James III, King of Scotland from 1460 to 1488, endured a turbulent reign. Having survived war with England and rebellions by Scotland’s nobles (including his own brothers) he was eventually killed in the battle of Sauchieburn on 11 June 1488, during another rebellion: this one supported by his eldest son. The manner of his death gave rise to one of the earliest recorded conspiracy theories.
By the 16th century, there were claims that James, while fleeing from the battle, had been murdered by an assassin disguised as a priest at Milltown, near Bannockburn, although another version of the story has James being thrown from a horse during the battle, either being killed by the fall or by enemy soldiers.
The parliamentary record merely states that the king ‘happinit to be slane’ and attributed the death to the king following bad counsel. 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 and all persute of the occasioune and cause of the samyne’.
I have started to uncover another version of this story among my own family history. The story goes….Sir William Stirling (an ancestor of mine) had a prosperous family property. James III (for some reason that I haven’t found out yet) killed Sir William by burning him at the stake, burnt his property to the ground and claimed the property as part of the king’s Estate. As it turns out, the King’s son, James (who upon his father’s death becomes James IV of Scotland), happened to be close friends with the Late Sir William Stirling’s son, also called Sir William Stirling.
At the battle of Sauchieburn, Sir William Stirling (Junior) supported James in the uprising against his father James III. Apparently, Sir William disguised himself as a priest and laid wait for the King in a house that was at the battlefield. The King sought refuge in this particular house during the battle and it was heard by others nearby a man’s voice yelling inside the house, “I shrive ye!” and the King was found stabbed to death.
To shrive is to present oneself to a priest for confession, penance, and absolution, which it appears that the King, upon seeing a priest in the house presented himself for penance. For his unfortunate decision, he paid dearly with his life.
When James IV of Scotland became King, one of the first things that he did was that he handed back Late Sir William Stirling’s property and belongings to his son Sir William (Junior) and reinstated the families standing in the community.
I have also discovered that there were several other men who claim to have been involved in the murder of James III and all claim to have done the same thing….maybe they were all involved somehow. And the hunt continues…….
Reference: The mysterious death of James III – National Archives of Scotland, November 2009. http://www.nas.gov.uk