The Stewart kings are hard to beat for having lived life on the edge. Consider, if you will, this deliberately truncated history:
In 1406 Robert III of Scotland sent his twelve-year-old son James to France for safety. The boy was captured at sea by the English. Robert died on hearing the news and James I remained in captivity until 1424. He married Joan Beaufort, daughter of the first earl of Somerset and niece of King Henry IV of England. In February 1437 he was undressing for bed when eight assassins, led by Sir Robert Graham, burst into the King’s chamber in Perth and stabbed him to death.
His son, James II was six years old at the time. The Stewart and Douglas factions carried on a merry civil war until James came of age in 1449 and married Mary of Gueldres, thus reinforcing Scotland’s connection with France. He stabbed the eighth earl of Douglas to death at Stirling Castle in February 1452 because Douglas ‘resisted the King’s gentle persuasions.’ In 1453 and again in 1455 James pillaged Douglas lands. Whilst at Roxburgh expelling the English garrison, an exploding cannon killed him. He was twenty-nine years old.
His son James III was then nine years old. He assumed power in 1469 and married Anne of Denmark, who brought Orkney and Shetland as her dowry. He imprisoned his brothers Albany and Mar to protect his throne from plotters. Albany escaped to France, intrigued with the Earl of Douglas and formed an alliance with Edward IV of England, promising to be his vassal if Edward could secure the Scottish throne for him. In 1482 Albany invaded Scotland as Alexander IV with an English army led by Richard of Gloucester, later Richard III. James was imprisoned and in 1488 was forced to fight his son at the battle of Sauchieburn. James, defeated, escaped but was discovered and murdered, callously stabbed by a passer-by who claimed to be a priest.
James IV was then fifteen. He married Margaret Tudor, elder sister of Henry VIII, and relations with his brother-in-law deteriorated over Henry’s refusal to hand over Margaret’s dowry. It was one of the vexations that led to the battle of Flodden in 1513, where James died, along with 13 earls, 14 lords, an archbishop, a bishop, two abbots and numerous knights.
James V was a mere infant in 1513, and Scotland endured the misery of a long minority. He broke free of the Regent, the Earl of Angus, in 1528 and seized power himself. When he invaded England in 1542, his army was routed at Solway Moss. James is said to have visited his mistress at Tantallon, then his very pregnant wife Mary of Guise at Edinburgh, and retreated to Falkland in Fife where before he died he commented bleakly ‘it came wi a lass, and it’ll gang with a lass.’ Some think this referred to the Maid of Norway, the sole surviving heir in 1290, and some think it referred to Marjorie Bruce in 1315.
Either way, the lass born in 1542 grew up to be Mary Queen of Scots. She was beheaded by Elizabeth in 1587, leaving one son, James, to inherit both the Scottish and English thrones.
It is interesting to reflect that James I and VI had a mother who all her life was considered essentially French; a French grandmother, an English great-grandmother, a Danish gt gt grandmother and a Burgundian gt gt gt grandmother. On the male side, his father was raised in England, his grandfather was half English, quarter Scot, quarter Danish; his gt grandfather was a mixture of Danish, Burgundian, Scottish and English.