Last time I left you in 1513, bereft, bereft of the mighty and glorious James IV, dead in the Northumbrian mud, alongside a significant number of his political elite. In our real time this is actually back in June, when I interrupted the HoS with LLASE, June. Lumme. Anyway we are back in the land of the free, but Would Scotland’s renaissance monarchy die with James, I hear you ask, stroking your chin softly as you dip your digestive thoughtfully into your nice cup of tea? Would an English invasion follow hard on the heels and ravish a defenceless Scotland, breaking the 150 years of largely invasion free history Scotland had enjoyed?
Well, yes and no. Or well, mainly no yes no. Hmm. It might be good just to give you something of an overview of what the 16th century contains for Scotland, and a brief retrospective just to set the scene, because it is something of a humdinger century-wise for the Scots, so I might introduce some themes for you to look out for along the way, so that you can hold their threads in your hands as you make your way through the labyrinth of history.
In detail, 15th century Scottish history was, I am afraid a bit of a blur, something with which I did not help probably by trying to keep things moving along chronologically – I should probably gone up of down detail waise This is a shame because there are so many amazing stories, like the Black Dinner, and the Douglas declaring diffidatio with the king’s safe conduct pinned to the tail of a horse. But a few things are worth noting. Firstly, that despite the continual stream of minorities and high-profile disputes like this, it is the strength of the monarchy not its weakness that was remarkable by the time James IV met his Flodden, and the loyalty and respect in which it was held by its magnates. The ease with which the crown was able to dispossess major noble families like the Douglasses is a demonstration of that, and it plays to a continual medieval theme. That where once we used to see nobility fighting to control and diminish royalty in favour of their own autonomy, we now see a partnership; royal power and authority sustained the nobility in their own authority, an so in turn thy sought to sustain the monarchy. In Scotland’s system the judicial arbitration of the king was particularly crucial. Really, only 1488 might be seen as a rebellion against the king; and even that, well, James III’s death was in all probability the slip of the pike rather than an intended assassination.
Then also, Scotland has enjoyed over 150 years of absence of foreign war; there’s been continual tit for tat raiding in the borders but you know that seems to have been part of the turn of the seasons, 6 of one and half a dozen of the other. Scotland in 1513 was therefore outward looking, self confident and assertive. It demanded a role on the European diplomatic stage, and under James IV had achieved that – although he’d paid a high price in the end. In architecture and the arts, education and academia, Scotland had similarly been very much part of the European movements of the rennaisance; humanist scholars like John Mair were well known in Europe, and Mair’s protégé George Buchanan who become a leading scholar of European renown. I have also discovered in the writing of this programme that Buchanan’s uncle was called James Heriot. Apparently not a vet. Until I read that I had forgotten just how much I loved those books. Anyway. Scottish scholars generally regularly took a tour of study abroad. James IV and Bishop Elphinstone had strongly promoted lay education which bore impressive results in the level of lay literacy which would in a way be a challenge to the church in the 16th century. The Scottish church enjoyed a close and direct relationship with the papacy. Scotland identified, then as now, as thoroughly and dynamically European.
The point I want to make is that despite the death of its king, and the short term shock of the death of a political generation, Scotland was in control of itself and well able to face the future with confidence. As it happens, the 16th century was to be something of a shock to the system, a cold shower, a swim as brisk as those taken in the St Andrews outdoor pool on New Year’s Day – and yes, people do that. Some of them even live to tell the tale. The aim here is just to whet your appetite for what lies ahead. Although English soldiers did not invade on the heels of Scottish defeat at Flodden, there will indeed be English soldiers on Scottish soil during the century; and just like the last times in the 13th and 14th centuries some scots will want them there, other scots will not. We will see what the historian Jane Dawson described as a Battle for Britain, and despite Scots seeming to be at once on the verge of being absorbed into a French empire, or political dominance from England, yet Scotland will emerge by the end of the century with confidence and control every bit as vibrant as shown in the times of James IVth.
The Reformation story will roll into town of course, and take a uniquely Scottish path and give us great names such as David Beaton, John Knox, Andrew Melville; possibly less well known but almost as impactful as the reformation will be the transformation in and holding through the process known as feuing, which will cause at once great hardship, but for many also great opportunity. And of course, there will be all the drama, intrigue and mystery of one of the most endlessly fascinating chapters in the history of these islands, the life and times of Mary Queen of Scots.
