Last time we heard that, whatever the consequences, James V was very skilled at inter pocket accounting, using the cash from the Church pocket to support the monarchy. The approach also reduce the impact on his people, while still allowing the ambitious and even glittering renaissance court of James IV to open once more for business. But if there was a stage on which James desired to play more than any other it was the diplomatic stage of Europe. Could he, like his father strut on that stage with the best of them, France, the Empire?
He had some disadvantages – representing as he did a relatively small and at times damp realm. But do not despair – he had some cards in his hand to play too. He was after all a very eligible bachelor, young, owned a kingdom, that sort of thing. Even better, the the diplomatic situation played straight into his grubby little mitts. One was this business of a confessional frontier. I keep using that annoying phrase – all I mean really is that after Henry VIII’s break with Rome, there was a different approach across the border – Scotland as still a Catholic country. For all intents and diplomatic purposes England was a land of screaming heretics, Henry VII a king in schism. And while religion was only one factor in forming European diplomatic policies, it did mean that everyone was just a little bit more interested in Scotland than they’d been before. However, more important was the continuing Hapsburg Valois rivalry – Empire Vs France. For the French, the idea of an ally at England’s back door was immensely attractive, to keep England quiet while the French had a hack at the Hapsburgs.
Now you might think that this is a slam dunk for Jimmy V; the Auld Alliance would surely be the obvious choice, as opposed to the Auld Enemy England. The clue’s in the name. And maybe it was for James – but there was a pro English party in Scotland, amazing as it may seem. One of its most influential members as far as James was concerned was his mother, Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII, who quite clearly remained an anglophile at heart, and whose relationship with her son remained good. Which is slightly surprising because she caused him a few headaches.
You will remember that Margaret’d married once in haste and repented at leisure, namely with Angus. Well no sooner had she escaped that gilded cage than it soon became clear that oops she’d done it again with one Henry Stewart. Given that Margaret thus had form, it’s easy to see Margaret herself as contributing to her marital problems. At the same time there’s a continual stream of whiney letters to her brother and son asking for money. the Scottish Treasurer’s accounts convey a sort of weariness at the constant demands. However, there is also something of a theme in 16th century Scottish history of unreliable menfolk – something Mary QoS will suffer from. And it just so happens that Henry Stewart started an affair with a Lady Janet Stewart; so not surprising maybe that Margaret was miffed; and as far as she was concerned, her husband was spending her money on his fancy woman. She complained in 1537 to her son, and asked for his support to get a divorce, but Henry Stewart, now Lord Methven persuaded James that it had nothing to do with his doings, and everything to do with Margaret’s desire to get back together with Angus. Since yes, by the looks of things Margaret regretted dumping Angus and wanted him back.
Breaking up is never easy, I know, but Margaret had felt that he had to go, but there seems to have been a candle still burning. The tangled webs we weave.Methven’s claim that Margaret was the one at fault was therefore an effective defence maybe; but James support for Methven also has the feel of a stitch up between two blokes, and two serial adulterers it has to be said. Tthe loser here was definitely Margaret who was left tapped in a loveless marriage, forced to watch her husband carrying on, and left with no control of her own money. And to cap it all her political desires were out of vogue; James hated Angus. Angus was an anglophile like Margaret. James therefore had another reason to prefer Chaise long to couch. So, Margaret found her relationship with her lad remaining friendly, but increasingly distant. She was being sidelined.
James then played the diplomatic game with some skill. Henry VIII was nervous, because now nobody liked him apart from maybe the Germans, and even they kept lecturing him on his theology. The Pope was very keen to have the Scots on his side, and the was Empire too. So there was some trading jiggery Pokery going on. Emperor Charles V proposed Mary of Hungary, to be known soon as Regent of the Netherlands, as a possible bride, which would have been an impressive match. As governor of the Netherlands in the future, Mary is one of those iconic figures so lord knows how history would have been affected if that had happened; but also – sister of the Emperor, that as well, that is a seriously prestigious marriage, and of course a relationship with the Empire would have been deeply tempting, controlling as it did, access to the most important north European market of the Netherlands.
