The Good King

Sad day for the Stuarts: on September 9, 1513, James IV of Scotland, one of the most successful Stuart monarchs, died in the battle of Flodden Field.

James was the son of an unpopular king who faced two rebellions during his reign. During the second one, 15-year-old James was embraced as a leader of the rebels, who then killed his father at the Battle of Sauchieburn on June 11, 1488. James was so guilt-ridden over the role he played in his father’s death (however indirect it was) that he started wearing an iron cilice around his waist during Lent, adding extra ounces every year.

Despite his youth, James proved to be a very effective ruler. He squashed another rebellion in 1489 and brought the difficult Lord of the Isles under control. Realizing the importance of remaining friends with England, he established diplomatic relations with his neighbor to the south, which was just emerging from the Wars of the Roses. James signed the Treaty of Perpetual Peace with Henry VII in 1502 and married Henry’s daughter, Margaret Tudor, the following year. He also established the Royal Scottish Navy.

James was a Renaissance man, with interests in politics and scientific matters. He granted the Edinburgh College of Surgeons a royal charter, was the patron of many literary figures, and was known as a well-educated man who was fluent in several languages. He’s the last King of Scots who’s known to have spoken Scottish Gaelic.

England’s and France’s involvements in the ongoing Italian wars put James in a tough spot. He was obliged to side with France due to the Auld Alliance, which had been struck in 1295, but that conflicted with the Treaty of Perpetual Peace. Henry VIII, now king, attempted to invade France in 1513, and James was forced to act. He declared war on England and led an invading army of 30,000 men south. Because this was a chivalrous period, he gave the English a month’s notice before invading, allowing them plenty of time to gather an army of their own.

The armies met near the village of Branxton in Northumberland and the battle ended with a major Scottish defeat. James was killed, along with many of his nobles; his bloodstained coat was sent to Henry in France as a gift from his wife, Katherine of Aragon. James’s death left his one-year-old son, James V, King of Scotland. He, too, would die following a Scottish defeat on the battlefield, and leave his own underage heir, Mary, to take the Scottish throne.



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