Princelie Majestie: The Court of James V of Scotland, 1528-1542

Princelie Majestie: The Court of James V of Scotland, 1528-1542

Princelie Majestie: The Court of James V of Scotland, 1528-1542

Princelie Majestie: The Court of James V of Scotland, 1528-1542


The lifestyle of a Renaissance prince and his court was a work of art in itself: a dazzling spectacle which propagated the power, dignity and fame of the monarch. The domestic routine of the royal household with its palatial surroundings, restless itinerary and occasional public pageants, provided the framework for cultural activity in its widest possible sense. Fine art, architecture, scholarship, literature, music and piety jostled for attention alongside hunting, feasting, jousting, politics, diplomacy and war. Emerging defiantly from a long and turbulent minority, the adult James V managed to create for Scotland an exuberant and cosmopolitan court, which imitated in miniature those of France, England and the Netherlands, and which carried important political messages. His ambitious programme of royal patronage combined humanist scholarship, neo-classical and imperial imagery, the cult of chivalry and medieval traditions in a blend which sought to galvanise Scottish national identity and enhance the status of the House of Stewart. For many years the reputation of James V has been overshadowed by the tragic glamour of his father, James IV, killed at Flodden, and his daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots. Princelie Majestie reveals that he was an energetic and innovative patron, who in a brief fourteen years created a court culture of remarkable quality and diversity. Princelie Majestie was originally published by Tuckwell Press.


One of the bestsellers of sixteenth-century Europe was a handbook of courtly deportment: Baldassare Castiglione’s Il Libro del Cortegiano [The Book of the Courtier], which was first published in Venice in 1528 but subsequently ran to many editions and translations. The book provides advice on all aspects of a courtier’s life gleaned from Castiglione’s own experience of the courts of Italy and Spain in the first quarter of the century. His discussion ranges from the trivial to the profound, but above all he wished to demonstrate that there was a moral purpose behind the ephemeral existence of a court favourite:

In my opinion, therefore, the end of the perfect courtier … is, by
means of the accomplishments attributed to him … so to win for
himself the mind and favour of the prince he serves that he can
and always will tell him the truth about all he needs to know,
without fear or risk of displeasing him. And, if he knows that his
prince is of a mind to do something unworthy, he should be in a
position to dare to oppose him, and make courteous use of the
favour his good qualities have won to remove every evil intention
and persuade him to return to the path of virtue. Thus if the
courtier is endowed with the goodness … attributed to him, as
well as being quick-witted and charming, prudent and scholarly
and so forth, he will always have the skill to make his prince
realise the honour and advantages that accrue to him and his
family from justice, liberality, magnanimity, gentleness and all the
other virtues befitting a ruler, and on the other hand, the infamy
and loss that result from practising the vices opposed to these
virtues. Therefore I consider that just as music, festivities, games
and other agreeable accomplishments are, so to speak, the flower
of courtiership, so its real fruit is to encourage and help his prince
to be virtuous and to deter him from evil.

In this passage Castiglione places his discussion of the nature and purpose of the Renaissance court firmly within the context of an ‘advice

1 Baldassare Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, trans. George Bull (Harmondsworth, 1983), 284–5.

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