King James II of Scotland

The Freelance History Writer

Woodcut of King James II of Scotland showing the birthmark on his face

History repeats itself. This aphorism is especially true for the Scottish monarchy. There was a period during Scottish history where Kings would die, leaving a child as heir to be ruled by a regency council. This happened over and over and it happened to King James II.

James II was born on October 16, 1430, one of twins. The other twin died in infancy leaving James as heir. There may have been other problems with the birth because James had a vermilion birthmark on his face which led contemporaries to call him “Fiery Face”. This would also be looked upon as an outward sign of a fiery temper. His father was King James I of Scotland and his mother was Joan Beaufort, the grand-daughter of John of Gaunt and Kathryn Swynford. Little is known of James’…

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King James I of Scotland

The Freelance History Writer

A sixteenth century portrait of King James I of Scotland by an unknown artist A sixteenth century portrait of King James I of Scotland by an unknown artist

James Stewart I, King of Scots had an unusual reign in many ways. His rule began while he was a prisoner of King Henry IV of England. And his rule certainly ended in a tumultuous and violent manner.

James was born on July 25, 1394 at Dunfermline Palace. He was the son of King Robert III and Annabella Drummond, the daughter of a Scottish nobleman. James was the third son born to King Robert. While we don’t know much about James’ early years, he probably received the education of a boy of his rank for the time. James’ father had become king late in life and probably for health reasons was unable to rule in his own capacity. Consequently, Robert’s brother, the Duke of Albany, governed the kingdom. Robert and Anabella’s second son died young…

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Scotland: Mary Queen of Scots

Mary, Queen of Scots was born at Linlithgow Palace on the 8th December 1542, to parents King James V and Marie de Guise.

James V had been defeated at the “Battle of Solway Moss” by English forces commanded by Oliver Sinclair.  James chose to retire to his hunting lodge at Falkland Palace in Fife out of disgrace, and on the 14th December he died.

Henry VIII, called off the war against Scotland, and sought to negotiate a marriage between Mary and Prince Edward VI heir apparent to the English throne, then aged five.

The Regent of Scotland, The Earl of Arran was in favour of the marriage, and so the Treaty of Greenwich was entered into, thus Mary and Edward were betrothed to each other.  However, opposing factions saw it as a threat to Scottish nationality and their Catholic religion.  Pressure was brought to bear on the Earl of Arran, to withdraw from the treaty, and seek an alliance with France.

On the 9th December 1543, Mary was crowned Mary, Queen of Scots at Stirling castle.

In 1558, Mary married Francis the dauphin of France at Notre Dame in Paris, and on the 10th July 1559, Mary ascends to Queen Consort of France, when her husband becomes King Francis II of France.

Many in England feared this marriage could have long term consequences.  For Mary was now queen Consort of France, Queen of Scotland, and declared herself as the true Queen of England, whilst her husband became King Consort of Scotland and King of France, this royal alliance had united French and Scottish crowns.

On the 5th December 1560, Mary’s husband King Francis II of France died.

In 1560, Mass performed in Latin became illegal, according to the law laid down by the Scottish Parliament, as the Protestant faith, spread across much of Scotland.

Mary, Queen of Scots found herself a widow at eighteen, and returned to her homeland of Scotland in 1561, to take up her position as Queen of Scotland.  She a Catholic, in a predominately Protestant country, forced into accepting her Scotland was now led by a Protestant Government.

In 1565, Mary marries Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, her cousin, believing upon the death of Elizabeth I; with him on her side, any claim to the English throne would be increased.  They married at Mary’s private chapel in Holyrood House on the 29th July.  The marriage was a failure, for Darnley wanted to be joint ruler with Mary.

Mary appointed one David Riccio an Italian as her personal secretary, and on the 9th March 1566, Darnley burst into her chambers at Holyrood House with fellow conspirators in a jealous rage, and murdered Riccio.

On the 19th June 1566, Mary gave birth to a son; James at Edinburgh Castle, who would grow up to become King James VI of Scotland, and baptised on the 12th December at Stirling Castle.

Early in 1567, Darnley was known to be plotting against Mary’s life.  Then on the 9th February Stuart Darnley, the King of Scotland was strangled to death in the grounds of Kirk O’Fields, following an explosion.  Then in the May, the Earl of Bothwell believed to be behind the murder marries Mary, Queen of Scots.

