1 - James IV becomes an outlaw golfer 1502


James II and James III ban golf 

James II (below) was crowned king of Scotland in 1437 at the age of six when his father James I was assassinated, but he was then prevented from assuming the throne by royal rivals since he was not eighteen. Until then, there were many attempts to wrest the crown away. His charming queen mother foiled a key group of conspirators by inviting them to Edinburgh Castle for a friendly dinner, and then beheaded them in what became known as "the Black Dinner." Black tie; lose the tie and your head. Nice work mom. James II became the ruling king in 1449.  



James' nickname was "fiery face" due to a birthmark on his face. Undoubtedly, he had many more colorful nicknames than that, including a few based on the attractive outfit above. Jimmy Page meets Sargeant Pepper a few centuries too early. 

In 1452, King James invited a powerful rival to the castle for a casual chat, and ended up stabbing him 26 times and throwing him out the window. Like mother, like son. You'd think word about the Black Dinner would have gotten around and set off alarm bells.  And did they really count the number of stab wounds? This feels like spiking the football, so no surprise that civil war ensued.  

In the middle of this unrest in 1457, James outlawed golf because he felt it was taking away time from archery practice. Of course, everyone in their free time headed out to shoot arrows to be ready for battle. Interestingly, this is the first recorded mention of golf in history, and it even used the modern spelling. But would a ban leave golf as a still born?  

James died in 1460 shooting the large cannon below called "the lion." What goes around comes around -  the misfiring of this cannon seems pretty suspicious, especially since he was probably invited to do it.  


His son James III was crowned in 1460 at age nine, and the old power struggles reemerged during his childhood. He ruled for almost thirty years, a time of constant civil wars, being in and out of power, and lust to expand his kingdom. Regarded as an unpopular and ineffective monarch, a wonderful combination, he died falling off a horse during a battle with rebels led by his son, James IV, in 1488. Before this, he confirmed his father's ban on golf with an official edict in 1470. This could not have helped his already low poll numbers. Hopefully, his painting below is more Picasso than realistic, and that he didn't always wear the rapper chains.  


James IV, the Renaissance man

From above, it's a good sign James IV led a rebellion against his father. And maybe even a better one that he felt some guilt over it - he wore a chilice around his waist annually during Lent (see below; think Da Vinci Code). Ouch.


Being a little older at fifteen when his father died, there didn't seem to be the immediate power struggles as when his father and grandfather became king as small children. But maybe he was just cut from a different cloth, and folks didn't have the same angry reaction.  

The black-and-white painting at the top of this post gives some good clues about James IV - plain dress, no wigs or bling, and a pleasant, almost humble expression. And an intelligent look about him. Evidence of his academic prowess and effort was he spoke seven languages in the days before Rosetta Stone. Impressive. He also established the first surgeon school, brought in the first printing press, and was an art patron. He sent two of his children away for two years to be raised by a mute to understand how we learn language. Whoa. A bit extreme, but what a curious mind.  

He had four children with his wife, and eight with four mistresses. Um. Maybe he felt he needed to spread his posterity around since a couple of them probably didn't really learn how to speak until much later in life.     

He did restate the ban on golf in 1491. As we'll see, he was likely just rubber stamping something put in front of him by a bureaucrat.  


Lore moment:  James IV becomes an outlaw golfer

In 1502, James IV signed a peace treaty with England, something he had sought for many years. Another indication of this man's quality. The same year, he bought some golf clubs for 13 shillings. Maybe the ban was against playing golf and selling equipment, but not against possession for personal use. Or maybe he had a medicinal golf license. And he surely had diplomatic immunity for such an act.  In any event, this is the first positive mention of golf in history. However, positive mentions were still down 3 to 1.      

Interestingly, this purchase was duly recorded by the Lord High Treasurer, who may have wanted some blackmail material. Or perhaps the King forgot using a credit card could be traced. Maybe he just wanted this to get out so he could eventually rescind the ban. He likely had his reasons since three more golf purchases, along with a wager and official match, were all recorded over the next four years. The King had become a golfer, leading the way to many millions of future addicts.


Besides his first purchase of 13 shillings, he also later spent 9 shillings for clubs and balls, and paid 42 shillings for a lost wager. The best estimate I found to convert this into today's dollars, and the most conservative, is based on a GDP estimate of the age. Using this, multiply the above amounts by 5,000 to get today's value. This works out to about $5 K for his first purchase, and $3.6 K for his second. Since he probably wasn't being gouged by opportunistic vendors who would not want to risk royal fury, this was an expensive game. Not sure a ban was needed if no one could afford it. Other conversion estimates work out to orders of magnitude higher amounts than these.  

His lost bet comes to about $17 K. Hopefully, the winner was not instantly jailed or sent to the front after being paid. We can assume not given what we know about James IV.  

He died in 1513 in battle against England, who had invaded France. He honored an earlier alliance with France, and joined them after England attacked. He must have been incredibly torn to have to break his long desired treaty with England. And maybe he took some time on the links to think through his decision. A fitting final resume entry for the first royal patron of golf. An admirable father for the game we love.