The last pitched battle in history between the kingdoms of Scotland and England, the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh is also considered by some to be ‘the first modern battle in the British Isles’.
Following a decisive Scottish victory at the Battle of Ancrum Moor two years earlier, Scotland had enjoyed a brief reprieve from English violence. In 1547, however, Edward Seymour – previously the Earl of Hertford of Borders renown, now Duke of Somerset – led a well-supplied army of about seventeen thousand Englishmen up the east coast of Scotland. Somerset stuck to the coast in order that his army could be readily resupplied (and kept safe) by the thirty English warships sailing adjacent to his march. Whilst Border reivers harassed Somerset’s troops, frustrating their advance at times, they could do little against such a well-constructed, and thoroughly modern renaissance army, supported by the heavy artillery of the warships out to sea.
Under the command of James Hamilton, Earl of Arran (who had been victorious at Ancrum Moor in 1545), the Earls of Home, Huntly, and Angus amassed a superior force of light cavalry, pikemen, Highland archers, and artillery, numbering anywhere between twenty-two and thirty-six thousand men. On the day before the battle, in an outdated chivalric gesture (reminiscent of James IV’s inability to shake free of his chivalric shackles at the Battle of Flodden, 1513), the Earl of Home challenged the English to fight his one-and-a-half thousand strong cavalry. Reluctantly, the English obliged Home, and with one thousand heavily armoured men-at-arms, and five hundred lighter demi-lancers, there destroyed over half of Home’s cavalry, badly wounding Home in the process, and capturing his sons. Thus, before the pitched battle at Pinkie could even take place, Scotland had wasted half her cavalry, and for no reason other than to display some form of outmoded chivalry.
Then came the day of the battle itself, 10th September 1547. With forces already weakened (not aided by the betrayal of the Kerr contingent of the Scottish army, who changed sides half-way through the battle), the Scots artillery was quickly made redundant by English archers, whilst their remaining cavalry and infantry took a pounding from the guns of the English warships and their more modern, manoeuvrable, better-quality artillery. Despite an admirable defence by Angus’ pikemen against an English cavalry charge, the Scots could not gain the upper hand. Amidst tumult and disarray, they attempted to change position and flank the English, apparently in response to a movement observed among the English naval fleet offshore; as they did, however, they Scots were apparently “seized with panic and began to fly” (according to Imperial ambassador François van der Delft, a contemporary with access to eyewitness accounts). In the rout – which spanned five miles in length, and four in breadth, from the field at Inveresk, by the banks of the River Esk, to the gates of Edinburgh itself – Scotland’s soldiers were run down and murdered in their thousands. English eyewitness William Patten described the carnage thusly:
‘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 […] to have been slain about fourteen 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.’
The staggering losses of the Scots at Pinkie led to the day being known as ‘Black Sunday’. Despite the defeat, however, the Scottish government refused to come to terms. The infant Queen Mary was smuggled out of the country to France, and there betrothed to the young Dauphin of France, Francis. Somerset occupied several Scottish strongholds and large parts of the lowlands and Borders came under English military occupation. However, without peace, these garrisons became a useless drain on the Treasury. A few years after Pinkie Cleugh, the War of Rough Wooing came to an end, with Scotland still an independent nation. It would not be until the more diplomatic, drastically less violent Union of the Crowns in 1603, that the many centuries of bitter warfare and familial feuds, which had so often laid waste to the Scottish Borders, would come to an end.