Up until then, James had been a bit of a lucky guy (or unlucky, depending on how you look at it). He was the younger of a set of twins, but his elder brother died before his first birthday, leaving little James as heir apparent. When he was just six years old, he became king when his father, James I, was assassinated. Scotland was ruled by regents, one of whom, Lord Crichton, decided to use his position to get rid of some of his enemies. An invitation was issued in the young king’s name to the 6th Earl of Douglas and his eleven-year-old brother to visit Edinburgh Castle in 1440. They did, and barely had time to finish their pudding before they were hustled out to the castle yard and beheaded in a move that would later come to be called ‘the Black Dinner.’ James would spend much of the rest of his life battling (literally) with the Douglases for power. They were finally brought to heel in 1455 at the Battle of Arkinholm.
Once the Douglases were taken care of, James turned his attention to Orkney, Shetland, and the Isle of Man, all of which he wanted to annexe. He was unsuccessful (Scotland later received Orkney and Shetland as the dowry of Margaret of Denmark, who married James’s son and heir). He was, however, successful in securing the Stuart line: after marrying Mary of Guelders in 1449, he and his wife went on to have seven children (nearly one per year for the rest of his life), five of whom lived to adulthood. Their eldest surviving child became James III who, in the grand tradition of Stuart monarchs, inherited early, ruled poorly, and died young.
Having failed to secure his islands, James turned his attention on Roxburgh Castle, one of the last Scottish castles still held by the English following the Wars of Independence. During the siege, a cannon known as ‘the Lion’ exploded, allegedly shattering the king’s leg and swiftly killing him. The siege continued and the castle was eventually overtaken. James’s widow, Mary, ordered it destroyed.