The History of Leith

March 1, 2008

A Sea fight in Leith

In 1622 the usual excitements of the past were varied by a sea battle in the middle of Leith. Harbour. On the 6th of June in that year, the constable of Edinburgh Castle received orders from the Lords of the Council to have his cannon and in instant readiness, as certain foreign ships were engaged in close battle within gunshot of Leith.

A frigate belonging to Philip IV of Spain commanded by Don Pedro de Vanronz had been lying for some time at anchor within the harbour there, taking on board provisions and stores, her solders and crew coming on shore freely whenever they chose. But it happened that one night two vessels of war belonging to their bitter enemies the Dutch commanded by the Admiral of Zealand, Mynheer de Hautain came into the same anchorage and dropped anchor close the ship of Don Pedro

The moment daylight broke the startled Spaniards ran up their ensign, cleared for action and a desperate fight started, nearly muzzle to muzzle. For two hours the battle continued, the tiers of cannon poured death and destruction onto the ships. Not only this but the battle continued over the decks of the three ships and the clash of sword on sword was heard in the town. Not all the shots fired were restricted to the battle but bullets and canon balls were seen smashing into houses and walls and along by the pier it would have been a brave man or a stupid one to have gone outside that day.

As this state of affairs was intolerable the burgesses of the City and seaport rushed to arms and armour at the disposal of the Council who despatched a herald with a Water Bailie to command both sides to stop battle in Scottish waters. But neither the herald’s tabard nor the authority of the water bailie prevailed and the battle continued to the afternoon. However the Spanish ship was getting the worst of it and after receiving permission to move his vessel deeper into the harbour the two Dutch ships pursued there quarry pouring in broadside after broadside into the shattered hull.

The Privy Council now ordered the Admiral Depute to muster the Marines of Leith and assail the Admiral of Zealand but the Deputed reported “ that he saw no way to enforce obedience” but by bringing ordinance from the Castle and to fire them on the combatants.

Upon this a battery of guns were brought from the Castle down Bonnington Road and took up position on a piece of high ground on which now stands the Customs House. However this help came to late as the Dutch Ships had driven the Spanish ship out of the harbour after a great deal of slaughter where she was driven onto the mussel Cape but later to be known as the Black Rocks. There she was boarded by Leith seamen and the Scottish flag was hoisted but that didn’t give any protection as the Dutch boarded her at night and it was burnt to the keel and the Dutch Ships then set sail for Holland.

The Black Rocks still exist concreted over to form the modern docks of Leith and it is strange to think that this battle took place only a few yards away from what are now modern Restaurants and Hotels of today. Not to mention the offices of the Scottish Executive.

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