James III was born in May 1452 to King James II and Queen Mary. During the siege of Roxburgh Castle in August 1460, the king died after one of his cannons exploded. Upon his death, the eight-year-old James succeeded his father. Since he was too young to rule, his mother became regent. Although her husband had died, Queen Mary continued the siege of Roxburgh. Shortly after her son’s coronation, the Scots finally took the castle.
King of Scotland
During the early years of James III’s reign, his mother provided strong leadership. Mary would continue the majority of James II’s policies. In regards to England, the queen initially supported the Lancastrians during the War of the Roses. The fugitive king, Henry VI, and his queen, Margaret of Anjou, were offered safe asylum in Scotland by Mary. However, as the English civil war progressed, the queen would gradually begin to favor the Yorkists.
In December 1463, Queen Mary died. She was succeeded as regent by the bishop of St. Andrews, James Kennedy. The bishop had begun to gain political influence earlier in the year. To ensure loyalty to the monarchy, Kennedy had James III tour Scotland throughout 1464. However, the bishop’s regency would be short-lived. On May 24, 1465, Kennedy died.
During July 1466, a group of Scottish nobles captured James III. Led by Robert, Lord Boyd, the Boyds of Kilmarnock sought to challenge the Kennedy’s control of the government. As the Boyd’s prisoner, James watched as his captor’s exploited their new power. Robert had his son created earl of Arran. The lord followed this by having Arran marry the king’s elder sister, Mary. Robert also made many land grants to his brother, Thomas.
In 1468, James III married Margaret of Denmark. Shortly after, the king overthrew the Boyds and began ruling. Upon taking control, James faced a similar problem to his predecessors, James I, and James II. Like them, the king first had to re-establish royal authority over Scotland. Without a strong ruler to govern them, the nobility had run rampant.
During the 1470s, Scotland experienced domestic peace. In foreign affairs, the kingdom was also on peaceful terms with England and Scandinavia. During 1472, James III annexed Orkney and Shetland as part of his wife’s dowry. As a result of these achievements, the king became more ambitious. James started plotting to invade France and acquire French lands. However, his plan proved to be widely unpopular.
As his reign progressed, James III gained a reputation as a disinterested ruler. The king primarily lived in Edinburgh and rarely traveled. Instead, James spent his time with his favorites and supporting the arts. As a result, he failed to restore stability to the government. By 1479, the Scottish parliament began pleading with James to fulfill his duties. Despite their desperate pleas, the king ignored them.
Since he didn’t want to travel to dispense royal justice, James III began granting remissions for crimes. If the criminal had the funds, then they could buy their freedom. The king’s clumsy approach to justice outraged parliament. To make matters worse, James also attempted to increase his wealth through more taxation. When parliament refused, the king debased the kingdom’s coinage in 1480. In turn, James caused high inflation.
In addition to alienating his government, James III also had issues with his family. The king’s brothers disagreed with his policies. Alexander, Duke of Albany, and John, Duke of Mar, both criticized James. In response, the king charged his brothers with treason. Although John died suspiciously in 1480, Alexander escaped to France. Other members of the royal family opposed James as well, including Queen Margaret.
During 1482, the resentment and anger towards James III erupted. Alexander returned from France and allied himself with King Edward IV of England. Dubbed Alexander IV, the exiled Albany invaded Scotland with an English army. A Scottish army was raised and marched south. The English would overcome the Scots and continue towards Edinburgh Castle. Upon reaching Edinburgh, the English found James imprisoned by his uncles and his favorites executed.
Despite Alexander’s victory, his power relied heavily on Edward IV’s support. When the king died in May 1483, James took back his throne. In response, Alexander fled back to England. The duke made two more attempts to overthrow his brother. After being captured in 1485, Alexander escaped to France, where he died the following year.
After regaining control, James III failed to learn from his mistakes. As a result, the king didn’t repair his relationships with the rebels. James continued to promote unpopular policies too. In 1484, he passed a treason act to punish the revolt’s participants.
The king also began to favor his younger son over his eldest. After the death of Queen Margaret in July 1486, Prince James started to fear that he would be displaced. On June 11, 1488, James III faced his final rebellion. Led by Prince James, alienated nobles marched an army towards Edinburgh. During the Battle of Sanchieburn, the king was defeated and killed.
James III was a very unpopular ruler. Unlike his father, the king failed to re-establish royal authority. Through his actions, James alienated his family, nobility, and government. The king also never learned from his mistakes. By the Battle of Sanchieburn, James had effectively turned his kingdom against him.
Oram, R. (2006). The Kings & Queens of Scotland. Gloucestershire: Tempus.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2020, June 07). James III. Retrieved August 07, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/James-III-king-of-Scotland