, ii. 423). This, the first introduction of the ducal title into Scotland, is supposed to have been occasioned by certain prerogatives claimed, on account of his ducal rank, by the Duke of Lancaster at the recent conference at Hawdenstank.

In January 1398–9, in accordance with the previous understanding, Albany was succeeded in the governorship of the kingdom by the heir to the crown, the Duke of Rothesay, who was elected for three years, and was to act with the advice of a council, of which Albany was one of the principal members (Acta Parl. Scot. i. 572). Whether or how far Albany was jealous of this transference of power to Rothesay is matter of dispute. When Rothesay in 1400 was besieged by Henry IV in Edinburgh Castle, Albany collected a numerous force for his relief, but contented himself with lying encamped on Calder Moor until the approach of colder weather and the lack of provisions compelled the English to raise the siege and proceed southwards (Fordun, ii. 430). This passiveness of Albany has been attributed to indifference as to Rothesay's fate; but there is no evidence that Rothesay was in extremities, and the result fully justified Albany's watchful inactivity, which, moreover, entirely accorded with the usual methods of Scottish strategy. As regards Albany's responsibility for the imprisonment and death of Rothesay in 1402 [see under Stewart, David, Duke of Rothesay], at a meeting of the parliament held on 16 May 1402 it was declared that Rothesay had died from natural causes, and Albany and Douglas, who acknowledged their share in his arrest, were formally pardoned for any breach of the law which that act might have involved (Acta Parl. Scot. i. 582). Albany was further reinstated in the office of governor of the kingdom. Immediately afterwards he sent a force into England, which was routed at Nesbit Moor on 22 June; and another force despatched by him under Douglas, to take revenge by ravaging Northumberland, was on 14 Sept. almost decimated by the English archers under Hotspur, Murdac, eldest son of Albany, being taken prisoner.

During the rebellion of Hotspur against Henry IV, Albany is supposed to have acted in concert with him by undertaking an invasion of England. Hotspur, having collected a large army, made a pretence of advancing into Scotland, where he surrounded the insignificant tower of Cocklaws, and, having entered into an agreement with its commander to capitulate unless relieved within six weeks, immediately retired southwards. This seems to have been intended as a signal for Albany, who, on the pretence of avenging the supposed insult, called a meeting of the nobility and proposed an immediate expedition into England. At first they deemed the affair too insignificant for further notice; but when Albany vowed that he would be at Cocklaws on the appointed day though only his page-boy should accompany them, they at once agreed to collect their vassals. Hardly, however, had Albany set out with an immense army when news reached him of the defeat and death of Hotspur on 21 July at Shrewsbury, and after proceeding to Cocklaws and formally relieving the garrison by proclaiming the death of Hotspur, he returned without entering England, and disbanded his forces (Fordun, ii. 435–6). The Earl of Northumberland and Lord Bardolf having after the death of Hotspur obtained refuge in Scotland, Albany has been accused of having entered into an arrangement to deliver them up in order to procure the liberty of his son Murdac and other Scottish captives in England; but it would appear that they returned to England at the king of England's invitation (Wyntoun, bk. ix. chap. xviii. lines 135 &c.; Fordun, ii. 441). Shortly afterwards the young Prince James was captured off Flamborough Head on his way to France, and, being brought to London, was sent by Henry to the Tower. His capture and detention broke down the enfeebled health of the king, who died on 4 April 1406. At a meeting of the estates held shortly afterwards at Perth the captive James was declared to be their lawful king, and Albany was chosen regent of the kingdom.

The regency of Albany, possibly on the ground that the king was in the hands of Henry, a hostile monarch, assumed an entirely independent character. Charters ran in his name and were dated in the year of his regency, and in a letter to Henry IV he calls himself governor Dei Gratia (Burnet, Preface to Exchequer Rolls, iv. p. xlviii). It has been usual to assert that Albany connived at the captivity of the young Scottish king, but there is no evidence of this; nor if there were is there any reason to suppose that his connivance or non-connivance had much effect on the resolution of Henry, whose main aim in detaining the young king seems to have been to bring him under the domination of English influence. What is certain is that Albany—at least formally—sent different embassies to England to negotiate both for the deliverance of the king and his own son Murdoch (Rymer, passim), and that until 1415, when his son was exchanged for Hotspur's son, Henry Percy (afterwards second Earl of Northumberland), they were all equally unsuccessful.

