Royal Scots Navy

Royal Scots Navy
The Scottish Red Ensign, flown by ships of the Royal Scots Navy

The Royal Scots Navy (or Old Scots Navy) was the navy of the Kingdom of Scotland from its foundation in the 11th century until its merger with the Kingdom of England's Royal Navy per the Acts of Union 1707.



The Scots Navy was created in about 1000 to combat the Viking invasions. Initially it consisted of longships, some captured from the Vikings. After Magnus VI of Norway ceded Scandinavian control over northern Scotland and the Western Isles to Alexander III, the navy was neglected.[citation needed]

The long course of intermittent war, from the days of Robert the Bruce to the Union of the Crowns in 1603, against England with her rapidly rising and comparatively powerful fleet, further made naval defence important for Scotland. During the period of the disputed succession to the Scottish throne, and the Wars of Scottish Independence, there appears little or no trace of a Scots navy. With Scottish independence established, Robert the Bruce turned his attention to the upbuilding of Scots shipping and of a Scots navy. In his later days he visited the Western Isles, which was part of the domain of the powerful Lords of the Isles who owed only a loose allegiance to him, and established a royal castle at East Loch Tarbert in Argyll to overawe the semi-independent Islemen.

The Exchequer Rolls of 1326 record the feudal services of certain of his vassals on the western coast in aiding him with their vessels and crews. Near his palace at Cardross on the River Clyde he spent his last days in shipbuilding; and one royal man-of-war of the Viking type at least was equipped by him before he died in 1329.

On his return to Scotland in 1424 James I gave close attention to the shipping interests of his country. At Leith he established a shipbuilding yard, a house for marine stores, and a workshop; and king's ships were built and equipped there, which were used for trade as well as war. In 1429 James went to the Western Isles with one of his ships to curb his vassals there. In the same year Parliament enacted a law that each four merk land on the north and west coasts of Scotland within six miles of the sea was, in feudal service to the king, to furnish one oar. This was the nearest approach ever made in Scotland to the ship money of England.

His successor, James II, developed the use of gunpowder and artillery in Scotland. The use of bombards or cannon as naval armament had a great effect in modifying the construction of the old trireme and Viking type of war vessel. Vessels were thereafter built with hulls thick enough to resist artillery, and with high forecastles to carry guns.

The pioneer in Scotland's newer type of warship was a churchman. In 1461 Bishop Kennedy of St. Andrews built the St Salvator, a great ship for trade and for war purposes which cost £10,000. This vessel, the "navis immanis et fortissima", was ultimately lost on the coast of Northumberland. The chief coadjutors, however, of James III and James IV in building up the Scots navy were not dignitaries of the Church, but the merchant skippers of Leith; Sir Andrew Wood of Largo, John Barton and his sons Andrew, Robert and John, and William Brounhill. In 1473 the King's Carvel, better known as the Yellow Carvel, was under the command of John Barton. In his struggle with his rebellious nobles, in 1488 James III received assistance from his two warships the Flower and Yellow Carvel, then under the command of Sir Andrew Wood.

Expansion under James IV

James IV continued his father's policy of building up the navy. He loved ships and saw the importance to Scotland of having a strong navy. He built 38 ships for his fleet and founded two new dockyards. In 1489 Sir Andrew Wood with his 2 ships cleared the Scottish seas of English privateers, capturing 5 and bringing them as prizes into Leith. That same year Lutkyn Mere, a Danish pirate who had long infested the North Sea, was captured and hanged with his crew. In 1490 Henry VII of England, by way of reprisal against Wood, fitted out three privateers under Stephen Bull; but after a running fight from the Forth to the Tay, Bull and his three ships were captured by Wood.

In 1491 Wood, who had obtained a royal licence to erect a fortalice (a fortified tower house) at Largo in Fife, employed English captives on the work. Besides making naval reprisals Henry VII of England played the diplomatic game of fomenting the semi-independent Lord of the Isles and the Islesmen to throw off the sovereignty of Scotland, with such success that from 1493–1495 (following the official forfeiture of the Lordship in 1493) and in 1498 James made at least four expeditions to the western seas to secure the doubtful allegiance of the Island chiefs and was largely successful - as a fluent Gaelic speaker, the last Scottish king to be so, James was able to deal with the Islanders in their own language.

In 1494 he was convoyed by the man-of-war Christopher and other ships, and accounts are given of a large row barge and two smaller vessels built at Dumbarton to curb the Islesmen. In the expedition of 1495 the king was accompanied by Sir Andrew Wood in Flower. In the legislation of the Scots Parliaments of 1493 and 1503 requiring all seaboard burghs to keep "busches" of 20 tons to be manned by idle able-bodied men, James and the Estates had not only the improvement of the fisheries in view, but the manning of the mercantile marine and the navy.

