The Lost Fight for a Tudor "United Kingdom"

In 1543, Henry VIII had imagined a united Tudor kingdom, which united the crowns of England and Scotland into one. To accomplish this, the king set his sights on the infant Mary, Queen of Scots and proposed a marriage between her and Prince Edward, his son by his third wife, Jane Seymour. The idea was agreed by the Scottish and English crowns but was later withdrawn. Henry responded to this perceived snub with military action that would later become known as the 'Rough Wooing'. 

Edward VI. Public Domain, Met Museum.

Henry died on 28 January 1547, and his son became Edward VI. He was only nine years old however, and so ruled under the helm of his uncle and Lord Protector, Edward Seymour Duke of Somerset. Seymour took up the fight for uniting the nations with new vigour, pacifying suspicious subjects and soothing negotiations. The early twentieth-century writer St. Maur, who considered Seymour ‘far ahead of his time’ pointed out that the duke even altered the standard prayer in anticipation of the marriage, to read ‘Defender of all nations’, as opposed to ‘Defender of our nation’.[i]

The young Mary Queen of Scots, Public Domain, Met Museum

Seymour argued that the union between the two crowns benefited both countries, solving their respective succession problems. According to Sir John Hayward, Seymour argued that ‘the male princes of Scotland failing the kingdom was left to a daughter; and in that King Henry left only one son to succeed… That these two princes were agreeable both for years and princely qualities, to be joined in marriage, and… to knit both realms into one’. He also stated that ‘the name of Brittaines shall be assumed indifferent to both nations’.[ii]

Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector.
Public Domain, Austrian National Library

Despite Seymour’s enthusiasm for the marriage, it never went ahead. Scotland instead entered negotiations to marry Mary (later the Queen of Scots so central during Elizabeth’s reign) to the French Dauphin, leading to another sustained and violent military response from England. Seymour's efforts are generally seen as a failure, with huge loss of life (particularly on the Scottish side), depleted crown funds and no agreement of marriage. 

Henry VIII. National Gallery of Art, Public Domain

However it could be argued that Seymour’s perseverance in enforcing the Anglo-Scottish marriage brought the concept into the public consciousness. His and Henry's groundwork for the ruling of a single country named ‘Brittaines’, explored what a union of the crowns might look like, at least in sixteenth-century terms. It failed because the concept was hundreds of years before its time, when relationships between England, Scotland and France were at best tetchy and unstable. But it did foresee an arrangement which did happen: the formation of the United Kingdom during the reign of Queen Anne, in 1707. 

Liked this? You might also like 10 Everyday Items from Tudor Times, and Following the Tudors in Plymouth. Why not also try out some of my historic recipes, to get a sense of what our ancestors enjoyed eating in the sixteenth century? 

Never want to miss a post? Subscribe to my newsletter here: 


[i] St Maur, Annals of Seymour, p81

[ii] Hayward, Life and Reign of Edward VI p13-14

[iii] Nichols, Literary Remains, p361