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Significant Scots
James IV


JAMES IV., king of Scots, was the eldest son of James III. by Margaret, daughter of Christiern, king of Denmark; and was born in the month of March, 1472. Of the manner of his education no record has been preserved; but it was probably good, as his father, whatever might be his faults, appears to have been a monarch of considerable taste and refinement. In the year 1488, a large party of nobles rebelled against James III. on account of various arbitrary proceedings with which they were displeased; and the king, on going to the north to raise an army for their suppression, left his son, the subject of the present memoir, in the keeping of Shaw of Sauchie, governor of Stirling castle. While the king was absent, the confederate nobles prevailed on Shaw to surrender his charge; and the prince was then set up as their nominal, but, it would appear, involuntary leader. The parties met, July 11, at Sauchie, near Stirling; and the king fell a victim to the resentment of his subjects. The subject of the present memoir then mounted the throne, in the sixteenth year of his age.

Neither the precise objects of this rebellion, nor the real nature of the prince’s concern in its progress and event, are distinctly known. It is certain, however, that James IV. always considered himself as liable to the vengeance of heaven for his share, voluntary or involuntary, in his father’s death; and accordingly wore a penitential chain round his body, to which he added new weight every year; and even contemplated a still more conspicuous expiation of his supposed offence, by undertaking a new crusade. Whatever might be the guilt of the prince, the nation had certainly no cause to regret the death of James III., except the manner in which it was accomplished, while they had every thing to hope from the generous young monarch who was his successor.

James possessed in an eminent degree every quality necessary to render a sovereign beloved by his subjects; and perhaps no prince ever enjoyed so large a portion of personal regard, of intense affection, as did James IV. of Scotland. His manner was gentle and affable to all who came in contact with him, whatever might be their rank or degree. He was just and impartial in his decrees, yet never inflicted punishment without strong and visible reluctance. He listened willingly and readily to admonition, and never discovered either impatience or resentment while his errors were placed before him. He took every thing in good part, and endeavoured to amend the faults pointed out by his advisers. He was generous, even to a fault; magnificent and princely in all his habits, pursuits, and amusements. His mind was acute, and dignified, and noble. He excelled in all warlike exercises and manly accomplishments; in music, horsemanship, and the use of sword and spear. Nor was his personal appearance at variance with this elevated character. His form, which was of the middle size, was exceedingly handsome, yet stout and muscular, and his countenance had an expression of mildness and dignity that instantly predisposed all who looked upon it to a strong attachment to its possessor.

His bravery, like his generosity, was also in the extreme: it was romantic. Altogether, he was unquestionably the most chivalrous prince of his day in Europe. A contemporary poet bears testimony to this part of his character:--

"And ye Christian princes, whosoever ye be,
If ye be destitute of a noble captayne,
Take James of Scotland for his audacitie
And proved manhood, if ye will laude attayne;
Let him have the forwarde, have ye no disdayne,
Nor indigeation; for never king was borne
That of ought of warr can showe the unicorne

For if that he take once his speare in hand,
Against these Turkes strongly with it to ride,
None shall be able his stroke for to withstande
Nor before his face so hardy to abide;
Yet this his manhood increaseth not his pride,
But ever sheweth be meknes and humilitie,
In word or dede, to hye and lowe degree."

A neglected education left him almost totally ignorant of letters, but not without a high relish for their beauties. He delighted in poetry, and possessed a mind attuned to all its finer sympathies.

The design of the rebel lords in taking arms against their sovereign, James III., being merely to free themselves from his weak and tyrannical government, without prejudice to his heirs, his son James IV. was, immediately after the death of his father, proclaimed king, and was formally invested with that dignity at Scone. However violent and unlawful were the proceedings which thus prematurely elevated James to the throne, the nation soon felt a benefit from the change which these proceedings effected, that could scarcely have been looked for from an administration originating in rebellion and regicide. The several parliaments which met after the accession of the young king, passed a number of wise and salutary laws, encouraging trade, putting down turbulence and faction, and enjoining the strict execution of justice throughout the kingdom.

