James III

James III (1451-1488) was king of Scotland from 1460 to 1488. His reign marked perhaps the weakest point of the Scottish monarchy.

James III came to the throne suddenly in 1460, when his father, James II, was killed by the back-firing of a siege gun. The queen mother, Mary of Gueldres, tended to favor the Yorkist side in the English dynastic stuggles (often called the Wars of the Roses), but her influence was contested by that of James Kennedy, Bishop of St. Andrews, who favored the Lancastrian cause and arranged that King Henry VI of England and his queen flee to Scotland after their disastrous loss at Towton in 1461. This meant that Edward IV, the new English (Yorkist) king, would regard the monarchy of the young James as something to be overthrown if possible. For the moment, however, a truce was made with England.

The regency proceeded well enough until the death of Bishop Kennedy in 1465. The King then fell under the influence of his tutor, Sir Alexander Boyd, governor of Edinburgh Castle, and a party of minor nobility headed by the Boyds seized the young king and kept control of affairs in the kingdom for some 3 years. Robert, Lord Boyd, now leader of the regency, arranged for James a marriage with Margaret, daughter of Christian I of Denmark. This marriage, in 1468, had far-reaching effects for Scotland, for Margaret's dowry was the Orkney and Shetland islands, which until then had been under the control of the Scandinavian kingdom. But, more immediately, while the Boyds had been away arranging the marriage, their enemies had plotted their downfall, and their power was broken in November 1469.

James was now old enough to rule personally, but he was not a great success. Many of the older nobility resented his preference for men of low rank as his intimate counselors and his fondness for the arts rather than for fighting. Parliament frequently exhorted him to maintain order more vigorously. Even within his own family there was trouble, for James had two ambitious and disloyal younger brothers, the Duke of Albany and the Earl of Mar. Mar was arrested in 1479 (having been accused of witchcraft) and died soon thereafter. Albany escaped from captivity and allied himself with Edward IV, who was prepared to support him against James. An English army invaded Scotland, but suddenly James and Albany were reconciled. However, Albany's plotting continued, and he was finally banished, narrowly escaping to France in 1484.

A new and even more serious conspiracy arose among many of the Lowlands nobility in 1488, and in a battle at Sauchieburn near the celebrated field of Bannockburn the royal army was defeated. The King himself, having been carried away from the battle, was discovered and killed by a rebel soldier. His eldest son, who was the nominal head of the rebels, succeeded him on the throne as James IV and in his reign did much to reverse the unfortunate characteristics which had marred that of his father.


Further Reading on James III

For information on James see general histories of Scotland, especially William Croft Dickinson, A New History of Scotland, vol. 1 (1961; 2d rev. ed. 1965).

Additional Biography Sources

Macdougall, Norman, James III, a political study, Edinburgh: J. Donald Publishers; Atlantic Highlands, NJ, USA: Exclusive distribution in the U.S. and Canada by Humanities Press, 1982.