Why did the "Rough Wooing" Fail to break the Auld Alliance?

By Lindsay Webster.

From the late thirteenth Century until 1560, Scotland had one primary ally in Europe, the Kingdom of France. This alliance had been mutually beneficial to both sides, providing military support and money in the fight against a common enemy, England. However, in the 1540’s the ‘Auld’ Alliance as it has become known would face one of its greatest challenges in the form of Henry VIII of England who had decided that the young Mary, now queen of Scotland should marry his son, Edward Prince of Wales (Later Edward VI). Had this marriage gone ahead, it would have spelt the end of French alliance. However the wedding never took place and for a short time the alliance was strengthened. Why did this happen? In order to answer this it will be necessary to examine the history of the alliance, the events of the ‘Rough Wooing’ and the reasons for its eventual outcome.

   It is, however, imperative to first define what exactly is meant by the term ‘Rough Wooing’. According to Merriman: "The ‘Rough Wooing’ is a catch-all phrase which describes the English attempt by war (hence the ‘rough’) to coerce the Scottish government into the betrothal of the Queen to the Prince of Wales, in 1547 King Edward VI (Thus the ‘Wooing’)".[1] So in effect the Rough Wooing describes the Anglo-Scottish wars of the mid 1540’s.

     The origins of the Auld Alliance can be traced back to 1295 when John Balliol, the then King of Scotland signed a treaty of mutual aggression with the French king following Edward I’s demands for Scottish soldiers in his war against France. This treaty, called the Treaty of Paris was torn up in 1303 following the French catastrophe at the battle of Courtrai in 1302 as France found an ongoing war with England inconvenient. The alliance was renewed in the 1326 Treaty of Corbeil. The alliance really kicked in during the Hundred Years War. The Scots launched several diversionary raids into England as well as sending thousands of soldiers to France and it is estimated that at one point there were up to 20,000 Scots serving the French king. The alliance was almost ended in 1502 when James IV married the daughter of Henry VII of England and signed the ‘Treaty of Perpetual Peace’ which made a military alliance against England obsolete. The alliance was however renewed in 1512 and it was this incarnation of the alliance that would result in the deaths of James IV and much of the Scottish nobility at Flodden in 1513.

   Ties with France would become even closer in the post Flodden period as during the long minority of James V, the Duke of Albany was brought over from France as regent (Albany was heir apparent after James). The Treaty of Rouen in 1517 once again reaffirmed the alliance and paved the way for the marriage of James V to a daughter of the King of France. This marriage would go ahead in 1537 when James married Madeline de Valois. However Madeline didn’t adapt to the Scottish climate and was dead within the year. James, undaunted was remarried to Marie de Guise, a widow from one of the foremost French noble houses. It was Marie who would give birth to James’ eventual heir, Mary Queen of Scots. A few days after Mary’s birth, James died leaving Scotland facing a long minority and what would become known as the Rough Wooing.

   The ‘Auld’ Alliance had survived more or less intact for almost 250 years and this can be seen as a reason why the Rough Wooing failed to destroy it; the French alliance was deeply ingrained into the Scottish psyche, it had worked for all these years and as the old adage says: ‘If it is not broken, do not fix it.’

  Following the death of James V the Hamilton Earl of Arran, now heir apparent, took control as regent. Arran was initially very much pro-English and his policies were geared towards closer relations with the old enemy. It is however likely that Arran was merely trying to advance his own position, as there was the possibility of his son marrying Princess Elizabeth. Also when offered the dukedom of Chatelherault in France he was quite willing to negotiate a French marriage for Mary. In July 1543, Arran agreed to the Treaty of Greenwich by which there was to be peace between the nations leading to a union of the crowns through the marriage of Mary to Edward, the son of Henry VIII. This treaty, however, was unacceptable to the majority of the nobility as it involved Mary being raised in England which would have effectively given Henry a stranglehold over Scotland. As a result it was renounced by the Scottish government led by Cardinal Beaton and Marie de Guise that December. The marriage of the young Mary was a very important issue and as Merriman says "Men at the time were struck with the importance of such a marriage the like of which had not been seen in the British Isles since the short reign of Margaret “The Maid of Norway” 1286-90".[2] The reason for its importance was that Scotland was always an option for a second front in a war against England. The French wanted to exploit it while the English wanted to close it.

            At the news of the Scots defiance, Henry was understandably furious and was determined to bring the Scottish upstarts to heel. Thus began the Rough Wooing. Edward Seymour, Earl of Hereford led an army into Scotland. Though they killed and burned throughout the south of Scotland, they did not achieve an awful lot and by sacking Melrose abbey and desecrating Douglas tombs, they caused the Douglas Earl of Angus to switch sides (previously he had been supporting the English.) In 1545, Angus would lead a small Scottish force to victory at the battle of Ancrum Moor near Jedburgh. This victory although small was celebrated throughout Scotland and France and effectively brought what Merriman describes as the first phase of the rough wooing to an end. Angus’ change of heart was something Henry was warned about before the invasion took place, as Sanderson says: At one stage Henry’s agent, Cassilis, advised him to withhold an attack, as this would simply unite those who would otherwise be of different opinions.[3].Angus was not alone in his defection, many ‘assured’ Scots (Scotsmen who had sworn oaths to England) also chose Ancrum moor to rediscover their patriotism although they may have simply realised the way the wind was blowing and switched sides much like many Afghan militiamen during the recent conflict in Afghanistan.

