originally published September 8, 2012
If you were a male in mid-16th century England or Scotland, and you lacked any royal affiliations, chances are you would die because two people you’d never met had an argument with each other. Take this exchange, transcribed verbatim from historical records, between King Henry VIII of England and his nephew, King James V of Scotland in 1542:
“Hey Jimmy. Just a heads-up, I’ve had it with the Roman Catholic Church. Why don’t you join me in rocking this new ‘Anglican’ trip I’ve been working on?”
“Thanks Uncle, we’re good over here.”
“Really? Come on, let’s meet up at York and we’ll talk it over, maybe have some drinks and catch a show.”
“No thanks. Mary’s set to go into labor any day now and I’ve got to finish building this changing table.”
“Fuck you. War.”
And war it was. English troops marched into Scotland and the Battle of Solway Moss took place. Less than 30 troops were killed (both sides combined), but hundreds of soldiers drowned, and England took home 1200 Scottish prisoners. James V, who wasn’t there, was humiliated. He became ill with a fever and died two weeks later, his infant daughter only six days old.
This is where things start to get weird. While James lay dying, Henry VIII looked at Edward, his six-year-old son, and thought, “Man, I have got to get this kid laid.”
Henry had been working on the Treaty of Greenwich, a plan to unite the Scottish and English crowns into one large, glimmering beacon of head-gear. He knew James’s wife had just given birth to Mary, (future) Queen of Scots, and figured a marriage between Mary and Edward would be the perfect way to market the union to the people. Plus, his heir would be the one with the penis, and therefore the one with the real power.
Some of the Scottish nobles thought this was a pretty groovy idea. Others weren’t too happy about the plan: Mary would be accompanied by an English nobleman everywhere until she was ten, at which time she’d move to England to await her marriage. As anyone who watches Game Of Thrones knows, whoring out a woman to become someone else’s queen is never a good idea.
Adam Otterburn, a Scottish diplomat, sent a ‘thanks but no thanks’ note to the English royalty, advising them that they may have support among the nobility, but the Scottish people would rise up and revolt before accepting an English king. This created a rift among the nobles, and a sort of civil war broke out in Scotland. The Scottish Parliament finally ruled against accepting the Treaty of Greenwich in December, 1543.
Naturally, Henry VIII was pissed. He adopted a rather Palpatine-esque “join us or die” attitude, and readied his troops for war. This conflict came to be known throughout history as the Rough Wooing, because it all started over whether or not England gets dibs on a six-day-old’s vagina. It’s a creepy basis for war, but Henry VIII excelled in creepy. He had his fight.
(“Thou shalt not block mine heir’s cock!”)
Henry Ray, a British officer stationed in Scotland, announced on December 20 that England was declaring war on Scotland. Also, because England had released a bunch of noblemen who had been captured back at Solway Moss a year earlier – the idea was that the noblemen would spread support for the Edward-Mary wedding proposal – they’d like those prisoners back, if you please. Yeah, that didn’t work.
Henry’s intent was not to teach Scotland a lesson, nor does it seem as though he was hoping to change their minds about hooking Mary up with the young prince. At this point, Henry wanted to burn the unholy fuck out of Scotland. And that’s just what he did.
On May 3, 1544, the Earl of Hertford occupied Leith. The next day he and his troops marched into Edinburgh and torched it. Every house within the suburbs and city were lit ablaze, including Holyrood Palace. King Henry had wanted the Earl to keep going, to turn St. Andrews into a pile of embers, but the Earl decided it was too far to go. Instead, they burnt towns and villages on their way back to England.
Things settled down a bit in 1546, but a group of uppity Protestants decided to conduct a siege of St. Andrews Castle, killing off the local Cardinal. Not that the Cardinal didn’t have it coming – he had been so opposed to the Edward-Mary marriage, he’d nabbed a Protestant preacher and had him burned at the stake outside the castle walls. Bad idea.
The ‘Castilians’ as the siege-mongers were called, stabbed the Cardinal and took the castle, figuring that the English army would show up and support them. That never happened. In June of 1547, a French fleet showed up to liberate the castle for Scotland. King Henry decided it was time to whoop some Scottish ass once again.
This wasn’t such an easy task. The Scottish army snagged a win at Langholm, prompting the English to unleash their fury at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh.
As many as 15,000 Scotsmen were killed, compared to a few hundred English troops. This put a good chunk of southern Scotland under English military occupation. Musselburgh and Dunbar joined the ranks of burned-to-the-roots cities. The French showed up to help out the Scots, which included whisking away young Queen Mary to France, where she’d be safe. At this point, Henry had died, and young Edward VI, still just a kid, took the throne.
The Treaty of Norham put an end to the mess in 1551, returning Scottish lands to Scotland and allowing for all prisoners on both sides to be sent home. Things remained mostly copacetic between the two kingdoms for the following fifty years or so, when they finally united under the Union Of The Crowns in 1603.
Edward never hooked up with Mary. In fact, he never hooked up with anyone in a legal, betrothed sense – he was dead at age 15, two years after the treaty. Mary would go on to be a three-time widow, whose forty-four years deserve an article of their own someday.
The moral of the Rough Wooing is… wow, I don’t know about this one. Don’t try to set up your child with the child of your enemy? That seems fairly obvious. How about Henry VIII was a crazy-ass loon? That works. I’m going to go with that.