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Admiral Sir Andrew Barton, Knight

Admiral Sir Andrew Barton, Knight

Male Abt 1466 - 1511  (~ 45 years)

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  • Name Andrew Barton 
    Prefix Admiral Sir 
    Suffix Knight 
    Born Abt 1466  Leith, Midlothian, Scotland, UK Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Gender Male 
    Died 2 Aug 1511 
    • He died in sea battle in the English Downs in North Sea.
    Notes 
    • Andrew Barton was the eldest son of John Barton of Leith and was born about 1466 and was of Leith, County Edinburgh, Scotland.  Like his grandfather, he was a famous Scottish naval officer.  In August, 1511, Admiral Barton was killed  during a great naval battle with the English.

      The following was said of him by some authors:

      (a) Andrew Barton: "One of Scotland's first great naval commanders; flourished during the reign of James IV, and belonged to a family which for two generations had produced able and successful seamen." (The American International Encyclopedia, Vol. II)

      (b) "The real founders of the Scotch navy were the two Barton brothers; Andrew and Robert, and others of their time." (J.H. Campbell Irons, Leith and its Antiquities, Vol. 1 and II.)

      (c) The Bartons (Andrew, Robert, and John), like their shipmate and friend, Sir Andrew Wood, all obtained high honor and fame, though their origin was more distinguished than his, and they were long remembered among the fighting captains of Leith.  The eldest brother, Andrew Barton, was an especial favorite of James IV who bestowed upon him the then coveted honor of Knighthood for "upholding the Scottish flag upon the seas". (Grant-Cassell's Old and New Edinburgh, Vol. III)  Thereafter, he was known as Admiral Sir Andrew Barton.

      There does not seem to be any record of his early youth.  It may be assumed, however, that he, together with his brothers, went to sea, under the able guidance and instruction of their renowned Father.

      The first notice found of Sir Andrew is that, in 1497, his brother Sir Robert, being in command of the celebrated ship the Lion, and which it is surmised, was the joint property of the three brothers, conveyed Perkin Warbeck and his consort  (styled the Duke and Duchess of York) from the port of Ayr, in Scotland, to the continent.   Sir Andrew furnished, by which is understood that he presented biscuit, cider, and beer for the voyage.  Perkin Warbeck was a pretender to the throne of England, and was hanged in 1499.

      In the summer of 1506, King James IV appointed Admiral Sir Andrew to the command of a large, costly, and newly-built ship, and ordered him to avenge a flagrant act of injustice and cruelty committed by the people of Holland.  The Hollanders had seized some Scottish ships and thrown the merchants and mariners into the sea.  Sir Andrew retaliated by taking several of the Hollanders' ships, sent to Scotland several barrels filled with the heads of the offenders, and returned himself with much booty and renown.  (The writer of the Barton-Stedman Memoir excuses this bloody and barbarous act of Sir Andrew as being not unusual for that rough and turbulent time.)

      In 1508, Admiral Sir Andrew Barton was sent by the King of Scotland to assist Denmark in war against the Hanseatic town of Lubeck in Germany. (Dictionary of National Biography)

      From Item 2175 in The Register of the Privy Seal of Scotland, Vol. I (1488-1529), it is learned that, in recognition of his deeds, on 2 January 1510, King James IV gave to Admiral Sir Andrew and his heirs the grant of an escheated estate consisting of the domicile and all lands of Ballinbreich, and the grant of advowson to the Chapel of  Glenduky located on the said estate. The grant of advowson made Sir Andrew and his heirs responsible as patrons of the chapel, with the right to nominate someone as clergyman to serve the chapel.  As part of their responsibility the patrons furnished a "church living" for the clergyman.  On 16 October 1510, Ballinbreich was merged into the estate of Hall-Tacis (see below).

      Item 3511 of  The Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, (1424-1513), shows that on 16 October 1510, at Edinburgh, King James IV granted to Andrew Barton and his son Alexander Barton the freehold estate of Hall-Tacis. This estate, created specifically for them, was formed by merging together the whole or parts of the lands of Tacis (including Hall-Tacis and Hill-Tacis), Ballinderaine, Heighame, Logy, Ballinbreich, Leslie, and Ballingall.  The newly formed estate was situated partly in county Kinross and partly in County Fife.  In 1557 Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, confirmed "letters made by Alexander Barton selling the estate to John Pattersoun."

