John Stuart, Duke of Albany and his contribution to military science in Scotland and Italy, 1514–36

from Dunbar to Rome

Bryony Coombs (Author)

Medici family, Regent of Scotland, war, Italian Renaissance, crusade, architecture, art, fortifications, military science, Duke of Albany, John Stuart, Dunbar Castle
Dunbar Castle, Dunbar, Scotland
Early sixteenth century, 16C


John Stuart, duke of Albany was born in France, but acted as Regent of Scotland from 1514 until 1524. He visited Scotland three times and, in the early years of his regency, is credited with bringing a degree of stability back to Scottish governance during an otherwise troubled political period. Albany was also noteworthy for his love of visual splendour and magnificence. In France, he was an astute patron of the visual arts, commissioning a number of important manuscripts and architectural projects, such as the Sainte-Chapelle at Vic-le-Comte in the Auvergne. Albany’s main architectural achievement in Scotland was the fortification and extension his principal residence, Dunbar Castle, in the form of a great artillery blockhouse: perhaps the first such structure to have been built in the British Isles. The plan of the blockhouse appears to follow the basic form of a contemporary Italian angle bastion. The fortification earned a formidable reputation during this period, contemporary commentators noting that it was impregnable.

Further evidence supporting the idea that Albany was greatly interested in Italian developments in military science come in the survival of a working sketch, now held in the Uffizi, Florence, which bears a note in the writing of the famed military architect, Antonio Sangallo the Younger, that it was undertaken ‘following the opinion of the Duke of Albany.’ The sketch shows a square fort protected by a ravelin. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the relationship between these two pieces of evidence, to investigate what they tell us of Albany and of his interest in military science, and to demonstrate how such ideas were introduced into Scotland and then fed back into architectural and military discourse on the Continent.


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How to Cite
Coombs, B. (2019). John Stuart, Duke of Albany and his contribution to military science in Scotland and Italy, 1514–36. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 148, 231-266.