The new king, with Angus for his Governor, Argyll for his Chancellor, and with the Kers and Hepburns in office, was crowned at Scone about June 25, 1488. He was nearly seventeen, no child, but energetic in business as in pleasure, though lifelong remorse for his rebellion gnawed at his heart. He promptly put down a rebellion of the late king's friends and of the late king's foe, Lennox, then strong in the possession of Dumbarton Castle, which, as it commands the sea-entrance by Clyde, is of great importance in the reign of Mary and James VI. James III must have paid attention to the navy, which, under Sir Andrew Wood, already faced English pirates triumphantly. James IV spent much money on his fleet, buying timber from France, for he was determined to make Scotland a power of weight in Europe. But at the pinch his navy vanished like a mist.
Spanish envoys and envoys from the Duchess of Burgundy visited James in 1488-1489; he was in close relations with France and Denmark, and caused anxieties to the first Tudor king, Henry VII, who kept up the Douglas alliance with Angus, and bought over Scottish politicians. While James, as his account-books show, was playing cards with Angus, that traitor was also negotiating the sale of Hermitage Castle, the main hold of the Middle Border, to England. He was detected, and the castle was intrusted to a Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell; it was still held by Queen Mary's Bothwell in 1567. The Hepburns rose to the earldom of Bothwell on the death of Ramsay, a favourite of James III, who (1491) had arranged to kidnap James IV with his brother, and hand them over to Henry VII, for £277, 13s. 4d.! Nothing came of this, and a truce with England was arranged in 1491. Through four reigns, till James VI came to the English throne, the Tudor policy was to buy Scottish traitors, and attempt to secure the person of the Scottish monarch.
Meanwhile, the Church was rent by jealousies between the holder of the newly-created Archbishop of Glasgow (1491) and the Archbishop of St Andrews, and disturbed by the Lollards, in the region which was later the centre of the fiercest Covenanters, - Kyle in Ayrshire. But James laughed away the charges against the heretics (1494), whose views were, on many points, those of John Knox. In 1493-1495 James dealt in the usual way with the Highlanders and "the wicked blood of the Isles": some were hanged, some imprisoned, some became sureties for the peacefulness of their clans. In 1495, by way of tit-for-tat against English schemes, James began to back the claims of Perkin Warbeck, pretending to be Richard, Duke of York, escaped from the assassins employed by Richard III. Perkin, whoever he was, had probably been intriguing between Ireland and Burgundy since 1488. He was welcomed by James at Stirling in November 1495, and was wedded to the king's cousin, Catherine Gordon, daughter of the Earl of Huntly, now supreme in the north. Rejecting a daughter of England, and Spanish efforts at pacification, James prepared to invade England in Perkin's cause; the scheme was sold by Ramsay, the would-be kidnapper, and came to no more than a useless raid of September 1496, followed by a futile attempt and a retreat in July 1497. The Spanish envoy, de Ayala, negotiated a seven-years' truce in September, after Perkin had failed and been taken at Taunton.
The Celts had again risen while James was busy in the Border; he put them down, and made Argyll Lieutenant of the Isles. Between the Campbells and the Huntly Gordons, as custodians of the peace, the fighting clans were expected to be more orderly. On the other hand, a son of Angus Og, himself usually reckoned a bastard of the Lord of the Isles, gave much trouble. Angus had married a daughter of the Argyll of his day; their son, Donald Dubh, was kidnapped (or, rather, his mother was kidnapped before his birth) for Argyll; he now escaped, and in 1503, found allies among the chiefs, did much scathe, was taken in 1506, but was as active as ever forty years later.
The central source of these endless Highland feuds was the family of the Macdonalds, Lords of the Isles, claiming the earldom of Ross, resisting the Lowland influences and those of the Gordons and Campbells (Huntly and Argyll), and seeking aid from England. With the capture of Donald Dubh (1506) the Highlanders became for the while comparatively quiescent; under Lennox and Argyll they suffered in the defeat of Flodden.
From 1497 to 1503 Henry VII was negotiating for the marriage of James to his daughter Margaret Tudor; the marriage was celebrated on August 8, 1503, and a century later the great grandson of Margaret, James VI came to the English throne. But marriage does not make friendship. There had existed since 1491 a secret alliance by which Scotland was bound to defend France if attacked by England. Henry's negotiations for the kidnapping of James were of April of the same year. Margaret, the young queen, after her marriage, was soon involved in bitter quarrels over her dowry with her own family; the slaying of a Sir Robert Ker, Warden of the Marches, by a Heron in a Border fray (1508), left an unhealed sore, as England would not give up Heron and his accomplice. Henry VII had been pacific, but his death, in 1509, left James to face his hostile brother-in-law, the fiery young Henry VIII.
In 1511 the Holy League under the Pope, against France, imperilled James's French ally. He began to build great ships of war; his sea-captain, Barton, pirating about, was defeated and slain by ships under two of the Howards, sons of the Earl of Surrey (August 1511). James remonstrated, Henry was firm, and the Border feud of Ker and Heron was festering; moreover, Henry was a party to the League against France, and France was urging James to attack England. He saw, and wrote to the King of Denmark, that, if France were down, the turn of Scotland to fall would follow. In March 1513, an English diplomatist, West, found James in a wild mood, distraught "like a fey man."
