The destination for history

The Duke of Somerset, Scotland and Brexit


For over three hundred years England and Scotland have co-existed peacefully under the common name of Great Britain. But now, with the differing views of their two governments on the outcome of the Brexit vote, the countries face the possibility that their union could be broken.

It would, though, not be the first time that Scotland had turned away from England and towards Europe for support.

The relationship between England and Scotland stretches back over many centuries and for much of that time it was a stormy affair as England sought to subjugate its northern neighbour by force. Names such as William Wallace and Robert the Bruce ring out as powerful reminders of Scotland’s determination to remain independent.

Yet, for a short time during the sixteenth-century one Englishman held a vision of bringing the two countries together without bloodshed. After experiencing for himself the futility of trying to subdue the Scots by force, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, saw the benefits of union rather than subjugation. Somerset believed that ‘having the sea for wall, the mutual love for garrison, and God for defence’ the two countries united could withstand all assaults.

He was convinced that the best way to achieve this was through the marriage of Edward VI and Mary, Queen of Scots. Their heirs would inherit both England and Scotland and so make ‘of one Isle one realm’ under the name of Britain. Somerset believed the way forward was through friendship and persuasion and by encouraging the Scots to support the idea of the marriage. But it was to be a futile hope.

In order to win the support of the Scots he intended to establish a series of military garrisons in south-east Scotland. These would maintain control of the area and provide support and protection to all those Scotsmen who favoured the English and the idea of the royal marriage.

Unfortunately, in order to do this Somerset needed to take an invasion force north of the Border to establish control. The resultant battle at Pinkie Cleugh in 1547 resulted in the slaughter of 10,000 Scotsmen. It did nothing to improve relations between the two countries.

Although the garrisons were built, the presence of the English alienated many Scots who, unable to defeat the English alone, turned elsewhere for help. Just as today the Brexit vote is pushing Scotland away from England and towards the European Union, so in 1547 Somerset’s policy towards Scotland pushed Scotland into closer alliance with France.

Somerset’s plan was a failure and within two years England had withdrawn from Scotland. But his scheme for an amicable union was not without merit and eventually James VI of Scotland would unite the two countries under one crown. One hundred years later England and Scotland would finally share political union.

So, if Scotland now turns away from its closest neighbour it will not be for the first time. Perhaps we are about to experience a sense of political déja vu.

By Margaret Scard

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