The Barton family also remained prominent in the annals of the Scottish navy, in the form of John's son Andrew. In reprisal for the seizure of his father's ship in 1476 by the Flemish, he received a royal commission on 6 November 1506 from King James against the Portuguese,[1] and was said to have preyed on their commerce in the English Channel. In 1508 he was sent by James IV to assist his uncle, King John of Denmark, against Lübeck. In 1511 he was sent to Copenhagen with his two ships Lion and Jenny Pirwin and in August that year, in a fight in the English Downs, Barton was slain, and his two ships captured by Lord Thomas Howard and Sir Edward Howard and transferred to the English navy.[2]

Barton's commission against the Portugese is often called a letter of marque, but it was in fact a "letter of reprisal", a different sort of document, which remained in use in Scotland long after other countries had abandoned it. Whereas a letter of marque authorized action against the king's enemies during wartime, a letter of reprisal was issued to a man who had been individually wronged by foreign governments - typically when they failed to bring their own pirates to justice for an attack.

The offended skipper was authorized to forcibly seize ships and goods from the offending country as compensation, even in peacetime, until such time as their court system did him justice. In this way, the Barton family were at war with Portugal for almost a century (c. 1470-1563), eventually subcontracting an entire fleet of privateers under their letter of reprisal. This ancient practice continued until the start of the eighteenth century. There was with a quasi-national conflict against Hamburg in the 1630s, and Jacobite privateers continued to fight under letters of reprisal issued by James VII against the Prince of Orange during the years of peace in 1697-1702.

Another unusual feature of the Scottish navy was that the office of Lord High Admiral was hereditary, being occupied by the Earl of Bothwell from 1488 to 1567 and again in 1581-95, and then by the Duke of Lennox for much of the seventeenth century. The result was that Scotland's Admiralty court was controlled by a nobleman rather than the crown, the government did not develop a naval administration like the English Navy Board, and the Lord High Admiral retained the power to issue letters of marque in his own name.

A model of the Great Michael in the Royal Museum

In spite of the survival of these medieval-style private jurisdictions, James IV succeeded in building up a navy that was truly royal. Dissatisfied with sandbanks at Leith, James himself sited a new harbour at Newhaven in May 1504, and two years later ordered the construction of a dockyard at the Pools of Airth. The upper reaches of the Forth were protected by new fortifications on Inchgarvie.[3] His greatest achievement was the construction of Great Michael, the largest ship up to that time launched in Scotland, the building of which cost £30,000. Work on the ship commenced in 1506, first launched on 11 October 1511 at Newhaven, she sailed up the Forth to Airth for further fitting. The Michael weighed 1,000 tons, was 240 feet (73 m) in length, was manned by 1,000 seamen and 120 gunners and was then the largest ship in Europe (according to the chronicler Lindsay of Pitscottie). She had Sir Andrew Wood as quartermaster and Robert Barton as skipper. James IV had three other large ships, the Margaret built in 1505, Treasurer, and the James. Timber for the Margaret came from Strathearn, Kincardine, Alloa, France and Norway, and perhaps Caithness. With these ships, the focus of the Scottish navy shifted decisively, from hiring the ships of patriotic sea captains, to being a force of purpose-built warships owned by the king. James often visited while his ships were building and the ships were hung with tapestry when he dined aboard.[4] In the campaign against England, the Scots fleet consisted of sixteen ships with tops and ten smaller craft, partly King's ships, partly hired ships and partly privateers. Commanded by the James Hamilton, 1st Earl of Arran and Gordon of Letterfourie, feudal magnates with no naval experience, it did nothing effective. Arran was later superseded by Sir Andrew Wood, but refusing to give up command he sailed for France to form a junction with the allied French fleet, but failed to do anything effective against the fleet of England. The English ambassador, Nicholas West described the preparation of the fleet on 13 April 1513;

"On Monday because I had no business, for a pastime I went down to Leith to th'entent to see what shyps were prepared ther, and when I came thidre I found none but 9 or 10 small topmen, amongst whom the ship of Lynne was the biggest, and other small balyngiers and crayers, and never one of all these was rigged to the war, but one little topman of the burden of three-score tonne. And from thence I went to the New Haven, and ther lyeth the Margaret, a ship nighe of the burden of the Cryst of Lynn, and many men workying upon her, som setting on her mayn top, and som caulking her above water, for under water she was new tallowed. Ther was also upon the stocks a litell galley in makyng, aboute 50 fote longe as I suppose, which they said the kyng made to rowe up and down upon the water to and from Strivelynge: ther is never a boorde yet upon her nor never a man wrought upon her when I was ther."[5]

The Scottish fleet sailed to France via Carrickfergus to aid Louis XII on 15 July 1513. John Barton died at Kirkcudbright on his return to Scotland.[6] In 1514 the Great Michael was sold to France for 40,000 francs tournais,[7] but some of the other men of war, and in particular James and Margaret, returned to Scotland with Antoine d'Arces, sieur de la Bastie.[8] The poet Gavin Douglas accused Regent Albany of selling three great ships and other small barques.[9] Entries in the Exchequer Rolls of 1515 and 1516 show the victualling of King's ships at Dumbarton and Dunbar, which with Leith were the principal naval harbours of Scotland, but the fleet of James IV seems to have disappeared soon after Arran's expedition to France and before the reprisals of the English and other privateers and the storms of the northern seas. The importance of the private shipping was emphasised in 1524, when an English diplomat Thomas Magnus noted that Robert Barton was an especial friend of Margaret Tudor, Magnus had been given a copy of a letter from the John Stewart, Duke of Albany, Margaret's rival for power, giving Barton instructions on provisions for Dunbar Castle which he believed to be a forgery.[10]

