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The Auld Alliance (English: Old Alliance) ( , ) refers to a series of treaties, offensive and defensive in nature, between Scotlandmarker and Francemarker (until 1326 also Norwaymarker), aimed specifically against Englandmarker. The first such agreement was signed in Parismarker on 23 October 1295 – subsequently ratified at Dunfermlinemarker the following February – during the reign of John Balliol and Philip the Fair. It was renewed on several subsequent occasions, and affected Franco-Scottish (and English) affairs until the Treaty of Edinburgh in 1560. There were times when the two nations acquired considerable mutual benefit from the alliance, particularly after the outbreak of the Hundred Years War.

In time of need

In the summer of 1294 Edward I initiated war with France. That same season John Balliol, in attendance at the English court, was prevailed upon to join a projected invasion of Flanders with his chief vassals. Technically, John had little choice in the matter, as he had recognised Edward as his feudal superior some years before. But this was the most serious breach of Scottish national sovereignty to date; and for the leading men of the realm it was one step too far. No sooner had John returned with the unwelcome news than he was effectively put in 'wardship', a council of twelve being appointed to manage national affairs.

The most important task before the council was to end Scotland's political and diplomatic isolation. It is not absolutely certain who initiated the matter. The Scottish government was searching for an ally; so too was King Philip. When the Scots' negotiators arrived in Paris they joined a party sent by Eric II of Norway, which finally concluded its own agreement with the French the day before the Scots. The aim of the Scots was simple enough: to ensure that Philip acquired a direct interest in both the survival of the nation and its monarchy. However, in signing the alliance they had also effectively signed a declaration of war against England. To cement the bargain a marriage was to be arranged between Edward Balliol, John's son and heir, and Jeanne de Valois, King Philip's niece. The French king also made the unusual stipulation that the treaty be ratified not just by King John but also by the estates of the realm, suggesting that he had a degree of insight into the politics – and personalities – motivating the Scottish offer.

In practice, Scotland obtained very little benefit from this first alliance. The country faced a full-scale English onslaught in the spring of 1296, beginning the Wars of Scottish Independence, with no discernible help from the French. More seriously, after the unexpected Scots victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridgemarker, Philip concluded a truce with Edward. This allowed Edward to devote his full attention to defeating William Wallace, who was acting as Guardian of Scotland, at the Battle of Falkirk. The following year the Anglo-French peace agreement concluded at Montreuil effectively nullified the Treaty of Paris.

Any residual hope that Philip would intervene in Scotland and restore John Balliol to the throne ended in 1302 after his army was routed by the Flemings at the Battle of the Golden Spurs. Philip, seriously unsettled, rushed into a definitive peace with the English. A Scots mission under Sir John Soules came to Paris to try to remind him of his obligations under the treaty of 1295, but they were almost immediately disarmed from an unexpected direction. John Balliol, taken prisoner by the English in 1296, was eventually released into papal custody, finally being allowed to settle on his ancient family estates in Picardy, part of the Kingdom of France. From here, describing himself as 'King of Scotland', he wrote to Philip - presumably by prior arrangement - authorising him to act on his behalf, and settle matters 'either by peace or truce', thus betraying all those who had fought so hard on his behalf since 1297.

On Edward's insistence the Scots delegates were not allowed to attend the peace talks, and Soules and his party were effectively placed under arrest. The Scots ambassadors wrote to John Comyn, Guardian of Scotland, with the news, urging him to continue the struggle, albeit alone; "For God's sake do not despair. If you have done brave deeds, do braver ones now. The swiftest runner who falls before the winning post has run in vain." It was too late. A new Treaty of Paris was concluded in 1303, which effectively gave Edward a free hand to complete the conquest of Scotland. The Franco-Scottish alliance seemed to have ended.

Endure and conquer

During the years that followed, among the most dramatic in Scottish history, the French were no more than distant observers. Philip was certainly aware of the great political changes taking place, even writing to Robert, now King of Scotland, expressing his affection, and even inviting him, without a trace of irony, to abandon his affairs and join with France in a planned Crusade. The matter was placed before Robert's first Parliament, held at St. Andrews in 1309. Reply was made with all due civility, though Philip was gently reminded that there were other matters that commanded priority. However, once the country had recovered its 'pristine liberty' it would gladly join the Crusade.

