In general James successfully re-established the best of laissez faire Scottish monarchy; a light touch on the vast majority of subjects, allowing magnates to exercise authority and justice in their localities and regions, while ensuring an alternative central justice was available, and an increasingalities andly professional one at that. As he grew in confidence, the finest traditions of the rennaisance court his Dad James IV had established were re-established; once again, the court was thoroughly European and outward looking; French cultural norms in particular adopted, given a distinctive Scottish style. James V was as conscious as any monarch anywhere of the need to demonstrate to his subjects that however distant the monarchy might be, however much more important to daily life might be the local lord, yet it was the monarchy that lay at the heart of the nation. It was in the monarchy that all the disparate elements and customs and sovereignty of the people came to be represented. James focussed on the images and language of chivalry and heraldry, the language of power but it was mainly in the operation of the court; the music, dancing and public and private celebrations. The same man that James would callously allow to be executed for political expediency turns out to be something of a genius architect and designer – the Bastard of Arran, Hamilton of Finnart.
Hamilton of Finnart is something of a character if that’s the right word; reputed to have been the one that killed the earl of Lennox at Lithlithgow Bridge he was married and had 3 children, and yet also had at least ten illegitimate children, born of liaisons with at least three people – Marion Stewart, Elizabeth Murray, and Elizabeth Elphinstone. In this, it must be said, he was doing no more than following the leader, since James was quite remarkably incontinent to boot’ Hamilton was a devious politician, which in the end would end badly for him, he would die by the sword as he lived by the political plot. As an architect though, he worked on Lithlithgow, Holyrood and Falkland palaces plus a whole load of others and reflected the renaissance style in Scotland as maybe he reflected the Machiavellian in other aspects of his life.
Lavish buildings, furnishings, display, symbols and ceremony, patronage of poets, musicians and writers, all the fun of the royal fair. The only area James didn’t really prove himself a chip off the old block was in the Navy, where he lacked James IV’s passion, and relied on his existing navy, or ships like the Mary Willoughby captured from the old enemy, England.
Now, there is one unavoidable fact about all this this power and glory stuff, which anyone who has redecorated their own home will know, however much less magnificent than Lithlithgow Palace their homes might happen to be. It costs and bob or two, it doesn’t come cheap. And yet as I have already mentioned, the relationship between Scottish monarch and subject was relatively free of friction because Scottish kings didn’t ask them for money all the time. In the words of Hal, or Bladerunner or Lost in Space or something, Does not compute. What’s going on here? Let us open a new door in the room of the reign of James V, the door into your favourite topic and mine. Yes, I speak of course of royal finances. Three cheers. Hip hip…
The super summary is that James had some luck thrust upon him, made some of his own luck, and drank deeply at the well at the foundations of the Scottish state in a way that would weaken it’s foundations. Most of this it has to be said was not necessarily entirely new – but there was an enthusiasm and gusto about the way James V went about it that would sow seeds. Anyway, let’s start with customs dues, which requires us to talk a little about foreign trade. Scottish external trade had been in something of a slump since the 1460’s; although there were profits to be made and there were nonetheless winners among some of the towns and some merchants. And as I said a few episodes ago, it’s important to remember that external trade is a small part of trade overall. Nonetheless, it took until the 1530’s for external trade to really start to grow significantly again. Much of this trade came from established routes – northern France, the Netherlands, the Baltic, though there’s some expansion towards Swedish ports or south to Spain. Mainly the bulk of exports were in raw materials – raw wool, skins and hides. There was some manufacture – coarse cheap low quality cloth shipped from Dundee to the Baltic for example. The impact was a growth in customs dues, which reached just under £6,000 scot in 1541; a Scottish pound at this stage, by the way, was about 1/3rd the value of an English pound. War will then rip into the economy of southern Scotland with a particular viciousness, and it took a decade to recover, but recover it did. It is worth noting that while Scotland was very much part of the general European trends of population growth and price inflation, these are trends seem to come rather later in Scotland, after 1560.
