Scottish History - the history of Scotland

Ch 13 - JAMES III.

Summary: James III was an ambitious monarch who went from plans of Scottish conquest in alliance with England to, once those plans had collapsed, battle with the English. However, one lasting legacy of the rule of James III was Scotland's acquisition of Orkney and Shetland as a result of his marriage to Margaret of Norway.

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JAMES III.

James II. left three sons; the eldest, James III., aged nine, was crowned at Kelso (August 10, 1460); his brothers, bearing the titles of Albany and Mar, were not to be his supports. His mother, Mary of Gueldres, had the charge of the boys, and, as she was won over by her uncle, Philip of Burgundy, to the cause of the House of York, while Kennedy and the Earl of Angus stood for the House of Lancaster, there was strife between them and the queen-mother and nobles. Kennedy relied on France (Louis XL), and his opponents on England.

The battle of Towton (March 30, 1461) drove Henry VI. and his queen across the Border, where Kennedy entertained the melancholy exile in the Castle of St Andrews. The grateful Henry restored Berwick to the Scots, who could not hold it long. In June 1461, while the Scots were failing to take Carlisle, Edward IV. was crowned, and sent his adherent, the exiled Earl of Douglas, to treat for an alliance with the Celts, under John, Lord of the Isles, and that Donald Balloch who was falsely believed to have long before been slain in Ireland.

It is curious to think of the Lord of the Isles dealing as an independent prince, through a renegade Douglas, with the English king. A treaty was made at John's Castle of Ardtornish--now a shell of crumbling stone on the sea-shore of the Morvern side of the Sound of Mull--with the English monarch at Westminster. The Highland chiefs promise allegiance to Edward, and, if successful, the Celts are to recover the ancient kingdom from Caithness to the Forth, while Douglas is to be all-powerful from the Forth to the Border!

But other intrigues prevailed. The queen-mother and her son, in the most friendly manner, met the kingmaker Warwick at Dumfries, and again at Carlisle, and Douglas was disgraced by Edward, though restored to favour when Bishop Kennedy declined to treat with Edward's commissioners. The Treaty of England with Douglas and the Celts was then ratified; but Douglas, advancing in front of Edward's army to the Border, met old Bishop Kennedy in helmet and corslet, and was defeated. Louis XI., however, now deserted the Red for the White Rose. Kennedy followed his example; and peace was made between England and Scotland in October 1464. Kennedy died in the summer of 1465.

There followed the usual struggles between confederations of the nobles, and, in July 1466, James was seized, being then aged fourteen, by the party of the Boyds, Flemings, and Kennedys, aided by Hepburn of Hailes (ancestor of the turbulent Earl of Bothwell), and by the head of the Border House of Cessford, Andrew Ker.

It was a repetition of the struggles of Livingstone and Crichton, and now the great Border lairds begin to take their place in history. Boyd made himself Governor to the king, his son married the king's eldest sister, Mary, and became Earl of Arran. But brief was the triumph of the Boyds. In 1469 James married Margaret of Norway; Orkney and Shetland were her dower; but while Arran negotiated the affair abroad, at home the fall of his house was arranged. Boyd fled the country; the king's sister, divorced from young Arran, married the Lord Hamilton; and his family, who were Lords of Cadzow under Robert Bruce, and had been allies of the Black Douglases till their fall, became the nearest heirs of the royal Stewarts, if that family were extinct. The Hamiltons, the wealthiest house in Scotland, never produced a man of great ability, but their nearness to the throne and their ambition were storm-centres in the time of Mary Stuart and James VI., and even as late as the Union in 1707.

The fortunes of a nephew of Bishop Kennedy, Patrick Graham, Kennedy's successor as Bishop of St Andrews, now perplex the historian. Graham dealt for himself with the Pope, obtained the rank of Archbishop for the Bishop of St Andrews (1472), and thus offended the king and country, always jealous of interference from Rome. But he was reported on as more or less insane by a Papal Nuncio, and was deposed. Had he been defending (as used to be said) the right of election of Bishop for the Canons against the greed of the nobles, the Nuncio might not have taken an unfavourable view of his intellect. In any case, whether the clergy, backed by Rome, elected their bishops, or whether the king and nobles made their profit out of the Church appointments, jobbery was the universal rule. Ecclesiastical corruption and, as a rule, ignorance, were attaining their lowest level. {67} By 1476 the Lord of the Isles, the Celtic ally of Edward IV., was reduced by Argyll, Huntly, and Crawford, and lost the sheriffdom of Inverness, and the earldom of Ross, which was attached to the Crown (1476). His treaty of Ardtornish had come to light. But his bastard, Angus Og, filled the north and west with fire and tumult from Ross to Tobermory (1480-1490), while James's devotion to the arts--a thing intolerable--and to the society of low-born favourites, especially Thomas Cockburn, "a stone-cutter," prepared the sorrows and the end of his reign.

