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Battle of Pinkie

Battle of Pinkie Cleugh
Part of Anglo-Scottish Wars

River Esk and Inveresk Church at Musselburgh
Date 10 September 1547
Location Musselburgh, Lothian, Scotland
Result Decisive English victory.
Kingdom of Scotland Kingdom of England
Commanders and leaders
Earl of Angus Duke of Somerset
22,000–36,000[1] 16,800+[2]
30 warships
Casualties and losses
6,000–15,000 killed[3]
2,000 prisoners[3]
200–600 killed[4]


The Battle of Pinkie Cleugh,[5] on the banks of the River Esk near Musselburgh, Scotland on 10 September 1547, was part of the conflict known as the Rough Wooing. It was the last pitched battle between Scottish and English armies, and is seen as the first modern battle in the British Isles. It was a catastrophic defeat for Scotland, and became known there as Black Saturday.[6]


In the last years of his reign, King Henry VIII of England tried to secure an alliance with Scotland by the marriage of the infant Mary, Queen of Scots, to his young son, the future Edward VI. When diplomacy failed, he launched a war against Scotland that became known as the Rough Wooing. The war also had a religious aspect; the Scots refused to have Reformation imposed on them by England. During the battle, the Scots taunted the English soldiers as loons (persons of no consequence), tykes and heretics. A thousand monks from various orders formed part of the Earl of Angus's division. Many died in the battle. Reformation came to Scotland twelve years later.

When Henry died in 1547, Edward Seymour, maternal uncle of Edward VI, became Lord Protector and Duke of Somerset, with (initially) unchallenged power. He continued the policy of forcible alliance with Scotland by the marriage of Mary to Edward, and of imposing an Anglican Reformation on the Scottish Church. Early in September 1547, he led a well-equipped army into Scotland, supported by a large fleet.[7] The Earl of Arran, Scottish Regent at the time, was forewarned by letters from Adam Otterburn, his representative in London, who had observed English war preparations.[8]

The Campaign

Somerset's army was partly composed of the traditional county levies, summoned by Commissions of Array and armed with longbow and bill as they had been at the Battle of Flodden, thirty years before. However, Somerset also had several hundred German mercenary arquebusiers, a large and well-appointed artillery train, and 6,000 cavalry, including a contingent of Italian mounted arquebusiers under Don Pedro de Gamboa.[9] The cavalry were commanded by Lord Grey of Wilton, as High Marshal of the Army, and the infantry by the Earl of Warwick, Lord Dacre of Gillesland, and Somerset himself.[9] William Patten, an officer of the English army, recorded its numbers as 16,800 fighting men and 1,400 "pioneers".[2]

Somerset advanced along the east coast of Scotland to maintain contact with his fleet and thereby keep in supply. Scottish Border Reivers harassed his troops but could impose no major check to their advance.[10] Far to the west, a diversionary invasion of 5000 men was led by Thomas Wharton and the dissident Earl of Lennox on 8 September 1547. They took Castlemilk in Annandale and burnt Annan after a bitter struggle to capture its fortified church.[11]

To oppose the English south of Edinburgh, the Earl of Arran had levied a large army, consisting mainly of pikemen with contingents of Highland archers. Arran also had large numbers of guns, but these were apparently not as mobile or as well-served as Somerset's. His cavalry consisted of only 2,000 lightly equipped riders under the Earl of Home, most of whom were potentially unreliable Borderers. His infantry and pikemen were commanded by the Earl of Angus, the Earl of Huntly and Arran himself.[12] According to Huntly, the Scottish army numbered 22,000 or 23,000 men, while an English source claimed that it comprised 36,000.[1]

Arran occupied the slopes on the west bank of the River Esk to bar Somerset's progress. The Firth of Forth was on his left flank, and a large bog protected his right. Some fortifications were constructed in which cannon and arquebuses were mounted. Some guns pointed out into the Forth to keep English warships at a distance.