      Under the letters of marque granted to them in 1505, the Barton brothers put out to sea in merchant vessels of the largest type of those days. These vessels had low waists and very high poops and forecastles.  Sir Andrew pursued his course with such vigor and success that even his name was a terror to the Portuguese.  They were driven to the expedient of sending their goods to England in English ships, but this ruse did not defeat Sir Andrew in his purpose.  He did not hesitate to attack such ships and seize the Portuguese goods found on board.

      The English merchants complained to the Kings Privy Council, who coldly received and rejected their complaint since Sir Andrew's acts were lawful under the authority granted by letters of marque.  The Portuguese merchants likewise complained to their King who, on the plea of friendly alliance, demanded King Henry VIII of England to "clear the seas of Sir Andrew."  Moved by such incitement, Lord Thomas Howard obtained permission of the English king to fit out two ships for the purpose. Lord Thomas and his brother Sir Edward Howard were appointed to command the ships.

      After having equipped three ships of war and an armed collier, the Howard brothers sailed from the Thames River in search of Sir Andrew Barton. They met him in the English Downs (a roadstead in the North Sea, along the coast of County Kent, England) as he was returning from a cruise on the coast of Portugal.  Sir Andrew had with him only two of his ships, the "Lion" (of 36 guns, and commanded by himself) and the "Jenny Pirwine" (an armed collier).  [Another ship owned by him was the "Cuckoo" (Grant-Cassell's Old and New Edinburgh, Vol. III; Dictionary of National Biography)]

      This meeting occurred on August 2, 1511, and immediately resulted in a long and bitterly fought conflict in which Sir Andrew was wounded.  Even so, he continued to encourage his crew until he received a cannon ball in his body and fell dead upon the deck.  His ships were immediately boarded and carried into the Thames River.  After a short imprisonment the crews were dismissed, but the ships were retained as prizes.

      The "Lion" was placed in the English navy as the second ship of war. This conflict between Sir Andrew and the Howard brothers is commemorated by English poets, from their point of view, in "The Ballad of Sir Andrew Barton" (included in Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry) and in "Sir Andrew Barton" (included in Naval Songs and Ballads).

      The conflict eventually led to the Battle of Flodden Field, which was fought in February 1514 between the armies of James IV of Scotland and Henry VIII of England.  Though these two kings were brothers-in-law they held intense hatred and contempt for each other.

      He left one son.
      _________________________________

      The following is an edited transcript of a discussion of the circumstances surrounding the death of Sir Andrew Barton, from the "Memoir of the Family of Barton, etc." by John Stedman, Esq., of Bath, in the County of Somerset, a descendant of Sir Andrew Barton:

      Sometime after the seizure of John Barton's ship in 1476 and the mistreatment of its crew, King James III complained by letter to the King of Portugal about the affair of 1476, and claimed compensation for the sons of John Barton.  Minor satisfaction resulted from the complaint, and James III later granted Letters of Marque (Reprisal) to John, and Robert Barton, against the Portuguese, authorizing them to indemnify themselves upon the Portuguese, for the loss and injury sustained.

      However, in hope of redress by the Portuguese, the letters were being held in abeyance when the king died in 1488.  James IV, his son and successor, then was an infant and the letters lay dormant until 1494.  In that year, James IV granted new letters to the two younger sons (Robert and John, Jr.) of John Barton.

      When King James IV came to the throne, he forbore to sanction the use of the Letters, until he should have communicated with the King of Portugal.  He, therefore, sent a special messenger, charged with a dispatch on the subject, but, as the Bartons were importunate for redress, James granted Letters of Reprisal, under his Privy Seal, and Sign Manual, dated 6th November 1505, to "Andrew Barton, the younger, Son of John Barton, and to the Heirs and Assigns of Andrew viz.: Robert and John, the brothers of Andrew, authorizing them to make Reprisals on the Portuguese to an equal extent as the goods of which they had been plundered, and of which restitution was denied; and that wheresoever Andrew, or his brothers, or their assigns, should  meet with or could seize any one or more Portuguese (ships), by sea or land, it should be lawful for then to do so, to the utmost of their power, forever, until satisfaction should be made, to an equal amount for the loss of the ship, and the destruction and plunder of all the goods which were on board, and for the slaughter of the seaman and kinsmen of Andrew, and his brothers, to the number of seven men, and that the expense of the whole matter should be fixed at 12,000 Portuguese ducats."

