The Chain Mail

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Movers and Shakers of Renaissance Scotland


The Renaissance was an exciting period in Scottish history, ushering in new ideas from Continental Europe. These would touch almost every area of life, including education, fashion, art and architecture. The Renaissance also helped pave the way for the Reformation, which revolutionised religious practice in Scotland.

This Sunday, 31 August, Linlithgow Palace will welcome visitors to an afternoon of Renaissance Revelry. To get you in the mood, we thought we’d introduce some of the people who made it an interesting time to be in Scotland …

Hector Boece (1465–1536)

Boece’s History of the People of Scotland, published in 1527, was a bestseller in its time. Most people couldn’t read, of course, so the market was limited to bishops and royalty, but they loved it. Nowadays it would be considered inaccurate and biased, but that wasn’t a great concern at the time.

James IV

James IV

James IV (1473–1513)

James III took an interest in Renaissance ideas, but it was his son and successor who really embraced them. James IV’s palaces and great halls were designed on Renaissance models; he sponsored music, arts, education and medicine; he embraced European styles of dress and decoration; and he revelled in the trappings and pursuits of chivalric life. He was particularly keen on jousting, and took part himself, sometimes in disguise. He built the west range at Linlithgow Palace, organising its rooms to position himself as a Renaissance monarch.



Sir David Lindsay of the Mount (c.1486–c.1555)

In an age when courtiers enjoyed a lifestyle far beyond the grasp of ordinary folk, David Lindsay was the perfect courtier. A minor landowner, he wangled his way into the affections of the child king, James V. Later he became the chief herald of the Scottish court, sitting at the king’s feet during parliaments. He is best known for his play A Satire of the Three Estates, about the relationship between king, people and nation.


Performance of play 'A Satire of the Three Estates' at Linlithgow Palace

Lindsay’s play performed last year at Linlithgow Palace

Robert Carver (c.1488–1558)

Carver is remembered as the great Scottish composer of the 1500s. He was a canon at Scone Abbey, and all of his works were used in Christian worship. A fair few have survived. His antiphon O Bone Jesu was written for 19 singers and may have been written in 1532 to mark James V’s 19th year as king.

Margaret Tudor (1489–1541)

The daughter of Henry VII of England, Margaret was quite a catch for James IV. Their marriage in 1503 not only brought a handsome dowry and a peace that lasted ten years, but also a new wave of Renaissance influences from England and (indirectly) Burgundy. Unfortunately her kid brother was the bellicose Henry VIII.

George Buchanan (1506–82)

A scholar and poet, Buchanan was a key figure of the Reformation in Scotland. Born into poverty, he was sponsored by an uncle to study in Paris. From 1561 onwards, he became tutor to both Mary Queen of Scots and her son, James IV. He is perhaps best known for the dossier he compiled in the 1570s on the alleged crimes of Mary Queen of Scots.

James  V (1512–42)

James was a year old when his father was killed during a rash military expedition in England. As a child, he absorbed Renaissance influences, and as a young man he travelled to France, where he married the king’s daughter. This was an excellent match, but she died soon afterwards.

For his second French wife, Mary of Guise, he commissioned Stirling Palace, one of Britain’s finest Renaissance buildings. He snapped up tapestries and other works of Renaissance art and spared no expense parading his fashionable tastes. At Linlithgow, his additions include the flamboyant fountain and the outer gate, which displays his credentials as a member of four chivalric orders.

A re-enactment of James V’s royal court

A re-enactment of James V’s royal court

John Knox (1514–72)

A farmer’s son from Haddington, John Knox is best known as the figurehead of the Protestant Reformation, which radically changed Scottish society in the 1550s.

His exploits included serving as royal chaplain at the English court, wielding a giant sword as a bodyguard to Protestant preachers, participating in the occupation of St Andrews Castle by Protestant rebels, serving time as a galley slave on a French ship, debating religion with Mary Queen of Scots, and marrying a 17-year-old woman at the age of 50.

Perhaps his greatest legacy is his incredibly lively writing, including the notorious Monstrous Regiment of Women and the History of the Reformation in Scotland.

Mary of Guise

Mary of Guise

Mary of Guise (1515–60)

Madeleine of France died in Scotland a few months after marrying James V, and her father, King Francis, decided to provide a replacement.

He chose the recently widowed Mary of Guise, who reluctantly married James in 1538. This was another good match for James, bringing a second generous dowry and a host of Renaissance credentials. Mary was a charming and cultured figure at the Scottish court.

She gave birth to Mary Queen of Scots in 1542. A week later James died, and Mary proved a shrewd political player, protecting her daughter’s interests and later governing Scotland as regent.




Bastian Pagès (??–??)

A Frenchman at the court of Mary Queen of Scots, Pagès was known for his flamboyant stagings of elaborate masques and other courtly entertainments, some of which were written by George Buchanan. His most famous spectacle was performed at a celebration for the baptism of Prince James, the future James VI. Performers dressed as satyrs waggled their rear ends at the English guests, who took great offence.

Pagès’s other claim to fame is that Queen Mary was attending his wedding reception at Holyrood when her husband Darnley was murdered.

And now that you’re well versed on all the important players in Scotland’s Renaissance, get yourself over to Linlithgow Palace this Sunday  and see which characters you meet!


About Author

Andrew Burnet

Andrew Burnet works in the Interpretation Unit at Historic Scotland and was the main author of Mary Was Here, about the travels of Mary Queen of Scots. His epic poem for children about Picts and Vikings has yet to find a publisher.

1 Comment

  1. Kinneil House in Bo’ness – which features some of the best renaissance wall paintings in Scotland – will also be open for free tours on Sunday August 31, 2014. It’s just a few miles from Linlithgow. Perhaps worth combining a visit to both sites this weekend.

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