Battle of Sauchieburn

How James IV Won the Throne

Chapter 2 : The Battle

With the Queen now dead, King James was also suspicious of his eldest son, the fifteen year old James, Duke of Rothesay. In February 1482, Prince James left Stirling Castle in secrecy. He was probably aided and abetted by the Constable of the Castle, who was brother-in-law to the King's enemy, Lord Hume.

King James, uncertain of his heir's whereabouts, realised that trouble was brewing and began to raise money for an army. Edinburgh and the south of Scotland were largely in the control of the nobles most dissatisfied with King James, so, on 24 th March 1488, he marched north, to more loyal areas to raise troops. He set up his base at Aberdeen and sent out requests for help to both England and France.

In the event, no support was forthcoming from abroad and James III faced a growing group of rebels – the Humes, Hepburns, the Earls of Angus and Argyll, the latter of whom had previously been a supporter of James, and even the Bishop of Glasgow. With the recruitment of Prince James to their ranks, the rebels now presented a formidable opposition

King James still had a number of senior supporters, including his half-uncle, the Earl of Buchan, who although he had been involved in the Lauder Lynching, had returned to the King's side, and the chief prelate of the realm, the Archbishop of St Andrew's. The Archbishop, in particular, wanted to bring about a peaceful solution if at all possible. The King signed the thirteen Articles of Aberdeen– the purport of them is not very obvious, but they do include provision for the proper education and training of his son.

The Articles were signed in May 1488, yet by early June, the rebels were accusing the King of flouting them, although as they are rather vague, it is difficult to understand exactly what the King was expected to achieve in three short weeks. James began to march south, in part to reunite himself with his treasure – he was considered something of a miser, and, whilst debasing the coinage with cheap metals, stored gold in great chests for himself. Regardless of his personal affection for his gold, he would need it to pay any mercenaries sent by France or England.

Blackness Castle on the Firth of Forth

James III headed for Blackness Castle on the Firth of Forth, in expectation of foreign troops who never arrived. The rebels appeared on his doorstep, and, leaving Buchan in charge, James slipped out the back door, crossed the Firth to the Port of Leith and re-entered Edinburgh Castle by mid-May. Now in possession of his chests of money and able to pay his troops, James emerged from the Castle and marched towards Stirling where Prince James and the rebels lay.

There were also rebels at Linlithgow, so James crossed again to the north side of the Firth of Forth to approach Stirling from the north-east. In a brisk skirmish, the King captured the town of Stirling and its Castle, but Prince James evaded his clutches. Fortunately for the Prince, the main part of the rebel army was approaching, and he joined up with it. The two forces now joined in battle – Prince James apparently issuing orders that his father was not to be harmed.

Sword of Robert the Bruce, carried into battle by James III

The forces met on 11 th June. There is no contemporary account of the battle. It is believed that King James had more men, and the sword of Robert the Bruce girded at his side but neither of these factors could give him the victory.

The loyalty of his men was questionable and what exactly occurred, either before, during or immediately after the battle is unclear. Neither side used artillery - it was a traditional man-to-man encounter, on ground that was surrounded by marsh. It seems to have been over very quickly, with the young Prince James being pronounced King James IV within hours.