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Thursday 23 February 2017

News: The mysterious death of James III

A text from the official records of parliament about the still unresolved mystery of the death of King James III (1460-1488) is one of the exhibits in 'An Open Secret': a new National Archives of Scotland (NAS) exhibition about changes in government attitudes to record and information closures.

The start of the record of the Scottish Parliament's investigation into the death of James III (NAS PA2/5 folio 98v)

James III endured a turbulent reign. He alienated many of his nobles to the extent that they rebelled against him, and he was killed at the battle of Sauchieburn on 11 June 1488, fighting against forces led by his eldest son, the future King James IV (1488-1513). The manner of his death led to one of the many 'conspiracy theories' that litter Scottish history.

The parliamentary record merely states that the king 'happinit to be slane'and attributed the death to the king following bad counsel. But if anyone knew who actually killed the king they kept very quiet about it, perhaps because the new king, James IV, had given orders before the battle that no-one do harm to his father. By the 16th century, there were claims that James, while fleeing from the battle, had been murdered at Milltown, near Bannockburn, by an assassin disguised as a priest, although another version of the story has James being thrown by a horse during the battle, either being killed by the fall or by enemy soldiers.

James IV's government wanted to curtail discussion about James III's death and insisted they were innocent. Parliament exonerated the new king, stating that 'oure soverane lord that now is and the trew lordis and barouns that wes withe him in the samyne feild war innocent, quhyt and fre of the saidis slauchteris feilde'.

Public dissatisfaction with the event and the parliamentary debate was followed by open rebellion. As late as 1492, the government had to offer a reward of 100 merks' worth of land for the arrest of his killers. The reward has never been claimed!

See an image of the parliamentary text with a transcript (New window, Acrobat PDf 164 Kb)

The text from the official records of parliament is one of the exhibits in 'An Open Secret': an exhibition about changes in government attitudes to record and information closures.

Read more about the exhibition.


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