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16th century
     England and Scotland in Europe
     Holy League and Flodden
     Scotland and France
     Reform in Scotland
     Mary in Scotland
     Abdication and flight
     James VI

17th century
18th century
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England and Scotland in Europe: 16th century

In the greatest rivalry of 16th century Europe - that of Spain and France - the two kingdoms of the British Isles are peripheral players. But there are certain contexts in which they can harm or hinder the main contestants.

England can help Spain by invading across the Channel when France is engaged elsewhere. England can help France by denying Spanish ships an easy passage through the Channel to the Netherlands. And Scotland can help any enemy of England by marching into the northern English counties.


Royal marriages with France and Spain are used by both countries to reinforce these potential alliances. England's Henry VIII is himself already married to the Spanish Catherine of Aragon when, in 1514, he arranges a match for his sister Mary with the French king Louis XII.

Henry VIII's wedding plans for his daughter Mary are equally even-handed. When she is two, a betrothal is agreed between her and the infant son of the king of France, who by now is Francis I. When she is five, there is a new plan; she will instead marry Francis's hated Spanish rival, Charles V. When she is eleven, the prospective bridegroom is once again French - but now it is accepted that it may be either the young dauphin or his father, Francis I.


In the event the unfortunate Mary marries no one until 1554, when she is thirty-eight. By then she is herself queen of England, as Mary I, and her bridegroom is Spanish - the son of Charles V. Meanwhile Scotland's diplomats are busy at the same game. In 1548 the 5-year-old Scottish queen, Mary Stuart, is betrothed to the dauphin of France. They marry in 1558.

These matrimonial negotiations are part of the wider diplomacy of England and Scotland in Europe, involving military alliances and sometimes war. The first occasion for war, in 1513, proves a disaster for Scotland.


Holy League and Flodden: 1513

In 1513 the European rivals entice both England and Scotland into their conflict. The pope, the emperor and the king of Spain have formed a Holy League against France. The king of Spain, Ferdinand II, is the father-in-law of Henry VIII. He persuades his son-in-law to support the cause. In June 1513 Henry leads an army across the Channel into France.

Meanwhile the French king has recently agreed a treaty of alliance with Scotland. He now urges James IV, king of Scotland, to respond in kind to this English aggression. In August, within weeks of Henry's departure for France, James crosses the river Tweed to invade northern England.


Both the English and the Scottish kings have initial successes in their summer campaigns, but disaster strikes the Scots in September 1513. At Flodden they meet an English army sent north under the earl of Surrey. Scottish casualties amount to some 10,000 men, subsequently lamented in ballads as the 'flowers of the forest'. Among the dead is the king, James IV. He is succeeded by his one-year-old son, as James V. Scotland enters a profoundly unsettled period.

By contrast Henry returns to England in October, well pleased with his participation in two successful sieges and a victory over the French at Guinegate.


Scotland and France: 1513-1559

The disaster at Flodden, in an engagement undertaken on behalf of France, divides the kingdom as to whether Scottish interests are best served in alliance with France or with England.

The issue remains topical but unresolved during the minority of James V. By the time that he takes power into his own hands, in 1528, the three leading powers of Europe are all eager for an alliance with Scotland. From England Henry VIII offers James the hand in marriage of his daughter Mary. The emperor Charles V proposes the charms either of his own sister or of a Portuguese niece. Francis I of France will be happy for James to marry either of his daughters.


The young king of Scots accepts the French proposal, marrying in 1537 Madeleine, the elder daughter of Francis. She dies in Scotland only six months later, whereupon James chooses another French bride - Mary of Guise (also known as Mary of Lorraine). The Guise family are extremely powerful in France, and are becoming more so. With this marriage the Scottish link with France is secured for a generation.

When James V dies, in 1542, he and Mary of Guise have only one living child - a girl, only a week old, also called Mary. She is, from the second week of her life, Mary Queen of Scots.


When Mary is five, in 1548, she is sent by her mother to be brought up at the French court under the protection of her powerful Guise uncles. In 1558 she is married to the heir to the French throne. A year later her young husband inherits the crown as Francis II. Mary, now sixteen, is queen consort of France and queen of Scotland.

But this royal couple also claims the English throne. After the death of England's Mary I, in 1558, Mary Queen of Scots is greeted in France as the queen of England - on the Catholic argument that Henry VIII's divorce from Catherine of Aragon was invalid, making Elizabeth I a bastard and Mary the legitimate heir (as the great-granddaughter of Henry VII).


