Chapter X; James III., 1460-1488, 28 Years, pp.77-85.

[History of Scotland Contents]

Accession of James III.,                                                      1460 
Death of Bishop Kennedy,                                                1465 
Orkney and Shetland given as a dowry to James III.,    1469 
Fall of the Boyds,                                                                1469 
The king’s brother, Mar, dies in Craigmillar,                  1479 
The king’s favourites hanged,                                            1482 
Death of the king at Sauchieburn,                                     1488

   1.  The death of King James II. caused some discouragement to the troops that were besieging Roxburgh; but the widowed queen came with her little son, a boy of eight years, and exhorted them to finish the work they had undertaken.  The siege was pressed, and the castle was taken and destroyed. The young king was then conducted to Kelso, where he was crowned with great pomp and solemnity. The government was intrusted to Kennedy, Bishop of St. Andrews, and so long as he lived there was comparative peace and good government. 

   2.  A civil war was at this time raging in England between the Houses of York and Lancaster. After the defeat of the Lancastrians at Towton in 1461, Henry VI. and his queen took refuge in Scotland, and either from gratitude to the Scots for their kind reception of them, or to deprive Edward IV. of a stronghold, they gave up Berwick to the Scots. 

   3.  Edward IV., was too busy openly to quarrel with Scotland, and in August, 1461, he appointed a commission to treat for peace with the King of Scots. Secretly, however, at the instigation of the banished Earl of Douglas, he had only two months before issued a commission to engage the Lord of the Isles and Donald Balloch to rise in rebellion against their youthful sovereign. It was agreed that if Scotland should be conquered by the aid of the Lord of the Isles, he should become the Liege-man of Edward and be lord of all Scotland north of the Forth, while Douglas, should he give effective aid, would be lord of the territory south of the Forth. The Lord of the Isles, raised an army in terms of this agreement, proclaimed himself King of the Hebrides, took the castle of Inverness, invaded Athole, and committed depredations as far south as Arran. For want of co-operation on the part of Douglas and the King of England, this rising collapsed, nor was the true cause of it known in Scotland till 1474, when it was discovered that such a secret treaty had been made. The King of England was not in a position to make open claim of homage from the King of Scots, but he seems to have made preparations for doing so at a future time, for a great number of forged documents were at this time solemnly deposited in the English Treasury, setting forth that the English claims were just, and had been acknowledged by the Scots. 

   4.  The early part of this reign is remarkable for the rapid rise of the Boyd family to power and influence. Robert Boyd had been, probably through the influence of Bishop Kennedy, created a peer of the realm. Alexander, the brother of this Lord Boyd, had been selected by the queen-mother and Kennedy to act as tutor to the young king in his martial exercises. He acquired great influence over the royal youth, and won his affections to his brother as well as to himself. The Boyds formed a faction, to which they secured the adherence of many of the Scottish nobility. Their intrigues were carried on during the mortal illness of Bishop Kennedy, and in contemplation of his death, which took place in 1465

   5.  There was now no one wise enough or sufficiently powerful to check the ambitious schemes of the Boyds. In 1466, while the king sat in his Exchequer Court, then held in the palace of Linlithgow, Lord Boyd and his associates came and carried him off to Edinburgh. They afterwards got the king in Parliament to acknowledge that he had gone with them of his own freewill. Lord Boyd was formally pardoned by the three Estates, and made guardian of the king’s person and governor of the royal fortresses. The Boyds now speedily acquired vast estates in all parts of Scotland, and Thomas, the guardian’s eldest son, was, in 1467, created Earl of Arran, and married to the Princess Mary, the king’s sister. 

   6.  It will be remembered that the Western Islands had, after the battle of Largs, in 1263, been ceded by Norway to Scotland for a money rent of 100 merks. This sum had not been regularly paid, and Christian I., King of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, now asked payment of the arrears. Scotland could not readily pay the money, and the settlement of the matter was referred to Louis XI. of France. It was thought that as the King of Scots wanted a wife, Christian I. should give him his daughter, and by way of dowry cancel the claim on the Western Isles, and give besides the sum of £5000. As the King of Denmark could not pay this sum it was agreed that it should remain as a debt, and that Orkney and Shetland, which had hitherto formed part of the Norse king’s dominions, should be given to the Scottish king as a pledge for payment. The money was never paid, and since that period the islands of Orkney and Shetland have remained attached to the crown of Scotland, and been reckoned a part of the kingdom. 

   7.  While Boyd, Earl of Arran, was absent in Denmark at the head of the embassy which negotiated the marriage and brought home the bride, a coalition of the Scottish nobles was formed against him, and the eyes of the king were opened to the ignominious tutelage in which he had been kept. Arran’s wife, the king’s sister, having become acquainted with what was going on, got herself conveyed to the fleet on its return before he landed, and warned him of his danger. He fled back to Denmark, taking his wife with him. After the king’s marriage the Boyds were tried for high treason, and found guilty. Lord Boyd fled to England. His brother Alexander was executed in November, 1469, on the castle hill of Edinburgh. The domains of this powerful family were forfeited and annexed to the crown. At the command of the king the Princess Mary was forced to leave her husband and return to the Scottish court. A divorce was obtained, and she was given in marriage to Lord Hamilton. By this marriage the head of the House of Hamilton became the actual heir to the throne, or the next after the royal child down the time of James VI., when there were more royal children than one. 

   8.  In 1474 the English made advances towards establishing a lasting peace with Scotland. It was proposed to betroth the Princess Cecilia of England to the young Prince James of Scotland, and that 20,000 marks should be paid to the Scots as her dowry. This proposal was agreed to, and the payment of the dowry by annual instalments began at once. 

   9.  The Scots, in the course of these negotiations with England, became acquainted with the treaty which the Lord of the Isles had made with King Edward. For this he was cited to appear before Parliament on a charge of treason. He did not appear at first, but afterwards submitted to the king. His earldom of Ross was taken from him, but in 1476 he was created a Lord of Parliament and confirmed in his title of Lord of the Isles. 

   10.  The reign of James III. had hitherto been prosperous. The occupation of Roxburgh and Berwick, the acquisition of Ross to the crown, the establishment of the independence of the Scottish Church by the erection of St. Andrews into an archbishopric, and the marriage treaty with England, were results of which the country had reason to be proud. 

   11.  A rapid change now took place, which we scarcely know whether to ascribe to the circumstances of the times, or to defects in the character of the king. James, as he grew older, acquired refined tastes and studious habits, which were not calculated to win the respect of the ignorant but proud nobility, who regarded with contempt every pursuit that was not connected with military skill and martial daring. The king loved seclusion, and patronized architects, musicians, painters, astrologers, fencing-masters, and even skilled artisans. His brothers Albany and Mar, on the contrary, delighted in martial exercises and feudal pomp. This made the aristocracy look to the brothers as the chief support of the state, and alienated their minds from the sovereign. Hence it came about that the king treated his brothers as enemies. Mar was thrown into Craigmillar Castle, where he died. Rumour said he was murdered. Albany was committed to Edinburgh Castle, but he escaped to Dunbar. When Dunbar was besieged and taken, he fled to France. He came thence to England, and made a treasonable treaty with Edward IV., whereby, on his acknowledging the feudal supremacy of the crown of England over Scotland, he was to be made King of Scotland with the title of Alexander IV., and was, if possible, to take the place of his nephew, Prince James, and marry the Princess Cecilia. 

   12.  Albany and the banished Earl of Douglas stirred up the English to hostilities against Scotland, while Louis, King of France, stimulated the Scots to make war with England. The King of Scots raised an army to oppose the attack which England threatened. A nuncio, however, came from the pope, and enjoined the two nations to stop their quarrel. The Scots obeyed and dispersed their force, but the English continued their raids, burning and destroying the Scottish Border. 

   13.  The Scots, in 1482, assembled another army of 50,000 on the Borough Muir, near Edinburgh. The king led this army through the Lammermuir Hills towards the Border as far as Lauder, where an incident took place which stopped its progress. The nobles were disgusted with the favour which the king showed to Cochrane, an architect, or as they contemptuously called him, a mason, whom he had made Earl of Mar. He was now with the army, and had charge of the artillery. The nobles held a secret council, and resolved to get rid of Cochrane and the king’s other favourites. When they were deliberating as to how they should best seize Cochrane, Lord Gray applied to them the fable of the mice who determined to hang a bell round the cat’s neck to let them always know where she was, but were greatly perplexed when they came to consider which of them should tie on the bell. Before Gray had done speaking, Archibald, Earl of Angus, started up and cried out, “Delay not as to that, I’ll bell the cat.” From this speech he was ever afterwards called Archibald Bell the Cat. At that moment a knock was heard at the door, and Cochrane entered. Angus pulled off a chain of gold that Cochrane had about his neck, and told him a rope would serve him better. They detained him till they sent armed men to the king’s pavilion, who seized the other favourites, among whom were Rogers, a musician, Torphichen, a fencing-master, Hommel, a tailor, and Leonard, a shoemaker. A young man named Ramsay was spared at the intercession of the king. Cochrane and the rest were, without ceremony, hanged over the Lauder Bridge. The march of the army southward was abandoned, and the king was lodged with apparent honour, but really as a prisoner, in the castle of Edinburgh. 

   14.  Albany soon after came to Edinburgh and procured the freedom of his brother; but being suspected of designs against the independence of the kingdom, he left Scotland, went over to the English, and placed Dunbar Castle in English hands. He and Douglas made a raid into Scotland in 1484, but they were defeated. Albany escaped into France, Douglas was taken prisoner, but on his agreeing to spend the remainder of his days in Lindores his life was spared. 

   15.  The English army, which the Scottish host that stopped at Lauder was designed to meet, being unopposed, took the town of Berwick. In 1485 Henry VII. became King of England. The truces were renewed, and England seemed sincerely to wish for peace. But a widespread confederacy was formed against James III. He was charged with surrounding himself with false counsellors, who advised him to “the inbringing of Englishmen and the perpetual subjection of the realm.” 

   16.  The confederate forces gathered on the south. The king raised an army in the north, and drew towards Stirling. Shaw, the governor of the castle, refused the king admittance, and carried Prince James, a youth of sixteen, whose guardian he was, to the camp of the confederates. The two armies, each displaying a royal banner, met at Sauchieburn, near Bannockburn, in 1488. The royal forces made but little resistance to their enemies, and were defeated. The king fled on a spirited gray horse that had that day been given him by Lord Lindsay. He had crossed the Bannock, and was passing Beaton’s Mill, when the miller’s wife, who had come out to draw water, being startled by the sudden appearance of an armed horseman, dropped her pitcher. The horse shied at this and threw the king. He was carried into the miller’s house and laid on a bed. The king told who he was, and asked the miller’s wife to get a priest to whom he might make his dying confession. The woman ran to the door called for a priest to shrive the king. A man passing by said he was a priest, came in, and bending over the bed as if to do the priestly office to the dying man, stabbed him until he was dead. He then rushed out and vanished no one knew whither. Thus perished James III. at the age of thirty-six, in the twenty-eighth year of his reign. 

   Summary. – James III. was but eight years old when he was crowned at Kelso. The siege of Roxburgh was carried on with vigour, and the castle was taken. The Boyd family rose to great power in the beginning of this reign. So long as Bishop Kennedy lived there was peace and good government. After his death, in 1465, the Boyds obtained possession of the king, and Lord Boyd got himself made guardian of the kingdom. His son, Thomas, married the king’s sister Mary, and was created Earl of Arran. The fall of the Boyds was as rapid as their rise. When Arran was absent in Denmark negotiating for the marriage of the king to the Princess of Denmark, a plot was formed against them. Lord Boyd fled to England, his brother Alexander was executed, the Princess Mary was forced to leave her husband, whom she had warned of his danger on his return, and with whom she had fled to Denmark. A divorce was procured, and she was given in marriage to Lord Hamilton. King James got with his bride Orkney and Shetland as a marriage portion. After this he became studious and fond of favourites, which displeased the nobles, and made them favour his brothers Mar and Albany, whom he came to regard as enemies. Mar was thrown into Craigmillar Castle, where he died, and Albany fled to France. The king led an army towards the Border in 1482, but the nobles stopped its progress at Lauder, where they hanged the favourites. They then went back to Edinburgh Castle with the king as a prisoner. Albany, however, procured his freedom. A party of the nobles suspected the king of intriguing with England for the subjection of Scotland. They raised an army against him, and defeated his forces at Sauchieburn, where he was killed in 1488.

   Questions:- Give an account of the events that succeeded the death of James II. How did the Scots obtain possession of Berwick? To what secret policy against Scotland did the banished Earl of Douglas stir up Edward IV. of England? Give an account of the rise of the Boyds to power and influence. How did Orkney and Shetland become part of Scotland? With what effect did the pope’s nuncio interfere between the Scots and the English? Give an account of the hanging of the king’s favourites. What do you know of the subsequent doings of Albany and Douglas? Why did many of the Scots rise against their king? Describe the battle of Sauchieburn and the manner of the king’s death.
dis-cour’-age-ment, disheartening.  ig-no-min’-ious, shameful, dishonourable. 
wid’-owed, deprived of a husband.  tu’-tel-age, disloyalty to the king. 
ex-hort’-ed, strongly advised.  in-stal’-ments, sums paid at stated periods. 
pressed, urged on.  ci’-ted, summoned. 
sol-em’-ni-ty, religious reverence.  oc-cu-pa’-tion, taking possession of. 
in-trust’-ed, committed to the care of.  ac-qui-si’-tion, getting, obtaining. 
re-cep’-tion, manner of receiving.  as-cribe, impute, assign. 
de-prive’, to take from.  stū-di-ous, fond of study. 
com-mis’-sion, a body of men appointed to do something.  con-tempt’, disdain. 
in-sti-ga’-tion, stirring up.  se-clu’-sion, retirement. 
a-gree’-ment, bargain.  pat’-ron-ized, favvoured, promoted. 
de-pre-da’-tions, acts of plundering.  arch’-i-tect, one who plans buildings. 
col-lapsed’, came to nought, fell away.  as-trol’-o-gers, men who foretell events from the situation and aspects of the stars. 
forged, falsely made, counterfeited.  ar’-ti-zans, skilled workmen. 
peer, a nobleman.  ar-is-toc’-ra-cy, nobility. 
ad-hēr’-ence, support, attachment.  a’-li-en-a-ted, turned away. 
in-trigues’, plots.  su-prem’-a-cy, superiority. 
con-templa’-tion, view, expectation.  nun’-ci-o, pope’s ambassador. 
ex-cheq’-uer court, court of revenue and common law.  pa-vil’-ion, tent. 
as-so’-ci-ates, companions, partners.  in-terces’-sion, earnest request. 
ce’-ded, given up to.  cer’-e-mony, formality. 
ar-rears’, money or sums due.  con-fed’-er-a-cy, combination of parties. 
dow’-ry, marriage portion.  per-pet’-u-al, unending. 
can’-cel, give up, blot out.  shied, took fright and started back. 
ne-go’-ti-at-ed, arranged.  shrive, to hear confession of sins. 
co-a-li-tion, combination, union.   

Heb’rides, islands lying along the west coast of Scotland from Islay to Lewis. 

Ar’ran, an island in the Firth of Clyde. 

Largs, a small town on the coast of Ayrshire. 

Craigmil’lar Castle, about three miles south of Edinburgh. 

Lam’mermoor Hills, between Haddingtonshire and Berwickshire. 

Lau’der, a small town in Berwickshire on the Leader, a tributary of the Tweed. 

Lindores’ Abbey, on the Firth of Tay in Fifeshire.

*  The events related in this chapter form the background to an excellent wee 4-part story from Sir T. D. Lauder’s ‘Tales of the Highlands’ (1881), Legend of Charley Stewart Taillear-Crubach – Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.

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