On 9 September part of Somerset's army occupied Falside Hill (then known as Fawside, and currently as Fa'side, as in Fa'side Castle), 3 miles (4.8 km) east of Arran's main position. In an outdated chivalric gesture, the Earl of Home led 1,500 horsemen close to the English encampment and challenged an equal number of English cavalry to fight. With Somerset's reluctant approval, Lord Grey accepted the challenge and engaged the Scots with 1,000 heavily armoured men-at-arms and 500 lighter demi-lancers. The Scottish horsemen were badly cut up and were pursued west for 3 miles (4.8 km). This action cost Arran most of his cavalry.[13]

Later during the day, Somerset sent a detachment with guns to occupy the Inveresk Slopes, which overlooked the Scottish position. During the night, Somerset received two more anachronistic challenges from Arran. One request was for Somerset and Arran to settle the dispute by single combat.[6] Another was for 20 champions from each side to decide the matter. Somerset rejected both proposals.

The battle

On the morning of Saturday, 10 September, Somerset advanced his army to close up with the detachment at Inveresk. He found that Arran had moved his army across the Esk by the 'Roman bridge', and was advancing rapidly to meet him. Arran knew himself to be outmatched in artillery and therefore tried to force close combat before the English artillery could deploy.

Arran's left wing came under fire from English ships offshore. (Their advance meant that the guns on their former position could no longer protect them.) They were thrown into disorder, and were pushed into Arran's own division in the centre.

On the other flank, Somerset threw in his cavalry to delay the Scots' advance. The Scottish pikemen drove them off and inflicted heavy casualties on the English horsemen. Lord Grey himself was wounded by a pike thrust through the throat and into his mouth.[14]

However, the Scottish army was now stalled and under heavy fire on three sides from ships' cannon, artillery, arquebusiers and archers, to which they could not reply. When they broke, the English cavalry rejoined the battle following a vanguard of 300 experienced soldiers under the command of Sir John Luttrell. Many of the retreating Scots were slaughtered or drowned as they tried to swim the fast-flowing Esk or cross the bogs.[15]

The English eye-witness William Patten described the slaughter inflicted on the Scots,

Soon after this notable strewing of their footmen's weapons, began a pitiful sight of the dead corpses lying dispersed abroad, some their legs off, some but houghed, and left lying half-dead, some thrust quite through the body, others the arms cut off, diverse their necks half asunder, many their heads cloven, of sundry the brains pasht out, some others again their heads quite off, with other many kinds of killing. After that and further in chase, all for the most part killed either in the head or in the neck, for our horsemen could not well reach the lower with their swords. And thus with blood and slaughter of the enemy, this chase was continued five miles in length westward from the place of their standing, which was in the fallow fields of Inveresk until Edinburgh Park and well nigh to the gates of the town itself and unto Leith, and in breadth nigh 4 miles, from the Firth sands up toward Dalkeith southward. In all which space, the dead bodies lay as thick as a man may note cattle grazing in a full replenished pasture. The river ran all red with blood, so that in the same chase were counted, as well by some of our men that somewhat diligently did mark it as by some of them taken prisoners, that very much did lament it, to have been slain about 14 thousand. In all this compass of ground what with weapons, arms, hands, legs, heads, blood and dead bodies, their flight might have been easily tracked to every of their three refuges. And for the smallness of our number and the shortness of the time (which was scant five hours, from one to well nigh six) the mortality was so great, as it was thought, the like aforetime not to have been seen.[16]

The Imperial ambassador's accounts of the battle

The Imperial ambassador François van der Delft went to the court of Edward VI at Oatlands Palace to hear the news of the battle from William Paget. Van der Delft wrote to the Queen Dowager, Mary of Hungary, with his version on 19 September 1547. He had heard of the cavalry skirmish the day before the battle. Next day, when the English army encountered the Scottish formation, the Scots advance horsemen dismounted and crossed their lances, which were like pikes, and stood in close formation. Van der Delft heard that the Earl of Warwick then attempted to attack the Scots from behind using smoky fires as a diversion. When they engaged the Scottish rearguard the Scots took flight, apparently following those who already had an understanding with the Protector Somerset. The rest of the Scots army then attempted to flee the field.

