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Scotland: A Concise History - Read an Extract

Posted on 25 Jan 2019

James IV took the throne at age fifteen. He was a king that took the field at the head of his own troops and refused to let himself be ruled by his nobles. Discover his story and that of Scotland in 'Scotland: A Concise History'.


James’s heir, who now succeeded to the throne as James IV, was fteen years old. For a time Archibald Douglas exercised a kind of regency and a circular was sent to the Courts of Europe giving a tactful account of the Battle of Sauchieburn, ‘whereat the father of our Sovereign Lord happinit to be slane’. Meanwhile Douglas and his fellow-conspirators reaped to the full the rewards of their victory. It is from this time that dates the rapid rise to power of the Argyll Campbells, while Hepburn of Hailes, a minor laird, was rewarded for his services by the titles of Earl of Bothwell and Lord High Admiral.

e young King himself was not without misgivings, remorse even, at the way in which he had been brought to the throne, for the rest of his life he wore an iron chain round his body as a penance. Nor was he one to let himself be ruled by his nobles. When civil war broke out again in the following year, James took the eld at the head of his own troops, soundly defeated the rebels, and promptly restored order.

James IV

James IV was to prove the ablest and most popular of all the Stewart kings, a ruler of energy, intelligence and charm and a born leader of men, whose love for the good things of life was as intense as his religious fervour and the vigour with which he pursued his kingly duties. ‘He had’, wrote the great scholar Erasmus, who was tutor to one of his many bastards, ‘a wonderful force of intellect, an incredible knowledge of all things.’ And Pedro de Ayala, the Ambassador of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain and a constant companion of the King’s at the card-table, was impressed by his self-con dence, his physical courage, his religious devoutness and his gift for languages, including the Gaelic. ‘ e King even speaks’, he wrote, ‘the language of the savages who live in some parts of Scotland and in the islands.’ e people of Scotland, for their part, liked James’s ostentation, his open-handedness, his friendliness, his many mistresses and his great horde of illegitimate children. For this was before the days of the Calvinist conscience.

It has been rightly said that James stood between two ages. In his reign the Renaissance reached Scotland and its years were marked by a true owering of learning and of the arts. It was also a period of peace and prosperity and of progress and expansion in a whole range of dif- ferent elds. In literature this was the age of Robert Henryson and his Testament of Cresseid; of William Dunbar’s The Thistle and the Rose; of Gavin Douglas’s translation of the Aeneid; and of Blind Harry’s popular epic Sir William Wallace. Music, too, became important. James himself played the lute and never travelled without his court musicians and a wide range of musical instruments. Splendid churches were built. In the towns stone began to take the place of wood in the merchants’ houses and in the country the great castles ceased to be mere strongholds and took on some of the magni cence of palaces, Falkland, Linlithgow and Craigmillar amongst them. And Ayala was able to tell his King and Queen of the ne furniture and charming gardens and of the elegance of the great Scottish ladies, whose headdress, he said, was ‘the handsomest in the world’. Education, though still the privilege of the few, increased its impact. More books were imported and in Edinburgh in 1507 a rst print- ing press made its appearance. King’s College, Aberdeen, came to join St Andrews and Glasgow as Scotland’s third university. A thriving trade, based mainly on Middelburg, grew up with the Low Countries. Scottish raw materials, hides, wool and salted sh were exported against imports of manufactured goods and luxuries from abroad.


Extract from Scotland: A Concise History.

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