James V, the seventh Stewart King of Scots, was born on the 10th of April, 1512.
James Stewart was born at Linlithgow Palace, the only surviving son of James IV and Margaret Tudor. Here was yet another Stewart Prince who inherited the throne as an infant. Wee Jamesie was a mere seventeen months old when his father was killed at the Battle of Flodden, in 1513, and he was crowned twelve days later, at Stirling Castle. It was a dangerous business being a Royal in those days; in fact, those days were dangerous, period. That being the case, you could be forgiven for thinking that James V died in battle, like his father. Fact is, whatever else James V did in his short life, he is more famous for the events surrounding his death than for the occurrence of his birth.
James V didn’t die in battle. He pined away after a battle he lost, even predicting his own demise with the words, “Befair sic a Day I sal be deid.” That battle came to be known as the Rout of Solway Moss, in the autumn of 1542. The operative word was ‘rout’ and after the miserable trouncing of his divided forces, James sort of lost the will to live. He retired to Falkland, depressed and defeated, to once more leave the throne to a Stewart minor. His infamous final words, uttered from his deathbed in Falkland Palace, were doom laden and a gloomy comment on the prospects he foresaw for his six days old daughter, the future, Mary I, Queen of Scots. He should’ve said, “We’re doomed!” Instead, he is quoted as allegedly having said, “Adieu, farewell, it cam’ wi’ a lass and it’ll gang wi’ a lass.”
That dismal quote alluded to the beginning of the Stewart dynasty, which started with Robert the Bruce’s daughter, and James’ belief that it was very likely to end with his female heir, the bonnie Mary. He was wrong, of course, as we made it all the way to Queen Anne Stuart’s death in 1707, before Geordie Hannover arrived on the scene. James was ruefully bemoaning the news of his daughter’s arrival, which illustrates well the mental state in which he was. John Knox was present by James’ deathbed and later wrote what led to the above quote: “…he turnit frome sick as spak with him, and said, ‘The Devil ga with it, it will end as it begane; it come frome a Woman, and it will end in a Woman.’ Efter that he spak not mony Wordis that war sensibill.” Sir George Douglas of Pittendreich, who was also present, said that the king was talking but delirious and spoke no “wise words.”
James’ early life was mirrored by the fortunes of several Jameses. As was practically obligatory for a Stewart King of Scots, a sequence of Regents ruled on his behalf until he was able to take control himself. His mother was Regent until she married Archibald, 6th Earl of Angus, the Red Douglas, in 1524. In Falkland Palace, James became virtually a prisoner of his stepfather for two years, until he finally escaped, disguised as a groom. After James got free, he caused the Red line of Douglas to be outlawed and its lands confiscated. By the time he was seventeen he had assumed the rule for himself.
That was the time of the Reformation and the creation of the Church of England by Henry VIII. However, James remained committed to the Catholic Church, no doubt encouraged by earning substantial church revenues, sanctioned by the Pope, who was keen to avoid Scotland succumbing to Protestantism. James was a great man to accumulate wealth. His two French marriages came with handsome dowries and he also contrived lucrative ecclesiastical posts for his seven illegitimate children. On the marital front, he also had to stave off martial intrusions of Henry VIII, who was intent on marrying his son to James’ legitimate daughter. Those were the events of the so-called ‘Rough Wooing’.
James Stewart the Fifth was also famous for doing a wee bit wooing of his own. Amazingly, the King developed the habit of going abroad amongst the peasants, disguised as a farmer or beggar. He became notorious for his amorous nocturnal exploits and was celebrated in verse. He is referred to as the ‘Gudeman o’ Ballengeich’ in a 19th century poem by the legendary William Topaz McGonagall. Several contemporary ballads and poems were also written of his escapades, including ‘The Gaberlunzie Man’ or ‘The Jolly Beggar’. Some of these were attributed to James and there is some evidence that he occasionally wrote verses. However, it is probably true that his good friend, Sir David Lindsay, provided able assistance.
Here is an extract (drastically curtailed) from one interpretation of ‘The Jolly Beggar’…
“When he perceived the maiden’s mind
And that her heart was his,
He did embrace her in his arms
And sweetly did her kiss.
In lovely sport and merriment
The night away they spent
In Venus game, for their delight
And both their hearts content.
When twenty weeks were come and gone
Her heart was something sad,
Because she found hersel’ wi’ bairn,
And disnae ken the dad.”
James Stewart died on the 14th of December, 1542, at the age of thirty and was buried at Holyrood Abbey.