The Battle of Pinkie Cleugh was fought on the 10th of September, 1547.
The Battle of Pinkie Cleugh, otherwise known as the Battle of Falside, was sparked by the ‘Rough Wooing’. That less than romantic courting was sparked by the Scots refusal to concede to the demands of the English King, Henry VIII, that his ten years old son, Edward (the VI to be) should marry Mary I, Queen of Scots, aged a mere five years. Henry’s military campaign on the borders followed the Scots having reneged on an earlier agreement, confirmed by Parliament no less, that the two crowns would be united by marriage. Over the centuries, there had been several English born Queens of Scotland i.e., English wives for Scottish Kings, but never an English born spouse for a Scottish Queen. It had come close in 1289 with the betrothal of the Maid of Norway to the son of Edward I, and in 1547, it came no closer. A shotgun wedding can never be a good thing and the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh was to prove decidedly counter productive for the English, precipitating her unavailability. Choosing a more prosaic form of courtship, the Scots engineered the marriage of the infant Mary to the French Dauphin. English hopes were dashed.
Before the battle that effectively ended the ‘rough wooing’, the man whose territorial ambitions had sparked it all off was dead. Henry VIII had died earlier in that year of 1547 and the English host was led into battle by the Duke of Somerset. So the battle was fought by proxy on behalf of the nine years old King, Edward VI. To add a bit more spice to the mix, it was clear that Somerset had his own agenda; he had desires to usurp his own King. As a further example of the kind of infighting and intrigue that went on in those days, quite commonplace mind you, the English were accompanied into battle by several renegade Scots. Food for thought for patriotic Scots reared on tales of Wallace and Bruce, the Earls of Bothwell and Cassilis, together with sundry other [ig]Nobles fought on the English side. That factionalism came about as a result of the split provoked by the Protestant Reformation – a kind of precursor to the ‘Old Firm’ rivalry, if you like.
The battle was fought at Pinkie Cleugh (cleugh meaning narrow glen in Gaelic) outside Musselburgh. It’s official anniversary is the 10th of September, but in reality, the battle took place over three days. The armies formed up in opposition, across the River Esk, on the 8th of September, an early skirmish took place on the afternoon of the 9th, and the battle proper took place on the 10th. The Scots heavily outnumbered the English, albeit they were weaker in cavalry, but still suffered an ignominious defeat. So what went wrong? Essentially, it was rashness and posturing, particularly by the Earl of Huntly, and a not untypical lack of patience or discipline on the part of the inexperienced Scottish leadership. Compared to Somerset, the Scots had no exemplary military leader.
Despite the infighting and disagreements amongst the Scots, they’d managed to muster a significant, joined up army to face the invading English. Under the Regent, the uncertain Earl of Arran, were the Earls of Angus, Argyll, Home and Huntly, with a combined force of 20,000 infantry, 3000 highlanders, 2000 light border cavalry and 300 or so heavy cavalry. In contrast, the English mustered 10,000 infantry, 2000 light cavalry, the same number of heavy horse, and 2000 continental mercenaries, plus a further 300 Spanish mercenary cavalry. On the 8th of September, the Scots drew up west of the Esk in an almost impregnable position, whilst the English had massed east of the river. On that first day, Huntly issued Somerset with a challenge to single combat, but his misguided chivalry was contemptuously dismissed. Then, on the 9th, Lord Home crossed the Esk to challenge the English might with his border cavalry. His troops were promptly decimated by Lord Grey de Wilton’s opposing horse. A sobering lesson – enough to drive the Scots to drink.
At dawn on the 10th of September, which came to be known as ‘Black Saturday’, Somerset began separate deployments of his artillery and infantry. Arran seized on that as a glorious opportunity to attack his flank whilst the ‘Englishry’ were not so much in disarray, but occupied in changing position. As the Scots advanced across the Esk, Somerset rapidly changed his orders, commanding his artillery to return and face the Scots, and at the same time causing his infantry to form up line abreast to face the advancing army. Somerset’s agility, at least that of his men as well as his own quick thinking, effectively saved the day. Rupert Matthews, in his excellent book, ‘England versus Scotland’, suggests “[that] it is probably fair to say that the outcome depended to a large extent on luck.” Arran could be faulted for impatience and indiscipline; for not standing his ground, but if he’d made it to the English line, the result would have been a victory for the numerically superior Scots.
As it happened, with Lord Grey’s cavalry attacks delaying the Scots’ advance, Somerset’s artillery was able to re-deploy, and in the nick of time. With Arran’s and Argyll’s infantry just a hundred yards away, the English cannon fired a first, devastating broadside volley into the doomed Scottish horde. And that was effectively that, as they say. The Scots turned and fled as the enemy artillery continued to blast its fleeing opposition with its cavalry and heavy horse giving chase. Angus, out on the right flank, managed to withdraw in an orderly fashion, giving some protection to his countrymen as they fled back over the Esk. Huntly, on the Scots left, remained in the field and held the Esk crossing in a rearguard action, but was himself captured.
The result was a slaughtering. Forget 3-2 at Wembley, this was 10-1 at Pinkie! An official tally gave just 600 English dead. The Scots total was only an estimate, put by Huntly at 6000. There were many more, in addition to Huntly, probably around 1500, that were captured. Again, according to Rupert Matthews, the Battle at Pinkie Cleugh can be regarded as the first ‘modern’ battle on British soil, in as much as it featured combined arms, co-operation between infantry, artillery and cavalry and, most remarkably, a naval bombardment in support of land forces.
Another interesting fact emerges from the involvement of the Spanish mercenary cavalry, which was led by Pedro da Gamboa. The Spaniards were adept at a deadly new tactic known as ‘caracole’, which begins with a tight column of horse, a dozen ranks deep. When the front rank fire their guns, they wheel away to rejoin the column at the rear, whilst the new front rank repeats the manoeuvre, and so on. Such a swift mobile force, with its continuous rolling fire, made a telling impact against the battered Scots at Pinkie.