On the 15th June 1567, Protestant Lords confronted Mary at Carberry Hill, near Edinburgh, where she surrendered and was imprisoned at Lochleven Castle.  Pressure was brought to bear, forcing her to abdicate in favour of her infant son; James.

Mary escaped in 1568, defeated in the “Battle of Langside” on the 13th May, and fled south, crossing the border into England, expecting Elizabeth to support her … how wrong she was.

Mary found herself a prisoner, first at Carlisle Castle, then Bolton Castle.

In October of 1586, Mary found herself on trial for treason against the life of Elizabeth, through correspondence with Anthony Babington.  On the 25th October she was found guilty of the charges and sentenced to death.

On the 8th February 1587, Mary Queen of Scots, she who sought help from Elizabeth and England, a conspirator against the life of Elizabeth, lost her own life to the executioner… at Fotheringhay Castle, and was buried first at Peterborough Cathedral, then in 1612 moved to Westminster Abbey.

Scotland: King Alexander III

On a wild and stormy night in 1286, King Alexander III of Scotland was riding to Kinghorn, and changed horses at Burntisland.  The storm was so fierce, trees were bending with the winds, it was suggested that Alexander should hold up at Burntisland for the night, to let the storm ease.  He wouldn’t hear of it, he wanted to get home.  He lost control of his horse, and it galloped over a steep cliff, and both Alexander and his horse plunged to their deaths.

The events of that night, had far reaching consequences across Scotland, and changed its path of history, for centuries to come. 

Plantagenet England, in the shape of King Edward I, saw his chance, to gain control of Scotland.

The heir of King Alexander III of Scotland was Margaret the Maid of Norway.  Margaret was the daughter of King Eric II of Norway, and granddaughter of King Alexander III of Scotland.  She became Queen, aged just two.

The “Guardians of Scotland,” negotiated a marriage between Margaret, the Maid of Norway and Queen of Scotland with Prince Edward of Caernarvon, son of King Edward I of England.  An agreement was made through the “Treaty of Birgham,” that the children of Margaret and Edward would rule both England and Scotland.

Margaret was taken ill in 1290, during the sea voyage from Norway to Scotland.  Her ships destination had been Leith, but rough seas, blew them towards Orkney.  They took shelter from the storms at St.Margaret’s Hope on South Ronaldsay in the Orkney’s.

Margaret never saw her future husband, as she died in the Orkney’s, in the September of 1290.  Her body was returned to Norway, and laid to rest beside her mother in Christ’s Kirk, Bergen.

With the death of Margaret, the Maid of Norway, the Scots had no true heir to the throne, and Anglo-Scottish relations lay in tatters.

The Scottish nobles could not agree upon a successor to the throne, and turned to King Edward I of England to arbitrate for them.

No fewer than thirteen claimants to the Scottish throne stepped forward.  Edward wanted a puppet King, one who would answer to him, and so John Balliol was chosen.

Over the next four hundred years, Scotland took on the might of English forces, in their bid for Independence.

1603, saw the change in Scotland’s history… James VI of Scotland becomes King James I of England, bringing about the “Union of Crowns.”

In 1707 the “Act of Union,” brought England and Scotland together, with the creation of a single Parliament of the United Kingdom at the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament).

Scotland’s Timeline (10,000 BC-1800 AD)

Photo by Miquel Rossellu00f3 Calafell on

10,000 BC: The earliest known occupation of Scotland by man, started in the Palaeolithic era, also known as the Stone Age.  Man lived off the land and waters, hunting for fish and wild animals, gathering fruit, plants, roots, nuts and shells.

3,000 BC: Early prehistoric tools discovered in Scotland, date back to the Neolithic age, and the nomadic hunter-gatherers.  It was a time when farmers built permanent dwellings.

120 AD: Much of Scotland’s history, started when the Roman’s arrived in Britain.  As hard as they tried, Roman forces could not defeat the Caledonians and Picts.  Fortifications were built by the Romans, to defend themselves against these warriors, in the shape of Hadrian’s and Antonine Wall.

800 AD: Viking accomplished warriors and seamen migrated from Norway and Denmark, settling in Scotland.  The Viking’s settled in the west as the Picts forged a new kingdom; the Kingdom of Alba.

1040 AD: Macbeth ruled Scotland, and a fictious tale by William Shakespeare written in Tudor Times, kept the tale alive for centuries.  Macbeth, the King of Alba ruled from 1040-1057.

