1437 - James I murdered at Perth

Murder Most Foul

In 1424, after 19 years of English captivity, James I returned to Scotland. He had scores to settle over the regency of Scotland in his absence. These involved beheading close members of his own family. An energetic and determined monarch, he inevitably made enemies. On the night of 20 February 1437, a group of disaffected nobles crept into James's residence at the Blackfriars' monastery in Perth with bloody revenge in mind. John Shirley, an English writer and translator, gives this version of events which he seems to have translated from a contemporary Latin account of the murder.

The king that same time there standing in his night gown, all unclothed save his shirt, his cap, his comb, his coverchief, his furred pinsons [slippers], upon the form [bench] and the foot sheet; so standing afore the chimney playing with the queen, and other ladies and gentilwomen with her, cast off his night gown for to have gone to bed. But he hearkened and hard great noise without and great clattering of harness, and men armed, with great sight of torches. Than he remembered him and imagined anone that it should be [the] false traitorous knight, his deedy [deadly] enemy, sir Robert Grame [Graham]; and suddenly the queen, with all the other ladies and gentilwomen, ran to the chamber door and found it open; and they would have shut it bot the lokes [locks] were so blundrid [broken] that they neither could nor might shut it. The king prayed them to keep the same door as well as they might and he would do all his might to keep him to withstand the false malice of his traitours and enemys, he supposing to have broken the farrementz [fitments] of the chamber windows, but they were so square and strongly sowdid [soldered] in the stones with molten lead that they might not be burst for him, without more and stronger help. For which cause he was ugly astonished and in his mind could think on none other succour but start to the chimney and took the tongs of iron that men righted the fire with in time of need, and under his feet he mightily burst up a plank of the chamber floor and therwithall covered him again, and entered adowne low beneath among the ordure of the privy that was all of hard stone and none window nor issue therupon, save a litill square hole even at the side of the bothum [bottom] of the privay, that at the making therof old time was left open to clense and ferme [firm] the said privy, by the which the king might well [have] escaped, but he made to let stop it well 3 dayes afore hand [beforehand] with stone, because that when he played there at the pawme, [palm - a ball-game] the balls that he played with oft ran in at that fowle hole, for there was ordained without a faire playing place for the king.

And so there [was] for the king nether resource nor remedy, but there he must abide, alas the while! The traitours without laid at the chamber doors and at the privy door also, with saws, with levers, and with axes, that at the last they break up all and entered, because the doors were not fast shut, with swords, axes, glaves, bills, and other terribill and ferefull weapons. Amongs the great press of the which tratours, there was a faire lady sore hurt in the back, and other gentilwemen hurt and sore wounded. With the which the ladies and all the wemen made a sorowfull skrye [scream], and ran away for the hideous fear of these boistous [violent] and merciless men of arms. The traitours furiously passed forth into the chambers and found the queen so dismayed and abashed of that horribill and fearfull gouvernance that she could neither speak nor withdraw her; and as she stood there so astonished as a creature that had lost her kindly reason, one of the traitours wounded her full villainously and would have slain her, had not one of sir Robert Grames sons, that thus spoke to him and said, 'What will ye do, for shame of your self! to the queen? She is bot a woman; let us go and fetch the king'. And then, not witing [knowing] well what she did or should do for that fearfull and terribill affray, fled in her kirtle, her mantle hanging about her; the other ladies in a corner of the chamber crying and weeping all distraught, made a piteous and lamentable noise with full heavy loking and chere [looks and countenance].

And there the traitours sought the king in all the chamber about, in the withdrawing chambers, in the litters, under the presses [cupboards], the forms [benches], the chairs, and all other places, but long they busily sought the king, but they could not find him, for they nether knew nor remembered the privy. The king, hearing of long time no noise nor stirring of the traitours, wende [believed] and deemed that they had all be gone, cryed to the wemen that they should come with sheets, and draw him up out of that uncleane place of the privy. The wemen at his calling came fast to the privy door that was not shut, and so they opened it with labour; and as they were about toward to help up the king, one of the ladies, called Elizabeth Douglas, fell into the privy to the king. Therwith one of the said traitours, called Robert [sic] Chamber, supposed verily sith [since] they could not find in none of all the said chambers the king, that he of necessity had hid him in the privy; and therefore he said to his delawes [co-conspirators], 'Sirs,' quoth he, 'whereto stand we thus idle, and lose our time, as for the cause that we be come for hither? Come forth with me and I shall readily tell you where the king is.' For the same Thomas Chamber [sic] had been before right familiar with the king in all places, and therefore knew he well all the privy corners of the chambers; and so he went forth straight to the same privy where the king was, and perceived well an saw how a plank of the floor was broken up, and lifted it up and with a torch looked in, and saw the king there and a woman with him. Saying to his fellows, 'Sirs, the spouse is found on wherefore we [have] been come, and all this night have carolled here.' Therwithall, one of the said tyrants and traitours, called sir John Hall, descended down to the king, with a great knife in his hand; and the king, doubting him sore of his life, caught him mightily by the shoulders and with full great violence cast him under his feet, for the king was of his person and stature a man right manly strong. And seeing [this], another of that Hall's brethren that the king had the better of him, went down into the privy also for to destroy the king; and anon as he was there descended, the king caught him manly by the neck and cast him above that other, and so he defouled them both under him that all a long month after, men might see how strongly the king had held them by the throats, and greatly the king struggled with them for to have bereaved them [of] their knives, by the which labour his hands were all forkute [cut]. But and the king had been in any wise armed he might well have escaped their malice by the length of his fighting with those 2 false traitours; for if the king might any while longer have saved himself, his servants and much other people of the town by some fortune should have had some knowledge thereof, and so have come to his succour [and] help. But, alas the while, it will not be! Fortune was to him adverse as in preserving of his life any longer.

Therwithall that odious and false traitour, sir Robert Grame, seeing the king laboured so sore with those two false traitours, which he had cast under his feet, and that he wax [grew] faint and weary, and that he was weaponless, the more pity was, descending down also into the privy to the king, with an horribill and mortall weapon in his hand. And then the king cried him mercy, 'Thou cruel tyrant,' quoth Grame to him, 'thou hadest never mercy of lords borne of thy blood, nor of none other gentilman that came in thy danger, therefore no mercy shalt thou have here.' Thane said the king, 'I beseech thee that, for the salvation of my soul, ye will let me have a confessor.' Quoth the said Grame, 'Thou shalt never have other confessor but this same sword.' And therwithall he smote him through the body, and therwithall the good king fell down and lamentably with a piteous voice he cried him oft mercy, and behight [promised] to give him his kingdom and much other good to save his life. And then the said Grame, seeing his king and sovereign lord unfortuned with so much disease [distress], anguish, and sorrow, would have so lived and done him no more harm. The other traitors above, perceiving that, said onto the said sir Robert, 'We behote [promise] thee faithfully, but [that] if thou flee him or thou depart, thou shalt die for him on our hands soon doubtless;' and then the said sir Robert with the other two that descended first down fell upon that noble prince, and in full horribill and cruell wise they murdered him. Alas for sorrow, that so unmeasurably cruelty and vengeance should be done to that worthy prince, for it was reported by true persons that saw him dead, that he had sixteen deadly wounds in his breast, withouten many and other in diverse places of his body.

John Shirley, Life and Death of King James I of Scotland, ed. Joseph Stevenson, Maitland Club, 1837.

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