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consider these indications as they are revealed in the records of the time.
The most striking characteristics of the mediæval society are to be found (1) in the position held by the nobility and the Church, and (2) in the conditions under which trade and industry were conducted in every country. To what extent, then, were these characteristics modified in Scotland during the period before us?
In other countries the power of the feudal nobles had been completely broken by the date when Mary began to reign. In England the Wars of the Roses had fatally reduced their numbers and strength, and the régime of Henry VII. and Henry VIII. had completed their ruin as a rival power in the State. A similar fate had overtaken them in France. The Hundred Years' War did for their order what the Wars of the Roses did in England, and the policy of Louis XI. anticipated that of Henry VII. and Henry VIII. But, as the events of Mary's reign signally prove, the nobles of Scotland had by no means been so effectually shorn of their power as in England and France. Yet we can see that, but for what may be called accidental circumstances, the Scottish nobles would have shared the same fate as their order did elsewhere. In Scotland the same anti-feudal tendencies were at work as in the rest of Christendom; and the Kings of Scots as deliberately aimed at absolute power by the suppression of their nobles as the contemporary Kings of England and France. In a degree far beyond his immediate predecessors James IV. succeeded in making himself an absolute master of his kingdom, and virtually governed the country through his Privy Council, the members of which were chosen by himself. James's early death at Flodden and the long minority that followed in large degree restored the nobility to the position which they had lost for the time. James V. was inspired by the same policy as his father, and did his utmost to crush a power which had so often imperilled the throne, but he was foiled by circumstances with which his father had not to contend. It was the interference of Henry VIII. in Scottish affairs that enabled the nobles to make head against the Crown, and overcome it in the protracted struggle. Another long minority followed and the helpless administration of the Regent Arran, while Henry VIII. still continued his policy of distracting the counsels of the nation. When Mary became actual sovereign, the conditions she had to face were more adverse than ever to the power of the Crown. To the insubordination of the nobles and the disturbing influence of England was added the religious controversy which cleft her subjects in twain. As a ruler Mary had the same conception of her prerogative as her father and grandfather, but she found herself in a position which rendered her helpless to assert it. It was through this succession of adverse circumstances, therefore, that the nobles of Scotland were enabled to retain a certain degree of power so long after their order had lost it in other countries. A succession of sovereigns of the stamp of James IV., with no England to checkmate them, would not have failed to bring the nobility to their feet, and to have created a monarchy as self-subsisting as that of England or France.
In such a policy they would have been aided by the tendencies of the time. Conspicuous as was the part which the nobles played throughout the reign of Mary, their power was in reality no longer what it had been. Apart from the antagonism of the Crown there were agencies at work which were slowly but surely undermining the strength of their order. Broadly speaking, these agencies were due to the general widening of men's conceptions and of their relations to the whole world around them. The old feudal ties which bound the man to his lord could not retain their strength in the presence of the new religious spirit, and of the new developments of commerce and industry. A community deeply moved by the teaching of Knox and his fellow-reformers passed under a discipline which was essentially opposed to slavish dependence on the will of a superior. When, in the teeth of his lord, a dependent adopted the new doctrines, he took a great stride towards becoming a free citizen, and, in point of fact, even before the beginning of the reign of Mary, it had already become evident
that the vassals of the great lords no longer rendered such prompt obedience to the claim of military service. * But it was the growth of trade and commerce even more than religion that was proving fatal to the existence of the feudal order. The feudal lord, who had lived a self-sufficing life on the produce of his domains, now required a supply of current coin to enable him to keep pace with the times. He shared the growing desire for greater comfort and luxury in his style of living. His dwelling must be more elegant; he coveted greater variety in his daily bill of fare and in the fashion and material of his attire; and to maintain the dignity of his position it was necessary that he should keep up a more expensive establishment than had satisfied his fathers. To meet all this increased outlay the produce of his lands had to be turned into coin, and, rack-rent his tenants as he might, the Scottish baron was usually on the wrong side of his account. The impecuniosity of the Scottish nobles, as we know, is the simple and adequate explanation of the devious public career of not a few of them throughout the reign of Mary. The paltry bribes for which they were induced to transfer their support from one party in the State towards another reveal at once their “eternal want of pence," and their inability to dispense with it. In these circumstances it was impossible that the nobility could retain their ancient ascendency in the State. The day had gone by when a following of rudely-armed retainers made a great man of a Bell-the-Cat or a Tiger-Earl. As things now went, what had been a source of strength was fast becoming a source of weakness. Retainers had to be maintained, and their maintenance was a drain on the lord's resources which his extended wants made ever more undesirable. Thus, when money became the indispensable condition of influence and
the doom of feudalism was sealed. A noble with broad domains and a scanty purse was a stranded leviathan, impotent to put forth his strength in the new conditions in which he found himself.
On the other hand, under the new economic conditions the rich burgher and the flourishing town came to play a part of increasing importance in the social and political order. Money being now the prime essential in the conduct of all affairs, the wealthy merchant who could supply a heavy loan was a more useful person in the State than the impecunious baron. The increased importance of the towns was notably shown in the closing struggle which decided the fate of the Reformation in Scotland. When Maitland of Lethington organised the “Queen's party” for the restoration of Mary, he had three-fourths of the Scottish nobles at his back, and at an earlier period this would have decided the contest.
But the party of the king, supported by all the chief burghs, were, even without the
support of England,