James IV

(1473—1513) king of Scots

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king of Scots (1488–1513). The eldest son of James III and Margaret of Denmark, James IV was born at Stirling castle on 17 March 1473. The successful rising against his father in 1488 associated his name with an act of regicide and patricide, and he undertook elaborate penances to atone for his role in James III's death. Yet the young king benefited greatly from the manner of his accession, for he was assisted by many magnates who had found his father's rule unacceptable, and who had no choice but to support him. And at the outset of James IV's personal rule, in the spring of 1495, there was no violent political upheaval, but a smooth transition.

In almost every respect, King James's government affords a sharp contrast with that of his father. The king was a tireless traveller, driving the justice ayres in the south and north‐east, intervening in major feuds, and he placed himself at the centre of a glittering court. His expenditure on building, especially on Holyrood palace and the King's House and great hall at Stirling castle, was large, his lavishing of money on a royal navy spectacular. An insight into James's court is provided not only by the treasurer's accounts but also by the poetry of William Dunbar and Robert Carver's astonishing nineteen‐part motet ‘O bone Jesu’.

Recognizing that parliaments were often a focus for criticism of the crown, James IV called only three in the seventeen years of his adult rule. The money he needed for his navy, his building programmes, above all for his wars, was acquired through rigorous exploitation of feudal casualties, by income from profits of justice, by taxation of a loyal clergy, by the imposition of two Acts of revocation (1498 and 1504), and perhaps above all by setting royal lands in feu‐farm in the later years of the reign.

In foreign affairs, James IV adopted a high‐risk policy which proved broadly successful. His invasions of Northumberland (1496–7), ostensibly in support of the Yorkist pretender Perkin Warbeck but in fact to utilize the military talents of the Scottish nobility and put pressure on Henry VII, provoked the English king into furious retaliation. But the Cornish rising of 1497, born partly out of resentment at heavy taxation to support the Scottish war, put an end to Henry's efforts to chastise the Scots; and the eventual alternative was the treaty of Perpetual Peace of 1502, as a result of which James IV married Henry's daughter Margaret Tudor (August 1503).

This union of the Thistle and the Rose did little to improve Anglo‐Scottish relations. The real Scottish understanding was with Louis XII of France, who from 1502 to 1513 provided James IV with shipwrights, soldiers, ships, money, and munitions. A naval race with the English resulted in the construction of the Scottish Margaret followed by the English Mary Rose; and in October 1511 James attended the launch at Newhaven of the Michael, briefly the largest warship in northern Europe. When the young Henry VIII sought to renew the Hundred Years War in 1512–13, James made a formal treaty with Louis XII, invaded England, and took Norham castle by storm. However, on 9 September 1513 James rashly committed himself to battle against the earl of Surrey at Flodden and was killed, together with no fewer than nine of his earls, a striking if tragic reflection of his popularity in Scotland.


Subjects: British History.

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