Eyemouth Fort

Not only one but two successive forts at Eyemouth in the mid 16 century?


The story begins with the birth of a princess and the death of a king. In December 1542 the infant princess Mary of Scotland was born at Linlithgow Palace .Some ten days later, at his favourite hunting lodge, Falkland Palace in Fife, her father James V of Scotland died at the age of 30 years. James was the son of Margaret Tudor and nephew of King Henry VIII of England and his early death was to be the catalyst for Henry's plans for expansion into the realm of Scotland.

First diplomacy was tried and it appeared that the Scots nobility would be agreeable to the betrothal of the young Prince Edward to the infant Mary Queen of Scots. However by 1443, English troops assisted by Spanish and Irish mercenaries invaded the Scottish Lowlands right up to the gates of Edinburgh. Even Dundee was besieged by sea. A policy of complete destruction and subjugation was ordered and carried out by Edward Seymour.


“The Scots will feel the whip. We will reach into the bowels of the realm.

Put to fire and sword every man woman and child "(Seymour)


This was the rough wooing in action and deed


The English Fort at Eyemouth

Henry's death in 1547 did nothing to improve the situation and the decisive victory of the English over the Scots at the Battle of Pinkie determined Seymour now The Duke of Somerset and the Lord Protector of England, to set up a system of permanent garrisons in easily defended fortifications in Scotland creating a means of containing the Scots .It is known that Somerset was at Eyemouth on 2 September 1547 and work may well have started on the fort by that date as by January 1548 " It was considered fit to withstand any attack." Designed by Sir Richard Lee in a “Trace Italienne” design it had one pointed bastion. The fort cost £1908 to build and 399 men served there under Thomas Gower as captain and engineer until 1550 when peace negotiations were proposed.

By the Treaty of Boulogne all defences were to be dismantled and razed to the ground. Interestingly the forts of Roxburgh and Eyemouth retained garrisons until 1551 when a further Treaty was signed at Norham.

Following the Scots defeat at Pinkie, by the Treaty of Haddington in August 1548, the young queen Mary had been betrothed to Francis, the Dauphin of France and had been carried to safety in France. The Auld Alliance between Scotland and France was strengthened and as a result when her mother Mary of Guise was appointed regent of Scotland there was an influx of French troops into Scotland under the leadership of Henri Cleutin, Monsieur D'Oysel.

With the fall of Somerset and the early death of King Edward from tuberculosis in 1553, Mary Tudor came to the throne of England and by marrying Philip of Spain she strengthened the Anglo - Hapsburg alliance.

Crisis followed crisis and by 1557, the Scots aided by the French were looking to strengthening the defence of the realm. The French troops in defiance of the Treaty of Boulogne began to rebuild the fort at Eyemouth. It was to be a much larger construction enclosing the whole promontory with a bastion at either end as well as a deep ditch in front of a high curtain wall. The former English bastion was utilised as a gun battery.

How the French Fort would have looked

In February 1558 Mary of Guise ordered sixteen score of oxen to be taken to Hume Castle in order to transport cannons, battards (small cannons) and moyens (medium sized culverins) to Eyemouth.

Oxen with cannons

In March 1558, orders were sent under pain of death to all bakers, brewers and tapsters within the towns of Edinburgh, Leith, and Musselburgh right down to Dunbar to bake bread and brew ale for the towns of Duns, Langton and Eyemouth for furnishing men of war.


The lists of provisions, tools, building materials is endless. Most of being sent by ship from Leith but there is also mention of coal from Wemyss in Fife and dried fish from Anstruther.


It appears from the records that there were as many as 900 Frenchmen in the locality not all garrisoned at the fort but also at Ayton and the priory at Coldingham.


The strategy was to make Eyemouth Fort a major place of strength not only to bottle up the English garrison at Berwick but also to act as a threat. The French commander is said to have commented that Berwick could be taken in a trice and then “All England lies before us right to the gates of London."


By the time Elizabeth 1 succeeded to the throne of England in November 1558, Eyemouth fort was such a threat that at the meeting of her first Privy Council it was agreed that the huge works for refortifying the town of Berwick must proceed.


So the fort at Eyemouth was in a large part responsible for the splendid trace Italienne walls existing today at Berwick.

In April 1559 a peace treaty was signed between Scotland France and England at Cateau Cambresis and one of the clauses stated that The Fort at Eyemouth should be demolished within 60 days, razed to the ground and all things restored to their ancient state. By the summer of that year the English commissioner stated that it was possible to drive a horse and cart over the fortifications at Eyemouth.


In 1561 when Mary Queen of Scots returned to claim her throne the fort at Eyemouth was no more.