      In order to give these letters all possible notoriety and to preclude any plea of ignorance, James IV wrote to "all Kings, Princes, Potentates, and States on the Coast, to notify them that the Bartons, and their ships, were not to be deemed pirates, but such as had true Letters of Marque and Reprisal from him."

      Soon after the accession of King James V - he being supplicated incessantly by the Bartons to renew the Letters, wrote to the King of Portugal explaining the whole transaction of the outrage of 1476, "in the certain hope that he would in his good feeling and integrity, resolve upon nothing in the cause which was not good and just."

      The Bartons did not recover an recompense from the Portuguese.  The Letters of Reprisal were, therefore, continued, and remained in full force.

      As Andrew Barton's name did not appear in the Letters of King James III, Pinkerton, in his History of Scotland, erroneously concludes that as in the Letters of James IV, Andrew is styled the younger and there seems to have been an Uncle named Andrew.  The reason why Andrew was called the younger could only have been because his grandfather Andrew was living. The error in Pinkerton may be excusable, as he could not have any particular interest in ascertaining the genealogy of the Bartons, yet it would have been quite as reasonable to have assumed the possibility of a Grandfather being in existence as an uncle.

      The omission of Andrew's name may thus be accounted for.  It has already been shown that his father must have been amongst those who were seized in the Juliana, thrown into a fishing boat and set adrift because he afterwards appeared in Lisbon.  Andrew may have shared the same fate, and escaped from Lisbon after the murder of his father, or he may have been of the number that were made slaves, and have been ransomed, a practice then common.  Either of these modes of release would, probably take much time to effect, and he may not have arrived in Scotland before the Letters of James IV were issued.  Certain, however, it is that he did arrive, for the Letters of James show that he represented the whole of the outrage of 1476 to him.

      With respect to the sum of 12,000 Portuguese ducats being fixed as the amount of injury, it has been suggested by Pinkerton, and with great reason, that there must be some error, and that a much larger amount was named.  Doubloons was, probably, the coin specified, which taken at a moderate average of £4 sterling each would produce a total of £48,000, a large sum certainly with reference to the period, but not greater than the value of the Juliana, with all her costly goods, may be supposed to have been worth.

      It is a fact most extraordinary that the action of the Letters of Reprisal extend over a period of nearly a century.  In 1543, Arran, the Regent, gave Letters of Reprisal to John Barton, Grandson of the first John, the victim of 1476.  Those Letters bear that Gaspar Apalha was sent to Scotland, in the reign of James V to have the original cause solemnly tried, and that it was given against the Portuguese who, however, continued to neglect the payment.  It was not until 4th June 1563 that the letters were formally recalled by Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (1542-1567).

      As the result of these Letters proved to be, eventually, of such vast importance, nothing less indeed, according to historians of the time, than one great cause of war between England and Scotland which terminated in the death of King James IV at the Battle of Flodden Field.  Moreover, as it was fighting under the authority of these Letters that Sir Andrew was slain, I have deemed it expedient here to give a detailed account of them.

      It has been asserted by English historians that Sir Andrew did not confine himself within the limits of his commission, but that he exceeded it by searching English ships, under the pretense of their having Portuguese goods on boards and of appropriating them wherever he found them.  He is, moreover, accused, though without any proof, of having taken English ships freighted with Portuguese goods, and it was alleged that no English ship could safely navigate the narrow seas.

      There can be no doubt that Sir Andrew scoured the coasts of Portugal, watched the ships of that country withersoever bound, seized many of them, and interrupted their commerce to a very considerable extent, as he was authorized in those acts by virtue of his Letters of Reprisal. Whether those Letters were just or unjust, whether legal, or otherwise, was neither matter of scrutiny nor consideration for Sir Andrew - that was the affair of the Sovereign, and his Council, for which they alone were responsible.

      Such was the vigor and success with which Sir Andrew pursued his course that his very name was a terror to the Portuguese.  They were driven to the expedient of transmitting their goods to England, in English ships, thinking the flag of that nation might protect them from the attacks of Sir Andrew and thus prove a security to them.  But aware of the device, Sir Andrew did not hesitate to attack such vessels and seize the Portuguese goods found on board.

      English merchants said these acts were piratical, and they frequently and perseveringly laid their complains before the Council, by whom they were coldly received, and as often rejected.