The prince and his nobles placed the most implicit confidence in each other, and the people in both. This good understanding with the former, the king encouraged and promoted, by inviting them to frequent tournaments and other amusements, and warlike exercises, in accordance with his own chivalrous spirit, and adapted to their rude tastes and habits. These tournaments were exceedingly splendid, and were invested with all the romance of the brightest days of chivalry. Ladies, lords, and knights, in the most gorgeous attire crowded round the lists, or from draperied balconies, witnessed the combats that took place within them. James himself always presided on these occasions, and often exhibited his own prowess in the lists; and there were few who could successfully compete with him with spear, sword, or battle axe. Stranger knights from distant countries, attracted by the chivalric fame of the Scottish court, frequently attended and took part in these tournaments, but, it is said, did not in many instances prove themselves better men at their weapons than the Scottish knights. One of the rules of these encounters was, that the victor should be put in possession of his opponent’s weapon; but when this was a spear, a purse of gold, a gift from the king, was attached to the point of it. These trophies were delivered to the conqueror by the monarch himself: The people were delighted with these magnificent and warlike exhibitions, and with their generous and chivalrous author. Nor were the actors themselves, the nobles, less gratified with them, or less affected by the high and princely spirit whence they emanated. They brought them into frequent and familiar contact with their sovereign, and nothing more was necessary in the case of James to attach them warmly and devotedly to his person. His kind and affable manner accomplished the rest.

By such means he was not only without a single enemy amongst the aristocracy, but all of them would have shed the last drop of their blood in his defence, and a day came when nearly all of them did so. In short, the wisest policy could not have done more in uniting the affections of prince and peers, than was accomplished by those warlike pastimes, aided as they were by the amiable manners of the monarch.

Not satisfied with discharging his duty to his subjects, from his high place on the throne, James frequently descended, and disguising his person—a practice to which his successor was also much addicted—roamed through the country unarmed and unattended, inquiring into his own reputation amongst the common people, and endeavouring to learn what faults himself or his government were charged with. On these occasions he lodged in the meanest hovels, and encouraged the inmates to speak their minds freely regarding their king; and there is little doubt, that, as his conduct certainly merited it, so he must have been frequently gratified by their replies. The young monarch, however, was charged with stepping aside occasionally in his rambles from this laudable though somewhat romantic pursuit, and paying visits to any of his fair acquaintances whose residence happened to be in his way; and it is alleged that he contrived they should very often be so situated.

Unfortunately for his courtiers, James conceived that he possessed, and not improbably actually did possess considerable skill in surgery and medicine, but there is reason to believe, that the royal surgeon’s interference in cases of ailment was oftener dreaded than desired, although Lindsay says, that "thair was none of that profession (the medical) if they had any dangerous cure in hand but would have craved his adwyse." Compliments, however, to a king’s excellence in any art or science are always suspicious, and this of Lindsay’s is not associated with any circumstances which should give it a claim to exemption from such a feeling.

One of the greatest faults of the young monarch was a rashness and impetuosity of temper. This frequently led him into ill-timed and ill-judged hostilities with the neighbouring kingdom, and, conjoined with a better quality, his generosity, induced him to second the pretensions of the impostor Perkin Warbeck to the crown of England. That adventurer arrived at James’s court (1496), attended by a numerous train of followers, all attired in magnificent habits, and sought the assistance of the Scottish king to enable him to recover what he represented as his birth-right. Prepossessed by the elegant manner and noble bearing of the impostor, and readily believing the story of his misfortunes, which was supported by plausible evidence, the generous monarch at once received him to his arms, and not only entertained him for some time at his court, but, much against the will of his nobles, mustered an army, and, with Warbeck in his company, marched at the head of it into England, to reinstate his protege in what he believed to be his right, at the point of the sword,—a project much more indicative of a warm and generous heart, than of a prudent head. The enterprise, as might have been expected, was unsuccessful. James had counted on a rising in England in behalf of the pretender, but being disappointed in this, he was compelled to abandon the attempt and to return to Holyrood. The king of England did not retaliate on James this invasion of his kingdom; but he demanded from him the person of the impostor. With this request, however, the Scottish king was much too magnanimous to comply; and he not only refused to accede to it,, but furnished Warbeck with vessels and necessaries to carry him to Ireland, whither he now proceeded. James is fully relieved from the charge of credulity which might appear to lie against him for so readily confiding in Warbeck’s representations, by the extreme plausibility which was attached to them, and by the strongly corroborative circumstances by which they were attended. He is also as entirely relieved from the imputation of conniving in the imposture--an accusation which has been insinuated against him—by the circumstance of his having given a near relation of his own, Catharine Gordon, a daughter of lord Huntly’s, in marriage to the impostor, which it cannot for a moment be believed he would have done had he known the real character of Warbeck.