However, James was probably always fixed on France, from personal and cultural preference.. Now at the time conversations opened Francis I had a thing going on with the Big Man, bluff king Hal of England and therefore had to tread carefully; so there’s an exchange of letters where Francis prevaricates, James’s weeps piteously that Francis doesn’t love him any more, oh woe is me quell desepoir – what a shame that in 4 minutes flat Scotland will be allied with England unless I get a better response, and in a panic Francis hastily makes another suggestion for a marriage match. James’s eyes were fixed on Francis’s daughter Madeleine, a direct alliance with the French monarchy; Francis was a little defensive, Madeleine was not very well, not very strong permanently by the sound of things. But despite the 18 candidates proposed for James, it was for Madeleine that James put on the leather trousers and 80s haircut and did his Sandy impression. And there was a pre-existing treaty condition with James IV and France so he was within his rights. However, with some special pleading, it seemed that Madeleine was to be spared, and instead Mari of Bourbon or Marie of Vendome as she is sometimes called, would be the lucky woman. A picture was dispatched to Marie, and she made preparations.
She made preparations to meet, because James who was coming to town; on 1st September 1536 with a great fanfare he sailed from Leith for an 8 month holiday in France. It is a pretty clear indication of the success with which James had re-established re-established peace and stability that James was able to leave his kingdom for such a long time.
When he arrived, James did that dodgy chivalric thing kings liked to do in those days and tipped up in disguise at Marie’s house. And yes, like all the others, Marie was not a blithering idiot and recognised him straight away. It seems to me that this habit has a relatively poor success rate though you know, it could be a matter for a Phd thesis maybe, but just off the top of my head, we have a big fail from Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves, and now we have a big fail from Jimmy V. Because he was not impressed with Marie, and when he met Francis unconfirmed reports noted that Francis had his arm twisted 3 quarters up his back as James pressed again a royal liaison with Madeleine. Timing is important in many things, is it not, and he was asking at exactly the right moment. The truce with the Empire broken down, France was under military pressure.
Madeleine made her desire for the match plain too. And so Francis caved. On 1st January 1537, James V and Madeleine were married at Notre Dame in Paris.
The whole 8 month French holiday was for James a very positive experience. He got to experience all the glitter and glory of French culture, ceremony and architecture, and Francis knew how to put on a show, James came back brimming with ideas and a determination to beautify his country. It would be part of the reason why Hamilton of Finnart would be able to practise his arts so fully before falling foul at the hands of his master. James also came back brimming with self-confidence; his diplomacy had been a triumph, he had been feted wined and dined in the capital of European culture, Scotland’s status and importance in European affairs had never been greater. As he stepped ashore in Scotland inb May 1537 with his new queen he was on the top of his game.
Sadly, Francis’s reluctance to send his daughter abroad had been well founded. Madeleine fell ill and died within two months. I have no doubt James was gutted, but he was a king and must go forward and with almost indecent haste a new bride was asked for. And so onto the stage of Scottish history will step one Mary of Guise.
Mary of Guise came from the first rank of the French nobility. She was the eldest of 12 children for the lucky Antoinette de Bourbon. Let us just dwell on the number 12 for a moment.
Her father was Claude, the Duc de Guise. The Guise are a family that will play a part in our story, and that of England for some time so let me briefly introduce them. They were grand enough in 1515 when Mary was born; they would become grander still in the decades ahead, until they were the leaders of the Catholic party in the wars of religion which split France; her brothers Francis, future duke of Guise and Charles, Cardinal of Lorraine, would have much influence in France’s wars of Religion – and in the life of Mary’s daughter, Mary QoS. But that’s for another day.. From a very early age, Mary would have been made very conscious of her status, and when she was 14 she was presented to Francis I on the occasion of his marriage to Eleanor of Austria. She would also have been made very aware of the responsibilities her status brought with it; and possibly aware that when her parents took her to the coronation there was an ulterior motive; to show their daughter to the court and to the world, and find for her a marriage suitable to her station.
In which they were stunningly successful, and by 1534 Mary was married to the Duc de Longeville. Mary was exceptionally tall, as were the rest of her father’s family, she was described as having auburn hair, grey eyes, and a charming manner. The pair of them appear to have been very happy and soon had a child, Francois, and in 1537 Mary was again pregnant and would give birth to Louis. But by this time her husband had died of a fever, and just 21 years old, Mary was left alone, and planned to settle down to bringing up her children and managing the vast Guise estates. And they all lived happily ever after.
