Amy Blakeway of Homerton College, Cambridge, will present ‘A ‘good servant’? James VI and James Douglas, Regent Morton’
The process by which James VI emerged from his minority and gained enough de facto as well as de jure power to commence his personal rule was intimately intertwined with the fall of his last regent, James Douglas, earl of Morton. In the last twenty years the historiographical emphasis has moved away from older assessments of Morton’s fall as a ‘problem in satellite diplomacy’ attributable to Elizabeth’s failure to intervene, towards a focus on James VI’s relations with a cadre of ambitious nobles driven by their own distaste for Morton.
Yet a crucial piece of the puzzle is missing. We know James was capable of great loyalty and affection, and it is equally evident that no such feelings prompted him to intervene with Morton’s downfall, first in 1578 when he lost the regency, and finally in 1581 when he was executed. Indeed, the quotation embedded in this paper’s title is taken from Morton’s own retrospective justification of his behaviour as regent, given at the scaffold of his execution. A look back into James’ minority provides a longer-term view of the relations between monarch and regent. This seems to rule out the possibility that Morton enjoyed a friendly relationship with his monarch, yet this must be placed in the broader context of the convention which restricted Scottish regents’ access to the person of a monarch.