The Rough Wooing was a very tumultuous time in Dundee’s history, during which almost the entire town was destroyed. In 1543 England was feeling trapped and surrounded by Catholic powers. Scotland was still part of the ‘auld alliance’ with France and Catholicism still reigned here, so the English worried about the potential for invasion from France via Scotland.
The Treaty of Greenwich laid out a plan for peace between England and Scotland, including a marriage between the then infant Mary, Queen of Scots, and Edward, Henry VIII’s son. The Regent Arran, acting on behalf of Mary, initially agreed to the treaty. But after meeting with Cardinal Beaton and upon pressure from Scots who didn’t want the marriage or alliance to go ahead, rejected the treaty and all of its terms. This caused the fury of Henry VIII to be aimed squarely at Scotland. Five days later, war was declared in Edinburgh.
The war began with an attack on Edinburgh on 3 May 1544, led by the Earl of Hertford. Hertford had instructions to burn Edinburgh and issue Henry’s proclamation which laid the blame on Cardinal Beaton’s “sinister enticement” of Regent Arran. Henry’s instructions for the invasion force 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.”
This was the last big conflict between Scotland and England, and with the two countries at war Dundee suffered greatly. While the name for the conflict might be a little whimsical, there was an awful lot of rough, and not very much wooing going on. The name ‘Rough Wooing’ was first introduced many years later, the war itself was too bloody and savage a for such a name at the time. Historian William Ferguson points out the juxtaposition of the name with the violence of the conflict:
“English policy was simply to pulverise Scotland, to beat her either into acquiescence or out of existence, and Hertford’s campaigns resemble nothing so much as Nazi total warfare, “blitzkrieg”, reign of terror, extermination of all resisters, the encouragement of collaborators, and so on.”
There was also a great deal of propaganda during the war, as the idea of an alliance with England had some wavering support – some didn’t like the French interference with Scottish affairs, and others wanted to use the alliance to further reformation of religion towards Protestantism. To this end, George Wishart was sent from England along with a group returning from negotiations, as he had been a preacher in Montrose and was to return and continue spreading the protestant faith.
Just after the war began, in 1544, Dundee was ravaged by plague, and it swept through the town with a fatal severity. So many of the townspeople died that the next year when a call was put out across Scotland to gather an army to defend against Henry VIII’s forces, no one from Dundee was able to join. While Dundee was under the blanket of plague, in its darkest hour, George Wishart preached to the Dundonians afflicted with plague, banished from the town and left to die outside the gates. He was loved by the people, and it is his influence that is said to have caused the change in religion in the city which led to the destruction of the old monasteries of the Friars.
Henry VIII had also asked Hertford to destroy St Andrews, the home of Cardinal Beaton, but the distance proved too far with so many of their resources in the war further south. Henry was too distracted with his troubles with France, so any attacks north of Edinburgh were shelved for now.
After a victory at the Battle of Ancrum Moor, the Scots were included in a treaty which had also brought the end to the Italian War of 1542-6. This brought peace between Scotland and England for 18 months. However, in 1546 Fife Lairds had murdered Cardinal Beaton at St Andrews Castle, and held up at the castle hoping for support from the English Military. After the death of Henry VIII, Hertford, now Protector Somerset wanted to continue the war and it was to be even bloodier than before, still determined to force the marriage between Edward and Mary. He fought and won at the Battle of Pinkie, crushing the Scots, gaining control of the whole of southern Scotland.
It wasn’t until 1547 that the war came to Dundee. The English fleet sailed up the Tay, led by Andrew Dudley. Instead of attacking Broughty Castle with force, they only fired a few parting shots as the castle had already been given up by the traitor Lord Gray. The English then garrisoned the castle, then a place of great strength in a commanding position to defend against invaders.
The Regent Arran and then the Earl of Argyll tried to capture the castle on 22 November 1547 and then in January 1548, without success. But again treason was to be Dundee’s downfall, when Argyll made a truce with the English it gave them the opportunity to reinforce their garrison by sea. He then ‘retired’, having received a bribe of one thousand crowns of money from Lord Gray, given to him by the enemy. This left Dundee in a very vulnerable position.
An account of the invasion of the town is given by a French gentleman who took part in the attack. He says that the English, after being strengthened:
“seized upon a little hill distant from Broughty nine hundred paces, and here they built a very fine fortress, and spared no cost to render it admirable, and to furnish it with men and ammunition of all sorts.” From this position, “they sent betwixt sixteen and seventeen hundred lances, both foot and horse, to Dundee, which they entered without opposition: For although this last is one of the most beautiful, rich, and populous towns in the kingdom, and though ’twere easy to render it impregnable, yet, as the Scots have ever been careless to fortify their country, those in Dundee had no other defence than the walls of their private houses.”
Although an army was raised at Edinburgh to march north to surprise the English and take back the town, news of this reached the English, who then abandoned all of the fortifications they were building in the town, and during eight days looted all the could from the town and its houses, set the town on fire, and then retreated to Broughty Castle. When the Scots army got to Dundee they found nobody around, just a few peasants left to try and put out the fires, the town razed to the ground.
Dundee lay in ruin for a long time after the rough wooing, the destruction left behind decimated the whole area – St Mary’s Church, the tolbooth, steeple, alms house and many other common places were completely ruined, along with the history of the town in its most ancient texts and records, which burned along with the tolbooth. Because the English could aid Broughty Castle by sea, they managed to hold possession of the castle for another 2 years. Finally, in February 1550 a fleet of French and Scots ships and armies managed to siege and retake the Castle.
During this time, the young Mary was taken to safety and betrothed to the Dauphin in France in August 1548. This made it clear, even to the English, that any marriage between Mary and Edward was not going to happen. Internal strife in England caused the Downfall of Somerset, and he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. His successor, Warwick, was more concerned with his own position than continuing the war with Scotland. The Treat of Norham in 1551 formally ended the war, and the English Military withdrew from Scotland. After the war ended many Scots were accused of assurance or collaboration as a crime; 192 citizens of Dundee were acquitted in 1553 and the whole town of Dumfries received a pardon.
But, for a time at least, there was peace. Dundee did eventually rebuild and up until the mid 17th century was one of the most prosperous burghs of Scotland, second only to Edinburgh. They had certainly learned their lesson about defending the town, and a wall surrounding the town was complete by 1592. While this made the job of invaders more difficult, it was certainly not the last time war would reign down on Dundee’s streets.
The History of Old Dundee, Maxwell – p 26-27
Rough Wooing: James V Trilogy 3, Tranter
Wikipedia page on Rough Wooing