We have this to look forward to, and yet we must start back in the aftermath of Flodden. After picking themselves off the floor, the first job was to inaugurate and crown the next king. James V was nobbut knee height to a grasshopper, and yet grasshopper or not at Stirling on 21st September 1513 that is what happened. I can hear you ask, intelligently I thought. what would have happened if James had died of some mystery infant illness, for which there would have been a reasonable chance of course, and that would be an interesting question. James’s mother, Margaret Tudor was pregnant as it happens, and would give birth to an heir – but little Alexander would die after little more than 18 months of life. So, Here’s he succession then at the time of the coronation of little Grasshopper James V.
And before I do that I am going to tell you to go back to the History of England website I am sorry by the way the Scottish stuff is on the history of England website I reason Scotland us not part of England it’s just a brand name, Jesse and I are working to create separate and yet linked site but I, you know fell ill. Anyway, go to the website of doom, and you will see a chart on the 6 leading Scottish families. You might need to download it and expand it, but life will be so much better if you look at it. For the moment keep in your minds; The Hamilton Earls of Arran, the Stewart Earls of Lennox, Douglas Earls of Angus, the Campbell Earls of Argyll, and Gordon Earls of Huntly.
Anyway. Grasshopper’s heir was John Stewart, the 31 year old Duke of Albany. And after that, it would be James Hamilton, the Earl of Arran. Two things about this; your question about the next in line was a great one because both of these men will be intimately involved in Scottish political leadership, and the factor of what should happen if James V fell under a bus would always be in the backs of various minds.
Albany, the heir, ironically not one of those 6 families, was the grandson of James III, and was an interesting character. In 1513 he was not in Scotland at the time of James’s coronation he was instead in the country where he had been born and brought up, La France. He had been a courtier at the French court from an early age, and had seen military service, including on crusade. Recognising his importance, the Scottish royal council duly wrote to the King of France, Louis XII, asking if they could have their Duke back please, and ooh remember our alliance against England? We just lost both our king and our army could you send an army too?
Now in France, Louis XII and his son and heir Francis I could see just what a valuable counter the Duke of Albany was; not only was he an important courtier in France, but he was a bacillus that could be injected into the British bloodstream as they wished, a Francophile who could scare the bejesus out of that pushy new English king Henry VIII, and make him worry about his backdoor rather than invading France. Although Flodden had been a Scottish failure, it most certainly demonstrated that Henry VIII could not afford to ignore Scotland. However, Louis XII dithered, and for the moment only played silly buggers, pretending to authorise expenditure for an army; but Albany stayed in France until Louis XII died. So it would not be until 1515 that Albany arrived back in Scotland.
In the meantime then, there would need to be a regent, and that was fine because James IV had told everyone who that would be; and initially at least there seemed to be no bother. Queen Margaret the Queen Mum would be regent and look after her son, with the help of a council of course. There was a kicker in the will – Margaret should be regent only while she remained unmarried. That seems personally a little hard but politically entirely sensible; no body wanted a feeding frenzy of ambitious blokes trying to get their hands on power by marrying the queen.
There were a few wrinkles connected with the 24 year old Queen Mother, however, and her regency. First was, as you might have noticed, she was a woman. James might have been relaxed about leaving a woman to be regent, but the royal council were less keen
Our old laws do not permit a woman should govern in the most peaceable times far less now when such evils do threaten
But probably even more ghastly, Margaret’s surname was Tudor. Well it wasn’t because that would be anachronistic, but she was the sister of Henry VIII. She was English. Yuck. Pitoee, pitoee.
So look, Albany and Margaret Tudor. Together in 1513 they symbolise a question which will never be far away from 16th century Scottish politics – alignment with England or with the Auld Alliance, with France? And how to do that without becoming a satellite of either? And all the dynastic stuff, that resulted from the fateful decision of Henry VII and James IV to make peace through a dynastic marriage; the members of the Scottish royal family, James V, Mary Queen of Scots and James VI would always have an interest in the throne of England. Indeed at this very moment Margaret herself was heir to the English throne. Do not think that any of them were unaware or uninterested in this claim.
