Published online by Cambridge University Press: 25 October 2017
On 10 April 1544, Henry VIII of England issued the following instructions for an attack on Scotland:
[P]ut all to fyre and swoord, burne Edinborough towne, so rased and defaced when ye have sacked and gotten what ye can of it, as there may remayn forever a perpetuel memory of the vengeaunce of God lightened upon [them?] for their faulsehode and disloyailtye. Do what ye can out of hande, and without long tarrying, to beate down and over throwe the castle, sack Holyrod house, and as many townes and villaiges about Edinborourgh as ye may conveniently, sack Lythe and burne and subverte it and all the rest, putting man, woman, and childe to fyre and swoorde, without exception where any resistence shal be made agaynst you […].
The background to this fierce order was the Scots Parliament's recent repudiation of the Treaties of Greenwich, under which the infant Mary, Queen of Scots, had been to marry Henry's son, Edward. The complex politics need not detain us. In May 1544, the Earl of Hertford accordingly led a great sea- and land-borne attack on Edinburgh. This event was part of a sequence of English aggression to become known as the “Rough Wooing”, whereby Henry hoped to force the marriage and gain control of the Scottish Queen. Hertford's army captured and sacked Holyrood Abbey and Palace, Canongate, and large parts of Edinburgh
The most famous item of loot taken by the English in 1544 was the fine eagle lectern that George Crichton, Bishop of Dunkeld, had presented to Holyrood Abbey. This was stolen by Sir Richard Lee of Sopwell and given by him to St Stephen's Parish Church in St Albans. Another English knight in Hertford's army, Sir William Norris (c 1501–1568), from Speke in Merseyside, also took home some booty. This included (or consisted of) fifteen printed volumes in large folio. Fourteen of these contained works on law and remained at Speke Hall, a spectacular half-timbered manor house, until, at some time and by some route unknown, they came into the ownership of W Henry Brown, a Liverpool solicitor and book collector.