He was born the second son of Robert III of Scotland and Annabella Drummond. He had an eventful childhood. In 1402 his elder brother, David Stewart, the Duke of Rothesay, starved to death in prison at Falkland in Fife. And, fearing a like fate, before the death of his father in 1406 the authorities sent James to France for safety. However, on the voyage to France, the English captured the young prince and he was imprisoned by King Henry IV, who demanded a ransom. It was this capture which, allegdedly, led to the death of his father, Robert III, from grief.
James's uncle, Robert Stewart, 1st Duke of Albany, who became Regent on the death of Robert III, showed no haste in paying for his nephew's release. Although Albany secured the release of his own son, Murdoch, who had captured at the same time, he did not do so with James, but simply carried on ruling Scotland in his own interests. (Indeed, some said that it had been Albany who had been responsible for the death of David Stewart.) Thus, for the next 18 years, James remained a prisoner/hostage in England. For his part, once it was clear that Albany was not going to pay up, Henry IV treated the young Scots King quite well, seeing to it that he was educated during his imprisonment in Windsor Castle and in secure large country houses near London.
-grand-daughter of the English king Edward III, and a neice of Henry IV, while imprisoned. He married her in London in 1423, and they were to have eight children, including the future James II of Scotland, and Margaret, wife of Louis XI of France.
Scholars also believe that during his captivity James wrote The Kingis Quair, an allegorical romance, and one of the earliest major works of Scottish literature extent.
James was formally crowned King of Scotland in 1424, and he immediately took strong actions to regain authority and control. In one such action he had his uncle's family, who had opposed his actions, executed. The execution of Murdoch, Duke of Albany, and two of Murdoch's sons took place in 1425 at Stirling Castle. In another he summoned all the Highland clan lords before Parliament at Inverness, imprisoned them all, had three hanged and, when Alexander of the Isles led his clansmen in a raid to burn Inverness, he led an army to suppress him and only the Queen's intervention commuted Alexander's punishment from death to imprisonment.
James was described by his contemporaries as being of medium height but thickset and large-boned. He was athletic, skilled as rider, archer, spearman and wrestler. He had an active mind, addressing both the disciplines of warfare (and gunnery in particular) and of poetry and music.
James proceeded to rule Scotland with a firm hand, and achieved numerous financial and legal reforms. For instance, for the purpose of trade with other nations, he made Scots coinage exchangeable for foreign currency only within Scottish borders. He also tried to remodel the Parliament of Scotland along English lines, and he established a court to heare complaints of abuses. However, in foreign policy, he renewed the Auld Alliance, a Scottish-French (and therefore anti-English) alliance, in 1428, while steadfastly refusing all the claims of the Roman Catholic Church to influence within his kingdom.
His actions throughout his reign, though effective, upset many people. During the later years of his reign, they helped to lead to his claim to the throne coming under question.
James I's grandfather, Robert III, had married twice and the awkward circumstances of the first marriage (the one with James's grandmother Elizabeth Mure) led some to dispute its validity. Conflict broke out between the descendants of the first marriage and the unquestionably legitimate descendants of the second marriage over who had the better right to the Scottish throne. Matters came to a head on February 21, 1437, when a group of Scots led by Sir Robert Graham murdered James at the Dominican Monastery in Perth. James attempted to escape his assailants through a sewer. However, three days previously, he had had the other end of the drain blocked up because of its connection to the tennis court outside, balls habitually got lost in it.
A wave of executions followed in March, 1437, of those who had participated in the plot. The authorities executed (among others) James's uncle, Walter, and Walter's grandson, Robert — both of them descended from Robert II's second marriage).