But the winds of the world and family duty did continue to rattle the windows of the chateau, so Mary was not left entirely alone to her own devices. The wind of which I speak came in the form of Henry VIII, whose third wife Jane had recently died in childbirth. Henry VIII, ever the perfect gentleman and lover remarked that he needed a big wife and so hey why didn’t he have that one, she’s tall. At which Mary is supposed to have made her famous observation
‘I may be big in person but my neck is small
Henry’s reputation for disposing of his wives went before him. With her refusal Mary is unlikely to have thought she’d managed to shimmy past the marriage thing – Guise was too grand a family for that. And Mary duly received a letter from her king. The letter told her that Francis had decided that she should marry again, and that her new husband would be James V of Scotland. Cardinal David Beaton had been sent over on this critical diplomatic mission after the death of Madeleine on behalf of James to exercise his considerable diplomatic skills. But it was not straight forward. There seems to be some evidence in the negotiations thrown up by Mary’s mother and father that Mary was reluctant to go; her new born infant had died, but she would leave behind the country of her birth and she would also need to leave behind her son. But this was the sort of territory in which Beaton excelled; and anyway, not for Mary the Margaret and Mary Tudor solution of snagging the first half decent pair of passing pantaloons to get yourself off the marriage market as quickly as possible before you were sold off again. There was a wide streak of duty in Mary of Guise.
In fact historians have generally been kind to or should I say impressed by Mary. There is a demonology, which grew up from the pen of John Knox; as far as Knox was concerned, Mary was the representative of Catholicism and that’s all you need to know. But historians have tended to see those qualities which made her a hit at the French court – of wit and intelligence. Although she did not necessarily know the whole of it in 1538, she swapped a life of relative ease when she left France; and was to be a formidable force in Scottish history over the next 20 years. In the process She showed qualities of determination and endurance, constant hard work, and the skills of a natural diplomat. Anyway, leave France she did setting foot at lovely Crail in Fife in the care of her father Charles, Duke of Guise. There was a good and proper renaissance welcome with 40 days of hunting and pageants and jousting and all, and everyone professed themselves thoroughly impressed. In August Mary’s father left her, and she and her husband toured round her own lands given to her as part of her marriage settlement; and so in November 1537 she made her official entrance into Edinburgh.
The kingdom that Mary joined was in many way then, undergoing a period of confidence and apparent harmony. But despite James’ success in re-stablishing harmony and peace, we’ve also heard that there were pressures too – in the church, in the waves of feuing across church lands in particular, and unease at the hard treatment of major magnate figures, such as Angus and the Douglas family. There were other parts of James’s kingdom also where harmony was strained. And you may not be surprised for me to take you back to those parts of the country which remained less well integrated into the Scottish polity – the Western Isles and Highlands, and the Northern Isles. It is a theme, I think. The royal Stewart strategy rather wavered between a desire to integrate both regions within the wider realm, and encourage the use of the Scots language of the lowland on the one hand – outright conquest on the other. The result was somewhat dithery, between enforcing royal power and the laissez faire approach, and dithering in this field turned out to be neither helpful or effective.
The strategy of previous kings had been to replace the mighty Lords of the Isles, the MacDonalds as the dominant magnates in the Western isles and the Highlands. In their place were to be two families – the Campbell Earls of Argyll in the west and Islands, and the Gordon Earls of Huntly in the north and north east. The process of replacing the deeply integrated existing web of loyalties was intensely complex and difficult. The man for the job in the west was Colin ‘lumpy brow’ Campbell, 3rd Earl of Argyll. He had been part of James’s successful plot to break free from the rule of Angus and was therefore a trusted part of his royal Council. Now, the assumption has to be that Colin Campbell was given to bursts of anger, since the lumpy brow cognomen apparently comes from said brow’s crinkling when grumpy. However, in general, Colin sought to extend his influence by making bonds of manrent rather than by stamping on people. This is not necessarily the entirely peaceful process it might sound; or at least it involved challenging the influence of other families – in this case of course, the MacDonalds and MacLeans. The successor to the lords of the isles, so far as there was one, was Donald Dubh MacDonald, and lay languishing in gaol as he had been since his revolt in 1506, but there were various branches of the MacDonald throughout the Western islands. The MacLeans has submitted and tied their fortunes to the Campbell juggernaut, but even there, relationships were not always early.