Now, had Margaret been a level headed, ambitious sort of person with a talent for working with others and for the interests of the Scottish state things might have gone smoothly. The Council accepted her as she was, rather on the assumption that she’d be a figure head, but they suspiciously went along with her protestations that she was now a fair dinkum Scot, pitooy to the rotten old Sassenach. Sadly, her private letters rather belie her words, and honestly it’s a little difficult to see past a few things about Margaret. She was very conscious of her Tudor and royal heritage and had material expectations that tended to dominate her thinking. Here’s a reasonably typical letter to her brother Henry VIII which suggests an almost creepy identification with her Tudor family and the constant refrain about cash:
If I were such a woman that might go with my bairn in mine arm, I trow I should not be long from you, whose presence I desire most of any man…I am so super extended that I doubt that poverty shall cause me to consent to some of their minds which I shall never do without your counsel, as long as I have a groat to spend
Golly. So, when Scots looked at Margaret and saw England, they had a point.
The other thing about Margaret was a certain lack of self control. There is a bit of a history here, which may go back to the basic Tudor trait of bloody mindedness. I may be pushing it, but Henry VII refused to lie down, Henry VIII will become a by word for arrogant self- absorption, Elizabeth will not lack for self-confidence. Meanwhile Henrys younger sister Mary would accept her first marriage to crabby old Louis XII for reasons of state, but then grab the first decent looking piece of man flesh she could find and get married on her own terms. Mary Queen of scots, famously, has been accused of the same impulsiveness, which we can consider at some future point. So what Margaret did in August 1514 seems part of a general pattern – she grabbed an attractive 19 year old called Archibald Douglas, who happened to be the 6th Earl of Angus and not only grabbed him but married him to boot. Angus was engaged to Lady Jane Stewart of Traquair at the time, but Angus was not a man to pass up on an opportunity and figured he could work round the Lady Jane Stewart problem – there were methods in the having and yet eating cake department.
Well, I can tell you when news got out you could not breath for pigeons feathers. The Earl of Angus was again a doulas, and after the extent of Douglas power and the trouble they’d caused in the last century, the Douglas family were viewed with some suspicion for their ambition; and even one of their own, the also super ambitious Gavin Douglas, described the apparently handsome Angus as ‘a witless fool’ which you could consider to be a little rude. Either way, if Margaret expected everyone to wink indulgently and let her away with it, and if Angus thought he’d be on an automatic escalator to power, they collectively had another think coming. The Council’s boot was firmly planted in the Tudor backside and thoughts turned to the alternative – the Duke of Albany. Finally Albany was released from France, and came to Scotland with sword in hand; confirmed as Governor of Scotland by Council of Parliament, impressively marching into Parliament with Sword and Sceptre carried before him, the embodiment of justice.
His political opponents did not take it lying down. Margaret retired to Stirling castle with her lad James V, but Albany followed her and sat politely outside insisting that her boy was king of Scotland and must therefore be kept by the rightful regent, so sorry. He happened to have with him a few thousand soldiers by the way so…just saying. Margaret’s husband Angus and his border clients the Homes tried to spring her from what had become a prison, but it was no good. The Tudors do like their drama. Forced to submit Margaret decided a bit of theatre was in order; imperiously, she refused to treat directly with Albany, and instead gave the keys to the castle to her lad who then in turn gave them to Albany. Albany rather blanked the drama; he had an eye on the political realities, and had her escorted to her new gilded cage at Linlithgow. While he was in the country, Albany tended to be a forceful and well focussed source of stability. As part of that stability, he would bring both Angus and Arran back into the political fold.
However, stability was to prove to be in sadly short supply. To illustrate the sort of stresses and strains pulling at the kingdom, let me take you to Edinburgh in 1520, and we are going to talk about one of the less attractive way political rivalries wok out, though an extreme case, in a famous incident called the Cleansing of the Causeway.
