Featured: James IV

Could a man fly? That was the question Renaissance king James IV was about to have answered by Brother Damien, as he readied to launch himself from the walls of Stirling Castle wearing flappable home-made wings.

This was the early 16th century, so you probably won’t be surprised to discover Damien was unsuccessful, breaking his leg in an undignified landing in a dungheap below the castle walls. 

Yet the very fact James IV entertained the possibility of human flight showed that this king was very different to his predecessors. He was curious, energetic, pious, sexually magnetic (when his bride-to-be arrived in Scotland she discovered he had five surviving children from four different mistresses) and driven to improve Scotland’s lot.

James was fortunate. The nobility had killed his father at Sauchieburn, and were minded to give him more leeway. He was also able to raise money without recourse to taxation: another point in his favour, from the point of view of the nobility, even if he no longer called Parliaments and ruled in an increasingly autocratic style.

James developed a Scottish navy, including the largest ship in Christendom, the Great Michael. It was so big no Scottish port could take it, and Newhaven was built near Leith to accommodate it.

James married an English princess and peace reigned across the border. His reign looked set for more glory and prosperity than his forbears, but two things happened to ruin that completely. The first was the accession to the English throne of the belligerent warmonger Henry VIII. The second was a letter from French Queen Anne de Bretagne begging him to be her champion, and: 

‘Come three fute on inglis ground for hir sake.’  

James decided to do so. What could possibly go wrong?