The point of a Renaissance Prince was to astound the world with their magnificence, erudition and glory, bringing lustre to themselves, their dynasty and to their people. The world looked on in astonishment at the magnificent festivities of the marriage between the Tudor Princess Margaret and the Scottish king James, which cost over £6,000 which is a king’s Ransom. It was so successful that the English courtiers that came with Margaret had to try REALLY hard to be sniffy about the event, so much so that the level of sniff they managed looks noticeably feeble even all this time later. The world was delighted and amazed at the 40 days of feasting and festivities and jousting that accompanied the birth of James and Margaret’s heir, who they thought they should call Arthur, but then decided that they really hadn’t had enough James’s so what the hell, lets go for James. Nobody wants to be the one that breaks a good run afterall. Arthur’s an unfortunate royal name actually, anyway, continually suggested, sometimes adopted but never quite makes it. We’ve got Arthur of Brittany, claimant to the English throne murdered, probably, by John; then there’s Henry VII’s son who so nearly makes it, and now there’s James and Margaret toying with us. A deadly name as it turns out.
Anyway, magnificence and all that. I mentioned music last time but realise I got a bit stuck on trumpeters and should mention a bit more on that line. First of all just to make the point that there are musicians of international renown, including one Augustinian canon of Scone, Robert Carver. I am going to confess that the international renown of Robert Carver had not reached my ears, but I suspect that is my fault rather than the estimable Robert, but it has now, and to yours. His was complicated polyphonic music, so, lots of different harmonies with lots of singers, and his music was apparently unique in the British Isles in using a continental fashion of cantus firmus, about which, in the interests of personal integrity and honesty I need to confess complete ignorance, but I have this on good authority. Here’s a bit of the lad’s music performed by The Sixteen under the stewardship of one Harry Christophers.
Jolly nice, and suitably poly-whatsit I am sure you will agree. It’s also a good moment to mention the harpist, a long and strong tradition particularly in Gaeldom, and the most celebrated performers tended to come from Gaelic society, and were both men and women. There were two types, one brass string and the other using gut and a pick in the left hand. In Gaelic society, the harp accompanied recitations of bardic verse, and you can visualise it can you not in the halls of the lords. Just as there were learned families handing down lore and stories from generation, so there were bardic and harpist families – the MacEwens, for example, served the Earls of Argyll and poets, clan historians and harpists. I am sad to relate that the natural combination of harpist and historian has not made its way into the shed. James IV was part of this tradition, maintaining a good harpist. Later in in the 16th century it has to be said the more portable lute began to replace the harp, until by the end of the century it had replaced the harp at most country houses, and also at the royal court. So there you go, cantus firmus and harp music, would you adam and eve it. The things you find out about on the History of Scotland, eh.
And by the way, back to courtly magnificence once more, although James IV was famously relaxed and informal, Margaret it appears was not, and much given to magnificence in her dresses. So James travelled relatively light for a renaissance monarch, and followed the Paul Young formula for the congruence of hats and homes, sleeping on a table on one occasion, but Margaret did not. Guess how many carts it took to haul her dresses on the royal progress. 1? 5? 10!? Nope all wrong, 35 of the things. Medieval equivalent of a Cray supercomputer.
But look this is not getting me where I want to go, and that is to guns and to ships gentle listeners, guns and ships. James IV was a lover of a shapely artillery piece. James’s dad had been keen as well, and James II had blown himself up showing off to his young wife, so this is clearly something of a family characteristic, they had the gun gene. For James IV, his fascination was as an offensive, mobile weapon, and he gathered around him experts from all over – France, Germany and the Netherlands, and in 1511 established Scotland’s own foundry, with a House of Artillery in Edinburgh castle. It was an expensive hobby – not just the design and production of the things, but taking them on campaign. These are heavy bits of kit, and keeping them on the road cost a bomb; £743 for two weeks of the campaign into England. However, James realised that they were essential kit for your aspiring renaissance monarch, they were the first thing asked for at the door to the Renaisssance monarch’s club. For siege warfare of they were just the ticket; they were tricky to deploy on the field of battle but they could equally be crucial there, and for morale value they were worth it alone.
