James IV: Life Story

A Renaissance Prince

Chapter 7 : Hostility towards England

One of the most complex issues for Scottish kings to deal with was relationships with England. Despite the Treaty of Berwick of 1357, acknowledging Scottish independence, English kings frequently claimed overlordship of Scotland, and contenders for the Scottish throne were usually willing to grant it, in theory at any rate, in return for English troops. Scottish kings had to resist this, often indulging in low level incursions across the Border that were designed to annoy, whilst not provoking their larger neighbour into outright war.

There was also the constant lawlessness in the Border territory. "Reivers" was the term used for the wild Border clans of both sides, living in the "Debatable Land" - territory in areas with no fixed border between the countries and minimal royal authority.

"Reiving" is basically cattle-rustling but these families did not confine themselves to cattle and murdered, raped and robbed each other, or any passer-by who fell into their hands, of any animals or goods quite cheerfully. This state of anarchy was often winked at, if not actively encouraged, by the nobles who were supposed to control it.

The-Anglo-Scottish-Boarder-terrorised-by-Reivers
Anglo-Scottish Border, terrorised by Reivers

By and large, the Scots population was strongly opposed to cordial relations with England, but some of the nobles, in receipt of pensions and bribes from England, were willing to challenge this attitude. In particular, the Douglas Earls of Angus were often pro-English in their policy.

James IV began with the popular pro-French stance. His overarching ambition was for Scotland to be recognised as an independent state, definitely not subject to English suzerainty. To do this, he needed to build links with other countries, persuading them to see him as a powerful ruler.

The major concern in 1490s Europe was the growing power of France, and its attempts to dominate the Italian peninsula, and, in exchange for detaching Scotland from its alliance with France, other European rulers were prepared to indulge James in his ambitions.

Ferdinand-1452-1516-Isabella-1451-1504-The-Catholic-Kings
Ferdinand (1452 - 1516) and Isabella (1451 - 1504), the Catholic Kings

Ferdinand and Isabella, sovereigns of Spain, wrote to their ambassador in Scotland:

"The Scots have such a very good opinion of themselves as to pretend that they can induce the King of France to restore the counties of Roussillon and Cerdaña to Spain. Puebla can therefore say that they shall have an Infanta of Spain as soon as they effect the restoration of the said counties. They will not be able to do it, and will lose much time in unpleasant negotiations, which perhaps might end in a quarrel with France. At all events, pending the negotiations, they would not assist France against Spain"