On 10 September 1547, the English and Scottish armies met near Musselburgh, outside Edinburgh for their last pitched battle: the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh. It’s viewed as the first modern battle in the British Isles, being fought between a medieval and a Renaissance army, and was a crushing defeat for Scotland, where it became known as Black Saturday.
Pinkie Cleugh came at the end of what was known as “The Rough Wooing,” a series of conflicts in which Henry VIII (and, later, his son Edward VI) tried to force the young Mary, Queen of Scots into a marriage alliance with Edward.
The English army was led by Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector of England. Along with the traditional English longbowmen, he had several hundred German mercenaries and a well-equipped artillery train, as well as 6,000 cavalry. In all, his army numbered nearly 17,000 men.
The Scots managed to pull together 22 or 23,000 men under the Earl of Arran, but the bulk of the Scots army was pikemen and Highland archers. They arranged themselves on the west bank of the River Esk, with the Firth of Forth on their left flank.
The night before the battle, the Earl of Home led 1500 horsemen to the English encampment and challenged the English cavalry to a fight. Lord Grey accepted and his 1000 heavily armoured men-at-arms and 500 lighter demi-lancers destroyed the Scottish horsemen and pursued them west for three miles, costing Arran most of his cavalry.
Knowing he was outgunned, Arran got his men moving on 10 September in an attempt to force close combat before the English could get their artillery in place. Unfortunately, moving meant that the army could no longer be protected by their embedded guns, which made them vulnerable to fire from Somerset’s ships offshore. The left wing was thrown into disarray, while Somerset’s cavalry attacked the right. It didn’t take long for the Scots lines to break, and many retreating Scots drowned in the Esk or the nearby bogs. It’s estimated that about 6,000 Scots were killed, while the English only lost between 200 and 500 men.
The Scots had been beaten, but they were not defeated. Still, they refused to come to terms with the English, and little Queen Mary was swiftly smuggled out of the country to be raised in France and engaged to the young dauphin. Somerset occupied several strongholds north of the border, but just sitting around in Scotland was becoming a huge drain on the treasury. Though there were further skirmishes over the next couple of years, hostilities ceased with the signing of several treaties in 1550.