Albany wanted to create balance and a broad base to his regime. He had therefore installed Earl of Arran as his second in command along side his own captain, a man called de la Bastie, and these two would control the regency while he, Albany, is out of the country back in France. Margaret and little James V are in Edinburgh castle doing their thing; it is one thing worth mentioning that whatever chaos Margaret involved herself in, her relationship with her son would be strong throughout their lives. Anyway, so they are in the castle, quiet, calm, kushti. This calmness has been hard won as it happens. Back in 1515, Margaret had escaped from Linlithgow palace and the captivity into which Albany had locked her. Once escaped, rather confirming everyone’s fears about her, she’d legged it to brother Henry in England. She was pregnant with her child by Angus at this point; and this child, Margaret Douglas, future Countess of Lennox, would have her part of play in future dynastic squabbles. You can put this to one side.
Margaret was and installed in a castle in the north of England, and spent her time bending Henry’s ear about money. While Margaret was away, the mouse that was her husband, Angus returned to Scotland to play. By play, I mean that in the properties and uncollectable rents left by his wife’s absence, lay an opportunity. You might remember I mentioned that Angus had been engaged to Jane before he saw the bigger Tudor fish float near his fly? Well he now logged onto Friends Reunited and looked up ex Fiance Lady Jane Stewart of Traquair, and then installed her as family 2.0 in the helpfully vacated Queen Margaret properties, taking Margaret’s rent and generally living the family life, including daughter. It’s a tangled web. Back home, all unaware of the outrageous level of shenaniganing going on, in between bending her brother’s ear about finance, Henry did some bending right back about the sanctity of marriage, and her duties to be up in Scotland representing the English interest with her noble husband. After all, Henry VIII was a good family man convinced that a marriage must be worked at and honoured and saved beyond all…I think I may have drifted into sarcasm maybe possibly perhaps? Anyway, eventually back Margaret went, to be broadly and diplomatically welcomed by Albany. And where the full outrage of her husband’s views of the sanctity of marriage and his family 2.0 with Jane Stewart were revealed in all their glory. There was something of a slanging match while Margaret and Angus met up again, neither would prove good at keeping up appearances. This particular example of matrimony had ceased to be an honourable estate. However, in 1520, Margaret was for the moment reasonably calmly installed with her lad in Edinburgh castle.
Not so her husband, Angus, however. He and his allies the Homes were down in the streets of Edinburgh below castle rock. And down there, things were not calm, things were not calm at all. If you look closely, you will see there are rough looking blokes with spears and quilted jackets all over the place.
So what’s happened here? This sounds super warlike, when fact a peace convention had been planned to try and get Angus and Arran to work together in peace and harmony and stop all their squabbling and rivalry for power. But instead, Arran had spotted an opportunity to sneakily put Angus and his Home allies in chains and take control – so he’s armed up 500 of his men, and into Edinburgh they’d gone, ordering the gates locked so that Angus would not escape his wicked clutches. So, he was understandably miffed to find that Angus had exactly the same idea, and was in possession of 500 armed men to boot.
You might imagine that the good burgers of Edinburgh were busy contemplating the undersides of their beds, and resolved to keep studying them until the trouble had gone away. And no doubt plenty of them did, but there were also plenty quite happy to join in. Because Arran had made himself Provost of Edinburgh, a fine way to gain control of the dues for far and away the largest centre of trade in the country. And then promptly annoyed everyone by making the sun shine on Leith, by favouring the merchants of that town instead. So Angus saw the chance to kill two birds with one stone – get rid of his political rival Arran, and then take over his lucrative post of Provost. Silly not to.
It’s more complicated than that though. At Angus’s side, ably aiding and abetting them, were leaders of the Home clan. To the political mix, add the heady scent of revenge and bloodfeud. For in 1516, the Homes had worried about defeat of Angus and his Douglas family, worried that they would lose power and influence in their own Home heartlands of the Borders. So, in 1516, they had rebelled, and critically, they had done so by eliciting English help. And this time, Albany had decided time had come for a little exemplary punishment; Lord Home and his brother were tricked into meeting Albany, then instead taken to Edinburgh, executed, and their heads stuck on spikes outside the Tolbooth, the municipal building and home of Scottish parliaments. Pour discourager les autres. as you do.