   In 1546, Protestant reformers broke into St Andrews Castle and murdered Cardinal Beaton. This deprived Scotland of one of its most able and shrewd politicians and also left St Andrews Castle in the hands of rebels with pro-English sympathies. In response to this, the French sent their fleet to besiege the Castle which fell in July 1547. This demonstrates the importance France placed on keeping the Scots Catholic and the strength of their alliance.

    The second phase began in September 1547, by this time, Henry VIII had died and Hereford (Now Duke of Somerset) was Protector of England. Hereford led a large English host of approximately 15,000 men into Scotland. The Scots raised a marginally larger army but it lacked artillery and cavalry and on September 10th they were routed at the battle of Pinkie near Mussleburgh. The English then garrisoned much of southern Scotland. Prior to the battle, the French had thought that Scotland would be able resist what Donaldson called England’s Action for breach of promise[4].

However, with the shattering of the Scots host at Pinkie, the French king decided that greater attention needed to be paid to their northern ally. Fearful of losing Scotland to the English, Henri II made a vast commitment of at least £1,000,000 Scots and around 6,000 foot soldiers. They began to arrive in the spring of 1548 and joined the Scottish army in the siege of Haddington, a Scottish town that the English had turned into a considerable fortress and which was their base of operations in southern Scotland. On July 7th that year, in a nunnery near Haddington, a treaty was signed between the Scottish and French governments. This treaty ensured the marriage of Mary to the French Dauphin. Following the signing of the Treaty of Haddington, the young Mary was shipped to France to be raised in the French court. French and English armies would continue to fight one another for possession of the south but the Rough Wooing was effectively over, Somerset had failed to gain Mary for his ward Edward and it would be the kingdoms of Scotland and France, not Scotland and England that would be united by the marriage of Mary.

  The English had failed to take Mary and had therefore failed to break the Franco-Scottish alliance but why?

   One of the primary reasons was money. Henry VIII had gained a massive cash windfall in the 1530s with the dissolution of the monasteries. However, in the years since then he had been at war almost constantly and had spent £3,500,000 keeping his armies in the field. This meant that the royal coffers were virtually empty and the English could not afford to pay large armies in France and Scotland. France on the other hand was far wealthier and this would have made it a more attractive prospect for the marriage of a Scottish queen.

   Scotland was also quite heavily fortified. The great Castles of Edinburgh, Stirling and Dumbarton have been described as amongst the strongest natural fortifications in Europe. The English did not have the funds to conduct long sieges of these and it is unlikely that they would have fallen even if they had been besieged. When combined with the French built forts at Leith, Langholm, Dunbar and Eyemouth they made Scotland a very secure place.

   One of the most important reasons for the failure of the Rough Wooing was that among the Scots nobility, there was very little enthusiasm for an English alliance and eventual union of the crowns, as it would have turned Scotland into another English shire. Although the French union would do similar, Scotland still maintained its place in Europe as an antidote to the English.[5]

   Religion also played a part in the English failure. Scotland in the 1540s was still very much a Catholic nation while England had turned Protestant. Being a ‘faithful’ nation on the back door of a ‘heretic’ nation gave Scotland an elevated position in European politics. This position would have been lost following an English union as Scotland would almost certainly have been converted to Protestantism by the English (as happened anyway in the 1560s).

   The human nature element must also be taken into consideration. Scotland was faced with a choice of two marriage contracts. On the one had there was England. The English had troops rampaging through the lowlands, killing and burning at will. On the other hand was France who was willing to send large amounts of money to Scotland as well as military aid. Faced with the option of an old friend or a violent bully, it is actually little wonder that the Scots chose the French option.

  So to conclude: There are numerous reasons why England failed to detach Scotland from its traditional alliance with France. There is the financial element; England simply couldn’t afford to press home any gains it made while France had (virtually) limitless cash resources. There were the Scottish castles and French forts against which the English tide would have broken. The fact that the Scots nobility were against the idea of an English alliance also played a major role as it was the nobility who made official policy and had the final say. However it is possible that the real reason for the failure of England to marry Mary and Edward was tradition. As the question states, the French alliance was traditional. To the Scots, France had always been their friend and ally while the English had always been the enemy. English heavy handedness aggravated matters further and pushed the Scots into the arms of the French.




Donaldson G. Scotland: James V – James VII (1965 Mercat Press)

Fraser G.M The Steel Bonnets (1971 Harper Collins)

MacDougall B. An Antidote to the English (2001 Tuckwell)

Merriman M. The Rough Wooings (2000 Tuckwell)

Sanderson M. Cardinal of Scotland (1986 Edinburgh)

[1] Merriman M. The Rough Wooings (2000 Tuckwell Press) pg 6

[2] Passim

[3] Sanderson M Cardinal of Scotland (1986 Edinburgh) pg 198

[4] Donaldson G quoted in MacDougall N An Antidote to the English (2001 Tuckwell) pg 140

[5] Pope Martin V quoted in ibid pg 3