Roxburgh Castle, the strongest fortification on the border between Scotland and England, had been in English hands for over 100 years. The Wars of the Roses in England was to provide the opportunity for its recapture.
On 10th July 1460 the Lancastrians were defeated at Northampton and James took immediate advantage of the turmoil which ensued. The English nervously looked north from where 'James with all his power is expected to lay siege to the town and castle of Berwick' but this was a ruse as Roxburgh Castle was the target – they had been wrong footed.
The castle was strong. It occupied a narrow, elongated ridge flanked on the north side by the River Tweed and on the south by the River Teviot. At its eastern end was the walled town of Roxburgh and on its western side were a series of ditches. King James II appeared before Roxburgh in July 1460.
He had a 'numerous army well furnished with artillery'. Amongst the latter was a brass cannon of 'immense size' which had been founded in Flanders. It bore in Latin the inscription The Lion – a cannon fit for a king who bore the same moniker on his banner.
Amongst his guns was almost certainly Mons Meg, gifted to James by Philip Duke of Burgundy in May 1457, along with an escort of 50 men-at-arms.
James took up camp on the north side of the Tweed facing the castle. First he took the town of Roxburgh and then summoned the castle – defied, he prepared for a long siege.
The Earl of Ross joined the king with reinforcements from the western highlands but, these, James sent on raids into England. Then the Earl of Huntly arrived and James invited him to observe the effect of a discharge of cannon upon the walls. The chronicles relate the tragedy which followed:
The gun had blown apart sending metal fragments flying through the air, one of which shattered his thigh bone. Despite the best efforts of the royal doctors, the King bled to death – his life cut short at just 29 years old.
His queen, Mary of Guelders, showed great composure and fortitude and responded immediately. Residing at Hume Castle when news of the loss of her husband was broken to her, she gathered their infant son in her arms and immediately rushed to Roxburgh. There, at nearby Kelso Abbey, and within sight of the castle walls, she had him crowned James III, King of Scots.
There remained the small matter of the English to be dealt with but, once again, Queen Mary was equal to the task. She presented the new child king to the soldiers declaring:
The castle was assaulted that same day and the garrison sued for peace on the condition that their lives were spared. Roxburgh was 'doung to the ground' in which state it remains today.
Want to read more about King James' previous escapades?
Part III - The Siege of Threave Castle - click here
Part II - The Siege of Abercorn Castle - click here
Part I - The Siege of Hatton Castle - click here
Article by Scottish Castles Association member Brian McGarrigle.