James I was king in name only.
Born on December 10, 1394, the son of Robert III and Annabella Drummond. He had an eventful childhood. In 1402 his elder brother, David, starved to death in prison at Falkland in Fife. Before the death of his father in 1406 the authorities sent James to France for safety.
On the voyage to France, the English captured the young prince and handed him over to Henry IV of England, who imprisoned him and demanded a ransom. Robert III allegedly died from grief over the capture of James. James’s uncle, Robert Stewart, 1st Duke of Albany, who became Regent on the death of Robert III, showed no haste in paying for his nephew’s release. For the next 18 years James remained a prisoner/hostage in England. After the death of James’s uncle in 1420, the Scots finally paid the ransom of £40.95,000, and in 1424 James returned to Scotland to find a country in chaos.
James was formally crowned King of Scotland at Scone Abbey, Perthshire, on May 2 or 21, 1424. He immediately took strong actions to regain authority and control. In one such action he had the Albany family, who had opposed his actions, executed. James proceeded to rule Scotland with a firm hand, and achieved numerous financial and legal reforms.
His actions throughout his reign, though effective, upset many people. During the later years of his reign, they helped to lead to his claim to the throne coming under question.
James I’s grandfather, Robert II, had married twice and the awkward circumstances of the first marriage (the one with James’s grandmother Elizabeth Mure) led some to dispute its validity. Conflict broke out between the descendants of the first marriage and the unquestionably legitimate descendants of the second marriage over who had the better right to the Scottish throne. Matters came to a head on February 21, 1437, when a group of Scots led by Sir Robert Graham assassinated James at the Friars Preachers Monastery in Perth. He attempted to escape his assailants through a sewer. However, three days previously, he had had the other end of the drain blocked up because of its connection to the tennis court outside, balls habitually got lost in it.
A wave of executions followed in March, 1437, of those who had participated in the plot. The authorities executed (among others) James’s uncle, Walter Stewart, 1st Earl of Atholl, and Atholl’s grandson, Robert Stewart, Master of Atholl — both of them descended from Robert II’s second marriage).