So that’s cool, but there was another use, and that was a project even closer to James’s heart and even more horrifying for James’s bank manager. That was the fleet.
On his daunting jaunting in 1493, James had come to a full realisation of the necessity of sea power in the western idles, but campaigns into England equally needed support from the sea. So, with the treasury being filled more expertly than ever as we heard last time, James would seek to build a fleet to make his southern neighbours tremble.
The first point to make before embarking, ha ha, on the subject is to give a bit of background about Scotland’s ship building tradition; because there were still two traditions remaining by the late 15th century. In the Western Islands, ship building remained very much with the oared, longship type. There is a carving from the tomb of Alexander Macleod of Dunvagen in 1528 which shows a 17 room galley, very similar to the longship type, though with a rudder rather than being double ended. Elsewhere, the Scottish tradition was very much in the same line as the rest of north west Europe, and I am going to use the career of a couple of Scottish seamen or Scottish pirates, depending on your view point. We shall talk about the two Andrews, Barton and Wood.
Andrew Barton appears to history in the records in 1497, and he was transporting Perkin Warbeck. But like so many sailors, Barton combined service to the crown with piracy. James managed to slip him letters of Marque to recompense some losses Andrew had suffered at the hands of the Portuguese – which he pursued to a ridiculous degree, resulting in a flood of Portuguese counter claims. When finally summoned by James IV to answer the livid Portuguese demands, he did the Homer into the hedge thing, and slipped out the harbour, and sailed to Denmark and into the service of king Hans.
That went OK as well, so in grateful recognition of the happy relationship, as soon as Hans had paid him, Barton half inched a Danish ship and legged it, never to be seen by the king again. He put his stolen ships to what he would consider excellent and practical use, preying on ships up and down the east coast of England, straight forward piracy this time, until in 1511 Thomas Howard ran him down, killed him and took his ships. James IV actually had the nerve to protest about this to Henry VIII…but actually was probably jolly relieved that Barton was gone, the removal of a loose cannon.
Our second Andrew is one Andrew Wood, and his career was much more to James’s liking. Actually Wood had also served James III, but despite having carelessly chosen the wrong side, Wood moved smoothly into James IV’s service, which is some kind of recommendation for his talents. He was to prove his worth in a rather heroic epic battle against an English Captain. This is one Stephen Bull, and was described by the chronicler Robert Lindsay of Pittscottie. Essentially, Andrew Wood came on a small group of English ships in the Forth of Firth in 1489 or 90, possibly specifically sent to take on and kill Andrew Wood. With his ships the Flower and the Yellow Caravel, Andrew defeated and captured Bull and the English ships and presented the defeated captain to his young king. There’s a rather lovely model of the Yellow Caravel; which is as good a way to visualise a caravel as any – you can see it on the website. Andrew Wood had sailed the king’s ships into the Western Isles in 1494 and 1498, which was great, except neither event had any great lasting impact, and one of the problems was that many of the strongholds were difficult or even impossible to reach except by sea, and it was a problem getting artillery to bear to knock down the walls.
It will be in Scottish waters therefore that we see the first use in British waters of heavy canon on board ship. Although ships were fitted with artillery, they had until this point always been of the anti personnel type; quite light, to support the traditional tactic of coming alongside and boarding the enemy. The technical problems began first to be tackled in the Med. on Galleys, which mounted ship killer cannon in the bows of the ship, maybe 4 bow chasers and 4 stern chasers. This also allowed what was a pretty radical idea that now ships could be defeated at distance rather than by a hand to hand fight. And now for the first time in waters of the British Isles then, in 1504, heavy guns were mounted on and used from a caravel. That year Andrew Wood bombarded and captured the rock fortress of Cairnburgh – an impregnable fortress that could only have been fired on from the sea.
You might be asking yourselves why James’s ships should be attacking fortresses in their own backyard, and that necessarily returns us to the Highlands and Islands. Generally speaking, James’s reign, despite some of the problems caused by the exploitation of feudal dues, had brought an end to the factionalism of the minority, and relative peace. The king’s presence at justices in ayres and in royal visitations had helped the resolution of feud. Local lords felt well consulted; most regions were well represented on the royal council or conventions. None of this though was true for the Western Isles and Highlands. I’m tempted to call them the Wilands on the Windies principle. But for the good of all and for the cause of peace between English and Scottish, I am going to resist. But it is hard, and just remember the sacrifice I make for the good of intra British relationships.
