What was the Rough Wooing (1543-1551)?


The Rough Wooing (24 December 1543 to March 1551) was part of the Anglo-Scottish Wars of the 16th century between Scotland and England.

Following its break with the Roman Catholic Church, England attacked Scotland, partly to break the Auld Alliance and prevent Scotland being used as a springboard for future invasion by France, partly to weaken Scotland, and partly to force Scotland to agree to a marriage alliance between Mary, Queen of Scots (born 08 December 1542), and the English heir apparent Edward (born 12 October 1537), son of King Henry VIII.

An invasion of France was also contemplated. Henry declared war in an attempt to force the Scots to agree to a marriage between Edward, who was six years old at the start of the war, and the infant queen, thereby creating a new alliance between Scotland and England. Upon Edward’s accession to the throne in 1547 at the age of nine, the war continued for a time under the direction of the Duke of Somerset, before Somerset’s removal from power in 1549 and replacement by the Duke of Northumberland, who wished for a less costly foreign policy than his predecessor. It was the last major conflict between Scotland and England before the Union of the Crowns in 1603, excepting perhaps the English intervention at the siege of Leith in 1560.


In Scotland, the war was called the “Eight” or “Nine Years’ War”. The idea of the war as a “Wooing” was popularised many years later by Sir Walter Scott, and the phrase “Rough Wooing” appeared in several history books from the 1850s onwards.

The phrase appears to derive from a famous remark attributed to George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly by Patrick Abercromby in his edition of Jean de Beaugué’s history of the war: “We liked not the manner of the wooing, and we could not stoop to being bullied into love”, or, as William Patten reported, “I lyke not thys wooyng.” The historian William Ferguson contrasted this jocular nickname with the savagery and devastation of the war:

English policy was simply to pulverise Scotland, to beat her either into acquiescence or out of existence, and Hertford’s campaigns resemble nothing so much as Nazi total warfare; “blitzkrieg”, reign of terror, extermination of all resisters, the encouragement of collaborators, and so on.

More recently, Marcus Merriman titled his book The Rough Wooings to emphasise the division of the conflict into two or three distinct phases.

From Solway Moss to Ancrum

In 1542, a Scottish army suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Solway Moss and James V died soon after. He was succeeded by his daughter, Mary I, born six days earlier, in the care of her mother, Mary of Guise. The English marriage for James’s successor proposed by the Treaty of Greenwich was conditionally accepted by the Scottish government led by Regent Arran. Arran was slow to advance the marriage due to strong internal factions favouring alliance with France and the continuance of the Catholic religion in Scotland. Twenty years later, the English diplomat Ralph Sadler reported Adam Otterburn’s words to him on the Scottish opinion of the marriage:

Our people do not like of it. And though the Governor and some of the nobility have consented to it, yet I know that few or none of them do like of it; and our common people do utterly mislike of it. I pray you give me leave to ask you a question: if your lad was a lass, and our lass were a lad, would you then be so earnest in this matter? … And lykewise I assure you that our nation will never agree to have an Englishman king of Scotland. And though the whole nobility of the realm would consent, yet our common people, and the stones in the street would rise and rebel against it.

In Scotland civil war ensued with the Regent opposed by the Douglas faction in the east and Matthew, Earl of Lennox in the west at the Battle of Glasgow. With this internal background, the Scots then faced the anger of Henry VIII, after the Scottish Parliament renounced the Treaty of Greenwich in December 1543. Five days later, on 20 December, war was declared in Edinburgh by the messenger Henry Ray, Berwick Pursuivant. Henry had released Scottish noblemen captured at the Battle of Solway Moss on licence, hoping they would build consensus for the marriage. In March 1544, he sent his Richmond Herald to the Privy Council of Scotland to demand their return.

Major hostilities began with an attack on Edinburgh on 03 May 1544, led by the Earl of Hertford and Viscount Lisle. Hertford had instructions to burn Edinburgh and issue Henry’s proclamation of 24 March 1544, which laid the blame on Cardinal Beaton’s “sinister enticement” of Regent Arran. Hertford had also considered establishing an English garrison at Leith but the Privy Council had vetoed this plan. Henry VIII had also asked him to destroy St Andrews, but Hertford pointed out the extra distance would be troublesome. After burning St Mynettes on the north side of the Firth of Forth and taking fishing boats for landing-craft, the English army landed at Granton, then occupied Leith. Hertford parleyed with Adam Otterburn who was Provost of Edinburgh but he had been instructed not to make terms. The next day the troops entered Edinburgh’s Canongate, and set the city on fire. Edinburgh Castle was defended by cannon fire commanding the Royal Mile. Hertford decided not to lay siege but thoroughly burn the city. According to the English contemporary account, all the houses within the suburbs and city walls were burnt including Holyroodhouse and the Abbey. The English ships at Leith were loaded with looted goods and sailed with the captured Unicorn and Salamander. The army returned to England by land, burning towns and villages along the way. Soon after the English force landed, Regent Arran released the Earl of Angus and George Douglas of Pittendreich who had been imprisoned in Blackness Castle. Although they had been supporters of the English marriage, Arran now needed the support of the Douglas family against an English invasion. Following this attack, Sir William Eure and Ralph Eure made raids across the border from Berwick upon Tweed, burning houses and buying the loyalty of Scots who became “assured men”.

