September was not a good month to be a Scottish soldier in the 16th century. The disaster that was the Battle of Flodden Field has entered the national psyche is one of the great failures of Scottish arms. That battle was fought on September 9th in 1513 – but on September 10th just 34 years later, another equally catastrophic battle, equally devastating in terms of the number of Scots killed, was fought in East Lothian. The Battle of Pinkie Cleugh was the last ever pitched battle to be fought between Scotland and England. However, for some reason, it seems almost to have been expunged from the national memory.
The battle took place in an era which has come to be known as “the rough wooing” of Scotland. It was war which lasted between 1543 and 1550. King Henry VIII of England was attempting to force the Scots to accept a marriage between his son Edward and the infant Mary, Queen of Scots.
The battle was fought near Musselburgh. The English army led by the Duke of Somerset, at the time the Lord Protector of England, had entered Scotland supported by a large fleet. The Scots, under the command of the Earl of Arran, had a much larger force – but the English were much better armed, including substantial cavalry, artillery and mercenaries from both Germany and Italy who are skilled in using the then new arquebus.
The Scots, having crossed the River Esk by way of the Roman Bridge, came under extensive fire to which they could not effectively reply. It turned into a full scale rout. Some historians say that the main reason for the defeat was that the Scottish mediaeval army had been overcome by a modern Renaissance one. The English armies and navy had been reformed under King Henry VIII. However, there is also a point of view which suggests that the Scots’ heart was not in this battle in particular, thanks to growing support for English policy.
Nothing however can detract from the fact that this was undoubtedly a military disaster for Scotland. There is some dispute over the figures – but at worst, Scotland lost anything up to 15,000 of its fighting men, with a further 2000 taken prisoner. By contrast, the English lost a mere 600. Small wonder then that the day of the battle became known as “Black Saturday”.
To mark the anniversary – and indeed the creation of a new battlefield trail – a series of events is being held in Musselburgh this month. The battle itself will be the subject of a talk by military historian Dr John Sadler this Thursday as part of Musselburgh Conservation Society’s autumn lecture series. The Pinkie Cleugh Battlefield Group will also unveil a series of information panels along a route from the Roman Bridge in Musselburgh to the Battlefield Memorial Stone in Wallyford.