Book Review: “The Afterlife of King James IV: Otherworld Legends of the Scottish King” by Keith J. Coleman

cover156859-mediumA king who died on the battlefield and his remains were never found. His story and his legacy went through many revisions throughout history. This sounds like a certain English king, King Richard III, but this story actually takes place decades after Richard’s death in Scotland. This is the story of King James IV of Scotland, who died at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. It was this event and how James IV was viewed afterward which Keith J. Coleman explores in his book, “The Afterlife of King James IV: Otherworld Legends of the Scottish King”.

I would like to thank Chronos Books for sending an advance copy of this book. I was not very familiar with Scottish history before reading this book so it was a very interesting read.

Coleman explains why James IV’s reign is so unique and why there were some who questioned whether the king actually died at Flodden:

Whispers about James IV defying fate and living on after his catastrophic last battle were a widespread reflex to unexpected tragedy common with many countries. Other kings are said to have cheated death and gone into hiding, or become religious penitents who went to Jerusalem or Rome. Some of these lost leaders shared another of the king’s rumoured fates: murdered by some person they knew and trusted. But very few have been believed to be actually resident in another, supernatural dimension, as one tradition of James IV insisted. This was the destiny of the truly elite, such as the primal warlord Arthur.  No ruler, not even the great emperor Charlemagne, attracted so many diverse tales about himself so immediately after his apparent death. (Coleman, 5-6).

Coleman begins his book by exploring the relationship between James IV and his father James III, as well as exploring what James IV’s reign was like. James IV did not have the best relationship with his father since James IV became the figurehead of the opposition party who wanted to see his father dead. After his father’s death, James IV became king and is said to have worn an iron belt to atone for his sins against his father. James IV was something of a ladies’ man and had numerous illegitimate children, but he did marry Margaret Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII, and had legitimate children with her. Under their marriage arrangement, James IV was not to attack England and vice versa, but James IV decided to attack while Henry VIII was away fighting in France. The one flaw in his plan was the fact that Henry VIII had his wife Catherine of Aragon take over military command while he was away and she was not going to let James IV invade. The Scottish and English armies met at the Battle of Flodden on September 9, 1513.

Since we don’t have accurate records of the Battle of Flodden, Coleman explains how the Scottish viewed the battle versus how the English and the rest of Europe viewed this event through literature. It is a very typical historiographical study, but what makes it unique is the addition of the legends and folklore about the king that came after his death. In some parts, this book does read like a ghost story combined with history. It is different, but it does capture the fascination with the supernatural that the Scottish had. In addition, Coleman explores how other historical figures received similar treatments throughout history.

This was the first book that I have read solely on Scottish history and it was a compelling read. It was a bit confusing at points when the history and supernatural elements combine, which was different to be sure, but overall it was a thought-provoking book. This may not be the best book for those who are being introduced to Scottish history, but it is one for those who are familiar with the eclectic approach of Scottish history and those who are interested in King James IV. Keith J. Coleman achieves a unique balance of the historical and supernatural elements to this specific king’s life and legacy in his book, “The Afterlife of King James IV: Otherworld Legends of the Scottish King”.

“The Afterlife of King James IV: Otherworld Legends of the Scottish King” by Keith J. Coleman, published by Chronos Books, comes out on April 26, 2019. If you are interested in ordering this book, you can find more information about how here: https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/chronos-books/our-books/afterlife-king-james-iv

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