      The Portuguese merchants also complained to their King, who thereupon, represented to the King of England how the subjects of the former were molested on the English coast, and their commerce interrupted.  The King of Portugal then demanded of Henry, as his ancient ally, to clear the seas of Sir Andrew.  The Portuguese Ambassador warmly urged that he had, by his conduct, usurped the narrow seas.

      Moved by such incitements, The Duke of Norfolk, at that time Treasurer, rose from his seat in the Council, and declared that while he had an estate that could furnish a ship, or a son capable of commanding one, the narrow seas should not be infested.  The spirited declaration was worthy the noble Howard, although, perhaps, more gallant than prudent, opposed, as it was, to the opinion of the other Members of the Council, all, or at least most of them conspicuous and pre-eminent for their talents, and statesman-like endowments.  They were:

      William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor
      Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester, Secretary, and Lord Privy Seal
      Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, Lord Treasurer
      George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, Lord Steward of the King's Household
      Sir Charles Somerset, Lord Herbert, of Gower, Chepstow, and Ragland, Lord Chamberlain
      Sir Thomas Lovel, Master of Wards and Constable of the Tower
      Sir Henry Wyatt
      Thomas Ruthall, L.L.D.
      Sir Edward Poynings, Knight of the Garter, Controller
      Lard Marney
      Lord Darcy

      The apparent frankness of the declaration of the Duke of Norfolk by no means precludes the probability of an understanding between His Grace and Henry, that the Duke should make that declaration at the Council, after the Portuguese Ambassador had proposed to Henry his device to destroy Sir Andrew Barton.  It might be to screen Henry from the ignominy or originating an outrageous attack upon a subject and personal friend of his brother-in-law.

      It is not to be credited that the Duke would have dared to utter such a declaration without the previous consent of Henry who was far too jealous of his own paramount and exclusive authority to allow a subject to initiate and promulgate any ministerial design.

           "Surry, durst better Have burnt that tongue than said so."

      Permission was, then, given by Henry to the Duke to fit out two ships, and Lord Thomas Howard, and Sir Edward Howard, sons of the Duke, were appointed to command them for the purpose of intercepting and attacking Sir Andrew.  Here, it is to be observed, that no regular commission, or authority was granted to them, but merely a permission.  That is, Henry connived both at the armament, and its object, yet declined to sanction them under authority, as James had openly, and avowedly done, by granting Letters of Reprisal to Sir Andrew and his brothers, in due legal official form and announced with all publicity.

      What may have been the reasons that prevailed on the Council, so repeatedly, to refuse to listen to the complaints of English merchants, do not appear to be recorded, but be they what they may, they could not have arisen from the apprehension that a favorable attention to them would have been unwelcome to their Sovereign whose violent hostility against the King of Scotland was matter of public notoriety, and with whom it was equally notorious that Henry was in way desirous to maintain a good understanding, but rather to pick a quarrel with him, notwithstanding the Treaty of Peace lately entered into between the two Monarchs.

      Nor could they have been from the fear that an exhausted treasury forbade the policy, or prudence of entering into a war, because Henry in coming, but lately, to the throne had succeeded to the possession of all the accumulated and vast wealth of his father.

      It is a fair inference then, that the Council were influenced by the knowledge that the course pursued by Sir Andrew, was, at least, permitted by the custom of the age, if it were not, as is understood, consistent with the Law of Nations.  That the inference is correct is beyond assumption as the exploits of Sir Andrew were subsequently, fully and formally acknowledged to be lawful.

      The truth or falsehood of the charges against Sir Andrew are now to be investigated.  According to Lesley, Bishop of Ross, who wrote his celebrated History of Scotland about 1560: "John and Andrew Barton, who had requested and obtained from the King of Scotland, Letters of Reprisal against the Portuguese, after coasting along the shores of Portugal and plundering many vessels, returned to Scotland, loaded with merchandise of very considerable value, which kind of plunder so often repeated by the Bartons, caused the Portuguese to make a bitter outcry to their King himself, against the Scots, as being a set of nefarious robbers.  But neither the King of Portugal by his counsel, nor the Portuguese themselves, by their own strength, could ever restrain the Bartons, fortified by their King's Letters, from attacking, despoiling and destroying the Portuguese vessels, whenever they fell in with them.

