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James III of Scotland

James III of Scotland (May 1452 - June 11, 1488), son of James II and Mary of Gueldres, created Duke of Rothesay at birth, king of Scotland from 1460 to 1488. James was an unpopular and ineffective monarch owing to an unwillingness to administer justice fairly, a policy of pursuing alliance with England, and a disastrous relationship with nearly all his extended family.

His reputation as the first renaissance monarch in Scotland has sometimes been exaggerated, based on late chronicle attacks on him for being more interested in such unmanly pursuits as music than hunting, riding and leading his kingdom into war. In fact the artistic legacy of his reign is slight, especially when compared to that of his son, James IV and grandson, James V. Such evidence as there is consists of portrait coins produced during his reign, displaying the king in three-quarter profile, and wearing an imperial crown, the Trinity Altarpiece by Hugo van der Goes, which was probably not commissioned by the king, and an unusual hexagonal chapel at Restalrig near Edinburgh, perhaps inspired by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

His exact date and place of birth remain unclear. It was in either May, 1452, or July 10 or July 20, 1451. The place of birth was either Stirling Castle of the Castle of St Andrews. He succeeded his father, James II on August 3, 1460, and was crowned at Kelso Abbey, Roxburghshire a week later.

During his childhood, the government was led by three successive factions, led respectively by the king's mother, Queen Mary of Gueldres (1460-3) (who briefly secured the return of the town of Berwick to Scotland), James Kennedy, bishop of St Andrews and Gilbert, lord Kennedy (1463-6), and Robert, lord Boyd (1466-69). The Boyd faction made itself unpopular, especially with the king, by self-aggrandisement. Lord Boyd's son, Thomas, was made earl of Arran and married to the king's sister. However the family also successfully negotiated the king's marriage to Margaret of Denmark, daughter of King Christian I of Denmark in 1469, in the process ending the 'Norwegian annual' fee owed to Denmark for the Western Isles, and receiving Orkney and Shetland (theoretically only as a temporary measure to cover Margaret's dowry). Thus Scotland in 1470 reached its greatest ever territorial extent, when James permanently annexed the islands to the crown.

James married Margaret in July, 1469 at Holyrood Abbey, Edinburgh. The marriage produced three sons, James, the future James IV of Scotland, James duke of Ross, and John, earl of Mar.

Conflict broke out between James and the Boyd family following the marriage. Robert and Thomas Boyd (with princess Mary) were out of the country involved in diplomacy when their regime was overthrown. Mary's marriage was later declared void in 1473. Sir Alexander Boyd family was executed by James in 1469.

James's policies during the 1470s revolved primarily around ambitious continental schemes for territorial expansion, and alliance with England. Between 1471 and 1473 he suggested annexations or invasions of Brittany, Saintonge and Gueldres. These unrealistic aims resulted in parliamentary criticism, especially since the king was reluctant to deal with the more humdrum business of administering justice at home.

In 1474 an marriage alliance was agreed with Edward IV of England, by which the future James IV was to marry Cecilia, Edward's daughter. While making sense in one way - no other country ever made war on Scotland, it went against the traditional enmity of the two countries dating back to the reign of Robert I and the Wars of Independence, not to mention the vested interests of the border nobility. The alliance, therefore (and the taxes raised to pay for the marriage) was at least one of the reasons why the king was unpopular by 1479.

Also during the 1470s conflict developed between the king and his two brothers, Alexander, duke of Albany and John, earl of Mar. Mar died suspiciously in Edinburgh in 1480 and his estates were forfeited and possibly given to a royal favourite, Thomas Cochrane. Albany fled to France in 1479, accused of treason and breaking the alliance with England.

But by 1479 the alliance was collapsing, and war with England existed on and intermittent level in 1480-2. In 1482 Edward IV launched a full-scale invasion, led by Richard duke of Gloucester, but also with the duke of Albany, styled "Alexander IV" as part of the invasion party. James, in attempting to lead his subjects against the invasion, was arrested by a group of dissaffected nobles, at Lauder Bridge in July 1482. It has been suggested that the nobles were already in league with Albany. The king was imprisoned in Edinburgh castle, and a new regime, led by 'lieutenant-general' Albany, became established during the autumn of 1482. Meanwhile the English army, unable to take Edinburgh castle, ran out of money and returned to England, having taken Berwick-upon-Tweed for the last time.

But James was able to regain power, buying off members of Albany government, so that by the December 1482 parliament Albany's government was collapsing. In particular his attempt to claim the vacant earldom of Mar led to the intervention of the powerful earl of Huntly on the king's side. In January 1482 Albany fled to his estates at Dunbar. The death of his patron, Edward IV, in April, left Albany in a weak position, and he fled over the border to England. He remained there until 1484, when he launched another abortive invasion at Lochmaben. Another attempted return has been argued to have occurred in 1485, when (admittedly suspect) accounts suggest he escaped from Edinburgh castle on a rope made of sheets. Certainly his right-hand man, James Liddale of Halkerston, was arrested and executed around that time. Albany was killed in a joust in Paris lated that year.

Despite his lucky escape in 1482, when he easily could have been murdered or executed in an attempt to bring his som to the throne, during the 1480s James did not reform his behaviour. Obsessive attempts to secure alliance with England continued, although they made little sense given the prevailing politics. He continued to favour a group of 'familiars', unpopular with the more powerful magnates. He refused to travel for the implementation of justice, and remained invariably resident in Edinburgh. He was also estranged from his wife, Queen Margaret, who lived in Stirling, and increasingly his eldest son. Instead he favoured his second son. Matters came to a head in 1488 when he faced an army raised by the disaffected nobles, and many former councillors at the Battle of Sauchieburn. His heir, the future James IV of Scotland, took arms against his father, provoked by the favourtism given to his younger brother.

Legends claim that James III was assassinated at Milltown, near Bannockburn, having fled the battle. His assassin, who is alleged to have impersonated a priest in order to approach James, was not identified. Such tales may have some truth, but again give the false impression that James III was a coward. In fact he was only too keen to fight battles, if with disastrous results. James was buried at Cambuskenneth Abbey.

He was succeeded by his son, King James IV of Scotland.

Preceded by:
James II
List of British monarchs Succeeded by:
James IV