Against these English invasions, the Scots won a victory at the Battle of Ancrum Moor in February 1545. Scotland was included in the Treaty of Camp, or Treaty of Ardres, of 06 June 1546, which concluded the Italian War of 1542-1546. This brought 18 months of peace between England and Scotland. In May 1546, Fife lairds had murdered the Francophile Cardinal Beaton at St Andrews Castle. These Protestant lairds became known as the Castilians, and garrisoned the castle against Regent Arran, hoping for English military support.

Pinkie to the Peace

The English retained a fort they had established at Langholm in the Scottish borders. Unable to secure its return by diplomatic leverage, Regent Arran reduced it by force on 17 July 1547 following an unsuccessful attempt in June. At the same time, a French naval force took St Andrews Castle from the Castilians. On 24 July Arran ordered seven signal beacons to be prepared to warn of an expected English invasion by sea. The first was at St Abb’s Head, the second at Dowhill near Fast Castle, next on the Doun Law near Spott, North Berwick Law, ‘Dounprenderlaw’, at Arthur’s Seat or Edinburgh Castle, and at ‘Binning’s Craig’ near Linlithgow. The keepers of these ‘bailes’ were instructed to have horsemen ready to carry news of the invasion to the next beacon if it came in daylight. The towns of Lothian, the borders and Forth valley were ordered to ensure that all men between sixty and sixteen living in sight of the beacons were ready to respond to the signal.

An English invasion in September 1547 won a major encounter at the Battle of Pinkie close to Musselburgh, and put much of southern Scotland under military occupation. Haddington was occupied, along with Broughty Castle near Dundee. Beginning on 05 April 1548, Sir Robert Bowes built a fort at Lauder. Increased French support included the services of military engineers like Migliorino Ubaldini who strengthened Edinburgh Castle and Dunbar. At the command of Grey of Wilton, Musselburgh was burnt by the English on 09 June 1548 and Dunbar on 12 June. On 16 June 10,000 French troops arrived at Leith, and besieged Haddington with artillery.

Mary was taken to safety and betrothed to the Dauphin in France in August 1548, and Piero Strozzi began to fortify Leith with 300 Scottish workmen. Strozzi had been shot in the leg at Haddington and was carried around the works in a chair by four men. By May 1549, the English army on the frontier included 3,200 soldiers with 1,700 German and 500 Spanish and Italian mercenaries. With more military and financial assistance from France brought by Paul de Thermes, the Scots were able to maintain resistance. André de Montalembert, sieur d’Essé took Inchkeith on 19 June 1549.

Treaty of Boulogne

The English abandoned Haddington on 19 September 1549. Hostilities ended with Scotland comprehended in the Treaty of Boulogne of 24 March 1550, which was primarily between France and England. Peace was declared in England on Saturday 29 March 1550; a week earlier the Privy Council had sent secret orders to English commanders telling them not to move cannon that would be abandoned to the Scots. There were conditions to return prisoners and dismantle border fortifications. As part of the treaty six French and English hostages were to be exchanged on 7 April. These were, for France: Mary of Guise’s brother, the Marquis de Mayenne; Louis de la Trémoille; Jean de Bourbon, Comte de Enghien; François de Montmorency; Jean d’Annebaut, son of the Admiral of France; François de Vendôme, Vidame de Chartres, were sent to London. For England: Henry Brandon; Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford; George Talbot; John Bourchier, 5th Baron FitzWarren; Henry Fitzalan; Henry Stanley.

Francois de Seguenville-Fumel, sieur de Thors, brought the peace treaty and ratifications to Scotland in April 1550. Mary of Guise and Regent Arran gave De Thors a gold chain, made by the Edinburgh goldsmith John Mosman.

The hostages at both courts were well entertained and most had returned home by August 1550. In France, Henry II organised a triumphal entry to Rouen on 01 October 1550. Mary of Guise and Mary, Queen of Scots took part. There were banners depicting the French victories in Scotland; and a herald recited:

Voila Dondy, Edimpton, Portugray,
Où Termes prist & Essé le degrè,
Pour devenir chevalier de ton ordre.
Sire, voyez ceste Ysle de Chevaulx,
Voyez aussy le fort chasteau de Fargues,
O quants assaulx, escarmouches & cargues,
Voila aussi le fort pres de Donglass,
Et plus deca ou est assis ce bourg,
Est le chasteau conquis de Rossebourg.

Here are Dundee, Haddington, Broughty Craig,
Where de Thermes, with d’Essé,
became knights of your order.
Sire, see Inchkeith,
Also see strong Fast Castle,
So much assault, skirmish and hassle,
Here also close to Dunglass,
Further the side where sits the burgh
the castle conquered is Roxburgh.

