JAMES II (1437-60)
James II (known as Fiery Face because of a large birthmark) was only six years old when he
was crowned in Holyrood Abbey. This ended a tradition that all kings since Kenneth
MacAlpin were crowned at Scone. During his minority, he was brought up in Edinburgh
Castle. He reinstated Edinburgh as the capital of Scotland and it has not been challenged
since. Scotland during his minority was ruled by two rivals, Chrichton and Livingstone.
The 5th Earl of Douglas was appointed Lieutenant General of the kingdom. James was a pawn
and a prisoner in the hands of the competing Scots lords, all of whom wished to rule
through him. After two years Lord Chancellor Crichton refused to let anyone see him.
Queen Joan made plans to move him. She took her leave from the castle, tearfully
requesting Crichton to look after the boy. Unknown to Crichton she had packed James into a
chest and smuggled him out of the castle. He was taken to Stirling to Lord Livingstone.
Before long Livingstone used James in he same manner. So Queen Joan stole James back and
went back to Crichton. Livingstone followed with his forces and civil war became imminent.
The two sides were reconciled by the bishops who encouraged them both to make war against
the Douglases. Lt. Governor Earl of Douglas had died leaving two sons. They were believed
to be enemies to the throne. Crichton (the keeper of Edinburgh castle) and Livingstone
(the keeper of Stirling Castle) murdered the 6th Earl of Douglas (a great-grandson of
Robert III) and his brother at the Great Hall of Edinburgh where they had been invited to
banquet. James was charmed by them but at the feast they were murdered in the presence of
James II and two younger brothers. The head of a black bull was carried to the table.
Under Scottish custom, this presaged death of the principal guest. James begged for the
lives of the two young men to be spared but they were beheaded. This was called the Black
Dinner of 1440. They had feared a Douglas coup. Some years later when James came of age,
he decided to reestablish control over the nobles as Scotland had again become racked by
lawlessness, plague and famine since James I's death. He wanted to make an example
of troublemakers. He at once executed two of the Livingstone leaders. James himself in a
fit of rage stabbed William, the 8th Earl of Douglas, one of the most powerful nobles in
the land when the Earl would not denounce the 4th Earl of Crawford (the Tiger Earl) and
the Earl of Ross (4th Lord of the Isles). He defeated the Douglases at Arkinholm.
Two of the Douglas brothers were slain and Douglas fled to England. The great house of
Black Douglas had fallen and this was a turning point in the fortunes of the Scottish
Crown. James did bring order to his kingdom and was able to govern in peace. James
married Mary of Gelders, a kinswoman. He acquired some of the guns the Low Countries were
famous for, possibly the Mons Meg. An act of 1456 authorized the King to request certain
great barons each to provide a cart of war carrying two double-barreled guns and to train
gunners. He got some artillery with his bride, Mary, whose dower house, Ravenscraig, was
the first castle in Scotland with a gun platform. Although he was always busy with
his wars, his reign was marked by some important social legislation. An act of 1450
guaranteed the position of a tenant whose land passed to another lord. James II was
killed at the siege of Roxburgh Castle when a cannon he was supervising exploded. He was
trying to retrieve Roxburgh and Berwick Castles from the English and had raised an army
for that purpose. Cannons were introduced in battle for the first time and he was proud of
them and was standing too close when one exploded.
Next, James III