      "So that it may not appear a manifest wrong committed by the Bartons, but, rather, a most just cause for it, arising from the Portuguese, we will insert, in this place, the precise Letters of our King James V (as they are found in the Archives) which he wrote on the subject to John III, King of Portugal, from which it will be most clearly plain, whether the fault is to be justly attributed to the Scots, or the Portuguese."

      The entire letter which sets forth the whole affair of 1476 says towards the conclusion: "But if it should seem to you a matter to be passed over, We entreat your Serene Highness to consider that We cannot be wanting towards our subjects, injured, as they are, in the most serious manner, and to whom it will, at least, be permitted to avail themselves of the Law of Nations according to the measure of the act of plunder, and the injury consequent there.

      Hence is appears that James V full justified Sir Andrew.

      Buchanan, whose History of Scotland was published 1582, says that, "Sir Andrew, under authority of his Letters of Reprisal, did much mischief to the Portuguese."  He assigns as the reason for Sir Andrew being attacked by the Howards that "the Portuguese Ambassador came to Henry VIII and told him that the man who had done so much mischief to the ancient allies of England was both daring and brave, and would, assuredly, be his future enemy, when he made war against France, as it was expected would soon be the case, and that he might now easily be cut off; and if the fact happened to be condemned as illegal, it might be excused under pretense of his exercising Piracy; that if he would do this, he might prevent the losses of his own subjects, and also very much gratify their King, his friend and ally.

      "Henry was thus easily persuaded to entrap Sir Andrew, and in order to compass it, he sent the Howards to waylay him in the Downs."

      Now, Buchanan was born six years before the death of Sir Andrew; he was Preceptor to James VI, and resident at the Court, nearly the last twenty years of his life, and had thus the opportunity of being in communication with Sir Andrew's contemporaries, and must also have had access to the Scottish Archives; yet he is silent as to any charge of piracy against Sir Andrew.

      It is to be remembered too, that Buchanan was celebrated not less as a classical scholar, than for his scrupulous veracity as an historian.  If then, he had discovered any original documents relative to Sir Andrew's alleged piracy, he would, doubtless, have given them publicity.

      Hall and Hollingshead, the earliest English chroniclers of the times, whose compilations were published in 1543 and 1587, give nearly the same account with each other, the latter copying from the former, almost word for word, and says "the King (Henry VIII) being at Leicester, heard tidings that one Andrew Breton, a Scottishman, and pirate of the sea, saying that the King of Scotland had war with the Portugals, robbed every nation, and stopped the King's streams, that no merchant almost could pass, and when he took Englishmen's goods, he bare them in hand that they were Portugal's goods, and thus he hunted and robbed at every haven's mouth."

      Stow, in his Annals, published 1631, copies his account, verbatim, from Hollingshead.

      Lord Herbert, of Cherbury, the panegyrist of Henry VIII, in his History of that Monarch's reign, says that, "Sir Andrew seized on divers lesser English barques (upon pretence of carrying Portugal goods) and pillaged them."

      Echard, in his history of England, published 1720, copies his account of Sir Andrew from Lord Herbert.

      Abercromby, in his History of the Martial Achievements of Scots Nation, from 1319 to 1514, published 1725, relates his account of Sir Andrew taking English ships on pretense of their carrying Portuguese goods, as he acknowledges, from English authors.  But he declares, expressly, that "he sees no proof of it", and moreover, adds, "If Sir Andrew did so, Henry VIII, ought, in reason and justice, to have complained to his brother-in-law, with whom he had so lately renewed the peace; and if justice had been refused, it was then time enough to make use of Reprisals.  But he took another course.  He forthwith appointed the two sons of the Earl of Surrey to do justice to his subjects, by force."

      Maitland, in his History of Scotland, published 1757, copying almost verbatim from Abercromby, says that, "Sir Andrew took several English vessels, on pretense of their carrying Portuguese goods, (according to English authors) as the Portuguese ambassador warmly urged, and thus usurped Henry's sovereignty of the narrow seas."  Maitland questions the fact also.

      Pinkerton, whose History of Scotland, from the accession of the House of Stuart, to that of Mary, published in 1797, says that, "The original papers and letters are profoundly silent concerning Sir Andrew." And yet, most absurdly, adds "perhaps his acts of piracy were proved to James IV" when that the original letter of James IV, to Henry VIII, dated Edinburgh, 26 July 1513, two years after the death of Sir Andrew, positively declares that "The latter was slaughtered by Henry's own command, when he had neither offended him nor his subjects in anything." And which, of course, acquits him of piracy.

