The Scottish crown's relationship with knighthood and chivalry during the
fifteenth century has not been the subject of sustained analysis. However, how knights
were used by the crown and how chivalric ideology affected them is of seminal
importance in understanding the relationship between the king and his nobility.
Knighthood was not only a military status which members of the nobility could attain,
but also a powerful social and political tool for the crown. James I, James 11, James III
and James IV all used knighthood as a way of controlling members of the nobility. The
honour was usually bestowed to signify a man's commencement in royal service, or to
reward him for service which he had already provided.
Over the course of the century the need for knights in a military capacity
declined, and knighthood changed from a career which esteemed heroics on the
battlefield to one which demanded equal parts of martial skill and administrative,
political and diplomatic abilities. However, while warfare was changing so
dramatically, the ideals of chivalry underwent a revival. This was manifested through
ideas promoted in literature, but also through traditional chivalric displays. These
displays, namely tournaments, were held infrequently throughout the century, until the
reign of James IV, who adopted a programme of chivalric reform, which included
numerous crown-sponsored tournaments and jousts.
Whilst knights were important in everyday court life, there was a steady decline
of interest in chivalric knighthood from the start of the century. James I returned to
Scotland with ideas for reform based on what he had witnessed during his years at the
English court, and he focused more on using his knights in political and administrative
posts. James II had a keen interest in chivalry, but his time was spent predominantly on
waging military campaigns of a type which increasingly rendered the knight's traditional
role futile. James III showed less interest in chivalry than his predecessors, and although
scholars have often credited him with founding a chivalric order of knighthood in the
1470s, these assertions are ill-founded. In fact, James III all but ignored the common
ideology which was shared by an important section of his nobility. There was, however,
a revival of chivalry in the reign of James IV, when the king attempted to promote
himself as a chivalric patron and encouraged his knights to pay tribute to the ideals of
the mythical Arthurian court.