OK, so that’s some increase in revenue for the crown; but as you can guess, far from sufficient. It’s not that James completely laid off taxing his people directly; so in 1535 he ran a tax to pay for his foreign travels worth £6,000, but that’s about it. That tax was an investment as it happens that would pay huge dividends; as we’ll come to James negotiated a marriage alliance with the crown of France and through dowries landed a massive windfall of £168,000 scots. Even then more was needed. And it was the church to which James turned.
Once again, James V followed in the footsteps of his ancestors; the famous Indult of 1487 had emphasised the power of the Scottish monarchs to make appointments to their church, James IV had made free use of the power to make appointments that could be described with some justice as falling into the slightly dodgy category – his bastard son for example. James V looked at the amplifier of this policy and just reached out and turned the dial to 11.
This was more than simply milking the church for money by selling appointments; James proved to be a culmination of the idea that church and monarchy should work hand in glove to govern the country, so much so that Professor Dawson describes the Scottish state at this time as a church-state hybrid – both institutions of government administration and church were intimately interconnected with each other. Just like medieval monarchies, James expected to recruit many administrators from the church; and expected to reward courtiers and administrators to appoint them to church roles, whether or not they were appropriate for the religious requirements of that role – or indeed even cared about it, though most did. Let us take for an example one David Beaton, younger son of a Laird of Fife, son of Elizabeth Monneypenny, a man whose life demonstrates a few themes.
As for any ambitious laird’s son, he went through university – St Andrews initially from the age of 14, but then Glasgow. Fortunately, his uncle, James Beaton was AB Glasgow, which meant that he soon landed a job as a canon and then chancellor of Glasgow University, and his foot was firmly planted on the ladder of administration and advancement. With the income from those posts nestling safely in his pouch, Beaton continued his academic career, interestingly at Orleans. Interestingly because it re-iterates the point I’ve made about the Scots in Europe, where they were even more common than pigs in blankets; from undergraduate to scholar level, Scots were a full and successful part of Western European academic culture. At the French court Beaton found himself a patron in the Duke of Albany, who brought him back to Scotland, and by 1525 his talents had earned himself a place on the Royal Council. By this stage he was also a Commendator of the Abbey of Arbroath. Commendator is a word derived from the Latin verb Commendare, to trust; and it’s a system whereby a cleric would be entrusted with the administration of an Abbey, a laudable and important post. By David Beaton’s time though, it had simply become a way of delivering a job for the boys; of Scotland’s 39 monasteries in the 1520s, 32 of them were in lay hands. The Commendator could not entirely ignore the needs of the monks – having emaciated starving corpses lying about the place would be seriously untidy – but they could, and did take a fair proportion of the income for their personal needs, and it was an acceptable part of rewarding administrators such as David Beaton. This is one aspect of this close relationship between church and state, and demonstrates a church often starved of resources in favour of the state.
Beaton was a firm Francophile, and therefore suffered a bit under Anguses Anglophile regency, but was soon back in the king’s favour thereafter; and James would also favour a French alliance so the two were aligned on that. As a Prince of the church, David Beaton has a lot in common with the wealth and grandeur of Cardinal Wolsey, and like Wolsey he knew politics and compromise. So for example, James came up with a wizard wheeze to raise money for the state by demanding that the church support the costs of the College of Justice, aforementioned I believe. For Beaton this was a delicate question; such a tax would impoverish the church; but resistance might encourage his king to just take the wealth of the monasteries anyway, as his Uncle Harry would do in England of course. As a result a compromise was struck; a compromise that yielded James £72,000 from the church and £1,400 a year. Not much of this ended up with the College of Justice, and nor was this all; the Pope had already agreed to an annual tax of £10,000 on the church. By the late 1530s Beaton’s relationship with James was at its height after successful diplomatic negotiations with the French to conclude James’ marriage to Madeleine and then Mary of Guise. Things would get more tense later, but I think you get the idea – here was a man for whom the church was at least in part reward for secular work
Don’t let me paint a picture of one colour though; Beaton was not a purely venal man bent on power – though he was that; he took his responsibilities towards the church seriously as well. It was he that led the struggle against the reformers as the work of Luther spread, and as a confessional divide began to open up with Henry’s England; ‘the contagion of English impiety’ he called it, neatly combining his Francophilia with a fight against heresy. And as an administrator and diplomat there’s no doubt Beaton had talent, and an international outlook. But his political ambition seriously curtailed his ability to focus on the church at a critical time, when it needed to reform, and needed to resist the new reforming ideas. And his personal life also made it difficult to exude any kind of moral authority had he really tried. He had eight recorded children, all with Marion Ogilvy, whom he treated as a wife for more than twenty years. And he lived in the style of a Renaissance magnate, with a large household, French personal servants, and six residences, including the castle of St Andrews, the abbot’s house at Arbroath, a substantial Edinburgh lodging, and the private residence of Melgund in Angus. He became a French Bishop in 1537, Bishop of Mirepoix, so that’s a bit of pluralism to add to the reformers’ charge sheet. And the parallels with Wolsey multiply when he was made a Cardinal in 1538 and a papal legate in 1544. He was also made head of the Scottish church when made Archbishop of St Andrews in 1539.