Voyages of James V

James V twice sailed to the Isles of Scotland, and once to France for his marriage to Princess Madeleine. James made much use of an English ship, the Mary Willoughby, captured by Hector Maclean of Duart off the Isle of Man[11] and delivered to the king at Inveraray by the Earl of Argyll in September 1533.[12] Another English ship captured around this time and passed into the king's hands was the Lion.[13]

The Isles and France

James sailed from Pittenween in Fife on 23 July 1536, circumnavigated the Isles and landed at Whithorn in Galloway on 4 August.[14] Within Scotland, the purpose of this voyage was unknown and led to speculation that a trip to France was intended. It was even suggested that the king was brought back to Scotland unawares. Adam Abell, a Friar at Jedburgh Abbey wrote;

oure King without consent of the lordis with ane gret thesaur salit to France. There wes principall with him then Schir Iames Hammiltoune bot tempest rais on the west see quhen thai wer neire France and sa be induction of his fallowis, he mysknawand, the marinaris returnit in Scotland."[15]

On 1 September 1536 he sailed from Kirkcaldy with six ships including the 600 ton Mary Willoughby and 500 men, and arrived at Dieppe on 9 September. First he visited Mary of Bourbon. The mission was kept secret from the English, and this secrecy may have led to the Scottish story that he visited that lady in disguise.[16] After his marriage to Madeleine of Valois, he sailed from Le Havre in the Mary Willoughby and in nine days reached Leith at 10 o'clock at night on 19 May 1537. During the return voyage, the Scottish and French fleet was sighted from Scarborough with three four-masted ships, and others with three masts, in total seventeen.[17] They lay off Bamburgh on the 15 May, sending out a landing party,[18] and bought fish[19] from Englishmen who came aboard.[20] Henry Ray saw the fleet arrive at Leith, noting four great Scottish ships and ten French.[21] Two of these French ships were the Perforce and Monsieur de Roy.[22] Two French ships remained in Scotland, the Salamander and the Morischer, Moriset or Great Unicorn, as gifts to James from Francis I.[23] A list of French wedding gifts includes these two as 'great ships for the wars', with two further 'gallant ships of war.'[24]

The captured Unicorn in the English Anthony Roll

After a major re-fit by John Barton, the Salamander returned to France in May 1538 to pick up the new queen, Mary of Guise, with the Moriset, Mary Willoughby.[25] James had a small boat called a barque built in 1539 to carry him and the queen between Edinburgh and Stirling on the Forth. Andrew Mansioun and other wood-carvers fitted out separate rooms for the couple, four painters worked decorating the boat with gold and blue, and the Unicorn conveyed her maiden voyage.[26] The Little Unicorn was commissioned for her maiden voyage to the Isle of May and Dundee on 24 August 1539,[27] accompanied by the Unicorn and the Mary Willoughby.[28] After the trip her guns including one medium culverin, two small falcons, and 24 hagbuts, were returned to the King's Wark in Leith.[29] On more serious business, the Unicorn and the Mary Willoughby were armed from the stores of Edinburgh Castle and cruised for pirates in the Summer of 1539.[30]

The second voyage to the Isles

A compass and four clocks were bought for his new flagship, the Salamander, in 1538.[31] The Great Lion and the Salamander were fitted with 15 large wheeled guns and 10 smaller wheeled guns in May 1540. The 22 crossbows of the Salamander and 9 small hagbut guns used on the tops were inspected and repaired, and two and half fothers of lead bought for ballast.[32] Next month, James V embarked on the newly equipped Salamander at Leith, after first making his will on 12 June,[33] and accompanied by the Mary Willoughby, the Great Unicorn, the Little Unicorn, the Lion and twelve other ships sailed to Kirkwall on Orkney. Then he went to Lewis on the West, perhaps using the newly compiled charts from his first voyage. [34] The Rutter, (French: Routier), navigates from Humber to Solway on the West.[35] James's fleet in the West was provisioned from Dumbarton, Ayr and Irvine and returned to Edinburgh by 6 July.[36] John Barton sailed to Dieppe with the Great Lion and Salamander in June 1541, and had their 27 guns cleaned and the latter ship re-rigged.[37]

James V built a new harbour at Burntisland in 1542, called 'Our Lady Port' or 'New Haven,' described in 1544 as having three blockhouses with guns and a pier for great ships to lie in a dock.[38] During 1542, the Mary Willoughby, the Lion, and the Salamander attacked merchants and fishermen off Whitby under the command of John Barton, son of Robert Barton, the 'Skipper from Leith'.[39] In December 1542, these three ships blockaded a London merchant ship called the Antony of Bruges in a creek on the coast of Brittany. The Willoughby fired on the Anthony, and the crew abandoned ship. Although the English captain complained to the French authorities at "Pouldavid Haven", they accepted a warrant shown to them by the Willoughby's Captain, named Kerr.[40]

The sea war during the Rough Wooing

After the death of James V, a note by Lord Methven apparently from March 1543 describes the tense situation. The Scots were waiting for the arrival of the Earl of Lennox, and he was told to come by the west sea to avoid the English watch. He should round the Isles and sail up the Forth to the Pows of Airth for Stirling. Lennox landed at Dumbarton in April.[41] In October 1543, Ralph Sadler the English Commissioner for the Treaty of Greenwich in Scotland, heard that John Barton planned to sail to Bordeaux in the Mary Willoughby with nine other ships, half merchant vessels and half men of war, Sadler advised an English blockade that would beggar Edinburgh.[42]