Much time elapsed before King Robert turned his attention back towards the former French alliance. By 1326, the English had been cleared from Scotland. There was also a lull in the war: in 1323 Edward II agreed to a thirteen year truce, though he still refused to recognise Bruce as king, or to accept the political independence of Scotland. It seems definite that the uncertainty of his authority – and that of his dynasty – dominated Bruce's strategy. He was now nearing the end of his life, and his heir was his infant son David, only two years old. Most worrying of all was a large party of Anglo-Scots nobles, men with political or kinship ties with the former dynasty, who refused to recognise Bruce as the rightful king of Scotland, and who had important influence at the English court. Edward Balliol, moreover, now grown to manhood, was ever ready on the wings.

It was against this background that an embassy was sent to France in the spring of 1326, headed by Thomas Randolph. The French king, now Charles IV, had good reason to welcome this overture, faced, as he was, with the prospect of a new war with England. In April the two sides concluded the Treaty of Corbeil, the first renewal of the Franco-Scots alliance in over thirty years. On the face of it, Corbeil was not particularly advantageous for the Scots; for whereas they were required to attack England in the event of a war with France, the French only promised their ally 'aid and counsel' in peace and war. But for Bruce this was an act of essential reinsurance, and the rather vague 'aid and counsel' was, in the event, to be of immeasurable importance in ensuring the political survival of Scotland as a nation.

In war and peace

Peace between Scotland and England was finally secured during 1328 by the Treaty of Northampton. Satisfying as this may have been, it was far from perfect. It had been concluded with the unpopular government of Roger Mortimer and Queen Isabella, who had deposed Edward II and were ruling England on behalf of Edward III, his underage son. The death of Robert Bruce in 1329 and King Edward's assumption of power the following year changed the whole political outlook. Edward Balliol was welcomed to England. In 1332, with the tacit support of the English king, he and a small band of adherents invaded Scotland and won a surprising victory at the Battle of Dupplin Moormarker. Balliol was crowned at Sconemarker, effectively replacing the young David II, though his rule was too narrowly based to last. Driven out of the country by Bruce supporters he appealed to Edward, who then abandoned the Treaty of Northampton, beginning the Second War of Scottish Independence. A further defeat followed in 1333 at the Battle of Halidon Hillmarker. Balliol returned to Scotland on a slightly more secure basis than before, while David was taken to the relative safety of Dumbarton Castlemarker by his remaining supporters.

The speed of these events clearly took the French by surprise. Philip VI, the first of the Valois kings, initially refused to get involved, accepting the verdicts of Dupplin and Halidon. However, although the Bruce cause was at points very weak it still refused to die. More than this, it was ably represented in Paris by the new Earl of Moray, who continued to make representations to the king. He was rewarded in 1334 when Philip agreed to offer David refuge in his kingdom. But far more than this the French king began to take a serious interest in the fate of his ally, putting increasing diplomatic pressure on Edward, and sending ever greater military aid to the Bruce partisans in Scotland. By the spring of 1336 he was even planning to send as many as 20,000 French soldiers as soon as he had sufficient ships. The new critical direction in the affairs of France and England was signalled that same summer when Philip abandoned his plans for a Crusade, ordering his Mediterranean fleet to sail to the Channel. Edward could not ignore these developments: Balliol was effectively abandoned as the whole political and military effort of England shifted to the south. The following year the Hundred Years War began. France's agony was Scotland's salvation.

When David returned to Scotland in 1341, taking full charge of affairs, the realm was largely free of English and Balliol influence. For some years he pursued a rather desultory war with the enemy along the border, but in 1346 he received a desperate appeal for more decisive action. Throughout the spring Edward had been preparing for a great invasion of France. As summer approached, there was panic in government circles in Paris. The exact purpose and direction of the English armada was unknown: by early July it looked as if the hammer was going to fall on Normandy. King Philip turned to David for help. So far his actions on the border had failed to draw off sufficient English troops. Something more decisive than a raid was required - "I beg you," Philip wrote, "I implore you with all the force I can, to remember the bonds of blood and friendship between us. Do for me what I would do for you in such a crisis and do it quickly and thoroughly as with God's help you are able." David made preparations, though France was now past saving. That August Philip's army was destroyed at the Battle of Crécy.

