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Timeline of Scottish History

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Cromwell & King Charles 2 in Scotland

Cromwell and Charles II

It should have been one of the greatest Scottish military victories of all time - a sensational defeat of the English as glorious as Robert the Bruce's success at Bannockburn.

Yet the Battle of Dunbar turned into one of Scotland's most shameful moments. It was a fight which the Scots should have won by a mile, but which - thanks to the stupidity of narrow minded Calvinists - became one of the country's worst ever military routs.

If the Scottish forces had won, then the whole history of present day Britain would probably have been changed. Instead, defeat led to the capture of Scotland by Cromwell's forces, and the beginning of the end of its political independence from England.

The battle between the Scots and the English was caused by the fact that following the execution of Charles I, the Scots had finally managed to reach an accommodation with the new heir to the throne, Charles II, allowing him to become their king.

Despite the arrangement, there was little real love north of the border for Charles. The Scots were only prepared to tolerate him because he had finally agreed to sign the National Covenant and Solemn League and Covenant which committed him to protect Presbyterianism and to attempt to enforce it on Anglican England.

The relationship between the king and his Scottish subjects wasn't an easy one. He was made to sign a Declaration of Repentance for the sins of the past. His parents were deliberately humiliated to his face and he was attacked by the Presbyterians his father had so hated.

When Charles was eventually crowned in 1651, it was not in the great cathedral of St Giles in Edinburgh, but by the Earl of Argyll in a small church at Scone in Perthshire. In short, Charles was treated more likely a naughty schoolboy than the legitimate king of Scots.

However, if Charles's return to the throne caused consternation among some Scots Presbyterians, it provoked fury and deep concern among the parliamentary forces who had deposed and executed Charles I in England.

The English parliament saw the acceptance of the Stewart monarchy in Scotland as an unacceptable threat and ordered its greatest General, Oliver Cromwell, to mount a full scale invasion. He crossed the border in July 1650, bringing more than 10,000 soldiers with him.

Art first, things went badly for Cromwell. The campaign proved more difficult than he had imagined and the Scots forces, under David Leslie's skilled command, harried him in a series of classic guerrilla attacks and succeeded in stopping him taking control of Edinburgh.

By September, Cromwell was in deep trouble. He was stuck in Dunbar in East Lothian, with 23,000 Scottish soldiers pursuing his exhausted and sick troops. Supplies were running low, as the Scots had already stripped the fields of any crops which might be useful.

Worst of all, however, came the realisation that Leslie had blocked the pathway south by taking a position on high ground which was all but impregnable. Cromwell realised that he was in an impossible position, and was about to suffer his worst ever military defeat.

He knew he had only two choices - to sit and starve to death, or to try the suicidal military manoeuvre of taking on a much bigger enemy force which happened to be at the top of a hill.

Yet, incredibly, it was the Scots who were about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The Covenantors, under the control of the so-called Kirk party, were deeply suspicious of Charles and used their power to take control of the army.

They mounted a purge among the Scottish troops, accusing some of the very best soldiers and officers of having loose morals and even of swearing in public. The result was that the elite of Leslie's army - one of the finest in Europe at the time - were sent home.

Leslie's best chance of defeating Cromwell came on Sunday, September 1 1650. He asked the Convenantors for permission to attack but, because it was the Sabbath, this was refused. The English were given time to build their defences, and Leslie's opportunity was lost.

The following day, the Covenantors insisted that instead of waiting for the English to starve, Leslie should bring his troops off the hill to prepare for battle the following morning. Leslie was furious and saw the consequences, but had no choice but to obey.

Cromwell watched in astonishment as the Scottish soldiers came down, and recognised he had been given a chance in a million. Instead of waiting for the attack he knew would come, he launched his own assault under cover of nightfall.

Leslie's men were caught asleep and totally by surprise. They attempted to recover, but Cromwell hit them at a weak spot and burst through the line. It quickly became a turkey shoot for the English.

Before long, 3000 Scots soldiers were dead, with thousands more fleeing the battlefield in panic. Some 10,000 were taken prisoner. Some claim that Cromwell may have lost as few as 40 men in the battle. It was a military defeat which, quite simply, ought never to have happened.

Leslie fled to Stirling, leaving Edinburgh open for occupation by Cromwell only days later, though the soldiers in the well fortified Edinburgh Castle held out until December.

However, the Scots refused to immediately capitulate to Cromwell's New Model Army, They continued to harry him, making his capture of Scotland slow, and by following year they were still strong enough to try and take on the parliamentary forces again.

This time, Charles II decided to march into England, try and gather the support of English Royalist forces, and march upon London. He headed south with 13,000 men but, on reaching Worcester, couldn't decide whether to attack London or march on Wales instead.

Cromwell, who had also headed south from Scotland, caught up with Charles' army and once again routed the Scots. It was a bloodbath, and one of the very few Scots to get off the battlefield alive was Charles himself, who quickly fled into exile in France.

The defeat of Charles meant that Cromwell had united Scotland and England in a common protectorate. A total of 30 Scots were admitted to the English parliament in London, while commissioners were appointed north of the border to administer justice.

For the next eight years, the Scots were to be under the rule of Cromwell and his troops. They soon found that occupation was an expensive business - they were heavily taxed to pay for the privilege of being occupied.

However, Cromwell's parliamentary forces were clever. They minimised the risk of another military campaign against them not only by outlawing the holding or arms and restricting rights of assembly, but also by lowering taxes for those who promised to be of good behaviour and take an oath of loyalty.

Cromwell wanted to rid Scotland of its aristocracy - not a difficult task to achieve, since by then most of them had fled the country. He wanted to see the middle classes rule instead, with committees taking the place of bodies such as parliament, the government and the Privy Council.

Many of the placemen Cromwell put in positions of power were extremely able, though it was difficult to find Scots who wanted to take up jobs alongside them. Among the few who did were Patrick Gillespie, who was Principal of Glasgow University, and the lawyer Johnston of Wariston, who is widely believed to have been deranged.

There were attempts to unseat the new government - a rebellion, for instance, was started in 1653 by the Earl of Glencairn, - but none was successful, mainly because the opposing forces could not agree among themselves. At the end of the day, it was the death of Cromwell in 1658 which brought about the end of the Protectorate period.

It was General George Monck, Cromwell's right hand man in Scotland, who sought a restoration of Charles II to the throne not only of Scotland, but of England, too. The English parliament agreed, and the deed was done.

Charles II returned from France and went to Edinburgh, where he was proclaimed King of both countries. Three months later, his first act as King of Scots was to order the recall of the Committee of Estates - the Scots parliament.

The Scots were once again masters of their own house, and it finally looked as if the country might be set for a golden age of peace. However, the real tragedy was only just beginning?.


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  • 1659 Alessandro Scarlatti, the Italian composer, is born
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  • 1660 Dutch Boers settle in South Africa

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