The species of roving life which the young monarch led, was now about to be circumscribed, if not wholly terminated, by his entering into the married state. This he avoided as long as he possibly could, and contrived to escape from it till he had attained the thirtieth year of his age. Henry of England, however, who had always been more desirous of James’s friendship than his hostility, and had long entertained views of securing the former by a matrimonial connexion with his family, at length succeeded in procuring James’s consent to marry his daughter Margaret, an event which took place in 1503.

Whatever reluctance the monarch might have had to resign his liberty, he was not wanting in gallantry to his fair partner when she came to claim it. He first waited upon her at Newbattle, where he entertained her with his own performance on the clarichords and lute, listened to specimens of her own skill in the same art on bended knee, and altogether conducted himself like a true and faithful knight. He also exhibited a care and elegance in his dress on this occasion, sufficiently indicative of his desire to please. He was arrayed in a black velvet jacket, bordered with crimson velvet, and furred with white; and when he afterwards conducted his bride from Dalkeith to Edinburgh, which he did, strange to tell, seated on horseback behind him, he appeared in a jacket of cloth of gold, bordered with purple velvet, furred with black, a doublet of violet satin, scarlet hose, the collar of his shirt studded with precious stones and pearls, with long gilt spurs projecting from the heels of his boots.

By the terms of the marriage contract, the young queen, who was only in her fourteenth year when she was wedded to James, was to be conducted to Scotland at the expense of her father, and to be delivered to her husband or to persons appointed by him, at Lamberton kirk. The latter was to receive with her a dowry of thirty thousand pieces of gold; ten thousand to be paid at Edinburgh eight days after the marriage, other ten thousand at Coldingham a year afterwards, and the last ten thousand at the expiry of the year following. The marriage was celebrated with the utmost splendour and pomp. Feastings, tourneyings, and exhibitions of shows and plays, succeeded each other in one continued and uninterrupted round for many days, James himself appearing in the lists at the tournaments in the character of the "Savage Knight." But there is no part of the details of the various entertainments got up on this occasion that intimates so forcibly the barbarity of the times, as the information that real encounters between a party of Highlanders and Borderers, in which the combatants killed and mangled each other with their weapons, were exhibited for the amusement of the spectators.

A more grateful and more lasting memorial of the happy event of James’s marriage than any of these, is to be found in Dunbar’s beautiful allegorical poem, the "Thistle and the Rose," composed on that occasion, and thus aptly and emblematically entitled from the union being one between a Scottish king and English princess. In this poem, Dunbar, who then resided at the court, hints at the monarch’s character of being a somewhat too general admirer of the fair sex, by recommending him to reserve all his affections for his queen.

"Nor hauld no other flower in sic denty
As the fresche rose, of cullor reid and white;
For gif thou dois, hurt is thine honesty,
Considdering that no flower is se perfyt."

