JAMES II 1430-1460, ruled 1437-1460
James became king at the age of seven and took power in his own right during 1449. James II is not noted for literary or linguistic interests but rather for his strong temper and pursuit of warfare. However, like his father, many documents were issued in his name in Scots and the language became firmly established in the proceedings of the burghs and other institutions. An example from the acts of parliament passed in 1457 illustrates not only James’s liking for war but the style and register of Scots being employed for government business at that time:
Item, it is decretyt and ordanit that wapinschawingis be haldin be the lordis and baronis spirituale and temporale four tymis in the yere. And at the fute ball ande the golf be utterly cryit doun and nocht usit.
A royal letter, this time dated 1460, was addressed by the king “Gevin under our’ signet of the unicorn at Perth” to the burgh of Aberdeen and illustrates a document, probably dictated by the king, written by clerks and then sealed by him:
“..it effeiris til us of law to defend orphanis and pupillis being within age, oure will is and we charge yhou that yhe resave na resignacion nor give saisyng of ony landis or annuale rentis pertyenyng to the said Johnne of Scrogs eldar’ within oure said borrowez in prejudice of the said Thomas his apperand aire on to the tyme that the said Johnne mak knawin to us the cause quhi he wald anali the said landis or annualez…”
JAMES III 1453-1488, ruled 1460-1488
James became king as a child and it was 1469 before he began to rule in his own right. Unlike many monarchs before him, James III commonly put his signature to documents issued in his name and it became common for monarchs to do so from this time onwards. During the reign of James III the term ‘Sothren/Suddron’ came into widespread use, first as an adjective for things English, and then later as a name for the language of England, to distinguish it from the language of Scotland. During the 1470’s the epic ‘Wallace’, by Blind Harry, was composed in Scots. It is now generally agreed that it was a criticism of James III’s pro-English policy.
JAMES IV 1473-1513, ruled 1488-1513
James became king at the age of 15. He had a keen interest in many subjects, language included. Don Pedro de Ayala, ambassador to Scotland from Castile and Aragon, remarked in 1498 that James spoke several languages. He noted that Scots was James’s native language which Don Pedro considered was as different from English as Aragonese (Catalan) was from Castilian (Spanish). De Ayala also remarked that James spoke the ‘language of the savages’ by which he meant Scottish Gaelic. By the reign of James two high status languages had evolved which were descended from Anglo-Saxon. In the south, in England, there was so-called Tudor English promoted at the English royal court. In the north, in Scotland, James’s own mother tongue had long been favoured at the Scottish royal court and was, from at least 1494, known by the additional name of ‘Scottis’ in recognition of its distinct status. The written forms of English and Scots could be readily understood by the other (particularly if sprinkled with Latin terms) and so James wrote in his mother tongue to his father-in-law Henry VII of England. In 1508, for example, James wrote to him requesting safe conduct for the bishop of Moray through England:
“Richt excellent, richt hie and michti prince, and our derrest fadre. We commend us unto zou in our mast herty wise, praying zou effectuisly to graunt at this oure request zour lettres of sauf conduct in dew form as ane Reverend fader in God, and our richt trast counsalour Andreu bischop of Murray…his servauntis or utheris, saufly and seuerly to cum within zour realme of Ingland by sey or laund, on hors or on fute…and to pas and repas throw zour saide realme...JAMES R.”
James was also patron of the Scottish master poet (called a makar) William Dunbar who appears receiving a royal pension from 1500 onwards. Dunbar wrote highly skilled verse about Scottish court life in elegant Scots. An example of his descriptive verse in Scots is to be seen in the ‘Remonstrance to the King’:
“SCHIR, YE have mony servitouris
And officiaris of dyvers curis;
Kirkmen, courtmen, and craftismen fine;
Doctouris in jure, and medicine;
Divinouris, rethoris, and philosophouris,
Astrologis, artistis, and oratouris;
Men of armes, and vailyeand knychtis,
And mony uther gudlie wichtis;
Musicianis, menstralis, and mirrie singaris;
Chevalouris, cawandaris, and flingaris;
Cunyouris, cravouris, and carpentaris,
Beildaris of barkis and ballingaris,
Masounis lyand upon the land,
And schipwrichtis hewand upone the strand;
Glasing wrichtis, goldsmythis, and lapidaris,
Pryntouris, payntouris, and potingaris;
All of thair craft cunning,
And all at anis lawboring.”