In the Western Isles, there was almost none of this royal contact; after 1501 James’s attention was elsewhere,. So just where the clan system was at its strongest, the moderating hand of royal justice was weakest. Of course in the days of the Lordship of the Isles there had been an alternative – the strong hand of the Lords of the Isles, and the Council of the Isles had provided a meeting place for the resolution of issues under their guiding hand. That was no more, and there was no replacement. In 1501, James effectively washed his hands of all this and delegated his authority to two men – Alexander Gordon, the Earls of Huntly, and Archibald Campbell, the Earl of Argyll. The fact that these men were rivals, and that Huntly was himself part of the problem with his predatory eyes looking westwards to the Isles himself, did not put this appointment into the good boding category.
Meanwhile, the policies of surrender and regrant alongside the royal policy of revocation and exploiting feudal dues was causing mayhem in the Isles. As noted, the practice of feudal ownership of land by charter was quite well known in the area, it need not have been a problem. But it was competing with the right of the sword, accepted by Gaelic society as the way of establishing right, and behind this approach to life was integrated many other aspects of gaelic society; Gaelic lords maintained a household of fighting men to seize land, and to hold it against allcomers; the spoils of raids, or creaght, allowed the distribution of wealth from one clan to another, and through hospitality and gift giving, the distribution of wealth between different levels of society was also enabled. By introducing the primacy of royal justice, of new lords to deliver justice, of new methods of landholding, the Scottish monarchy was seeking to change the very bases of highland society, and it would have to be well and thoroughly done; yet there is no evidence that any thought at all was given to such considerations. The framework that could make change happen and allow a clear and positive integration into a wider, cohesive Scottish society was utterly absent. We’ve focussed on the absence of lordship, but it goes deeper than that. In lowland society there existed a legal structure for conveyancing and dispute resolution; which could be at times corrupt and subject to pressure and influencing but it was none the less a system – battles and struggles for ownership happened through those structures rather than through warfare and raiding. The revocation and regrants of land was appalling badly handled – not only was it expensive and repetitive, causing local lords to wonder what on earth the advantages were of such as system but the crown was often horribly incompetent when managing the process, allocating the same land to different people in some cases. So for example Totternish on Skye was allocated to both Dunvegan and Lewis branches of the MacLeods; to their rivals the MacDonalds of Sleat; and to the Clanranald MacDonalds. Such confusion would have led to conflict and chaos anywhere, lowland or highland. Into this powder keg then came the trigger of Huntly aggression seeking to use the extreme instability of land tenure to grab land and extend influence along the great glen.
This led eventually to rebellion. The Rebellion that flared into existence in 1501 was led by a consortium. Its titular head was one Donald Dubh, the grandson of Angus Og, son of the last Lord of the Isles John MacDonald but behind him were the Torquil Macleod of Lewis and Hector MacLean.
For Huntly, this was an opportunity; especially since James’s response was largely one of disinterest. For Argyll, it was a situation fraught with political problems precisely because the Campbell were more integrated into the Island society; Torquil Macleod was his son in law; Hector MacLean his brother in law. The Rebels held out in remote and inaccessible fortresses among the islands, and targeted the Stewart island of Bute which they captured early, and in Badenoch in the central highlands, a strategic artery of communication that ran through Huntly lands.
It was in this context, then, that the royal navy was essential, to carry war to the islands and suppress the rebellion. Meanwhile it was Huntly mainly responsible for the imposition of royal control, using clan allies and relationships to help, all rewarded handsomely in return for their military aid – the Mackay from Sutherland was rewarded with confirmation of land holding over Strathnaver, the Grants gained Castle Urquhart, surely one of the most satisfying words in Scotland with the possible exception of Auchtermuchty. Or maybe Kircudbright. Slowly the revolt of was closed down; but it took 6 long years until Bute was retaken and Donald Dubh recaptured with Carinburgh by Andrew Wood and the royal navy. There is no doubt that James’s new toy had proved its military worth and competence; but it had done nothing for the safe and peaceful future of the highlands. With the continued absence of royal power and local dominance of Huntly and Argyll, the advantages of integrating fully into Scottish society were almost impossible to understand; and on the royal councils these disenchanted, disempowered and disengaged clans were left with no representatives apart from those two, Huntly and Argyll.
