Monday, February 18, 2013

Boyhood of Robert Stewart, Earl of Orkney – Fraser Line


An illegitimate son of Scotland’s King James V, Robert Stewart (1533-1592) was acknowledged by the king and raised as a prince of the blood, along with three other illegitimate sons, John, James secundus, and James tertius (each with a different mother).  In his biography of Robert Stewart, Peter D. Anderson details the provisions the king made for Robert and the others during their boyhood. 

            One suitable path for sons of the nobility and the royal family was a career in the Church, but there was an impediment in James’s way since it was not possible for illegitimate persons to be ordained by the Church (Hallam 37).  Therefore, it was necessary to seek legitimization, and on December 30, 1534, the pope granted a dispensation so that the sons of James V could receive appointments in the Church.[1] The boys, of course, were still wee bairn at this time, but each boy received his tonsure when he reached the age of six (1559 in Robert’s case).

            The next step in the process was to find each boy a source of revenue, so in keeping with the Church career that he was planning for the boys, King James eyed Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh. Though Holyrood is known to many generations of tourists as the site of the royal palace, at this point in Robert’s life, the adjacent Holyrood Abbey (now in ruins) was still an Augustinian monastery. On December 16, 1538, James approached Pope Paul III to secure Holyrood as a benefice for Robert, who was now five years old, and on August 18 of the following year, Robert became commendator (holder of the benefice) at the ripe old age of six. 

            Next after the tonsure and the benefice came education.  Accordingly, Robert and his brothers were enrolled as “scolares” in the diocese of St. Andrews in 1534 (again considerably in advance of the usual age for such a thing, Robert being only one year old at the time).  In June 1540, when he was seven, he actually arrived in St. Andrews to begin his education.  Educated probably at the priory or by the cathedral clergy, young Robert was assigned servants, cooks, and (somewhat surprisingly) a minstrel.  His personal servant was named Thomas Carmichael.

            Robert now began to receive grants from the royal treasury, no doubt to support him while he was away from the court.  Details of the lad’s wardrobe expenditures have survived, and they included the following:

            a.  a doublet of black fustian (coarse, sturdy cloth of cotton and linen) – 16 shillings

            b.  two coffers in which the clothing could be contained during transport (one possibly for his brother John) - £5

            c.  clothing distributions in December 1539, June 1540, and February 1541 - £65

            d.  a “magnificent coat of red velvet, lined with yellow and faced with gold, with matching bonnet and shoes” in 1539 - £21.8

            When James V died late in 1542, the job of providing for the boys fell on the shoulders of James Hamilton, 3rd Earl of Arran, who was regent for their infant half-sister, Mary, Queen of Scots.  Robert is listed as attending parliament in August 1546 (age 12).  On March 20, 1547,  Robert’s “year of maturity,” a letter was drawn up in Mary’s name, requesting the King of England allow Robert and his escort, John Hamilton, bishop of Dunkeld, free passage through England as young Robert made his way to France to further his education.  However, this venture never came to fruition, and Robert did not embark for France until July 1548 when he departed from Dunbarton with Mary, as she left to be raised at the court of France in accord with her marriage contract.  Robert is described as being “of fervent desire and mynd to exerce his youtheid studying in lettiris, in gude maneris” (Anderson 8). 

            In the boy’s retinue in France were two of his half-brothers; John Carmichael, parson of Inbernochy; David Carmichael, vicar of Dunrod; Andrew Callendar; Robert Carmichael, chamberlain to the commendator; and James Stewart, son of the former abbot of Dryburgh.  In France, Robert was probably instructed with his brothers by Peter Ramus, a well-respected humanist scholar [right].  Returning to Scotland in 1551 (age 18), Robert surfaced at meetings of the privy council at Stirling and at Perth (1552 and 1553, respectively)—his boyhood behind him and young adulthood ahead.


Anderson, Peter D. Robert Stewart: Earl of Orkney, Lord of Shetland, 1533-1593.  Edinburgh: John Donald, 1982.

Hallam, Henry.  History of Europe during the Middle Ages. New York: Colonial, 1899.  Online. Accessed 18 Feb 2013.









[1] Anderson indicates that it was Pope Clement VII who granted the dispensation on 30 Dec 1534; however, it is more likely to have been Pope Paul III since Clement had died in September of that year.

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