King James IV

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Because James IV felt guilty for being involved, although unwillingly, in the death of his father, James III, he wore an iron chain around his waist as penance. Every year on the anniversary of his father's death, he added another weight to the belt.

Under James IV, Scotland was very progressive. Major changes were taking place in Europe, including the end of the feudal system. James wanted his realm to take its proper place in the new world. James gave to the Scottish realm the effective power which made it a "new monarchy:  His reign was an expression of his own personality and its achievements were largely due to his own vigor and ability. Another university ,the third, was founded at Aberdeen, the printing press came to Scotland, architecture flourished with the remodeling of palaces at Falkirk and Stirling Castle. A navy was established and James felt great pride for the Great Michael, the largest warship ever to have been built in Scotland. He was a true prince of the Renaissance in developing the military power of his country. The people were instructed to practice archery instead of golf and football. James was a learned man with many interests, which included sports, clothes, music, hunting, the arts, and architecture. James granted the barbers and physicians the right to form a guild and the sole right to sell whiskey which was a medicine. Each year the guild was also given the corpse of a hanged criminal in order to learn more about human anatomy. James was interested in surgery and himself extracted a tooth, set a broken leg, bled a patient. He was even interested in alchemy and financed an adventurer who thought he could find out how to produce gold.

It was reported to the King of Spain that James "is exceptionally clever, and can speak Latin, French, German, Flemish, Italian and the barbarian Gaelic, the native tongue of nearly all his subjects. He knows the Bible well and is conversant with most subjects. He is a good historian and reads Latin and French history, committing much to memory. He does not cut his hair or his beard. He is devout and says all his prayers. He maintains that the oath of a king should be his royal word, as was the case in bygone times. He is active and works hard, when he is not at war he hunts in the mountains. He is courageous.  I have seen him undertake most dangerous things in the last wars. On such occasions he does not take the least care of himself."

This portrait of the King by the Spaniard may have been exaggerated and he may not have spoken the number of languages that Ayala says.

At the beginning of his reign the Highlands were in turmoil, mainly due to the feud between the MacDonalds and MacKenzies. He visited the Isles six times and finally he took the Lordship of the Isles away from the MacDonalds of Islay and annexed MacDonald lands. He tried to treat the Highland chiefs like Lowland barons but this didn't work. Later he used the strongest clans, the Campbells and the Gordons to keep order. This was successful on a short term but in the long run it did not prove out as this further divided the clans because other chiefs resented the interference.

James was interested in education and made it mandatory for all men of means to send their eldest son to schools to study the arts, law and Latin. His intention was to keep the elite and wealthy in positions of power. It was also mandatory for all young men to train in warfare.

What comes through is the King's love of good government and of his people. His domestic policy was the suppression of disorder and the improvement of governmental machinery.

James wanted to marry Margaret Drummond. However, shortly after the political marriage between himself and Margaret Tudor, Henry VII's daughter, had been proposed to him, Margaret Drummond and her two sisters were found murdered. They had been poisoned. James never forgot her and prayed for her soul for the rest of his life. He married Henry VII's daughter, Margaret Tudor, with whom he had six children, only one of whom survived. This was more of a political marriage, as most were, than a romantic one. He signed the Treaty of Perpetual Peace in Glasgow Cathedral. James was 28 and Margaret 12. The ceremony to receive the young Queen was filled with pageantry and something that Scotland had not seen before. "The queen was dressed in white satin damask bordered with crimson velvet, with a collar of gold and pearls, a present from the King. Her long hair nearly reached the floor. The King was also dressed in white damask with gold trimmings, over a jacket slashed in crimson satin and edged with black velvet." The queen was very unhappy away from her home. Of course, she was just a child.

Ten years after the marriage feast and the declaration of lasting peace between England and Scotland, James once more found himself at war with the English. By the auld alliance James IV was bound to support France so when Henry VIII invaded France, the Scottish king invaded England. He also had some grievances with Henry VIII because he would not send the jewelry that had been promised by Henry VII to Scotland as part of the dowry of Margaret. Another reason was that two Scottish ships had been seized by the English. Henry VIII refused to return them even though James had returned captured English vessels during Henry VII's reign.

His reign ended tragically. He and his army were wiped out at Flodden in 1513. He had gathered an army of 20,000, the most powerful that Scotland had ever put on the field and took it to Norhumbria. The Scots chose an ideal position on Flodden Hill for the battle. The Earl of Surrey who was a skillful general was in command of the English army. He realized that he had to make the Scots change position and so he marched his army to the north, cutting of their retreat. The Scots were arranged in five groups, like Bruce's formation at Bannockburn. The English were divided into two groups. The Scots had cannons but they were very unwieldy, not like the much lighter artillery of the English. Also, the English had expert German gunners at the cannons. The English shot great gaps in the ranks of the Scots. Instead of letting the English come up the hill to him, he chose to advance down the hill. The ground was slippery and the Scots could not remain a wall of spears coming toward the English. The Scots spears were 19 feet long and the English used shorter axe-like weapons which were easier to use. The central part of his army had almost reached the Earl of Surrey when James was killed. At the end of the battle at nightfall, more than 10,000 brave Scots lay dead on Flodden Hill, including the King, the Archbishop of St. Andrews, two bishops, three abbots, nine earls, fourteen lords and three Highland chiefs. Their bodies were buried in deep pits and a monument stands now to commemorate the battle and their loss.

St. Pauls Church near the battlefield has printed a booklet about the battle. It says, in part:

"Thus ended the last medieval battle to be found on English soil. Never again were knights to fight in armor, their personal standards flying. Never again were arrows, swords and spears to be the decisive weapons. Small arms, still unknown at Flodden, would gradually take their place."

When James died, the people of Edinburgh felt they would never be safe from the English unless they protected themselves. They started building fortifications but the English did not attack again. The wall that was completed around the city was named Flodden Wall. Some parts of it can still be seen.

Scotland never fully recovered from the defeat. James was a popular king, the greatest by far of all the house of Stewart. He does not deserve the blame which tradition has accorded to him. It was Henry, not James, who was responsible for the war and one reason that he was ill prepared was that he strove to keep the peace to the very last. His campaign was not at fault. His defeat in battle was primarily due to the fact that his ill organized force, numerically not much more than that of the enemy, was not adequate for its task.. So many died with him, including his brilliant bastard son, the Archbishop of St. Andrews. Again, the country was to suffer the uncertainties of a long minority for James V was only 17 months old.

James's body was disembowelled, embalmed and sent to London.   His body, grotesquely preserved, was kept in the Monastery of Sheen, then thrown in a lumber room.  Years later it was discovered by workmen who cut off the head and used it for a macabre plaything.  It was passed from one English noble to another for years, until it was finally buried in an anonymous grave.