Pain and misfortune seems to have been caused broadly by two kinds of trigger; family rivalries and disputes within the Islands, and attempts to assert royal control. One way of building bridges between the Campbell and Island clans was through the traditional route of marriage; and therefore Elizabeth Campbel had married Lachlan MacLean. Unfortunately, the marriage was not a success, Lachlan accused his wife of trying to poison him, and so tied Elizabeth to a rock at low tide on the expectation that the high tide would turn him into a widower. As it happens no one was hurt in the making of this part of the story, since Elizabeth was rescued at the last moment by a Campbellian Perseus. This insult to Campbell honour festered; and in 1523 a member of the Campbell family, John Campbell of Cawdor, took 10 men and murdered MacLean in his bed. Campbel was duly pardoned for this recovery of family status.
In 1528 when James came to the throne, James’ top priority was however not peace and harmony, but extracting more money from the Isles. So one of his first actions, released from the ties of minority, was to order Argyll to increase rents from his lands. Colin lumpy brow chose the moment to die, but his son Archibald as 4th Earl of Argyll implemented this order and raised rents. The result was revolt by MacDonald and MacLean, the normally loyal MacLean now seeking revenge for the murder of Lachlan. In 1530, James decided himself to lead an army to reduce the western Isles one more to obedience, and the MacDonalds and MacLeans chose to submit in the face of royal force.
All was not as it seemed though – they had a cunning plan as it happens. In 1531 at a royal council, Alexander MacDonald dramatically turned up, and accused Archibald Campbell the Earl of Argyll of exceeding his commission in their lands, of exceeding the powers given by tradition an d monarch. He swore to james that he, the MacDonald would clip the over mighty Campbel wings. The declaration came as a complete surprise to Archibald Campbell, who could offer nothing to the king and Council but his, did his guppy impression. MacDonald’s intervention worked to some degree – James removed Kintyre from the Campbells lost as a result.
However Argyll and the Campbells were too important to the royal plan to be permanently displaced so the impact was short term. The Stewart monarchs knew their toast was buttered Argyll side, the Maclean allegiance to Campbell was renewed, James and his successors continued to reply on Argyll and Huntly to manage Highlands and Islands on their behalf. The impression is one of a problem of royal direct authority there that was too difficult for James solve and therefore continually shelved in the too difficult in tray. Essentially as far as the Western Isles were concerned, the operation royal authority was uncertain, and the direct relationship between highland chiefs and crown equally uncertain. With this, there continued to be a widening gap between lowland and highland culture and custom, along with the mistrust we’ve spoken about before. The great Earls of Huntly and Argyll tried to bridge this gap; and I have seen their performance described by historians as both troubled and successful; and maybe those terms not in fact mutually exclusive. There were some efforts made at greater integration; MacDonald’s young son was sent to court to be educated for example; but these are rare examples, and that in itself is a very one-way example.
However, amidst the gloom of this lack of communication it is also important to note that within the highlands and islands themselves, art and culture was alive and well and kicking, and the story of trouble can be overplayed. So while the lowlands may have rather forgotten the tradition of the bards, the prestige of the MacMhuirich bards was higher than ever, and of the MacBeth Physicians too. Although generally speaking Gaelic culture was not written down, the book of the Dean of Lismore does indeed come from this period, a great collection of gaelic poetry. And an interflow of culture from the European humanist tradition is also part of the strength of Gaelic culture, it was not solely inward looking; there are Gaelic medical manuscripts from the scholars of Europe. In summary, there’s no end in sight to the problems of integration between highland and lowland, and a continuing tendency for lowland Scotland to view Highland as a weird and even barbarian But there is still a flow of ideas, ad Gaelic culture remained dynamic and strong.
