Cambridge Historical Reader: Primary - Cambridge Press

King James I of Scotland and Brave Catherine Douglas

For hundreds of years after the time of Edward I the people of England and Scotland hated each other bitterly. Each tried to do the other an ill turn, whenever there was a chance to do so, even when the two countries were not at war.

This is very well seen in one of the acts of king Henry IV. He heard that prince James of Scotland was going to France, where he could be better taught than in his native country. So he sent an armed vessel, and captured the young prince, who was then brought as a prisoner to London.

When the Scottish king, who was very old and feeble, complained of this mean act, he was told that his son would be trained just as well in England as in France. A year after this, the prince became king with the title of James I; but he remained a captive in England for eighteen years longer.

James I of Scotland


You must not picture him as being' unhappy during all these long years; for he was treated with great kindness, and was taught everything that a king should know. We find that he was fond of books, music and playing tennis. He loved poetry, also, and could compose very good verses of his own.

In the garden of the palace where he lived, he often saw a beautiful young lady walking. The king fell in love with her, and told her of his love, in some very fine verses. She was Lady Jane Beaufort, cousin of king Henry V, and was fitted in every way to be a queen.

When king James returned to Scotland with his young queen, he found there was much work for him to do. The Scottish nobles were selfish and cruel, and did very much as they liked. The king made these men obey the laws; if they did not do so, they were sharply punished.

The common people loved James for being just, but the great men hated him. One of them, Sir Robert Graham, said that the king was a tyrant, and that he would kill him if he had a chance to do so. For this, the bold man was banished to the Highlands.

Soon afterwards, the king and queen were staying' at a monastery in the old city of Perth. It was Christmas time, and the long winter evenings were spent in reading, games and song. One night, the king was chatting with the queen and her ladies, when they heard a loud noise outside.

In the courtyard, they could see, by the glare of torches, a number of fierce-looking men. These proved to be Sir Robert Graham, and three hundred wild Highlanders.

The little party in the monastery ran at once to fasten the great door; but, to their dismay, they found that someone had taken away the bolts.

The king then tried to escape by one of the windows, but the iron bars were too strong for him to move. He then lifted up a plank in the floor, and got down into a kind of cellar below.

By this time, those in the room could hear footsteps outside, coming up to the great door. Quick as thought, Catherine Douglas, one of the queen's ladies, thrust her arm through the staples, to act as a bolt. This gave the others time to cover up the flooring; but, as you may suppose, the fierce men soon burst open the door, breaking the noble lady's arm in doing so.

They then made a careful search through the house, but no trace of the king could be seen. Then, one of the men noticed that the floor had been disturbed—and thus the king's hiding-place was found out. These cruel outlaws then descended into the cellar and killed the king.

Most of the people of Scotland were very angry when they heard of his death. Those were rough times, and so we are not surprised to hear that, when the bold Graham was caught, he was put to a very cruel death.

As for Lady Catherine Douglas, she was ever afterwards known as Kate Bar-lass, in memory of her brave act.