      It may be fairly asked if the fact of Sir Andrew's piracy is not to be found in original papers, and letters, where is it to be sought for? Their very silence ought to be taken as an admission of the falsehood of the charge.

      Another sagacious "perhaps" of Pinkerton, is, that "The affair was left to the Commissioners at the Border meeting."  Even so, those Commissioners justified Sir Andrew; for at that very Meeting in June 1513, Henry's own Commissioners "confessed the wrongs to Scotland many ways, especially the slaughter of Barton and taking of his ships."

      It has already been shown that Henry never publicly sanctioned by any legal form, or declaration, the appointment of the Howards, but that he connived at it, and it is now shown that his own Commissioners condemned their condemned their Sovereign's act, and declared Sir Andrew slaughtered, or murdered.

      Tytler, in his History of Scotland repeats the story against Sir Andrew in this manner, "Protected by their Letters of Reprisal, and preserving, as it would appear, an hereditary animosity against the Portuguese, the Bartons had fitted out some Privateers, which scoured the Western Ocean, took many prizes and detained and searched the English merchantmen, under the pretense that they had Portuguese goods on board.  It is well known that at this period (1511) and even so late as the days of Drake and Cavendish (1592-1596) the line between piracy and legitimate warfare, was not, precisely defined, and there is reason to suspect that the Scottish merchants having found the vindication of their own wrongs, a profitable speculation, were disposed to push their retaliation to an extent so far beyond the individual losses they had suffered, that their hostilities became almost piratical.  So at least it appeared to the English."

      Even here there is no direct charge of piracy, but a suspicion of acts almost piratical as it appeared to the English.  And it may be justly enquired why is Sir Andrew to be accused, and condemned, by English authors, for the alleged infraction of a principle not established for nearly a century subsequent to his death?

      I have, now, passed in review the statements of the chief historians both English and Scottish relative to the charges against Sir Andrew Barton, and I hesitate not to record my conviction that he was basely, meanly, murdered by the most ferocious and sanguinary monarch that ever sat upon the English throne.

      With respect to the assertion that Sir Andrew preserved an hereditary animosity against the Portuguese, it is but equitable to observe that he had special cause of aggravation.  His father had been cruelly murdered by the Portuguese, and although three successive Sovereigns had granted the issue of Letters of Reprisal under the authority of which he was allowed to retaliate, and satisfy his loss and injuries, yet, from peculiar circumstances, their action was delayed.

      The chequered, the tantalizing course of these frequent grants, scarcely made, when revoked, shows how often the longed for cup, uplifted to the lip, was dashed from it.

      But the hour of retaliation had now arrived, and Sir Andrew was to "give at length his famished soul revenge."  He was a native of the North, with whom, at that period, "revenge was virtue," and when the means were in his power, to have left unexpiated the manes of a murdered Father, he would have been upbraided and stigmatized, with every mark or reprobation and contempt, by his indignant compatriots, as unworthy of them, and their country.

      He is not, however, to be judged according to those mild precepts of Christianity which have so much, and so happily advanced and prevailed in the present day, but by the existing standard of morality, of mercy, and retribution of the sixteenth century, the period in which he flourished; and judged by that, he may be found as moral, and as merciful as other heroes of the age, who could not, moreover, plead such powerful excitement in exasperation of their rage.

      Or if he be judged by the conduct of the Hero of Culloden in the eighteenth century whose savage order gave rise to the phrase of the "Curse of Scotland,", when hundreds were deliberately doomed to death, and when some of Sir Andrew's descendants were included in that order, he may be deemed, although vindictive, yet neither so barbarous, nor so brutal.

      Lord Thomas Howard, and Sir Edward Howard having equipped their ships, sailed from the Thames, in quest of Sir Andrew Barton, whom they met in the Downs, as he was returning from a cruise on the coast of Portugal.  A conflict immediately ensued, which was long and obstinately contested, on both sides.  Sir Andrew commanded his own ship, the Lion, his other vessel was only an armed pinnace, but both fought with determined valor, till the Scottish Admiral was mortally wounded.

      It is said that even then this bold and experienced seaman continued to encourage his crew with his whistle, till receiving a cannon shot in his body, the whistle dropped from his hand, and he fell dead upon the deck. His ships were immediately boarded and carried into the Thames; the crews, after a short imprisonment, were dismissed with fair usage; but the vessels were detained as prizes.  The Lion was placed in the English Navy, as the second ship of war, the Great Harry, built in 1504, having been the first; for till that time, merchant vessels, only were used in war.