This got the Home clan proper blazing, now seriously worried that the centre of their power and influence would be taken from them by Albany and Arran; quite apart from the need to force reparation for the death of lord Home. As a result was born a trail of violence in which, Albany’s French commander de la Bastie, two priors of Coldingham Priory, Robert Blackadder and David Home were all killed. In Edinburgh 1520 therefore. The Homes were still fighting for their honour and safety as well as their superiors, the Angus and his Douglas family.
However, fear not; mediation was underway. Realising that violence was in the air, a leading figure from the Angus side, Gavin Douglas stepped forward as honest broker, since he was AB of Dunkeld, and therefore presumably a lover of peace. Though in fact he was to attempt to make himself AB STA by physical force at some point, but for the moment, peace was on his mind. He gathered to him, therefore another man of God to go to the Arran and Hamilton side at the same time to persuade them that there should be peace, that we can talk this out. So, Gavin Douglas turned to James Beaton, the AB of Glasgow, a friend of Arran. It soon became clear, however that AB Beaton had a different attitude to this situation Beaton had resigned himself to a good dust up. This became clear when Beaton struck his chest, and a clang came back – the AB was wearing armour. ‘My Lord’ said Gavin Douglas sadly ‘Your conscience clatters!’.
That night, Angus, the Douglas and the Homes struck. While guildsmen occupied and distracted Arran and his Hamilton allies, the Douglasses barricaded the side streets, gathered on the broadest street and roared ‘Clense the Calsey’, and they unleashed hell. Disoriented and separated, the ensuing fight did not go well for Arran; 70 bodies soon littered the causeway. Arran and his son managed to commandeer a packhorse carrying coal and escaped by fording the shallows of the Nor Loch. Beaton was dragged out of sanctuary behind the high altar in Blackfriars and only saved from murder by Gavin Douglas. Finally the Humes could honour their dead they took down from the castle walls the desicated heads of their leaders executed in 1516, and buried them in Greyfriars garden.
Needless to say, violence breeds violence and this was not the end though. The following day Arran returned and although an agreement was reached without further violence a member of Arran’s family, Patrick Hamilton, had been killed amongst those on the causeway – and new feud created.
To set against this political chaos it is traditional to place three things. Firstly, there were political leaders who specifically did not get involved and worked hard to maintain peace, law and order; the Gordon Earls of Huntly and the Campbell earls of Argyll for example. Secondly, it appears that governance and administration continued on, so that the political nation chaos might be argued to be a bit like a reverse duck – all fuss and bother up top, calmly paddling along underneath, if you see what I mean. Possibly you don’t. So essentially, as was traditional in Scottish royal minorities, whether of the calm or chaotic variety, what never wavered was the principle of loyalty to the crown.
And thirdly, when Albany was in the driving seat, some sort of normality re-asserted itself under his hand. In 1521, Albany sailed back from France, and Angus was banished, fleeing to France, Albany cut a deal with Margaret to win her round, peace was restored. Albany even helped Margaret put her case to the Papal Curia for an annulment of her marriage to Angus, in which, with irony so deep you’d need an iron lung to get to the bottom of it, she was opposed and frustrated by none other than her own brother Henry VIII.
However, the trouble with this third thing is that Albany was himself a divisive figure. His heart wasn’t in it – he had been born and bred in France, his heart was there, his lands were there. He was always seen as a representative of the French crown – by the English, who saw him as a threat and quite rightly so; but also by the Scots who worried as much about French hegemony as they did English. What we are beginning to see is the formation of an English party and a French party among the Scottish magnates, and it is a division that will continue and grow. So, in 1522, Albany tried to persuade the Scots to attack England; and they had plenty of provocation from the English, the way, who were relentlessly raiding across the border. And this time Albany had brought a substantial army from France to help them and was desperate to thereby help the French war effort against England. The Scots refused to budge. Albany was beside himself with frustration. He was a hawk mobbed by crows he moaned. All was not lost; Albany had an anger management strategy, involving snatching the bonnet from his head and throwing it on to the fire, though it was reported from across the border by Lord Dacre that a dozen bonnets had been despatched in this way. As the faint smell of burning bonnet drifted through the corridors of power, the French army went home having achieved nothing, and Albany complained in an unguarded moment that he wished he’d broken both arms and both legs before setting foot in Scotland.
