The King’s Pillar

The King’s Pillar at the east end of St Giles’ bears four medieval stone shields. These display the coats of arms of King James II of Scotland, his Queen, Mary of Gueldres, and his son and heir, James III. The fourth shield has a fleur-de-lys, representing the King of France. Mary of Gueldres had been brought up at the wealthy and sophisticated court of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, who was her great-uncle. In 1448 King James II was looking for a bride and wrote to his powerful ally, King Charles VII of France, asking him to recommend someone. Charles advised him to approach the Burgundian court, and on 3 July 1449 James married Mary of Gueldres in Holyrood Abbey, with great ceremony. The following year, when their premature first child died a few hours after birth, Charles VII of France sent Mary his personal condolences. In 1451, however, Prince James, the future James III, was born safely.

James II was unfortunately killed in a tragic accident when his son was nine years old. The King was besieging Roxburgh, a stronghold in the Scottish Borders which had been captured by the English. He had a great interest in artillery and he was standing close to a cannon when it exploded. His femur was shattered by a piece of flying metal, and he died shortly afterwards. It is often said that the King’s Pillar commemorates his death in 1460, but it is perhaps more likely that it was erected in 1451 to celebrate the birth of Prince James, who would have borne the Royal Arms of Scotland as soon as his father died, and not merely those of the heir.