Early in the reign of James III, Scottish policy toward England revolved around exploitation of the political turmoil caused by the WARS OF THE ROSES to recover the border town of BERWICK. Later in the reign, James weakened his hold on the Scottish Crown by pursuing an unusual policy of accommodation toward England.
James succeeded to the throne in August 1460, when his father, JAMES II, was killed by an ARTILLERY explosion while besieging the English-held castle of Roxburgh. Directed by MARY OF GUELDRES, the Queen Mother, and by Bishop James KENNEDY of St. Andrews, the regency government of the nine-year- old king continued his father’s policy of exploiting the English civil war to make Scottish territorial gains. Between December 1460, when Queen MARGARET OF ANJOU arrived in SCOTLAND seeking assistance for the Lancastrian cause, and December 1463, when Scottish support for the house of LANCASTER ceased, the minority government of James III balanced the Lancastrian need for military assistance against the Yorkist need for security to extract concessions from both parties. When the Lancastrian royal family fled into Scotland after the Battle of TOWTON in March 1461, Queen Margaret agreed to cede English border towns in return for Scottish help against EDWARD IV. Although the citizens of Carlisle refused to obey Margaret’s order to admit the Scots, Berwick surrendered to James III in April.
With Berwick achieved and Yorkist pressure increasing, notably through the 1462 Treaty of WESTMINSTER-ARDTORNISH, whereby Edward IV threatened an alliance with rebellious Scottish magnates, enthusiasm for the Lancastrian cause waned. By early 1464, Queen Margaret and Prince EDWARD OF LANCASTER had sailed to FRANCE, HENRYVI had been returned to England, and a truce had been concluded with Edward IV. Although James assumed personal control of the government in 1469, he was intent on consolidating his authority in Scotland and did not intervene when the English conflict revived between 1469 and 1471. In the 1470s, James attempted to improve relations with England by proposing a series of marriages between members of his family, including his son, the future JAMES IV, and members of the house of YORK, including Edward’s brother, George PLANTAGENET, duke of Clarence, and his sister MARGARET OF YORK, the widowed duchess of BURGUNDY. None of these unions occurred, mainly for lack of English interest.
Anglo-Scottish relations deteriorated in the late 1470s, when Edward sought to retake Berwick by exploiting internal dissension in Scotland. In 1482, Edward concluded the Treaty of Fotheringhay with James’s brother, Alexander, duke of Albany. The agreement called for Albany to surrender Berwick to England in return for assistance in overthrowing James. Richard, duke of Gloucester, recaptured Berwick in August 1482, but the attempt to crown Albany failed. In 1484, James, accepting the loss of Berwick, concluded a truce with RICHARD III. Although a Scottish contingent fought for him at the Battle of BOSWORTH FIELD in August 1485, HENRY VII showed no willingness to yield Berwick, and James was defeated and killed by Scottish rebels in 1488, in part for his failure to pursue a more aggressive policy toward England.
Further Reading: Macdougall, Norman, James III:A Political Study (Edinburgh: J. Donald, 1982).