Chivalry, and even national safety, called him to war; while his old remorse drove him into a religious retreat, and he was on hostile terms with the Pope. On May 24th, in a letter to Henry, he made a last attempt to obtain a truce, but on June 30th Henry invaded France. The French queen despatched to James, as to her true knight, a letter and a ring. He sent his fleet to sea; it vanished like a dream. He challenged Henry through a herald on July 26th, and, in face of strange and evil omens, summoned the whole force of his kingdom, crossed the Border on August 22nd, took Norham Castle on Tweed, with the holds of Eital, Chillingham, and Ford, which he made his headquarters, and awaited the approach of Surrey and the levies of the Stanleys. On September 5th he demolished Ford Castle, and took position on the crest of Flodden Edge, with the deep and sluggish water of Till at its feet. Surrey, commanding an army all but destitute of supplies, outmanoeuvred James, led his men unseen behind a range of hills to a position where, if he could maintain himself, he was upon James's line of communications, and thence marched against him to Branxton Ridge, under Flodden Edge.
James was ignorant of Surrey's movement till he saw the approach of his standards. In place of retaining his position, he hurled his force down to Branxton, his gunners could not manage their new French ordnance, and though Home with the Border spears and Huntly had a success on the right, the Borderers made no more efforts, and, on the left, the Celts fled swiftly after the fall of Lennox and Argyll. In the centre Crawford and Rothes were slain, and James, with the steady spearmen of his command, drove straight at Surrey. James, as the Spaniard Ayala said, "was no general: he was a fighting man." He was outflanked by the Admiral (Howard) and Dacre; his force was surrounded by charging horse and foot, and rained on by arrows. But
"The stubborn spearmen still made
Their dark impenetrable wood,"
when James rushed from the ranks, hewed his way to within a lance's length of Surrey (so Surrey writes), and died, riddled with arrows, his neck gashed by a bill-stroke, his left hand almost sundered from his body. Night fell on the unbroken Scottish phalanx, but when dawn arrived only a force of Border prickers was hovering on the fringes of the field. Thirteen dead earls lay in a ring about their master; there too lay his natural son, the young Archbishop of St Andrews, and the Bishops of Caithness and the Isles. Scarce a noble or gentle house of the Lowlands but reckons an ancestor slain at Flodden.
Surrey did not pursue his victory, which was won, despite sore lack of supplies, by his clever tactics, by the superior discipline of his men, by their marching powers, and by the glorious rashness of the Scottish king. It is easy, and it is customary, to blame James's adherence to the French alliance as if it were born of a foolish chivalry. But he had passed through long stress of mind concerning this matter. If he rejected the allurements of France, if France were overwhelmed, he knew well that the turn of Scotland would come soon. The ambitions and the claims of Henry VIII were those of the first Edwards. England was bent on the conquest of Scotland at the earliest opportunity, and through the entire Tudor period England was the home and her monarch the ally of every domestic foe and traitor to the Scottish Crown.
Scotland, under James, had much prospered in wealth and even in comfort. Ayala might flatter in some degree, but he attests the great increase in comfort and in wealth.
In 1495 Bishop Elphinstone founded the University of Aberdeen, while (1496) Parliament decreed a course of school and college for the sons of barons and freeholders of competent estate. Prior Hepburn founded the College of St Leonard's in the University of St Andrews; and in 1507 Chepman received a royal patent as a printer. Meanwhile Dunbar, reckoned by some the chief poet of Scotland before Burns, was already denouncing the luxury and vice of the clergy, though his own life set them a bad example. But with Dunbar, Henryson, and others, Scotland had a school of poets much superior to any that England had reared since the death of Chaucer. Scotland now enjoyed her brief glimpse of the Revival of Learning; and James, like Charles II., fostered the early movements of chemistry and physical science. But Flodden ruined all, and the country, under the long minority of James V, was robbed and distracted by English intrigues; by the follies and loves of Margaret Tudor; by actual warfare between rival candidates for ecclesiastical place; by the ambitions and treasons of the Douglases and other nobles; and by the arrival from France of the son of Albany, that rebel brother of James III.
The truth of the saying, "Woe to the kingdom whose king is a child," was never more bitterly proved than in Scotland between the day of Flodden and the day of the return of Mary Stuart from France (1513-1561). James V was not only a child and fatherless; he had a mother whose passions and passionate changes in love resembled those of her brother Henry VIII. Consequently, when the inevitable problem arose, was Scotland during the minority to side with England or with France? the queen-mother wavered ceaselessly between the party of her brother, the English king, and the party of France; while Henry VIII could not be trusted, and the policy of France in regard to England did not permit her to offer any stable support to the cause of Scottish independence. The great nobles changed sides constantly, each "fighting for his own hand," and for the spoils of a Church in which benefices were struggled for and sold like stocks in the Exchange.