Even after the news of this reached the north, David's full-scale mobilization continued, though with what precise aim is not absolutely clear. What is certain is that when he crossed the border in October he did so as much in his own interest as that of France, believing that he would have an easy passage, all the English army now being with Edward at Calaismarker: instead he met his own Crécy at Neville's Crossmarker. In this battle David was taken prisoner, spending the next eleven years in the hands of the English.

Allies in action

France and Scotland survived the disasters of 1346 because Edward III was essentially one of history's great freebooters. He may have claimed to be the rightful king of France, but under the terms of the Treaty of Bretigny he simply settled for a bigger slice of the French cake. Likewise he abandoned Edward Balliol and his claim to Scotland in return for a substantial ransom deal with David, concluded at Berwick in 1357. Both France and Scotland were given time to recover.

For some years the alliance between the two countries went in to hibernation; but no sooner did Robert II, the first of Scotland's Stewart kings, come to the throne than it was renewed by the Treaty of Vincennes in October 1371, the first such restatement since Corbeil. The Scottish borders nevertheless remained largely peaceful until after the death of Edward III in 1377. Thereafter the impetus to war grew in intensity. In 1383 Robert entered into a fresh agreement with Charles VI, promising to renew the war in return for 40000 gold francs, 1000 suits of armour and the assistance of 1000 men-at-arms. Two years later the promised support arrived: it was the first time the allies had the opportunity for some close co-operation. It was to be far from a happy occasion.

In May 1385, some 2000 French soldiers landed at Leith, under the command of Jean de Vienne, Comte de Valentinois and Admiral of France. This was to date the largest party of Frenchmen ever to set foot in Scotland. Trouble began almost at once. There was simply nowhere to billet such a large body of men with their attendants and equipment. They had to be split up and sent to widely scattered locations. Scotland's backwardness and poverty were a shock to the French, used to much greater comfort than the country could provide.

The Scots themselves found the French uncomfortable and arrogant allies. In their own land the knights were used to commandeering whatever they wanted, regardless of the feelings of the common people. But when they sent out foragers into the Scottish countryside over one hundred of them were killed by the outraged peasantry. Poverty had created a kind of rough democracy which the French found intolerable, describing Scotland as a second Prussia for desolation and savagery. After a few weeks they were obliged to enter into an agreement with the government that, among other things, forced them to accept the necessity of paying for all they received.

The kind of hit-and-run warfare favoured by the Scots was also not to the taste of the French, and they soon proved themselves to be of little practical value. With the departure of Richard II and his English army, there was no more reason for them to stay. The French themselves, finding little glory in Scotland, were anxious to return home; but they were not allowed to do so until they had paid for the damage they had caused and the goods supplied. The allies, rarely comfortable with each other at close quarters, parted on very poor terms. It is even suggested by Jean Froissart, the chronicler, that the French expressed the wish that England and France would make peace so that their kings could join together and come to Scotland "utterly to destroy that realm for ever." In spite of these mutual dislikes, the French were to call on their allies not many years later, at what was to be one of the lowest points in their nation's history.

Scotland in France

In 1413 Henry V ascended the English throne, with a determination to pursue the French claim in a far more ruthless way than Edward III ever had. Two years later he destroyed the main French army at Agincourtmarker. This was to be followed by the systematic conquest of Normandy and much of northern France. In 1420 King Charles, his mind now clouded in hopeless madness, signed the Treaty of Troyes, in which the English king was recognised as his heir. Under the Dauphin Charles what was left of national resistance retreated south of the River Loiremarker. France was now faced with the same prospect of dismemberment and destruction that Scotland had after Dupplin Moor and Halidon Hill.

