Schooled by a long captivity in England, James the First returned to his realm to be the ablest of her rulers as he was the first of her poets. In the thirteen years of a short but wonderful reign justice and order were restored for a while, the Scotch Parliament organized, the clans of the Highlands assailed in their own fastnesses and reduced to swear fealty to the "Saxon " King. James turned to deal with the great houses, but feudal violence was still too strong for the hand of the law, and a band of ruffians who burst into the royal chamber left the King lifeless with sixteen stabs in his body. His death was the signal for a struggle between the House of Douglas and the Crown, which lasted through half a century. Order, however, crept gradually in; the exile of the Douglases left the Scottish monarchs supreme in the Lowlands; while their dominion over the Highlands was secured by the ruin of the Lords of the Isles. But in its outer policy the country still followed in the wake of France; every quarrel between French King and English King brought danger with it on the Scottish border; till Henry the Seventh bound England and Scotland together for a time by bestowing in 1502 the hand of his daughter Margaret on the Scottish king.
The union was dissolved however by the strife with France which followed the accession of Henry the Eighth; war broke out anew, and the terrible defeat and death of James the Fourth at Flodden Field involved his realm in the turbulence and misrule of a minority. His successor James the Fifth, though nephew of the English King, from the outset of his reign took up an attitude hostile to England; and Church and people were ready to aid in plunging the two countries into a fresh struggle. His defeat at Solway Moss brought the young King broken-hearted to his grave. "It came with a lass, and it will go with a lass," he cried, as they brought him on his death-bed the news of Mary Stuart's birth. The hand of his infant successor at once became the subject of rivalry between England and France. Had Mary, as Henry the Eighth desired, been wedded to Edward the Sixth, the whole destinies of Europe might have been changed by the union of the two realms; but the recent bloodshed had embittered Scotland, and the high-handed way in which Somerset pushed the marriage project completed the breach.
Somerset's invasion and victory at Pinkie Cleugh only enabled Mary of Guise, the French wife of James the Fifth, who had become Regent of the realm at his death, to induce the Scotch estates to consent to the union of her child with the heir of the French crown, the Dauphin Francis. From that moment, as we have seen, the claims of the Scottish Queen on the English throne became so formidable a danger as to drive Mary Tudor to her marriage with Philip of Spain. But the danger became a still greater one on the accession of Elizabeth, whose legitimacy no Catholic acknowledged, and whose religious attitude tended to throw the Catholic party into her rival's hands In spite of the peace with France, therefore, Francis and Mary persisted in their pretensions; and a French force landed at Leith, with the connivance of Mary of Guise. The appearance of this force on the Border was intended to bring about a Catholic rising. But the hostility between France and Spain bound Philip, for the moment, to the support of Elizabeth; and his influence over the Catholics secured quiet for a time.
The Queen, too, played with their hopes of a religious reaction by talk of her own reconciliation with the Papacy and admission of a Papal legate to the realm, and by plans for her marriage with an Austrian and Catholic prince. Meanwhile she parried the blow in Scotland itself, where the Reformation had begun rapidly to gain ground, by secretly encouraging the " Lords of the Congregation," as the nobles who headed the Protestant party were styled, to rise against the Regent. Since her accession Elizabeth's diplomacy had gained her a year, and her matchless activity had used the year to good purpose. Order was restored throughout England, the Church was reorganized, the debts of the Crown were in part paid off, the treasury was recruited, a navy created, and a force ready for action in the north, when the defeat of her Scotch adherents forced her at last to throw aside the mask. As yet she stood almost alone in her self-reliance. Spain believed her ruin to be certain; France despised her chances; her very Council was in despair. The one minister in whom she dared to confide was Cecil, the youngest and boldest of her advisers, and even Cecil trembled for her success. But lies and hesitation were no sooner put aside than the Queen's vigour and tenacity came fairly into play.
At a moment when D'Oysel, the French commander, was on the point of crushing the Lords of the Congregation, an English fleet appeared suddenly in the Forth and forced the Regent's army to fall back upon Leith. The Queen made a formal treaty with the Lords, and promised to assist them in the expulsion of the strangers. France was torn by internal strife, and could send neither money nor men. In March, Lord Grey moved over the border with 8,000 men to join the Lords of the Congregation in the siege of Leith. The Scots indeed gave little aid; and an assault on the town signally failed. Philip too in a sudden jealousy of Elizabeth's growing strength demanded the abandonment of the enterprise. But Elizabeth was immovable. Famine did its work better than the sword; and in two treaties with the Scotch and English, the envoys of Francis and Mary at last promised to withdraw the French, and leave the government to a Council of the Lords; and acknowledged Elizabeth's title to her throne. A Scotch Parliament at once declared Calvinism the national religion.
Both Act and Treaty indeed were set aside by Francis and Mary, but Elizabeth's policy had in fact broken the dependence of Scotland on France, and bound to her side the strongest and most vigorous party among its nobles.