The History of Leith

November 27, 2006

The Battle of Dunbar

It was a time when rational men thought nothing of splitting religious hairs with cannonballs. It was the era of the English Civil Wars, 1642 to 1651 — an historical misnomer, since most of the carnage in those wars was in fact suffered by Ireland and Scotland rather than England. Almost every student in the English-speaking world has learned the details of the Battle of Naseby, and Oliver Cromwell’s subsequent execution of King Charles I. But few of us were taught anything about the Battle of Dunbar, September 3, 1650, where Scotland squandered an incredible opportunity to defeat Cromwell and change the course of British history. It was Scotland’s best and last realistic chance to chart its own political and religious destiny. That chance was wasted by a committee of Presbyterian ministers, blinkered by religious fanaticism. And the fiasco ended in an English-controlled death march of 5,000 Scottish prisoners of war, one of the most unsavory pages in British history.

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