So the answer to the question of where James found all the money to live like a king without over taxing his subjects, is broadly that he found it from the church. In this again he was not doing anything particularly new, but the scale and shamelessness of it was. In addition to the sums we’ve already mentioned, James would directly tax another £52,000 from the church. And there’s more. In 1535, the pope allowed a 12 month delay before a clerical appointment was made; and during the vacancy, the crown could enjoy it’s income. When the delayed appointment came, not all the appointments were damaging to the church; Robert Reid, Abbot of Kinloss, for example was a loyal and effective servant of the church. But in some cases they were. Notoriously, James had royal sons to support, and needed to find a way to pay for them.
These sons were not born on the right side of the bed, as the old expression goes. You might remember that when we did our soupcon of Jacobean historiography, firebrandy Knox and ascorbic Buchanan gave James a washing down for GMT, gross moral turpitude. James had nine known illegitimate children all by different women. I feel I am talking a lot about peccadiloes and illegitimacy, and I would like to apologise if I appear to becoming prurient, but really I swear this is only done in the public interest; and look this is playing away on a herculean level. It’s interesting to me about the motivation in this for the women involved, all of whom were of noble status, upper nobility or Lairds. There’s a book there to be read or written, but clearly there may not have been a lot of choice involved, or at least enormous pressure; and there was a clear responsibility for the king to make sure they were well looked after when the relationship came to an end; sometimes that involved organising a respectable marriage. Only one of his partners appear to have had anything more than a brief dalliance; Margaret Erskine was married, and James applied to the Pope to have her marriage annulled so that he could marry her; and if he had boy, history would have been different, there’d have been no Mary Queen of Scots, and well, counterfactual history but you know.
Anyway, you can’t have royal children, even bastards, hanging around shopping malls and on the street corners without a job to do. So another kingly responsibility was to find the offspring occupations. For the girls, that once again would certainly involve organising a good marriage. For several of the boys, this is where the church came in. 5 of them became commendators of various abbeys, saving the royal purse £10,000 worth of maintenance. And depriving the church of £10,000 of course.
Presumably, there were benefits for the church in this partnership too? Well, that is a good question, and honestly it’s not clear that there were. The obvious idea would be that the King would protect the church from it’s enemies, and we are of course at a time when the old church would uniquely need protection and support. To some degree James would support it; certainly, he remained resolutely catholic. But his was a halting and political orthodoxy. He wanted to display his orthodoxy to his European peers, but enjoyed anti clerical poems and plays as much as the next man; he played with the idea of meeting Henry VIII, and although in the end he would famously snub him, Beaton realised that he had to play carefully to win his master’s support.