1100 AD: In the 12th century, the Kingdom of Alba grew, becoming a feudal society. Peace was achieved through the “Treaty of Falaise,” signed by William I.  During the reigns of Alexander II & III much land was turned over to agriculture, trade on the continent grew, monasteries and abbeys flourished.

1297 AD: Succession crisis brought unrest across Scotland, following the death of Alexander III.  England’s monarch, Edward I believed he should be recognised as overlord of Scotland, as his troops marched north. Edward planned to cross the River forth at Stirling Bridge, but were pushed back by William Wallace.

1306 AD: Robert the Bruce was crowned King, amidst times of unrest.  In 1314, Robert the Bruce defeated Edward II at the “Battle of Bannockburn.”

1320 AD: The “Declaration of Arbroath” proclaimed Scotland’s status as an independent state, which was sent to the Pope John XXII, who gave his seal of approval.

1450 AD: The cultural intellectual and artistic movement took hold across Europe which brought changes to Scotland.  Education, intellectual life, literature, art, music, architecture, and politics advanced in the late 15th century.

1542 AD: In 1542 Mary is crowned Queen of the Scots at the tender age of nine months.  Her reign was marked by civil unrest during the Rough Wooing and conflict between the Catholics and Protestants during the Reformation.  Worried Mary would try to launch a Catholic plot against her, Elizabeth I imprisoned Mary in England until her execution in 1597.

1603 AD: James VI succeeded to the throne at just 13 months after Mary was forced to abdicate.  When Elizabeth I died with no heir, James VI succeeded to the English throne and became King James VI & James I, a historic move that’s now known as the “Union of the Crowns.”

1707 AD: The Act of Union brought Scotland even closer to Britain by creating a single Parliament of the United Kingdom at the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament).

1746AD: The “Battle of Culloden” in 1746 was the final Jacobite rising and the last battle fought on British soil.  The Jacobites were no match for the Hanoverian army – the battle lasted barely an hour and the army had been crushed.

1746 AD: Shortly after the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden, a period known as the Highland Clearances began.  A number of laws were introduced in an attempt to assimilate the Highlanders; speaking Gaelic and wearing traditional attire was banned, and clan chiefs had their rights of jurisdiction removed.

1750 AD: The Age of Enlightment shaped the modern world.  The intellectual movement sought to understand the natural world and the human mind and ranged across philosophy, chemistry, geology, engineering, technology, poetry, medicine, economics and history.

1800 AD: Industrial advances and wealth accumulated from the trade of tobacco, sugar and cotton which brought about the dawn of urban Scotland at the turn of the 19th century.  The country shifted from rural to urban, and huge towns, large factories and heavy industry took hold.  Mining, shipbuilding and textiles became an important part of Scotland’s development.

Scotlands Monarchy (1005-1603)

Scotland’s Kings and Queens, from 1005 to 1603, and the Union of crowns, when James VI became King of England.

1005: Malcolm II (Mael Coluim) acquired the Scottish throne by killing Kenneth III (Cinaed III) of a rival dynasty.  He attempted to expand his kingdom southwards with a notable victory at the Battle of Carham, Northumbria in 1018, but was driven north in 1027 by King Cnut.

1034: Duncan I (DonnchadI), succeeded his grandfather Malcolm II as King of the Scots.  He invaded northern England and besieged Durham in 1039.

1040: Macbeth acquired the throne after defeating Duncan I in battle following years of family feuding.  He was the first Scottish king to make the pilgrimage to Rome.  He was a generous patron of the church, and it is believed he was buried at Iona, the resting place for Scottish kings.

1057: Malcolm III Canmore (Mael Coluim Cenn Mor), took the Scottish throne after killing Macbeth and his stepson Lulach in an English sponsored attack.  William I (William the Conqueror) invaded Scotland in 1072 forcing Malcolm to accept the Peace of Abernethy and become his vassal.

1093: Donald III Ban, the son of Duncan I seized the throne from his brother Malcolm III and made it his business that Anglo-Normans were not welcomed at his court.  He was defeated and dethroned by his nephew Duncan II in May of 1094.

1094: Duncan II, son of Malcolm III.  Duncan was sent in 1072 to the court of William I as hostage.  With the help of an army supplied by William II, he defeated his uncle Donald III Ban, and engineered his murder on the 12th November 1094.

1094: In 1097 Donald was captured and blinded by his nephew; Edgar.  A true Scottish nationalist, he was the last king of the scots who would be laid to rest by the Gaelic Monks at Iona.

