The second battle of Dunbar is significant as the most influential battle fought in Scotland during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. It one of the largest and bloodiest battles in Scottish history and had substantial military and political consequences. It is also significant as one of Oliver Cromwell's finest battlefield victories.
The English Parliamentarian army (supporters of the Commonwealth of England) under the command of Oliver Cromwell succeeded in defeating the larger Scottish Royalist army. A large number of Scots were killed during the battle and over half the army was captured and marched to England to be imprisoned at Durham Cathedral.
Victory for the English Parliamentarians at Dunbar left southern Scotland open to Cromwell. He marched unopposed to Edinburgh and captured the city by December 1650. Dunbar was one of Cromwell's greatest military successes and played a key role in completing his rise to political power. The following two Scottish defeats at Inverkeithing (July 1651) and Worcester (September 1651) destroyed any serious Scottish bid for the restoration of Charles II and signalled the end of Scotland's role in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.
The Inventory boundary defines the area in which the main events of the battle are considered to have taken place (landscape context) and where associated physical remains and archaeological evidence occur or may be expected (specific qualities). The landscape context is described under battlefield landscape: it encompasses areas of fighting, key movements of troops across the landscape and other important locations, such as the positions of camps or vantage points. Although the landscape has changed since the time of the battle, key characteristics of the terrain at the time of the battle can normally still be identified, enabling events to be more fully understood and interpreted in their landscape context. Specific qualities are described under physical remains and potential: these include landscape features that played a significant role in the battle, other physical remains, such as enclosures or built structures, and areas of known or potential archaeological evidence.
The Inventory boundary for the Battle of Dunbar II is defined on the accompanying map and includes the following areas:
- The slopes and summit of Doon Hill where the Scots camped and initially deployed.
- Broxmouth House and designed landscape and the southern part of Dunbar. The locations of the English camps including the graveyard of Queen's Road Parish Church in Dunbar where the baggage train and artillery were located.
- The Brox/Spott Burn and lands adjacent to the north, south and east. The general location of the main battle and the crossing point of the English army.
- Meikle Pinkerton Farm and lands to the north and south. The location of the Scottish right flank as shown on Fisher's contemporary map.
- The well preserved landscape characteristics of the battlefield including the views out and relationship between the summit and the lower slopes of Doon Hill, along with the Brox Burn and Broxmouth House and grounds.
Historical Background to the Battle
Since entering Scotland in July 1650 Cromwell had played a cat and mouse game with the Scottish army under the command of General David Leslie. By August the campaign was taking its toll on the English army and they moved south down the east coast towards Berwick. Leslie intercepted them at Dunbar and took up position on high ground to the south of the town on the slopes and summit of Doon Hill. This effectively blocked off the path of the English army's retreat to England, leaving Cromwell with limited choices. He could attempt withdrawal by sea, but there was little prospect of relief by forces from Berwick because of the deployment of Scottish troops at Cockburnspath. Instead, Cromwell decided to fight. There was a fatal weakness in the Scottish deployment: the right flank had come down to the lower slopes of Doon Hill and was within reach of the English if they could cross the Brox Burn. A concentrated attack on the right flank would be largely unhindered by Leslie's left flank because the defensive strength of their position restricted their ability to manoeuvre. Breaking the right flank would leave the centre and left exposed. At the same time, Leslie had left gaps in his deployment that meant a strike could get in amongst his lines and make it relatively easy to break through.
In the afternoon before the battle, Cromwell sent a small detachment across the burn where they briefly occupied a 'poor house' before being driven off by a Scottish unit. Just before dawn, the English crossed the burn and defeated a largely unprepared Scottish detachment that had been sent forward, possibly to attack Broxmouth House, the location of the English camp. Having crossed the burn, Cromwell marshalled his forces and attacked the Scottish right wing with John Lambert's cavalry; he threw assaults against the rest of the Scottish line but these were not intended to break through. Cromwell concentrated his main assault on the Scottish right, bringing in supporting troops under George Monck as well. This tactic enabled Cromwell to break through the Scottish battalions, and divisions of Lambert's cavalry reached the top of the lower slopes of Doon Hill; here they were able to stop the Scottish forces reforming. Many of the defeated troops surrendered, while others fled in all directions with the English cavalry in pursuit. After the battle the Scottish camp at Doon Hill was plundered and most of the dead were stripped and serviceable weapons recovered.
The numbers involved are open to question. There is general agreement amongst the secondary sources that the English army numbered between 11,000 and 12,000 and that they took very light casualties (c300 killed). In contrast, there is less agreement about Scottish numbers. The standing army was around 5,500 men, but the prospect of war had led to a muster for a new army. The requirement on the different districts should have produced an army of well over 20,000 and, as Cromwell recorded that Leslie's army was around 22,000, this has been the generally accepted figure. However, more recently questions have been raised about the response to the muster, leading to a revised proposal of 15,000 troops. This seems more likely in the context of raising a new army in a period of constant warfare and the decimation of Scottish armies in the campaigns against Montrose, but this does not mean that it is right and the higher figure could in fact be correct. Scottish casualties are similarly unclear. Cromwell recorded that 3,000 Scots were killed in the battle and 10,000 taken prisoner; of these, roughly half were released and the rest marched to Durham. In contrast, contemporary Scottish accounts talk of 800 dead; this may reflect the number killed on the battlefield, while Cromwell's figure includes those killed in the rout.