The situation with the Northern Isles is at once different and the same; different in that there appears to be less expression of the idea of an alien culture, which may simply reflect that the Northern Isles don’t have the same rather tragic after story of the clearances or Jacobite rebellions. None the less, the level of royal control and influence was even weaker. There’s really no direct equivalent with the Earls of Huntly and Argyll in the Northern Isles, though the Sinclairs may come closest; but James was able to do nothing about the warfare between different branches of the Sinclair family; when William Sinclair attempted to assert the rule of law, he ended up dead. James showed little interest – despite a royal visit in 1540. Essentially, the Northern Islands were a world apart.
So, this brings us to the 1540’s where despite these issues in the more remote parts of his realm, and despite the trouble being stored up for the church, James could none the less reflect on at very least a confident and successful image of the Scottish monarchy, reasonably harmonious relationships with his great men, a developing administration and legal profession – and above all, a triumphantly successful diplomacy. Although James and Mary’s two male children did not survive infancy, in 1542 Mary was pregnant again, and it could be reasonably hoped that the future of the Stewart dynasty was assured.
This was a good thing, because relationships with England were turning nasty. There were maybe a couple of immediate reasons for this. The opening of this confessional frontier thing was becoming an irritant; it meant a difference of values which never helped, but it also gave a handy point of refuge for Catholics fleeing Henrician persecution andfor Scottish protestants too going the other way. There was a personal thing; Henry VIII organised a meeting with James at York for 1541, preceded by an exchange of letters. The theme of these letters was firmly uncle to Nephew from Henry, which must have been deeply irritating to a king in James who had no reason to suppose himself his uncle’s inferior in anyway; plus Henry’s stated intention was to persuade is nephew that religious reform was a great idea – not least because of the income released by dissolving monasteries. More practically, Henry and the Emperor were planning for war against France, and Henry needed to know that his back was secured.
For James and his council the question was whether the path of the French alliance was worth the risk of war; and it was about religious affiliation too. Married to a Catholic French queen, feted and valued by the French monarchy, and with Beaton strongly arguing the case that heresy could not be tolerated and friendship with England endangered the church, the arguments for French alliance were very strong, and it’s advocates powerful. Advocates of English alliance were weak and now distanced from the throne such as Margaret or banished such as Angus. So it was unsurprising that James continued to chose France. He therefore stood up the English king, who was at York expecting James to come for a conference. As a act of diplomacy, not turning up to a meeting with another monarch you’ve promised to come to is a pretty uncompromising and calculated insult. Essentially, the bill for the alliance with France had come in, as it had for James IV. It was time ofr Scotland to invade England in the French interest
The outcome was distressingly similar. The war started rather well; an invading English army was trapped at Haddon Rigg and comprehensively thrashed. There has long been, incidentally, a tradition that James’s nobility were reluctant to join him in the fight, as part of the story that James had a fractious relationship with his nobility, and that there was a reluctance in some quarters to fight the English. This seems unlikely; it is based on the histories of John Knox, who was keen to emphasise joint Protestant religious values, and belittle James’s reputation. In the light of the general trend we’ve talked about it is far more likely that James was able to command the loyalty in a war against the old enemy, and there certainly seems to have been no trouble putting an army in the field. In November 1542, then, James felt the time was right to capitalise on the victory at Haddon Rigg to go on the offensive and duly ordered his commanders to attack; sensibly he remained at Lochmaben on the borders, expecting to launch a separate invasion once he received the good news of a Scottish victory.
Sadly that news never came; instead came the report of a heavy defeat at Solway Moss. Now the story is that within a couple of weeks James was dead, overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster. Possible I suppose, but it seems much more likely that it was disease caused by sitting in army camps. Either way, after consulting with his council at Edinburgh, James had retired to Falkland Palace. On 8th December, Mary had given birth to a baby girl, who they called Mary, and who was to acquire the surname Queen of Scots over the centuries. On 14th December James appointed Cardinal Beaton, the earls of Moray, Huntly, and Argyll, and Queen Mary to act jointly as tutors and governors to Mary QoS, and then died. So, goodie, another minority then.
For the next few weeks we return to William Marshal. When we resume the Scottish story, it will be time for the rough woo’ing as England and France struggle for the Scottish heart. Not always with flowers it has to be said.