Charles' greatest need was for soldiers, and for these he looked to Scotland. In the period from 1419 to 1424 it is estimated that as many as 15000 came to France; and by the summer of 1420 the 'Army of Scotland' was a distinct element in the French royal service. They were quick to make a difference, defeating an English force at the Battle of Bauge in the spring of 1421. As it marked the turning point of the Hundred Years War, the significance of this battle was great, and apparently caused Pope Martin V to describe the Scots as the "antidote to the English." Charles was jubilant. The Scots in France were no more popular than the French had been in Scotland in 1385. Many at Charles' court had criticised them as only good for drinking wine and eating mutton. Now they had repaid his confidence: "Ye who were want to say that the Scots were of no use to the kingdom, and were worth nothing save as mutton eaters and wine bibbers, see now who has deserved to have the honour and the victory and the glory of the battle."

As so often early hope was pursued by quick despair; and in 1423 many of the victors of Bauge were killed at the Battle of Cravant. Fresh contingents followed under the Earl of Buchan and the Earl of Douglas to make good the loss. Charles in his gratitude created Douglas Duke of Touraine. Douglas thereupon traveled to Tours, the capital of the duchy, where the Scots were well-received. The bad behaviour of his men soon caused them to regret their generosity: several weeks later he was asked to move them out of town. In general the Scots behaved little better than the English enemy when it came to helping themselves to other people's property. A contemporary poem laments the suffering of the ordinary French people:

Behold us through the frosty air begging, in
rags, the scanty dole.
For all is gone. The hungry Scot, and haughty
Spaniard, in their turn,
have stripped us to the skin, God wot!, and left
us to lament and moan.

In August 1424 Douglas and Buchan were killed at the Battle of Verneuil, a savage encounter likened by the English to a second Agincourt. Five years later the Army of Scotland was defeated for the final time near Orleansmarker at a place called Rouvray St Dennis, in the so-called Battle of the Herrings. From this point, the Army of Scotland ceased to exist as such, though smaller bands of Scots continued in the royal service.

Margaret and Joan

In July 1428 a distinguished French embassy came to Scotland to appeal directly to James I. It was headed by the Archbishop of Reims and the poet Alain Chartier, and accompanied by John Stewart of Darnley, the most senior Scots soldier now in the service of Charles. In meeting with James and his court Chartier described the Auld Alliance as "inscribed not upon sheepskin parchment but engraved upon the flesh of men; written not in ink but in blood." After this poetic introduction the ambassadors proceeded to ask for a fresh agreement based on a marriage between James' daughter, Margaret, and Charles' son Louis. Margaret's dowry was to be paid not in money, but in troops - 6000 of them. As an additional inducement Charles offered James the rich French county of Saintonge, a cause of much future friction between the two realms. While James, temporarily at peace with England, was reluctant to conclude a firm treaty at this stage, he entered into a draft agreement, which allowed him to keep his options open and bring diplomatic pressure to bear on England. The document was signed at Perth in mid-July and ratified by Charles at Chinonmarker in November. Charles sought his country's salvation in little Princess Margaret of Scotland; but it was another woman altogether who was destined to save France.

Not long after the Battle of the Herrings, a seventeen-year old girl dressed in armour entered Orleans, now the key to the whole campaign on the Loire. Her name was Joan of Arc. Joan, soon to be known as La Pucelle or the Maid of Orleans, came with a clear sense of mission. As she herself put it: "No man in the world - kings, nor dukes, nor the daughter of the Scottish king - can recover the kingdom of France, nor hath our king any succor save from myself...and the deeds I must do because my Lord so wills it." During her brief career, her armies often included a significant number of Scottish contingents, under commanders such as Sir Patrick Ogilvy of Auchterhouse, Sir Hugh Kennedy, Michael Norwill, and John Crichton. (click on the following link for some of the Scots mentioned in one Royal financial entry during the siege of Orleans). Her Scottish companions included an anonymous cleric, later to record his impressions in the Chronicle of Pluscarden. He remained with her to the end, witnessing the martyrdom of his "wonderful girl" at Rouenmarker in May 1431.

From this point forward France made a steady and sustained recovery, so much so that Charles no longer needed the troops asked for in the marriage agreement of 1428. The wedding still went ahead, though, largely to forestall any possible rapprochement between James and the English. The twelve-year-old Princess Margaret finally sailed from Scotland on 27 March 1436. The following June she and Louis were married, the first match of the royal houses in the history of the Auld Alliance. For Scotland and England the marriage brought war; for Margaret it brought deep personal unhappiness. Neglected and scorned by her profoundly unattractive husband she died at an early age, a political pawn in the history of three kingdoms.