The English New Model Army that fought at Dunbar was a highly experienced, professional force, with brilliant commanders in Cromwell and Lambert. However, by the time it had retired to Dunbar, it was in a sorry state. They had entered Scotland with over 16,000 men in July, comprising 8 regiments of horse (5,415), 8 regiments of foot (10,249), and the train and artillery (690) (Firth 1900). However, the army suffered dramatic losses of 4-5,000 to sickness in 6 weeks, due to wet and cold weather, compounded by difficulties of logistical support, so much so that the Scots for the first time felt sufficiently confident to challenge them in open battle.
Although by 1650 there was a small Scottish standing army, of 3,000 foot and 2,500 horse, the force which fought the 1650 campaign comprised mainly newly-raised troops. It did substantially outnumber the invading army and had a highly experienced commander, David Leslie, and officer corps, although the latter had been weakened to a degree by the purging of the officer corps on religious grounds. While the New Model Army diminished through sickness, the Scottish army continued to draw in new units as it approached Dunbar.
The numbers summarised by Firth are generally accepted by other authorities.
English: 7,500 foot and 3,500 horse according to Cromwell (Abbott 1939), although Cadwell indicates perhaps as many as 12,000 (Carte & Ormonde, 1739).
Scottish: 22-23,000, comprising 16,000 foot, possibly in 18 regiments, and 6-7,000 horse.
Between 30-100 English troops are said to have been killed, compared to some 3,000 Scots. In addition, about half the Scottish army, some 10,000 troops, were captured. Of these, 4-5,000 sick and wounded soldiers were released, the rest sent on as prisoners to Newcastle and Durham. The whole Scottish train of artillery of 32 guns was also taken, apparently comprising nine large pieces, 13 smaller field guns and possibly 10 leather guns or other lesser pieces. According to Cromwell and Cadwell, 10,000 serviceable weapons and almost 200 regimental and other colours were also taken (Abbott, 1939, Carte and Ormonde, 1739).
On the night of 1 September, the New Model Army camped in the town fields to the south of Dunbar. The train and artillery was in the isolated churchyard south of the town, but was moved later in the night to a farmhouse in the middle of the fields where the English camp lay. Initially the Scottish army occupied an exposed position on the top of Doon Hill, less than two miles to the south, from where Leslie could control the coast road south to Berwick.
On 2 September, the New Model Army stood in battle array in the fields of Dunbar, facing towards Doon Hill. Cromwell also occupied Broxmouth House, which stood close to the Berwick road where it crossed the Brox Burn, the stream which stood between the two armies. This was an important forward position that was enclosed, according to Fisher's prospect, by a defensible stone wall. Its slightly higher ground also gave a good view of the Scottish deployment on the slopes of Doon Hill. At some point the English baggage train was also moved forward to Broxmouth Park, as this is where Fisher shows the train. A small detachment of 6 horse and 24 foot were also sent forward to occupy an outpost, probably on the Berwick side of the burn, where
'on the side of the bank was a poor house which stood in a shelving pass'..that the enemy should not come over' (Carte and Ormonde, 1739).
The house appears to be depicted by Fisher. At about 4 pm, two troops of Scottish lancers dislodged these forces. Leslie had already drawn down some of his forces down from Doon Hill. At first, it was just the right wing of cavalry, enabling him to control any attempt by Cromwell to break through along the Berwick road. Then, presumably using these cavalry as a screen, the rest of the army was drawn down, the right wing shifting along towards the coast to enable the others to deploy. Around 4 pm, he also brought down the train and artillery. Leslie used a standard deployment with infantry in the centre and cavalry on the wings, with the train positioned to the rear. He also transferred two thirds of the left wing of horse to the support the right wing, presumably in response to the special difficulties of the terrain, and perhaps with an intention to attack the next day. After the battle the Scots themselves, and more recently various historians, debated whether the decision to force an engagement with Cromwell was pressed upon Leslie by the government, or whether he needed no such pressure because he finally felt the New Model Army was sufficiently weakened for him to safely gain a victory.
From their forward position at Broxmouth House, Cromwell, Lambert and Monck viewed the Scottish deployment
'We could not well imaging [?] but that the enemy intended to attempt upon us or to place themselves in a more exact condition of interposition' (Abbott, 1939).
However, in the new Scottish deployment they saw major tactical flaws that the New Model Army could exploit. Leslie had deployed on very narrow ground, constrained in front by the ravine of the Brox burn and to the rear by the steep slopes of Doon Hill. This would make it impossible for him to manoeuvre his centre and left wing effectively to counter an attack focussed against the right wing. Secondly, he had left intervals between the regiments deployed on the 'brink of the hill' through which a troop of English horse or foot could march immediately, with the Scots unable to wheel about to counter without disordering themselves. Fisher depicts just such a cavalry attack by a division of horse in his plan of the battle. As the Scottish centre and left could not easily cross the burn because of the ravine, so the English right wing could be reduced to a relatively small number of troops, who would easily be able to counter a far larger force due to the steepness of the ravine sides.
