15th Century Scotland

Now that we’ve concluded the countries under English rule, let’s discuss their Northern neighbors: Scotland. (I apologize in advance, this is the century of “James” and every monarch will have this name). When we left the Scots, they struggled to recover from the harsh events of the 14th century, and we’re mourning King Robert II while welcoming Robert III as their next king. Robert was born Prince John and changed his name upon becoming King, though the reasons are unclear. The beginning was plagued with poor government, especially when it came to dealing with the Gealic regions to the North and West. In 1399, he was forced to succeed power to his son David, Duke of Rothesay. David was arrogant and made enemies of his allies, so when his time as lieutenant (three years) ended, his partner and uncle, Robert, Duke of Albany, had him imprisoned and took over as lieutenant. David died in captivity in 1402. Robert III was at this point completely excluded from any say in government, and his health was declining. In a desperate attempt to save James from David’s fate, he sent his heir to France, but it went terribly wrong. After a series of events, James ended up in English captivity under Henry IV in 1406. Robert died shortly after. 

James I was now prisoner and an uncrowned king with a greedy uncle. The Duke of Albany usurped substantial portions of the King’s land and incomes, leaving him dependent on the English. He would spend 18 years in captivity where Henry IV educated him, and when he reached adulthood placed in the King’s household. When Henry V followed his father, he did not agree with the leniency placed on the Scottish King and had him thrown in the tower. He slowly began to get better treatment and was distinguished as valuable by Henry V when he used the Scottish king against the Scots fighting against him in France. James seemed to support Henry’s quest for the French crown, and escorted his body back to London when he died in 1422. The regency council sought to release James in 1423, but at first the Scots showed little interest in getting him back. Eventually, they sent a group to negotiate his release, but his status changed when he married Joan Beaufort, and her dowry was included in the negotiations. They were then escorted back to Scotland, and in 1424 James was finally coronated at Scone as a proper Scottish King. He worked tirelessly to build an income and more authority for himself as king. After the arrest and execution of prominent lords, as well as his attempts to bring Highland lords to heel, he was thought of as ruthless and power hungry. He also confiscated lands from his enemies to help build his treasury, and his attempts to usurp church funds left him at odds with the papacy. Despite this, James enjoyed relative popularity due to his justice reforms that benefited the common people. In 1437, a group of around 30 assassins were let into the King’s chamber by Robert Stewart (of Atholl) after the couple had retired to their separate chambers. Joan was attacked and wounded, but she escaped. James was not as lucky. He tried to escape, but the tunnel he fled down had recently been closed to keep tennis balls from being lost. He died February 4, 1437 in Blackfriar’s Monastrey. 

His son was his fifth child (of eight) and became James II at the age of six; his mother was able to reach him after her escape and helped secure his reign, being crowned at Holyrood Abbey. Parliament prohibited from control until he turned 18, and he was raised with his mother and 5 sisters (His eldest sister was already in France, married to the future Louis XI, and his elder brother was his twin who died the same day they were born) in Dunbar Castle, then Stirling Castle. These years were turbulent. His first regent was his cousin Archibald Douglas, Earl of Douglas, but he died two years in. After control was split between the Lord Chancellor, William Crichton, Lord Crichton, and the ward of Stirling Castle (and the king as he held residency there), Alexander Livingston of Callendar. He placed Joan and her new husband, Sir John Stewart, under house arrest here until she signed custody formally to Livingston. In 1440, the tragedy that was the ‘Black Diner’ occurred. Livingston invited the new Earl of Dougals, William Douglas (16 years old), and his little brother David (10 years old) to dinner in the Kings name. There James (10 years old) befriended them, only to watch them be dragged into the courtyard and beheaded. He begged them not to, and the event scarred him. In 1449, he took control of his government, but struggled to gain true power. He started by using it to get rid of the Livingstons, before getting revenge for the atrocities he and his mother endured. He struggled to free himself of Douglas’ influence though. It is said when the new Earl of Douglas attempted to make ancestral ties that would challenge the throne, James stabbed him to death. We do not have an accurate account of it though, so the only true fact is William Douglas, Earl of Douglas, died February 22, 1452. This led to a 3-year civil war James almost lost, but when he didn’t, the Douglases were stripped of their lands, with the current Earl fleeing to England in exile. 

James was finally free to rule on his own merit. He was an energetic ruler and traveled frequently throughout Scotland to the point where Parliament demanded he ceased. He introduced the idea of remission for criminals to raise money, and was the first Scottish monarch to have a contemporary likeness that has survived. On July 3, 1449, he married Mary of Guelders, who brought a Flemish retinue, hefty dowry, and strong relations with Flanders. They had six children, but James died in 1460. After promoting artillery usage, he died being too close to an enormous cannon named “the Lion”, exploding in Flanders.

