The Tragic Story of the 1st Duke of Rothesay

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Standard of the Duke of Rothesay

David Stewart was born on 24th October, 1378, the son of John, Earl of Carrick and heir to the throne, and Annabella Drummond. His grandfather was King Robert II, who was himself the grandson of Robert I the Bruce.

His father succeeded to the throne in 1390, taking the name King Robert III (John being considered an unlucky name for kings). David was created Earl of Carrick in the same year. Robert III, however, was an invalid – he had been kicked by a horse 2 years before his accession. Never having fully recovered from his injuries, he was also prone to depression. This severely limited his ability to govern and his younger brother, also called Robert, took over much of the administration of the realm.

Robert Stewart was a ruthless politician with designs on the throne for himself. Towards the end of his father’s reign – following his brother’s injury – he had been protector of the realm; and it seems he intended to keep the position for the duration of his brother’s reign.

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Robert III and his queen, Annabella Drummond

From 1393 Robert III tried to rule for himself, but caused more division between the Highlands of the north and the Lowlands of the south; bribery and corruption were rife.

In 1393 David married Elizabeth Dunbar, daughter of the Earl of March. However, they were close blood relations and had never obtained the required papal dispensation. They separated in 1397, although it is not clear whether an annulment was ever obtained.

In April 1398 Robert III’s wife, Annabella, called a special council at which David, still only 19, was made Duke of Rothesay. It was the first ever creation of a duke in Scotland, and the title would, from that moment on, be borne by all heirs to the Scottish throne. He would also receive the title Earl of Atholl later in the same year.

Annabella also had David named “Lieutenant of the Realm”, as a means of ensuring that David would succeed his increasingly frail father. This appointment essentially gave him the rule of Scotland, in his father’s place; although he was to consult with the full council, with his Uncle Robert as his primary advisor.

In the same council Robert Stewart was made Duke of Albany.

A power struggle developed between Albany and David. As their rivalry grew more intense the country was effectively divided into 2 factions.

David, it seems, was of a ‘dissolute and licentious’ nature (Ashley) and almost as inept as his father. According to Tranter he was “high-spirited” and “not always noted for good judgement”.

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Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany

In 1400 David married Marjorie Douglas, daughter of Archibald the 3rd Earl of Douglas and his wife Joan, at Bothwell Church. She and David would have no children.

The marriage itself caused the Earl of March – father of David’s 1st wife – to renounce his allegiance and swear fealty to Henry IV of England, thus prompting an English invasion.

Henry managed to reach Edinburgh without much opposition. Once there he summoned Rothesay and Albany to pay homage to him, but neither did.

David held Edinburgh Castle against Henry, whilst Albany had mustered an army 15 miles away at Calder Muir; but he failed to march to Rothesay’s aid. Henry IV was eventually forced to retire for lack of supplies, with the Scots powerless to take the advantage.

David was blamed for provoking the English invasion. Following his mother’s death in 1401, his popularity was further damaged when he failed to consult his council, as was required, before taking a number of steps which threatened the positions of his nobles, especially his uncle.

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Falkland Palace

With Annabella’s death went David’s last protector. Albany, in alliance with David’s brother-in-law, the 4th Earl of Douglas, took action and had David waylaid on the road to St Andrews, arrested and held captive in St Andrews Castle, before being moved to Falkland Palace, supposedly hooded and mounted backwards on a mule.

According to Tranter, David was flung into a cellar, with no food and water. There were stories of nursing mothers giving him their breast milk for sustenance, through a crack in the cellar’s masonry. He survived for at least 18 days, dying between 25th and 27th March 1402, aged 23.

Some historians now think David died of dysentery; but whether he died of starvation or disease the result was the same; from April 1402 Robert, Duke of Albany, was in control of Scotland.

A few weeks after his death a public inquiry, under the control of Albany, exonerated Albany and Douglas of any complicity in the death, ordering that no one should “murmur against” them. The inquiry concluded that David Stewart, Duke of Rothesay, had died “by divine providence and not otherwise”.

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Lindores Abbey, burial-place of David, Duke of Rothesay

David was buried in Lindores Abbey, Fife.

Following David’s death his widow, Marjorie, went on to marry Sir Walter Haliburton in 1403; she died sometime before 11th May 1421.

The king, Robert III, took some time to realise that his 2nd son, James, may also be in danger. In 1406, the king arranged for him to be sent to France for his own safety Aged just 12, James was smuggled out of Scotland by ship, but was captured by pirates off Flamborough Head, and handed over to the English to begin 18 years of imprisonment.

King Robert III died of grief shortly after.

Albany was, thereafter, the effective ruler of Scotland until his death in 1420.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia.