Under the cover of darkness and a foul night of wet and windy weather, Cromwell moved the New Model Army forward as close as possible to the burn. He placed two pieces of artillery with each regiment, in the normal fashion, and reorganised his deployment ready to make a surprise attack before first light. The burn was passable below the ravine at three main locations: at Brands Mill; the crossing on the Dunbar / Berwick road; and close to the coast, below Broxmouth Park, and Fisher shows English troops crossing at all three points. After standing to arms for a good deal of the night, many of the Scottish forces stood down early in the morning, match for the muskets was extinguished by all but infantry file leaders, some horses put out to forage, and with some officers leaving their commands to take shelter from the heavy rain.
That morning, at some time between 4 am and 5 am, the New Model Army attack began at the pass above Broxburn House, where the Berwick ' Dunbar road crossed the burn. A Scottish detachment, apparently sent forward to make an attack on Broxmouth, were encountered by the main English attack force under Lambert, comprising a brigade of three regiments of horse (Lambert's, Whalley's and Lilburn's) and two regiments of foot. Starting by moonlight, the attack on the pass developed into an intense firefight, including heavy artillery on both sides. This action lasted about an hour and, at first, caught the Scots unprepared.
By daybreak, now having control of the crossing, Lambert brought his forces forward across the burn. At around 6 am, his cavalry attack went in against the enemy right, where the Scottish army stood on a steep hill (Anon 1650). The Scottish right wing of cavalry, charging down hill and with the leading troops carrying lances, supported on their left by artillery and foot, were able to drive off Lambert's first assault. At this point Lambert had only about 2,700 horse against 4-5,000 Scottish cavalry. When Monk's foot brigade came up to Lambert's right and attacked the Scottish foot, he too was heavily outnumbered, with 5,000 against as many as 15,000, and so he too was repulsed. However, Cromwell's regiments of horse and two foot regiments had been sent around behind Broxmouth House, crossing the burn and advancing to attack the Scots' right flank.
It was this that turned the tables and a second charge by Lambert drove through the Scottish cavalry, as did the infantry attacks, with one English regiment reaching the hilltop where they stopped the disordered Scottish foot reforming. Many of the Scottish infantry were driven back for about three-quarters of a mile, but one Scottish brigade of foot stood well, finally broken by cavalry charges, with two regiments being destroyed as they stood (Rushworth 1650). Seeing this, more than an hour after the main action began, and with the English forces having broken through behind them, the rest of the foot threw down their arms and fled toward Dunbar, where they were surrounded and taken. The left wing of horse, having never engaged, also fled. Some of the Scottish horse fled towards Berwick, but most departed towards Edinburgh, with Cromwell leading the pursuit for some 8 miles to Haddington.
After the battle most of the dead were stripped and serviceable weapons recovered. The locals were then allowed to bring carts onto the battlefield to take off surviving wounded Scottish troops, on condition that they did not take away any arms or equipment they found there.
Aftermath & Consequences
Dunbar was one of the most important battles of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. It was an action where a clear plan of battle, developed with tactical flair by one of the great generals of the 17th century, was implemented by an army of highly experienced professional troops against odds of about 2:1. Exploiting key elements of the terrain and serious failures in the enemy deployment, the English achieved a devastating victory. It was one of Cromwell's greatest military successes. It played a key role in completing his rise to political power and, together with Inverkeithing II (1650) and then Worcester (1651), resulted in the conquest of Scotland and destruction of any serious potential for the restoration of Charles II, who was forced into exile.
Events & Participants
After Montrose's final defeat at the Battle of Carbisdale on 27 April and his execution on 21 May 1650, Scotland might have been able to settle into some form of peace after twelve years of conflict. However, the Scottish Parliament had been generally unhappy about the execution of Charles I in 1649 and, despite their opposition to Charles II's champion Montrose, had opened negotiations with Charles; they also suspected strongly that the English Parliamentarians would try to annex Scotland. The combination of anger over the execution and fear over the English Parliament's intentions culminated in the Treaty of Breda on 1 May 1650, where Charles II guaranteed to establish Presbyterianism as the state religion and to recognise the authority of the Kirk in civil law across Britain.
The English Parliamentarians were already mobilising to deal with the threat from Scotland, and Cromwell was marching north with an army within five days of Charles signing the Covenant. The English army, which initially numbered around 16,000, had some successes in taking Scottish strongholds, but had to rely on supply from the sea as the Scots used a scorched earth tactic against them. Disease also began to affect the army and by August, Cromwell's army of around 12,000 men was quite dispirited. Edinburgh was held against them, and Leslie was countering any manoeuvres they tried. Cromwell withdrew to his supply base at Dunbar, but Leslie arrived first and took up position along Doon Hill. Cromwell had little choice but to fight, as his route back to England was now cut; his only alternative would be a difficult evacuation by sea. However, the initiative swung to Cromwell as the Scottish army came down from the heights onto lower ground, making an assault against them feasible. The historically significant figures at Dunbar are a roll call of the English Civil War. Oliver Cromwell commanded the English army, and the battle is one frequently cited by later authors to illustrate his tactical brilliance. He was accompanied by other leading figures of the New Model Army and subsequent political developments in the Protectorate and Restoration. His son-in-law Charles Fleetwood was his Lieutenant-General; Fleetwood later served as Commander-in-Chief in Ireland, where he was known for being particularly repressive and later resisted the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, and afterwards lost all rank and privilege as a result. Oliver Cromwell is one of the most significant figures in the 17th century on the British Isles. He was a tactically astute military commander and helped transform the nature of warfare within the British Isles, despite having apparently no military experience prior to the start of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. He was also a major political player, again rising from a position of inexperience to become one of the most important members of Parliament, and playing a key role in the decision to execute Charles I. In 1653, his position was further enhanced by his promotion to Lord Protector, the head of a new republic encompassing the whole British Isles, and held this position until his death in 1658.
