Royal and Ancient Burgh of Lauder  
home > history > articles on lauder's history > james III, bell-the-cat and lauder bridge

James III, Bell-the-Cat and Lauder Bridge

James became King, in 1460, at the age of eight, upon the death of James II, killed by a bursting cannon at Roxburgh Castle.

Until old enough to reign in his own right, James was under the guidance of his mother Mary of Gueldres and Bishop Kennedy of St Andrews. Unfortunately there was a power struggle between them as to which faction should be running the country. In 1463, the Queen Mother died leaving Kennedy and his group in control of the monarch and Scotland. Inportant amongst the Council of Regency was the "Red" Douglas, Earl of Angus.

In 1465, both Kennedy and Douglas died, leaving a power vacuum. Squabbling and inter family bloodshed was carried out as various groups fought for dominance over the following years. James III was now in the care of his uncles, the Earls of Atholl and Buchan. On reaching the age of nineteen, he was old enough to take over the reins of power, but horrified all by surrounding himself with a group of powerless commoners. Amongst these were: Thomas Cochrane - a mason turned architect, William Roger - a musician, James Hommyle - the royal tailor, Torphichen - a fencing master, Dr Andreas - an astrologer and Leonard - a shoemaker. This disparate group were made the king's advisors and councillors in place of the Lords, with the obvious result that lacking the physical power which the Lords had, the country became lawless and out of control.

Rebellion broke out, led by the King's two brothers, Alexander, Duke of Albany and John, Earl of Mar. They were arrested and imprisoned in Craigmillar Castle, with Mar being killed and Albany escaping to France.

At the same time, Edward IV of England signed an agreement with France and named Albany as "Alexander, King of Scots" and demoting James.

This interference from England upset James and gathering his followers, he headed down into the Borders. On reaching Lauder, the Lords discovered that Cochrane had been placed in command of the artillery, and this was just too much for them. Archibald Douglas, the Fifth Earl of Angus, gained the nickname of "Bell-the-Cat" at this point. In discussion amongst the furious Lords, Lord Gray suggested that they must get rid of these familiars and hangers-on in whom James had such faith, especially Cochrane, the cat who manipulated the royal mouse. Angus offered to "bell the cat". They called for Cochrane to come to a meeting in Lauder Kirk, at which he duly arrived decked out in his splendour. He was held there while the others went to the King's tent and arrested the rest of the King's group. All the familiars were taken to Lauder Bridge and hanged, Cochrane first. Douglas and the other Lords then escorted the King back to Edinburgh and handed over into the keeping of his uncle, Atholl.

Thus Douglas, Earl of Angus, "belled the cat" at Lauder in 1482.


James III, Bell-the-Cat and Lauder Bridge Lauder Scotland