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Lion was the name of five warships of the Royal Scottish Navy during the 16th century, some of which were prizes captured by, and from the English. The names of these ships reflect the Royal Arms of Scotland and its central motif of the Lion Rampant.

The two Lions of James IV

The Lion was commanded by brothers Sir Robert Barton and Sir Andrew Barton and captured by the English in 1511. The ship did not belong to the king but was fitted out for warfare by the Barton brothers. She was around 120 tons with a crew of forty, and probably the largest merchant ship used and hired by James IV of Scotland; small in comparison the king's Margaret and Great Michael.[1] Robert Barton took James IV of Scotland to the Isle of May in the Lion in September 1506.[2] Andrew Barton took the Lion and the small Jennet of Purwyn, (which was a captured Danish ship) close to England in June 1511. He was acting with a royal Letter of Marque, which was a license to plunder Portuguese ships. Both ships were captured by Sir Edward and Sir Thomas Howard and taken to Blackwall. Andrew Barton was killed during their capture. Robert Barton provided a new larger replacement Lion of 300 tons.[3] The new Lion was victualled at Honfleur on 24 August 1513 with supplies for 260 men. James IV had lent his ships to France in the months before Flodden.[4]

Lion and Lioness of James V

The Lion, or Great Lion was commanded by Sir Robert Barton and later by his nephew John Barton. Captured by the English off the Kent coast in March 1547.[5] In the 1530s this ship had been captured from the English navy and passed into the hands of James V of Scotland.[6] The Lion was part of the fleet that James V took to France in 1536 and brought back Madeleine of Valois in 1537. Known as the Great Lion, she and the Salamander were fitted with 15 large wheeled guns and 10 smaller wheeled guns in May 1540, for the king's voyage to Orkney in June.[7] John Barton sailed to Dieppe with the Great Lion and Salamander in June 1541, and had their 27 guns cleaned and the latter ship re-rigged.[8] In December 1542, the Mary Willoughby, the Salamander and the Lion blockaded a London merchant ship called the Antony of Bruges in a creek on the coast of Brittany near 'Poldavy Haven.'[9]

In March and April 1544, the Lion was prepared for a voyage to France with ambassadors. David Lindsay of the Mount, David Paniter, Sir John Campbell of Lundy, and Marco Grimani, Patriarch of Aquileia were rumoured to be passengers. Hertford noted this was a prize not to be missed, and the Master of Morton wrote to him pointing out the opportunity to capture friend and foe, including his own father. She sailed on 7 April 1544, evading capture.[10]
In October 1546, Florence Corntoun spent £305 repairing the Lion. Captain William Forstar was compensated with £540 for his expenses during 1544 fighting the war of Rough Wooing; £483 for repairs in March 1545; £708 for a voyage to the isles in June 1545; and £346 for recent works in dry-dock described as;

to Williame Forstar quhilk he debursit upoun the calfating, dok casting, putting in of the under lute of the said Lyoun, and outred of hir to the Raid (attack)."[11]

The English carrack Pansy captured the Lion in 1547, illustration from the Anthony Roll

From October 1546, with other Scottish warships she was disrupting the English wine trade by blockading Bordeaux and La Rochelle. In March 1547, she took a broadside from Andrew Dudley's Pansy off Dover which burst her orlop. She was lost off Harwich or Yarmouth during the salvage operation.[12] Odet de Selve, the French ambassador in London gained a detailed account from Nicolas d'Arfeville, a French painter and cartographer. Dudley was 30 miles from Yarmouth when he saw the Great Lion, with the Lioness, the Mary Gallant and another unnamed Scottish ship on Tuesday 7 March 1547. The Great Lion was overwhelmed by superior firepower, and the others surrendered, excepting the unnamed ship. The badly damaged Lion was lost while being towed to Yarmouth when she grounded on a sandbank. Those on board were brought as prisoners to the Tower of London, and at least one notable passenger was killed in the firefight.[13] Mary, Queen of Scots sued for the release of one passenger, the diplomat Thomas Erskine Commendator of Dryburgh[14]

The Lioness; during the Scottish lifetime of the Great Lion there appears to have been another ship called the Lion in the Scots navy. This was probably the Lioness, described by de Selve as of similar size to the Mary Gallant, between 100 and 300 tons.

