The son of King James IV of Scotland, he was born in 1512, at Linlithgow Palace, West Lothian, and was still an infant when his father was killed at the Battle of Flodden Field on September 9, 1513. He was crowned in the Chapel Royal at Stirling Castle on September 21, 1513.
During his childhood, the country was ruled by regents. In 1525 Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, the young king’s stepfather, took custody of James and held him as a virtual prisoner for three years, exercising power on his behalf. James finally escaped in 1528 and assumed the reins of government himself. His first action as king was to remove Angus from the scene.
James renewed the Auld Alliance with France, and on January 1, 1537, he married Madeleine de Valois, the daughter of King Francis I of France. Following her death a few months later, he proceeded to marry Marie of Guise, the daughter of Claude, 1st Duke of Guise and the widow of Louis of Orleans, Duke of Longueville.
The death of his mother in 1541 removed any incentive for keeping peace with England, and James’ army was defeated at the Battle of Solway Moss in 1542. The setback affected his health, which had been poor for some time, and he was on his deathbed at Falkland Palace on December 8 when his only living heir, a girl, was born. Before he died, he is reported to have said, “It began with a lass and it will end with a lass”. This was a reference to the Stewart dynasty, and how it had come to the throne through Marjorie, the daughter of Robert the Bruce.
James was succeeded by his infant daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots. He was buried at Holyrood Abbey alongside Madeleine and his sons by Marie de Guise.
According to legend James would disguise himself and walk about in Edinburgh at night, using the made-up name Goodman of Ballengeich.