Meanwhile the young queen's French mother, Mary of Guise, is ruling Scotland as regent with the support of French troops. (The French connection is the reason for the gradual change of spelling of the family name - instead of the original Stewart it becomes Stuart, a version easier for the French who have no 'w' in their alphabet.)

There seems real danger of a French invasion of England, to assert the Scottish queen's rights and to preserve the whole of Britain as a Catholic realm. This crisis is the first to confront Elizabeth I of England at the start of her reign. She is helped, in her response, by the progress of the Reformation in Scotland.


Reform in Scotland: 1546-1560

The first dramatic clash between reformers and the establishment in Scotland occurs in 1546. It is occasioned by the burning for heresy of George Wishart by the archbishop of St Andrews, Cardinal David Beaton. In retaliation Protestants murder the cardinal in May 1546 and seize the town and castle of St Andrews. Here they are besieged by the Scottish government while help from France is awaited.

In April 1547 the rebels in the castle are joined by John Knox, a close colleague of the martyred Wishart. His powerful preaching in St Andrews rapidly gives him the status of the leader of the reform movement. But in June retribution arrives in the form of French troops.


The castle is taken. Knox and the other Protestants are carried off to serve as galley slaves in the French fleet. Knox survives nineteen months of this before he is released.

Unable to return to Catholic Scotland, the preacher is welcomed in England. The kingdom is now experiencing its first real period of reform under Edward VI. Knox travels round the country spreading the faith. But the accession of Mary I in 1553 forces him to flee for safety to the continent, settling eventually in Calvin's Geneva.


Meanwhile the movement for reform is gathering strength in Scotland. It is given added impetus during a period when Knox returns for a few months (in 1555-6), and it is strengthened by nationalism - since the persecuting government is that of a foreign Catholic regent, Mary of Guise, whose daughter Mary Queen of Scots is in France.

The turning point for the Scottish Reformation comes in 1559, when Mary of Guise resolves to take strong measures to suppress the reformers. Knox returns from Geneva to take part in the confrontation. Fired by his preaching, an army of reformers marches south from Perth - sacking monasteries and smashing church images on their way.


By the end of June 1559 the reformers are in Edinburgh and Knox is preaching in St Giles' cathedral. They hold the city only briefly against Mary of Guise's French forces. The next nine months are spent in spasmodic warfare, while Knox appeals desperately to Elizabeth and William Cecil for help. At last, in April 1560, the English send 10,000 troops. The result is a treaty between France and England in July. Both sides will withdraw, leaving the Scots to their own devices (the regent, Mary of Guise, has conveniently died in June).

Knox immediately writes a doctrine for the reformed church of Scotland. It is accepted in August by the Scottish parliament, which also abolishes the authority of the pope and bans idolatry and the ceremony of the mass.


Mary in Scotland: 1561-1568

When parliament in Edinburgh makes reformed Christianity the religion of Scotland, and declares the mass a prohibited ceremony, the Catholic queen of Scots and her husband, Francis II, are reigning in France. But in December 1560, just four months after these events, Francis dies. At the age of seventeen, Mary is now merely a widowed sister-in-law of the new French king, Charles IX. With no position in her adopted realm, she returns to her own.

But she returns as the Catholic monarch of a kingdom which has adopted the Protestant faith. She returns as a pious Christian determined to go to mass in a country where the mass is outlawed. Conflict is inevitable, in a very personal clash between John Knox and his queen.


Mary's seven years in Scotland are a period of extraordinary drama, of which her personal confrontations with John Knox at Holyrood are only the first instalment; they are recorded in detail by Knox in accounts which do nothing to conceal his own ferocious rudeness to the young queen.

Nevertheless her first few years at home may be judged a success. She wins sufficient support from the Scottish nobles for her court to be a place of glamour and sophistication, and for the mass to be defiantly celebrated from time to time in spite of the profound disapproval of Knox and the recently established church. But troubles begin after she marries her Catholic cousin, Henry Darnley, in 1565.


Darnley is handsome and charming, and his royal lineage means that any child of Mary's and his will have an enhanced claim to the English throne (Henry VII's daughter Margaret Tudor is grandmother to Mary by her first marriage and to Darnley by her second). But these turn out to be Darnley's only merits. Idle, deceitful and unscrupulous, he soon earns Mary's hatred. The combination of his defects and her impulsiveness prompts a spiral of disaster.

The first significant event is the murder, with Darnley's involvement, of Mary's secretary - David Rizzio, an Italian.


Mary's easy familiarity with this low-born courtier, and his control of her important correspondence, outrages the Scottish nobility. On the evening of 9 March 1566 Rizzio is dragged from the queen's presence and stabbed to death. The plot involves personal danger to her too, for the conspirators have allowed Darnley to believe that they will depose Mary, leaving the throne to him by virtue of the 'crown matrimonial'.