The private Lion of Leith and Privateer

Mary of Guise also hired a private ship, called the Lion in August 1554 to attack Borve Castle, Sutherland. Sir Hew Kennedy of Girvanmains embarked 50 men of war and the royal gunner Hans Cochrane with a cannon.[15] On New Year's Day 1560 this Lion captured a Portuguese merchant ship carrying cloth near the Isle of Wight; and later another carrying sugar and olives; the Our Lady of Consolation of Oporto carrying figs; and the Saint Anthony of Aviero laden with salt. The partners in this adventure and the Captain, John Edmondstone, fell out over the proceeds and brought the case to the court of the Lord High Admiral of Scotland, James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell. They produced a letter of marque dating to the time of James IV belonging to Robert Logan of Restalrig. A year later, another Captain of the Lion, Patrick Blackadder, came to the court on 13 May 1561, this time for two Portuguese ships carrying sugar, the Peter and the Holy Spirit, captured in the Wash in April 1561. Blackadder produced the captured Portuguese sailors and the original letter of marque given to Andrew Barton on 20 November 1506. Robert Barton's descendant John Moubray of Barnebougall made a counterclaim for ownership of the letter and a share of the spoil.[16]

In February 1567 the Lion of Leith and the Unicorn of Leith were at the Port of London, and were licensed by Elizabeth I of England to carry bows and arrows and pewter vessels to Scotland for the Earl of Murray.[17] This Lion was taken in 1567 by William Kirkcaldy of Grange in pursuit of the Earl of Bothwell to Shetland where he ran aground north of Bressay Sound.[18]


  1. Macdougall, Norman, James IV, Tuckwell (1997), 235-6.
  2. Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 3, (1901), 204, 342.
  3. Macdougall, Norman, James IV, Tuckwell, (1997), 240-242.
  4. Hannay, Robert Kerr, Letters of James IV, SHS, (1953), 316, no. 565.
  5. Cameron, Annie, I., ed., Scottish Correspondence of Mary of Lorraine, SHS (1927), 176, Adam Otterburn to Mary of Guise, 14 March 1547.
  6. Thomas, Andrea, Princelie Majestie, John Donald (2005), 156 citing NAS E31/4 ff.99v-105v; E31/5 ff.1r-5v; E32/3 f.7r-v.
  7. Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 7 (1907), 353, 356, 421
  8. Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 7 (1909), 465.
  9. Letters & Papers, Henry VIII, vol.18 part 1 (1901), no.91.
  10. Letters & Papers Henry VIII, vol. 19 part 1 (1903), no. 228, no. 268, no. 294, no. 320.
  11. Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 9 (1911), 22-23.
  12. Jordan, WK., ed., Chronicle and Political Papers of Edward VI, George Allen & Unwin (1966), 5-6: Strype, John, Ecclesiastical Memorials, vol. 2 part 2 (1822), 14-15: Cameron, Annie ed., The Scottish Correspondence of Mary of Lorraine, Scottish History Society, (1927), 176, 180, 186.
  13. Correspondance Politique de Odet de Selve, (1888), 76, 117-119
  14. Calendar of State Papers Scotland, vol.1 (1898), p.7 no.15
  15. Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 10 (1913), 233-4.
  16. Wade, Thomas Callenar, Acta Curiae Admirallatus Scotiae, Stair Society, (1937), 185-7, 194-201, etc.
  17. Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 2 (1900), p.313
  18. Reid, David ed., Hume of Godscroft's History of the House of Angus, vol. 1, STS (2005), p.171: Register of the Privy Seal of Scotland, vol. 8, HMSO, (1982), 66-67, no. 397: Strickland, Agnes, ed., Letters of Mary Queen of Scots, vol.1 (1842), pp. 244-248

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