Adam Otterburn

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Auldhame Castle, close neighbour to the Douglas family's Tantallon Castle

Adam Otterburn of Auldhame and Redhall (died 6 July 1548) was a Scottish lawyer and diplomat. He was king's advocate to James V of Scotland and secretary to Mary of Guise and Regent Arran.

Servant to James V[edit]

Adam Otterburn was an important servant of the Scottish monarchy as a lawyer and a diplomat. He drew up charges of treason against the Douglases and their associates on 13 July 1529. Adam was one of the Scottish commissioners who met English diplomats at Berwick-upon-Tweed on 8 November 1529. This meeting discussed the possible restoration of the Earl of Angus, an issue which Henry VIII could use as leverage to decide James's choice of bride. A five-year truce was concluded and the Douglases were to go into English exile.[1] In May 1532 he was of the first 15 Senators of Justice.[2] While in England he was knighted by James V as Sir Adam Otterburn of Redhall on 16 February 1534.[3] Redhall, his other estate, is within Edinburgh near Longstone.

Adam signed a border peace treaty in London on 11 May 1534.[4] After the English reformation, in 1536, Henry VIII requested a meeting with James V, and Otterburn was sent to London again to discuss Henry's motives.[5] He was in London during the arrest and conviction of Ann Boleyn.[6] In April 1537 Otterburn and other courtiers joked with the English messenger Henry Ray about English Friars now refugees in Scotland.[7]

In June 1538 he wrote a speech in French to welcome Mary of Guise to Edinburgh.[8] In August 1538 he was imprisoned in Dumbarton Castle and next year deprived of office and fined £1000 for communicating with the forfeited Earl of Angus.[9] After the death of James V, Otterburn received a gift of crossbows and armour.[10]

If your lad was a lass[edit]

Adam was Provost of Edinburgh in 1543 but deposed after Lord Hertford's invasion in 1544 during the war of the Rough Wooing. Ralph Sadler reported that Otterburn belonged to Cardinal Beaton's pro-French faction, although Adam insisted on the contrary, attributing his troubles during the reign of James V to his pro-English stance.[11] The Governor, Regent Arran, ordered his arrest on 28 April 1544 but Robert Reid, Bishop of Orkney intereceded for him.[12] Years later in 1561, Sadler reminded the English Privy Council of Adam's words to him on the marriage proposed between Mary and Edward;

"Our people do not like of it. And though the governor and some of the nobility have consented to it, yet I know that few or none of them do like of it; and our common people do utterly mislike of it. I pray you give me leave to ask you a question: if your lad was a lass, and our lass were a lad, would you then be so earnest in this matter? ... And lykewise I assure you that our nation will never agree to have an Englishman king of Scotland. And though the whole nobility of the realm would consent, yet our common people, and the stones in the street would rise and rebel against it.[13]

When the English army intent on the destruction of Edinburgh landed at Granton and took Leith, as Provost of Edinburgh, Adam was sent out with two Heralds to parley with Hertford on the morning of 5 May 1544. Hertford had been instructed not to negotiate, so Adam replied in defiance and refused to yield up the town. Hertford had not yet landed his guns so offered to wait till 7:00pm.[14]

During an interlude in the war with England, Adam was concerned to recover money owing to him. His holding of lands at Auldhame, like those of his neighbours Oliver Sinclair, the favourite of James V, and John, 5th Lord Borthwick, required duties to be paid to Cardinal Beaton. Adam wrote to the Cardinal hoping for money owed to him by Sinclair, and he noted that Borthwick and other landowners south of the River Forth sold their wool in England.[15] Adam was now distrusted by Regent Arran and briefly imprisoned with a threat of further lawsuits. Friends like Elizabeth Gordon, wife of John Stewart, 4th Earl of Atholl wrote to Mary of Guise on his behalf. They were closely allied; Adam's son John had married the Countess' sister in law, Janet Stewart.[16] In October 1546, Adam set out with David Panter and a servant of d'Oysel, the French ambassador in Scotland to meet with Henry VIII at Oatlands. They brought the Scottish ratification of the Treaty of Ardres or Camp. Before they left Adam complained he had not enough money and horses to get to Musselburgh (a town close to Edinburgh). While they were waiting to see Henry the other diplomats were delighted to see them arguing.[17] In March 1547, three of his servants were allowed to return to Scotland.[18]

Otterburn was still negotiating for peace in London before the Battle of Pinkie. On Sunday 7 August 1547 he went to Hampton Court and met Edward VI of England. There he was dismissed as a diplomat by the council as it was now a time of hostility. He was given £75 as a gift for his departure.[19] Otterburn saw,

"afoir my eis verray gret preparatioun of weir, and actualie the gret hors, the harnes, the hagbutaris, and all gorgious reparrale set forwart towart our realme."

On Monday he returned to Hampton Court and had further discussions with the Protector Somerset. He urged Regent Arran to note his warnings of the English invasion, and begged him to allow George Douglas of Pittendreich to negotiate with Somerest, writing; "I dreid ye will nocht gif credence quhill ye se thame cum in at the dur," (I dread you will not believe till you see them come in the door).[20] Arran had already set up a system of coastal watchers and warning beacons.[21] However, his army was defeated by an English invasion at the battle of Pinkie in September 1547.