Van der Delft wrote another shorter description for Prince Philip on 21 October 1547. In this account he lays emphasis on the Scots attempting to change position. He said the Scots crossed the brook in order to occupy two hills which flanked both armies. The Scottish army, "without any need whatever were seized with panic and began to fly."[17]

Another letter with derivative news of the battle was sent by John Hooper in Switzerland to the Reformer Henry Bullinger. Hooper mentions that Scots had to abandon their artillery due to the archers commanded by the Earl of Warwick, and when the Scots changed position the sun was in their eyes. He was told there were 15,000 Scottish casualties and 2,000 prisoners. There were 17,000 English in the field and 30,000 Scots. Hooper's letter is not dated but he includes the false early report that Mary of Guise surrendered in person to Somerset after the battle.[18]


Although they had suffered a resounding defeat, the Scottish government refused to come to terms. The infant Queen Mary was smuggled out of the country to France to be betrothed to the young dauphin Francis. Somerset occupied several Scottish strongholds and large parts of the Lowlands and Borders, but without peace these garrisons became a useless drain on the Treasury of England.[19]


Although the Scots blamed traitors within their own ranks for the defeat, it may be fair to say that a Renaissance army defeated a Mediaeval army. Henry VIII had taken steps towards creating standing naval and land forces which formed the nucleus of the fleet and army that gave Somerset the victory. However, the military historian Gervase Phillips has defended Scottish tactics, pointing out that Arran moved from his position by the Esk as a rational response to English manouevres by sea and land. In his 1877 account of the battle, Major Sadleir Stoney commented that 'every tyro knows that changing front in presence of an enemy is a perilous operation.'[20] Early commentators such as John Knox had focused on the move as the cause of the defeat and attributed the order to the influence of local landowners George Durie, Abbot of Dunfermline, and Hugh Rig of Carberry.[21] Marcus Merriman sees the initial Scottish field encampment as the most sophisticated ever erected in Scotland, let down by their cavalry numbers.[22]

Phillips maintains the defeat may be considered due to a crisis of morale after the English cavalry charge, and notes William Patten's praise of the Earl of Angus's pikemen.[23] Merriman regards Somerset's failure to press on and capture Edinburgh and Leith as a loss of 'a magnificent opportunity' and 'a massive blunder' which cost him the war.[24] In 1548, the Scottish Master of Artillery, Lord Methven, gave his opinion that the battle was lost due to growing support in Scotland for English policy, and the mis-order and great haste of the Scottish army on the day.[25]

The longbow continued to play a key role in England's battles and Pinkie was no exception. Though the combination of bill and longbow which England used was old, it could still hold its own against the pike and arquebus tactics used in Continental armies at this stage in the development of firearms.

The battle-site today

The battle site is now part of East Lothian. The battle took place most probably in the cultivated ground 0.5 mile southeast of Inveresk church, just to the south of the main east-coast railway line. There are two vantage points for viewing the ground. Fa'side Castle above the village of Wallyford was just behind the English position, and with the aid of binoculars a visitor can get a good view of the battle area, though the Scottish position is now obscured by buildings. The best impression of their position is obtained from the golf course west of the river Esk and just off the B6415 road. The Scottish centre occupied ground a few yards west of the clubhouse. The Inveresk eminence, an important tactical feature at the time of the battle, is now built over, but from it a visitor can get down to the Esk and walk for some way along the bank. This walk gives a further idea of a part of the Scottish position, but the town of Musselburgh now completely covers the left of their line.[26] The battlefield has been inventoried and protected by Historic Scotland under the Scottish Historical Environment Policy of 2009.[27]

