Gateway to the Classics: Scotland's Story by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Scotland's Story by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall

James V., The King of the Commons—His Last Days

During the whole of the reign of James v. , his uncle, Henry, the King of England, tried to interfere with Scottish affairs. He kept spies in Scotland, who told him everything that took place there. But neither James, nor the people, were willing to submit to Henry's interference.

You remember that in the old days all Christian people belonged to one Church. But after a time, some people disagreed with the Pope, and began to form a new Church. These people were called Reformers, or Protestants, and as far back as the time of Regent Albany, a Protestant martyr had died in Scotland.

Henry viii. did not like this new religion, but he had quarrelled with the Pope, so he told the people of England, that they must no longer look to the Pope as head of the Church, but to their King. Having himself quarrelled with the Pope, and being always anxious to mix himself up in Scottish matters, King Henry tried to make his nephew, King James, also quarrel with him. He proposed to meet with King James at York, so that they might talk the matter over, and although James had many reasons for not wishing to leave the Romish Church, he agreed to come, for neither did he wish, at that time, to have war with England. And Henry was so hot tempered, that to refuse might have meant war.

In great state Henry travelled to York, and for six days he waited there for James. But James never came.

The fact was, his wise men would not let him go. They did not trust King Henry, and they were afraid of what he might do to their King.

After waiting for six days, Henry turned home again, furiously angry, and at once declared war against Scotland. He renewed the old and almost forgotten claim of over-lordship, and vowed to make himself King of Scotland.

Henry gathered an army and marched northward. James, too, gathered an army and marched to meet the English. He had reached the Border, when news was brought that the English army had dispersed. In the heat of his passion, Henry had not laid his plans well. The weather was cold and wet, for it was in the middle of November. There was nothing in all the land for either man or horse to eat, so he was obliged to send them home again.

As soon as the Scots nobles heard that the English had turned back, they too, resolved to go home. They had gathered to protect Scotland, not to invade England. Scotland was no longer in danger, so they would not fight.

But James now wanted to fight, and he was very angry with the nobles when they said they would not. He implored, he threatened, all in vain. They would not go on. So at last, angry and disappointed, he too broke up his army, and went back to Edinburgh.

But James could not give up his desire to fight his uncle, and making great efforts, he again gathered a small army and sent it into England. This army crossed the Border at a place on the west, called the Solway Moss.

James had secretly decided to make leader of the army a favourite of his, called Oliver Sinclair. So as soon as they had entered England, Oliver, standing upon a shield raised upon the shoulders of four strong men, read aloud the King's letter, or commission as it was called, bidding the soldiers accept him as their leader.

Murmurs, loud and fierce, broke from the soldiers as they listened. The captains, leaving their posts, gathered to talk it over. All discipline and order were at an end. The whole army was thrown into angry confusion.

Unfortunately, at this moment a small body of English horse drew near. At once the English leader saw that the Scots were in disorder. What the reason was they cared not. It was an opportunity not to be lost, and with levelled lances they dashed forward.

The Scots were utterly taken by surprise. With scarce an attempt to fight, they fled. Not knowing the country, many were caught in the Solway Moss, or marshy ground, and died there. Others were taken prisoner. It was not a battle, but a rout.

The news filled James with despair. He was a crushed and broken King. Everything of late had gone wrong. His two sons had died, his nobles, he thought, had wronged and forsaken him. Now his army was shattered without striking a blow. For hours he sat alone, sullen and brooding. Once he had been merry and laughter-loving, now he would hardly utter a word.

The year was drawing to a close. "Where will you spend Christmas?" asked his courtiers and servants, "so that we may make preparations."

"Choose you the place," he answered sadly, "for I care not. But this I can tell you, that before Christmas day ye shall be masterless, and Scotland without a King."

At last James became so ill that he would neither eat nor drink, but lay upon his bed, scarcely speaking.

As he lay thus, word was brought to him that a little girl baby had been born to him. But even that could give him no joy. "Is that so?" he said with a sigh. "It came with a lass, and it will go with a lass." This he said, meaning that the crown had come to the Stewart family through a woman, Marjorie, the daughter of Robert the Bruce, who you remember married Walter the High Steward. Their son was Robert ii. , the first of the Stewart Kings. James now thought that with his little daughter the crown would pass away from the Stewart family. But it did not.

A few days after this, on the fourteenth of December 1542 a.d. , King James v. died. He died because his heart was broken, and he did not care to live. He was only thirty years old. He had been stern, and perhaps cruel, to the nobles, and had made many enemies among them. But the people loved him. To the poor, his palace gates were ever open. No one in poverty or distress ever came to him in vain, so that he was called the King of the Commons. During his reign, he had sailed all round his kingdom, going even farther than his father had done. He had made wise laws, he had encouraged trade and learning, and in every way tried to be a good King.

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