Alliance in transition

In 1453 the Hundred Years War finally ended. The alliance between Scotland and France was no longer bound up in the life-and-death issue of national survival. Although never entirely free of the manipulation and cynicism that tend to accompany international politics, these were to become ever more apparent as the years passed. Louis XI, who succeeded Charles VII in 1461, had no compunction in using the Scots in an openly self-serving fashion. During the minority of James III, James Kennedy, the principal Scottish defender of the link with France and Bishop of St Andrews, was to face accusations from sections of the nobility that his actions were jeopardizing the interests of Scotland, the first time that such concerns had arisen.

For the first time in its history, Scotland began to move away from France towards an alliance with England. The Bishop of Glasgow had received information that during negotiations with the English in 1463 Louis had openly said that he had no great regard for the Scots, and once he had reached agreement with Edward IV he would help him to enforce his claim to homage over their land. In growing to manhood King James, having been made aware of Louis intentions, altered the alliance in ways that were slow and hesitant at first, but found full expression during James' mature years. They reached their apogee in 1473 in a proposed marriage alliance between Prince James and Princess Cecily, the daughter of Edward IV. In the end, this was to come to nothing because James was not a popular king and peace with England was not a popular policy, especially with the powerful border lords, for whom war and plunder had become a way of life. As if to remind the Scots of past English enormities the poet Blind Harry composed his great work The Wallace in the mid to late 1480s, an epic that reveals more about his own times than those of the patriot warrior.

The reign of James IV was marked at the outset by a firm move away from the policies of the previous reign. In 1491 the Auld Alliance was renewed and James pursued desultory and largely unproductive warfare along the border. But this was a sterile policy, with little to show by way of gain; and in the end James turned the whole thing on its head. In 1502 he concluded the Treaty of Perpetual Peace with Henry VII, the most important Anglo-Scottish treaty since Northampton in 1328. The following year he married Margaret Tudor, Henry's oldest daughter, the chief outcome of the new understanding.

James was a popular and authoritative king, who had proved himself as a warrior. It was because of this that he had been able to bring about a revolution in Scotland's traditional policies, whereas his father had been ruined in a similar attempt. But he was not prepared to cast off all the chains of the past. In the negotiations leading up to the treaty of 1502 Henry had asked James to break the league with France; the most he was willing to concede was that any renewal would not be 'prejudicial' to England.

The Treaty of Perpetual Peace was an imperfect document: for one thing, the question of Berwickmarker was ignored; and for another the old claim to feudal superiority was passed over in silence. Neither of these were insurmountable problems. Scotland was never again to make a serious attempt to recover Berwick. Feudal supremacy was a more troubling issue; but Henry VII never took this issue seriously: it was not until the following reign that it emerged out of the political crypt. Undoubtedly, the most serious weakness was the existence of the Auld Alliance. In other words, the peace was only 'perpetual' for as long as England and France enjoyed good relations, which they did during the latter part of Henry's reign. However, if this tripartite relationship ever broke down Scotland would be forced to choose between one side or the other. In the end, the treaty proved to be no more than a personal understanding between Henry VII and James. In 1509 in the person of Henry VIII England had an aggressive young monarch with Continental ambitions. Bit by bit James was drawn towards the precipice: in 1513 at the request of Louis XII he invaded England in defence of the Auld Alliance, only to meet death and disaster at Floddenmarker, one of the most unnecessary battles in Scottish history. No Scottish interest was threatened and, in the end, none was served.


Flodden, it is sometimes suggested, marks the birth of a new cynicism towards the Auld Alliance on the part of Scotland. It would be truer to say that this attitude was created by the self-interested politics and the blatant disregard for Scottish interests demonstrated by Louis and his successor, Francis I, in the years immediately after the battle. France's growing rivalry with Habsburg power in Spainmarker and the Holy Roman Empire was to complicate the picture still further. From time to time the French sought English help against the Habsburgs, and in consequence were all too ready to abandon the Scots. In the November after the battle the Scots Council of Regency, acting for the infant James V, wrote to Louis asking him to send John Stewart, Duke of Albany, the king's closest male relative to Scotland, together with essential military supplies:

That sen the said king of Scotland togiddir witht mony of his noblis and lieges war slane and distroyit in batell now in northumbirland be the Inglish principally in the quarell of France it wald pleis and lyke the said maist Cristian king to send the duke of Albany with his help and municions and all maner of necessrs foe weir in the Realme of Scotland for the defence of the zoung king of Scotland the queyn his said Realm and noblis.