The question, Was Scotland to ally herself with England or with France? later came to mean, Was Scotland to break with Rome or to cling to Rome? Owing mainly to the selfish and unscrupulous perfidy of Henry VIII, James V was condemned, as the least of two evils, to adopt the Catholic side in the great religious revolution; while the statesmanship of the Beatons, Archbishops of St Andrews, preserved Scotland from English domination, thereby preventing the country from adopting Henry's Church, the Anglican, and giving Calvinism and Presbyterianism the opportunity which was resolutely taken and held.
The real issue of the complex faction fight during James's minority was thus of the most essential importance; but the constant shiftings of parties and persons cannot be dealt with fully in our space. James's mother had a natural claim to the guardianship of her son, and was left Regent by the will of James IV, but she was the sister of Scotland's enemy, Henry VIII. Beaton, Archbishop of Glasgow (later of St Andrews), with the Earl of Arran (now the title of the Hamiltons), Huntly, and Angus were to advise the queen till the arrival of Albany (son of the brother of James III.), who was summoned from France. Albany, of course, stood for the French alliance, but when the queen-mother (August 6, 1514) married the new young Earl of Angus, the grandson and successor of the aged traitor, "Bell the Cat," the earl began to carry on the usual unpatriotic policy of his house. The appointment to the see of St Andrews was competed for by the Poet Gawain Douglas, uncle of the new Earl of Angus; and himself of the English party; by Hepburn, Prior of St Andrews, who fortified the Abbey; and by Forman, Bishop of Moray, a partisan of France, and a man accused of having induced James IV to declare war against England.
After long and scandalous intrigues, Forman obtained the see. Albany was Regent for a while, and at intervals he repaired to France; he was in the favour of the queen-mother when later she quarrelled with her husband, Angus. At one moment, Margaret and Angus fled to England where was born her daughter Margaret, later Lady Lennox and mother of Henry Darnley.
Angus, with Home, now recrossed the Border (1516), and was reconciled to Albany; against all unity in Scotland Henry intrigued, bribing with a free hand, his main object being to get Albany sent out of the country. In early autumn, 1516, Home, the leader of the Borderers at Flodden, and his brother were executed for treason; in June, 1517, Albany went to seek aid and counsel in France; when the queen-mother returned from England to Scotland, where, if she retained any influence, she might be useful to her brother's schemes. But, contrary to Henry's interests, in this year Albany renewed the old alliance with France; while, in 1518, the queen-mother desired to divorce Angus. But Angus was a serviceable tool of Henry, who prevented his sister from having her way; and now the heads of the parties in the distracted country were Arran, chief of the Hamiltons, and Beaton, Archbishop of Glasgow, standing for France; and Angus representing the English party.
Their forces met at Edinburgh in the street battle of "Cleanse the Causeway," wherein the Archbishop of Glasgow wore armour, and the Douglases beat the Hamiltons out of the town (April 30, 1520). Albany returned (1521), but the nobles would not join with him in an English war (1522). Again he went to France, while Surrey devastated the Scottish Border (1523). Albany returned while Surrey was burning Jedburgh, was once more deserted by the Scottish forces on the Tweed, and left the country for ever in 1524. Angus now returned from England; but the queen-mother cast her affections on young Henry Stewart (Lord Methven), while Angus got possession of the boy king (June 1526) and held him, a reluctant ward, in the English interest.
Lennox was now the chief foe of Arran, and Angus, with whom Arran had coalesced; and Lennox desired to deliver James out of Angus's hands. On July 26, 1526, not far from Melrose, Walter Scott of Buccleuch attacked the forces guarding the prince; among them was Ker of Cessford, who was slain by an Elliot when Buccleuch's men rallied at the rock called "Turn Again." Hence sprang a long-enduring blood-feud of Scotts and Kers; but Angus retained the prince, and in a later fight in the cause of James's delivery, Lennox was slain by the Hamiltons, near Linlithgow. The spring of 1528 was marked by the burning of a Hamilton, Patrick, Abbot of Ferne, at St Andrews, for his Lutheran opinions. Angus had been making futile attacks on the Border thieves, mainly the Armstrongs, who now became very prominent and picturesque robbers. He meant to carry James with him on one of these expeditions; but in June 1528 the young king escaped from Edinburgh Castle, and rode to Stirling, where he was welcomed by his mother and her partisans. Among them were Arran, Argyll, Moray, Bothwell, and other nobles, with Maxwell and the Laird of Buccleuch, Sir Walter Scott. Angus and his kin were forfeited; he was driven across the Border in November, to work what mischief he might against his country; he did not return till the death of James V Meanwhile James was at peace with his uncle, Henry VIII. He (1529-1530) attempted to bring the Border into his peace, and hanged Johnnie Armstrong of Gilnockie, with circumstances of treachery, says the ballad, - as a ballad-maker was certain to say.
Campbells, Macleans, and Macdonalds had all this while been burning each other's lands, and cutting each other's throats. James visited them, and partly quieted them, incarcerating the Earl of Argyll.
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