PERTH could become the focus of Scotland’s own “King in the Car Park” dig - the search for the lost grave of King James I, who was brutally assassinated in 1437.
• Tory MSP Murdo Fraser leads growing calls for an archaeological dig to locate King James I
• Monarch’s remains believed to be buried in Perth
King James I, who had spent nearly 20 years as a prisoner in the Tower of London, was murdered by rebel nobles at the Perth Charterhouse, the Carthusian monastery which he had founded eight years before his death.
The site of the murdered monarch’s burial is believed to have been lost when the monastery was destroyed following the Reformation in 1559.
But Murdo Fraser, a Scottish history enthusiast and the Conservative MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, is now leading calls for an archaeological dig to be mounted to find the burial site.
Mr Fraser said the search for the lost grave could help put Perth on the archaeological map in the same way that Leicester has benefited from the worldwide publicity surrounding the remarkable discovery of the skeleton of Richard III.
He said: “Leicester will no doubt benefit from the worldwide attention brought by the exhumation of Richard III and there is every opportunity here to do something similar in Perth.
“We know that James I is buried is Perth but not precisely where he is buried. But I think it is an idea worth pursuing.
“We know that James I was buried in the grounds of the Carthusian monastery. I don’t think his body was just dumped like Richard III.
“I think he was given a proper burial but, over the years, the records have all been lost as to where his body is lying.”
A memorial at the corner of Perth’s King Street and Hospital Street marks the fact that James I is buried in the area. Parts of the former ecclesiastical complex are believed to lie buried beneath Hospital Street and the former King James VI hospital, an A-listed building which has been converted into a block of flats.
Mr Fraser suggested that, as a first step, a “desk top” survey should be carried out to pinpoint more accurately the layout of the lost monastery.
He added: “The logistics behind any disinterment would be considerable. However, if finances can be found, the project would provide historians and archaeologists with another fascinating look into our often bloody past.”
David Strachan, the manager of the Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust, said a search for the body of the missing monarch was “plausible”.
“The assassination of King James I is one of the key events of Perth’s historical past,” he said. “It is still widely known and understood. And trying to find his remains is an intriguing idea. The recovery of the remains of Richard III from the car park in Leicester was quite a remarkable story – simply because it is relatively rarely that we go to looking for something in archaeology and find exactly what we are looking for.”
But he warned: “You could spend a long time looking for something like the remains of James I and never find it. His remains may not survive. They could have been dug up 200 years ago.”
According to historical records, Jane Beaufort, the wife of James I, and Margaret Tudor, the wife of James IV, were also buried in the graveyard of the monastery.
A REIGN WHICH ENDED IN MURDER
KING James I was born in 1394 in Dunfermline, the youngest of three sons of Robert III. Both his brothers died and James succeeded to the crown aged 11.
Fearing for his life, plans had been made to send young James to France, but his boat was intercepted by English pirates and he spent 18 years as a prisoner of King Henry IV in the Tower of London.
During his absence, the Scottish court was dominated by his uncle, Robert Stewart, the Duke of Albany, who refused to pay the king’s ransom. James only returned to Scotland to be crowned after Albany died.
But in 1427, James defaulted on payments of his ransom and began spending large sums on Linlithgow Palace and luxuries for the court, sparking discontent among the nobles, led by supporters of Walter, the Lord of Atholl, and a son of Robert III’s second marriage.
James was assassinated on 21 February, 1437, when his cousin Sir Robert Stewart, chamberlain of the royal household, used his privileged position to allow a small band of Albany and Atholl supporters to enter the monastery in Perth where the king was staying.
As the armed assassins approached the royal quarters, one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, Catherine Douglas – later celebrated as “Kate Bar-lass” – put her arm through the door brackets to impede the raiders, while the king used a poker from the fireplace to lever up some floorboards to slip below into a sewer tunnel. The boards were replaced as the assassins burst into the chamber, breaking Catherine’s arm.
The king should have been able to crawl to safety. But, according to legend, only days earlier, he had ordered the sewers to be blocked up to stop his tennis balls from being lost in them. He was trapped and stabbed to death.
The king’s wife, Queen Joan, escaped with their son, also named James, to Stirling Castle. Within a month, the ringleaders in the assassination plot had been caught and executed. The Earl of Atholl had a red-hot coronet placed on his head before he and his son were beheaded. Sir Robert Stewart was tortured to death and Sir Robert Graham was forced to watch his son being disembowelled alive before suffering the same fate.
James II succeeded his murdered father and was crowned at Holyrood Abbey on 25 March, 1437. The embalmed heart of his father is thought to have been taken on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.