There’s no doubt the Scottish parliament and council valued Albany and wanted him to stay, and Albany brought some stability; but he also brought a relentless determination to use Scotland for France’s advantage. In May 1524 Albany left for the last time; in 1525, the Hapsburg victory at Pavia seriously undermined French plans in Scotland. Albany would never return before his death in 1536.
Albany’s departure allowed Angus to return, to Margaret’s unbounded fury, and we are therefore treated to the spectacle of two pro English parties fighting each other as the French had left the field. However, finally Margaret was forced to accept the bitter pill of working alongside her estranged husband; partly because Henry in England felt Angus was more reliable, and partly because government simply did not have the requisite authority without Angus as part of it. A governing group of Arran, Angus, Margaret and the Earl of Lennox finally came into play. The idea was for a revolving leadership, signalled by possession of the king; each of the leaders of the Council would have a turn. Great. First turn to Angus then. In November 1525 when the next turn came up – Angus simply refused to give him up. With possession of the king’s person, came power.
Angus’s leadership had some successes, notably in restoring some sort of order in the Borders, even at the cost of the Homes. But always struggled against the background of factionalism, and with the lack of his own natural authority. Albany had a royal connection and a backing from the French that set him a little above the factions at court. Arran had the royal connection and position in the line of success should James V die which made him difficult to gainsay. Margaret’s opposition was implacable, even after she managed to gain a divorce from Angus finally in 1527. Angus’s political modus operandum was about coercion and threats; and to give the lad his due, he was quite good at it, and managed to keep the ship of his leadership afloat. But the impression is one of remorseless and gradual disintegration and infighting. At one stage there was open warfare between Arran and Lennox as Lennox tried to seize the person of the king. At the Battle of Linlithgow Bridge in 1526 Lennox was defeated and killed. Arran made a great play for innocence, found weeping over the body of Lennox, tears dropping on to the corpse as he bewailed the dead man as
The wyssist man, the stoutest man, the hardiest man that ever was bred in Scotland
Nobody believed a word of it. Especially when it was found that the killer was Arran’s bastard son. Lennox Stewarts and Arran Hamiltons remained at feud for the rest of the century.
Under this level of infighting, the support for Angus’s regime leaked away. What happened was that the magnates like Argyll, Glencairn, Cassillis essentially went home and looked after their regions, and Angus’s council was increasingly narrowly based. There was no faith in a disinterested justice; when the earl of Cassillis was murdered in 1527, his killer, a Campbell was not apprehended, and the result was one more feud. As I think I have said before, the constant reference to blood feud gives the impression of an unworkable system; in fact that is probably not the case on a local level; as long as there was a relevant authority in place to allocate compensation at a level the wronged family could accept it appears to have kept the peace quite effectively. But at this national level Angus was unable or unwilling to impose the relevant control or able to command the required authority.
The oddest things was that Angus does not seem to have made any attempt to build a strong relationship with the future king, James, 16 years old in 1528. James meanwhile developed an aversion to Angus, and had already shown signs of trying to escape his influence – making a bond of friendship with Lennox for example to help him escape, which made Lennox’s death at Linlithgow Bridge came as a dreadful blow for the lad.
In 1528 events twisted the dial of James dislike for Angus up to 11. James relationship with his mother remained very strong. Even when his mother showed the attitude to personal relationships which had elements of kamikaze. In 1527 Margaret’s divorce came through. In April 1528, she did it again, and secretly married a Man called Henry Stewart. Angus it the roof, and threw Henry Stewart into jail, on account of Margaret having failed to seek royal permission. By so doing, Angus had now ensured that the only way Margaret and her new husband could be together was by removing Angus. It appears James himself wasn’t terribly keen on his mother’s marriage, but was even less keen on Angus’s high handed response. James was desperate to escape Douglas control.
Let me take you to May 1528, then. Angus had organised a meeting of the royal council Edinburgh. He thought it would be a good idea to bring James with him, to teach him of the ways of power and government. James was just a month past his 16th birthday. But one night after they had arrived the news came to Angus that the king’s appartments were empty, the door of the golden cage open. Anguses bird had flown, and the song bird was about to turn into a vulture, eager to dine on the flesh of the Douglas.