It is said to have been at the rude but magnificent court of this monarch, that the character of a Scottish courtier first appeared; this class, so numerous at all the other courts of Europe, having been hitherto unknown in Scotland. These raw courtiers, however, made rapid progress in all the acquirements necessary to their profession, and began to cultivate all their winning ways, and to pay all that attention to their exterior appearance, on which so much of the hopes of the courtier rests. A finely and largely ruffled shirt, the especial boast and delight of the ancient Scottish courtier, a flat little bonnet, russet hose, perfumed gloves, embroidered slippers that glittered in the sun or with candle light, a handkerchief also perfumed and adorned with a golden tassel at each corner, with garters knotted into a huge rose at the knee—were amongst the most remarkable parts of the dress of the hangers-on at the court of James IV. In one important particular, however, these gentlemen seemed to have wonderfully resembled the courtier of the present day. "Na Kindness at Court without Siller," is the title of a poem by Sir Richard Maitland of Lethington, who had every opportunity of knowing personally what was the character of that of his native sovereign.

One of the stipulations of the marriage treaty between the king and the daughter of Henry the VII., having secured an inviolable peace between the two monarchs and their subjects, the nation enjoyed for several years after that event the most profound tranquillity. This leisure James employed in improving the civil polity of his kingdom; in making efforts to introduce civilization, and an obedience to the laws, into the Highlands and Isles, by establishing courts of justice at Inverness, Dingwall, and various other places throughout these remote districts; in enlarging and improving his navy, and, in short, in doing every thing that a wise prince could do to promote the prosperity of his kingdom. In all these judicious proceedings, James was cordially supported by his parliament, a department of the legislature in which he was perhaps more fortunate than any of his predecessors had ever been, and certainly more than were any of his immediate successors. The acts of the parliament of James are distinguished by the most consummate wisdom, and by a constant aiming at the improvement and prosperity of the kingdom, whether by suppressing violence, establishing rules for the dispensation of justice, or in encouraging commerce; and they are no less remarkable for a spirit of cordiality towards the sovereign, amounting to a direct and personal affection, which breathes throughout the whole. How much of this good feeling, and of this happy co-operation in good works, depended upon the king, and how much upon the parliaments themselves, it would not be easy to determine, but it is certain, that much of the merit which attaches to it must be awarded to the sovereign.