As the first major action of the war of the Rough Wooings, Edinburgh was attacked by an English marine force and burnt. The Salamander and the Scottish-built Unicorn were captured at Leith and used as transport for the return journey of a part of Lord Hertford's army on 14 May 1544, with ballast of 80,000 Scottish iron cannon-shot.[43]

The captured Salamander, in the English Anthony Roll

A large ship with 80 men captained by Robert Sandes was deployed to blockade St Andrews Castle in December 1546, held by the Fife lairds who had killed David Beaton. Lead for bullets was obtained by stripping the roof of the hall of Holyroodhouse.[44] After the death of Henry VIII, the Emperor's agent in Paris heard in March 1547 that the Scots were determined on doing their worst at sea against the English, so giving them no cause to show them favour.[45]

The Great Lion was captured off Dover on 14 March 1547[46] by Sir Andrew Dudley, brother of the Duke of Northumberland who gave her a broadside from the Pauncey.[47] The Mary Willoughby and the Great Spaniard were blockading Dieppe and Le Havre in April 1547[48] when the Mary Willoughby was recaptured by Lord Hertford.[49]

In March 1547 the French painter Nicholas, Nicholas de Nicolay, seigneur d'Arfeville, passed plans of English harbours to the French,[50] and obtained a copy of Rutter in England, which helped the French fleet's missions at St Andrews Castle and to circumnavigate Scotland to Dumbarton to collect Mary, Queen of Scots. Nicholas reported the taking by force-of-arms of the Great Lion, the Lionesse, and the Marie Galante on 7 March 1547 to Odet de Selve.[51] In May 1547, a Scottish ship with 80 men captained by a Lord, with all kinds of munition arrived at Holy-Haven near Lübeck.[52]

The Salamander listed as 300 tons with 220 men, and the Lion at 160 tons with 100 men, returned to Scotland in Edward Clinton's invasion fleet of August 1547.[53] William Patten believed that the Mary Willoughby, the Bosse and another captured English tall-ship, the Anthony of Newcastle, were captured on the Forth near Blackness Castle by Edward Clinton on 15 September 1547. Patten said that Clinton burnt seven other ships at Blackness and six more old vessels at Leith.[54] Early in October 1547, the Earl of Angus tried to recapture the island of Inchcolm from the English with five ships.[55] With Mary, Queen of Scots in France, the Emperor was concerned to hear of French ships acting against the English in the North Sea and flying Scottish colours. He feared these French ships would pretend to be Scottish pirates and attack his subjects, increasing international tension.[56]

At the height of this Anglo-Scottish war in 1549, a Scottish book was published, The Complaynt of Scotland, which described the preparation of a Scottish warship for battle. The author gives the master's orders, the chants made by the sailors to keep time, and the names of the guns with onomatopoeic attempts to render the different sounds they made. In the book, this passage is quickly followed by an explanation of celestial navigation and astrology supplied by a shepherd.[57]

When Mary of Guise sent Sir Hew Kennedy of Girvanmains to support his stepson the Earl of Sutherland against the Mackays she hired a private ship. George Hume's Lion of 85 tons was hired in August 1554 to attack the House of Burro in Strathnaver. It cost £63 Scots per month, with £60 for its crew of 20. Fifty French troops and the royal gunner Hans Cochrane embarked. After a brief siege, the captain of the Castle was hung and the chief of the Mackays brought into captivity.[58]

When Anglo-Scottish relations deteriorated again in 1557, small ships called 'shallops' were noted between Leith and France, passing as fishermen, but bringing munitions and money. Private merchants ships were rigged at Leith, Aberdeen and Dundee as men-of-war, and Mary of Guise claimed English prizes, one over 200 tons, for her fleet.[59] Once again, the re-fitted Mary Willoughby sailed with 11 other ships against Scotland in August 1557, landing troops and six field guns on Orkney to attack the castle of Kirkwall, the church of St. Magnus, and the Bishop's Palace. The English were repulsed by a Scottish force numbering 3000, and the vice-admiral Sir John Clere of Ormesby (a cousin of Ann Boleyn) was drowned, but none of the English ships were lost.[60] Veteran ships of the Kirkwall raid came to the aid of the Scottish Protestants at the Siege of Leith in January 1560, including the Greyhound, Tiger, the Bull, New Bark, and inevitably the Willoughby, all under the command of Willam Winter.[61]

The English ships seem to have been unopposed. Scotland's royal fleet, built up over two generations, had been largely destroyed. Already in the 1540s, Salamander, Little Unicorn, Mary Willoughby, Marie Galante and Lyonesse were all in English hands, while the Great Lion had been sunk off Yarmouth. Of the major royal ships, only the Great Unicorn is not known for certain to have been destroyed, and the royal government depended once again on small hired ships like the Lion.

