The Poet King in the Tower

The iconic Tower of London is as synonymous with the city as the Eifel Tower is to Paris, except that it is much older. Built by William the Conqueror soon after the Norman Conquest (1066), it was meant to keep London under control, defending the royal power from possible rebellious outbreaks in the city rather than providing security for Londoners. For many centuries it served not only as a royal residence but it also housed the Royal Treasury, the Crown Jewels and a small zoo where exotic animals were kept. The animals were not the only captives because the place also served as a prison for important enemies of the current monarch. Among the latter, those who fell victim to the later Plantagenets, especially the tragic Princes in the Tower, and the victims of the Tudors have hogged the limelight for centuries.

Iconic landmark

Practically every visitor to London manages to pay a visit to this fortress or at least goes close enough to have a look. Those who venture within are usually overwhelmed by the magnificent Crown Jewels and Armoury and the victims mentioned above. However, attention should be drawn to some Royal and very unwilling guests of the English Crown.  These are James I King of Scots and Charles, Duke of Orleans, grandson of a King of France and father of another.

James of Scotland

James was born in July 1394 in Dunfermline, Scotland. He was the third and youngest son of King Robert III of Scots, a rather weak-willed man who was unable to cope with his more forceful and powerful younger brother the Duke of Albany.  Robert’s eldest son David, Duke of Rothesay was on a collision course with his uncle Albany for control of the kingdom. In 1402 he clashed with his uncle who imprisoned him, not long after which the prince died. Another son of Robert III’s had died very young so the only surviving son was James.  The ailing king feared for his son’s safety and in 1406 decided to send him to France, Scotland’s ally, where he could grow into maturity. Bad luck stalked the prince’s vessel because it was intercepted by English pirates who captured the Scottish heir. It probably was Albany himself who warned the English of his nephew’s flight and the result was that James was taken to London. At first, was a closely supervised guest in the King’s own household. The 11-year old prince was treated with due honour to his exalted rank, was very well-treated and had all except his freedom. His heart-broken father ailed rapidly when he heard the news of James’s capture and died in the following month.

A King without a kingdom

 James was a king without his kingdom which was under his ruthless uncle’s control. Albany seemed to be in no hurry to ransom his nephew. James was given a good education at Henry IV’s Court. He was something of an all-rounder, excelling in music by playing five different instruments (“..as a master” according to an observer), was studious, loved and wrote poetry.  In due course, his love poem The King’s Quair became his best known. He was very good at sports such as wrestling in which he beat all comers and also very good at tossing the caber.

With Henry V’s accession in 1413, the new King decided to lodge James in the Tower of London where he was more closely watched and sometime after transferred to Windsor Castle where he spent some time. Presumably, he was back in London when the King was in residence there. Henry V treated him more like a guest than a hostage less as a hostage.  James even joined Henry V when in 1420 he went on campaign in France, taking part against the Dauphin’s Franco-Scottish army in some successful engagements. This did not endear him with his Scottish subjects, especially the families of the unfortunate Scottish prisoners taken after the siege of Melun. They were all hanged for treason against their King!

Love in the dungeons

There is a strong belief that it was James’s love for the Lady Joan Beaufort (1404-45), daughter of the Earl of Somerset, half-brother of King Henry IV. When Henry V died of dysentery in France in 1422 James was one of the high-ranking personalities who accompanied the King’s coffin to England. James married Joan in February 1424 by which time the Council of Regency for the infant Henry VI was in favour of releasing the Scottish King for 60,000 marks.  This was to be paid in a number of instalments.

In 1424 James and Joan were crowned at Scone shortly after their arrival in Scotland. James had a rather troubled reign because of some turbulent Scottish nobles who challenged his power. Once he felt he had established a strong power base, he struck down his Albany cousins. In 1425, after a trial for treason (including complicity in his eldest brother’s death and open rebellion) his cousin Murdoch and two of the latter’s sons were beheaded at Stirling. A third son escaped to Ireland where he died in 1429.  He attempted to curb the power of the Highland clans but with moderate success and also had to solve certain problems with the Church and sought a sensible reform of the monastic orders.  He steered clear of English influence and revived the French alliance. The plotting of some nobles was never far from the surface and as a result, the King was assassinated in Perth on 21 February 1437.

Part 2: CHARLES DUKE OF ORLEANS (1394-1465) to follow