James II of Scotland

James II of Scotland
James II
King of Scots
Reign 21 February 1437 – 3 August 1460
Coronation 1437
Predecessor James I
Successor James III
Spouse Mary of Guelders
James III
Alexander, 1st Duke of Albany
Father James I
Mother Joan Beaufort
Born 16 October 1430(1430-10-16)
Holyrood Abbey
Died 3 August 1460(1460-08-03) (aged 29)
Roxburgh Castle
Burial Holyrood Abbey

James II (Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh, 16 October 1430 – 3 August 1460) reigned as King of Scots from 1437 to his death.

He was the son of James I, King of Scots, and Joan Beaufort (daughter of John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset, and Margaret Holland). He had an elder twin brother, Alexander Stewart, Duke of Rothesay, who lived long enough to receive a knighthood, but died in infancy. James became the father of James III.

James, whose nickname "Fiery Face" referred to a conspicuous vermilion birthmark on his face, had six sisters, all of whom married into various European royal dynasties.


Child King

Inheriting the throne at six years of age, James saw the government in the hands of others for most of his reign.

The assassination of his father James I was part of an attempt to usurp power by Walter Stewart, 1st Earl of Atholl, but it failed miserably, and James's guardians had Atholl and his allies captured and executed in the months after the assassination.

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, 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.

In 1440 Edinburgh Castle became the location for the "Black Dinner", which saw the summary execution of the young William Douglas, 6th Earl of Douglas, and his brother. Commentators tend to place the blame for the Black Dinner at the feet of Crichton, Livingston and particularly Avondale, as Douglas's death brought him the earldom of Douglas (as 7th earl) and the position of the most powerful magnate in Scotland.

The precise details of who ran the government year by year between 1439 and 1445 appear complex and far from certain, but in 1445 the Livingstons co-operated with William Douglas, 8th Earl of Douglas, son of the recently-deceased 7th Earl, to drive Crichton from power. Douglas now took the lead in governing Scotland until 1449, placing his brothers and other family members in positions of power. Yet the wily Crichton soon returned to influence, now co-operating with the Douglases.

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 William 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 (a.k.a. the 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 to his death. 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. 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, 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.[1]

Energetic rule

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.[2]

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.[3]


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." [4]

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 Gueldres acted as regent until her own death three years later.

Marriage and children

James married Mary of Guelders at Holyrood Abbey, Edinburgh, on 3 July 1449. They had seven children:

Fictional portrayals

James II has been depicted in historical novels and short stories. They include:[5]



  1. ^ McGladdery, James II, Chapter 4, Appendix 2 (The Auchinleck Chronicle); Brown, The Black Douglases, chapter 13; Tanner, Scottish Parliament, Chapter 5
  2. ^ Tanner, Scottish Parliament, 201, 204
  3. ^ Tanner, Scottish Parliament, Chapter 6
  4. ^ http://www.englishmonarchs.co.uk/stewart_4.htm
  5. ^ a b c d Nield (1968), p. 52
  6. ^ "Project Gutenberg's Two Penniless Princesses, by Charlotte M. Yonge"
  7. ^ McAndrew, Scotland's Historic Heraldry, p 173
  8. ^ http://thepeerage.com/p10210.htm#i102098


Further reading

  • 'The Auchinleck Chronicle', printed in McGladdery, James II, Appendix 2, pp 160–73.
  • M. Brown, The Black Douglases (East Linton, 1998).
  • C. McGladdery, James II (Edinburgh, 1990).
  • R Tanner, The Late Medieval Scottish Parliament: Politics and the Three Estates, 1424-1488 (East Linton, 2001).
James II of Scotland
Born: 16 October 1430 Died: 3 August 1460
Regnal titles
Preceded by
James I
King of Scots
21 February 1437 – 3 August 1460
Succeeded by
James III
Scottish royalty
Preceded by
Alexander Stewart, Duke of Rothesay
Heir of Scotland
as heir apparent
1430 – 21 February 1437
Succeeded by
Margaret Stewart, Dauphine of France

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • James I of Scotland — James I King of Scots Reign 4 April 1406 – 21 February 1437 Coronation 21 May 1424 Predecessor …   Wikipedia

  • James V of Scotland — James V Anonymous portrait of James V, probably contemporary King of Scots Reign 9 September 1513 – 14 December 1542 Coronation …   Wikipedia

  • James IV of Scotland — James IV redirects here. See also James IV of Majorca. James IV King of Scots Reign 11 June 1488–9 September 1513 Coronation 24 June 1488 …   Wikipedia

  • James III of Scotland — James III King of Scots Reign 3 August 1460 – 11 June 1488 Coronation 10 August 1460 …   Wikipedia

  • James I of Scotland — (1394–1437)    James I, king of Scotland, is the purported author of the early 15th century ROMANCE called The KINGIS QUAIR (The king’s book), a poem owing a great deal to CHAUCER. Thus James (if he is indeed the poem’s author) is one of the… …   Encyclopedia of medieval literature

  • JAMES VI OF SCOTLAND AND I OF ENGLAND —    son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and Darnley, born in Edinburgh Castle; was proclaimed king of Scotland when only 13 months old, in 1567; entrusted to the Earl of Mar, and educated by George Buchanan; Moray, Lennox, Mar, and Morton were… …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Master of James IV of Scotland — Tree of Jesse by the Master The Master of James IV of Scotland (fl. ca. 1485 – ca. 1526) was a Flemish manuscript illuminator and painter most likely based in Ghent, or perhaps Bruges. Circumstantial evidence, including several larger panel pain …   Wikipedia

  • James II of England — James II redirects here. For other uses, see James II (disambiguation). James II VII[1] King of England, Scotland a …   Wikipedia

  • James Francis Edward Stuart — James Francis Edward Prince of Wales James Francis Edward Stuart, The Old Pretender Jacobite pretender …   Wikipedia

  • James Stewart, Duke of Ross — (March 1476 January 1504) was the son of King James III of Scotland and Margaret of Denmark. He was made Marquess of Ormonde at his baptism, Earl of Ross in 1481, and Duke of Ross in 1488.Stewart became Archbishop of St. Andrews in 1497 and Lord… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”