England's ally, 1560–1689

The Scottish Reformation in 1560 established a government that was friendly to England, but which struggled to take firm control of Scotland. As a result, they lacked the military motives and economic resources that had enabled James IV and James V to maintain a fleet of great ships. Political stability returned towards the end of the century, but after the Union of the Crowns in 1603, the incentive to rebuild a royal fleet diminished further. James VI now controlled the powerful English Royal Navy, which could send ships north to defend Scottish interests, and which now opened its ranks to Scottish officers.

When the supporters of Mary, Queen of Scots had held Edinburgh Castle in April 1573, prolonging civil war in Scotland, the guns from Stirling Castle were brought to Leith in four boats. Regent Morton hired two ships in Leith with their masters John Cockburn and William Downy and 80 men for eight days. These masters of Leith sailed to Berwick upon Tweed to meet and convoy the English ships carrying the guns to bombard Edinburgh Castle.[62]

Scotland seems to have had no royal ships of her own until 1616, when a small ex-Royal Navy pinnace was acquired to chase foreign fishing boats in the Northern Isles. The Charles was armed with sixteen light guns and a crew of twenty, but at times, the Scottish Privy Council seem to have felt that even this one little ship was an unnecessary expenditure.

However, it is wrong to think that Scotland had no naval forces of her own during these years. The responsibility was simply devolved from the royal government to other groups within the kingdom, and their role shifted from national prestige to protection against piracy. The alliance of the Scottish and English governments had not stopped English pirates from preying on Scottish cargoes, so merchants and sea captains thus had an obvious motive to maintain a naval force to protect themselves. Using the political apparatus of the burghs, they armed ships to fight piracy, funded largely out of their own pockets, while some Scottish noblemen also maintained individual warships and even small squadrons.

In the 1620s, Scotland found herself fighting a naval war as England's ally, first against Spain and then also against France, while simultaneously embroiled in undeclared North Sea commitments in the Kejserkrigen. The Scots refused to send levies of conscripts to the Royal Navy, claiming that they had no deep-water sailors, but this seems to have been somewhat disingenuous, as several squadrons of Scottish warships put to sea, known as the "marque fleets" - one group financed by the burghs, others by noblemen like Robert Gordon of Lochinvar - supported by individual privateers licensed with letters of marque. Alongside these, the Privy Council commissioned three sizeable ships into the Royal Scots Navy, with Captain Murray of the little Charles now moving to the larger Unicorn, but ŀtheir intended role was still defensive protection of the east coast trade, and much of the financing came from private sources.

Scotland's naval priorities were the protection of national trade, and the pursuit of profitable raiding cruises against enemy cargos. They lacked the large, purpose-built warships of the Royal Navy, and did not share the English policy of building a heavily-armed royal fleet to project military power against foreign enemies. Nonetheless, the Scots quickly found themselves drawn into the wider war, and proved surprisingly capable allies. In 1627, the Royal Scots Navy and accompanying contingents of burgh privateers participated in the major expedition to Biscay, and then moved to Scandinavian waters. Meanwhile, Lochinvar's "marque fleet" replaced the Royal Navy as the patrol squadron in the Irish Sea, and subsequently joined the private navy of the Lord Lieutenant of Nova Scotia in an invasion fleet that briefly made Scotland the dominant imperial power in Canada. One ship even set out for the southern hemisphere to establish a colonial outpost there.

In the wars of the 1620s, the Royal Navy consisted of a dozen "great ships" built by the Stuart Kings, and a similar number of veterans of Elizabeth I's navy, rebuilt on similar lines. These ships were designed to fight in major battles, carrying a heavy weight of artillery, but many of them were neither fast nor maneuverable. The Scottish privateers, in contrast, were better suited to long voyages, rough seas and patrol work, and could give meaningful support to their English allies. After the war, however, King Charles used the Ship Money to enlarge the English fleet, adding seven more great ships and a sizeable force of small cruisers. Scotland, meanwhile, seems to have maintained no peacetime navy. The balance of power had shifted.

The transport of Scottish armies had been an important part of the naval war in the 1620s, and this remained true in the early stages of the Civil War, which began in 1639. Now, though, much of the burden was carried by ships owned by foreign governments, with the royalist supporters of King Charles relying on Royal Navy warships and English colliers converted into troopships, while their opponents, the Presbyterian Covenanters, used Swedish military transports. Nonetheless, Captain Murray's Unicorn was one of the eight warships in the Royal Navy blockading squadron, while the merchant Thomas Cunningham, based at Veere in the Netherlands, seems to have made the frigate Lorne available to the Covenanters. By 1642, the Lorne had been joined by two more Covenanting privateers to attack the Irish Confederates, and in 1643, when the Covenanters allied with the English Parliament in the First Civil War, these ships entered the Channel and joined the Parliamentarian navy, securing the Isle of Wight against the royalists.

In Scottish waters, the Covenanter-Parliamentarian alliance established two patrol squadrons for the Atlantic and North Sea coasts, known collectively as the "Scotch Guard". This consisted mainly of small English warships, controlled by the Commissioners of the Navy based in London, but it always relied heavily on Scottish officers and revenues, and after 1646, the West Coast squadron became much more a Scottish force. In 1650, Cromwell's invasion compelled the weakened Covenanters to accept political union, and during the First Anglo-Dutch War, measures were taken to impress Scottish seamen for the "State's Navy" of the English Commonwealth. Scotland was now being drawn into in the Royal Navy's recruitment patterns, supplying conscript seamen aboard English-built ships for fleet battles.

