Saturday, June 11, 2011

Battle of Sauchie Burn

King James III of Scotland died on June 11, 1488.  The circumstances of his death involved the Battle of Sauchie Burn.  Sir Walter Scott covered the story, in “Tales of a Grandfather”:

‘Surrounded by sights and sounds to which he was so little accustomed, James lost his remaining presence of mind, and turning his back, fled towards Stirling. But he was unable to manage the grey horse given him by Lord Lindsay, which, taking the bit in his teeth, ran full gallop downhill into a little hamlet, where was a mill, called Beaton's Mill. A woman had come out to draw water at the mill-dam, but, terrified at seeing a man in complete armour coming down towards her at full speed, she left her pitcher, and fled back into the mill. The sight of the pitcher frightened the King's horse, so that he swerved as he was about to leap the brook, and James, losing his seat, fell to the ground, where, being heavily armed and sorely bruised, he remained motionless. The people came out, took him into the mill, and laid him on a bed. When he came to himself, he demanded the assistance of a priest. The miller's wife asked who he was, and he imprudently replied, " I was your King this morning." With equal imprudence the poor woman ran to the door, and called with loud exclamations for a priest to confess the King. "I am a priest," said an unknown person, who had just come up; "lead me to the King." When the stranger was brought into the presence of the unhappy monarch, he kneeled with apparent humility, and asked him, " Whether he was mortally wounded?" James replied, that his hurts were not mortal, if they were carefully looked to; but that, in the meantime, he desired to be confessed, and receive pardon of his sins from a priest, according to the fashion of the Catholic Church. "This shall presently give thee pardon!" answered the assassin; and, drawing a poniard, he stabbed the King four or five times to the very heart; then took the body on his back and departed, no man opposing him, and no man knowing what he did with the body.

Who this murderer was has never been discovered, nor whether he was really a priest or not. There were three persons, Lord Gray, Stirling of Keir, and one Borthwick, a priest, observed to pursue the King closely, and it was supposed that one or other of them did the bloody deed. It is remarkable that Gray was the son of that Sir Patrick, commonly called Cowe Gray, who assisted James II. to dispatch Douglas in Stirling Castle. It would be a singular coincidence if the son of this active agent in Douglas's death should have been the actor in that of King James's son.
The battle did not last long after the King left the field, the royal party drawing off towards Stirling, and the victors returning to their camp. It is usually called the battle of Sauchie Burn, and was fought upon the 18th of June, 1488.

Thus died King James the Third, an unwise and unwarlike Prince; although, setting aside the murder of his brother the Earl of Mar, his character is rather that of a weak and avaricious man, than of a cruel and criminal King. His taste for the fine arts would have been becoming in a private person, though it was carried to a pitch which interfered with his duties as a sovereign. He fell, like most of his family, in the flower of his age, being only thirty-six years old.’

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