Three weeks after Northampton, a Scottish army gathered in the grounds of Roxburgh Castle, determined to add to Lancastrian woes. The castle had been in English hands almost continuously since Edward I’s time, although it was not in good condition. James I had attempted to take it on several occasions but his assassination in 1437 halted the strategy due to the minority of his son.
James II came of age at the end of the following decade and determined to recapture Roxburgh and other Border castles. Henry VI’s difficulties aided James in this as his armies took Abercorn and Threave in 1455, formerly held by the Earls of Douglas. James’ character was passionate – hinted at by a prominent facial birthmark – and an interest in guns. 1457 saw him order “Mons Meg”, a particularly large cannon.
James’ army lay siege to Roxburgh as July 1460 gave way to August. “Mons Meg” had already misfired once, killing its skilled French gunner but it was repaired as the English army remained inside the castle. On August 3, James took the decision to test-fire his cannon again – Neil Oliver suggests that this was a grand romantic gesture for his queen, Marie of Guelders – with fatal effects. The cannon shattered, a shard severed James’ leg, he died almost instantaneously – and the garrison surrendered.
Roxburgh Castle was soon demolished and a wooden structure added to the site in the 1540s, but not for long. A “James II Holly” marks the spot where a Scottish King died, at his moment of long-planned triumph, in the grounds of the C18 Floors Castle, still the home of the Dukes of Roxburghe. Kelso lies to the east – James III was crowned a week later at its Abbey, his mother serving as Regent until her death in 1463. Either side of the site are the Teviot and Tweed. “Mons Meg”, reconstructed again, sits in Edinburgh Castle.
2010 marks the 550th anniversary of the end of the siege – and August 2 will be a Bank Holiday in Scotland.