For most of his life John Stewart Duke of Albany [c.1481-1536] was heir to the Scottish throne but though he boasted one of the most noble pedigrees in Scotland he never became king. Albany's father, Alexander Stewart, was the younger son of James II King of Scots however the rash and impetuous Alexander had conspired with the English to depose his elder brother (James III) and had died in exile when his son was still a boy.

In 1504 Albany's Scottish cousin became James IV and in 1505 Albany married his French cousin, the fabulously wealthy Anne Countess of Auvergne. In 1512 a son born to James IV's Tudor wife Margaret (Henry VIII’s sister) relegated Albany to third in line to the Scottish throne but in 1513 James IV was killed at the Battle of Flodden, fighting his English brother-in-law, and the struggle for control of his infant son's regency began.

Albany was in France when James IV died and though he hurried back to Scotland aboard a fleet of eight ships he was too late. Margaret had quickly married the powerful Earl of Angus and with his support she'd seized control of her royal son's council. Undaunted, Albany kidnapped the eighteen month old James V and besieged the young king’s mother in Stirling Castle. When she surrendered, Margaret was sent into exile in England but though he was now sole regent, Albany preferred to exercise his power through lieutenants whilst he returned to his wife's estates in France.

Despite this self-imposed exile Albany was not idle. In 1517 he renewed the Auld Alliance with France and secured the promise of a French bride for the now five year old King of Scots. He also secured papal confirmation of Scotland's ‘ancient rights and privileges’ from Pope Leo X. In 1521, having seen his foreign policy triumph, Albany returned to Scotland whereupon Margaret Tudor became reconciled with her old enemy and abandoned her husband. The hapless Earl of Angus was exiled to France but on James V's twelfth birthday his minority was declared to be at an end.

Sensing an opportunity for revenge Angus returned to Edinburgh, and this time it was Albany who was banished to France, but he found the French king Francis I was more than sympathetic to his plight. Francis promised to support an Anglo-Scottish-Anti-Tudor alliance which included the last Yorkist heir to the English throne Richard de la Pole. Their joint invasion was supposed to end Tudor power on both sides of the border but the renewal of Francis' war with the Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperors put an end to this ambitious plan.

Not wishing to lose Francis’ support, Albany and Richard de la Pole joined the French king’s invasion imperial Italy. Whilst Francis and Richard de la Pole besieged the city of Pavia, Albany was given command of an army and ordered to capture the Hapsburg Kingdom of Naples. Once again luck deserted Albany and the catastrophic French defeat at Pavia left him stranded in hostile territory. However Albany, exercising great courage and skill, managed to lead his men back to France.

Though Pavia ended Albany’s ambitions to rule Scotland, for the rest of his life he worked hard to strengthen diplomatic ties between Paris and Edinburgh. He continued to try and find a French wife for the young King of Scots James V and whilst he failed in this he was instrumental in arranging for his wife’s niece, Catherine de Medici, to wed Francis’ eldest son, the future Henry II of France. Albany died in 1536 leaving no surviving children, so his wife’s vast estates in the Auvergne passed to Catherine de Medici, and her descendants continue to vex the Tudors for decades to come!

John Stewart and the Yorkist plot to invade England forms the background to my new historical novel The Devil’s Band - out now in paperback and eBook.

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