This peaceful and prosperous state of the kingdom, however, after enduring for upwards of nine years, at length drew to a close, and finally terminated in one of the most disastrous events recorded in the pages of her history. Henry VII. died, and was succeeded by Henry VIII. Besides the change which this occurrence effected in the relationship between the sovereigns of England and Scotland, the feelings and policy of the new monarch towards the latter kingdom were totally dissimilar to those of his predecessor. He seems, indeed, to have brought with him to the throne a feeling of hostility towards Scotland; and this feeling, the sensitive, warm tempered, and impetuous monarch, against whom it was entertained, was not long in discovering. The consequence was, that, after some slight mutual offences, which, under any other circumstances, might have been easily atoned for, war was proclaimed between the two kingdoms, and both made the most formidable preparations for deciding their differences on the field of battle. James summoned the whole array of his kingdom, including all the western isles and the most remote parts of the Highlands, to assemble on the Burrow muir within twenty days, each, as was usual on such occasions, to come provided with forty days’ provisions. Though the impending war was deprecated by James’s council, and was by all considered imprudent, yet such was his popularity, such the general affection for the high-spirited and generous monarch, that no less than one hundred thousand men appeared in arms at the place of muster; disapproving, indeed, of the object for which they were brought together, but determined to shed the last drop of their blood in their sovereign’s quarrel—because it was his, and because he had determined on bringing it to the issue of the sword. Deeply imbued with the superstition of the period, James spent much of his time, immediately before setting out with his army, in the performance of religious rites and observances. On one of these occasions, and within a few days of his marching on his expedition, a circumstance occurred which the credulity of the times has represented as supernatural, but in which it is not difficult to detect a design to work on the superstitious fears of the king, to deter him from proceeding on his intended enterprise. While at his devotions in the church of Linlithgow, a figure, clothed in a blue gown secured by a linen girdle and wearing sandals, suddenly appeared in the church, and calling loudly for the king, passed through the crowd of nobles, by whom he was surrounded, and finally approached the desk at which his majesty was seated at his devotions. Without making any sign of reverence or respect for the royal presence, the mysterious visitor now stood full before the king, and delivered a commission as if from the other world. He told him that his expedition would terminate disastrously, advised him not to proceed with it, and cautioned him against the indulgence of illicit amours. The king was about to reply, but the spectre had disappeared, and no one could tell how. The figure is represented as having been that of an elderly grave-looking man, with a bald uncovered head, and straggling grey locks resting on his shoulders. There is little doubt that it was a stratagem of the queen’s, and that the lords who surrounded the king’s person were in the plot. Some other attempts of a similar kind were made to alarm the monarch, and to deter him from his purpose, but in vain. Neither superstition nor the ties of natural affection could dissuade him from taking the field. Resisting all persuasion, and even the tears and entreaties of his queen, who, amongst the other arguments which her grief for the probable fate of her husband suggested, urged that of the helpless state of their infant son; the gallant but infatuated monarch took his place at the head of his army, put the vast array in marching order, and proceeded on that expedition from which he was never to return. The Scottish army having passed the Tweed began hostilities by taking some petty forts and castles, and amongst the latter that of Ford; here the monarch found a Mrs Heron, a lady of remarkable beauty, and whose husband was at that time a prisoner in Scotland. Captivated by this lady’s attractions—while his natural son, the archbishop of St Andrews, who accompanied him, acknowledged those of her daughter--James spent in her society that time which he should have employed in active service with his army. The consequence of this inconceivable folly was, that his soldiers, left unemployed, and disheartened by a tedious delay, gradually withdrew from his camp and returned to their homes, until his army was at length reduced to little more than thirty thousand men. A sense of honour, however, still detained in his ranks all the noblemen and gentlemen who had first joined them, and thus a disproportionate number of the aristocracy remained to fall in the fatal field which was soon afterwards fought. In the mean time the earl of Surrey, lieutenant-general of the northern counties of England, advanced towards the position occupied by James’s forces, with an army of thirty-one thousand men.

On the 7th of September, 1513, the latter encamped at Woolerhaugh, within five miles of Flodden hill, the ground on which the Scottish army was encamped. On the day following they advanced to Banmore wood, distant about two miles from the Scottish position, and on the 9th presented themselves in battle array at the foot of Flodden hill. The Scottish nobles endeavoured to prevail upon the king not to expose his person in the impending encounter, but he rejected the proposal with disdain, saying, that to outlive so many of his brave countrymen would be more terrible to him than death itself. Finding they could not dissuade him from his purpose of sharing in the dangers of the approaching fight, they had recourse to an expedient to lessen the chances of a fatal result. Selecting several persons who bore a resemblance to him in figure and stature, they clothed them in a dress exactly similar to that worn by the monarch, and dispersed them throughout the ranks of the army. The English army, when it presented itself to the Scots, was drawn up in three large divisions; Surrey commanding that in the centre, Sir Edward Stanley and Sir Edmund Howard those on the right and left, while a large body of cavalry, commanded by Dacre, was posted in the rear. The array of the Scots was made to correspond to this disposition, the king himself leading on in person the division opposed to that commanded by Surrey, while the earls of Lennox, Argyle, Crawford, Montrose, Huntly, and Home, jointly commanded those on his right and left. A body of cavalry, corresponding to that of Dacre’s,, under Bothwell, was posted immediately behind the king’s division. Having completed their dispositions, the Scots, with their long spears levelled for the coming strife, descended from the hill, and were soon closed with the enemy. The divisions commanded by Huntly and Home, on the side of the Scots, and by Howard on the side of the English, first met, but in a few minutes more all the opposing divisions came in contact with each other, and the battle became general.