The English cavalry was commanded by Major-General John Lambert. He was at Marston Moor and later at Preston as Cromwell's second-in-command. In 1651, he went on to win the Battle of Inverkeithing, which made the Royalist position in Scotland untenable, and was with Cromwell at Worcester, the battle that ended Scotland's role in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.
The English infantry were led by Major-General George Monck. He went on to finish the conquest of Scotland, which included a massacre at Dundee. In the collapse of the Protectorate after Cromwell's death, Monck took the lead in preparing for the Restoration and was highly decorated by Charles II. He also is significant as being the commander of the Coldstream Guards, the only unit of the New Model Army to be incorporated into the Royalist army after the Restoration.
Major-General David Leslie, born in 1601, was a very capable and experienced commander who began his military career fighting for Gustavus Adolphus in the Thirty Years War, where he rose to the rank of Colonel. After his return to Scotland in 1640, he was second in command as Major-General of the Scottish armies that were sent to help the English Parliamentarians in 1644; it was the despatch of Leslie and his troops that acted as the spark for Montrose's raising of the Royal Standard in Scotland. He was recalled to Scotland in 1645 to deal with Montrose, which he achieved in a single battle at Philiphaugh, before returning to the war in England in 1646. Later that year, it was Leslie who received Charles I surrender at Newark. He returned to Scotland in 1647, where he helped Argyll against Alasdair Mac Colla, Montrose's former ally, finally forcing Mac Colla to withdraw to Ireland. With the Scot's support for Charles II in 1650 after his father's execution, Leslie again found himself in command of the Scottish army against his former ally Oliver Cromwell. He successfully frustrated Cromwell throughout the summer of 1650 until he finally faced him in battle at Dunbar, where Cromwell inflicted a crushing defeat on the Scots force. Leslie opposed Charles II decision to invade England in 1651, and played little part in the Battle of Worcester, where the Scottish army was again defeated, and Leslie was captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London until the Restoration in 1660. In 1661, in recognition of his earlier service to the Royalist cause, Charles II made Leslie the first Baron Newark. Leslie finally died in 1682.
Charles I had been executed in January 1649 and a Commonwealth declared in England. In June 1650, his son landed in Scotland where he was proclaimed King Charles II. In July, the English Parliament, expecting Charles to initiate a Scottish-led campaign for the English Crown, launched a pre-emptive invasion of Scotland. A largely veteran force of 10,000 foot and 5,000 horse from the New Model Army was sent north under the command of Oliver Cromwell. Scottish forces numbering some 25,000 were raised in response, under the command of the highly experienced David Leslie, though his officer corps was weakened by the purging of many non-Presbyterians.
Leslie fought a defensive campaign around Edinburgh, denying Cromwell the opportunity of a pitched battle. The New Model Army was supplied by sea via the port of Dunbar. In the absence of adequate ports between Dunbar and Leith, this supply line was disrupted by bad weather, though it has also been argued that the fault in part lay in inadequate provision of wagons and horses. Having failed to bring Leslie to battle, in late August the New Model Army were forced by the sickness and supply problems, to retire to Dunbar, the most suitable and defensible port between Berwick and Leith. As they retreated via Haddington they were harried by the Scots in a series of skirmishes, but Leslie still would not offer battle when Cromwell drew up in battle array on open ground beside Haddington on 1 September. Retreating once more to Dunbar, the English rearguard fought off further Scottish attacks.
Cromwell took the coast road into Dunbar, while Leslie took the high ground and camped upon Doon Hill, about 2 miles south of the town and about a mile from the New Model Army. He also sent some troops to Cockburnpath, 10 miles from Dunbar, where the Berwick road crossed a deep ravine, thus cutting Cromwell's road communications to his base and removing any chance of immediate reinforcement from Berwick. Cromwell shipped some of his sick troops out of the port, a move that was possibly mistaken by Leslie as the beginning of an evacuation of both the artillery and the infantry, leading him to believe the New Model Army cavalry was intending to break through along the coast road to escape the trap.
The general location of the battlefield is well established by a series of primary sources, including eyewitness accounts and a contemporary map drawn by Fitz-Payne Fisher. However, the exact location of the main deployment across the Brox Burn and the lower slopes of the Doon Hill will only be resolved through archaeological fieldwork.
On the night of 1 September the English camped in the fields to the south of Dunbar, with the baggage train and artillery located in a churchyard south of the town. The site of the English camp may have been lost under the southern expansion of Dunbar but the churchyard is likely to be the burial ground of the 16th century Town Kirk, now subsumed within grounds of the 19th century Queen's Road Parish Church.
Broxmouth House, where Cromwell was moved to on the 2 September, has been redeveloped but the grounds are largely intact. The point where the English crossed the burn and prepared to assault the Scottish right flank lies out-with the grounds of Broxmouth House but has remained relatively unchanged, while Doon Hill, where the Scots camped and initially deployed, survives as open farmland.