Edgar, eldest son of Malcolm III, took refuge in England upon the death of his parents in 1093.  Following the death of his half-brother Duncan II, he became the Anglo-Norman candidate for the Scottish throne.  He defeated Donald III Ban with the aid of an army supplied by William II.  Unmarried, he was buried at Dunfermline Priory in Fife.  His sister went on to marry Henry I in 1100.

1107: Alexander I, son of Malcolm III and his English wife St.Margaret.  Succeeded Edgar to the throne and continued the policy of reforming the Scottish Church, building a new Priory at Scone near Perth.  He married the illegitimate daughter of Henry I.  He died leaving no heir and was buried in Dunfermline.

1124: David I, the youngest son of Malcolm III and St.Margaret.  He transformed his kingdom largely by continuing the work of Anglicisation started by his mother.  He was the first Scottish king to issue his own coins, promoted development of towns at Edinburgh, Dunfermline, Perth, Stirling, Aberdeen and Inverness.  By the end of his reign his lands extended over Newcastle and Carlisle.  He was a rich and powerful King, attaining a mythical status through Scotland’s revolution.

1153: Malcolm IV (Mael Coluim IV) the son of Henry of Northumbria, whose grandfather David I persuaded the Scottish chiefs to recognise Malcolm as heir to the throne, and aged twelve became king.  Recognising that the King of England had a better argument by reason of his much greater power, Malcolm surrendered Cumbria and Northumbria to Henry II.

1165: William the Lion, the second son of Henry of Northumbria, failed to invade Northumbria, and William was captured by Henry II.  In return for his release, William and other Scottish nobles had to swear allegiance to Henry and hand over their sons as hostages.  English garrisons were installed throughout Scotland.  It was only in 1189 that William was able to recover Scottish Independence in return for a payment of 10,000 marks.  William’s reign witnessed the extension of royal authority northwards across the Moray Firth.

1214: Alexander II, the son of William the Lion.  With an Anglo-Scottish agreement of 1217, he established peace between the two kingdoms that would last for eighty years.  The agreement was cemented by marriage to Henry III’s sister Joan in 1221.  Renouncing his ancestral claim to Northumbria, the Anglo-Scottish border was finally established by the Tweed-Solway line.

1249: Alexander III, son of Alexander II, married Henry III’s daughter Margaret in 1251.  Following the Battle of Largs against King Haakon of Norway in the October.  In 1263, Alexander secured the western Highlands and Islands for the Scottish Crown.  Following the deaths of his sons, Alexander gained acceptance that his granddaughter Margaret should succeed.  He fell and was killed whilst riding along the cliffs of Kinghorn in Fife.

1286-1290: Margaret, the Maid of Norway, the only child of King Eric of Norway became Queen at the age of two, and was betrothed to Edward, son of Edward I.  She saw neither kingdom nor husband as she died aged seven at Kirkwall on Orkney in September 1290.  Her death caused serious crisis in Anglo-Scottish relations.

1292-1296: Following the death of Margaret in 1290 no one person held the undisputed claim to be King of the Scots.  No fewer than thirteen claimants emerged.  They agreed to recognise Edward I as over lordship and abided by his arbitration.  Edward chose John Balliol, who had a strong claim with links going back to William the Lion.  Scottish nobles set up a Council on the 12th July 1295, agreeing to an alliance with France, in response to Edward’s choice of John Balliol as king, who was nothing more than Edward’s puppet king.  Edward invaded and defeated Balliol in the Battle of Dunbar, imprisoning him in the Tower of London.  John Balliol was eventually released from custody into papal custody and lived the remainder of his years in France.

1306: In 1306 Robert the Bruce murdered John Comyn the only rival to the Scottish throne at Greyfriars Church, Dumfries.  He was excommunicated for his actions, and a few months later crowned King of Scotland.

Robert was defeated in his first two battles against the mighty English forces, and became a fugitive, hunted by both Comyn’s friends and the English.

1329: David II, surviving legitimate son of Robert the Bruce, succeeded his father aged five.  He was the first Scottish king to be crowned and anointed.  Whether he would be able to keep the crown was another matter, faced with the combined hostilities of John Balliol and the disinherited, those Scottish landowners that Robert the Bruce disinherited following his victory at Bannockburn.  David was for a while sent to France for his safety.  In support of his allegiance with France he invaded England in 1346, whilst Edward III was otherwise occupied with the siege of Calais.  His army was intercepted by forces raised by the Archbishop of York.  David was wounded and captured.  He was later released after agreeing a ransom of 100,000 marks.  David died later, leaving no heir.