Scotland's independence was restored in 1660, and although Scottish seamen received protection against arbitrary impressment by English men of war under Charles II, a fixed quota of conscripts for the Royal Navy was levied from the sea-coast burghs during the Second and Third Dutch Wars. Royal Navy patrols were now found in Scottish waters even in peacetime, such as the small ship-of-the-line HMS Kingfisher, stationed at Dumbarton in 1685, which was considered too powerful for the rebellious Earl of Argyll's Dutch-built frigates to fight.

Nonetheless, the Scottish privateer force remained active, and in 1667, Samuel Pepys admitted privately that it seemed to be as effective against the Dutch as the entire Royal Navy. In response, the Dutch sent a squadron of warships and fireships into the Forth, but achieved little - the privateers, although outgunned on the open sea, retreated into harbour, and set up their larger guns as shore batteries. Both of the later Dutch Wars were hugely profitable for Scottish sea-rovers, and Scottish letters of marque increasingly became popular with English privateers, especially those issued by the Duke of Lennox as Lord High Admiral; he took a smaller share of the profits than the English Admiralty, and his feudal court was probably more favorable in determining whether captured ships were legitimate prizes of war.

The last years of independence, 1689-1707

By the time of England's Glorious Revolution, the Royal Navy had more than a hundred warships, most of them large ships of the line designed to fight fleet battles against rival navies. In Scotland, the Revolution of 1689 and the Nine Years' War saw the government reliant as ever on privateers and hired merchant ships, but in the mid-1690s, two separate schemes for larger naval forces were put in motion. As usual, the larger part was played by the merchant community rather than the government.

Private business interests equipped a capable force of four ships of the line for overseas campaigns, probably Scotland's largest warships since the Great Michael. Two big ships were built at Hamburg, the St Andrew and Caledonia, cited as carrying 56, 60 or 70 guns in varying sources. The St Francis of 46 guns was purchased and renamed Unicorn. The Amsterdam-built Rising Sun mounted 60 guns but was capable of bearing an even heavier armament. Although initially envisaged as privateers, they eventually sailed in peacetime, and there is some evidence that they were commissioned as Royal Scots Navy ships.

These ships were used to support the Darien Scheme, a colonial project to establish a Scottish economic and military presence in the Americas. The project was a disaster, and almost all the ships were lost during the retreat from the colony. Only the Caledonia returned to Scotland, and her subsequent career is obscure.

Simultaneously, it had been decided to establish a professional navy for commerce protection in home waters, with three purpose-built warships bought from English shipbuilders in 1696. The Royal William of 32 guns was the smallest type of fifth rate in the English ranking, but she carried a half-battery of five nine-pounder guns per side on the lower deck, giving a heavier broadside than comparable Royal Navy vessels, and at first the Scots called her a "ship" rather than a "frigate". The other two vessels were sixth-rates, the Royal Mary and Dumbarton Castle, each of 24 guns, generally described as frigates.

Even before the financial crisis caused by the failure in Darien, the Privy Council struggled to pay their running costs, and the War of the Spanish Succession saw just the two smaller frigates mobilized, "to beat off the small privateers". This they did, but much of the actual responsibility for manning and equipping the ships was passed on to the burghs in the traditional manner, and initially, the government even decided to lease out the Royal William as a merchantman for trade with the West Indies, rather than commissioning her as a warship. Her intended captain was Thomas Gordon, a veteran Aberdeen merchant captain with privateering connections; instead of crossing the Atlantic, he became the last commander of the Royal Scots Navy, taking charge of HMS Royal Mary on the North Sea patrol, moving to Royal William when she entered service in 1705, and being promoted to commodore in 1706.

As a consequence of the Act of Union in 1707, the Royal Scottish Navy was merged with the English Royal Navy, but there were already much larger English ships called Royal William and Mary, so the Scottish frigates were renamed HMS Edinburgh and HMS Glasgow, while only Dumbarton Castle retained its name. Within two years, only the ex-Royal Mary remained in service, and when she was paid off in 1719, the last meaningful connection of the Royal Navy to the old Scottish fleet had disappeared.

Most of the Scottish officers had already left, resigning their Royal Navy commissions when the Elector of Hanover became king in 1714. Commodore Gordon led the bulk of Scotland's naval officers away to the Russian Empire, where Peter the Great was in the process of launching a new navy, and needed experienced officers to command his ships. Within two years, Gordon was a Russian admiral, eventually becoming the Baltic Fleet's commander-in-chief in 1727, leading a mighty fleet of ships-of-the-line from the 100 gun flagship Peter and Paul, and governing the great naval fortress of Kronstadt.


