Mary Queen of Scots

The Marie Stuart Society

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Tour of Pinkie Cleuch Battlefield

4th September 2011

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While not a Society outing as such it did in some ways feel very like it as seven members enjoyed a Sunday afternoon's mini-bus tour of the site of the Battle of Pinkie Cleuch organized and arranged by the Pinkie Cleugh Battlefield Group.

The battle, the last Scottish/English battle and Scotland’s greatest ever defeat – probably greater than Flodden was pivotal in Mary’s life and in some ways too in Scotland’s history.

Almost immediately after Mary’s birth at Linlithgow on 9th. December 1542 Henry VIII of England contrived 'a cunning plan' - a marriage between Mary and his infant son, the future Edward VI. By marriage he could perhaps achieve an aim which had eluded him in war namely the union between and his over-lordship of the two Kingdoms.

The plan originally attracting some support from certain quarters in Scotland particularly from the Earl of Arran, Governor of Scotland following the death of James V, who would succeed to the throne in the event of Mary’s death. This lead to the signing of the Treaty of Greenwich the following year agreeing to Henry's proposals, proposals however shortly afterwards reneged upon by the Scottish Parliament.

This led Henry to launch a campaign against Scotland later to become known as “The Wars of the Rough Wooing” culminating in the Battle of Pinkie Cleuch on 9th. September 1547, the war having been continued on behalf of Edward VI by the Earl of Hertford who had appointed himself Duke of Somerset following Henry's death the previous January.

The tour most ably conducted by Andrew Coulson, Secretary of the Battlefield Group commenced at what is known as "The Roman Bridge" at Musselburgh. Hertford had launched his invasion up the east coast and Andrew explained how the River Esk formed Edinburgh's last natural line of defence and how the bridge was then the lowest crossing point of the River.

The Scots had taken a strong line of defence on the east side of the river and also had artillery based on higher ground in what is now the graveyard at Inveresk Kirk. Today, still clearly identifiable, this is known as Oliver's Mound having subsequently being used by Oliver Cromwell for cannon in 1650.

A very fulsome account of the Battle with contemporary accounts and illustrations had been distributed. Andrew drew attention particularly to an account of the Battle made by one William Patten who was effectively an early 'war correspondent'. Questions were asked as to whether Patten’s account would have been partial and no doubt it would have been to an extent but nevertheless it gives a very revealing and probably reasonably accurate insight into the lead-up, progress and aftermath of the Battle.

Also included in the hand-out were some eyewitness images from the Roll-map of battle events currently in the Bodleian Library Oxford.

The tour commenced with the bus leaving the Roman Bridge and going along Eskview and Stoneybank where the strength of the Scottish army, 26,000 infantry, 2000 horsemen and 4000 Irish archers had initially assembled - then on to Inveresk Church and Oliver's Mound.

Thence via Pinkie House and Pinkie Cleugh itself (as was explained a cleugh is simply a water gorge or channel, perhaps manmade) and on to Morrison’s Haven on the coast off which lay 60 English ships under Lord Clinton, thirty four of then warships. A naval force would be something with which, in all probability, the Scots would not have reckoned or taken into their calculations. With remarkable accuracy the gunners from the ships seem to have more or less annihilated the Scottish archers of the Scottish left flank.

The party then proceeded to Fa'side Castle which dominates the area and which played a prominent role in the battle over which it has such a commanding position and around which the Battle was fought. There a most warm welcome from the owners, Ian and Sue Brash and their dog. As we saw from the rooftop the Castle possesses a very commanding view of the whole of the battle area and initially held out bravely against Somerset’s troops before being overrun, the defenders killed and the Castle put to the fire.

Our subsequent stop was the battlefield itself where as many as perhaps 15,000 Scots are reckoned to have lost their lives and where a service or remembrance is held every year.

Finally returning to Musselburgh and the recently created Musselburgh Museum, now run by the Musselburgh Heritage Group where a number of records and artifacts including Roll map reproductions and reproduction pikes exhibits had been brought out specially for our visit.

For a full account of the Battle see the Group's Website also Wikipedia.

As ever many questions to be asked:

  • It emerged the Scots (as at Flodden) superior in numbers and in a strong defensive position abandoned this and engaged battle. What were their reasons for doing so?
  • What were Somerset's true objective? It might appear that it was not his intention to engage battle. If not what were his aims? Was this an army of conquest or as suggested would he have been content to occupy the Counties of Berwick and East Lothian with a long term view perhaps to their eventual incorporation into England.
  • The accuracy of the gunnery from the English navy which played such an important part in the conflict was commented on. How was this achievable and what of the remnants of the quite powerful Scottish naval force created by James IV?
  • Did Somerset realistically expect to capture the young Mary and forcibly remove her to England? She was at this point at Stirling Castle and on news of the defeat was removed to Inchmahome on the Lake of Menteith and subsequently to France and marriage to the Dauphin. Mary’s capture was probably quite an unrealistic aim.
  • What effect would the news of the disastrous outcome of the battle have on the young Mary, then just four years old?
  • Played differently how realistic was a marriage between Edward and Mary and would the long term effects on history have been very different?

As ever much to discuss and speculate on.

Ronald Morrison