James IV & Margaret Tudor
National Library of Scotland
MS, Seton Armorial, Acc. 9309, f. 18 (date: early 17th century)
By kind permission of Sir Francis Ogilvy.

‘Ambassadors are great spies and commonly suspicious’
(Sir James Melville, Memoirs, p.204)

This project on sixteenth-century diplomatic activity was undertaken between February and September 1993 at the St Andrew’s Scottish Studies Institute under the direction of Professor David Stevenson. The research was not completed but nevertheless a substantial preliminary database was established. The 500 diplomatic contacts noted can only be indicative – it would take another eighteen months research in secondary literature as well as further primary sources to yield something amounting to a comprehensive compilation.  This preliminary listing is therefore presented to public view in hope that it may be of some use to scholars of the period and that it might generate sufficient interest to attract funding, either by way of donation or sponsorship, so as to complete the project.

The objective was to list the diplomatic missions to and from Scotland and to identify the diplomats, their rank, duration of mission, audiences, rewards and remuneration, purposes and actions and sources of information. This approach to listing of diplomatic missions took its cue from Gary Bell's A Handlist of British Diplomatic Representatives, 1509-1688 (London, 1990). As this work was still provisional, I adopted a maximalist approach and included anything of interest. For instance there are entries on messengers delivering royal mail or agents doing business for the crown. They are included at this stage because one cannot rule out the possibility that some of their work was diplomatic in nature. After all properly accredited ambassadors themselves often had the same minor functions. Likewise the activities of heralds, who during the middle ages often negotiated as well as delivered messages, present a major difficulty.

The diplomatic missions disclosed by the research to date are here sorted in a series of PDF files in three different ways – 1. all missions in chronological order, 2. all missions to and from Scotland and 3. missions to and from particular countries. One particular problem was to whether to follow Bell and list by geographical region or by way of sovereignty. For instance why use the Low Countries as a separate area when for most of the period Scots diplomats going there were presenting their credentials to the representative of the Emperor or the king of Spain. Likewise why use the term ‘Italy’ , when in actual fact diplomats were coming and going from the likes of Rome, Venice and Savoy. Where these dilemmas existed, a compromise categorization covering geography and incorporating the issues of sovereignty and autonomy has been devised. Where there is a dependent state and a sovereign one, they have been elided - eg ‘Ireland/England’. Where autonomous lordships and cities are sending and receiving envoys, they have been bracketed – eg ‘Germany (Lubeck)’.
The attempt to list diplomatic activity also throws up other matters. It begs the question as to the locus of sovereignty within Scotland itself. During a number of royal minorities, Scotland was governed by regents. Were the envoys sent out by these individuals representing the state or the private interests of the regent? Also what were the roles of dowager queens such as Margaret Tudor and Marie of Guise in diplomacy? Do the meetings of foreign ambassadors with them count as audiences? Do the activities of Marie of Guise's representatives abroad count as diplomacy even before she herself became regent? What about the representatives of the deposed Mary Queen of Scotland? Surely they must be listed because she is still an anointed monarch. Are the representatives of the rebel lords of the congregation and the English commissioners who negotiated with them to be included? Indeed in normal times what was the role of the convention of estates/parliament in the sending out envoys from Scotland? And if so, to what extent was it a precedent for the diplomatic activities of the Covenanters in the 1640s?