See also


  • Duffy, S. (ed.) (2002) Robert the Bruce's Irish wars : the invasions of Ireland 1306-1329, Stroud, Gloucestershire : Tempus, ISBN 0-7524-1974-9
  • Grant, J. (ed.) (1914) The old Scots navy from 1689 to 1710, Publications of the Navy Records Society 44, London : Navy Records Society , 448 p.
  • Lavery, B (2010) Shield of Empire, The Royal Navy and Scotland, Edinburgh: Birlinn, ISBN 1-84158-513-0
  • McDonald, R.A. (1997) The Kingdom of the Isles : Scotland's western seabord, c.1000-1336, Scottish historical review monographs series 4, Phantassie : Tuckwell Press, ISBN 1-898410-85-2
  • Macdougall, N. (1989) James IV, Stewart dynasty in Scotland 1, Edinburgh : John Donald, ISBN 0-85976-200-9
  • McNamee, C. (1997) The wars of the Bruces : Scotland, England and Ireland 1306-1328, East Linton : Tuckwell Press, ISBN 1-898410-92-5
  • Murdoch, S. (2010) The Terror of the Seas? Scottish Maritime Warfare, 1513-1713, Leiden : Brill, ISBN 90-04-18568-2
  • Reid, William Stanford, Skipper from Leith: the history of Robert Barton of Over Barnton, University of Pennsylvania (1962)
  • Rodger, N.A.M. (1997) The safeguard of the sea : a naval history of Britain, Vol.1, 660-1649, London : HarperCollins in association with the National Maritime Museum, ISBN 0-00-255128-4
  • Rodger, N.A.M. (2004) The command of the ocean : a naval history of Britain, Vol. 2., 1649-1815, London : Allen Lane in association with the National Maritime Museum, ISBN 0-7139-9411-8


