The Society's October talk was a tour-de-force from Isabel Gordon, who provided a rich context for the disputes between England and Scotland, of which the Flodden battle was one episode. She helped us understand how, in the sixteenth century and before, our borderland was an important arena within which the European great powers conducted their struggles. By 1500, she explained, France was the strongest of these powers, but England under the Tudor monarchs was rising in importance and continually challenging French power. The French were very aware that one way to unsettle English power was to foment unrest and invasion through Ireland and Scotland.
In the later middle ages, the English had tried to turn Scotland into an ally. The Scots, and especially the Scottish barons, saw this as unacceptable intrusion on their own power. To secure their interest against such intrusion, the Scottish Kings had a long-standing alliance with France, the 'auld alliance'. As in the mobilisation which led to the battle of Flodden, under this alliance, France and Scotland were expected to support each other in keeping English aspirations in check. Our speaker explained how, during the 15th century, and exploiting a sequence of children who acceded to the Scottish throne, there were repeated outbreaks of Anglo-Scottish conflict. These struggles overlay and exacerbated the more local clan conflicts which made our area such a troubled place in this period.
By the late 1400s, however, Scotland had a capable and cultivated monarch in James IV. He helped to develop Scotland culturally, and sought more peaceable relations with England through marriage to Henry VII's daughter Margaret. This suited the English monarch, as he needed to maximise his support given that his succession to the throne was disputed by many. But he was succeeded by Henry VIII in 1509. Our speaker suggested that this famous English monarch was 'the worst enemy Scotland ever had'. Henry sought to challenge French power, which led among other outcomes to the battle of Flodden at which James IV lost his life. Exploiting the fact that James' infant son (another James) was only two years old, and that there were tensions between the King's mother (Margaret Tudor) and the Regent and presumptive heir to the Scottish throne, the Earl of Albany, English forces were regularly sent to the Scottish borders. Sometimes, they sided with one Scottish faction or another. Or the focus was resisting French incursions. All these skirmishes and wars resulted in extensive burning and pillaging across our borderlands, causing great harm to life, society and economy.
James V, when he reached maturity, swung to the auld alliance by marrying a French princess. By this time, Henry VIII had 'reformed' the English church, so struggles with the Catholic church were added to his hostility to Scotland's French orientation. Failing to persuade James V to take Scotland away from Catholicism, he launched a force against the Scots which won a decisive victory at the battle of Solway Moss. James V died of a fever a few weeks later, six days after the birth of his daughter, Mary Queen of Scots. After this, Henry set out to get control of the infant queen, and
proposed a marriage with his young son, Edward (later Edward VI). But the Scots rejected this offer, preferring the French connection through Mary's mother.
This enraged Henry, who from 1544 launched brutal attacks on Leith and Edinburgh. This was followed by systematic laying waste of the lands between Edinburgh and Berwick. There were further raids in 1545, when English forces pillaged abbeys and towns along the Tweed valley. From a diary of one of those involved, it is possible to identify the scale of the destruction – 7 monasteries, 16 castles, towers and peles, 5 towns, 243 villages, 13 mills and 3 hospitals. Then in 1547, the English attacked Edinburgh again and defeated the Scots forces at the battle of Pinkie. Finally, in 1550 some kind of truce was negotiated. It is this period, from 1544 to 1550, which is known as Henry VIII's 'rough wooing' of Mary Queen of Scots and the Scottish people. Although our border area began to become more peaceable after the Union of the Crowns in 1603 under James VI/I, as our speaker underlined, this brutal period has lain in Scottish memory ever since, and helps to reinforce Scottish identity and suspicion of English intentions.
The next meeting of the Society will be on Wednesday November 13th (7.30, Cheviot Centre, Wooler), when speaker will be Jane Bowen, on the topic: 'Mauchline Ware: Victorian souvenir woodware and its connections with the Borderlands'.