James IV also granted license to Walter Chepman and Andrew Millar for setting up Scotland’s first printing press in 1507 of which the first texts printed in 1508 were in Scots. The license permitted them “…for imprenting within our realme of the bukis of our lawis, actis of parliament. Croniclis, mess bukis and portuus efter the use of our realme with additiouns and legendis of Scottis sanctis now gaderit to be eikit thairto and al utheris bukis that sal be sene necessare…”
The reign of James IV was brought to a premature end by his defeat and death at the battle of Flodden in 1513. Shortly after this time Gavin Douglas bishop of Dunkeld (died 1522), who had been a courtier under James IV, translated Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’ into Scots. This is rightly recognised as one of the great works of European literature of its day.
JAMES V 1512-1542, ruled 1513-1542
James V was also a native Scots speaker and patron of works in the language but he evidently did not have the same linguistic skills as his father. For example, when he visited France in the 1530’s he had difficulty in speaking French. A large volume of correspondence for James V has survived in Scots and it was clearly the language he worked in best. A fairly typical example of one of his official letters is the following, dated at Aberdeen, 3 May 1534, and addressed to the lords of his council regarding heretical books translated into Scots and the need to ban their importation to Scotland:
“Chancellair, president, and lordis of our counsall and sessioun, we gret you weill. Ye sall ondirstand that we ar treuly informit of divers tractatis and bukis translatit out of Latin in our Scottis toung be heretics, favoraris and of the sect of Luther, ar send within this realme to divers partis of the samin, as Leith, Edinburgh, Dunde, Sanctandrois, Montrose, Abirdene, and Kirkcaldy, to infect the invart partis of the samin, without hasty remeid be put tharto.”
Another good example of a letter by King James V is the following example – a more private letter – written by him to his cousin the duke of Albany (former regent when James was a child), dated 10 April 1534, which deals with diplomatic matters:
“Tyl our rycht traist and bestbelovit Cousing, ye Duk of Albanye.
Richt traist and best belovit Cusing, We recommend Ws wnto zou in our maist effectus maner. Ve hef causit Canyvet zour servitour writ in siphir to zou part of our mynd instantlie, anent sik thingis as hes occurryt sene departing of our Enbassatour; prayand zou be diligent yerin for baith our welis, and ye weil of yis Realm, for We belef, quhen ze hef knawin quhat yis berer wil schwa, and it yat Canyvet vritis, with inform send till our Enbassatour, ze wil consider gret ewil devisit for Us baith by yat way. Yerfor, as ze luf our honour and weil, and zour awne, and ye honour and weil of yis Realm, be ze vigilant and diligent, yer quhar ze ar, and at ye Court of Rowan; and We, be zour awise, sall do our part heyr. Yis mater is bot werray laitlie cum till our knowledge; notwythstandyng, it is cum in dew tyme, and We do our part yarin. Ferder We refer ye opynnyng of ye hail mater til our Enbassatour be ye beraris informacioun; and be it yat Canyvet vritis in siphyr, haist ansuer agane in siphir to Canyvet, baith anent our effares direct to zou with our Enbassatour, and of yis yat hes occurit of new.
Traist and bestlovit Cusing, We pray God hef zou ever in keeping. At our castel of Sterling, ye 10 of April, and of our Regine ye tuenty ane zer. JAMES R.”
In the literary sphere, James V was patron of Sir David Lindsay of the Mount (died 1555), a courtier from the time of James IV, and who produced poetry and plays in Scots, most notably ‘Ane Satire of the Thrie Estaitis’ which was performed before the king at Linlithgow in 1540. James also commissioned John Bellenden to translate Boece’s History of Scotland into Scots in 1536. This was the first prose history of the country to be written in the language. There are also good examples of writings in Scots by the women in James’s life, his mother, Margaret Tudor, and his second wife, Mary of Guise. Margaret Tudor (died 1541), married James IV in 1503 and was queen dowager of Scotland during the period 1513-1541. Margaret learned to write in Scots and frequently addressed letters to her brother Henry VIII of England. This brief example from 1523 gives a flavour:
“Derest Broyer ye Kyng. In my maist humle wyse I recommend Me to Zour Grace. Pleise Zou to wyt, I resavit, be ye handis of Maister Magnus zour servand, ane vrittyn datit ye 23 day of Merche, quhilk writing is rycht soor and scharp, considering yat I haif nocht deserwit ye samyn…”
Mary of Guise, who married James V in 1538, was a French woman. She was queen dowager of Scotland during 1542-1560 and also regent of the kingdom 1554-1560. She learned Scots well and could not only freely converse in the language, but frequently corresponded in it too. There was an interesting incident that took place early in 1560, during an audience at the royal court in Edinburgh, in which the English Somerset Herald was unable to follow the conversation of Mary and her courtiers in Scots and requested that they carry on in French so he could understand.
In the audio file below, Dr Dauvit Horsbroch reads the reign of King James IV in Scots.
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