      Such is the account, as related by English historians, of the battle between Sir Andrew Barton and the Howard brothers on 2nd August 1511.

      The Sots historians, however, tell the story differently.  According to them, Sir Andrew was sailing homeward in a peaceable manner, by the Downs, in his ship the Lion, accompanied by a barque, called the Jennie Pirwine, when Lord Thomas Howard, and Sir Edward Howard, seeing them at a distance, gave such signs of friendship, as were usual in times of peace.  But when they came within gun-shot, attacked them ingloriously, but resolutely, and overpowering them, at last, notwithstanding the gallant defense made, took both ships, and brought them to London.  Sir Andrew was mortally wounded, and died soon after.  On their arrival in England, the crews were sent as prisoners to Whitehall, the palace of the Archbishop of York, where after being detained a short time, they were dismissed, on condition that they were to quit England in twenty days, or as Buchanan says, "humbly begging their lives, as they were instructed to do by the English, Henry, with proud ostentation of his great clemency, dismissed and sent the poor innocent souls away."

      However difficult, if not impossible, it may be to arrive at the truth, yet by calmly weighing whatever due consideration may attach to the various conflicting statements, it may be possible, perhaps, to approximate towards it.

      It is to be observed that if the English Commissioners, upon descrying Sir Andrew and his barque, did actually give such signs of friendship as usual in times of peace, the silence of the English historians, on this matter, may not create surprise, nor astonishment; for the act was unjustifiable, and it must be remembered that the only authority for it is the assertion of the Scottish historians.

      There must be some mistake about the matter, for it cannot be, for a moment, imagined that the noble and gallant Howard would condescend to so unjust and disgraceful an artifice.

      In the Ballad of Sir Andrew Barton, Lord Howard says,

           "Take in your ancyents, standards eke,
           So close that no man may them see;
           And put me forth a white willow wand,
           As merchants use, to sayle the sea."

      Now if a white willow wand was the ensign or signal of a merchant ship, and Lord Howard assumed that device, for the purpose of deceiving Sir Andrew, he was perfectly justified, even if the act were criticized by the allowed stratagems of war, existing at the present time; and it is probable that the putting forth "a white willow wand as merchants use to sayle the sea" may be what the Scots historians term "such signs of friendship as were usual in time of peace."

      The battle itself was gallantly fought on both sides, and is amply sufficient, at least, to sustain the previously acquired and established renown of both Admirals, without in any way detracting from the martial character of either.

      According to the Ballad, Henry marked his sense of Lord Howard's conduct by declaring that:

           "Howard shall be erle Surrey hight
           As Howards erst have been before,"

      And of Sir Andrew thus:

           "Yett for the manly part he playd,
           Which fought so well with heart and hand,
           His men shall have twelve pence a day,
           Till they come to my brother King's high land."

      The Ballad, however, is not correct in assigning the Earldom of Surrey to Lord Thomas, as the reward of his victory, on this occasion, as he did not receive that honor till February 1514, and then, for his victory over James IV at Flodden Field.  Nor is it likely that Henry would, in any way, reward the crew of Sir Andrew.  The Ballad, although founded on truth, generally, is in many respects a fiction.

      The preface to the Ballad is an abridgment of that of Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry.  It is admitted, however, to be acknowledged that the relation of the fact is an extract from Guthrie's Peerage, a work begun, but never finished.

      Where Guthrie found his authority for asserting that Lord Thomas and Sir Edward Howard had letters of Marque, I am at a loss to conceive; nor do I believe that he ever discovered any.  No chronicler, nor historian of the time mentions it.  Lord Herbert of Cherbury, the vain, vaunting partisan of Henry VIII, who, if he could have adduced any authority would doubtless have been eager to promulgate it, is silent on the subject.

      John Campbell, who was a cautious and accurate writer, says in his Lives of Admirals that "the two ships under the command of Lord Thomas and Sir Edward Howard, were fitted out probably at their own, or their father's expense, but with the knowledge of the King (Henry VIII) though not by his special commission, or immediate authority, as will quickly appear.

