IN last week’s column I showed how the accidental death of King James II had led to his son James III gaining the throne at the age of eight or nine, which meant that his mother Mary of Guelders ruled as Queen Regent, though she did this as part of a Regency Council which included Bishop James Kennedy of St Andrews with whom she endured a poor relationship.

With both Mary and the Bishop dead by May, 1465, it was Kennedy’s brother Gilbert, 1st Lord Kennedy, the grandson of King Robert III, who took over responsibility for the young King James III whose minority still had several years to run.

Like his father before him, James III was soon to be the victim of ambitious aristocrats and unbeknown to him he had already been targeted by one great and powerful noble. For in total secrecy in a process which began in October 1461, John of Islay, John MacDonald, Chief of Clan Donald and Lord of the Isles, concocted a treaty with King Edward IV of England that could have changed the history of these islands forever.

For the Treaty of Westminster-Ardtornish agreed between Islay and Edward IV in February, 1462, was an agreement to depose James III and conquer Scotland and divide it between the Lordship of the Isles and the Kingdom of England – basically John of Islay would get all the lands north of the Forth and Edward would get the rest. It was a brilliant piece of skulduggery by the English king and when the Treaty was made public in 1464, the Scots were in turmoil. I will tell the story of John of Islay in a future series on the Lordship of the Isles.

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Now it was the turn of James III to become the great prize in a struggle for power. For in one of the most sensational events in the history of the entire Stewart/Stuart dynasty, James III, then just 14 or 15, was kidnapped in July 1466 as part of an audacious coup by the Boyd family. It was proof that actual ownership of the young king’s person was key to control of the government of Scotland, and the Boyds were determined that they would rule the country during the king’s minority. At least they didn’t kill James III, but later might wish they had done so, and it’s because they did not commit regicide that I believe they were not intent on becoming the royal family.

The Boyds were a distinguished Ayrshire family with an ancestor, Sir Robert Boyd, who had fought alongside Sir William Wallace and King Robert the Bruce during the Wars of Independence. Having been created the 1st Lord Boyd of Kilmarnock and Dalry in 1454, Robert Boyd seized his chance for power when James III was out hunting from the royal palace at Linlithgow. With a sizeable group of armed retainers, Lord Boyd and his son Thomas and their supporters, including several lords, captured James III and made off with him to Edinburgh Castle where the governor just happened to be Boyd’s brother Alexander.

Alexander Boyd’s treachery was fulsome. He had been Chamberlain of the Royal Household but now he and his brother had James as their “guest” and one can only guess at the young king’s terror at this time – put it this way, he never forgot it.

We can surmise that the Boyds brought tremendous psychological pressure on the teenage king, because by October 1466, James III was ready to address the Scottish Parliament. We know exactly what he said because the Records of the Parliament are still extant and contain the account of what happened.

“In the parliament of our most excellent and mighty prince and most dread lord, the lord James III, by the grace of God most illustrious king of Scots, held at Edinburgh on October 13, 1466, the same most illustrious prince sitting on his royal throne, the noble and mighty lord Robert, lord Boyd compeared, and sought that he might, humbly on his knees before the three estates of the realm, ask his serene highness whether [the king] had conceived any indignation or other offence against [Lord Boyd] arising from when [the latter] rode with him at his palace of Linlithgow, after the exchequer in Edinburgh.

“Our supreme lord, with mature and well-considered advice, declared before the said estates of the realm, authoritatively and in a clear voice, that he did not bear, nor wishes to bear in future, any manner of indignation, offence or rancour against the same Lord Boyd, or Adam Hepburn, the son and apparent heir of Patrick Hepburn, lord Hailes; John, lord Somerville; Andrew Kerr, son and apparent heir of Andrew Kerr of Cessford, or others who were with the same Lord Boyd and the aforesaid persons; but instead reckons those who were out riding in this manner, at his serene highness’s command, to be free of all harm and blame, and as his faithful lieges, and holds them dear to him; so henceforth no manner of prejudice, or any harm, nuisance or accusation be laid upon those out riding in this manner, or to any of them or the persons then with them. Which matter, and our supreme lord the king’s declaration, the said Lord Boyd sought on behalf of himself and the persons abovenamed who were with him, to have recorded in the acts of parliament and drawn up and granted to him and the persons aforesaid under our supreme lord the king’s great seal, in permanent memorial thereto.”

On October 25, at Stirling Castle, the parliament met again and James III told the members that Lord Boyd was “to have the governorship and direction of our person and our brothers, and our castles, as one of our intimate councillors, in our royal authority and execution of justice, until our legal age of 21 years.”

