James II of Scotland
James II (Middle Scots: Iames Stewart; 16 October 1430 – 3 August 1460), who reigned as king of Scots from 1437 on, was the son of James I and Joan Beaufort. Nothing is known of his early life, but by his first birthday his twin and only brother, Alexander, who was also the older twin, had died, thus making James the heir apparent and Duke of Rothesay. Curiously enough, James held no other titles while Duke of Rothesay. On 21 February 1437, James I was assassinated and the six-year-old Duke of Rothesay immediately succeeded him as James II.
In 1449, nineteen-year-old James married fifteen-year-old Mary of Guelders, daughter of the Duke of Gelderland. She had numerous royal ancestors such as John II of France and John of Bohemia. She bore him seven children, six of whom survived into adulthood. Subsequently, the relations between Flanders and Scotland improved. James's nickname, Fiery Face, referred to a conspicuous vermilion birthmark on his face which appears to have been deemed by contemporaries an outward sign of a fiery temper.
James was a politic, and singularly successful king. He was popular with the commoners, with whom, like most of the Stewarts, he socialized often, both in times of peace and war. His legislation has a markedly popular character. He does not appear to have inherited his father's taste for literature, which was "inherited" by at least two of his sisters; but the foundation of the university of Glasgow during his reign, by Bishop Turnbull, shows that he encouraged learning; and there are also traces of his endowments to St. Salvator's, the new college of Archbishop Kennedy at St Andrews. He possessed much of his father's restless energy. However, his murder of the Earl of Douglas leaves a stain on his reign.
James I was assassinated on 21 February 1437. The Queen, although hurt, managed to get to her six-year-old son, who was now king. On 25 March 1437, the six-year-old was formally crowned King of Scots at Holyrood Abbey. The Parliament of Scotland revoked alienations of crown property and prohibited them, without the consent of the Estates, that is, until James II's eighteenth birthday. He lived along with his mother and five of his six sisters (Margaret had left for France, where she had married the future Louis XI of France) at Dunbar Castle until 1439.
From 1437 to 1439 the King's first cousin Archibald Douglas, 5th Earl of Douglas, headed the government as lieutenant-general of the realm. After his death, and with a general lack of high-status earls in Scotland due to deaths, forfeiture or youth, political power became shared uneasily among William Crichton, 1st Lord Crichton, Lord Chancellor of Scotland (sometimes in co-operation with the Earl of Avondale), and Sir Alexander Livingston of Callendar, who had possession of the young king as the warden of the stronghold of Stirling Castle. Taking advantage of these events, Livingston placed Queen Joan and her new husband, Sir John Stewart, under "house arrest" at Stirling Castle on 3 August 1439. They were released on 4 September only by making a formal agreement to put James in the custody of the Livingstons, by giving up her dowry for his maintenance, and confessing that Livingston had acted through zeal for the king's safety.
In 1440, in the King's name, an invitation is said to have been sent to the young 6th Earl of Douglas and his brother, eleven-year-old David, to visit the king at Edinburgh Castle in November 1440. They came, and were entertained at the royal table, from which they were treacherously hurried to their doom, which took place by beheading in the castle yard of Edinburgh on 24 November. Three days later Malcolm Fleming of Cumbernauld, their chief adherent, shared the same fate. This infamous incident took the name of "the Black Dinner".
Struggles with the Douglases
In 1449 James II reached adulthood, yet in many ways his "active kingship" differed little from his minority. The Douglases used his coming of age as a way to throw the Livingstons out of the shared government, as the young king took revenge for the brief arrest of his mother (a means to remove her from political influence) that had taken place in 1439. Douglas and Crichton continued to dominate political power, and the king's ability to rule without them remained arguably limited.
But James did not acquiesce with this situation without argument, and between 1451 and 1455 he struggled to free himself from the power of the Douglases. Attempts to curb the Douglases' power took place in 1451, during the absence of the Earl of Douglas from Scotland, and culminated with the murder of Lord Douglas at Stirling Castle on 22 February 1452.
The main account of Douglas's murder comes from the Auchinleck Chronicle, a near contemporary but fragmentary source. According to its account, the king accused the Earl (probably with justification) of forging links with John Macdonald, 11th Earl of Ross (also Lord of the Isles), and Alexander Lindsay, 4th Earl of Crawford. This bond, if it existed, created a dangerous axis of power of independently-minded men, forming a major rival to royal authority. When Douglas refused to break the bond with Ross, James broke into a fit of temper and stabbed Douglas 26 times and threw his body out of a window. His court officials (many of whom would rise to great influence in later years, often in former Douglas lands) then joined in the bloodbath, one allegedly striking out the Earl's brain with an axe.
This murder did not end the power of the Douglases, but rather created a state of intermittent civil war between 1452 and 1455. The main engagements were at Brodick, on the Isle of Arran; Inverkip in Renfrew; and the Battle of Arkinholm. James attempted to seize Douglas lands, but his opponents repeatedly forced him into humiliating climbdowns, whereby he returned the lands to James Douglas, 9th Earl of Douglas, and a brief and uneasy peace ensued.
Military campaigns ended indecisively, and some have argued that James stood in serious danger of being overthrown, or of having to flee the country. But James's patronage of lands, titles and office to allies of the Douglases saw their erstwhile allies begin to change sides, most importantly the Earl of Crawford after the Battle of Brechin, and in May 1455 James struck a decisive blow against the Douglases, and they were finally defeated at the Battle of Arkinholm.
In the months that followed, the Parliament of Scotland declared the extensive Douglas lands forfeit and permanently annexed them to the crown, along with many other lands, finances and castles. The Earl fled into a long English exile. James finally had the freedom to govern as he wished, and one can argue that his successors as Kings of Scots never faced such a powerful challenge to their authority again. Along with the forfeiture of the Albany Stewarts in reign of James I, the destruction of the Black Douglases saw royal power in Scotland take a major step forward.
