Robert Stewart III (1337-1406)

19th Great Grandfather



Robert Stewart II, Robert III’s father


Robert was not born as such. He was born as John Stewart,


Elizabeth Mure, Robert III’s Mother


the eldest son of Robert Stewart II and Elizabeth Mure. He was made a legitimate child of the couple in 1347 when they would marry. Like his father, he would became King of Scots, and reigned from 1390 until his death in 1406. Before becoming king he was known primarily as Earl of Carrick.

John would join his father and other magnates in the rebellion against his grand-uncle, David II early in 1363. He married Anabella Drummond, the daughter of Sir John Drummond of Stobhall. David II would make John the Earl of Carrick in 1368 and a few years later in 1371, his father, Robert II would become king after the unexpected death of the childless King David. In the following years, John was influential in the governing of the kingdom, and would become progressively more impatient at his father’s longevity. In 1384, John was appointed as the king’s lieutenant after having influenced the general council to remove Robert II from direct rule. His administration would see a renewal of the conflict with England.

In 1388, the Scots would defeat the English at the Battle of Otterburn where the Scots’ commander, James, the Earl of Douglas, would be killed. By this time, Carrick had been badly injured by a horse-kick. With the loss of his powerful ally, Douglas would see a turnaround in magnate support, more towards the favor of his younger brother, the Earl of Fife, Robert. During December, Robert II would pass away and John would ascend to the throne, with the name of Robert Stewart III. However, he didn’t have the authority to rule directly. Fife would continue as the lieutenant until February of 1393. This was when the power would be returned to the king in conjunction with his son David.

Nine years later, at the council of 1399, owing to the king’s ‘sickness of his person’, David, now the Duke of Rothesay, had become lieutenant of the kingdom in his own right, but would be supervised by a special parliamentary group dominated by Fife, now styled as the Duke of Albany. After this, Robert III had gone to his lands in the west and for a time would play little or no part in state affairs.

In 1401, the now Robert III was powerless to interfere when the dispute between Albany and Rothesay arose. This would lead to Rothesay’s arrest and imprisonment at Albany’s Falkland Castle, where he would die in March of the following year. The general council would absolve Albany from any blame and would reappoint him as lieutenant. The only impediment now that remained to have an Albany Stewart monarchy was the king’s only surviving son, James, the Earl of Carrick.

In February of 1406, eleven-year-old James and a powerful group of followers clashed with Albany’s Douglas allies. This would result in the death of the king’s councilor, Sir David Fleming of Cumberland. James would make an escape to Bass Rock in Firth of Forth, along with Henry Sinclair, the Earl of Orkney. They would remain there for one month before they boarded a ship to France. The ship would be intercepted near Flamborough Head though and James was taken as a prisoner of Henry IV of England. He would remain imprisoned for the next eighteen years.

On April 4th of 1406, Robert III would die in Rothesay Castle, not long after learning of his son’s capture. He would be buried at Paisley Abbey.

Heir Apparent

In the 1350s, John is first found in history as the commander of a campaign in the Lordship of Annandale to re-establish the Scottish control over the English occupied territory. In 1362, David II was supporting several of his royal favorites in their titles to the lands in the Stewart Earldom of Monteith and thwarted the Stewart claims to the Earldom of Fife. The king’s involvement with Margaret Logie (nee Drummond) and his soon to be queen may have also represented a threat in the Steward’s own Earldom of Strathearn, where the Drummonds also had interests, while Douglas and March had mistrusted David’s intentions towards them. The nobles were also unhappy at the king’s squandering of funds that were provided to him for his ransom, and with the prospect that they could be sent to England as guarantors for ransom payments. In 1363, John would join his father Robert the Steward along with the Earls of Douglas and March in a failed insurrection against King David II. Reasons for this rebellion would vary. However, I think that it probably had something to do with what was going on the year before.

In the Spring of 1367 the dissension between the king and the Stewarts looked to have been settled before the end of the season. In May, the Steward gave his Earldom of Atholl to John, who by this time was already married to Annabella Drummond, daughter of the queen’s deceased brother, Sir John Drummond and probably Mary, the heir of William Montefichet, Lord of Auchterarder.

On June 22, 1368, David II would reinforce the position of John and Annabella by providing

Annabella Drummond, Queen of Robert III (1350?-1402)

Annabella Drummond


them with the Earldom of Carrick. In March of the following year, the Stewart succession was suddenly endangered when David II had his marriage to Margaret annulled, leaving the king free to remarry and with the prospect of Bruce heir.

However, on the 22nd of February 1371, David II, who was preparing to marry the Earl of March’s sister, Agnes Dunbar, had unexpectedly died. It is presumed that this was to the relief of both John and his father. A month later, on the 27th of March, Robert would be crowned at Scone Abbey. Before this date, Robert had given John the title of Steward of Scotland and the ancestral lands surrounding Firth of Clyde. The manner in which succession was to take place was first entailed by Robert I, when female heirs were excluded and David II would attempt, unsuccessfully, on several occasions to have council change the succession procedure. Robert II had quickly moved to ensure the succession of John when the general court attending his coronation had officially named Carrick as heir.

