Regent of Scotland (1567-1570)
1st Earl of Moray (1562-1570)
Born 1531 Died 1570

James Stewart born around the year 1531 was the illegitimate son of king James V of Scotland by Margaret Erskine, daughter of John Erskine, 5th Lord Erskine and was thus the half brother of king James' only legitimate offspring, Mary, Queen of Scots.

His father may well have intended for him to follow a career in the church as in 1538 he was appointed prior of St Andrews Abbey (Although this appointment also allowed James V to take the abbey's income into his own hands.) and having been educated at St Andrews University, the young James was later appointed to similar position at Pittenweem. Whilst it is generally agreed that the young James manifested no particular vocation for a monastic life, he demonstrated a somewhat greater enthusiasm for matters military as in September 1549, at the age of eighteen he led an attack that routed an English force on the Fife coast.

Since the death of James V in 1542, when his heir and successor Mary was six days old, Scotland had been ruled by a series of regents, firstly James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Aran and then from 1554 by James V's widow Mary of Guise. England sought to take advantage of the situation by pursuing the policy of marrying Mary to Edward and thus uniting the two kingdoms under one crown and engaged in a programme of military intimidation known as the Rough Wooing in order to persuade the Scots of the wisdom of this course of action. However Mary of Guise acting as Regent followed an alternative pro-French policy, ensuring the betrothal of her daughter to the dauphin and aiming at a union of France and Scotland.

Although James was initially supportive of the Queen Regent, he later came under the influence of the ideas of the Protestant reformer John Knox and abandoned the Catholic party and joined the Protestant Lords of the Congregation. He thereby became the leader of the opposition to Mary of Guise and in 1559 James led the Lords of the Congregation in revolt against her government. Although Mary of Guise received French support, after a short civil war and with English assistance the Lords of the Congregation were able to overthrow the queen regent and establish their own provisional government shortly before he death from dropsy on the 10th June 1560


In the meantime the other Mary, daughter of Mary of Guise and James V and nominally Queen of Scotland since 1542, married to then dauphin Francis On 24 April 1558, had on the 10th July 1559 become Queen Consort of France. Unfortunately her husband Francis died on the 5th December 1560 and Mary soon found herself surplus to requirements. Mary therefore returned to Scotland arriving on the 19th August 1561, when she found herself in the somewhat uncomfortable position of being the Catholic monarch of a country in the throes of a Protestant Reformation.

James rapidly established himself as Mary's chief adviser promoting the policies of good relations with England and religious reform, seeking to moderate the more extreme Calvinism of some supporters and when the Scottish Parliament banned the Catholic mass it was James who ensured that provisions were included that allowed Mary to continue to have her own private mass.

On the 30th January 1562 Mary awarded James the title of Earl of Moray displacing the previous holder of that title George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly, who had emerged as one of the leaders of the Catholic party in Scotland but had now fallen out of favour. This action may well have precipitated George Gordon into revolt, but James crushed Gordon's forces at the battle of Corrichie on the 28th October 1562. Gordon himself was killed at the battle and many of his family and supporters later executed, seriously weakening the Catholic party and leaving James firmly in charge of policy.

However within a few years disagreements arose between brother and sister. James' support of John Knox was a source of friction particularly when Knox began leading public demonstrations against Mary's continuing practice of Catholicism, but the main bone of contention was that James was firmly opposed to Mary's proposed marriage to Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley.

James initiated an abortive rebellion against his sister in 1565, after which he was declared an outlaw and took refuge in England. But his involvement in Scottish politics continued despite his absence and he helped orchestrate the murder of Mary's confidant David Rizzio in 1566 and took full advantage of the subsequent political fallout. James was thus able to return to Scotland and was reconciled with Mary, who was unaware of his involvement in the crime.

With the murder of her husband Henry Stewart, and her subsequent marriage to the likely perpetrator of that crime James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, Mary's reign spiralled towards a crisis whilst James elegantly contrived to remain disassociated from events. Following the incarceration of Mary at Lochleven and her subsequent abdication in July 1567, James was able to secure his appointment as Regent of Scotland.

As Regent and effective ruler of Scotland James might well have been content with Mary's perpetual incarceration, but when she escaped from Lochleven on the 2nd May 1568 and the Catholic nobles rallied to her defence, it was James who organised the necessary military response. His victory at the battle of Langside, near Glasgow on the 13th May 1568 left Mary with no option but to flee to England and left James securely in charge of the country.

Thus James was able to pursue his goal of establishing good relations with his southern neighbour and was happy to inform Elizabeth of the plot to liberate of Mary and the involvement of the Duke of Norfolk, and when Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland, fled to Scotland after the failure of the Rising in the North he clapped him in prison.

Naturally his success in riding the country of Mary and establishing his personal rule made him many enemies. On the 21st of January 1570 as James was riding through the town of Linlithgow in Lothian he was shot from a window by a James Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh in what is claimed to be the first recorded assassination by a firearm. Hamilton, who despite suggestions of some personal dispute with the Regent appears to have been entirely inspired by political motives, successfully made his escape after a well planned and executed hit.

James' death elevated him to the status of a Protestant martyr in Scotland and his funeral held at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, was the occasion of much public mourning and was graced by the presence of both John Knox who preached the sermon and George Buchanan who read the epitaph.

One is tempted to reach the conclusion that James regarded his half-sister's reappearance in Scotland in 1561 as an inconvenient obstacle to be neutralised and /or removed in due course. He thus appears as the principal agent behind the fall of Mary, Queen of Scots, who engineered her enforced abdication and her subsequent abandonment of Scotland and flight to England. The entry in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica concludes that James "displayed promptness in baffling Mary's schemes..(and)...reaped the fruits of the conspiracies which led to the murders of Rizzio and Darnley ... He pursued his sister with a calculated animosity which would not have spared her life had this been necessary to his end or been favoured by Elizabeth".

His motivation appears to have been a desire to establish Scotland as a firmly Protestant nation although the sincerity of his convictions have been doubted and the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica notes that James "amassed too great a fortune from the estates of the Church to be deemed a pure reformer of its abuses". Nevertheless he remained instrumental in the process of the Reformation in Scotland and was regarded by the Scottish Church as one of its founding figures.

Perhaps his most important legacy was that his actions ensured that the young James VI was raised a Protestant and thus meant that he as an acceptable potential successor to Elizabeth I of England. This James Stewart thus played a small but important part in ensuring the eventual union of the two crowns in 1603.

Only a few days after being created Earl of Moray, James was also created Earl of Mar. However this later title was also claimed by John Erskine, 6th Lord Erskine who, in should not be forgotten was James' uncle, and thus James quickly resigned the title of Mar and received a second grant of the earldom of Moray.

James Stewart married Agnes Keith, daughter of William Keith, 3rd Earl Marischal, on the 8th February 1562. She later bore him two daughters Elizabeth and Margaret. His eldest daughter Elizabeth succeeded him as Countess of Moray and later married another James Stewart, son of James Stewart, 1st Lord Doune, who succeeded to the title of Moray in right of his wife.


  • James Stuart (1st Earl of Moray and Regent of Scotland)
  • The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for MURRAY (or MORAY), JAMES STUART, EARL OF
  • Mary, Queen of Scots at and

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