James IV: Personality & Appearance

Chapter 5 : Pleasing Appearance

In 1498, James was described by the Spanish Ambassador, Pedro de Ayala:

"The King is 25 years and some months old. He is of noble stature, neither tall nor short, and as handsome in complexion and shape as a man can be. His address is very agreeable. He speaks the following foreign languages; Latin, very well; French, German, Flemish, Italian, and Spanish; … He likes, very much, to receive Spanish letters. His own Scots language is as different from English as Aragonese from Castilian. The King speaks, besides, the language of the savages who live in some parts of Scotland and on the islands. It is as different from Scots as Biscayan is from Castilian. His knowledge of languages is wonderful. He is well read in the Bible and in some other devout books. He is a good historian. He has read many Latin and French histories, and profited by them, as he has a very good memory. He never cuts his hair or his beard. It becomes him very well. He fears God and observes all the precepts of the Church."

He may not have cut his hair or his beard in 1498, but that soon changed when he married! His young wife objected to the hirsute look and so, the morning after his wedding, he was ceremoniously shaved by Queen Margaret's chief lady-in-waiting, Agnes Tilney, Countess of Surrey, and her daughter. The ladies received sumptuous presents in return for their labours.

The very few images available of James (the best of which we have used for his biography and on the Person of the Month page) show him clean-shaven, so either date from after his marriage or are stylised.