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  • The Burning of Edinburgh. May 5, 1544.

    Marisa Ollero

    The Burning of Edinburgh. May 5, 1544.

    The so-called Rough Wooing Wars developed in two conflict periods: the first from 1543 to 1546 and the second from 1547 to 1550, between England and Scotland, in the context of the Scottish Independence wars.

    Although there were many reasons for the wars, including Henry VIII´s attempt to put an end to the Auld Alliance, a treaty signed in 1295 between Scotland and France, the trigger for the war was by the end of 1543 the Scottish Parliament rejected the Greenwich Treaty, through which the English king tried to unite both crowns by marrying his son, the Prince of Wales  and future king Edward VI, to the future queen of Scotland, Mary I, a newborn at the date of the treaty.

    The English army started a series of invasions to Scottish territory during that decade, starting with the Sacking of Edinburgh in May 1544, followed by another attempt on September 1545.

    The Sacking and Burning of Edinburgh by the English sea-borne army was the first the first important move in the Rough Wooing Wars. A Scottish army watched the landing on May 3 1544, but did not confront the English army. The Provost of Edinburgh was forced to allow the sack of the cities of Leith and Edinburgh, and the city was finally burnt down to ashes on May 7.

    Nevertheless, the Edinburgh´s Castle Scottish artillery harassed the English forces to the point that they could not besiege the Castle. The English fleet left with the looted goods and with two ships that had belonged to Jacob V of Scotland.

    Henry’s Privy Council issued his instructions for the invasion force on 10 April 1544, and they were to:

    Put all to fire and sword, burn Edinburgh, so razed and defaced when you have sacked and gotten what ye can of it, as there may remain forever a perpetual memory of the vengeance of God lightened upon [them] for their falsehood and disloyalty.

    Orders for the Tynemouth fleet were given on April 28, all ships must be ready to leave port as soon as the wind was favorable. Lord Admiral, the fleet´s flagship had to fly the St. George´s Cross and shine two lights in the night. The vanguard ships would follow and anchor as near as possible.

    On April 23, all the east coast cities of Scotland were advised to be prepared to resist the English fleet. All men from neighboring counties were convened to come to Edinburgh on May 5. More artillery was hired to defend the castle, and the goods of Regent Arran and the royal tapestries were taken through the Royal Mile from Holyroodhouse to the fortified castle.

    Although the English army found little resistance and entered the city easily, the defense of the castle, led by Captain James Hamilton, kept the artillery bombing towards the Royal Mile. The English king´s secretary, Richard Lee, head of the expedition, declared the castle to be impregnable.

    The returning English army burnt several settlements. The destruction was described by Walter Lynne in 1550:

    burnyng and destroyeng the countrey about, sparyng nether castel, towne, pyle nor vyllage, untyll they had overthrowen and destroyed many of them, as the borough and towne of Edenborough with the Abbey called Holy Rodehouse, and the kynges Palice adjoyned to the same. The towne of Lyth also with the haven and peyre. The castell and vyllage of Cragmyller, the Abbay of Newbottell, and parte of Muskelborowe towne, the Chappel of our lady of Lawret. Preston towne, and the castell Hatintowne wyth the Freres and Nunery, and castell of Oliuer Sancklers, the towne of Dunbar, Laurestone wyth the Graunge, with many other townes, castels, vyllages and pyles.


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