It is debated when his heir, James III, was born, but it was definitely in the early 1450s. His mother was his first regent, ruling from 1460-1463, during which she was heavily involved in the War of Roses. She and Margaret of Anjou slowly formed an alliance where Scotland harbored her and betrothed her daughter Margaret to Edward of Westminster. In the end though, the engagement was called off, and Mary sided with the Yorkist. She died in 1463 and her ally, James Kennedy, Bishop of St. Andrews (alongside Gilbert Kennedy, 1st Lord Kennedy), until his death in 1465. His next regent would be Robert, Lord Boyd. In 1466, he secured his permanence of Lord Chamberlain, made his son Thomas Earl of Arran, and then married that son to James’ sister Mary. These all made him unpopular, but that was thought of as an unforgivable insult. The one successful thing he did for the crown was negotiated the marriage of the king to Princess Margaret of Denmark, which expanded Scotland’s territory; the couple would have three sons. James took back his throne while Robert, Thomas, and Mary were abroad. He executed the family of Robert’s brother, Sir Alexander Boyd, in 1469, and in 1473 declared Mary’s marriage to Thomas void. 

James used his power to gain more control over the highlands — specifically the Lords of Isles. He brought John of Islay, Earl of Ross, onto trial for attempting to usurp royal power. When he refused to show, James declared his titles forfeited and sent nobles to enforce it. The Earl eventually showed up for trial. He gave up his title of Earl of Ross, land, and the offices of Sherriff of Inverness and Nairn, but he was given a seat in Parliament. Outside of this, James did not focus much on internal justice. He instead sought beyond Scotland with grand plans to conquer Brittany, Saintonge, and Geulders. These had little chance of success, and caused his parliament to question his capabilities. He also strove to build a better relationship with England and attempted to wed Cecily of York. This angered his border nobles and those who still despised the role England took in the Wars of Independence in the last century. This all led to conflicts with his two younger brothers, Alexander, Duke of Albany, and John, Earl of Mar. John died suspiciously in 1480, and Alexander was accused of treason. He fled to France before making his way to England. In 1482, he returned to Scotland with an army led by Richard, Duke of Gloucester (future Rihcard III). Alexander even styled himself as Alexander IV, but when he temporarily captured James, he styled himself as ‘lieutenant-general’. James spent about 3 months imprisoned, and when he was released, he began to buy off his brother’s army to regain power. Albany fled by January 1483 to his estates, and then England after the death of Edward IV. He would eventually return and be imprisoned where he had imprisoned James, but he escaped to France (where he died of a splinter after a duel). James was given a Golden Rose, blessed by Pope Innocent VIII in 1486. 

James did not amend his ways though, and rebellions soon formed again. This time, they decided to use his son and heir, also named James, as their rallying point. The King had been estranged from his wife, Margaret of Denmark, for sometime, and this subsequently also meant he was estranged from James, who was delivered to the Earls Angus and Arygll in 1488. As support grew, it boiled into war, and at the Battle of Sauchieburn, the king died– though the exact way he died is unknown. He had fled and fallen from his horse, but what happened after that remains a mystery. His son would ascend as James IV. It is unclear what James’ role in his father’s death was. Some say he supported the rebellion, while others believe he was forced into participating. Considering he was 15, it was probably a mixture, but it was something he would regret the rest of his life. Every Lent, he wore an iron chain cilice around his waist, adding an ounce yearly to pay for the sin. 

Despite his age, James did not begin with a regency council, and proved to be an effectively wise ruler quickly. Unlike his father, he took a direct role in justice, and successfully put down a rebellion that occurred in 1489. He also found a more direct way to bring the Lord of the Isles under the crown’s control. Like his father, he did get involved in English affairs by hosting and supporting Perkin Warbeck. When that turned sour, he realized the best possible option for his country was peace with England. The Spain rulers, Isabella and Ferdinand, sent envoys to help ease relations, which created the Treaty of Ayton in 1497. This treaty was further expanded and reinforced with the Treaty of Perpetual Peace in 1502, when he became engaged to Henry VII’s daughter, Margaret Tudor. 

It is here that we will pick up next century, as Tudor, Hapsburg, Valois, and Stewarts collide. Thank you all for your patience this past month and continued. I will be getting back on track as much as possible to round out the end of the century, but have been having some technical issues. As I work, those out posting will become more even paced again. Your support is appreciated!! 

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