James IV

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James IV (1473–1513), king of Scots (1488–1513). James IV was the most successful of all the Stewart rulers of Scotland. Two decades after James's death, Sir David Lindsay of the Mount, who had known the king well, described him as ‘the glory of all princely governing’, a view which is largely substantiated by contemporary witnesses, most strikingly by the Spanish ambassador, Don Pedro de Ayala, in 1498. A combination of luck, military prowess, skilful use of royal patronage, and shrewd diplomatic manœuvring explains King James's success.

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 for the remainder of his life—the iron belt worn round his waist was no invention of later chroniclers. Yet the young king benefited greatly from the manner of his accession, for he was assisted by a very wide spectrum of magnates who had found his father's rule unacceptable. By the end of James IV's reign, the royal council displayed a much broader territorial representation than had ever been known under the king's three predecessors, embracing the crown's greatest subjects, including Hepburn, Hume, Angus, Argyll, Lennox, Arran, and Huntly. 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—the king, a late developer, was already 22.

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, for example those in Cunningham and Strathearn; 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 (probably more than £100,000 Scots) spectacular. An insight into James's court is provided not only by the treasurer's accounts (which survive in some quantity from this reign), but also by the poetry of William Dunbar and Robert Carver's astonishing nineteen-part motet ‘O bone Jesu’.

An ambitious programme of Renaissance patronage in the manner of his more powerful European neighbours cost James vast sums of money. Yet his father's methods of attempting to acquire funds (with some success) through forfeitures, taxation, and debasement of the coinage carried grave political dangers. Recognizing that parliaments were often a focus for criticism (or worse) 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. These devices raised annual royal revenue from around £13,000 in the 1490s to a total in excess of £40,000 Scots by 1513.

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 the imposition of 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, celebrated in Dunbar's poetry and much lauded by later historians, 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. Significantly James's fleet started taking shape late in 1502, the year of the English treaty; and in the war of 1513, it was to be paid for by the king of France. 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, employed crusading language to justify his cause, accepted excommunication with equanimity, invaded England, and took Norham castle by storm (while the Scottish fleet attacked Carrickfergus in Ulster en route to France). 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.

Norman Macdougall


Donaldson, G. , Scottish Kings (1967);
Macdougall, N. , James IV (Edinburgh, 1989);
Nicholson, R. , Scotland: The Later Middle Ages (Edinburgh, 1974).

James IV

views updated May 23 2018

James IV (1473–1513) King of Scotland (1488–1513). He succeeded his father, James III, capturing and killing those nobles responsible for his death. James defended royal authority against the nobility and the Church and endeavoured to promote peace with England, marrying Henry VIII's sister, Margaret Tudor. Henry's attack on Scotland's old ally, France, drew him into war (1513), and he was killed at Flodden.

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