Robert Wedderburn, from The Complaint of Scotland

[Click on image to enlarge] In the 1540s, England launched a series of military assaults on Scotland. The chief English aim was to force the infant Mary Queen of Scots into a dynastic marriage with their young Prince Edward (from 1547, Edward VI). Hence the campaign, which failed in its main objective, was known as the Rough Wooing.

In many respects, the Rough Wooing was simply the latest in a long line of English assaults on Scotlands independence. But there was one crucial difference. Since the thirteenth century, the aim of Englands kings had always been to establish their sovereignty over Scotland. Now the English announced a grander goal: to incorporate themselves with Scotland in a single nation, Great Britain (to be dominated, of course, by England). To justify this aim, the English drew on a body of medieval traditions, including Merlins prophesies, which told that Britain had once been a united realm, and would be again.

The Complaint of Scotland (1550), probably by Robert Wedderburn, is a Scottish response to the propaganda campaign that accompanied Englands military onslaught. Among other things, Wedderburn argues that Scotland has never been part of Britain. (Scots generally applied this term to England and Wales only, preferring the name Albion for the island as a whole.) In the passage below, Wedderburn pours scorn on English faith in Merlins prophesies, while predicting that the island would indeed soon be united under one rulera Scottish one. Wedderburns prediction came to pass half a century later, when James VI of Scotland succeeded to the English throne. After that turn of events, English enthusiasm for a united Britain dropped off very quickly.

The Complaint of Scotland is written in Scots, which some regard as a dialect of English, and others as a distinct language, similar to English. We provide two versions of the text, the first in modern Scots, the second in standard English. (Click here to skip directly to the standard English version.) Both adaptations are the work of Professor Willy Maley of the University of Glasgow.

 

[Modern Scots]

The orators ae England at thur Protectors >> note 1 instance hiv set forth a book wherebae they intend tae prove that Scotland wiz a colony ae England when it wiz first inhabited. Thur reasons that they allege appear tae them tae be invincible, howbeit they be but frivolous. Thur special intention is tae gar >> note 2 thur cruel invasions contrair >> note 3 oor realm appear in the presence ae foreign princes that they hiv a just title tae make war contrair us. And howbeit that the said poetical book be dited oratorly >> note 4 tae persuade the vulgar ignorants tae adhere tae invented fables contrary tae the just verity, >> note 5 yet realms are no conquered bae books but bae blood.

There is wan passage in the said book that the Englishmen have an ardent desire tae see come intae effect. The tenor ae the passage says that it were very necessary for the weelfare ae England and Scotland that baith the realms were joined thegither, and tae be under the governing ae wan prince, and the twa realms tae be called the Isle ae Britain, as it wiz in the beginning, when the Trojan Brutus conquered it frae the giants. And also the Englishmen gie firm credit tae diverse profane prophesies ae Merlin, and tae other auld corrupted vaticinaries, >> note 6 tae whose imagined works they gie mair faith than they dae tae the prophesies ae Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremy, or tae the Evangel. The which profane prophets and prophesies hiv affirmed them in thur rusty rhyme that Scotland and England wull be under wan prince.

The ardent desire and inordinate avaricious affection that Englishmen hiv tae be violent dominators ae oor country has provoked them tae make cruel wars agin us for these monie years bypast, tae that effect that thur diabolic profane prophesies may be fulfilled, no regarding if the will ae God has permitted bae his divine guidness that sich prophesies come tae effect. Nor do they consider that all prophesies hiv dootsome >> note 7 and double expositions. Yet nonetheless I hope in God that the richt sense ae thur profane prophesy wull be fulfilled in this generation, and that Englishmen wull get thur desire, tae thur perpetual confusion.

The Englishmen expound the prophesy ae Merlin tae thur ain affection as the Jews expounded the prophesy ae Cayphas. Cayphas ae an evil intent spoke true prophesy, but yet he and the Jews interpreted it tae the wrang sense, which wiz the cause ae thur awn condemnation. . . . >> note 8

Thur examples may be conferred and applied wae the prophesies ae Merlin tae which the Englishmen gie mair confidence nor >> note 9 they gie tae the Evangel, because thur auld profane prophesies say that England and Scotland wull be baith under wan prince. Oan these misteous prophesies, they hiv intended wars agin Scotland in the hope tae conquer it. But as I hiv before rehearsed, I believe that thur prophesy wull come tae effect, but no tae thur intent; and England and Scotland wull be wan monarchy under wan prince in this generation, conforming tae a prophesy that I hiv read in the English chronicle, in a book called Polichronicon, which says England wull be first conquered bae the Danes, and then bae the Saxons, and thirdly bae the Normans, and thur last conquering wull be conquest bae the Scots, who Englishmen haud maist vile. And frae that time furth, England and Scotland wull be but wan monarchy, and wull live under wan prince, and so Englishmen wull get thur prophesy fulfilled tae thur ain mischief.

 

[Modern English]

The orators of England at their Protectors >> note 10 instance have set forth a book whereby they intend to prove that Scotland was a colony of England when it was first inhabited. The reasons they offer appear to them to be invincible, but they are frivolous. Their special intention is to make the cruel invasions perpetrated against our realm appear in the presence of foreign princes that they have a just title to make war against us. And howsoever that the said poetical book be written eloquently to persuade the vulgar and ignorant to adhere to invented fables contrary to the truth, yet nonetheless realms are not conquered by books but by blood.

There is a passage in the said book which the Englishmen have an ardent desire to see come to effect. The tenor of the passage is that it is very necessary for the welfare of England and Scotland that both the realms were conjoined together, under the governance of one prince, the two realms to be called the Isle of Britain, as it was in the beginning, when the Trojan Brutus conquered it from the giants. And also the Englishmen give firm credit to diverse profane prophesies of Merlin, and to other old corrupted prophesies, to whose imagined works they give more faith than to the prophesies of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremy, or to the Evangel. Those profane prophets and prophesies have affirmed them in their rusty rhyme that Scotland and England shall be under one prince.

The ardent desire and inordinate avaricious affection that Englishmen have to be violent dominators of our country has provoked them to make cruel wars against us these many years past, to the effect that their diabolic profane prophesies may be fulfilled, not regarding if the will of God has permitted by his divine goodness that such prophesies come to effect. Nor yet they consider not that all prophesies have doubtful and double expositions. Yet nonetheless I hope in God that the right sense of their profane prophesy shall be fulfilled in this generation, and that Englishmen shall get their desire, to their perpetual confusion.

The Englishmen expound the prophesy of Merlin to their own affection as the Jews expounded the prophesy of Cayphas. Cayphas of an evil intent spoke true prophesy, but yet he and the Jews interpreted it to the wrong sense, which was the cause of their own condemnation. . . .

Their examples may be conferred and applied with the prophesies of Merlin to which the Englishmen give more confidence than they give to the Evangel, because their old profane prophesies say that England and Scotland shall be both under one prince. On these mysterious prophesies, they have intended wars against Scotland in hope to conquer it. But as I have before rehearsed, I believe that their prophesy shall come to effect, but not to their intent; and England and Scotland shall be one monarchy under one prince in this generation, conforming to one prophesy that I have read in the English chronicle, in a book called Polichronicon, the which prophesy says that England shall be first conquered by the Danes, and then by the Saxons, and thirdly by the Normans, and their last conquering shall be by the Scots, whom Englishmen hold most vile. And from that time forth, England and Scotland shall be but one monarchy, and shall live under one prince, and so Englishmen shall get their prophesy fulfilled to their own mischief.


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