Mary learns of Darnley's treacherous involvement some weeks later. By then she has herself conceived a passion for the earl of Bothwell, a talented soldier who supports her with his troops during the aftermath of the crisis. The attachment of Mary to Bothwell leads directly to the next murder.


This time the victim is Darnley. On 9 February 1567 Mary and her husband are lodging in a house in Edinburgh named Kirk o'Field. Before midnight she goes out to attend the wedding festivities of one of her servants. Between two and three in the morning a mighty explosion demolishes Kirk o'Field. Darnley has perhaps had warning of this and has tried to escape. His body is found in the garden, strangled.

Bothwell swaggers round Edinburgh, making light of the widespread rumour that he planned the murder. Three months later, at Holyrood, Mary marries him. This outrage proves one too many, uniting the Catholic and Protestant nobles in rebellion.


Abdication and flight: 1567-1568

When Mary and Bothwell confront the rebels at Carberry Hill, in June 1567, many in the royal contingent refuse to fight. After ensuring Bothwell's escape (he ends his days in Denmark), Mary surrenders to her nobles. She is taken to a castle on an island in Loch Leven.

Here, in July, she is shown a casket of letters which has fallen into the hands of her enemies. The letters seem to incriminate her in her husband's death (see the Casket Letters). Given the choice of abdication or a charge of murder, Mary signs a deed of abdication. Her one-year-old son, by Darnley, becomes king as James VI. Her illegitimate half-brother, the Protestant earl of Moray, is named as regent.


After months of imprisonment Mary is rescued from the castle in the lake, on 2 May 1568, by a group of nobles hoping to restore her to the throne. Their forces meet those of the regent Moray on May 13 at Langside, near Glasgow, and are soundly defeated.

Mary takes the bold decision to seek assistance from her cousin Elizabeth, south of the border, in the expectation that monarchs will stand together against rebels. She flees south, crossing the Solway Firth on May 16 to land in Cumberland. When Elizabeth receives her plea for help, she orders that Mary is to be treated with every respect but that she must be safely guarded. In July the Scottish queen is moved from Carlisle to a castle at Bolton.


James VI: 1567-1603

During the minority of James VI, Scotland reverts to a medieval turmoil of noble factions competing for power. The first regent, Moray, is murdered in 1570. The second is killed in 1571 in a civil war between Catholics fighting for Mary and the Protestant regency governing on behalf of her son (while also bringing him up in the Protestant faith).

The most effective regent, the earl of Morton, brings the civil war to an end in 1573 and for a while restores order. But in 1581, during a period of Catholic resurgence, he is executed for his part in the murder of Darnley.


After 1583, when the young king is able to take power into his own hands, the struggles in Scotland become constitutional - anticipating the themes which will dominate the following century in Britain. The central question now is how the monarch exercises authority, and what the nature of that authority is.

In Scotland the powerful new element in the community is the Protestant church. From 1574 it has another strong leader in Andrew Melville (Knox has died two years previously).


Melville is more rigorously Presbyterian than his predecessor. He wants a system similar to that in Calvin's Geneva, where an entirely independent church has its own internal structure of presbyterian courts composed of ministers and elected elders. Such a church is separate from government, but expects to exert a strong moral influence over those who govern.

James favours a diametrically opposite system, in which the monarch influences the church through bishops, appointed by himself, who sit in parliament. Such an episcopal church, non-independent, is essentially part of the machinery of government.


At times James has to yield to the strength of the Scottish church (in 1592 he authorizes the church courts which Melville wants), while on other occasions he wins some ground of his own (in 1600 three bishops appointed by him take their seats in the Scottish parliament).

During this prolonged debate James is moving towards a theory which becomes of great significance in the following century, that of the divine right of kings. In a book published anonymously in 1598 (The True Law of Free Monarchies) he argues that kings, being appointed by God to rule the people, are above human law. A wicked king is likely to be punished by God, but his subjects have no right to take action of their own in rebellion.


This gives a new gloss to the practice of Tudor monarchs in England. They have ruled with absolute power, but they have involved parliament - acquiring from its members at least the formal tokens of assent. James's theory implies that even this is not necessary. Parliament's view of the matter becomes a central theme of British politics once James, and then his son Charles, are on the throne of England as well as Scotland.

Meanwhile, after the execution of his mother in 1587 (an event which provokes him to little more than a formal protest), James's overriding political aim is to ensure that he succeeds Elizabeth on the English throne. He has every qualification for the role.


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