The battle was fought on open land on the outskirts of Dunbar. The main action took place on the lower slopes of Doon Hill and beside the narrow steep gorge created by the Brox Burn. This landscape has been significantly altered since the time of the battle through the enclosure of the land. Extensive mineral extraction and the construction of major transport links within the battlefield have divided the area into separate zones, making it difficult to read the land as a single entity. However, significant landscape features identified on Fisher's map including the Brox Burn, Doon Hill and the grounds of Broxmouth House survive intact and are well preserved. The spatial and topographic relationships between these features played key roles in the battle and their preservation allows the landscape of the battlefield to continue to be read and understood. Important views such as those looking from the summit of Doon Hill towards Broxmouth House and Dunbar in the north are intact and provide the same outlook as it would have done in the 17th century.
The southern half of the defined area is mainly farmland with Broxmouth Park Garden and designed landscape, Dunbar Cement Works and part of Dunbar town located in the north. The mainline railway and A1 road running east-west through the site and the former limestone quarry located on the east side of the defined area may have impacted on surviving battlefield evidence.
The battle has normally been named after Dunbar, the closest town and the parish within which the action was fought, although at least one contemporary source describes it as the battle of Broxmouth, one of the closest settlements (Letter from Earl of Londoun to Charles II , 6 Sep 1650, National Archives: GD40/2/19/1/24). There is also agreement between all authors as to the general location of the action. Exceptionally, and certainly incorrectly, Thomson's Atlas of Scotland (1832) shows the battle being fought on the south side of Doon Hill. Young & Adair, followed by various authors, show slightly more extensive action on the north-east by Cromwell than that shown by Reid. They also show four crossings of the stream by Parliament forces, on either side of the main road. Seymour gives an idiosyncratic English deployment and shows attacks across a wide front, contrary to the evidence of the primary accounts.
The English army drew up in battle array as close as possible to the Brox burn and thus their initial deployment can be closely placed. In contrast, there is dispute as to the exact position and extent of the Scottish deployment. Determining the exact location and extent of the Scottish deployment is essential to define the battlefield accurately and to understand fully the tactical opportunity which Cromwell saw and exploited so effectively. It will also determine the degree to which the key area on the east side of the battlefield remains intact or has been destroyed by extensive mineral extraction.
The primary accounts provide various pieces of information. Cromwell describes the Scottish force redeploying by bringing the troops down from Doon Hill and progressively 'shogging' the right wing closer to the sea to accommodate the other troops as they descended. Hodgson states that the Scottish battle formation was not less than a mile in width, from the right wing near Broxmouth House (described by Hodgson and others as Roxburgh House), across to their left wing, with 'a great mountain', i.e. Doon Hill, behind them. Rushworth has the New Model Army charging the Scots 'both in the Valley and on the Hill'.
Carlyle and Gardiner, followed by most modern authors, place the Scottish deployment parallel to and fairly close to the burn. Firth, however, drawing heavily upon Fisher's plan, argued that Carlyle and Gardiner were wrong in showing the armies directly facing one another across the burn, and argued for a Scottish deployment which was aligned more at right angles to the burn. Firth's case has not been disproved by more recent studies of the battle and has been the starting point of the reassessment undertaken for the present report. In the plan presented here, the order of scale of the frontage of each Scottish battalion has been estimated, based on the evidence of troop numbers in the primary sources and the deployment as depicted by Fisher, using deployment rules as defined in military manuals of the period (Ward 1639). This calculation gives a frontage of nearly a mile and a half, compared to Hodgson's reference of at least a mile. The exact positioning of the deployment hinges upon the accuracy of Fisher's battle plan, and the question, first posed by Firth, as to whether the house Fisher shows on the slopes immediately behind the Scottish right wing of foot is Great or Little Pinkerton.
When viewing Doon Hill from the Great Pinkerton road immediately south of the A1, Fisher's drawing of the house on the slope behind the Scottish right wing of infantry can be nothing but Great Pinkerton, for the distinct knolls on either side and to the fore of the farm are so similar to those depicted by Fisher, whereas there are no similar knolls associated with Little Pinkerton, which is on more level ground. The deployment shown here is placed on the top of the sloping ground as several accounts indicate that the English forces had to attack the Scottish army up a steep hill (Anon 1650), with the right wing of Scottish cavalry charging down hill; also it is said that when the first English battalion broke through they halted on the top of the hill, where they stopped the Scottish infantry reforming. Also, when describing the tactical flaws of the Scottish deployment it is described as being on the 'brink' of the hill. There is only one substantial slope in this whole area, that before Great Pinkerton. Immediately to the west of Great Pinkerton is a terrace before the ground rises again onto Doon Hill, and this would accord well with where Fisher places the Scottish baggage train.
The action which opened the battle is not subject to any significant debate. The intense firefight occurred where the Berwick road crossed the burn, although the exact width of the frontage over which the attack was delivered will only be determined through archaeology. One clear omission from Fisher's plan is the artillery. This is known to have been allocated two to a regiment in the New Model Army, with the Scots also deploying artillery. Gardiner, followed by Firth, suggests a position in the salient upstream of Brands Mill for the English heavy artillery as this would have enabled enfiladed fire along the Scottish centre and the left wing of cavalry.
