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Rough Wooing of Mary, Queen of Scots

Updated: Apr 14, 2021

In 1534, King Henry VIII of England separated the Church of England from the Catholic Chuch in order to marry Anne Bolyn. He urged his nephew King James V of Scotland to do the same. James refused and Henry launched a series of raids into southern Scotland, called the Borders. On November 24, 1542, Sir Thomas Wharton, the Deputy Warden of the West March, led about 3,200 men north to Solway Moss on the banks of the River Esk. James Robert Maxwell, 4th Lord Maxwell, the Scottish Warden of West March, amassed an army of 15,000 to 18,000 men from many of the Border Scottish Lords to meet him. A seasoned campaigner, Wharton stretched out his troops and raised six regiment flags to make his army appear larger.

During a “tumult” in the Scottish camp caused by the confusion of leadership, the greatly outnumbered English troops attacked. Convinced that a large English army was advancing, the Scots panicked and rapidly retreated. Most of the casualties were from drowning in the River Esk. Most lords and their troops simply surrendered and Wharton found himself with about 1,200 prisoners, including Maxwell, Sinclair, two earls and four Scottish lords.

A few weeks later, Mary was born to King James V and Queen Marie of Guise-Lorraine on December 8, 1542, and the King died soon after on December 14, 1542. Under pressure from the families of the prisoners (most of whom sent “pledges” as hostages), Queen Mary’s regent James Hamilton, Earl of Arran, signed the Treaty of Greenwich on July 1, 1543. This treaty agreed to a marriage proposal between King Henry VIII’s son, the future Edward VI, and Queen Mary of Scotland.

In reaction, William, then the Master of Forbes and later 7th Lord Forbes, joined with other Scottish lords in signing the “Secret Bond” on July 24, 1543, in which they agreed to resist alliance with England by marriage. The agreement was written by Cardinal David Beaton, Archbishop of St Andrews, and was also signed such Scottish Peers as George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly; Archibald Campbell, 4th Earl of Argyll; Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox; Patrick Hepburn, 3rd Earl of Bothwell; John Gordon, 11th Earl of Sutherland; William Graham, 3rd Earl of Menteith; and others.

The signature of William, Master of Forbes, did not go unnoticed. In a letter to Sir Ralph Sadler on September 2, 1543, King Henry VIII writes that, as hostage for the ultimate delivery of Queen Mary, he will “not be satisfied with Erskynes, or Lord Flemmings or Oliphants sones, but that Sadler must travail to get of the other sort and rather than fail, to assaye whether he can get the Earl of Arrel or some other of the erles and barons as the Erle Marshal or the Lord Forbes sonne, or any of the others that were lately of the Cardynall's faction, when he shall be sure that their fathers shall for the tyme of their absence do him no displeasure.” (Letters and papers of Henry VIII, Volume II, page 5.)

Even though the Earl of Arran ratified the Treaty of Greenwich on August 25, 1543, the Parliament of Scotland rejected the Treaty on December 11, 1543. Furious at the rejection, King Henry VIII of England commenced a series of wars later called the “Rough Wooing.” This term was coined in the 19th century after Sir Walter Scott’s observation that “even those who liked the proposed match with England best, were, to use an expression of the time, disgusted with so rough a mode of wooing.” (Tales of a Grandfather: History of Scotland, Volume II, 1828)

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