The gallant but imprudent monarch himself, with his sword in his hand, and surrounded by a band of his no less gallant nobles, was seen fighting desperately in the front of his men, and in the very midst of a host of English bill-men. After various turns of fortune, the day finally terminated in favour of the English, though not so decisively as to assure them of their success, for it was not till the following day, that Surrey, by finding the field abandoned by the Scots, ascertained that he had gained the battle. In this sanguinary conflict, which lasted for three hours, having commenced at four o’clock in the afternoon and continued till seven, there perished twelve earls, thirteen lords, five eldest sons of peers, about fifty gentlemen of rank and family, several dignitaries of the church, and about ten thousand common men. Amongst the churchmen who fell, were the king’s natural son, the archbishop of St. Andrews, Hepburn, bishop of the Isles, and the abbots of Kilwinning and Inchaffray. James himself fell amidst a heap of his slaughtered nobles, mortally wounded in the head by an English bill, and pierced in the body with an arrow. It was long believed by the common people that the unfortunate monarch had escaped from the field, and that he had gone on a pilgrimage to Palestine, where tradition represented him to have ended his days in prayer and penitence for his sins, and especially for that of his having borne arms against his father. This belief was strengthened by a rumour that he had been seen between Kelso and Dunse after the battle was fought. That he actually fell at Flodden, however, has been long since put beyond all doubt, and the fate of his body is singular. It appears to have been carried to London, and to have been embalmed there, but by whom or by whose orders is unknown. In the reign of Elizabeth, some sixty or seventy years afterwards, the shell in which the body was deposited, and still containing it, was found in a garret amongst a quantity of lumber by a slater while repairing the roof of a house. The body was still perfectly entire, and emitted a pleasant fragrance from the strong aromas which had been employed in its preservation. Looking on it as a great curiosity, though unaware whose remains it was, the slater chopped off the head, carried it home with him, and kept it for several years. Such was the fate of the mortal part of the noble-minded, the high-souled monarch, James IV. of Scotland. He was in the forty-first year of his age, and the twenty-sixth of his reign, when he fell on Flodden field.

At this distance of time, every thing relating to that celebrated, but calamitous contest—the most calamitous recorded in the pages of Scottish history—possesses a deep and peculiar interest; but of all the memorials which have reached us of that fatal event, there is not one perhaps so striking and impressive as the proclamation of the authorities of Edinburgh. The provost and magistrates were in the ranks of the king’s army, and had left the management of the town’s affairs in the hands of deputies. On the day after the battle was fought, a rumour had reached the city that the Scottish army had met with a disaster, and the following proclamation—the one alluded to—was in consequence issued. The hopes, fears, and doubts which it expresses, now that all such feelings regarding the event to which it refers have long since passed away, cannot be contemplated without a feeling of deep and melancholy interest. "The 10th day of September the year above written, (1513) we do zow to witt. Forasmeikle as thair is ane grait rumour now laitlie rysin within this toun, touching oure soverane lord and his army, of the quhilk we understand thair is cum in na veritie as yet. Quhairfore we charge straitely, and commandis in oure said soverane lord the kingis name, and the presidentis for the provost and baillies within this burgh, that all manner of personis, nychtbours within the samyn, have riddye thair fensabill geir and wappenis for weir, and compeir thairwith to the said presidents at jowing of the commoun bell, for the keiping and defense of the toun aganis thame that wald invaid the samin. And als chairgis that all women, and especiallie vagaboundis, that thai pass to thair labouris and be nocht sene upoun the gait clamorand and cryand, under the pane of banising of thair personis, but favouris, and that the uther women of gude repute pass to the kirk and pray quhane tyme requiris for our soverane lord, and his army and nychtbours being thairat, and hald thame at thair previe labouris of the gait within thair housis as efferis."

James left behind him only one legitimate child, James V. His natural issue were, Alexander, born eight months after his father’s death, and who died in the second year of his age; Alexander, archbishop of St Andrews; Catherine, wedded to the earl of Morton; James, earl of Murray; Margaret, wedded to the heir of Huntly; and Jean, married to Malcolm, lord Fleming.


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