Guide to Scotland
   Gateway to the British Isles since 1996
A Brief History of Scotland

Presented by Peter N. Williams, Ph.D.

Chapter 4: Turmoil After The Bruce

On 9 September 1513, Good King James IV who had been so instrumental in bringing Scotland into the councils of Europe and whose ambitions for Scotland seemed close to fulfillment was slain at Flodden Edge, southeast of Braxton Hill. In the battle, (that seemed in so many ways to presage that of Culloden, over two hundred years later) Scottish bravery proved no match for superior English generalship who used artillery and the new long English bills to great advantage against the shorter Scottish spears and swords.

James's own natural son, Alexander and thousands of the best and brightest young men, many of its bravest and strongest Highland chiefs, great Church leaders and many Earls and Lords lost their lives in the calamitous battle at Flodden. Though no one knows what happened to James's body, a legend quickly developed to match those in Wales concerning Arthur and Glyndwr. The legend goes that he was not dead at all, and that one day James would return to lead his country again. Thus, a typical Celtic myth grew out of what people saw as the refusal of a Welsh king (Henry VIII) to bury the body of a Scottish king (James IV).

Scotland now had no king and no army. As James V was still a baby, Queen Margaret assumed the Regency. In 1514, in a move that brought a surprising change of fortune for the country for which she showed little affection, she married the Earl of Angus and was succeeded as Regent by the French-educated Duke of Albany, nephew of James III. Albany continued the alliance with France, a country that had somehow extricated itself from its previous grave danger by the failure of its enemies to formulate a united front. After a series of plots against Albany (who headed the National or French Party) by Margaret and her husband were foiled, the miserable Queen was forced to flee to England (the couple had planned to kidnap young James V). This gave Margaret's brother Henry one more excuse to continue his policies of interfering in Scottish affairs. In 1524, Albany returned to France.

Chaos returned to Scotland. A series of battles between the Douglas's and the Hamilton's, including one fought in the streets of Edinburgh, had left the mighty Douglas clan in control of the young king and thus of Scotland. James, however, who had declared himself ready to rule at the age of fourteen, escaped his captors and arrived at Stirling. He vowed vengeance against Angus Douglas whom he drove out of Scotland to seek refuge with the English king. James could now begin to restore order to his suffering nation. He started by agreeing to a truce with England. In the meantime, a seemingly simple act that took place in a small town in Germany began a movement that was to turn practically all of Europe into two armed camps. Scotland was once again able to act as peacemaker.

The pious and schizophrenic monk Martin Luther did not know what he was about to unleash upon the world when he nailed his Thesis to the church door at quiet, peaceful Wittenberg that momentous day in 1517. But it was not long before Europe became enmeshed in a religious struggle that, in some areas, has not yet ended as each sovereign subsequently sought to impose his own religion on his kingdom (and often on that of his neighbor as well.)

The Reformation had a serious and long-lasting effect upon Scotland. In the struggle of Protestantism versus Catholicism, there was a mad scramble for a marriage alliance with James V. Keeping the idea of the Auld Alliance in mind, he chose Madeleine, the daughter of French king Francois I to be his bride. When she died six months later, he married another French princess, Marie de Guise-Lorraine. Sadly, for future Scottish history, she bore him no sons.

England's Henry VIII had the same seeming misfortune. He too lacked a male heir. He became more and more aggressive in his policies toward Scotland. By 1534 he had broken with Rome, was getting ready to totally absorb Wales into the English realm and had plans to turn Scotland against France by making it into a Protestant nation. When James was offered the crown of Ireland in 1542, Henry took an army north and proclaimed himself Lord Superior of Scotland. He met with and defeated the small, dispirited army of James at Solway Moss.

From his retreat at Falkland, the sad King James heard the news that his longed for heir was not to be; his wife had given him a daughter. Upon his consequent death, lamenting his fate, the young girl was proclaimed Queen of Scotland. Therefore, in 1542, Mary, Queen of Scots entered the world in much the same sad circumstances, as she was to leave it 45 years later.

The ruthless, avaricious Henry VIII was not satisfied with adding Wales to his kingdom he wanted Scotland, too. Henry planned to marry the young, sickly Prince Edward (who died in 1553) to the infant Queen of Scotland. However, there was an obstacle in his way. Marie de Guise had the girl spirited away to Scone, had her crowned Queen and repudiated the marriage treaty. Again, the typical English response was an invasion of Scotland that was ordered "to put all to fire and sword." This command was eagerly carried out by the pillaging English soldiers and engendered a Scottish hatred of its southern neighbor that lasted for centuries.

The situation worsened when Black Donald of the Isles escaped in 1545, after 40 years of captivity and formed an alliance with the English king. The islanders' love of independence manifested itself in their proud boast that they were "Auld enemies to the realm of Scotland." Inter-clan rivalry, however, after the death of Donald later in the year, brought the Western isles more in line with the rest of the Scottish kingdom.

To face the aggressive policies and forces of Henry, the Scots had turned to France for help. They would rather have Catholic France as a friend than Protestant England. Yet, in the climate of the times, with the Reformation in full swing in Northern Europe, the auld alliance could not help being fraught with difficulties and ripe with implications.

Chapter 4: Turmoil after The Bruce Continued