1371: Robert II, son of Walter the Steward and Marjory, daughter of Robert the Bruce, was recognised as the heir presumptive in 1318, but the birth of David II meant that he had to wait fifty years before he could become the first Stewart king at the age of fifty-five.  A poor and ineffective ruler with little interest in soldiering, he delegated responsibility for law and order to his sons.

1390: Robert III came to the throne, and all indications are that he was an ineffective king much like his father Robert II.  In 1406 he sent his eldest son to France, but was captured by English forces and imprisoned in the Tower of London.

1406: James I fell into English hands on route to France in 1406, and was held captive until 1424.  He was eventually released after a 50,000 mark ransom was agreed to.  On his return to Scotland, he spent much of his time raising the ransom by imposing taxes, seizing estates from nobles and clan chiefs.  This did not win him any friends, for a group of conspirators broke into his bedchamber and murdered him.

1437: James II aged seven became king following his father’s murder, but upon marriage to Mary of Guelders he assumed control of his kingdom, and turned into a warlike king.  Fascinated by firearms, he was blown up and killed by one of his own siege guns whilst attacking Roxburgh.

1460: At the tender age of eight, James III was proclaimed king following the death of his father James II.  Six years later he was kidnapped, and upon his return stated his abductors were the Boyds.  His attempt to make peace with the English by marrying his sister off to an English noble was somewhat scuppered when it was discovered she was already pregnant.  James III lost his life on the 11th June 1488 at the Battle of Sauchieburn.

1488: James IV, son of James III and Margaret of Denmark, had grown up in the care of his mother at Stirling Castle.  For his part in  his father’s murder by Scottish nobility at the Battle of Sauchieburn, he wore an iron belt next to his skin as penitence for the duration of his life.  To protect his borders he spent lavish sums on artillery and his navy.  James led expeditions into the Highlands to assert royal authority and developed Edinburgh as his royal capital.  He sought peace with England by marrying Henry VIII’s daughter Mary Tudor in 1503, an act that would ultimately unite the two kingdoms a century later.  James was defeated and killed at the Battle of Flodden along with many leaders of Scottish society.

1513: James V an infant at the time of his father’s death at Flodden, whose early years were dominated by struggles between his English mother, Margaret Tudor and Scottish nobles.  Although king in name, James did not take control and rule is country until 1528.  After that he slowly began rebuilding the crowns shattered finances, at the expense of the church.  Anglo-Scottish relationships once again descended into war when James failed to turn up for a scheduled meeting with Henry VIII at York in 1542.  James died of a nervous breakdown, upon hearing of the defeat of his forces at the Battle of Solway Moss.

1542: Queen Mary of Scots was born just a week before the death of her father King James V.  Mary was sent to France in 1548 to marry the Dauphin, the young French prince in order to secure a Catholic alliance against England. In 1561, following his death Mary returned to a Scotland, in the throes of Reformation and a widening Protestant-Catholic split.  Mary married her cousin Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, but the marriage proved to be a failure, for Darnley became jealous of Mary’s secretary David Riccio.  Henry Stewart along with friends murdered Riccio in front of Mary.

Her son the future King James VI was baptised into the Catholic faith at Stirling Castle.  This caused alarm among Protestants.  Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley died in mysterious circumstances.  Mary sought comfort in James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, and rumours abounded she be pregnant with his child… leading to their marriage.  The Lords of Congregation made it plain they disapproved of the liaison and had her imprisoned in Leven Castle.  Mary managed to Escape and fled across the border into England.  In Protestant England, Catholic Mary’s arrival provoked a political crisis for Queen Elizabeth I.  After spending nineteen years in English castles, she made her claim against Elizabeth’s crown, leading her to be brought to trial, found guilty and beheaded at Fotheringhay.

1567: James VI and I, became king aged just thirteen months following his mother’s abdication.  By his late teens he proved himself an intelligent diplomat capable of controlling his government.  In 1583 he assumed real power, and went on to marry Anne of Denmark in 1589.  As the great-grandson of Mary Tudor he became heir to the English throne, upon the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, thus ending centuries of Anglo-Scots border wars.

1603: Union of the crowns of England and Scotland took place.