John Dudley: Life Story

Chapter 9 : Scottish Campaign

Relations with Scotland had been deteriorating. Shortly after Parliament dissolved in April, Henry sent commissioners to James V, amongst whom was Lisle, but there is no record of exactly what the Commission did, or where it went. One of the Commissioners, Sir Thomas Wharton, Deputy Warden of the West Marches put forward a plan to kidnap King James, but the Council would not enter into such a plan without direct instruction from the King, which does not seem to have been forthcoming.

Lisle’s first instruction was to inspect the works at Berwick – the most vulnerable of the Border settlements. Together with Sir Robert Southwell, he was to gather information from the man in charge of the fortifications, and make an estimate of what repairs or improvements might be required.

They shortly discovered that the fortifications had not been built to the specifications that Henry himself had designed in his ‘platt’ as plans were termed. As over 20,000 marks had already been spent and similar amounts anticipated, the Master Mason and Controller of the Works were told in no uncertain terms that such deviations from ‘the King’s most wise and politic devices were not tolerable’.

It is possible that Lisle and Southwell then continued into Scotland to meet JamesHenry certainly sent somebody, but names are not recorded. By October, he was back in London, as his names is entered as a witness to the Patent ennobling the Chief of the O’Neils as Earl of Tyrone.

Towards the end of August, the Scots had achieved a considerable victory at Haddon Rigg, and Henry was now preparing his revenge, in which Lisle would have an important role to play. He was appointed as Lord Warden of the Marches, supported by Henry’s young nephew-by-marriage, the Earl of Cumberland. Cumberland had been recommended by Norfolk and others, but Henry thought him too young.

Lisle had more experience, although Henry was aware that he knew little of the Borders. The Bishop of Durham was therefore requested to remain and give advice, and the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk were each requested to nominate three or four ‘grave and experienced’ councillors.  Hertford, whom he was replacing as Lord Warden, was to be informed of his friend’s promotion, and wait for him. There were further orders about the number and disposition of troops that Lisle was to have, and where they were to be victualled from.

For the first month, he received £407 16s 8d for his own pay, that of 5 captains, 5 petty captains and 500 men. This included an allowance of 4s each for coats for the men, and a penny a mile for marching 200 miles. Lisle’s own rate of pay was very high – 53s 4d per day, where the men received 8d. This vast differential must reflect the very high level of responsibility.   

At the end of November, Wharton had heard that the Scots intended to invade in a two-pronged attack, whilst the English were conducting various raids. The Scots were severely defeated in the ensuing battle at Solway Moss and many of the Scots nobles captured. This was not considered a permanent defeat initially, as King James had not been directly involved, so preparations for following up the victory were put in hand.

Lisle was at Alnwick by 30th November, where there was so little provender for either horses or men that it was unlikely he could hold the castle against the Scots. He wrote a long letter on the state of the Border on 12th December, in which he urged upon Henry that to conquer the whole of Scotland between Dumbarton and the Firth of Forth would be ‘an acceptable deed before God, considering how brutely and beastly the people now be governed’ and the frequent warfare. In an indication of Lisle’s increasingly reformist religious views he added:

O! what godly act should it be to your excellent Highness to bring such a sort of people to the knowledge of God's laws, the country so necessary to your dominions, by reason whereof so many souls should live also in quietness’.

Shortly after, came news that King James was dead, and that his heir was a week-old daughter, Mary. Lisle requested instructions. He had prepared his men for a major raid, but now thought that ‘as it does not seem to the King's honour to make war upon a dead body, or a widow, or a suckling his daughter, especially at the time of his funeral’ he would not do anything until he had heard from Henry.

This sheds a very much more favourable light on Lisle’s character than other correspondence suggests. However, he showed more political realism in his follow up comments that, whilst the Lords of Scotland were divided amongst themselves over how to conduct a regency, any attack might serve to unite them.

Scottish affairs were muddied by the rivalry of the Earl of Arran and Cardinal Beaton for the Governorship. Arran was inclined to a pro-English policy, and he immediately tried to remove the cause of the current round of warfare by delivering up two men accused of murdering Henry’s messenger, Somerset Herald, to Lisle.

Henry was extremely pleased with Lisle’s conduct of affairs, and in January 1543, he was promoted to the position of Lord High Admiral. Because matters in the Border had not been resolved, he was required to stay in the North whilst a deputy acted for him at sea.

Before long, a plan was concocted to marry the baby Queen of Scots to Henry’s son, Edward. Lisle thoroughly approved of this notion, and was very positive in his estimation of Arran as a potential ally to Henry. Most importantly, Lisle had been informed that Arran appeared to have reformist religious leanings ‘he was a great favourer of the Scripture and a man…of a very good conscience’.

Lisle sent a message to Arran saying that if Arran knew Henry, ‘he would rather be his subject than… be King of all Scotland’.  No doubt a pardonable exaggeration from a faithful servant.

Scottish affairs were dominated not only by the rivalry between Arran and Beaton, but by the desire of the Queen Dowager, Marie of Guise and her French family, to maintain French influence in the country. Lisle received an urgent letter from Henry to try to intercept Queen Marie’s brother, en route from France. Ten ships were appointed to patrol the waters along the coast of Northern England and Southern Scotland.

Shortly after, Lisle had news – the Earl of Angus, Henry’s brother-in-law, who had been in exile in England for fifteen years, banished by his stepson, James V, had returned to his Scottish allegiance. Henry had relied on Angus and his brother, Sir George Douglas, to act for English interests. Initially, Lisle believed that they were acting in favour of Henry’s policies inasmuch as they were enemies of the Cardinal and supporting Arran who was still writing in favour of the marriage of Queen Mary and Prince Edward.

The Cardinal was arrested, mainly owing to Douglas’ efforts, but, although he received soothing letters from Douglas, Lisle began to be apprehensive that Henry’s plans would not come to fruition. He wrote to Arran to both warn and persuade him, reminding him that Arran was dealing ‘with the most noble prince and father of wisdom of all the world’, a description that no doubt made Henry purr with satisfaction when he read the copy letter.

Nevertheless, throughout the early part of 1543, Douglas and Angus continued to give the impression that they were acting in English interests and Lisle anticipated that things would go well. He was cheered to receive a letter from Arran, asking him to send someone to Scotland to sell Bibles in English as translations had been forbidden under James V.

Henry was happy with Lisle’s conduct of affairs, particularly his relationship with Arran, and decided he should remain in the north, rather than take up his duties as Lord Admiral. A truce was agreed in support of Henry’s objective of keeping Arran pro-English, and out of the arms of the French.

In March, the plan began to disintegrate. The Scots Parliament ratified Arran as Governor – against Henry’s wishes, who wanted the Scots to accept his overlordship. Parliament also demanded that Arran release the Cardinal, unless he could be shown guilty of treason, rejected any religious changes and, whilst willing to send commissioners to treat of the marriage, signified that the decision would be held over until the Queen reached the age of consent. In the meantime, she was to be guarded by four noblemen and remain in Scotland.

This aroused Lisle’s suspicions against Angus and Douglas and he began ‘utterly to mislike their merchandises’. Soon however, it was not his direct problem as he was replaced as Lord Warden by William, Lord Parr (whose sister Katherine, Lady Latimer, was being courted by the King). Lisle was recalled south in April 1543. It was a triumphant return, as he was elected to the Order of the Garter on St George’s Day. He was also appointed to the Privy Council.