Nonetheless, the Navy James assembled after 1504 was remarkable, and able to compete with any in northern waters. Almost a third of royal revenue was devoted to its creation and maintenance. The ships that formed its backbone were significant; the Michael was a 4 masted ship of 1,000 tons, and was very probably the model for the Great Harry which Henry VIII commissioned the following year. There was a specially constructed yard on the Forth, with a safer anchorage further upstream behind fortifications on the island at Queensferry narrows on the firth of Forth. There remained a naval base at Dumbarton in the west, but the focus had shifted significantly to the east, the centre of gravity now facing France, England and Flanders.
James’s navy was not cheap of course; between 1505 and 1511 alone, £100,000 was spent on it. It was his pride and joy, and the shipyards acted as a magnet to him, as he visited constantly, often accompanied by some suitably impressed Ambassador; and afterall, part of its purpose was to convince James’s European partners that Scotland was here in the diplomatic game to stay, for the long term. Though as a sidenote the naming of the Michael after the archangel may also have been a nod to the other essential talk of the renaissance Prince – the talk of crusade, of the duty to take holy war to the Ottoman in Istanbul. That talk was in inverse proportion to the likelihood of said Princes actually taking action, but that does not necessarily mean to say that the desire was not there.
By 1512, then, the Scottish military was as well prepared to fight as it had ever been; I’ve not talked about the army, but here also James had innovated, introducing the European long pike, an innovation which should potentially give significant advantages over English armies, still wedded to the shorter billhook. Though of course such a consideration was irrelevant, because as you know England and Scotland had agreed to perpetual peace less than 10 years ago, and perpetuity had some time yet to run. Though maybe just maybe the peace would prove to be less than perpetual? Is that conceivable?
Seems difficult to believe, but the pressures were there. Firstly, the European situation had rather tended to put pressure on James to reopen the Scottish-English account. Europe had embarked in 1494 on the struggle between Valois and Hapbsurg that would dominate European diplomacy for the next 60 years at least, and early French success in Italy had brought the Empire and Pope together to oppose the threatened French dominance – the French therefore were in the friends market. In 1509 England’s cautious Henry VII had given way to his less cautious son Henry VIII who shared his northern neighbour’s passion for international glory and conquest, and just as James was rather constrained to look to invasion of England for his cup of glory, so Henry was drawn to invasion of France. So matters were tense, and it’s reasonably clear where Scottish sympathy lay, despite the royal marriage; although no Scottish contingents formally fought alongside France in Italy, there were quite an number of private individuals that travelled there.
There was therefore the prospect of something of a bidding war, with France and England supposedly beating a path to Scotland’s door to woo her friendship. If you look at it in this way then there’s little doubt that France was a worthy winner. From the French came 100 puncheons of wine from Louis XII and naturalisation rights for Scots in France. From the English came a border dispute, and an assertion by the English parliament of English sovereignty over Scotland, along with an embassy that offered precisely zip. And in 1512 therefore, the Auld Alliance between France and Scotland was renewed.
Historians have noted a certain amount of mismanagement and arrogance on behalf of England in this, and it’s undeniable that asserting sovereignty drops neatly and easily into that category. But it’s also worth wondering whether there was really likely to be any other result. James himself manufactured complaints about the capture of Andrew Barton on what was clearly an act of piracy. The English would have calculated that war against England therefore against Empire would just be an absurdly daft choice, because Scotland relied heavily on the Empire for her external trade, particularly in the low countries.
To digress for a moment, this trade might be typified in the story of the Scottish trader Andrew Halyburton. Halyburton had been the Conservator of Scottish privileges in the Low Countries through the 1490s, and his account books survive and show the nature of Scottish trade. These were heavily based on exporting wool into the Scottish staples now based in the Scheldt estuary in Middleberg, Veere and Bergen-op-Zoom. Halyburton had married locally, to Cornelia, daughter of the painter Sander Bening, and the contacts allowed him to supply Flemish art to Scottish clients, and he ran at the same time a good trade in church vestments and prayer books for the Scottish church. But the core of his business was the wool trade, to bring Scottish wool to the staples, and in return import back to Scotland luxury goods, especially wine and spices like pepper and ginger. No matter that sales of wool remained depressed from their heyday; it still provided the core of Scottish external trade. All of this would be gutted with the arrival of war; trading privileges would be immediately withdrawn, and there were plenty of English merchants ready to take advantage.
