Page last updated at 12:05 GMT, Tuesday, 23 June 2009 13:05 UK

Love of tennis killed Scots king

As Britain's most famous tennis tournament gets under way, the BBC's Stuart Nicolson examines how the game had deadly consequences for a Scottish king.


King James I
James was frustrated by the number of tennis balls he lost down a sewer

A love of tennis proved fatal for Scotland's first king of the court almost 600 years ago.

James I first discovered Jeu De Paume - an early ancestor of the sport - when he was imprisoned in England as a child from 1406 until 1424.

When he was ransomed and returned to Scotland, James continued to play on his own court at Perth.

But frustration over the number of balls the king was losing down a nearby sewer was to have tragic consequences.

Robert Stewart, 1st Duke of Albany, ruled Scotland as regent in the absence of the young king, and had refused to pay the ransom that had been demanded by the English, leaving the captive James to plot his revenge.

The ransom was finally paid following the death of the Duke, and James returned to Scotland in 1424, where he was crowned at Scone in Perthshire and set about ruthlessly executing leading members of the Albany family.

Tennis has been in Scotland for a very long time - there are references dating back to the time of Alexander III in the 13th Century so it didn't just start with Andy Murray
Peter Cahusac
Falkland Palace Royal Tennis Club

James had been well looked after and educated by King Henry IV, and later Henry V, during his captivity in England, and started a reform programme intended to transform Scotland's economy and institutions along English lines.

The reforms were not universally popular, especially among large swathes of the nobility who objected to the king diminishing their power.

Many also questioned James' legitimacy to the throne, as his grandfather, Robert II, had married twice and had several children.

The children from his first marriage - from which James was descended - were widely considered to be illegitimate.

The controversy resulted in open rebellion, Scottish nobles who supported the claims to the throne of the offspring from Robert II's second marriage sent assassins to attack the king at Friars Preachers Monastery in Perth.

James attempted to escape by jumping into a sewer that ran underneath his Jeu De Paume court.

But just days earlier, he had ordered the sewer to be blocked to stop his tennis balls being lost down it, and the king found himself trapped.

Stirling Castle
James' wife and son escaped to Stirling Castle after his murder

His assailants quickly caught up with him, and James was stabbed to death.

Joan, his queen, managed to escape to Stirling Castle with their son, also James, who succeeded his father as king.

Peter Cahusac of Falkland Palace Royal Tennis Club, which claims to play on the oldest surviving court in the world, said although the court at Perth was no longer standing, the incident was proof of Scotland's long association with the game.

He added: "Tennis has been in Scotland for a very long time - there are references dating back to the time of Alexander III in the 13th Century so it didn't just start with Andy Murray.

"Real tennis was being played in Scotland before it was in England, and probably came here from France.

"It was originally played with the hand until the 16th Century, when they decided a racket was more powerful".

The Falkland court was commissioned by James V in 1539, but he is not thought to have lived long enough to have ever played on it.

England's oldest real tennis court, at Hampton Court Palace, was built for Henry VIII about 10 years earlier, but was renovated by Charles II in the 17th Century.



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