The earliest mapping covering the whole battlefield and its context is General Roy's survey of c. 1750. This has severe limitations of accuracy but can be partly corrected for most of the area by reference to 18th and early 19th century estate maps and other local mapping, some of which shows a pre-enclosure landscape. Unfortunately, no such maps have been identified which cover Great and Little Pinkerton, the main area of the battlefield. According to Roy, only a limited area of Dunbar and Spott parishes were enclosed by 1750, areas which may already have been enclosed in 1650. These comprise Lochend, with its enclosures and park; Broxmouth Park and, on the south-east side of the burn, its enclosed fields; the immediate environs of East Barns settlement; and finally, well to the west of the battlefield, Spott Park and Bowerhouse Park.
The English camp lay south of the town of Dunbar, between it and the Brox Burn. The banks or walls shown by Fisher as encompassing the camp were not defences. They were probably boundaries both within the town fields and common of Dunbar, and dividing up the other land units within the parish. The reference to Sabran Stank might tend to support the reference to the English being camped in a wet and boggy area (Map of Acredales and common of Dunbar, 1735-6, NAS RHP32544). It may be possible, by detailed terrain reconstruction from the maps, to accurately locate the English camp. Broxmouth House and Park, although probably much altered, is mapped in 1734 and in the 1750s and remains as parkland today (Roy, 1747-1755).
Apart from these features, it is physical topography that provides the major elements of the battlefield terrain at Dunbar, as very few man-made features apparently affected the deployment or action. The landscape seems to have been largely an open one, as it remained on Roy's map. The Brox burn was the key element, although, despite heavy rain in the preceding days, the burn was still just 'a little rundle of water', but rather the 'clough' or ravine through which it passed upstream of the road, which was described as
'a great dike about 40 or 50 foot wide, and as deep as broad'.' (Hodgson; Cadwell; Carte & Ormonde, 1739).
Even as far downstream as the crossing of the Berwick road, the north-west bank of the burn is very high and steep, and a relatively easily defended location. This explains clearly why there were just three effective crossing points, one on the Berwick road, the second upstream at Brands Mill (immediately above which the ravine starts), and the third beside the sea, with the walled park of Broxmouth House being a substantial defensible enclosed area precluding any other crossing between the sea and the Berwick road. The course of the main Edinburgh to Berwick road crossing the Brox burn, though now bypassed, was probably on exactly the same route in 1650 as in the 1850s and 1734. The crossing above this, mentioned in the accounts was probably at Brands mill. The lower crossing lay below Broxmouth Park, immediately adjacent to the sea.
In 1734, the land between the sea and the Berwick road, immediately south-east of Broxmouth House and the burn, around Slowbiggin, was enclosed fields. If the area was already enclosed by 1650, then it will not have seen any cavalry action and would have required the reserves crossing below Broxmouth House to take a very wide route along the coast before turning in to attack. Of the enclosures of Broxmouth, only a couple of hedges and some ridge and furrow is shown by Fisher, indicative of fields but not accurately representing them, but it is uncertain how complete is his representation of such terrain features. The rest of the land on the south east of the burn appears to have remained open in 1750, with East Barns open field not finally enclosed until 1765.
Several buildings are depicted on the battlefield by Fisher. Only the 'poor house' on the south-east side of the burn appears to have seen action, a skirmish on the day before the battle. This building has not been located. It might represent Brands Mill, but Firth suggests it was a separate small building further to the south east which may have lain adjacent to the main road and on the Berwick side of the burn, perhaps the small building depicted by Fisher. The 'village' of Broxburn as mapped in 1734 on either side of the Berwick road immediately south east of the crossing of the Brox burn, may be the location of the 'poor house' referred to in the accounts of the battle action, though by 1734 these were a group of houses adjacent to the park entrance. The park appears to have been extended between 1650 and 1734, with the stream through the park clearly canalised, though it appears not to have been moved very far. Other plantations and an extension of the park to the south and east of the burn also appear to have taken place in this period.
The other significant building shown by Fisher lies immediately behind the right wing of the Scottish foot. Firth suggested this was either Great (Meikle) or Little Pinkerton. The former has a seventeenth century dovecote, possibly there in 1650, but nothing is recorded for Little Pinkerton. Though not apparently involved in the action, it provides one of the few features which might aid accurate placing of the Scottish battle formation.
The greater part of the battlefield, encompassing all of the Scottish left wing of cavalry, the infantry centre and possibly even most of the right wing of cavalry and the associated attacks upon them, survives largely intact. Extensive quarrying in the area of the right wing, which had already begun when the first map of East Barns was drawn in 1804, has expanded across a large area in recent decades and continues to grow today. It has completely destroyed a substantial area of land between the base of the lower north-east slope of Doon Hill and the sea. It has even removed a stretch of the 17th century alignment of the Berwick road. The destruction will have removed not only the battle archaeology but also the physical form of the land, which is critical to the understanding of any historic battle. It is, however, unclear how much if any of the deployment and action on the Scottish right was within this area. The remaining part of the eastern end of the battlefield has also been damaged to a far more limited extent by the construction of the mainline railway and by the realignment of the A1. A significant area, about 400 m wide, along the south-east side of the Brox burn does survive within the landscape park of Broxburn House, stretching almost from the ravine to the sea, which will include the critical initial action at the crossing of the burn.