      "James IV now invaded England with a mighty army, and Sir Thomas Howard landed 5000 veterans to oppose him.  The Earl of Surrey dispatching a Herald to bid the Scots King battle, the Lord Admiral sent him word, at the same time, that he was come in person to answer for the death of Sir Andrew Barton; which evidently shows how far that was a personal affair.

      "Sir Thomas had previously succeeded, on the death of his brother to the dignity of Lord Admiral."

      When James became acquainted with the death of Sir Andrew, and the taking of his ships, he immediately dispatched a herald to Henry, announcing that his treatment of Sir Andrew was a gross and barefaced affront upon his Majesty, and a violation of the faith of nations, among Kings and Princes; that Sir Andrew had his royal permission by Letters under his Privy Seal for Reprisal, and that therefore His Majesty, without immediate satisfaction, was resolved to take this as a commission of open hostilities, and the beginning of was between the two Kingdoms.

      The pride of Henry would not suffer him to give any other answer than that the slaughter of a pirate, as he contemptuously termed Sir Andrew, was not sufficient to disturb the peace between Princes; and his insolence prompted him to add that, nevertheless, he was ready to treat upon the affair.

      The answer was well fitted to the "bluff and haughty Hal," but both his pride and insolence were doomed, shortly to receive a severe rebuke, as the confession of his Commissioners testifies.

      It is in allusion to the outrage that James, in the 5th Canto of Marmion, this expresses himself:

           "Our borders sacked by many a raid,
           Our peaceful liege-men robb'd he said;
           On day of truce our Wardens slain,
           Stout Barton kill'd, his vessels ta'en -
           Unworthy were we here to reign,
           Should these for vengeance cry in vain;
           Our full defiance, hate and scorn,
           Our herald has to Henry borne."

      Certainly no two Monarchs ever entertained more intense hatred and contempt of each other, than did James and Henry.

      In a letter James subsequently addressed to Henry, he charges him, in terms direct, with the slaughter of Sir Andrew, by his own command, although he had not offended him, nor any of his subjects.  The letter is a specimen of royal Billingsgate and it is hoped to be unique.

      There is a brief and incorrect account of some of the Barton family, in a history of Leith, published in 1827, by Alexander Campbell, told in the most trifling and jejune manner. The author, without any foundation, launches into the wide ocean of conjecture, and, as may be anticipated, arrives at erroneous conclusions.  He imagines, for example that Robert Barton, the Maister Skipper of the Great Michael, who in fact was Sir Robert of Overbarnton, and brother of Sir Andrew, was the son of the latter.  I the more regret the manner in which Mr. Campbell has spoken of Sir Andrew Barton, because from the very kind letter I received from the former, in answer to one I addressed to him in August, 1847, and in which he speaks so earnestly of the "gallant Bartons, the first, he believes, and certainly the most celebrated of our early Naval Commanders," I am convinced he never entertained the most remote idea of disparaging any of them.

      Mr. Campell, however, in the preface to his history, has deemed it requisite to apologize for having, generally, "performed his grave task with too much levity."  The candor with which he acknowledges his error materially abates the measure of censure, which might otherwise attach to him, and the appropriate, and happy allusion with which he terminates his account of the last moments of Sir Andrew, I had almost said, redeems him, so far as regards the "gallant Bartons"; and I cannot, perhaps, better conclude my own account of Sir Andrew, than by quoting from the author the History of Leith, "None, we conceive, ever answered Burns' heart-stirring and exquisite description of a dying hero better than did this ancient mariner."

      "Death comes, wi' fearless ee he sees him;
      Wi' bluidy hand a welcome gies him;
      And when he fa's,
      His latest draught o' breathin' lea's him
      In faint huzzas."
    Person ID I39054  Stedman Families of the United Kingdom

    Father Capt. John Barton,   b. Bef 1440, Leith, Midlothian, Scotland, UK Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 1476  (Age ~ 36 years) 
    Mother Miss [--?--],   d. Unknown 
    Married Bef 1466 
    Family ID F14563  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family Miss [--?--],   b. ____, ____, Scotland, UK Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. Unknown, ____, ____, Scotland, UK Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Children 
     1. Alexander Barton,   b. ____, ____, Scotland, UK Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. Aft 1572, ____, ____, Scotland, UK Find all individuals with events at this location
    Last Modified 9 Feb 2010 
    Family ID F14662  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Event Map
    Link to Google MapsBorn - Abt 1466 - Leith, Midlothian, Scotland, UK Link to Google Earth
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