10 September – On this day

The Battle of Pinkie Cleugh, took place on this day in 1547 on the banks of the River Esk near Musselburgh, Scotland. The last pitched battle between Scottish and English armies, it was part of the conflict known as the ‘Rough Wooing’, and is considered to be the first modern battle in the British Isles. It was a catastrophic defeat for Scotland, where it became known as Black Saturday.

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.

When Henry died in 1547, Edward Seymour, maternal uncle of Edward VI, became Lord Protector and Duke of Somerset, with unchallenged power. He continued Henry’s policy of forcible alliance. Early in September 1547, he led a well-equipped army into Scotland, supported by a large fleet.

On the morning of Saturday, 10 September, Somerset advanced his army to close up with a detachment at Inveresk. He found that the Earl of Arran, Scottish Regent and army commander had left his strong defensive position behind the Esk river, and moved his army across ‘Roman bridge’, 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.

Battle of Pinkie, woodcut illustration from William Patten, (1548)

Arran’s left-wing came under fire from English ships offshore. 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. The Scottish army was by now stalled and under heavy fire on three sides, from ships’ cannon, artillery, arquebusiers and archers, to which they had no reply. When they broke, the English cavalry rejoined the battle, many of the retreating Scots were slaughtered or drowned as they tried to swim the fast-flowing Esk or cross the bogs.