However, King James's multi-fold activities in reforming the legal system, regulating the country's finances, raising new taxes and in general trying to make his country one of law and order brought him the inevitable enemies. The proud Scottish nobles were not going to hand over what they considered their special privileges. In 1437, in what we can only consider a disaster for Scotland, the unfortunate king was stabbed to death in a plot involving his uncle, his cousin and a close confidant.
As James II, heir to the throne was only six years old, again a Regency came to inflict its damage upon Scotland. The litany of murder continued with the deaths of the young Earl Douglas and his brother by William Crichton who had succeeded the boys' father as Regent in 1439. The Regent's power destroyed the Douglas's and their vast estates were broken up. When James II reached the age of 19, he took command, attempting to continue the administrative reforms of his father, James l.
Unfortunately for his plans, old resentments still smoldered and an alliance had been formed between the young Earl of Douglas, the Earl of Crawford and John of the Isles who was anxious to restore the prerogatives lost by his father Alexander at the hands of the Scottish Crown. It seemed that a quick way to settle differences was becoming a Scottish Way, for at a dinner to which he was cordially invited in 1452, the young Douglas was killed by the dagger-wielding hand of the king himself.
James II then completely routed those in opposition to his reign. The rest of the Douglas's were defeated at the Battle of Arkinholm and their estates forfeited by a decree of Parliament. John of the Isles and the Earl of Crawford saw it in their best interests to make peace with the Crown. The English were having troubles of their own with the long and bitter rivalry for the throne that became known as the Wars of the Roses. For the time being, Scotland enjoyed a period of peace. However, it was shattered by a foolish decision of James to intervene in the English civil wars on behalf of Henry VI.
At the siege of Roxburgh in 1460, James stepped too close to one of his guns and was killed when it exploded. Once again, just when conditions had seemed so very ripe for progress, the country found itself ruled by a Regency. Scotland, despite its civil turmoil and constant wars, had started on the road that would eventually lead it to become the envy of Europe for its scholasticism and scientific achievements. In 1411, the University of St. Andrews had been founded as a center for learning and the arts. It was to be followed by the Universities of Glasgow (1451) and Aberdeen (1494) which, like St. Andrews benefited greatly from close contact with seats of learning in France as well as those in other parts of Europe.
Intrigue and counter-intrigue, the ambitions of greater and lesser men, and a succession of plots and counter plots mark the Regency years following the death of James II. In 1469, James III, recently wed to the daughter of the King of Norway, assumed control of Scotland. Intelligent but unsociable, uninterested in affairs of state, the new king was hardly the one to restore the confidence and strength that the monarchy sorely needed. To safeguard his throne from the ever-present plotters, James imprisoned both his brothers, Albany and Mar. However, after killing his guards, Albany made a daring rope escape. He managed to reach London where he audaciously assumed the style of King of Scots. The English welcomed the move, once more ready to cause trouble north of the border. In 1482, Albany joined an invading English army.
James III had overreached himself; he was captured by a group of his own nobles and many of his supporters were executed. Albany and Mar assumed the Regency, but when the English army returned home, Albany fled to France, eventually dying there in a tournament. A new group of conspirators then came on the scene, this time led by Archibald Douglas and Lord Home and aided by the Chief of Clan Campbell, the first Earl of Argyll.
James had no stomach to fight the rebels, but when the city of Stirling refused to give him refuge, he was forced to battle. The unfortunate king met an ignominious death after the failure of his troops at Sauchieburn. Wounded after a fall from his horse, he was stabbed to death by a passer-by claiming to be a priest. In such inauspicious circumstances, the next Stewart King now appeared on the scene.
James IV, who wore an iron chain round his body for life as penance for the misfortune that brought him to the throne in 1488, was only fifteen years old. Thus, the Regency continued with Douglas holding the reigns of power and his cronies and conspirators receiving rich rewards for their services. One of these was the minor Laird Hepburn of Hailes, who became Earl of Bothwell and Lord High Admiral. We shall read more about the Bothwells later.
In the meantime, James belied the doubts about his immaturity and proved to be an able leader. Early in his reign, at the head of his own troops, he defeated those who sought to depose him. Because of his multi-faceted abilities, he was to become the most popular of all the Stewart Kings. Even the European scholar Erasmus, for a time tutor to one of James's many bastard sons, praised the Scottish king's intellect and knowledge.
Though much of the Scottish nobility, especially in the Lowlands, was switching to English, James learned to speak Gaelic, a language described by the Ambassador of the Court of Spain as "the language of the savages who live in some parts of Scotland and the islands." (It was still widely spoken by most of the Highlanders and Islanders). In Wales, at the same time, almost one hundred percent of the population used the old Celtic language. What was left of the nobility was rapidly turning to English and the reigning monarch of the Welsh house of Tudor, unlike the more enlightened Scots King, would have no part of the language. Their Welsh background simply allowed the Tudor dynasty to claim legitimacy as rulers of Britain as heirs to the old prophecies. In most of Wales, of course, the old ways continued and life went on unchanged regardless of what was taking place in London. And so it remained in the Gaelic Highlands of Scotland.
King James IV had grand ambitions. His country enjoyed enormous prestige as holding the balance of power between constantly warring England and France. James believed that Scotland could lead the way in the glorious cause of freeing Constantinople from the Turks. As a start, he had a large fleet built, including the mighty warship the Great Michael, thus beginning a Scottish shipbuilding industry that would become the envy of the world in a later era. In order to carry out his grandiose schemes in Eastern Europe, James had to establish peaceable relations with England, his powerful neighbor to the south.
In 1501, James was 28 years old. It was time to marry. He chose Margaret Tudor, the 14 year-old daughter of Henry VII, after signing an agreement, which promised to be a treaty of perpetual peace. The Pope excommunicated whoever broke his pledged word. The ceremony took place at Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh and was attended by many dignitaries from England. All seemed well.
James continued to use his kingdom as peacemaker between England and France. His efforts gave him the title Rex Pacificator. When the Pope, the King of Spain and the Doge of Venice formed a Holy League against France, they were joined by Henry VIII of England, the father-in-law of the King of Scotland. However, James did not join the league because he was convinced that the survival of France was essential to the stability of Europe. Thus, he renewed the Auld Alliance that had begun in 1422 under the Regency of Albany.
When France appealed to Scotland for help, as it had done when Buchan responded so magnificently before, James unwisely sent an ultimatum to the English king.
Henry's response must have startled James and the whole of the Scots people: He declared himself "the very owner of Scotland" a kingdom held by the Scottish king only "by homage." This was too much for a proud Scot to bear, and James answered it by marching on England at the head of a large army. So much for the peace treaty that was "to endure forever." The result was one of the most disastrous battles in Scottish history.
Chapter 4: Turmoil after The Bruce Continued