Another good reason for not taking part was the relationship with the Pope, allied with the Empire of course. That good relationship had been massively valuable, and beautifully handled by Scottish diplomacy; alliance with France would mean slamming the gears of state into full reverse straight from top. Though it has to be said, there was little sign in what followed that the Scottish church were much worried; the dominance of the national church and state relationship was too well embedded by now for that, and the excommunication of James IV which inevitably followed the renewal of the Auld Alliance in 1513, had little impact.
However, If the English so calculated, they misread their man. The complaints of merchants were well down James’s priority list. If he was to be taken seriously on the European stage, if his army, navy and artillery were to count for anything, he had to be prepared to use them. If he backed out now, his prestige might never recover. James’s kingdom was at the height of its confidence and preparedness, and, outside the western Highland and Islands, government was stable and as peaceful as it had been for decades. It seems quite likely that the English diplomats could have prostrated themselves and offered the earth to no effect. James was in all likelihood going to fulfil his destiny – he was going to war, and the result of war, given that the English king and his army were away in France, the result must surely be glory, and immortality.
It was a popular decision, and the Scottish people took part with some enthusiasm, from wherever they were. The Earl of Argyll’s bard write a popular ditty Ar Sliocht Gaodhal, which I am sure I have mispronounced, sorry, which I think expresses the same broad sentiment as does kick out the jams brothers and sisters…throw ‘em out. The poet suggests ‘no gentle warfare’ against the Saxons. Strathnaver is almost right at the tippy top of the north of Scotland in Caithness, and from there marched the MacKay all the way to join James’s army in the south. Said army was an impressive sight, with a huge artillery train, powered by 400 Oxen. The fleet had been sent to Ireland to help a rebellion by the O’Donnel, bombarding Carrickfergus castle, which however failed to oblige and the fleet therefore missed its rendezvous with the French which was a shame.
However, unlike the campaigns of 1496 & 7, this time James’s campaign was crowned with success – Norham, Ford, Edal, Wark – all these castles were bombarded into submission leaving only Berwick holding out in the Eastern Borders. It was late in the campaigning season now, end of August, and the Earl of Surrey had brought the northern militia to face the Scots and try to keep them from the rest of England while the king was still in France. James now had a choice. Normally this would have been the time to retire over the border and watch the frustrated, helpless rage of the English as they knew that without properly prepared supply they could not follow. But look; this time there was French money jingling in the royal pocket; the main English army was away in France, this was the largest Scottish army at 30,000 ever to fight on English soil. The temptation to party on Dude was overpowering, and honestly, James was not the man to resist it. So he didn’t. Here was an unrivalled opportunity to inflict real pain on the English, and win real glory for the Scots.
By 9th September 1513 the two armies were in sight of each other – 30,000 Scots and 26,000 Englishmen. James had occupied a superb site at Flodden Edge, his artillery dominating the countryside between him and Surrey’s forces. To climb the hill in the teeth of the artillery would have been madness; so, Surrey swung round the Scots to flank them, and by so doing evaded the worst effects of the Scottish artillery. None the less they were still there at the foot of the hill, with the Scots up top.
The ensuing battle has been described as the last medieval battle fought on English soil, and much of this has to do with James himself. One less orthodox explanation for what followed, expressed some time ago on a not unrelated podcast far far away, is that James was wearing his Joo Janta 200 Super-Chromatic Peril Sensitive Sunglasses, and was therefore unable to see the danger he was in. The more traditional interpretation was that James saw himself as a great chivalric leader. Not for him the modern approach of generals placing themselves carefully in the rear to direct operations. James would be in the thick of it, he would ask his men to take no risk he was not himself prepared to take. Against him stood English archers, again the last major battle where English archers played a significant part; and in fact their time was already over; they had little impact on the Scottish pikemen, their attack blunted by heavily armoured men at the front of the Scottish squares.
