The Battle of Pinkie, also known as the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh, took place on 10 September 1547 on the banks of the River Esk near Musselburgh, Scotland. The last pitched battle between Scotland and England before the Union of the Crowns, it was part of the conflict known as the Rough Wooing and is considered to have been the first modern battle in the British Isles. It was a catastrophic defeat for Scotland, where it became known as “Black Saturday“. A highly detailed and illustrated English account of the battle and campaign authored by an eyewitness William Patten was published in London as propaganda four months after the battle.
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, and Scotland was on the point of an alliance with France, he launched a war against Scotland that has become known as the Rough Wooing. The war also had a religious aspect; some Scots opposed an alliance that would bring religious Reformation on English terms.
When Henry died in 1547, Edward Seymour, maternal uncle of Edward VI, became Lord Protector and Duke of Somerset, with (initially) unchallenged power. He continued the policy of forcible alliance with Scotland by the marriage of Mary to Edward, and of imposing an Anglican Reformation on the Scottish Church. Early in September 1547, he led a well-equipped army into Scotland, supported by a large fleet. The Earl of Arran, Scottish Regent at the time, was forewarned by letters from Adam Otterburn, his representative in London, who had observed English war preparations.
Somerset’s army was partly composed of the traditional county levies, summoned by Commissions of Array and armed with longbow and bill as they had been at the Battle of Flodden, thirty years before. However, Somerset also had several hundred German mercenary arquebusiers, a large and well-appointed artillery train, and 6,000 cavalry, including a contingent of Spanish and Italian mounted arquebusiers under Don Pedro de Gamboa. The cavalry were commanded by Lord Grey of Wilton, as High Marshal of the Army, and the infantry by the Earl of Warwick, Lord Dacre of Gillesland, and Somerset himself.
Somerset advanced along the east coast of Scotland to maintain contact with his fleet and thereby keep in supply. Scottish Border Reivers harassed his troops but could impose no major check to their advance. Far to the west, a diversionary invasion of 5000 men was led by Thomas Wharton and the dissident Earl of Lennox. On 8 September 1547 they took Castlemilk in Annandale and burnt Annan after a bitter struggle to capture its fortified church.
To oppose the English south of Edinburgh, the Earl of Arran had raised a large army, consisting mainly of pikemen with contingents of Highland archers. Arran also had large numbers of guns, but these were apparently not as mobile or as well-served as Somerset’s.
His cavalry consisted of only 2,000 lightly equipped riders under the Earl of Home, most of whom were potentially unreliable Borderers. His infantry and pikemen were commanded by the Earl of Angus, the Earl of Huntly and Arran himself. According to Huntly, the Scottish army numbered 22,000 or 23,000 men, while an English source claimed that it comprised 36,000.
Arran occupied the slopes on the west bank of the River Esk to bar Somerset’s progress. The Firth of Forth was on his left flank, and a large bog protected his right. Some fortifications were constructed in which cannon and arquebuses were mounted. Some guns pointed out into the Forth to keep English warships at a distance.
The English eye-witness William Patten described the slaughter inflicted on the Scots;
Soon after this notable strewing of their footmen’s weapons, began a pitiful sight of the dead corpses lying dispersed abroad, some their legs off, some but houghed, and left lying half-dead, some thrust quite through the body, others the arms cut off, diverse their necks half asunder, many their heads cloven, of sundry the brains pasht out, some others again their heads quite off, with other many kinds of killing. After that and further in chase, all for the most part killed either in the head or in the neck, for our horsemen could not well reach the lower with their swords. And thus with blood and slaughter of the enemy, this chase was continued five miles [eight kilometres] in length westward from the place of their standing, which was in the fallow fields of Inveresk until Edinburgh Park and well nigh to the gates of the town itself and unto Leith, and in breadth nigh 4 miles [6 kilometres], from the Firth sands up toward Dalkeith southward. In all which space, 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, as well by some of our men that somewhat diligently did mark it as by some of them taken prisoners, that very much did lament it, to have been slain about 14 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.
Although they had suffered a resounding defeat, the Scottish government refused to come to terms. The infant Queen Mary was smuggled out of the country to France to be betrothed to the young dauphin Francis. Somerset occupied several Scottish strongholds and large parts of the Lowlands and Borders, but without peace these garrisons became a useless drain on the Treasury of England.
Although the Scots blamed traitors within their own ranks for the defeat, it may be fair to say that a Renaissance army defeated a Medieval army. Henry VIII had taken steps towards creating standing naval and land forces which formed the nucleus of the fleet and army that gave Somerset the victory.