James IV: King of Scotland, Alchemist and Social Experimenter

James IV was the King of Scotland from 1488 till his disastrous defeat at the Battle of Flodden, where he was supposedly killed: the last monarch from all of Great Britain, to be killed in battle. A man with an inquisitive mind, whose experiments were social, scientific and medical, he was a true Renaissance prince with an interest in practical and scientific matters.

James is reported to have conducted a language deprivation experiment, sending two children to be raised by a mute woman alone on the island of Inchkeith, to determine if language was learned or innate. The children were reported to have spoken Hebrew, but historians were sceptical of these claims.

He established an alchemy workshop at Stirling Castle where alchemist John Damian looked for ways to turn base metals into gold. The project consumed quantities of mercury, golden litharge, and tin. Damian also researched aviation and undertook a failed experiment to fly from the battlements of Stirling Castle. He turned Edinburgh Castle into one of Scotland’s foremost gun foundries, and welcomed the establishment of Scotland’s first printing press in 1507.

JamesIV

But there remain many mysteries: where is King James IV’s body? Are the sword, dagger and ring stored in the College of Arms in London really his as many Scots believe – or are they mere copies and should not be returned to Scotland? What about his head? It is said to have been separated from his skeleton centuries ago and used as a football by workmen in Elizabethan times! And did he really die at Flodden?

A friend of mine, Jackie Cosh has recently published a book covering the life of James IV in which these are investigated: The King with the Iron Belt – available in print and as an e-book on Amazon,

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