James Douglas 4th earl of Morton

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Morton, James Douglas, 4th earl of [S] (c.1516–81). The position of regent to young James VI of Scotland was not an enviable one. Moray, the first, was shot in 1570; Lennox was stabbed in 1571; Mar lasted a year before dying unexpectedly, with poison rumoured; Morton was the fourth and last, and had exercised effective power during the two previous regencies. He succeeded to the earldom in 1548, having married a daughter of the 3rd earl in 1543. In 1548 he was captured by the English and held in the Tower until 1550. He made useful contacts and his subsequent policy favoured an English alliance and support for the reformed religion in its English episcopal form. After Mary's return from France in 1561, Morton played an increasingly important role, first as chancellor [S] 1562–6 and again 1567–73. He took a leading part in the murder of Rizzio, an equivocal one in the murder of Darnley, but in 1567 led the opposition to Mary and Bothwell, defeating their supporters in 1568 at Langside. He succeeded Mar as regent in 1572 and consolidated his position when Mary's supporters in Edinburgh castle were forced to surrender in 1573. His strong policy antagonized nobles and kirk alike, and in 1578 he was overthrown by Atholl and Argyll. Elizabeth's intervention afforded him a shaky return to office, though scarcely to power, until in 1580 he was charged with Darnley's murder and beheaded in 1581. A formidable man, Morton collected superlatives—greedy, grim, lewd, cruel—but his few years in power gave Scotland a little stability in the difficult early years of James VI, and he made a determined attempt to stamp out border raiding.

J. A. Cannon

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James Douglas Morton, 4th earl of, d. 1581, Scottish nobleman. A nephew of Archibald Douglas, 6th earl of Angus, he married Elizabeth Douglas, from whose father he inherited (1553) the earldom of Morton. A member of the Protestant party, he became lord high chancellor to Mary Queen of Scots in 1563. He was a principal in the murder of David Rizzio (1566) and fled thereafter to England. Pardoned, he returned to Scotland the following year and became involved in the plot to murder Lord Darnley. After Mary's marriage to Lord Bothwell, Morton turned against the queen, whose forces he defeated at Langside (1568). He was chief counselor to the regent James Stuart, 1st earl of Murray, and became regent himself on the death of the 1st earl of Mar. His rule was devoted to the pacification of a religiously divided and wartorn Scotland. In 1578 he was forced out by a junta of nobles, led by the 6th earl of Argyll and John Stuart, 4th earl of Atholl, who persuaded the boy king, James VI (later James I of England), to assert his power. Morton regained control of the king, with the aid of John Erskine, 2d earl of Mar; but in 1581 a plot against him, engineered by Esmé Stuart, 1st duke of Lennox, and James Stuart, later earl of Arran, resulted in his being tried, convicted, and beheaded for taking part in the murder of Darnley. Morton possessed for some time the Casket Letters, which allegedly implicated Mary in Darnley's death.