Beaton therefore tried to extend the campaign against protestant heresy but on occasion found James a blocker rather than helpful. We’ll cover the reformation in Scotland later in more depth, but for a bit of background the history of heresy in Scotland was not particularly strong, but there was a tradition; Lollardy for example had reached some parts of Scotland, and in 1494 a group of Ayrshire Lairds were accused of unorthodox opinions, and the Kyle area of Ayrshire seems to have a continuous tradition of Protestantism. The first protestant martyr, though, allows me to tell you once more about the PH in the cobbles of St Andrews, the significance of which I entirely missed when I was at university there. Largely because I had other priorities in life, which I now regret, obviously. This was the place where Patrick Hamilton was burned for heresy in 1528. By the end of the 1530’s 10 reformers had been burned by the Catholic church; many more fled into exile. And of course now that there was a confessional border with England, flight was somewhat easier for evangelical reformers, just by crossing the border. In this period though, James as I say was an uncertain friend of persecution. Early in 1540 Beaton took a list to the king of possible heretics – but these were James’s people, nobles, Lairds and lawyers from Fife and Angus; James threw the list in Beaton’s face and told him to stop getting in between him and his servants. Showing somewhat more steel, Beaton did manage to bring charges against one such royal servant, who fled; and in 1541, he managed to pass a series of acts in support of the old religion. But for the moment progress was slight.
The impact of James’s church policy had a further impact. The church did not have this money just sitting around – it needed to find it from somewhere. And it found it by forcing more from the tenants of its land, through a process called feuing. Feuing was a process whereby the terms on which land was held was transformed. From the church and king’s point of view the benefit was that far higher rents were charged on the tenant, which brought great uncertainty and hardship to many. On the plus side for tenants, the resulting land was heritable, which had not been the case before, and which brought a new wealth and confidence to many. Let me explain.
The traditional landholding in Scotland was a short lease, or a form called the Rental, which was also normally for life. It is easy to exaggerate the prevalence of the short lease; there were longer leases and the trend was that way but still there was very little like the English copyhold lease, traditionally for three lifetimes. At best, leases were for 1 life, often for as little as 1 year. However, it is very probabe that these tenures were far more stable than the figures might imply; until population started to rise later in the century, it was hard to find new tenants. Relationships and a sense of mutual obligation were strong, and the vast majority of leases would simply be renewed. Plus there was a much more attractive form of lease, the ‘kindly’ tenancy. Kindly is sort of in the sense of a favour, but actually it comes from the same root as kinship – so this was a lease for part of the family or clan. It was a real, legal thing – it could be bought, sold and inherited.
For all of these leases, the sense of security was probably reasonably strong. However, they had two monumental disadvantages; rents could be raised regularly. And except for kindly rents, they were not heritable, that really, really sucked.
So that’s the situation, and into this particular night club walked the feu. Now in 1538, which is when the church really panicked to raise revenue for the king, feuing was not new. Feuing had actually begun with crown lands in 1458 with an Act of Parliament, though it wasn’t actually ratified until 1504 which is really quite lazy. Oh I’ll get round to it next millennium. From 1508-1512 under James IV there was an intense period of feuing which increased royal income from crown lands from around £2,000 to about £9,000 – so you can see how significant the impact was. By 1542, feuing on Crown land had continued, and income had risen to £15,000. But it was when the church panicked after 1538 that the real change came, and feuing really gathered pace and threatened a much larger percentage of the population, though I should also stress that this is a process that will stretch across the 16th century.
Now it used to be thought that this movement had a catastrophic impact on the lives of the majority of Scottish tenants, massive instability and hardship as tenant, unable to pay big increases in rent and thrown off lands. Then research yielded some quantification of the impact; and it looks as though about 60% of tenants were able to find the required cash, and were able to stay. So you can take that figure either way, really, depending on how you view your half filled pint glass. But really both ways are true. 40% of Scottish tenants’ lives were transformed for the worse, thrown off the land they and their families may in fact have occupied for generations, and transformed into agricultural wage labourers or to towns to seek a trade, in which place they would face yet more uncertainty of population growth and price inflation later in the century. 60% of tenant families however found a new stability and independence; land that could be passed on, lives that could be planned with confidence. And there was a kiss in the tail to coin a phrase; as price inflation took hold, the rents of feued land could no longer be easily raised. Socially, the process probably favoured the Laird most, and contributed to their growing importance; in one study 45% of the lands went to lairds, and 15% to smaller tenants.
There is another impact worth mentioning, which is difficult to measure, but it can’t have had a massively positive for the reputation of the church. The sight of the church desperately raising revenue to dance to the tune of the king made it clear where authority lay; and the instability and change forced on its tenants must often have loosened loyalties; once again, this was another challenge as the church faced the arrival of reformist religious ideas.