The Stewarts: An Historical Essay


James I (this portrait painted by Daniel Mytens in 1621)

by: Russ Jimeson

Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, died in 1329, but not before crowning his achievements by signing the Treaty of Northampton (1328) with England, thus regaining English recognition of Scotland's independent nationhood. The Bruce's son by his second wife, Elizabeth de Burgh, daughter of the Earl of Ulster, succeeded him on the throne as David II.

King David was only five years old when his father died. Scotland was ruled
by regents until he came of age. Unfortunately, Scotland needed a stronger hand at this point in her history following the Wars of Independence. The lack of it led to the undoing of the good work Robert The Bruce had done to unify a kingdom of disparate elements. The Bruce had won respect and allegiance in the Highlands and Isles, but these were accorded to him
personally and not to the young David and his council of regents.

The division of Highland and Lowland had always existed, with suspicion on
both sides, but, during this period, it burgeoned, and it still exists to
some extent today. During the peaceful rule of Alexander III in the previous
century, the King of Scots spoke Gaelic and held court at various locations
around the country, including such Highland centers as Perth, Abernethy, and Inverness, but trouble with England beginning in the time of Edward Longshanks had forced the Scottish monarchs to pay more attention to the
Lothian and Border regions. This led to the establishment of Edinburgh as the
center of government and the neglect of more distant corners of the realm.
Trouble erupted in the Highlands during David II's term as the clansmen
reverted to their independent ways. There was no effective force to oppose
them. In 1354, John of Islay of the clan MacDonald declared himself Lord of
the Isles, essentially king of the region, owing allegiance to no one. Scotland was divided and lawlessness was rampant in all areas of the country.

David's accession to the throne was not uncontested. Edward Balliol, son of
John Balliol, whom Edward I of England had placed on the Scottish throne as
his vassal in 1292, led an army into Scotland and defeated the Scottish
forces at Dupplin Moor in 1332. Balliol had English support, and his forces
included the old Comyn faction which The Bruce had defeated and dispossessed
in the early years of his reign. Balliol had himself declared King of Scots
at Scone following his victory. Obviously, he owed his position to English support, and Scotland was once again in danger of becoming a vassal state. However, his reign lasted only a few months before Archibald Douglas and Andrew Moray of Bothwell drove him from the country, "with one leg booted and the other naked". The son was of the same cloth as his father, the "Toom Tabard".

Edward Balliol was not the only threat to David's crown. Walter the Stewart,
6th High Steward of Scotland, had married The Bruce's daughter, Margery, who was born to his first wife, Isabella of Mar. Thus, Robert was David Bruce's
nephew, although 8 years older than David. Since this Robert Stewart was
born before it was clear that The Bruce's second marriage would produce an heir, Robert was designated to become the next King. However, the birth of David late in The Bruce's life appeared to deny Robert Stewart the
opportunity. Moreover, if David II were to produce an heir, the Bruce
dynasty would go forward into history and the Stewart family would miss their
opportunity for greatness. This led to a curious relationship between the
younger uncle and the older nephew which will figure in our story later when
it will be seen that Robert Stewart did in fact become the first king of the
Stewart dynasty beginning in 1371, following the death of David II.

Before we get to that, let's take a look at the origins of the Stewarts and
how they came to be one of the most prominent families in Scotland.



The Stewart clan claims descent from Banquo, the Thane of Lochquhaber, a
legendary Highland chief from the time of MacBeth. In 1606, following the
Union of the Crowns under which James VI of Scotland became also James I of England, Shakespeare wrote of Banquo in his famous drama "MacBeth".
Shakespeare had gotten the historical background for his play from
Holinshed's "Chronicles", but it had also been recorded by Hector Boece in
his "Historia" from a lost source document of John Barbour entitled "The
Stewartis Original". Barbour traced the origins of the Stewart clan back to
Ninus, the founder of Nineveh.

It was not uncommon in those days for aristocratic families to claim descent
from mythological characters. The Scottish royal line that ended with the
death of Alexander III in 1290 traced its lineage beyond the original Fergus
Mor Mac Erc of Dalriada to a legendary character named Gaythelos, who
engendered the Scottish race by marrying Scota, daughter of an Egyptian Pharaoh who reigned during the time of Moses. The early British kings were said to be descended from Brutus, great-grandson of Aeneas. It became a sort of contest among the royal families to claim the most impressive roots, and, in Scotland's case, it served to establish the separate origins of the Scottish people as against their nemesis, the English.

Holinshed died 20 years before the Union of the Crowns. In Holinshed's
version, Banquo's son Fleance meets up with the three weird sisters, the
Godesses of Destiny These are Holinshed's words from which Shakespeare would have borrowed the famous scene:

"We promise greater benefits unto thee than unto him [i.e., MacBeth], for he
shall reign indeed but with an unlucky end; neither shall he leave any issue
behind him to succeed in his place, where contrarily thou indeed shall not
reign at all, but of thee those shall be born which shall govern the Scottish
kingdom by long order of continual descent."