  1. ^ Wade, Thomas Callendar ed., Acta Curiae Admirallatus Scotiae, 1557-1562, Stair Society, Edinburgh (1937), xxviii-xxxi; 194-6, cited as precedent 13 May 1561; 202, letter of marque of 6 Nov. 1506 produced and copied.
  2. ^ Wood Marguerite ed., Flodden Papers, Scottish History Society, (1933), xxiii-xxiv, 13 note.
  3. ^ Macdougall, Norman, James IV, Tuckewell (1997), 235.
  4. ^ Macdougall, James IV, Tuckwell (1997), 233, 236-238.
  5. ^ Ellis, Henry, ed., Original Letters, 1st series, vol. 1 (1824), 67-68: Hannay, Robert Kerr, ed., Letters of James IV, SHS (1953), lxvii, 321, modern spelling.
  6. ^ Ellis, Henry, Original Letters Illustrative of English History, 1st Series, vol. 1 (1825)], 98.
  7. ^ Hay, Denys, Letters of James V, HMSO (1954), 26, date of sale 2 April 1514, ?o.s.
  8. ^ Wood, Marguerite, Flodden Papers, SHS (1933), lxxii.
  9. ^ Paterson, W., ed., The Poetical Works of Gavin Douglas, vol. 1 (1874), cviii.
  10. ^ State Papers Henry VIII, vol. 4 part 4 (1836), 213, Magnus & Radclyff to Wolsey, 2 November 1524.
  11. ^ Letters & Papers, Henry VIII< vol. 6, no. 610.
  12. ^ Cameron, Jamie, James V, Tuckwell (1998), 235.
  13. ^ Thomas, Andrea, Princelie Majestie, Birlinn (2005), 156 citing NAS E31/4 ff.99v-105v; E31/5 ff.1r-5v; E32/3 f.7r-v.
  14. ^ Cameron, Jamie, James V, Tuckwell (1998), 239: Thomas, Andrea, Princelie Majestie, John Donald (2005), 157, citing NAS E32/5 ff.112r-118v.
  15. ^ Stewart, Alasdair M., in Hadley Williams, Janet, ed., Stewart Style 1513-1542, Tuckwell, (1996), 252.
  16. ^ Cameron, Jamie, James V, Tuckwell (1998), 152-153 note 6.
  17. ^ State Papers Henry VIII, vol. 5 part 4 cont., (1836), 78, Norfolk to Cromwell, 18 May 1537.
  18. ^ State Papers Henry VIII, vol. 5 part 4 cont., (1836), 79-80, Clifford to Henry VIII, 26 May 1537.
  19. ^ Accounts of the High Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 7 (1907), 24.
  20. ^ Cameron, Jamie, James V, Tuckwell (1998), 130-133.
  21. ^ State Papers Henry VIII, vol. 5 part 4 cont., (1836), 79, Clifford to Henry VIII.
  22. ^ Thomas, Andrea, Princelie Majestie, John Donald (2005), 158: TA, vol. 7, 25.
  23. ^ Lindsay of Pitscottie, Robert, Chronicles of Scotland, vol. 2, Edinburgh (1814), 372.
  24. ^ Guthrie, William, History of Scotland, vol. 5 (1767), 166 citing a list in Balfour's annals, (later published)
  25. ^ Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, vol.7 (1907), 182-184: Thomas, Andrea, Princelie Majestie, John Donald (2005), 158-159.
  26. ^ Accounts of Lord High High Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 7 (1907), 189-190.
  27. ^ Thomas, Andrea, Princelie Majestie, John Donald, (2005), 160 citing NAS E31/8 ff.99v-102r.
  28. ^ Ellis, Henry, 'Observations on a Household book of James V', in Archaeologia, vol. 22, (1829), 9-10, says Isle of Man.
  29. ^ Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 7 (1907), 228-9.
  30. ^ Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 7 (1907), 224-226.
  31. ^ Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 8, 159.
  32. ^ Accounts of the High Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 7 (1907), 353, 356, 421
  33. ^ Historical Manuscripts Commission, Earl of Mar & Kellie at Alloa House, (1904), 15.
  34. ^ Lindsay, Alexander, A Rutter of the Scottish Seas, Maritime Monographs and Reports, no. 44 (1980): de Nicolay, Nicholas, La Navigation de Roy d'Ecosse Jacques cinquisieme, (1583): Miscellanea Scotica, (1818-1820), iv.
  35. ^ Bonner, Elizabeth, The Recovery of St Andrew's Castle in 1547, French Naval Policy and Diplomacy, English Historical Review, June, (1996), 585 & map fig. 1.
  36. ^ Cameron, Jamie, James V, Tuckwell (1998), 245-248.
  37. ^ Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 7 (1903), 465.
  38. ^ Thomas, Andrea, Princelie Majestie, Birlinn (2005), 164 citing Hamilton Papers, vol. 2, (1892), Appendix 2, nos. 724-5.
  39. ^ Merriman, Marcus, The Rough Wooings, Tuckwell (2000), 181, citing Letters & Papers, Henry VIII, vol. 18: See also, William Stanford Reid, Skipper from Leith, University of Pennsylvania (1962)
  40. ^ Letters & Papers, Henry VIII, vol.18 part 1 (1901), no.91.
  41. ^ Cameron, Annie I., ed., Scottish Correspondence of Mary of Lorraine, SHS (1927), 10-11 & notes.
  42. ^ Clifford, Arthur ed., Sadler State Papers, vol. 1 (1809), 322-3, Sadler to council 25 October 1543.
  43. ^ Stevenson, Joseph ed., The History of Mary Stewart by Claude Nau, Edinburgh, (1883), 318, 338-9: The Late Expedition in Scotland, London (1544), reprinted in Tudor Tracts, London (1903) 41, 44.
  44. ^ Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, Vol.9 (1911), 44.
  45. ^ Calendar State Papers Spain, vol. 9 (1912), 499, St. Mauris to Charles V, 25 March 1547
  46. ^ Cameron, Annie ed., The Scottish Correspondence of Mary of Lorraine, Scottish History Society, (1927), 176, 180, 186.
  47. ^ Strype, John, Ecclesiastical Memorials, vol. 2 part 2 (1822), 14-15.
  48. ^ Calendar State Papers Foreign Edward, Longman (1861), 10.
  49. ^ Merriman, Marcus, The Rough Wooings, Tuckwell (2000), 72, citing Boulind, R., 'Ships of Private Origin in the mid-Tudor Navy: The Lartique, Salamander, Mary Willoughby etc.', The Mariner's Mirror, lix, London (1973), 385-408.
  50. ^ Calendar State Papers Foreign Edward, Longman (1861), 15.
  51. ^ Bonner, Elizabeth, The Recovery of the Castle of St. Andrews in 1547, French Naval Policy and Diplomacy, English Historical Review, June (1996), 583-4, 587; Correspondance Politique de Odet de Selve, (1888), 117-119
  52. ^ Calendar of State Papers Foreign Edward, Longman (1861), 33, John Dymock to the Lord Protector.
  53. ^ Calendar of State Papers Scotland, vol. 1 (1898), 12-13.
  54. ^ Patten, William, The Expedition into Scotland, 1547, London (1548), reprinted in Tudor Tracts (1903), 138, 140.
  55. ^ Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 1 (1898), 24, Andrew Dudley to Somerset, 8 October 1547.
  56. ^ Calendar State Papers Spanish, vol. 9, (1912), 307-8, 29 October 1548.
  57. ^ Murray, James A. H., The Complaynt of Scotland (1549), Early English Text Society, London (1872), 40-42, 46-62.
  58. ^ Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 10 (1913), l-lv, 233-4.
  59. ^ Strype, John, Ecclesiastical Memorials, vol. 3 part 2, Oxford (1822), 81.
  60. ^ Strype, John, Ecclesiastical Memorials, vol. 3 part 2, (1822), 67-9, 86-87,: cf. Buchanan, George, History of Scotland, trans. Aikman, vol 2 (1827), 396, bk. 16, cap. 19.
  61. ^ Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol.1 (1898), 294, Admiral Winter's Journal
  62. ^ Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer, vol. 12, HMSO, Edinburgh (1970), 344.

Further reading

The most accessible work on the Old Scots Navy and Scots naval matters, prior to 1649, is N. A. M. Rodger, The Safeguard of the Sea (1997), which provides extensive coverage in context, particularly for the Wars of Independence and the reign of James IV. The bibliography provided by Rodger is considerable, and includes works on the Early and High Medieval periods. The second volume of Rodger's history, The Command of the Ocean (2004), offers comparatively little coverage of Scotland.

Norman Macdougall, James IV (1989) is the standard life of the king most important to the history of the Royal Scots Navy, and does not stint on naval coverage. Works such as R. Andrew McDonald, The Kingdom of the Isles (1997), Colm McNamee, The Wars of the Bruces (1998), and Sean Duffy, Robert the Bruce's Irish Wars (2002), may be helpful to expand the context provided by Rodger.

Jamie Cameron's James V (1998) adds detail from published and manuscript sources to the stories of the king's voyages, and gives detailed analysis of their historic context.

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