In 1373, the Stewart succession was strengthened further when parliament had passed entails defining the manner in which each of the king’s sons could inherit the crown. After the coronation, John Dunbar, who had received the lordship of Fife from David II, now resigned the title so that the king’s second son, Robert, the Earl of Monteith, could receive the Earldom of Fife. Dunbar was compensated with the provision of the Earldom of Morray. A son, David, the future Duke of Rothesay, would be born to our subject, then called John, and Annabella on October 24, 1378.

In 1381, John was now calling himself “lieutenant for the marches”, which he sustained by his connections with the border magnates, such as his brother-in-law, James Douglas, son of William, the Earl of Douglas, who had succeeded in 1384.

Lieutenant of the Kingdom

Robert II’s had a policy of building up a Stewart domination through the advancement of his sons. John was a preeminent Stewart magnate south of the Forth-Clyde line, just as his younger brother Alexander, the Earl of Buchan, Lord of Badenoch and Ross was magnate in the north. Buchan’s use of cateran supporters would draw criticism from Northern nobles and prelates. It also demonstrated Robert II’s inability or reluctance to control his son and resulted in him losing the council’s support.

In November of 1384, the king’s failure to take a leading role in prosecuting war with England and Buchan’s abuse of royal power in the North would be a backdrop to the general council meeting at Holyrood Abbey, where the decision was made to sideline the king and provide ruling powers to Carrick. In July of the next year, under John’s lieutenancy, a Scottish army, which included a French force commanded by Admiral Jean de Vienne, would penetrate into the North of England with any serious gains. It would provoke a damaging retaliatory attack by Richard II.


Ruins of Holyrood Abbey


During that same year, the general council sharply condemned Buchan’s behavior and sat with the intention of maneuvering John into firmly intervening in the North. Despite this, John didn’t bring Buchan under the control and many of the lieutenant’s supporters, although pleased at the resumption of hostilities with England, were unhappy at the continued Northern lawlessness. John had been made the king’s lieutenant partially on the need to curb Buchan’s excesses.

In February of 1387, despite John’s duty, by now Buchan had become even more powerful and influential when he was appointed Justiciar North of the Forth. A series of truces would halt any further significant fighting. On the 19th of April of 1388, English envoys were sent to Scotland to again extend a ceasefire, but returned to Richard’s court empty-handed. Ten days later, Robert II was now conducting a council in Edinburgh to authorize the renewed conflict with England. In August though, the Scots army had defeated the English at the Battle of Otterburn in Northumberland, its leader James, the Earl of Douglas


Battle of Otterburn


was killed. He was childless, which had triggered a series of claims on his estate. John Stewart would back his brother-in-law, Malcolm Drummond, the husband of Douglas’s sister, while John’s brother Fife would take the side of Sir Archibald Douglas, Lord of Galloway, who had held an entail on his kinsman’s estates and who ultimately succeeded to the earldom. In December, Fife, along with his powerful Douglas ally, along with those that were loyal to the king, ensured at a council meeting that the Lieutenancy of Scotland would pass from John, who had recently been badly injured from a horse-kick, to Fife. There was a general approval of Fife’s intention to properly resolve the situation of lawlessness in the North and in particular the activities of Buchan, his younger brother. Buchan was stripped of his position as Justiciar, and the position was soon given to Fife’s son, Murdoch Stewart.

During January of 1390, Robert II was in the Northeast, to perhaps strengthen the now changed political outlook in the North of his Kingdom. He would return in March to Dundonald Castle in Ayrshire. On the 19th of April, Robert II would die at the castle, and was then buried six days later at Scone.


Dundonald Castle Ruins


King of Scots

In the month of May of 1390, parliament would grant John the permission to change his name to Robert. This was probably, in part, to maintain the link back to Robert I. It also would also help Robert to disassociate himself from King John Balliol. There would be a four month delay in the crowning of Robert III, which can be seen as a period when Fife and his affinity had sought to ensure their future positions. This four month delay also saw Buchan’s opportunistic attack on Elgin Cathedral, settling an old score with the Bishop of Moray and also possibly a protest at Fife’s reappointment as the king’s lieutenant.

Two years later, Robert III had strengthened the position of his son David, now the Earl of Carrick. He would endow him with a large annuity that would allow David to build up his household and affinity. A year later he would regain his right to direct rule when the general council decided that Fife’s lieutenancy should end and David, who was now of age, should assist his father. This independence of action was demonstrated in 1395-1396 when Robert III would respond to David’s unauthorized marriage to Elizabeth Dunbar, the daughter of George, the Earl of March, by ensuring its annulment. The king also appears to have taken over the conduct of foreign affairs, preserving peace with Richard II and managing to increase the power of the Red Douglas, Earl of Angus in the Southeast of the country, as a counterbalance to Fife’s Black Douglas ally.