In Shakespeare's version, MacBeth murders Banquo but not his son, Fleance. MacBeth visits the weird sisters to get a look at what the future holds and learns of the long dynasty in store for Banquo's descendants. The sisters show him a long line of Stewart kings, some carrying a triple scepter to
symbolize their rule over England, Scotland, and Ireland. Of course,
Shakespeare already knew of the Union of the Crowns. He was simply
flattering his new King, James VI and I.

The truth behind the Stewart genealogy did not begin to emerge until 1858,
when Shropshire historian E. W. Eaton discovered documents establishing that
Walter, the first High Steward of Scotland, had come into the Scottish realm during the time of King David I (1124-1153). David I is known for
establishing Norman feudalism in Scotland. He had grown up at the English court shortly after the Battle of Hastings. When he took the throne of
Scotland, he brought with him many of his Anglo-Norman companions, and they became the progenitors of Scottish nobility. Of course, many of them also
held aristocratic status and estates in England, and this led to the problem
of divided loyalties Wallace encountered later during the first Scottish War
of Independence. The Bruce (de Brus), Comyn (de Comines), and Balliol (de
Balleuil) families were among those who came into Scotland during David's

Walter, the First High Steward of Scotland, however, was not of Norman
descent. His ancestors were from Brittany. Thus, they were of Celtic blood. The correct genealogy of the Stewarts was uncovered in the late nineteenth century, when Dr. J. Horace Round discovered their roots. Banquo was reduced to legendary status. However, Shakespeare's Fleance (Banquo's son) had a very real counterpart in Flaald, one of three sons of Alan, Dapifer (Steward) to Rhiwhallon, Count of Dol, a town in Brittany near St. Malo.

The Dapifer of Dol had three sons, Alan, Flaald, and Rhiwhallon. Alan succeeded his father as Dapifer of Dol, and Rhiwhallon become a monk..
Flaald emigrated to Monmouth in 1101 or 1102, where his son, Alan, was born.
Alan in turn had three sons, Jordan, William, and Walter. Jordan followed
the family tradition and became Dapifer of Dol on the death of his uncle, the
second Alan. William became the progenitor of the English FitzAlans, the
line which became the Earls of Arundel; And Walter, under David I, became
the High Steward of Scotland.

How did it happen that a Breton knight rose to prominence during a time when
Norman knights were reaping the full harvest of the conquest of England?
Flaald the Breton was among a group of Breton warriors who had given aid to
King Henry I of England in his battles with his brothers, William II (Rufus)
and Robert, Duke of Normandy. Flaald's reward was a grant of land on the Welsh marches. David I spent several years at Henry's court, and it was there he must have become acquainted with Flaald's grandsons, William and Walter FitzAlan.

When Henry I died, civil war broke out in England as Henry's daughter, Maud,
and her cousin, Stephen of Blois, battled for the throne. King David
supported Maud and so did Walter FitzAlan. Thus, they were drawn together and became friends in common cause. When the first Steward of Scotland, Ailred, left the post to become a Cistercian monk and chronicler (Ailred of Riveaulx), David appointed Walter FitzAlan to the post. This occurred sometime between 1134 and 1140. At the same time, David granted to Walter the barony of Renfrew, although neither the office of Steward nor the barony were given hereditary status until later, during the reign of Malcolm IV, king David's grandson.

In spite of the fact that Ailred preceded him as Steward of Scotland, Walter
was styled as the "First High Steward". When he died in 1177, his son, Alan
FitzWalter became the second High Steward, who in turn was succeeded in 1204 by his son, Walter FitzAlan, third High Steward. Finally, the naming pattern is broken with the accession of Alexander to the post of fourth High Steward during the halcyon reign of King Alexander III. This Alexander the Steward commanded the Scottish forces at the battle of Largs in 1263 in which Norse power in the Western Isles was finally broken. Then came James, the fifth High Steward, who fought at the side of The Bruce, notably at Bannockburn, where he was knighted before the battle began and shared command with Sir James Douglas of one of the four Scottish divisions. His son, Walter "the Stewart", by Cecilia, daughter of the Earl of Dunbar and March, became the sixth High Steward and married Robert The Bruce's daughter Margery, as previously stated, giving birth to Robert the Stewart, who finally became King Robert II of Scots when David II died without issue in 1371. The Stewart dynasty begins with him.

Robert the Stewart's birth is notable for the fact that his mother Margery
was killed very late in her pregnancy when she was thrown from her horse.
Robert was born out of this accident and survived, but his mother died of
the combined trauma.

Walter, his father, died in 1329 at the age of thirty-four. Robert had been
named heir presumptive in 1318, but, as recounted earlier, the subsequent
birth of David to the aging Robert the Bruce and his second wife Elizabeth de
Burgh seemed to obviate Robert's chances of ever becoming King of Scots. The opportunity was still there if David were to pre-decease him without leaving an heir in the Bruce line. That is exactly what happened, but the kingship
must have seemed remote, and yet tantalizingly close, to Robert, who was
David's senior by 8 years.

In the next installment, we'll examine King David II's reign and his
relationship with his nephew, Robert the Stewart.

Russ Jimeson


The Coat of Arms of James I (the lion was added when James was crowned)

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