Sore hurt on the head[edit]

Earlier in his career, in May 1525 the English ambassador Dr Thomas Magnus recommended him to Cardinal Wolsey for an annual pension of £20.[22] In his letters in 1546 and 1547 Otterburn mentions that he was 'aged and sickly', but Otterburn died after an assault in Edinburgh by a servant of Regent Arran on 3 July 1548,[23] 'sore hurt on the head and his servant slain at his heels.'[24] Patrick Mure, laird of Annestoun near Lanark, and his son were charged with treason for his murder, their last recorded summons for the crime was at the instance of Mary of Guise.[25]


Adam married firstly, Janet Rhynd, and secondly, Euphame Mowbray, with whom he had three sons, John, Robert and Thomas. He had three daughters, Margaret, Janet, and another whose name is unknown.[26] His eldest daughter Margaret married Sir John Wemyss of Wemyss. In February 1544 another daughter was married and Adam asked Mary of Guise for financial support as 'sik materis requiris coist and expensis', and again in 1546 he mentioned to David Beaton his difficulty in paying 'my dochteris tocher.'[27] His son John married Janet Stewart, sister of the Earl of Atholl.[28]


  1. ^ Cameron, Jamie, James V (Tuckwell, 1998), 27, 60–64.
  2. ^ Thomas, Andrea, Princelie Majestie (John Donald, 2005), 14–15.
  3. ^ Hay, Denys, Letters of James V (HMSO, 1954), 253.
  4. ^ Jamie Cameron, James V (1998), 117.
  5. ^ Jamie Cameron, James V (1998), 287.
  6. ^ Diurnal of Occurents, (Edinburgh 1833) 20, 23
  7. ^ State Papers Henry VIII, vol. 5 part 4, (1836), 75
  8. ^ Extracts from the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh, 1528–1557, Scottish Burgh Record Society, (1871)
  9. ^ State Papers Henry VIII, vol.5 part IV cont. (1836), p. 141: Findlay, John (2004)
  10. ^ Harrison, John, "Wardrobe Inventories of James V" (PDF). Kirkdale Archaeology/Historic Scotland (2008), 6, 45.
  11. ^ Clifford, Arthur ed., Sadler State Papers, vol. 1 (1809), 316, Sadler to council, 14 October 1543.
  12. ^ Cameron, Annie I., Scottish Correspondence of Mary of Lorraine, SHS (1927), 75–6.
  13. ^ Clifford, Arthur, ed., Sadler State Papers, vol. 2, (Edinburgh 1809), 559–560, citing Luke 19:40, (abbreviated, spelling modernised).
  14. ^ Expedition to Scotland, 1544, London (1544): Thomson, Thomas, ed., The history of Scotland, from the death of King James I. in the year M.CCCC.XXXVI to the year M.D.LXI by John Lesley, Bannatyne Club (1830) pp.180–1: Cody, ed., John Lesley's History of Scotland, vol.2 (1895), 278: Stevenson, Joseph, ed., The History of Mary Stewart by Claude Nau, Edinburgh (1883), 337–8: Letters & Papers Henry VIII, vol.19 part 2, (1903), no.472, Hertford, Lisle & Sadler to Henry VIII: Nau says 'two Baillies,' the versions differ in slight details.
  15. ^ Cameron, Annie I., ed., The Scottish Correspondence of Mary of Lorraine, SHS (1927), 162.
  16. ^ Cameron, Annie I., ed., The Scottish Correspondence of Mary of Lorraine, SHS (1927), 157–158.
  17. ^ Merriman, Marcus, The Rough Wooings, (2000), 220.
  18. ^ Acts of the Privy Council, vol. 2, HMSO (1890), 445, 'Adam Otterbury'
  19. ^ Acts of the Privy Council, vol. 2, HMSO (1890), 112, 'Adrian Otorborn'
  20. ^ Cameron, Annie I., ed., Scottish Correspondence of Mary of Lorraine, (1927), 192–4.
  21. ^ Hill Burton, John , ed., Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, vol.1 (1877), pp.73–75
  22. ^ State Papers Henry, vol. iv part iv (1836), 376.
  23. ^ Cameron, Annie, (1927), 157 note, 171.
  24. ^ Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 1 (1898), 137.
  25. ^ Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 9, (1911), 263, 292.
  26. ^ Findlay, John, (2004)
  27. ^ Cameron, Annie, (1927), 59, 162.
  28. ^ Cameron, Annie, (1927), 157.


  • Cameron, Annie I., ed., Scottish Correspondence of Mary of Lorraine, Scottish History Society (1927)
  • Cameron, Jamie, James V, Tuckwell (1998)
  • Findlay, John, 'Otterburn, Sir Adam (d. 1548)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 3 Oct 2010
  • Inglis, John Alexander, Sir Adam Otterburn of Redhall, King's Advocate 1524–1548, (1935)
  • Merriman, Marcus, The Rough Wooings, Tuckwell (2000)