Another question is whether a definable corps of professional diplomats existed in Scotland before 1603. Was Scottish diplomacy as elsewhere moving away from heralds and single serial missions towards the resident ambassadors? The careers of brothers James and Robert Melville seem to point in that direction. However it would require a prosopography of all Scottish diplomats, identifying their educational and social background, linguistic abilities, their prior overseas experience, their further progress in royal office and any further employment as envoys after the union of crowns, to come to such a conclusion.
This research involving ambassadors also reveals in passing various references to sovereignty. These add to our store of our knowledge about Renaissance diplomatic practice. In 1594 England and France were similarly annoyed that they did not receive separate invitations from individual ambassadors to the christening of Prince Henry because the same ambassador had brought the news to both. And there are several incidents which show how touchy Scotland was about its own sovereignty. There are also nice cameos which demonstrate the ambitions and limitations of Scottish diplomacy — Forman's diplomacy with the great powers between 1510 and 1513 which increasingly became more shuttlecock than shuttle and Otterburn's awful time in England in the winter of 1546-7 as the threat of war loomed larger and larger? On the other hand, there are the activities of English and French ambassadors in Scotland, not dissimilar to American and Soviet diplomats in satellite countries during the Cold War, who in respective phases of predominance were ex-officio counsellors and men of real influence.
The eventual completion of this research on envoys to and from Scotland should tell us a lot more about Renaissance diplomacy but it is unlikely to reinvent the wheel as regards this period of Scotland's history. It will remain a fact that Scottish foreign policy was mainly with England and France; that its concerns were royal marriage, war and trade; that most diplomacy was done by adult monarchs rather than during regencies; that Scottish kings tried to compensate for the limitations of minor power status by dispatching senior politicians or by engaging in personal diplomacy themselves. Likewise Scotland will be shown as a pawn in the widening dynasticism, war and diplomacy which embroiled the whole of Europe with the commencement of the Italian wars and which as a result allowed scope for increasing English and French involvement in Scottish politics.
Nevertheless the sending and receiving of ambassadors is one of the strongest attributes of sovereignty. Ambassadors - endowed notionally with the cultural accomplishments outlined in Castiligione's Courtier and the political acumen lauded in Machiavelli's Prince — rightly stand out as key Renaissance figures. The completion of the records of their incoming and outgoing missions would be a proud and lasting testimony not only to Scotland's independence in the period but also her full engagement in the contemporary European political system.

Hiram Morgan

* University College Cork * March 2008

Missions in Chonological Order

Missions To Scotland - Missions From Scotland

To/From by Country

Denmark - England - France - Germany - Ireland - Italy - Low Countries - Norway - Poland - Portugal - Russia - Scotland - Spain - Sweden


Privacy Policy - Conditions of Use


RSS: Registrum Secreti Sigilli Regum Scotorum. The Register of the Privy Seal of Scotland. 1488-1584, (8 vols, Edinburgh, 1908-83) ed M. Livingstone et al.Vols relating to 1575-80 & 1581-4 only
Moysie, Memoirs: David Moysie, Memoirs of the Affairs of Scotland (Maitland Club, 1830).
LJ4: 'The Letters of James IV, 1505-1513' ed. R.K. Hannay (Scottish Hist. Society, 1953).
Scots in Poland: Papers Relating to the Scots in Poland (1576 – 1798) ed, A.F. Steuart (Edinburgh, 1915).
Fraser Papers: Fraser PapersSir William Fraser's Papers Relating to the Mearns, in SHS 3rd series, vol. 5
TA: Accounts of the Treasurer of Scotland 1473-1580, (Edinburgh, 13 vols , 1877-1978)
BALC: Foreign Correspondence with Marie de Lorraine from original in the Balcarres Papers (Scottish Hist. Society, 1923).
SCML: The Scottish correspondence of Mary of Lorraine, including some three hundred letters from 20th February 1542-3 to 15th May 1560, by  Mary, Queen consort of James V, King of Scotland,  ed. A I Cameron (Edinburgh, 1927)
PNM: Papal Negotiations with Mary Queen of Scots during her Reign in Scotland, 1561-1567 ed. John Hungerford Pollen (Edinburgh, Scottish Hist, Soc 1901).
RPCS: Register of Privy Council of Scotland, (First Series), 1545-1625 (14 Vols, London, 1882-98), up to 1592 only
Melville: Memoirs of Sir James Melville of Halhill, ed. A.F. Steuart (London, 1929).
Royal Wedding: Scotland’s Last Royal Wedding: the marriage of James VI and Anne of Denmark by David Stevenson with a Danish account of the marriage translated by Peter Graves (Edinburgh, 1997).



Treasurers’ Accounts in MSS from 1580
Register of Privy Council from 1592
Calendars of SP Scotland, Border, Venetian & Spanish
Calendar of Papal Registers
Letters & Papers of Hen VIII
Sadler Papers
Teulet, Papiers d’Etat
Letters of James V
Etc, etc