The intrigues which follow, and the truth about the character of James, are exceedingly obscure. We have no Scottish chronicle written at the time; the later histories, by Ferrerius, an Italian, and, much later, by Queen Mary's Bishop Lesley, and by George Buchanan, are full of rumours and contradictions, while the State Papers and Treaties of England merely prove the extreme treachery of James's brother Albany, and no evidence tells us how James contrived to get the better of the traitor. James's brothers Albany and Mar were popular; were good horsemen, men of their hands, and Cochrane is accused of persuading James to arrest Mar on a charge of treason and black magic. Many witches are said to have been burned: perhaps the only such case before the Reformation. However it fell out--all is obscure--Mar died in prison; while Albany, also a prisoner on charges of treasonable intrigues with the inveterate Earl of Douglas, in the English interest, escaped to France.

Douglas (1482) brought him to England, where he swore allegiance to Edward IV., under whom, like Edward Balliol, he would hold Scotland if crowned. He was advancing on the Border with Edward's support and with the Duke of Gloucester (Richard III.), and James had gone to Lauder to encounter him, when the Earl of Angus headed a conspiracy of nobles, such as Huntly, Lennox, and Buchan, seized Cochrane and other favourites of James, and hanged them over Lauder Bridge. The most tangible grievance was the increasing debasement of the coinage. James was immured at Edinburgh, but, by a compromise, Albany was restored to rank and estates. Meanwhile Gloucester captured Berwick, never to be recovered by Scotland. In 1483 Albany renewed, with many of the nobles, his intrigues with Edward for the betrayal of Scotland. In some unknown way James separated Albany from his confederates Atholl, Buchan, and Angus; Albany went to England, betrayed the Castle of Dunbar to England, and was only checked in his treasons by the death of Edward IV. (April 9, 1483), after which a full Parliament (July 7, 1483) condemned him and forfeited him in his absence. On July 22, 1484, he invaded Scotland with his ally, Douglas; they were routed at Lochmaben, Douglas was taken, and, by singular clemency, was merely placed in seclusion in the Monastery of Lindores, while Albany, escaping to France, perished in a tournament, leaving a descendant, who later, in the minority of James V., makes a figure in history.

The death of Richard III. (August 18, 1485) and the accession of the prudent Henry VII. gave James a moment of safety. He turned his attention to the Church, and determined to prosecute for treason such Scottish clerics as purchased benefices through Rome. He negotiated for three English marriages, including that of his son James, Duke of Rothesay, to a daughter of Edward IV.; he also negotiated for the recovery of Berwick, taken by Gloucester during Albany's invasion of 1482. After his death, and before it, James was accused, for these reasons, of disloyal dealings with England; and such nobles as Angus, up to the neck as they were in treason and rebellion, raised a party against him on the score that he was acting as they did. The almost aimless treachery of the Douglases, Red or Black, endured for centuries from the reign of David II. to that of James VI. Many nobles had received no amnesty for the outrage of Lauder Bridge; their hopes turned to the heir of the Crown, James, Duke of Rothesay. We see them offering peace for an indemnity in a Parliament of October 1487; the Estates refused all such pardons for a space of seven years; the king's party was manifestly the stronger. He was not to be intimidated; he offended Home and the Humes by annexing the Priory of Coldingham (which they regarded as their own) to the Royal Chapel at Stirling. The inveterate Angus, with others, induced Prince James to join them under arms. James took the Chancellorship from Argyll and sent envoys to England.

The rebels, proclaiming the prince as king, intrigued with Henry VII.; James was driven across the Forth, and was supported in the north by his uncle, Atholl, and by Huntly, Crawford, and Lord Lindsay of the Byres, Errol, Glamis, Forbes, and Tullibardine, and the chivalry of Angus and Strathtay. Attempts at pacification failed; Stirling Castle was betrayed to the rebels, and James's host, swollen by the loyal burgesses of the towns, met the Border spears of Home and Hepburn, the Galloway men, and the levies of Angus at Sauchie Burn, near Bannockburn.

In some way not understood, James, riding without a single knight or squire, fell from his horse, which had apparently run away with him, at Beaton's Mill, and was slain in bed, it was rumoured, by a priest, feigned or false, who heard his confession. The obscurity of his reign hangs darkest over his death, and the virulent Buchanan slandered him in his grave. Under his reign, Henryson, the greatest of the Chaucerian school in Scotland, produced his admirable poems. Many other poets whose works are lost were flourishing; and _The Wallace_, that elaborate plagiarism from Barbour's 'The Brus,' was composed, and attributed to Blind Harry, a paid minstrel about the Court.

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