April 10, 1544 – The Rough Wooing Begins

Contemporary sketch showing the deployment of Hertford’s forces before they burnt Edinburgh in May 1544 (public domain courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

This post involves a classic Henry letter, one that really shows us how dangerous he could be. Let’s set the stage.

In October 1543 all looked great: the Treaty of Greenwich was negotiated, pursuant to which the infant Queen of Scots would marry the future Edward VI – and unite Scotland and England. Things deteriorated in December when the Scottish lords rejected the treaty in December and turned back to their historical friendship with France … with whom Henry was preparing to war. Indeed, Henry would be going himself to invade France, a joint effort with Spain. And so he sent Edward Seymour, the Earl of Hertford, into Scotland with an army of ten thousand men. His purpose: to subdue the Scots and make sure they would not pose a threat…to punish them for the insult to his son and himself…and to force them to accept the marriage. That’s where the name “Rough Wooing” comes from – one of the Scottish lords  remarking that he “dinna like the manner of the wooing”…

This is the letter that gives Seymour his final instructions…The first paragraph conveys context and strategy, the second one is where we see what a sick man Henry really was.

Considering the King’s purpose to invade France this summer in person, the principal cause of his sending the army into Scotland was to devastate the country, so that neither they nor any sent thither out of France or Denmark might invade this realm. Angus and others standing bound to serve him otherwise than they do, the King had reason to think he might easier fortify and revictual these places, they giving hostages therefor (which Hertford was appointed to take at his entry) but as Angus and others have now traitorously revolted to the Governor and Cardinal’s faction, the foresaid two places which were to be fortified (standing in the heart of that realm and only to be victualled by sea, which, the wind being so uncertain as experience shows, cannot always be done, nor done without “inestimable charge”) might be recovered by the enemies, to the detriment of the King when he has better opportunity to invade, as he intends to do next year.

Hertford shall, therefore, forbear fortifying the said places, and only burn Edinburgh town, and so deface it as to leave a memory for ever of the vengeance of God upon “their falsehood and disloyalty,” do his best without long tarrying to beat down the castle, sack Holyrood House, and sack, burn and subvert Lythe and all the towns and villages round, putting man, woman and child to fire and sword where resistance is made; then pass over to Fifeland and extend like destruction there, not forgetting to turn upside down the Cardinal’s town of St. Andrews, so “as th’upper stone may be the nether and not one stick stand by another,” sparing no creature alive, especially such as be allied to the Cardinal, and, if the castle can be won destroying it piecemeal. By a month spent thus this journey shall succeed most to the King’s honor, the army’s surety and the saving of expense. He shall take order with the Wardens on the Marches to burn and destroy to the uttermost, not leaving Jedworth behind if it may be conveniently destroyed.

The laird of Nesby’s offer to serve, and to lay one of his sons in pledge, is to be accepted; but, seeing the falsehood of the Scots and “how little they pass on their pledges,” he is to be trusted only so far as his deeds give cause, and his pledge is to be taken with this condition that if he fail to serve truly his pledge may be “justified.” Order is to be taken with the Wardens that the borderers in Scotland may be still tormented now in seed time; for if not suffered to sow their ground they shall, by next year, be unable to live.

Source: Letters & Papers

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