Robert Stewart, duke of Albany

(c. 1339—1361)

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B. 1339, 3rd s. of Robert the Steward (later Robert II) and Elizabeth Mure; m. (1) Margaret, countess of Menteith, c.Sept. 1361; issue: Murdac, Janet; (2) Muriella, da. of Sir William Keith, Marischal of Scotland, 1380; issue: John, Andrew, Robert; also (which mother uncertain): Maria, Margaret, Isobel, Marjory, Elizabeth; d. Stirling, 2 Sept. 1420; bur. Dunfermline.

Although a younger son, Robert controlled Scotland for over thirty years during the reigns of three kings. Acquiring the earldoms of Menteith and Fife through marriage and inheritance, he took over as chamberlain (1382), this post being retained until 1407, during which time direct taxation was allowed to lapse—Robert thereby gaining the ‘innumerable blessings of the common folk’—customs revenues fell and, even though expenditure diminished, there were occasional heavy deficits. On the earl of Carrick's incapacity after injury in 1388, Robert Stewart was chosen by the estates to act as guardian for his father, and he continued as such for a year or two after Carrick succeeded as Robert III. Animosity developed between David, the headstrong new earl of Carrick, and his uncle, which Robert III tried to placate by creating both dukes in 1398: Carrick became duke of Rothesay, and Robert Stewart chose Albany, a name hinting at the ancient kingdom of Alba and suggesting royal rather than baronial pretensions. Rothesay's behaviour eventually led to his arrest, but his subsequent death at Falkland (1402) provoked accusations against Albany and Douglas until the king publicly exonerated them.

Albany became heir presumptive on Robert III's death in 1406, but the young James I was prisoner of the English and uncrowned, and fears about the powerful Albany–Douglas faction exacerbated civil unrest; Albany was appointed governor of the realm, and assumed far more royal trappings than his predecessors. Relations with Henry IV in England were unsteady; he failed to secure James's release, and maintained the imposter ‘Richard II’ in Scotland for several years. Albany was talented and politically astute, but has been regarded as a master of chicanery who avoided controversial measures and failed to punish powerful offenders. He died aged eighty, in full possession of his faculties, without ever fulfilling his ambitions for the throne.

Subjects: British History.

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