However, without consulting the Scots, Louis made peace with Henry in the summer of 1514. Although Scotland was included, it was on the most offensive terms imaginable: if the Scots raided England, her inclusion would be void, although there was no compensating provision for English raids into Scotland. Acting under English pressure, and despite promises to the contrary, Louis kept the Duke of Albany in France. Considering the terrible sacrifice that Scotland had made for France this was an astonishing betrayal. Cardinal Bernard Bibenna said of the peace: "that the king of France has not refrained from making a shameful agreement with the king of England, renouncing his protection for Scotland and leaving that realm to the government of the king of England."

Things change, and Albany was eventually allowed to come to Scotland; but he found a nation in a sombre and uncooperative mood. In 1517, he had managed to negotiate the Treaty of Rouen, yet another renewal of the Auld Alliance, which held out the prospect of a French marriage for the young King James, but he was well aware that the nobility were unlikely to agree to any wholesale military adventures. As war between France and England came ever closer in 1522 Albany wrote to Francis saying, in effect, that the year 1513 would never come again; that Scotland could not be expected to take on the weight of England purely in the interests of France. Unless the nation received substantial military aid, it would most likely make peace. But, like Louis in 1513, Francis claimed he was too committed elsewhere to send help to Scotland.

In 1522 and again in 1523 Albany managed to prod reluctant and bad tempered Scottish armies towards the border, but that was as much as he could accomplish. In 1522 the nobles refused to die purely, as they saw it, in the service of France, ignoring all of the Regent's appeals to honour. Hoping to put them in a more accommodating mood he managed to secure the help of a French army for the campaigning season of 1523:4000 footmen, many armed with the arquebus, a primitive musket, and 500 horse, along with artillery, money and other supplies. This was the largest French force ever to appear in Scotland, at least twice the size of that of 1385; but it made little difference to the sullen mood of the Scots. Discontent spread alarmingly among the troops, so much so that many simply refused to march beyond Melrosemarker. With considerable difficulty, Albany managed to persuade the army, like so many stubborn sheep, to accompany him along the northern bank of the Tweed towards Wark Castlemarker. On 2 November, with the Scots still in a mutinous frame of mind, Albany sent some of his French soldiers across the river to try to take the castle by assault. The Scots stood by, resembling nothing more than a large crowd of morose football supporters, while the English and French slugged it out over Wark. The attempt was finally abandoned, but only after some 300 of the Frenchmen had been killed.

Greater Britain

Albany's credibility was destroyed. With the pro-English party growing in influence, he decided to leave Scotland in May 1524, promising to return in September. He never came back. An able man, he had done his best in difficult circumstances; but in the end he had simply been unable to bridge the impossible gap between his duty to France and the needs of Scotland. He had come to Scotland in the period after Floddenmarker when the country still held to a war policy with England and an unshakeable attachment to France. After a few years a numbness descended on the mind of the national community, a growing conviction that Floddenmarker had been a disaster brought on by the alliance, and an increasing willingness to consider co-operation rather than conflict with England. If Blind Harry's Wallace had defined attitudes towards England in the late fifteenth century, then the new mood found expression in John Mair's Greater Britain, published in 1521, which argued for a closer understanding between the two nations. This was an attitude born of a profound loss of self-confidence and a justified suspicion of the French alliance. It found practical expression in a new class of people, chiefly amongst the nobility, who were willing to enter into treasonable associations with the English. This had always been a feature of Scottish politics; but it became a positive epidemic in the course of the sixteenth century.

Marriages and wars

James V finally took control of affairs in 1528. By this time a complex political picture was made even more so by the onset of the Reformation. For James the Auld Religion and the Auld Alliance was the axis around which his foreign policy took shape. But arguably the man who best personified the link was David Beaton, Cardinal Archbishop of St Andrews, who was the last of the great churchmen representing a tradition that stretches back through James Kennedy to William Lamberton and Robert Wishart during the Wars of Independence. For these men the freedom of the Scottish Church from English ecclesiastical control had always been an issue. In Beaton's time the Reformation simply added a new piquancy to an old struggle.