April 23rd of 1396 would further show his authority when in an attempt to reduce inter-clan feuding and lawlessness, he arranged and oversaw a gladiatorial limited combat between the clans of Kay and Quhule (Clan Chattan) in Perth. David of Carrick would progressively act independently of his father, taking control of the Stewart lands in the Southwest, while maintaining his links with the Drummonds. All of this was at a time when Fife’s influence in Central Scotland remained strong. The king was increasingly blamed for the failure to pacify Gaelic areas in the West and the North.

Two years later the general council would be held in Perth. It would criticize the king’s governance and empowered his brother Robert and his son David to lead an army against Donald, the Lord of the Isles and his brothers, now respectively the Dukes of Albany and Rothesay. In November of 1398, an influential group of magnates and prelates would meet at Falkland Castle. The group would include Albany, Rothesay, Archibald, the Earl of Douglas; Albany’s son Mudoch, the Justiciar North of the Forth; along with the bishops Walter of St. Andrews and Gilbert of Aberdeen.

In January of 1399, the outcome of the meeting manifested itself at a council meeting when the king would be forced to surrender power to Rothesay for a period of three years. The kin of the border Earls would take advantage of the confusion in England after a deposition of Richard II by Henry, the Duke of Lancaster, who harried and forayed into England, causing a lot of damage, taking Wark Castle around October 13th. The far reaching dispute between Rothesay and George Dunbar, the Earl of March, occurred when Rothesay, rather than remarrying Elizabeth Dunbar as previously agreed, would change his mind and marry Mary Douglas, the daughter of the Earl of Douglas, instead. On the 18th of February 1400, March who was enraged by Rothesay’s decision, wrote to Henry IV, by July he would be entered into the service of Henry.

About a year later, in 1401, Rothesay would take on a more assertive and autonomous attitude, circumventing proper procedures unjustifiably appropriating sums from customs of the burghs on the East Coast, before provoking further animosity by confiscating the revenues of temporalities of the vacant bishopric of St. Andrews. Rothesay also had, in conjunction with his uncle, Alexander Stewart, the Earl of Buchan, confronted Albany’s influence in Central Scotland.


Falkland Castle


In 1402, as soon as his lieutenancy had expired, Rothesay was arrested and imprisoned in Albany’s Falkland Castle. He would pass away here in March. His death probably laid with Albany and Douglas, who would’ve looked upon the possibility of the young prince ascending to the throne with great apprehension. They certainly fell under suspicion, but were cleared of all blame by a general council who would say ‘where, by divine providence and not otherwise, it is discerned that he departed from this life.’ After Rothesay’s death and with restoration of the lieutenancy to Albany and the Scottish defeat at the Battle of Humbleton. Robert III would experience almost total exclusion from political authority and was thus limited to his lands in the West.

During the latter part of 1404, Robert, with the aid of his close counselors, Henry Sinclair, the Earl of Orkney; Sir David Fleming and Henry Wardlaw, would succeed in re-establishing himself and intervened in the favor of Alexander Stewart, the Earl of Buchan’s illegitimate son, who was in a dispute with Albany over the Earldom of Mar. In December, Robert III again would exhibit his new resolve when he created a new regality in Stewartry for his sole remaining son and heir, James, now the Earl of Carrick. This was an act that was designed to prevent these lands from falling into Albany’s hands.

On the 28th of October of 1405, Robert III had, by now, returned to Dundonald Castle in Ayrshire. With his failing health, it was decided that in the winter of 1405-1406 his son James would be sent to France, out of the reach of Albany. However, the manner of his departure from Scotland was unplanned.

In February of 1406, the twelve-year-old James, along with Orkney and Fleming, at the head of a large group of followers, would leave the safety of Bishop Wardlaw’s protection in St. Andrews and journeyed through the hostile Douglas territories of East Lothian. This act was probably designed to demonstrate James’ royal endorsement of his custodians, it also was a move by those custodians to further their own interests in the traditional Douglas heartlands. Events would go seriously wrong for James though and he had to escape to Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth, along with the Earl of Orkney after his escorts were attacked by James Douglas of Balvenie. This attack would result in the death of Sir David Fleming. Their confinement on the rock was to last for over a month before a ship from Danzig that was en-route for France had picked them up.


Rothesay Castle Ruins


A month later, on the 22nd of March the ship was taken by English pirates off of Flamborough Head. The pirates would deliver James to King Henry IV of England. Robert III, James’ father had moved to Rothesay Castle, where, after hearing of his son’s captivity, he passed away on the 4th of April. Robert would be buried in the Stewart Foundation Abbey of Paisley.


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