The earlier years of Albany's regency were uneventful, the main occurrence being the burning of the English reformer Reseby at Perth in 1407. The university of St. Andrews was founded in 1410, and the following year was notable for the rebellion of Donald, lord of the Isles [see under Macdonald, Donald, second Lord of the Isles and ninth Earl of Ross], who, claiming the earldom of Ross in opposition to Albany, to whom the government of the earldom had been granted by his granddaughter Euphemia of Ross on her entering a nunnery, formed an alliance with Henry IV of England, and invaded the earldom with a force of ten thousand men, but was defeated by Alexander Stewart, earl of Mar [q. v.], nephew of the regent, at the famous battle of Harlaw on 24 July. Following up this success, Albany, having collected a strong force, marched into the earldom of Ross, and, after seizing the castle of Dingwall, compelled Donald to retreat to the Isles. The contention was renewed in the following summer, but Donald found it necessary to give in his submission; and Albany, with a view to consolidating the influence of the government in the north, caused the castle of Inverness to be erected under Mar's direction.

After the release of his son Murdac by Henry V in 1415, Albany in 1416 sent his second son, John, earl of Buchan, on a special embassy to England with the avowed aim of securing the release of the king, but the negotiations were without result. The sincerity of Albany has been called in question, but mainly on the ground that he could not possibly desire to put an end to his own regency. There is no evidence available for either his exculpation or his inculpation; but it is perhaps worth noting that all the while he was protecting the impostor, Thomas Warde, as the exiled Richard II, and that on Warde's death in 1419 he caused to be inscribed on his tomb in the church of the Dominican friars, Stirling, ‘Angliæ Ricardus jacet hic Rex ipse sepultus.’

In 1417 Albany sought to take advantage of the absence of Henry V in France to recapture Roxburgh, but news reaching him of the approach of the Duke of Bedford, he immediately abandoned the siege and retreated northwards. In this he only manifested that ‘discretion which is the better part of valour;’ but, on account of its inglorious result, the expedition obtained from the people the name of the foul (i.e. fool or foolish) raid (Fordun, ii. 449). Shortly after Albany's retirement the English entered Scotland by the eastern marches, and ravaged the country, burning many towns and villages. Albany took his revenge by sending in 1419 a force of seven thousand picked troops under the Earl of Buchan to the aid of the French against the English. Albany died at Stirling Castle in 1420. The date given by Bowyer is 3 Sept. 1419, but Albany granted a charter at Falkland as late as 4 Aug. 1420; and the probability is that Bowyer simply made a mistake in regard to the year. Albany was buried in Dunfermline Abbey between the choir and the chapel of our Lady. A eulogistic Latin epitaph was inscribed on his tomb (Fordun, ii. 460).

Albany's conduct may be assigned with almost equal facility to lofty and patriotic or to base and selfish motives. But of his strong personality and great ability his remarkable ascendency over the turbulent nobility is sufficient proof; and if that ascendency was won partly by winking at their extortions and oppressions, it must be remembered that while this does not in itself sufficiently account for it, it was almost impossible for one who was only a regent to retain his position otherwise. Moreover he is to be judged by the standards of the time; and the chroniclers of the period, while they bear witness to his imposing presence, are almost equally unanimous in extolling his affability, temperance, justice, fortitude, and wisdom.

By his first wife, Margaret, countess of Menteith, Albany left a son Murdac or Murdoch Stewart, second duke of Albany [q. v.] By his second wife, Muriella (d. 1449), daughter of Sir William Keith (d. 1407) [q. v.], marischal of Scotland, he had three sons: John, earl of Buchan, Andrew, and Robert. He had also six daughters: Janet, betrothed to David, infant son of Bartholomew de Loen; Mary, married to Sir William Abernethy of Saltoun; Margaret, married first to Sir John Swinton of Swinton, and afterwards, probably, to Robert Stewart of Lorne; Isabel, married to Alexander, earl of Ross, and secondly to Walter Haliburton of Dirleton; Marjory, married to Duncan Campbell of Lochow; and Elizabeth, married to Malcolm Fleming of Biggar and Cumbernauld.

[Chronicles of Wyntoun, Fordun, Froissart, and Walsingham; Rymer's Fœdera; Cal. Documents relating to Scotland, 1359–1507; Accounts of the Great Chamberlain of Scotland; Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, vol. ii–iv.; Acta Parl. Scot. vol. i.; Sir William Fraser's Red Book of Menteith; notes collected by the late William Galloway.]

T. F. H.