By far the greatest reconfirmation of the Franco-Scottish alliance came in January 1537, when James married Francis' daughter, Madeleine de Valois, in long overdue fulfilment of the Treaty of Rouen. Madeleine died young, but a new French bride was found for James in the person of Mary of Guise-Lorraine, destined to become one of the most formidable women in Scottish history. Henry VIII did not welcome this marriage and the additional threat it represented for the security of England. He tried to persuade James, his nephew, of the advantages of Reformation, particularly in helping to fill the royal purse. James ignored the bait, even failing to appear at an agreed rendezvous with his uncle at York in September 1541. In a white rage Henry went to war. Despite his French marriage, James was left to face the Tudor bull on his own: for once again French martial energies were being directed against the Habsburgs.

For James the new war on the border was even more disastrous than that pursued by his father. The war of 1513 had been a tragedy; the war of 1542 turned out to be a farce. The king, in declining health, did not accompany his army to the border, and was at least spared the indignity of seeing it implode at Solway Mossmarker, a military fiasco rather than a battle, confirming some of the truths forced on Albany in the 1520s. James died soon after, succeeded to the throne by his week-old daughter, Mary.

For Henry this was an unlooked for opportunity: Scotland had an infant queen, England had a Prince Edward. A marriage treaty would offer an obvious way out of his problems in the north and end forever Scotland's link with France: the year 1286, as one historian once expressed it, had come again. It might have worked, for the pro-English party in Scotland was stronger than ever; it might have worked, that is, if England had any other king but Henry VIII. Although the Scottish Parliament agreed to a marriage alliance between Mary and Edward in the Treaty of Greenwich, Henry's bullying and blustering soon alienated all but the most obdurate of the English faction. In the late summer of 1543 Sir Ralph Sadler, wrote to the English Privy Council from Edinburgh, describing the mood of the Scots:

Assuringe your lordships that as farre as I can see, the whole bodye of the realme is inclyned to Fraunce, for they do consider and saye that Fraunce requireth nothinge of them but frendeship...And Fraunce they saye hath alwayes ayded theim with money and munytion...whereas on thother syde, Englonde they saye seketh nothinge els but to bringe theim to subjection, and to have superiorite and domynion over theim; while unoversally they doo so deteste and abhorre, as in my poore opinion they will never be brought unto it but by force.

Force was Henry's only remaining option; and thus began what in time would come to be known as the 'Rough Wooing', a particularly brutal campaign of destruction and retribution that continued even after Henry's death in January 1547. However, as in the past, the more brutal the English were the more determined the Scots became. Even after the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Pinkie in the summer of 1547 they refused to honour the Greenwich Treaty, and Mary was sent not to England and Edward but to France, to be betrothed to the Dauphin Francis, the son and heir of Henry II. With her daughter now safe Mary of Guise moved steadily to the forefront of Scottish politics, finally assuming the full powers of regency in 1554. Mary was a competent woman who did her best to address the needs of Scotland; but like Albany before her she realised how much Scotland owed to France; and this was a reckoning that could not be put off forever.

Mary of France

In April 1558, Mary and Francis were married in Paris, in what was to be the apogee of the Auld Alliance. The following November the Scottish Parliament agreed that Francis should be offered the crown matrimonial, effectively making the French prince king of Scotland. This was the first Union of the Crowns in Scottish history. In confirmation of this Parliament passed a further act, returning certain provisions already made by the chief law court of France:

Because the Most Christian King of France has granted a letter of naturality for him and his successors to all and sundray (sicsic) Scotsmen being in the realm of France or shall happen to be in the same in any times to come, making them able to enjoy lands, heritages, offices, dignities and benefices and the disposal thereupon, and their heirs to succeed to their lands and heritages, like as the said letter of naturality, registered in the Parliament of Paris, in the Greater Council and in the Chamber of Accounts, in itself at more length proports, THEREFORE, the Queens Grace, Dowger and Regent of this realm, and of the estates of the same, think it good and agreeable that the like letter of naturality be given and granted by the King and Queen of Scotland, Dauphin and Dauphiness of Vienne, to all and sundray of the said Most Christian King of France's subjects being or shall happen to be in the realm of Scotland in any times to come with suchlike privileges and faculties as is given by the said Most Christian King of France to the subjects of this realm...

