James IV

James IV was a true Renaissance king, interested in the arts, science, and developing his Navy. But he was also a man of his time, in his devotion to saints and their shrines. His favourite destination over many years was Whithorn, which he visited at least once a year. On one occasion, when the Queen was expecting a child, he visited both before and after the birth, to give thanks for the safe delivery of his child. We could say that his reign represented the high point of pilgrimage and a golden era for Whithorn : clearly the economy flourished with sales of food, candle wax and tokens to pilgrims, who criss-crossed Scotland and the Irish Sea to come to the most famous shrine in Scotland. Even criminals could be sentenced to come and ask for forgiveness at the shrine of Scotland’s “heid Sanct”. At this time, indeed, the crypts housing the shrine had to be expanded to cope with the volume of pilgrims and the Cathedral and its precincts were often a building site : James IV indeed offered “drink silver” to the “masouns”. We know a great deal about his journeys and routes, as well as all that he spent on his pilgrimages, because his Treasurer kept accurate accounts of what was disbursed. While some of the motive for his pilgrimages would have been to show himself to the people, especially in Galloway which was a remote and sometimes rebellious part of his kingdom, and to consume food-rents en route, he was also a deeply religious man, with a weight on his conscience : as a fifteen-year-old, he had rebelled against his father, who was killed in the battle at Sauchieburn 1488. It is said that he wore an iron belt against his skin as a penance and is recorded as approaching Whithorn at daybreak, barefoot. The close relationship he had with Whithorn and its Prior is shown by the Royal coat of arms, which appears above The Pend at Whithorn.