The History of Leith

December 20, 2003

The Battle Continues

The siege went on day after bloody day. Eventually the French troops were reduced to eating horsemeat. Confirmation of this was found in the last century with the discovery of a well at the foot of what is now Easter Road with the discovery of a well full of horse’s heads.

The town itself was slowly being reduced to rubble. The East end of South Leith Church was destroyed and the Preceptory of St Anthony was a ruin as it’s tower was used to mount French cannon in order to gain altitude and to make the cannonballs go further. Which would have caused a serious problem but for the English and Scots heavy Bombardment which brought the tower down. What was to become the Foot of Leith Walk, Great Junction St, The Sheriff Brae and Coal become a killing ground, and proof lies beneath our feet as to this day human remains, cannonballs, armour and the paraphernalia of war are dug up from time to time. Especially at what is now Leith Hospital.

Yet for all their privations with true French style, vowing never to surrender while a horse was left. The Cook of the Marshall Strozzi still produce twelve dishes a day but was eventually reduced to a quarter of a carrion horse, dressed with a few weeds from the town wall.

The unfortunate Mary de Guise was dying in Edinburgh Castle and would not see the end of the Siege of Leith. She tried to arrange a peace treaty but died on the 10th June 1560. However by this time fresh forces of 12000 Scots had arrive and the French position was starting to look impossible and slow starvation faced the defenders.

So with death of Mary de Guise peace negotiations began and it was stipulated that the French army would leave Leith and be conveyed in English Ships back to France. At the same time the English started on their homeward march back to England. So by the 16th July 1560, the French troops reduced now to 4000 troops marched out of Leith after sacking it and so twelve years of French involvement in Scotland came to an end.

However another of the stipulations of the treaty was that Mary Queen of Scots was to remove the English Coat of Arms from her shield. The point being Mary Queen of Scots was only a heart beat away from the throne of England (being the Grand-daughter of James IV and Margaret Tudor who was sister of Henry VIII and daughter of Henry VII of England. On Mary Queen of Scots subsequent marriage to Darnley this claim became stronger. This was due to his mother Margaret Douglas being the daughter of Margaret Tudor and Archibald Douglas. Who she married after the death of James IV at Flodden ). This was the reason Mary refused to sign the treaty presented to her by Sir James Sandilands and was indirectly the reason she was executed in 1587. In she said How could a Templar bring such a treaty to her”. Sir James according to history was the last Templar preceptor in Scotland and in fact passed Templar land to the Crown just to receive them back.

It was to a battered and smoking ruin that Mary; Queen of Scots came, when she arrived in Leith on 20th of August 1560. No trace of where she landed now exists but according to legend it was at the foot of the Burgess Close. Again it is often stated that she stayed at the house of Andrew Lamb, which she probably did, which of course is supposed to be the present day Lambs House. However this cannot be true because at one time the Close was a lot narrower and the house has probably been demolished a long time ago. Certainly Lambs House is a typical 17th century Merchants House but there is no absolute proof that she ever stayed there. The fact that she stayed at Andrew Lambs house is indirect evidence that Mary de Guise didn’t have a House in Leith at all.

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