Neither the French nor the Scottish provisions conferred citizenship as such - as is sometimes maintained - for the simple reason that citizenship as a legal and political concept did not exist at this time. Rather the right to property and office in both realms was now guaranteed by law, rather than by an arbitrary act of official will, the situation prevailing prior to this.

The same kinds of concerns were expressed in Scotland as in the past when her fate was tied to a larger and more influential power. For many it looked as if the country was set to become a province of France, in much the same way as the ancient duchy of Brittany. The Scots had, of course, built the same safeguards for national liberty into the marriage treaty that had accompanied the negotiations with the English in 1543; but in Paris Mary signed a secret agreement with Henry II, which effectively nullified these guarantees:

Mary, Queen of Scots...has said and declared that, in the event of her decease without heirs begotten of her body...she has given and by these presents gives, by pure and free gift, to take effect on her death, to the King of France who is or shall be, the kingdom of Scotland according to what it consists and comprises, beside all such rights to the kingdom of England as can or shall belong and pertain to her now and in time to come...

This last clause was to have important short term implications. In the same month that Francis became king of Scotland the Catholic Mary Tudor died, to be succeeded by her Protestant half-sister, Elizabeth. In the eyes of Catholic Europe Elizabeth, the daughter of Anne Boleyn was illegitimate, and therefore the rightful queen of England was Mary Stuart. Acting on the advice of her father-in-law, she and her husband quartered their arms with the arms of England. This was a serious political miscalculation.


Throughout the 1550s, Protestantism had been gaining ground in Scotland. The Queen Regent, aware of the strength of the movement, particularly among sections of the nobility, had initially pursued an even handed policy, attempting to balance all interests. But by the late 1550s more and more Frenchmen, both soldiers and officials, were arriving in Scotland. Resentment grew, expressed in a new kind of Protestant nationalism, represented most particularly in a group known as the Lords of the Congregation. For these men it was France and not England that now represented the chief threat to Scottish liberty. In May 1559 John Knox returned to Scotland from the Calvinist stronghold of Genevamarker. Before long the Scottish Reformation was underway, as an attack on the Auld Religion on the one hand and the Auld Alliance on the other. But against a modern French army, secure in the fortifications of Leithmarker and elsewhere, the rag-taggle army of the Congregation could make little progress. With the Reformation in danger of being strangled at birth, the Protestant lords called on the assistance of the ancient enemy. History was about to stand on its head.

Elizabeth I was a deeply conservative monarch. Few things were more repellent to her than subjects rebelling against their lawful prince. Even so, she could not ignore a challenge to her own position. It was not the struggles of the Congregation that ended French rule in Scotland, but the pretence of Francis and Mary to the English royal title. The defeat of the Protestant lords in Scotland would have been a threat to both England’s security and Elizabeth’s legitimacy. Urged on by William Cecil, her chief minister, she entered into an alliance with the Protestants at Berwick in February 1560. The object of the treaty, it was expressly stated, was not to undermine the authority of Mary and Francis, but to safeguard Scotland's independence against the French or "the just freedom of the Crown of Scotland from conquest."

On 29 March the English army crossed the border, meeting up with the Congregation, to begin the siege of the French base at Leith. While the attack was underway, Mary of Guise, the last great defender of the Auld Alliance, died at Edinburgh Castlemarker. The French fought bravely; but running short of supplies they entered into negotiations with the English. In July the Treaty of Edinburgh was concluded in which the French and English both agreed to leave Scotland. With no defence left the Catholic Church in Scotland was finished as a national force. The ancient alliance between France and Scotland limped on for a few months, finally passing into history with the death of Francis II in December 1560.


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  • Macdougall, N., Scotland's Foreign Relations-England and France, in Scottish Society in the Fifteenth Century, ed. J. M. Brown, 1977.
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  • Stuart, W. M., The Scot who was a Frenchman, 1940.

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