Imparking, through earthmoving, for the ha-ha and a large, wide reveted bank with planting on the southern boundary of the park will have damaged a small area of the potential archaeology in the crucial area of the Berwick road crossing of the Brox burn. The group of buildings on either side of the road in 1734 and surviving on the north side today, will also have disturbed a limited area of the battle archaeology, although one of these buildings may in fact be the 'poor house' referred to in the battle accounts as lying adjacent to this crossing and involved in the action. Despite this, the archaeology should remain largely undisturbed across the vast majority of this ground, which remains under arable on the south of the road and as pasture within the extension of the park on the north side of the road. What has not been determined is whether any significant amount of unrecorded metal-detecting has been carried out across the battlefield, which could have damaged the key evidence of the unstratified archaeology.
The English camp is as yet unlocated but it is likely that the site lies largely, if not wholly, beneath urban development on the south side of Dunbar. The Scottish camp lay somewhere on the slopes of Doon Hill or on the terrace between it and the ravine.
The grounds of Broxmouth House are included on the Inventory of Historic Gardens and Designed Landscapes.
Archaeological & Physical Remains and Potential
No artefacts or archaeological features associated with the battle are known to have been recovered. However, given the nature of the weapons of the period and the character of the action and the intact nature of a high percentage of the battlefield, it is likely that considerable quantities of lead bullets could survive within the defined battlefield area. The use of artillery by both armies, including smaller field pieces deployed with the regiments, means that in addition to round shot (a spherical solid projectile fired from cannons), a distinctive distribution of case shot (a thin metal case containing a large number of bullets or small projectiles used in close range warfare) could survive.
The 'poor house' outpost occupied by a small detachment of the English soldiers and attacked by the Scots on the afternoon before the battle may be identifiable archaeologically and/or from documentary sources.
The location of the plundered Scottish camp, on the slopes and summit of Doon Hill, may well be recognisable archaeologically as a concentrated artefact scatter. As the English camp at Broxmouth House was not affected by the action it may have left little archaeological trace.
Individual burials and mass graves may well be located on the battlefield. In the absence of reports of any past discoveries these may remain largely undisturbed. The only burial known to relate to the battle is the grave of Sir William Douglas, who fought in the Scottish army, which is located within the grounds of Broxmouth House.
The Battle of Dunbar has very few Scottish cultural associations and has left little impact. It is mentioned in the ballad The Battle of Philiphaugh and in The Song of the Bass Rock and is named within poems written in honour of Cromwell in England, such as a 1652 poem by John Milton entitled To Cromwell; Jockie's Lamentation and the triumphal Our Glory Roll.
The battle is remembered by the community of Dunbar with an annual wreath laying ceremony at the modern commemorative monument located beside the former main road to England. Within the grounds of Broxmouth House is the grave of Sir William Douglas and an earthwork mound called 'Cromwell's Mount', though its association with the battle is presently unproven.
Commemoration & Interpretation
The key areas of the battlefield are accessible via minor roads, while the crossing of the burn below the Park can be reached by a long walk along the coast. The action for the Berwick road crossing of the burn can be understood by a visit on foot along the old road, now bypassed by the A1, leading on up to the battle monument at the main road. The probable deployment of the Scottish army can be viewed from various positions along the road to Meikle Pinkerton, with the Fisher plan being particularly intelligible if examined from a position on that road immediately south of its junction with the A1 dual carriageway. The whole battlefield and its context can then be viewed from the road leading from there up to Doon Hill. This latter is a dramatic panorama, showing how well Leslie would have understood the English position before dark on 2 September. Another useful distant view is that from the churchyard at Dunbar.
Firth, C. H. 1900 'The Battle of Dunbar', Trans Roy Hist Soc 14, 19-52.
Reid, S. & Turner, C. 2004 Dunbar 1650, Cromwell's Most Famous Victory. Osprey Publishing, Oxford.
Information on Sources & Publication
Dunbar is well documented in a series of written sources, including eyewitness accounts, though all the detailed accounts are from an English perspective. There is also a contemporary prospect or battle 'plan', one of only a handful in the period in Britain, showing the general deployments and distribution of the action in relation to the terrain. However, with such perspective representations, which represent the superimposition of a standard battle plan onto a separately produced depiction of the landscape, there can be problems in the relationship between deployments and terrain elements. There are also significant questions, particularly regarding the number of divisions of cavalry depicted on the Scottish left wing of horse and the English forces attacking them. Fisher, or his artist, clearly visited the battlefield and compiled the prospect from several different viewpoints, compiling it into a single perspective drawing as if viewed from high above the sea just off the coast at Broxmouth. The battle plan, including several phases of action compiled into one, was then superimposed upon this prospect following a method previously applied in the 1647 prospect of Naseby battlefield (Foard 1995). Firth suggests the engraving is likely to be a close representation of the events because it was part of Fisher's planned account of the conquest of Scotland, for which, although never completed, preparatory work was carried out on the basis of information from the commanders involved. Apart from Fisher's engraving there also is a list of the colours taken at Dunbar (Mackinnon 1833).
