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James III

(1452—1488) king of Scots


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(1452–88),

king of Scots (1460–88). The eldest of the three sons of James II and Mary of Gueldres, James was born at St Andrews in May 1452. His father's death at the siege of Roxburgh (August 1460) was swiftly followed by the coronation of the 8‐year‐old James III at nearby Kelso abbey. The ensuing minority (1460–9) had its difficulties, but under the wise guidance of Mary of Gueldres (d. 1463) the Scots secured the cession of Berwick from the refugee Lancastrians (1461), and then changed horses to back the victorious Yorkists. The late king's marital and territorial schemes finally came to fruition in the 1468 treaty of Copenhagen, by which James III was to marry Margaret, daughter of Christian I of Denmark‐Norway. Christian's inability to afford his daughter's dowry resulted in his pawning the earldom of Orkney, then the lordship of Shetland; both were annexed to the Scottish crown by 1472. Thus, by the early years of James III's personal rule, the Scottish kingdom had reached its widest territorial extent.

The view of James III which has come down to us is largely that of late 16th‐cent. writers. These portray the king as something of a recluse who ignored the counsel of his nobility in favour of that of low‐born familiars; he disliked war. This later legend is broadly unconvincing. The unwarlike king is difficult to discern in a ruler who proposed annexations or invasions of Brittany, Gueldres, and Saintonge between 1471 and 1473, and this view may draw its relevance only from James's alternative policy of peace and alliance with Yorkist England. Again, complaints of neglect of his magnates may reflect James's failure to reward support, as in the classic case of the earl of Huntly in 1476, whose invasion of Ross and capture of Dingwall castle for the king merited only a gift of 100 marks' worth of land.

In fact, James III's failure may be explained largely without reference to the later legend. He was a static king, rarely moving out of Edinburgh during his adulthood. Successive parliaments criticized him repeatedly for this failing. Furthermore, James may have been unfortunate to have adult brothers as potential rivals, though his treatment of them was appalling. Alexander, duke of Albany, fled to France in 1479, while John, earl of Mar, was arrested later that year and died mysteriously in custody shortly afterwards. The return of Albany in 1482, backed by Edward IV, prompted a great Stewart family crisis, with the seizure of James III at Lauder, the permanent loss of Berwick to the English, Albany's temporary acquisition of the office of lieutenant‐general, the king's incarceration in Edinburgh castle, and his subsequent release and recovery of power through the timely intervention of loyal north‐eastern nobility.

However, crown–magnate mistrust persisted, and the king's wide‐ranging Treasons Act (1484) showed that he had learned nothing from the warning of 1482. When his eldest son James, duke of Rothesay, a youth of 15, moved against him in the spring of 1488, no armed assistance was forthcoming from the former loyalists of the north; and on 11 June James III, bearing Robert Bruce's sword and a black box full of money and jewels, succumbed to his son's army on the ‘field of Stirling’ (Sauchie Burn).

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Subjects: British History.


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