The Stewarts

Episodes

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01James I2010100420110808

Historian and author, Dr Fiona Watson looks at bloody comeback of James I, King of Scots (1394-1437).

It's not the greatest start to life when your elder brother gets murdered in a castle dungeon by your wicked uncle, who's muscling in on your sick father, but then it only gets worse for young Prince James.

While being sent to safety in France aged 12, he was kidnapped by English pirates.

The very next month, his father died and the young prisoner became King of Scots, spending 18 years in captivity.

A vital part of this time was spent at the court of Henry V, the victor of Agincourt.

It would influence the rest of James's life, giving him fresh (and if you were one of his nobles you might say 'worrying') ideas of what a monarch should be and how a country should be run.

The return of the King to Scotland would not only bring bloody vengeance upon the family of his late uncle, the Duke of Albany, but a new and energetic style of kingship.

However James had tendency to take things just a bit too far...

Fiona introduces one of the most powerful and controversial kings of the medieval Stewart dynasty.

Historian Dr Fiona Watson discusses the bloody comeback of James I, King of Scots.

02James Ii Of Scotland2010100520110809

Glasgow novelist and crime-writer Louise Welsh gets to grips with the murders which marred the life and reign of James II King of Scots (1430-1460).

After his father was murdered down a sewer by a pack of vengeful knights, young King James was wrenched from his mother's custody and found himself in the hands of guardians who thought nothing of murdering young teenage dinner guests when it suited them politically.

According to blood-curdling tradition, poor James was forced to watch as the sixteen year old earl of Douglas and his younger brother were despatched at the block.

In a modern novel, you'd be screaming for child protection services to step in, but when you're a medieval child King of Scots, you're all alone.

Fiction swirls about James's reign and his later epic feud with the House of Douglas.

Even by the 16th century, chroniclers were making up embellishments which amounted to historical fiction.

In the 19th century Walter Scott would show a 'Pulp Fiction' like talent for black-humoured dialogue when he ventured into the little butcher's shop of horror stories (some mythical and some all-too-true) from James's reign.

Louise looks at the tales and motifs of James's reign from the point of view of a modern crime fiction writer.

She traces his development as a character and finally anatomises the most shocking act of James's reign - where he turned into a murderer himself, leading a pack attack with blades and battle axes on a new earl of Douglas.

This little after-dinner surprise (called like the first one a 'Black Dinner'), has gripped Scottish historical writers for 560 years and counting...

Louise Welsh on the murders which marred the life and reign of James II King of Scots.

03Princes And Poets20101006

'Behold yon Scot eats his own blood!" Thus English soldiers taunt Robert Bruce, in the violent, highly fictionalised poem 'The Wallace' by Blind Harry.

The medieval poem would become the inspiration for the script of 'Braveheart' in modern times, but it, and the earlier epic 'The Brus', show how the Scottish medieval Wars of Independence were hot political topics, ripe for propaganda, hundreds of years before Mel Gibson.

These subjects were especially important to the new Stewart dynasty which succeeded the Bruces.

They needed all the help they could get in their early years, but as Scottish literature evolved, the Stewarts were able to return the favour, as patrons of brilliant, cultured and sometimes scandalous poets (who were dropping the 'f-word' and the 'c-word' into their best work long before 'Trainspotting').

The Stewarts were both the target audience and sometimes, the target, for an increasingly self-confident feisty body of writers.

Their stable of court writers were not afraid to look across the border and tut-tut at the giants of an earlier age, like that Geoffrey Chaucer, who probably made stuff up and who was definitely not qualified to stray into theology.

Literary bon mots where the word 'miaow!' springs to mind and you wonder if the writer would like a saucer of milk are nothing new.

Had such a thing existed, heaven only knows what they would have done to his Amazon reviews...

Dr Sally Mapstone explores the literature of the Stewarts.

04James Iv2010100720110811

The wild knight, his shaggy costume over his armour, faced his opponent.

Lance couched, surging with adrenalin, he charged full speed at the other knight.

At the mid-point of the lists they met, lances stabbing into each others coat armour.

Three times the wild knight defeated his opponent.

The Edinburgh crowd roared their approval of the winner.

They went even wilder when he removed his costume to reveal himself as their king - James IV, the most glorious of the Stewart monarchs.

James spared no expense with his tournaments to bring glamour to the world of knightly virtues.

There were exotic ladies as prizes, poetry, banqueting, elaborate costumes and Arthurian round tables.

Camelot would have nothing on Holyrood as far as James was concerned, and it was all a bit of dig at his English neighbours, the Tudors.

They'd polished up their shaky new royal credentials by claiming descent from Arthur.

James liked to remind them that having married their daughter, Margaret Tudor, his children were in line to their throne too.

Dr Katie Stevenson shows how royal chivalry embraced a lot more than just knocking the other chap off his horse and avoiding the pointy end of his lance, at the sumptuous Renaissance court of James IV.

Katie Stevenson focuses on James IV and his love of jousting, King Arthur and chivalry.

05 LASTA Love Affair With Firepower20101008

'For the illustrious James, worthy prince of the Scots, magnificent king, when I sound off I reduce castles.

I was made at his order, therefore I am called Lion.'

That's the inscription on one of James I's favourite cannon.

It's the beginning of a royal love affair between the medieval Stewart dynasty and really big guns.

'Lion' was big enough to demolish occasional bits of palace, just by colliding with it, never mind firing on things.

However dragging these monsters through bogs to besiege a castle, was no guarantee of success.

They could blow up the wrong people, such as monarchs like James II who wanted a good view of his guns in action.

As one chronicler (obviously an early Health and Safety officer) said, James's untimely death should be 'a lesson to future kings, that they should not stand too close to instruments of this sort when these are in the act of being discharged'.

Perhaps ' Most Magnificent King, if you can read this, you are standing too close!' might have made a better inscription for 'Lion'.

But Stewart ventures into big guns, also led them into naval warfare.

In their wars against the Lords of the Isles, the Kings of Scots found that those meaty cannon were not much use, if you couldn't get them to the Hebrides.

This led to a step-change in British sea-power, as James IV's admirals pioneered effective deck-mounted naval artillery.

Finally James IV moved into international waters, commissioning the largest warship in Europe, a masterpiece of Renaissance naval gunnery, 'The Great Michael' for hire to the King of France.

A naval arms race with Henry VIII of England was on, but all this fascination with fire-power would end tragically, not at sea but on land, at the Battle of Flodden.

Fiona Watson on the Stewart kings' interest in big cannons and monster warships.