Between 1455 and 1460 James II proved to be an active and interventionist king. Ambitious plans to take Orkney, Shetland and the Isle of Man nonetheless did not succeed. The king travelled the country and has been argued to have originated the practice of raising money by giving remissions for serious crimes. It has also been argued that some of the unpopular policies of James III originated in the late 1450s.
In 1458 an Act of Parliament commanded the king to modify his behaviour, but one cannot say how his reign would have developed had he lived longer.
James II is the first Scots monarch for whom a contemporary likeness has survived, in the form of a woodcut showing his birthmark on the face.
In 1447, Mary of Guelders was recommended by Philip the Good as a suitable bride for James. The negotiations began in July 1447, when a Burgundian envoy came to Scotland, and were concluded by an embassy under Crichton the chancellor in September 1448. Philip settled sixty thousand crowns on his kinswoman, and her dower of ten thousand was secured on lands in Strathearn, Athole, Methven, and Linlithgow. A tournament took place before James at Stirling, on 25 February 1449, between James, master of Douglas, another James, brother to the Laird of Lochleven, and two knights of Burgundy, one of whom, Jacques de Lalain, was the most celebrated knight-errant of the time. The marriage was celebrated at Holyrood on 3 July 1449. A French chronicler, Mathieu d'Escouchy, gives a graphic account of the ceremony and the feasts which followed. Many Flemings in Mary's suite remained in Scotland, and the relations between Scotland and Flanders, already friendly under James I, consequently became closer.
In Scotland the king's marriage led to his emancipation from tutelage, and to the downfall of the Livingstones. In the autumn Sir Alexander and other members of the family were arrested. At a parliament in Edinburgh on 19 January 1450, Alexander Livingstone, a son of Sir Alexander, and Robert Livingstone of Linlithgow were tried and executed on the Castle Hill. Sir Alexander and his kinsmen were confined in different and distant castles. A single member of the family escaped the general proscription—James, the eldest son of Sir Alexander, who, after arrest and escape to the highlands, was restored in 1454 to the office of chamberlain to which he had been appointed in the summer of 1449.
James II enthusiastically promoted modern artillery, which he used with some success against the Black Douglases. His ambitions to increase Scotland's standing saw him besiege Roxburgh Castle in 1460, one of the last Scottish castles still held by the English after the Wars of Independence.
For this siege, James took a large number of cannons imported from Flanders. On 3 August, he was attempting to fire one of these cannons, known as "the Lion", when it exploded and killed him. Robert Lindsay of Pitscottie stated in his history of James's reign that "as the King stood near a piece of artillery, his thigh bone was dug in two with a piece of misframed gun that brake in shooting, by which he was stricken to the ground and died hastily."
The Scots carried on with the siege, led by George Douglas, 4th Earl of Angus, and the castle fell a few days later. James's son became king as James III and his widow Mary of Guelders acted as regent until her own death three years later.
James married Mary of Guelders at Holyrood Abbey, Edinburgh, on 3 July 1449. They had seven children:
- An unnamed son. (Born and died on 19 May 1450)
- James III of Scotland (10 July 1451 – 11 June 1488)
- Mary Stewart, Countess of Arran (13 May 1453 – May 1488)
- Alexander Stewart, 1st Duke of Albany (c. 1454 – 1485)
- David Stewart, Earl of Moray (c. 1455 – July 1457)
- John Stewart, 1st Earl of Mar and Garioch (July 1457 – 1479)
- Princess Margaret Stewart of Scotland
By his unknown mistress, James also left one illegitimate son:
- John Stewart, Lord of Sticks (d. 21 September 1523)
James II has been depicted in historical novels and short stories. They include:
- The Captain of the Guard (1862) by James Grant. The novel covers events from 1440 to 1452. Mostly covering the conflict of James II with the Earls of Douglas. Part of the action takes place far from Scotland, at the court of Arnold, Duke of Guelders, father-in-law to the King.
- Two Penniless Princesses (1891) by Charlotte Mary Yonge. James II is a secondary character. The main characters are his sisters Eleanor, Mary, and Joan "Jean". The novel covers their travels to foreign courts, including those of young Henry VI of England and René of Anjou.
- The Black Douglas (1899) by Samuel Rutherford Crockett and its sequel Maid Margaret (1905). The two novels cover events from 1439 to 1460, including most of the reign of James II. His conflict with the Earls of Douglas is prominently featured. Including James II stabbing William Douglas, 8th Earl of Douglas to death (1452) and James' own death due to a bursting cannon at the siege of Roxburgh (1460). Among the other historical figures depicted are William Douglas, 6th Earl of Douglas and his brother David (mostly their violent deaths in 1440), Margaret Douglas, Fair Maid of Galloway (protagonist of the second novel), Sir Alexander Livingston of Callendar, William Crichton, 1st Lord Crichton, Charles VII of France and his Dauphin (Louis XI and Agnès Sorel. The events take place primarily in Scotland, secondary in France. There is mention of the early phases of the Wars of the Roses (1455–1485) but English events are only "slightly touched".
- Black Douglas by Nigel Tranter, covers events up to the killing of the 8th Earl of Douglas, is sympathetic to the Earl and unsympathetic to James II.
|Relation name||Relation type||Description|
|1||James I of Scotland||Father|
|3||John Stewart Earl of Mar and Garioch||Son|
|4||David Stewart Earl of Moray||Son|
|5||Alexander Stewart Duke of Albany||Son|
|6||James III of Scotland||Son|
|9||Mary of Guelders||Wife|