Saturday, July 10, 2010

James III of Scotland

One of the most unpopular of Scottish monarchs, James III was born on July 10, 1451 or 52.  His reign is marked by efforts to expand Scottish territory, by injustice, and by infighting amongst his family.  Perhaps his most significant contribution to Scotland was the acquisition, through his marriage to Margaret of Denmark of Orkney and the Shetlands

James quarreled often, including with his brothers, Alexander Stewart, the Duke of Albany, and John Stewart, the Earl of Mar.  Scott treats these episodes, which serve to illustrate James' sense of justice as well, in his "History of Scotland".  It ended poorly for Mar:

...The king, on his part, resorted to diviners and soothsayers to know his own future fate; and the answer (probably dictated by the favourite Cochrane) was, that he should fall by the means of his nearest of kin. The unhappy monarch, with a self-contradiction, one of the many implied in superstition, imagined that his brothers were the relations indicated by the oracle; and also imagined that his knowledge of their intentions might enable him to alter the supposed doom of fate.


Albany and Mar were suddenly arrested, as the king's suspicions grew darker and more dangerous; and while the duke was confined in the castle of Edinburgh, Mar was committed to that of Craigmillar. Conscious, probably, that the king possessed matter which might afford a pretext to take his life, Albany resolved on his escape. He communicated his scheme to a faithful attendant, by whose assistance he intoxicated, or, as some accounts say, murdered the captain of the guard, and then attempted to descend from the battlements of the castle by a rope. His attendant made the essay first; but the rope being too short, he fell, and broke his thigh-bone. The duke, warned by this accident, lengthened the rope with the sheets from his bed, and made the perilous descent in safety. He transported his faithful attendant on his back to a place of security, then was received on board a vessel which lay in the roads of Leith, and set sail for France, where he met a hospitable reception, and was maintained by the bounty of Louis XI.


Enraged at the escape of the elder of his captives, it would seem that James was determined to make secure of Mar, who remained. There occur no records to show that the unfortunate prince was subjected to any public trial; nor can it be known, save by conjecture, how far James III. was accessary to the perpetration of his murder, which was said to be executed by bleeding the prisoner to death in a bath. Several persons were at the same time condemned and executed for acts of witchcraft, charged as having been practised, at Mar's instance, against the life of the king...

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