England’s King James I and VI had a clear goal in mind when he sent a group of diplomats to Scotland in 1605. He wanted to secure an alliance with Scotland to help him fight the English Civil War. But, the real reason why King James sent his diplomats to Scotland was that he had fallen in love with a girl named Mary, the daughter of the Earl of Huntly, Scotland’s most powerful nobleman. King James was hoping to win the hand in marriage of the beautiful young Huntly heiress, Mary, by giving Scotland a lucrative and prestigious treaty.

The 16th C is a time of great change in Britain, and Scotland was no exception. Elizabeth I, queen of England, married James, duke of the realm, after a two-year courtship. The new queen and her consort ruled Scotland together, for the first time in hundreds of years. The marriage was not without controversy, however, as James did not have the authority or the liking of the Scottish people. The duke and duchess set about to address these issues with a plan of action known as “The Rough Wooing” (nicknamed after its harshness and roughness), which involved court intrigues, double-dealing, and physical force (lots and lots of physical force).

In 1559, England was at war with France. For a short period, England’s King Edward VI supported a peace negotiation with France. And it was in this timeframe that the Scottish nobility started to consider a marriage between Scotland’s King James V and England’s Queen Mary, who was Edward’s daughter. Those thoughts would not last for long, as Scotland’s nobles realized they had to look for a more suitable match to unite Scotland.

The phrase “Rough Wooing,” coined by Scottish lord George Gordon, refers to a violent theological and dynastic conflict between England and Scotland in the 16th century. English troops pillaged or occupied parts of Scotland throughout most of the 1540s, wreaking havoc on Edinburgh and other cities. The Crown squandered money and lives despite its triumphs. The main aim of King Henry VIII—to secure the marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots, to Henry’s infant son, Edward—failed.

James V, Catholic King of the Scots, was born in April 1512 and inherited the throne after his father was assassinated in 1513. In 1528, the adolescent ascended to the throne. Six years later, his uncle Henry was driven by the Protestant Reformation to split the Church of England from Rome and take Catholic property. In 1542, their theological schism resulted in war. A Scottish victory at Haddon Rig in August was reversed by a smaller English force at Solway Moss in November, which crushed James’ poorly commanded army and captured 1,200 soldiers. Three weeks later, an ill James died, leaving his 6-day-old daughter, Mary, as his successor.

In a contract signed in July 1543, Henry pushed on a marriage between Mary and Edward in order to force Scotland and England to unite. The English-backed Protestants and Catholics in Scotland had a schism in their allegiance. James Hamilton, the Scottish regent, signed the pact but afterwards converted to Catholicism. In December 1543, the Scottish Parliament rejected Henry VIII’s pact, triggering a violent retaliation. In May 1544, an invading English army led by Edward Seymour invaded Edinburgh, burning it down on the king’s orders.

The Scots routed an English army invading the boundaries at Ancrum Moor in February 1545. After then, there was an uneasy truce. Then, in January 1547, Henry died, leaving a 9-year-old Edward VI as king. Seymour, Duke of Somerset, the boy’s uncle, acted as regent.

After also failing to force a marriage alliance, Somerset resumed hostilities in September, arriving outside Edinburgh with some 18,000 troops plus a fleet armed with modern artillery. The 22,000 Scots who met them September 10 at Pinkie Cleugh used outdated pike tactics. Innovative English use of “combined operations”—integrating infantry, cavalry, and land-based and naval artillery —decimated about 6,000 Scots in what the Scots recall as “Black Saturday.”

The Scots fought back, concealing Queen Mary, then four years old, on Inchmahome Island. Somerset was unable to seal his triumph despite garrisoning soldiers throughout eastern Scotland. English resolve was undermined by rising expenses and internal strife. The Scots took their young queen to France in August 1548, and the English abandoned their Haddington stronghold in 1549. In March 1550, the countries reached an agreement to cease hostilities, and a year later, they signed a formal peace treaty.


Talk first, then fight if necessary. Before resorting to the stick, Henry VIII should have attempted the carrot (guile and diplomacy) method with the Scots; the latter resulted in massive losses of blood and money, but not in the hoped-for dynastic marriage between Mary and Edward.

In most cases, better technology triumphs. Despite outnumbering the British at Pinkie Cleugh, the Scots soon discovered that well-equipped, flexible armies can regularly overcome bigger, less creative ones.

War is a collective endeavor. Whether it was England in Scotland in 1548 or the United States in Vietnam in 1968, effective military operations overseas need unity at home.


Military History magazine published this piece in their July 2023 edition. Subscribe here for more articles, and follow us on Facebook:

Lessons from England’s 16th Century “Rough Wooing” of Scotland

England’s King Henry VIII and his wife Anne Boleyn were known for their romances. Both were intelligent, ambitious, and talented, and they were also politically inclined, well connected, and ruthless. However, their interactions were cut short by the king’s death, and his only legit son died in infancy. So, in 1537, England’s most eligible bachelor, Thomas Howard, was born. The son of the Earl of Surrey and the Duke of Norfolk, Howard had been Prince Edward’s closest friend and the king’s favorite.. Read more about battle of pinkie cleugh and let us know what you think.

This article broadly covered the following related topics:

  • rough wooing
  • war of the rough wooing
  • solway moss
  • 1544 invasion of france
  • battle of pinkie cleugh
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