Robert III (ca. 1337-1406) was king of Scotland from 1390 to 1406. Notable as king primarily for the weakness of his reign, he played a larger part in the affairs of the kingdom before his accession than as monarch.
The future Robert III (actually christened John) was born some years before the marriage of his parents, Robert Steward (who was to become king as Robert II in 1371) and Elizabeth Mure. The children of this union were subsequently legitimized, by papal dispensation, in 1347, the young John being styled Lord of Kyle. He was made Earl of Atholl by the King in 1367 and Earl of Carrick (as he is usually referred to) in 1368.
On the accession of Robert II in 1371, the Scottish Parliament, to forestall any possible doubts about legitimacy, firmly established the succession on Carrick and his line and, failing that, on his brothers. Carrick seems to have played an important part in the early years of his father's reign, negotiating with John of Gaunt in 1380 and being directed to restore order in the Highlands in 1384. But a kick from a horse, apparently sometime after 1385 (though some historians place it earlier), resulted in a disability and perhaps even a lifelong weakness, for in 1388 Carrick was relieved of his responsibilities in favor of his next surviving brother, Robert, Earl of Fife.
Nonetheless, on the death of Robert II, Carrick succeeded, taking as his regnal name Robert. The Earl of Fife continued, however, as the chief power in the kingdom. The new king's reign was constantly troubled by the lawlessness of great lords and the quarrels of clans, especially the celebrated combat between 30 men each of the clans Kay and Quele. Apparently, Fife's influence waned after 1393, and in 1399 the King's elder son, David, was appointed by the General Council as "lieutenant" of the kingdom for 3 years.
This young man had been created Duke of Rothesay the previous year, his uncle, the Earl of Fife, becoming Duke of Albany at the same time (the first dukes in Scotland). The rivalry between these two was a prime factor in the fortunes of the country during the next 3 troubled years. Resistance to the demands of the new English king, Henry IV, to have his overlordship of Scotland recognized was weakened by treachery and dissension among the leading magnates. Finally in 1402 Rothesay, whose profligacy had earned him many enemies, was arrested by order of his uncle and died in prison shortly afterward.
In all these events Robert III was virtually a cipher. Probably seeing, and fearing, the unbreakable ascendancy of Albany (lieutenant of the kingdom from 1402), the King sent his remaining son, James (born 1394), to France in 1406; but the young boy was intercepted by kidnapers and handed over to the English for a captivity that was to last 18 years. Robert's death followed quickly after the news reached him. He reportedly requested as his epitaph "Here lies the worst of kings and the most miserable of men."
There is no work solely on Robert III or his reign. Background information on his times is given in standard histories of Scotland; recommended is William Croft Dickinson, A New History of Scotland, vol. 1 (1961; 2d ed. 1965). □
From 1384, the incapacity of his father left John responsible for the administration of justice; but in 1388 he himself was incapacitated by a kick from a horse, and his brother Robert, earl of Fife, was made guardian, an office which he continued to hold for a year or two after John's accession in 1390 as Robert III. Neither Fife nor the king himself proved able to contain the flood of disorder, particularly in the north, where Forres was sacked in 1390, and Elgin in 1391 by another of the king's brothers, Alexander, earl of Buchan, the ‘Wolf of Badenoch’.
Robert was faced in 1398 with a struggle for power between Fife, created duke of Albany in that year, and the king's 20-year-old son David, created at the same time duke of Rothesay, and appointed in his turn lieutenant for a period of three years. Rothesay proved energetic, but his energy aroused hostility. In 1402 he was removed from office in a coup evidently organized by Albany and the earl of Douglas, and died in captivity shortly after. Robert III could do nothing to check the power of these nobles, despite the disastrous result of a battle which they provoked against the English at Homildon Hill (14 September 1402). In 1406 he tried to send his remaining son James (b. 1394) to safety in France, but he was captured by ‘pirates’ off Flamborough Head and sent to captivity in England. Robert's death followed almost immediately on the shock of the news.