The Scottish artillery

Warned of the approach of the English army, the Scottish artillery was made ready at Edinburgh Castle. Extra gunners were recruited and 140 pioneers, i.e. workmen, were employed by Duncan Dundas to move the guns. On 2 September carts were hired to take the guns and the Scottish tents and pavilions towards Musselburgh. There were horses, and oxen were supplied by the Laird of Elphinstone. John Drummond of Milnab, master carpenter of the Scottish ordnance, led the wagon train. There was a newly painted banner, and ahead a boy played on the "swesche", a drum used to alert people.[28][29]

William Patten described the English officers of the Ordnance after the battle retrieving 30 of the Scottish guns, which were left lying in sundry places, on Sunday 11 September. They found; one brass culverin; 3 brass sakers; 9 smaller brass pieces; and 17 other iron guns mounted on carriages.[30] Some of these guns appear in the English royal inventory of 1547–8, at the Tower of London where sixteen Scottish brass guns were recorded. They were; a demi-cannon; 2 culverins; 3 sakers; 9 falconets; and a robinet.[31]

The fitted account of the English Treasurer General of the Army

Ralph Sadler was treasurer for Somerset's expedition in Scotland from 1 August to 20 November 1547. The expense of the journey northwards cost £7468-12s-10d, and the return was £6065-14s-4d. Soldier's wages were £26,299-7s-1d. For his own expenses, Sadler had £211-14s-8d with £258-14s-9d for his equipment and auditors expenses. A number of special rewards were given to spies, Scottish guides, and others who gave good service, and to the Captain of the Spanish mercenaries. The Scottish herald at the battlefield was given 100 shillings. When Sadler's account was audited in December 1547, Sadler was found to owe Edward VI £546-13s-11d which he duly returned.[32]


David H. Caldwell has written, "English estimates put the slaughter as high as 15,000 Scots killed and 2,000 taken but the Earl of Huntly's figure of 6,000 dead is probably nearer the truth."[3] Of the Scottish prisoners, few were nobles or gentlemen. It was claimed that most were dressed much the same as common soldiers and therefore were not recognised as being worth ransoming.[33] Caldwell says of the English casualties, "Officially it was given out that losses were only 200 though the rumour about the English court, fed by private letters from those in the army, indicated that 500 or 600 was more likely."[4]

William Patten names a number of high-ranking casualties. The Englishmen he names were horsemen forced onto Scottish pikes in a ploughed field to the east of the English position, after they had crossed a slough towards the Scottish position on Falside Brae.[34]



The names of a number of other Scottish casualties are known from legal records or the Scottish chronicles,[36] and include;


  • Burke's Country Gentry under Henderson of Fordell.
  • Bain, Joseph ed., Calendar of State Papers, Scotland, vol. 1, Edinburgh (1898).
  • Caldwell, David H., 'The Battle of Pinkie,' in Macdougall, Norman, ed., Scotland and War, AD79-1918, Edinburgh (1991), pp.61-94
  • Constable, David, ed., , Bannatyne Club (1825), French eyewitness fighting on English side.
  • , Camden Society (1847)
  • Patten, William, The Expedition into Scotland in 1547, , London (1903) 53–157.
  • Phillips, Gervase, 'In the Shadow of Flodden: Tactics, Technology and Scottish Military Effectiveness, 1513-1550', Scottish Historical Review, vol.77, no.204 part 2, EUP (Oct. 1998), pp.162-182.
  • , vol. 2, Edinburgh (1809) pp.353-364, English army treasurer's account.
  • , Longman (1877) pp.107-114.


External links

  • Battle of Pinkie entry in the Scottish Government Inventory of Historic Battlefields
  • , August (1997)
  • , vol. 1 (1862) pp. 124–158, Latin account following William Patten.
  • Summary of 2010 BBC Radio 4 program on early battle drawing, Bodleian MS. Eng. Misc. C.13 (R)/(30492)

Coordinates: 55°55′59″N 3°01′23″W / 55.933°N 3.023°W / 55.933; -3.023 (Battle of Pinkie)

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