James was born in Holyrood Abbey. He was the son of King James I and Joan Beaufort. By his first birthday his twin and only brother, Alexander, who was also the older twin, had died, thus making James the heir apparent and given the title Duke of Rothesay. On 21 February 1437, James I was assassinated and the six-year-old James immediately succeeded him as James II. He was crowned in Holyrood Abbey by Abbot Patrick on 23 March 1437.
In 1449, nineteen-year-old James married fifteen-year-old Mary of Guelders, daughter of the Duke of Gelderland. She bore him seven children, six of whom survived into adulthood. Subsequently, the relations between Flanders and Scotland improved. James's nickname, Fiery Face, referred to a conspicuous vermilion birthmark on his face which appears to have been deemed by contemporaries an outward sign of a fiery temper.
James was a politic, and singularly successful king. He was popular with the commoners, with whom, like most of the Stewarts, he socialised often, in times of peace and war. His legislation has a markedly popular character. He does not appear to have inherited his father's taste for literature, which was "inherited" by at least two of his sisters; but the foundation of the University of Glasgow during his reign, by Bishop Turnbull, shows that he encouraged learning; and there are also traces of his endowments to St. Salvator's, the new college of Archbishop Kennedy at St Andrews. He possessed much of his father's restless energy. However, his murder of the Earl of Douglas leaves a stain on his reign.