Childhood & Early Life
James III was born to James II of Scotland and Mary of Guelders. The exact date and place of his birth is debatable. Some sources suggest he was born in May 1452, while others state his date of birth to be July 10 or 20, 1451. The place of his birth is believed to be either ‘St. Andrews Castle’ or ‘Stirling Castle.’ However, historian Norman Macdougall believes that James III was born in late May 1452 at ‘St. Andrews,’ Fife.
He succeeded his father, James II, on August 3, 1460, at the tender age of 8 or 9. He was crowned a week later at ‘Kelso Abbey’ in Roxburghshire.
Owing to him being a minor, he saw the kingdom being led by three different reigns. It was initially ruled by his mother, Mary of Guelders (1460–1463). She ensured the return of the burgh of Berwick to Scotland. Scotland was then ruled by James Kennedy, Bishop of St. Andrews and Gilbert, Lord Kennedy (1463–1466), finally giving way to Robert, Lord Boyd (1466–1469).
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While the Boyds ruled Scotland, they became hugely unpopular with James III. The conflict between James III and the Boyd family worsened after the marriage of Thomas Boyd, Lord Boyd’s son, to Princess Mary, James III’s sister. Robert, Lord Boyd and Thomas (along with Princess Mary) were out on a diplomatic tour when their rule was overthrown by James III. Mary's marriage was later declared void. In 1469, Sir Alexander Boyd’s family was executed by James III.
James III thus overthrew the Boyds in 1469 and started ruling as the king. However, due to the long period of his minority, he was unable to build a strong administration even after he became the sole ruler of Scotland.
In 1469, he got married to Margaret of Denmark, who was the daughter of Christian I of Denmark. A sum of 80,000 Guilders was agreed upon as a dowry amount, a part of which was paid immediately. The islands of Orkney and Shetland were mortgaged to Scotland as part of the rest of the dowry amount. The Danes could not pay James III the rest of the amount. Thus, in 1472, James III managed to permanently annex the islands to the crown. With this, Scotland perhaps made the greatest annexation under his reign.
In spite of this, he became extremely unpopular due to his faulty policies. He planned to get his son married to the daughter of English king Edward IV, in order to improve Scotland’s relationship with England. However, he increased taxes to pay for the wedding at a time when the economy of the country was in trouble.
By the late 1470s, James III became highly unpopular, giving rise to revolts. His relationships with his brothers Alexander, Duke of Albany, and John, Earl of Mar soured. John died under suspicious circumstances in Edinburgh. Following this, James III exiled Alexander after charging him with treason.
His relations with England, too, were deteriorating. Around that time, Alexander re-appeared in Scotland, as part of the English force that was out to invade Scotland. Alexander, as an act of revenge, had struck a deal with the king of England. He believed he was the rightful heir to the throne and was back to take control of the kingdom.
In 1482, the English forces, under King Edward IV, acquired Berwick-upon-Tweed, thus making it part of England permanently. James III formed an army but ignored the efficient nobles of his kingdom. Instead, he placed his favorites in major positions. Angered by this, the nobility of Scotland decided to join the rebels against James III.
As a result of the rebellion, James III's favorites were murdered. James III was taken captive and was subsequently imprisoned at the ‘Edinburgh Castle.’ He was, however, saved when the English forces, having run out of resources, returned home without taking control of the castle.
James III was, however, adamant. He tried to form an alliance with England again but continued to promote his favorites and ignored the deserving nobility. Things went out of control when even his wife and his eldest son, James IV, began distancing themselves from him.
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James III was struck by another revolt in 1488. The nobles, including the Homes and the Hepburns, rebelled against him again and were joined by his 15-year-old son, the future king James IV. James IV was angered by his father's inefficiency and favoritism. He was not sure if he would be able to take to the throne after his father.
James III and his army clashed with the rebels at Sauchieburn, outside ‘Stirling.’ It is believed James III was killed in the battle. However, there are various versions of his death.
Family & Personal Life
In July 1469, James III got married to 13-year-old Margaret of Denmark, the daughter of Christian I of Denmark. The ceremony was held at ‘Holyrood Abbey,’ Edinburgh. Christian I gave the islands of Orkney and Shetland to Scotland as part of a dowry settlement. The wedding was overseen by Abbot Archibald Crawford.
James III and Margaret had three sons: James IV of Scotland; James Stewart, Duke of Ross; John Stewart, Earl of Mar.
While it is unanimously agreed that James III had died in the Battle of Sauchieburn, on June 11, 1488, there are various versions of his death.
One version claims that James III fell from his horse and was killed by the enemy soldiers. However, another version claims that James III had survived the battle but was killed while taking shelter. The second version also claims that he was given shelter by a woman who was drawing water from a well when she saw him. She subsequently hid him in a mill and went looking for a priest. It is believed that someone killed him in the guise of a priest.
He remains buried at ‘Cambuskenneth Abbey.’
James III has been the subject of many plays, short stories, and novels.
‘Lord in Waiting’ (1994) by Nigel Tranter was one of the books that described the events during the reign of James III. ‘Price of a Princess’ (1994) by the same author showcased the turbulent events of James III’s reign, with Mary, his sister, as the main character.
‘James III: The True Mirror’ (2014) by Rona Munro was a collaboration of the ‘National Theatre of Scotland,’ the ‘Edinburgh International Festival,’ and the ‘National Theatre of Great Britain.’ It was the third play in the trilogy of historical plays by Munro and depicted the turmoil that the country experienced during that time.