A separate peace negotiation between Scotland and the Holy Roman Empire was required, chiefly so that trade and piracy disputes could be resolved. In August 1550, Regent Arran taxed forty of the chief trading burghs of Scotland to fund an embassy to Charles V. This treaty was concluded in Antwerp by Thomas, Master of Erskine on 01 May 1551. The Treaty of Norham in 1551 formally ended the war and the English military presence withdrew from Scotland. By October 1551, Mary of Guise herself was welcomed in England and she travelled from Portsmouth to meet Edward VI in London.

Treaty of Norham

The peace concluded at Norham Castle and church on 10 June 1551 was negotiated by Thomas Erskine, Master of Erskine, Lord Maxwell, Sir Robert Carnegy of Kinnaird, and Robert Reid, Bishop of Orkney with Louis St Gelais, Seigneur de Lansac, representing Henry II of France. The English delegation included Sir Robert Bowes, Sir Leonard Beckwith, Sir Thomas Challoner and Richard Sampson, Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry. The terms included: the English abandoning their holdings in Scotland; the border and Debatable Lands to revert to original lines and usage; Edrington and fishing rights on the Tweed returned to Scotland; all captives, pledges, and hostages to be returned. Edward VI ratified the treaty on 30 June and Mary on 14 August 1551.

Propaganda War

The English objective to forward a union between Scotland and England had wavering support among some sectors of the Scots population. These Scots may not have relished French domination of Scottish affairs or may have seen the alliance with England as furthering the Protestant cause. A number of books and pamphlets were published in England as propaganda to encourage such feelings. They focused on three aspects of the conflict: long-standing debates about the rights of the English crown in Scotland, the perceived injustice of the Scottish rejection of the Treaty of Greenwich and the merit of the Protestant religion. The English commander at Broughty, Andrew Dudley, hoped to distribute Bibles printed in English, which were not freely available in Scotland. Scotland countered the English propaganda with the Complaynt of Scotland, probably printed in France in 1549. Another work, Ane Resonyng by William Lamb, did not make it to the press.

The first of these books was written before the Battle of Solway Moss: A Declaration, conteyning the iust causes and consyderations, of this present warre with the Scottis, wherein alsoo appereth the trewe & right title, that the kings most royall maiesty hath to the soveraynitie of Scotlande. A journal of Hertford’s raid on Edinburgh of 1544 was printed as The Late expedicion of the Earl of Hertford into Scotland. A contribution by a Scot in England, John Elder, remained unpublished. It was intended to preface a detailed description and map of Scotland. Elder claimed that the northern lords of Scotland, who were ‘red-shanks’ of Irish descent would be loyal to Henry VIII, and reject the French culture imposed by Cardinal Beaton and the Scottish court (Elder later became the tutor of Lord Darnley.)

Somerset began a new round in 1547 shortly before the Battle of Pinkie by publishing the Scot James Henrisoun’s An Exhortacion to the Scottes to conforme themselfes to the honourable, Expedient & godly Union betweene the two realmes of Englande & Scotland. It was followed by Somerset’s printed Proclamation of 04 September 1547, and the Epistle or Exhortation of February 1548. The Pinkie campaign was described by William Patten in The Expedition into Scotland of the most worthy Prince, Edward Duke of Somerset. A Welshman, Nicholas Bodrugan, added his Epitome of the title of the kynges majestie of Englande, which looks back to Geoffrey of Monmouth to justify English claims and seeks to reassure Scottish fears that the civil law of England was harsher than Scots law. David Lindsay’s poem The Tragedy of the Cardinal was published in London with an account of the death of George Wishart, with a preface encouraging religious reform by Robert Burrant. In October 1548, Sir John Mason and other clerks were rewarded £20 for their archival researches into “records of matters of Scotland” for these tracts.

Lord Methven understood the effect of the English propaganda and raised his concern with Mary of Guise in June 1548. The Protestant Fife lairds who had killed David Beaton and held the Regent’s son, James Hamilton hostage at St Andrews Castle gambled on English assistance. In East Lothian, three friends of the Protestant preacher George Wishart, John Cockburn of Ormiston, Ninian Cockburn, and Alexander Crichton of Brunstane lent their support to England. Lord Gray and the Master of Ruthven were also happy to deal with the English.

Other Scots were induced to sign bonds and take payments from the English and became “assured men”. A sample bond for assurance was drafted by a Scot, Henry Balnaves, at St Andrews Castle in December 1546. That mostly happened in the war zones of the border and around English garrisons. After the war ended, many Scots were accused of assurance or collaboration as a crime; 192 citizens of Dundee were acquitted in 1553, and the whole town of Dumfries received a pardon. In July 1549 with English losses in France the assurance system ceased. Henrisoun, observing recent developments, questioned “Whether it were better to conquer hearts without charges, or burn, and build forts at great charges, which will never conquer Scotland?”

At the end of the war, the French celebrated their successful intervention at fêtes like the entry to Rouen. The details of these events were published in illustrated festival books. In England a number of the English commanders had their portraits painted celebrating their martial prowess, including John Luttrell, James Wilford, Thomas Wyndham, and a picture (now lost) was made to commemorate Edward Shelley who was killed in action at Pinkie. Exploits during the siege of Haddington were later celebrated by the Elizabethan author Ulpian Fulwell in 1575.


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