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Scotland's relations with England

Image shows a pictorial representation of the united crowns of England (the rose) and Scotland (the thistle). Crown copyright: National Records of Scotland

Relations between Scotland and England were difficult throughout the 15th century with both countries either attacking one another across the border or negotiating truces that never lasted. In 1460 James II freed Roxburgh Castle from English occupation. In 1474, James III proposed the marriage of his son to a member of the English royal family but this plan failed. In 1480 Edward IV invaded Scotland.

When James IV was crowned king of Scotland 1488, Henry VII was king of England. Henry had survived the Wars of the Roses between the rival Lancaster and York families to take control of the throne but he continued to face revolts from other claimants, including Perkin Warbeck. James took advantage of this situation and invaded England in 1496 and 1497.

In November 1501, Henry formed an alliance with Spain through the marriage of his eldest son, Arthur, to Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of King Ferdinand. He started lengthy negotiations with James to bring an end to hostilities and form a political alliance between Scotland and England. In 1502, they agreed a peace treaty based on the marriage of James to Margaret Tudor, Henry’s elder daughter.

When the royal marriage was arranged, Henry and James put their signatures to the Treaty of Perpetual Peace. To give the alliance extra importance, a clause was included that threatened excommunication from the church if either party should break the peace. Pope Alexander V issued a papal bull (a formal order issued by the head of the Roman Catholic Church) to this effect on 28 May 1503.

Each party produced a very elaborate document agreeing to the terms. The document shown, decorated with roses, is the English ratification of the treaty, signed by Henry at Westminster on 31 October 1502. It was delivered into the hands of the Scottish court and survives today in the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh. James signed the Scottish version of the treaty, decorated with thistles, on 17 December 1502. It was delivered into the hands of the English court and survives today in the National Archives in London. The treaty promised everlasting peace between the two countries, the first effective lull after 200 years of intermittent warfare.

The wedding took place in August 1503 at a sumptuous ceremony at Holyrood Abbey. Margaret was 13 and James 30. She brought with her a dowry of 30,000 golden nobles (£10,000). The marriage was heralded as the union of the thistle and the rose, bringing the two royal families together. William Dunbar, the Scottish court poet, born around 1460, wrote his poem, The Thrissil and the Rois, in celebration of the marriage.

Link to a timeline of the reign of James IV.

The Treaty of Perpetual Peace, 1502

The image shows the Treaty of Perpetual Peace, 1502. National Records of Scotland reference: SP6/31.

(National Records of Scotland reference: SP6/31)

Transcript of extract

… keeping in view the bond and amity, truce, friendship and alliance which presently exists between our most illustrious princes… and also the marriage to be contracted before Candlemas next, we will… that there be a true, sincere, whole and unbroken peace, friendship, league and alliance… from this day forth in all times to come, between them and their heirs and lawful successors…

It is agreed that neither of the kings aforesaid nor any of their heirs and successors shall in any way receive or allow by their subjects to be received any rebels, traitors or refugees suspected, reputed or convicted of the crime of treason.

… Although it happen the said king of England or his heirs and successors aforesaid or any of them to levy war against any of the said princes comprehended herein, then the king of Scotland… shall wholly abstain from making any invasion of the kingdom of England, its places and dominions, as well by himself as by his subjects, but it shall be lawful to the king of Scotland to give help, assistance, favour and succour to that prince against whom war has been levied by the king of England, for his defence and not otherwise.

… It is agreed that each of the foresaid princes shall… require the sacred apostolic see and the supreme pontiff to impose sentence of excommunication… on either of the said two princes and on their heirs and successors who shall violate, or permit to be violated, the present peace or any clause of the present treaty…

(A Source Book of Scottish History, Vol II, edited by WC Dickinson, G Donaldson, I A Milne, 1953, p. 59-61)




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