The first substantial secondary account is the assessment by Carlyle, but on the battle itself he is fairly brief. Gardiner provides the next major discussion and the first significant attempt at a battle plan. However, Firth argues that these writers give an incorrect impression as to exactly where and how the battle was fought. His study is by far the most detailed analysis of the battle, saw the first publication of the newly discovered contemporary battle plan, and has not been advanced upon by more recent work. It is fully referenced, with extensive quotes from the primary sources, discussion of the composition of the armies and an assessment of the reliability of the primary sources. However, he does not hazard a plan of the battle even though he does provide detailed discussion of possible locations for specific elements of the action (Firth 1900).
The battle is dealt with in most of the national battlefield books and various Civil War studies, but no later work approaches the level of detail achieved by Firth, nor could a major new study be justified unless important new primary information was forthcoming. There are, however, a number of useful modern overviews, such as that by Grainger, which also places the battle in a wider context of the campaigns of 1650-1651. The first book devoted solely to the battle is by Reid, another useful popular study. These modern works broadly follow Gardiner in their deployment of the armies not the re-interpretation by Firth.
Primary SourcesEnglish Cromwell's letters: (Abbott, 1939) 313-5 & 321, 322, 323-5
Cromwell's letter of 3rd September: pamphlet version, with list of Scottish prisoners attached is reprinted in Scot, 1806, 280.
Cadwell's report (messenger bringing news to Council of State) reprinted in Carte, Original Letters, I, 380-4.
A Brief Relation, British Library TT 53, E612, 10, based on Cadwell's report.
A True Relation of the Routing of the Scottish Army, British Library E612, 10: letters from the headquarters of the army, Sept 4th. Reprinted Scot 1806, 273
Rushworth's letter and his report to the House, reprinted in Old Parliamentary History, xix, 341-2 Major White, report to Parliament is summarised in a few lines in Commons Journals, vi, 464 Fenwick's letter, in the Carte Mss, reprinted in Firth 1900.
Hodgson's account is reprinted in Scot 1806
Newspapers accountsMercurius Politicus, Sept 12-19 , 226-230 ' British Library E613
Letter from R O (probably Col Robert Overton), Mercurius Politicus, 266.
Cromwell's dispatch summarised in Mercurius Politicus Abridgement of Cadwell's report, in Mercurius Politicus, 217
Scottish There is no official Scottish account and the existing reports are brief and vague.
Laing, D. 1842 Baillie Letters, iii, 111
Balfour, Annals, iv, 97-8
Burnet, History of my own time, I, 95
Life of Robert Blair, 237-8
Nicoll, J, 1836, A Diary of Public Transactions, 27-8
Leslie's letter reprinted in Laing, D., Ancram & Lothian Correspondence,1875, vol ii, 27-8
Walker, Edward, Historical Discourses, 1705, 180-1
Memorie of the Summervilles, ii, 421 'Collections by a Private Hand at Edinburgh' reprinted in Maidment, J., Historical Fragments, 1836, 28
Barclay J. 1836 The Diary of Alexander Jaffray, 57.
Cartographic & Illustrative Sources
Print giving prospect view of the battle. Drawn by Fitz-Payne Fisher. Copy in Sutherland 'Clarendon' in Bodleian Library , Oxford. Copy reproduced in Ashley, 1972; over-cropped copy in Grainger1997; discussed in detail in Firth, 1900.
Ordnance Survey 1st Ed 6' mapping, 1854.
General Roy, 1747-55, British Library.
East Barns: plans of the settlement and of a small area of land re division of runrig, 1764/65, NAS RHP1025/1-3
East Barns, 1804, farmsteads, fields and quarry, NAS RHP3710.
Broxmouth: gardens, park and enclosures of Broxmouth, including Brans Mill and Slowbiggin, 1734, copy is NAS RHP140976
Wester Broomhouse, Easter Broomhouse, Broomhouse Mill and The Standards, 1777, copy is NAS RHP14276.
Acredales and Dunbar common prior to enclosure, 1735-6, NAS RHP32544
Maps of Dunbar outer common are a detached area well to the south of the battlefield: 1832, NAS RHP32546 & 7; 201/1-3.
Estate of Lochend and Hallhill, 1832, NAS RHP85493 & RHP81989
Excambion between Lochend and Dunbar Common, 1825, NAS RHP32545
Newtonlees, Lochend Estate, 1855, NAS RHP85484
Little Spott etc, 1799, copy in NAS.
Spott Mill Farm, 1782, NAS RHP5531
Plan of estate of Broxmouth, surveyed by Stobie, NRAS 1100/p/13
Plan of designed enclosure at Pinkerton (Broxmouth Deer Park) not dated, NRAS 1100/p/32.
Plan of escambion of marches of common haughs between Thurston, Pinkerton and The Brunt, 1840-1, NRAS 1100/p/28
Abbott, W. C. 1939 .
Carte, T. & Ormonde, J. B. D. 1739 A collection of original letters and papers, concerning the affairs of England, from the year 1641 to 1660: Found among the Duke of Ormonde's papers. Society for the Encouragement of Learning, London.
Firth, C. H. 1900 ' TITLE', Trans Roy Hist Soc, 14 (1900), 19-52.
Foard, G. 1995 Naseby: The Decisive Campaign. Pryor Publications, Whitstable.
Mackinnon, C. 1833 Origin and Services of the Coldstream Guards. Richard Bentley, London.
Rushworth, ? 1650 'TITLE', in Old Parliamentary History. Vol 19, 341-2.
Ward, R. 1639 Animadversions of Warre.