James was feeling brave, confident and glorious. The first Scottish attack on the English right had resulted in success, with the English under Edmund Howard scattered. As I say, Surrey had carried out his risky flank march to turn James so that he could not deploy his artillery, and standing now against James under Surrey were arranged English billmen, using the hooked bill. The English billhook was a weapon from an older time, much shorter than the more modern pike, which in the hands of the Swiss had swept the battle fields of Europe. They should really be toast. So James abandoned the hill and placing himself and his captains at the head of a square, advanced down to grind the hated Sassenachs into the mud of Northumberland.
It was a vicious fight in the mud; so wet and churned up was the ground that many of the Scots took off their shoes to give them better grip; as the they approached the English their much longer pikes would surely break the English billmen. Toast time. But as they moved down the hill, the steepness and the wet played a crucial part – it broke the formations of the Scottish pike squares. This was critical. Suddenly, the English Billmen were no longer facing an unbroken bristling and lethal hedge of deadly iron – they were facing a bunch of blokes weighed down with very long, heavy and unwieldy pointy sticks; against whom the billhook was much easier to use. It was a disastrous transformation. Over 3 hours of mud and blood and push of the pike, the Scots were utterly destroyed. It was not easy – the English themselves suffered 1,500 casualties. But 5,000 or more Scots died.
Among those who lay dead was Alexander, James’s promising bastard son the Archbishop of St Andrews. There were also 2 bishops and two Abbots, 9 earls and 14 lords of Parliament. 2 of our Earls on the 6 Earls chart I posted a while ago on the website now died, the Earls of Bothwell and Argyll; Angus was not at Flodden, but would die within a month and lost two of his sons on the battlefield. James’s peerless artillery was also captured and taken to England where its beauty was marvelled and dribbled over.
But within a few yards of the Earl of Surrey’s own banner also died James IV himself, a victim of his outdated sense of chivalry. The defeat at Flodden was deeply traumatising; a significant part of an entire political generation, had been killed and the extent of the trauma is probably demonstrated rather weirdly by a rash of stories claiming that James had really survived, despite the fact that his body was taken to Berwick and laid out and later identified by some of his countrymen. There is a book about all of that if you are interested, which is great fun and well written, by Keith Coleman and published by Chronos Books called The Afterlife of King James IV.
So, we come to the end of one of Scotland’s more successful kings, maybe; and maybe not. I do not know if you listen to the Rex Factor podcast, and if you don’t you might want to give it a go since it’s a lot of fun, but I note that James IV came third in their list. James was certainly not one to be ignored, there is no doubt that his was a star that burned brightly. In the Lowlands he established a sense of connection, consultation and engagement, soothed the factionalism of his minority, and ruled with verve, talent and charm. His laissez faire approach to the Northern Isles worked rather well in the end. Just before the end of his reign, Scotland was brimming with self-confidence and assertion, it was a golden period for art and culture driven by the king’s court, and Scotland was playing a major role on the European stage with a sense of internal harmony for at least much of its political nation.
But, but but. He left two absolute whoppers as issues for his successors. Neither were entirely of his making; but he failed to address both of them, and he made them significantly worse and for good or ill they would have an enormous impact on Scotland’s future. The first lay in the Western Isles and Highlands, which was almost tearing itself apart without the good governance it needed and which it was the king’s duty to provide. And hate it or loathe it, after 1501 James simply could not be bothered to understand or address the problem, for all his great gifts. And secondly, his solution to the nation’s finances, the drawing close of the Scottish church meant that Church leadership was always shackled, without the independent leadership totally focussed on the good of the church to keep it vibrant, it would struggle to respond to the coming challenges.
However, none of this would have made much sense to the people of his country at the time, and who were devastated at the loss of a charismatic leader they loved; and look, you don’t invent survival stories about losers do you? The fact that these stories were so strong were a direct result of his popularity and achievement.
However, after the party the hangover. There was an heir, but he was just 17 months old when his father died. So yes Scotland once more had to draw itself together and face a long minority, and this time it had to do so with many of its political leaders lying in the mud on an English hill.