The Boyds immediately set about consolidating their power. In short order, Thomas Boyd was married to 13-year-old Lady Mary Stewart, the sister of James III, with Thomas being made Earl of Arran for the occasion – no princess of Scotland could marry a commoner. King James III is said to have wept at the wedding which he saw as an insult to his sister and the royal family as a whole. The Isle of Arran was presented to the new earl as part of his bride’s dowry. At the age of 14 or 15, Mary gave birth to her daughter Margaret, and a year later her son James followed – he would become the 2nd Lord Boyd.

Governor Boyd went much further, appointing his friends and supporters to high office and carrying out church reforms, which only served to inspire a growing hatred for the Boyds among other nobles and the Scottish clergy. Then Boyd negotiated with King Christian I of Denmark and Norway to arrange for his daughter Princess Margarethe to marry James III. He sent his brother the Earl of Arran to safely transport the princess to Leith where Arran was met by his wife with very bad news – the other nobles and the king himself had turned against the Boyds, so Arran duly sailed away to Denmark with his wife. The arranged marriage did benefit Scotland as King Christian secured his daughter’s dowry with Orkney and Shetland – he couldn’t pay the dowry and the two archipelagos became Scottish forever.

It was time up for the Boyds, however. As he was to be married, James III ended his minority and began his personal reign. Practically his first action was to go after the Boyds.

Charges of treason were brought against them in Parliament in 1469 and Lord Boyd and Arran fled into exile rather than face judgement. Alexander Boyd had foolishly stayed behind and was duly beheaded. All their lands and possessions were forfeited to the Crown. Meanwhile, after her husband’s death in 1472, Lady Mary married again, this time to James, the 1st Lord of Hamilton – their descendants through the Lennox line included King James VI and I, and thus the current Queen.

There would be at least two more attempts to rid Scotland of a feckless King James III. Though there have been attempts to rehabilitate his reputation, any objective viewing of the deeds and actions of James III would have to conclude that he was a poor monarch. He could not even control his own family and he may even have resorted to fratricide to rid himself of one bothersome younger brother, John, the Earl of Mar and Garioch, who seems to have been something of a recalcitrant youth.

Mar was about 23 when James III had him arrested on charges of treason involving witchcraft. Mar was taken to Craigmillar Castle on the south side of Edinburgh where he died in circumstances that have never been properly explained. Murdered by royal decree? I suspect we will never know.

That left his other brother, Alexander Stewart, the Duke of Albany. As the second surviving son of James II, Albany was heir to the throne until Queen Margarethe gave birth to the future James IV in March 1473. Perhaps it was that closeness to the throne which inspired Albany to think he could occupy it.

The leading historian Michael Lynch has called the 1480s the “most unsettled decade in the 15th century” and Albany was at the heart of the tumult with a serious threat to depose James III and rule in his stead.

It began in 1479-80 when Albany sided with those nobles who disagreed with James III’s policy of seeking peace with England, which led to James accusing his brother of treachery. At this time the king had filled his court with lesser-born men called his ‘familiars’, and the resentment of the aristocracy grew apace. Eventually this boiled over and Albany went south to seek the help of Edward IV.

The English army which invaded Scotland in 1482 was led by the Duke of Gloucester, the future Richard III, but chief among the force was Albany who seemed determined to depose James and was already calling himself Alexander IV. As the king made his way south to lead the Scottish army he was seized at Lauder Bridge by some of the disaffected nobles who put the king under arrest in Edinburgh Castle – the first coup d’état of the summer of 1482. They also hanged half a dozen of James’s familiars.

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The second coup came when Albany arrived at Edinburgh with the English army under Gloucester. The two Dukes appear to have been at odds about what to do next, but lacking funds, Gloucester went home and with Scotland leaderless Albany proclaimed himself “lieutenant general” of Scotland, because it had become clear to him that James still had enough support to stay as king.

The king and Albany were reconciled with much rejoicing but a year later Albany was found to be conspiring against James and again he went into exile. He returned with the similarly-exiled James Douglas, the 9th Earl of Douglas, and a small army which only got as far as Lochmaben where the locals routed them.

Albany escaped into exile in France where he died in a jousting accident a year later. Douglas was captured and spent the rest of his life in Lindores Abbey. James III’s reign lasted until 1488 when a coup was successfully mounted by rebel lords with his own son James, Duke of Rothesay, among the leaders.

During or after the Battle of Sauchieburn, James III was killed, and his son became King James IV.