Durham Says Sorry

The English Civil War was a long time ago but did not only involve the English. Charles II, being a Stuart, was proclaimed King of Scots in February 1649 and, when he landed in Moray the next year, signed the Covenant, much to the exasperation of Cromwell, who then planned a retaliatory invasion. Despite their army under the incompetent Duke of Hamilton having been clubbed back across the border the previous year, the Scots gathered another under Leslie. But, while many of the former had been battle-hardened from mercenary service in the Thirty Years’ War, the 12,000 gathered at Edinburgh to block the invasion were mostly ploughmen and cottars drafted into service with little training.

Leslie was smart enough to know his troops’ limitations and used a scorched earth policy, avoiding direct confrontation of the well disciplined Roundheads. Cromwell’s advance left his 11,000 men hungry so he fell back on supplies brought into Dunbar by ship. Leslie reached Dunbar first and picked a dominant position on Doon Hill, blocking any retreat to England, but the impatient clergy—too often a baleful influence on Scots history—insisted a swift resolution was possible with help from the Lord.

At the foot of the hill, the Scots were subjected to a surprise night attack and their battle cry “The Lord of Hosts” found favour with them and not the Scots clergy. They rolled up Leslie’s right flank and their cavalry drove a disintegrating rabble from the field, capturing around 5,000 of them. This being a logistical nightmare, they were taken to the only building big enough to contain them—Durham Cathedral, where they languished. 2,000 died on the march, another 1,500 of disease and malnutrition at Durham and the remaining 1,500 were sold as slaves to the English colonies. There is no memorial, only the record of a mass grave in the form of a trench running North from the cathedral.

360 years later, Dunbar’s George Wilson has been fundraising to build a memorial and to have this low point of Anglo-Scots relations be properly recorded and atoned for. He has managed to extract acknowledgement of the terrible events and an intention to assist in providing a memorial to the 1,500 Scots who perished there.

About davidsberry

Local councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Stood for the Scottish Parliament 2011; lost by 151 votes.
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