Sources: The Story of Scotland by Nigel Tranter; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Kings & Queens of Britain by Joyce Marlow; Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens and British Kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; History Today Companion to British History Edited by juliet Gardiner & Neil Wenborn; Britain’s Royal Families by Alison Weir; undiscoveredscotland.co.uk; englishmonarchs.co.uk

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

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Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Arthur: England’s Lost Prince

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Arthur of Brittany

A Plantagenet prince, Arthur of Brittany‘s story is one of the most tragic of the Medieval period. The posthumous son of Geoffrey, 4th son of Henry II of England, and Constance of Brittany, he was Duke of Brittany from the moment of his birth.

Constance and Geoffrey had married in 1181; their daughter, Eleanor, was born in 1184. It was during an estrangement from his father Geoffrey that was trampled to death while competing at a tournament in Paris, in August 1186.

Arthur was born several months later, in March or April 1187. In 1190 the two-year-old Arthur was named as heir presumptive to his uncle Richard I, king of England; Richard even arranged a betrothal for young Arthur, to a daughter of Tancred of Sicily. However, the Emperor Henry VI conquered Sicily in 1194 and the betrothal came to nothing.

Arthur was a valuable pawn for both the kings of France and England; when Richard tried to take him into his household, in 1196, his mother sent him to the French court, where he spent several months. On his return to Brittany, Constance started involving him in the government of the duchy.

The great William Marshal and Hubert Walter, Archbishop of Canterbury and Justiciar of England, were instrumental in persuading the English barons to accept John as King, reasoning that John knew more of England – and was more experienced – than young Arthur.

Arthur’s claim was revived in the early 1200s when the King of France, Philip II Augustus, confiscated John’s possessions in Northern France for failing to acknowledge the French King as his overlord. Philip recognised Arthur as the rightful heir to Normandy and Anjou.

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Arthur  of Brittany paying homage to Philip II of France

War followed.

In July 1202 Arthur, and a force of knights, besieged his own grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, at Mirebeau. John made a forced march to the rescue of his mother, surprising the besiegers on 31st July. One of John’s barons, William de Braose, captured Arthur on 1st August and handed him over to the King, who imprisoned him at Falaise.

His captivity was probably less than comfortable, despite his rank and familial relationship. According to William Marshal, John ‘kept his prisoners in such a horrible manner and such abject confinement that it seemed an indignity and disgrace to all those with him who witnessed his cruelty.’

Whilst imprisoned at Falaise, John ordered that Arthur should be blinded and castrated. Two of the three messengers dispatched to carry the order ran the other way, but one reached Falaise. However, Arthur’s jailer Hubert de Burgh, balked at mutilating a 15-year-old, saying that John would regret the order, though word was put out that the deed had been carried out, in the hope that the news would quell insurrection in Brittany.

Arthur was later removed to confinement in Rouen.

King Philip and the nobility of Brittany continued to press for the release of the young duke, but John had other ideas. It was in Rouen, at Easter 1203, most likely on 3rd or 4th April, that Arthur was put to death. A chronicler of the Cistercian monastery of Margam, Glamorgan, described the murder:

“The King of the French took the castle of Chinon, and afterwards all the garrisons of Normandy, Anjou, and the city of Poitiers, with other castles, fortified towns and cities, as he so willed it – for this reason; when king John had captured Arthur, he had him kept alive in prison for some time, but finally, in the great tower at Rouen, on the Thursday before Easter, after his dinner and when drunk and possessed by the devil, he killed him by his own hand, and, after a large stone had been tied to the body, threw it in the Seine. It was discovered by a fisherman in his net and recognised when it was brought to the riverbank, and, for fear of the tyrant, secretly buried at the priory of Bec, which is called Notre Dame des Pres.

When the aforesaid king of the French heard the news of this and knew for certain that Arthur had been killed, he had his killer John summoned to the court of France, as was customary with dukes of Normandy, to answer for the murder of such a great man and to defend himself if he could; of such a great man, say I, for he was the legitimate heir of England, the count of Brittany, and the son-in-law of the king of France. John, fully aware of his evil deed, never dared to appear before the court, but fled to England and exercised a most cruel tyranny over his people until he died. When he never came to answer for the death of Arthur or to defend himself, judgement was given against him by the king’s court, and he was deprived of all his titles, in all the lands and honours which he held of the French crown; this was an incontrovertible and just sentence.”

King John

Whether John committed the deed himself, or merely ordered it done, will probably never be proved; of the fact he was present there seems to be little doubt. Whichever way, the act itself has been a black mark against John for centuries.

On Arthur’s death the duchy should have passed to his older sister, Eleanor; but she was also a prisoner of King John. So it passed to his two-year-old half-sister, Alix of Thouars, daughter of Constance and her 3rd husband, Guy of Thouars.

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Sources: Dan Jones, The Plantagenets: The Kings Who Made England; Robert Bartlett, England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225; Maurice Ashley, The Life and Times of King John; H.G. Koenigsberger, Medieval Europe 400-1500; History Today Companion to British History; Charles Phillips, Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Kings & Queens of Britain; Oxford Companion to British History; Mike Ashley, The Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens; Douglas Boyd, Eleanor: April Queen of Aquitaine

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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My books

Coming 31st May:

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

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You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly