Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/James III of Scotland
JAMES III (1451–1488), king of Scotland, son of James II [q. v.] and Mary of Gueldres, was born 10 July 1451, and became king when nine years old. He was crowned on Sunday, 10 Aug. 1460, in the abbey of Kelso. The queen-mother retained the chief power, whether or not she was formally regent. Her chief counsellors were Kennedy, archbishop of St. Andrews, and James Lindsay, provost of Lincluden, keeper of the privy seal, and the usual changes of a new reign were made in the custody of the principal royal castles. Parliaments were held, but their records have not been preserved. The continuance of the English war, as well as large building operations at the palace of Falkland, the new castle of Ravenscraig, near Dysart, and the Trinity College Church in Edinburgh, show the queen-mother to have been a vigorous ruler. She was supported by the ‘young lords,’ but opposed by the older nobles. When after the defeat of Towton, on 29 March 1461, Henry VI, his wife, and son, with several of the Lancastrian nobles, came to Scotland as refugees, she received them hospitably, and the surrender of Berwick to Scotland was arranged. Edward IV retaliated by stirring up the rebellion of the Earl of Ross, who exercised almost royal authority in his highland domains, and, though frequently summoned, did not appear in parliament. In July 1462 the households of the queen-mother and the young king were separated, and parliament declared that James should ‘aye remain with the queen,’ but that she was not to meddle with the profits of his estates. In December 1463 Edward IV ratified the truce with Scotland, and extended it, on 3 June 1464, for fifteen years. In spite of the truce, the king's brother, the Duke of Albany, was seized when on his voyage to Guelderland, but was released on the intercession of Bishop Kennedy. On 20 June 1465 a marriage was proposed between James and an English subject, and although this was not carried out, the truce was prolonged for fifty-four years on 1 June 1466.
Mary of Gueldres died on 16 Nov. 1463, and Bishop Kennedy on 10 May 1466. The nobles tried as usual to take advantage of a royal minority. Three of them usurped the chief power: Lord Kennedy, brother of the bishop and uncle of the king, became keeper of Stirling Castle; Robert, son of Malcolm Fleming of Cumbernauld, who had been steward of the household of James II; and Sir Alexander Boyd, governor of Edinburgh Castle, to whom the young king's military training was entrusted. On 10 Feb. 1456 these nobles entered into an agreement, by which Fleming undertook to maintain Boyd and Kennedy as custodians of James. On 9 July of the same year the king was seized, while attending an audit of the exchequer at Linlithgow, by a party of nobles headed by Boyd, with the connivance of Kennedy, and taken to Edinburgh Castle, where a parliament was held in his name on 9 Oct. On the fifth day of its session a mock trial was acted. Boyd came, begged, and received the pardon of the boy-king, who, with the concurrence of the estates, made his captor governor of the persons of himself and of his brothers, Albany and Mar, and gave him the custody of the royal castles. This was confirmed by a writ under the great seal, and on 26 April 1467 the eldest son of Boyd, Thomas, was created earl of Arran and married to the king's sister. The Boyds monopolised offices and power, but do not appear to have been oppressive rulers.
In the parliament of Stirling, in January 1468, the project for the marriage of James with Margaret, daughter of Christian of Denmark, which had been suggested by Charles VII of France before James II's death, was resumed, and an embassy, for whose cost 3,000l. was raised, was despatched to Copenhagen. The marriage treaty was signed on 8 Sept., and Arran, who took a principal part in the negotiation, went home to procure its ratification. Denmark agreed to abrogate her claim to an annual payment demanded from the kings of Scotland since 1263 on account of the Danish cession to Alexander III of the Hebrides, and promised the payment of sixty thousand Rhenish florins, for which the Orkney and Shetland Isles, at the time nominally under Denmark's suzerainty, were pledged to James. The ambassadors returned with the bride, and the marriage was celebrated with great pomp at Holyrood in July 1469. During Arran's absence the Boyds, his kinsmen, had fallen into discredit. Arran fled to Denmark with his wife. His father, Lord Boyd, escaped to England. In the parliament of Edinburgh in November 1469 the queen was crowned, the Boyds were forfeited for treason, and their lands annexed to the principality of Scotland. Although only in his eighteenth year, and his bride in her twelfth, James now undertook the government, and there is nothing to show that any one of the nobles or bishops acquired a controlling influence.
In the autumn of 1470 James and the queen went north, by way of Aberdeen, as far as Inverness. On 6 May 1471 he held a parliament in Edinburgh, which passed acts prohibiting the procuring of Scottish benefices at Rome, and making provision for the defence of the kingdom. The queen's jointure was settled, and William Sinclair, earl of Caithness, received a grant of Ravenscraig in Fife, in compensation for the cession of his rights in Orkney, which, with Shetland, was annexed to the crown. In 1474 Edward IV proposed the betrothal of James's infant son, afterwards James IV [q. v.], with his daughter Cecilia [q. v.] The English king agreed to pay a dowry of twenty thousand marks, as well as five hundred more as compensation for Bishop Kennedy's great barge, the St. Salvator, which had been plundered when wrecked on the sands of Bamborough. In 1474 James proposed that his sister Margaret should marry the Duke of Clarence, and his brother Albany the widowed Duchess of Burgundy, sister of Edward IV. But Edward, on making terms with France, waived these proposals, and stopped the instalments of his daughter's dowry. At the parliament of Edinburgh on 1 Dec. 1475, the Earl of Ross, whose share in the rebellion of 1462 remained unpunished, was forfeited for treason in absence, appeared before James in parliament at Edinburgh on 15 July 1476, and surrendered all his estates, but received them back, with the important exception of the earldom of Ross. He was also created a lord of parliament, with the title of Lord of the Isles, and the succession to his estates was settled, failing legitimate, on his illegitimate children. On 7 Feb. 1478 James, who had now reached what the Scots, following the Roman law, called the perfect age of twenty-five, revoked, as was usual, all alienations of crown property to its prejudice, and specially of any of the royal castles. He also entrusted the queen with the custody of the prince and of Edinburgh Castle for a period of five years.
Up to this time James's reign had been singularly fortunate. The civil wars in England had enabled him to recover Berwick and Roxburgh. His marriage had completed the boundaries of Scotland by the addition of the northern islands. The fall of the Boyds had brought into the hands of the crown Arran and Bute, as well as their Ayrshire estates. The highlands had been reduced by the submission of the Lord of the Isles and the annexation of the earldom of Ross. The skilful diplomacy of Patrick Graham [q. v.], the successor of Kennedy in the see of St. Andrews, had procured for Scotland the coveted archiepiscopal pall, which freed the Scottish church from the claims of supremacy asserted by the Archbishop of York over the southern sees, and by the Archbishop of Drontheim over the sees of Orkney and the Western Isles.
It is difficult to fix the exact date or the precise causes of the misfortunes which followed. Like his contemporary, Louis XI, James adopted as favourites new men from the lower ranks; but he had none of the tenacity of purpose which enabled the French king to succeed in this policy. The earliest of his favourites appears to have been William Schevez [q. v.], his physician and an astrologer, who was installed in the archbishopric of St. Andrews in 1478. Another favourite was Robert Cochrane [q. v.], well known as an architect. The royal family was divided against itself. His brothers—Albany, who was three, and Mar, who was six years his junior—were more popular than James. They took part in the martial exercises of the period, which James neglected for the more effeminate pursuits of music, literature, and architecture. The estates seem from the first to have distrusted James. In the parliament of July 1476 a committee, consisting of the king's brothers, Albany and Mar, most of the prelates, great barons, and representatives of the burghs, were invested with almost regal powers. The king's jealousy of Albany and Mar led, in 1479, to the arrest of Mar, whose death, it was suspected through foul play, quickly followed. Cochrane succeeded to the vacant earldom. The accusation of witchcraft made against Mar, and the burning of several witches who were charged with melting a wax image of the king, are among the first references to this crime in Scottish history. Albany was arrested soon after Mar, and placed in the castle of Edinburgh, from which he escaped to Leith, and thence to France. He was received with favour by Louis XI of France, he married Anne de la Tour, daughter of the Count of Boulogne and Auvergne, and subsequently came over to England. Edward IV had, in violation of the existing truce, shown himself the active enemy of Scotland. In June 1481 he concluded an alliance with the Lord of the Isles and Donald Gorme, another highland chief, and showed marked favour to the exiled Earl of Douglas [see Douglas, James, (1426–1488)]. In the Scottish parliament of March 1482 extensive preparations were authorised for the defence of the kingdom against Edward, who retaliated by a treaty with Albany, and conferred on him the dishonourable title of ‘Alexander, King of Scotland by the gift of the King of England.’
To carry out this treaty, Gloucester, with an English army, accompanied by Albany, and secretly abetted by the Earl of Angus and other Scottish nobles, marched to the border. In July, James, having assembled his feudal army, to the number of about fifty thousand, at the Borough Muir of Edinburgh, marched to Lauder, where mutiny broke out. The barons hanged Cochrane and other favourites, and sent the king to Edinburgh Castle.
Meantime, the town, and in August 1482 the castle, of Berwick was retaken by the English army. The border burgh never again became Scottish. Gloucester and Albany at once marched to Edinburgh. Then, by a sudden and inexplicable change, Albany and James were reconciled, through the mediation of the Archbishop of St. Andrews and Lord Avondale, the chancellor. Albany received a remission for his treasonable treaty with Edward IV, and in the parliament of December 1482 was appointed lieutenant-general of the kingdom. Gloucester was ignored and returned home. Edward IV was offered the restoration of the dowry, so far as paid, of the Princess Cecilia; but this was never carried out, and fruitless negotiations were set on foot for the marriage of Princess Margaret of Scotland with Anthony, lord Rivers. On 11 Feb. 1483 Edward entered into a new treaty with Albany to aid him in acquiring the Scottish crown, and promised him one of his daughters in marriage. This fresh treason became known to James and his Scottish council, but instead of leading, as might have been anticipated, to proceedings against Albany, an indenture was entered into between him and the king, signed at Dunbar on 19 March 1483, by which, among other provisions, James granted Albany a full remission for all ‘treason and other misdeeds.’ Albany renounced his obligations to Edward IV, engaged not to come within six miles of the king without special leave, and surrendered his office of lieutenant-general, retaining that of warden of the middle marches. He further promised to endeavour to procure peace with England.
Albany, however, with the aid of Lord Crichton, instead of carrying out the provisions of this agreement, fortified Dunbar Castle, and sent Sir James Liddale to renew his alliance with the English king. The death of Edward IV, on 9 April 1483, did not put a stop to Albany's treasonable plots, and on 27 June he was at last forfeited by parliament, and a similar doom was then, or shortly after, pronounced against Liddale, Crichton, and others of his followers. Preparations were at once made by James for the siege of Dunbar, and the siege was begun, though it was prosecuted slowly. Richard III on his accession at first favoured Albany, but the security of his own crown made it necessary for him to temporise by receiving at the end of 1483 an embassy sent by James, which succeeded in concluding a truce for three years, at Nottingham, on 21 Sept. 1484. On St. Magdalene's day (22 July of the latter year) Albany and the banished Earl of Douglas made an unsuccessful raid on Lochmaben. Douglas was taken prisoner and sent to London, and Albany himself with difficulty escaped to France, where he was killed in a tournament in 1485. In or before June 1486 Dunbar surrendered. The same year, probably on 14 July, Queen Margaret died, and her death facilitated the plot by which the leading nobles, who had never become really friendly to the king, procured his son (afterwards James IV) as the head of the rebellion, in Albany's place.
The death of Richard III, on 22 Aug. 1485, led to a treaty in November 1487 by which the new monarch, Henry VII, engaged to marry one of the sisters of his queen to the Scottish heir-apparent, another to his brother, the Marquis of Ormonde, and the widow of Edward IV to James himself. Once more these matrimonial projects miscarried, owing, it is said, to James's demand of the surrender of Berwick as a condition of his assent. But the quarrel, which had now reached a crisis, between him and his own nobles is a more probable cause. James had continued to favour men of inferior rank, his chief favourites now being Hommyl the tailor and Ramsay, lord Bothwell. He had depreciated the currency, and had wasted money over building, particularly at Stirling, where a royal hall was built and a royal chapel endowed on a scale of more than ordinary magnificence. To obtain funds for this James procured the pope's sanction to the annexation of the revenues of the monastery of Coldingham, which alienated its patrons, the powerful border family of the Humes. The chronic enmity of the great feudal houses to the sovereign, combined with the incapacity of James III, fully accounts for the extent of the revolt. Its heads were Angus (Bell the Cat), Lords Gray and Hume, and later the Earl of Huntly, Erroll, the Earl-Marischal, and Lord Glamis, chiefly, it may be observed, the lowland nobles. Most of the northern barons, the Earls of Crawford, Atholl, Monteith, Rothes, and others, and in the west Lords Kilmaurs and Boyd, remained faithful to James. The king showed special favour to Crawford, and tried to detach Angus and obtain his aid in arresting the rebels at a parliament or general council in Edinburgh in January 1488; but that stubborn earl refused to comply, disclosed the king's design to the nobles, and James himself had to seek safety by flight to the north. Crossing the Forth in a ship of Sir Andrew Wood, and summoning the barons of Fife, Strathearn, and Angus to his standard, he proceeded to Aberdeen. He then returned to Perth, where he was joined by his uncle, the Earl of Atholl, Huntly, Crawford, and Lindsay of the Byres, who led a thousand horse and three thousand infantry raised in Fife. Ruthven also brought a force of three thousand men of all arms. When he reached Stirling, James was at the head of an army of thirty thousand men. In May he met the rebels under Hepburn, lord Hailes, at Blackness on the Forth. The barons had also raised their whole forces, and James, a timid general, rather than risk an engagement, entered into a pacification, by the terms of which Atholl was delivered as a hostage. It was felt on both sides that this was a mere suspension of hostilities. James created Crawford duke of Montrose, and Kilmaurs earl of Glencairn, as a reward for their services; and his second son was made duke of Ross, with the probable intention of substituting him for his brother as heir to the crown. Envoys were despatched to France, England, and Rome, urgently begging for assistance. The castle of Edinburgh was fortified, and the royal treasure deposited in it. The rebels on their side were not idle; they increased their forces, and treated the king's heralds with derision. They gained over Shaw of Sauchie, the governor of Stirling, in whose custody the young prince James was, and, adopting the prince's standard as their own, led him with them to Linlithgow. James determined to attempt to gain possession of Stirling Castle, but Shaw refused to admit him, and on 11 June 1488 the two hosts confronted each other on the plain through which the Sauchie burn flows, about a mile south of the field of Bannockburn. The battle which followed, the most celebrated in the early civil wars of Scotland, traversed partly the same ground as that on which Bruce had won his famous victory. The rebels were superior in numbers, and their archers and spearmen gained the first advantage, which was at once turned into a victory by the flight of the king. Glencairn, Ruthven, and Erskine are the only nobles named as having been killed. James himself fled to Miltoun, called Beton's Mill, where he imprudently revealed his identity to a woman drawing water at the well, by telling her in his craven fear, ‘I was your king this morning.’ She called, according to the traditionary story, for a priest, and one of Lord Gray's men assumed that character. When asked by the fallen monarch to shrive him, the soldier replied he would give him a short shrift, and despatched him with his sword. The stories that he survived the fatal day were the rumours of the camp or the gossip of the country-side.
James was buried beside his wife at Cambuskenneth, where masses were said for a time for his soul, and a monument has recently been restored by Queen Victoria. He was only thirty-six years of age, but had been nominally king for twenty-eight years. He left three sons: James IV [q. v.], who succeeded; James Stewart, duke of Ross (1476–1504) [q. v.], afterwards archbishop of St. Andrews; and John, earl of Mar. Although pity was felt for his fate at the time, and one later historian has tried to defend his character, he was quite unfit to rule over Scotland. It may be that his opponents among the nobles, whose accounts have chiefly come down to our time, exaggerated his weaknesses of character into vices. He had a share of the culture of his race, and was a lover of letters, music, painting, and architecture. His legislation, though it is difficult to say how far he deserves personal credit for it, was, so far as it has been preserved, a continuation of that of his father and grandfather—more favourable to the commons than to the nobles. He was not so fortunate as they were in his counsellors. The murder of one brother and the treason and exile of another were avenged by the rebellion of his son. He is said to have been pious. He was certainly superstitious, and, according to Lesley, immoral in his relations with women, but there is no record of his having left bastards.
Besides the imaginary portrait in the possession of the Marquis of Lothian, attributed to George Jameson [q. v.], there is a three-quarters length picture by an unknown artist, now the property of F. Mackenzie Fraser of Castle Fraser. The portrait contained in the fine altarpiece, perhaps by Van der Goes, now at Holyrood, was apparently painted for Trinity College Church, the foundation of Mary of Gueldres, and represents him kneeling at the altar with his son, James IV, behind him. The features betray a weak and effeminate character. He may be in some points compared to Louis XI, and in others to Henry VI, but he had not the wicked ability of the French nor the genuine piety of the English monarch. Nor had he, as they both had, the excuse of an insane taint.[Boece's History becomes more nearly contemporary, and is of more value than in earlier portions. Major's History is tantalisingly brief. Lindsay of Pitscottie is, as always, too good a story-teller to be quite trustworthy as a historian. The full publications both of the Exchequer and Treasurer's Accounts in the Lord Clerk Register Series by Mr. Burnett and Mr. Dickson are of the greatest value, and enable this reign to be told in a manner impossible either to Tytler or Burton. Some of the English records are also important, especially the letters of Richard III and Henry VII in the Rolls Series, edited by Mr. Gairdner.]