The Tudor Society

23 August – The Siege of Haddington

On this day in Tudor history, 23rd August 1548, Francis Talbot, 5th Earl of Shrewsbury, arrived at the Siege of Haddington, in East Lothian, Scotland, with a large army. This siege was part of the Anglo-Scottish war known as the War of the Rough Wooing between England and Scotland., regarding Henry VIII's desire to marry his son, Edward, off to Mary, Queen of Scots.

What happened at this siege and to Haddington after it?

Find out in today's talk.

Also on this day in Tudor history, 23rd August 1535, royal favourite and keen reformer Sir Nicholas Poyntz welcomed King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, to his home Acton Court in Iron Acton, South Gloucestershire, as part of the couple’s royal progress. It was important for courtiers to impress the king and his consort, and Poyntz built a new wing on his property just for the royal couple! Find out more in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1524 – Death of Edmund Audley, Bishop of Salisbury, at Ramsbury. He was buried in Salisbury Cathedral, on the north side of the presbytery.
  • 1553 – Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, was made Lord Chancellor by Mary I.
  • 1568 – Death of Thomas Wharton, 1st Baron Wharton, who was rewarded with a barony after his victory at the Battle of Solway Moss in 1542. He died at Healaugh, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and was buried there.
  • 1613 – Death of John Harington, 1st Baron Harington of Exton, courtier, from a fever at Worms. His body was sent back to England for burial at Exton. In Elizabeth I's reign, Harington served as a member of Parliament, Justice of the Peace, Sheriff and Deputy Lieutenant of Rutland and Warwickshire.


On this day in Tudor history, 23rd August 1548, Francis Talbot, 5th Earl of Shrewsbury, arrived at the Siege of Haddington, in East Lothian, Scotland, with a large army.

The siege was actually part of a series of sieges at Haddington, which were all part of the Anglo-Scottish war known as the War of the Rough Wooing, so named because it was had been started in 1543 by King Henry VIII in a bid to secure a marriage agreement between England and Scotland, between his son, Prince Edward, the future King Edward VI, and Mary, Queen of Scots.

James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran and Regent of Scotland, had taken Haddington in September 1547, with the help of the French, but English troops led by William Grey, 13th Baron Grey de Wilton, and Sir Thomas Palmer took Haddington in February1548, and set about fortifying it. It came under heavy attack from French and Scots troops in July 1548, so English reinforcements became necessary. Shrewsbury’s arrival led to the French and Scottish armies abandoning the siege and moving to Edinburgh and Leith.
The imperial ambassador, François van der Delft recorded the English victory in a dispatch to the emperor, writing:

“These people (the English) have every day been receiving good news from their forces defending Haddington. They report that the French besieging army were powerless to do them much harm, and that in spite of the enemy the defenders had been reinforced by 3,000 men each carrying a good stock of powder. Many Frenchmen, moreover, it is stated are falling daily, and Peter Strozzi himself, they assert has been mortally wounded. Finally the Protector has received intelligence that the camp of the enemy has been broken up and the Scotsmen have all retired, owing to some dissension between the Regent of Scotland and Monsieur D'Essé. This news has produced great rejoicing here...”

However, he wasn’t sure about this information as he was also hearing of French attacks.

On 29th August, Baron Grey wrote to Protector Somerset asking for licence to come home from Scotland:
“Now we have put Haddington out of peril, and field service need not long endure, as I am quit of my last commission of lieutenantship, I trust your grace will licence me to come home and live on my small portion, while seeking to win back what is wrongfully kept from me. I have often showed your grace that the great charges above my "dyettes" have brought me in debt, and now by my late great loss, I can endure it no longer. For my reputation is decayed, or through credit I might have borne it till your grace relieved my poverty. But if at home, I may "awhiles spare," and so be better able to serve again when your grace commands me. If you could see the bottom of my poverty, and in how poor sort I shall be forced to live, and in what miserable estate I shall leave my wife and children, over that I might have done in the beginning of the war, ye would not suffer me to run to further ruin, as I shall open and declare at my repair to your grace. And as you promised I should be here but a year, which now is "full complete," I beseech your grace's leave home to avoid the utter destruction of me and my posterity.”

Oh dear! It sounds like his service in Scotland had caused him a lot of problems.

Sir James Wilford, who commanded the Italian and German mercenary forces at Haddington, wrote to Somerset from Haddington on 1st November 1548, describing the dismal situation there:
“The state of this town pities me both to see and to write it; but writing to your grace, I hope for relief. Many are sick and a great number dead, most of the plague. On my faith, there are not here this day of horse, foot, and ‘Yttalians,’ 1000 able to go to the walls, and more like to be sick, than the sick to mend, for they watch every 5th night, yet the walls are not manned, they lie in litter without beds, go in their single white coats, for there is small provision of clothing—the houses are so beaten, they lie in ‘cabens’—the corn in store like to be spoilt in foul weather—great lack of labourers and want of all things. I fear the enemy more now than when they were before the town in their pride; our few horsemen are wearied with convoys of 5 or 6 ‘lode’ at a time—the Almains promised by your grace are not yet come. I doubt getting relief till I speak with your grace myself, for which I beg licence when the time is meet, the Almayns well settled, and some wet weather to fill the ditches and make foul ways to hinder the enemy, for whom, as the weather is, I look daily.”

The English troops eventually withdrew from Haddington in September 1549. They had used up their supplies and suffered heavy losses from the plague, and from attacks by the Scots.

The Rough Wooing came to an end in March 1550 with the Treaty of Boulogne and in 1551 following the Treaty of Norham the English withdrew from Scotland.

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23 August – The Siege of Haddington