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The response to the defeat in Scotland

For the Scots Parliament and Kirk the defeat at Dunbar was a national disaster. The Commissioners of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland ordered national fasts in repentance. For God’s wrath to have been visited on the nation in such a calamitous fashion, their sins (it was argued) must be grievous. Collections for the prisoners were soon organised across the country. In Kirkcaldy (Fife), on the 3rd November 1650, a notice was read from the pulpit of a collection to be made for the captives in England. At Burntisland (Fife), £100 (Scots) was raised. Money was also collected for the officers who were held in Tynemouth. We even know the names of some of the parishioners who were appointed to undertake the journey there, as well as the names of the Scottish officers who signed receipts to prove to the sessions that the money had indeed been delivered.

Historical records also paint a vivid picture of the Dunbar soldiers attempting to find their way home. The biggest challenge was dealing with the sheer number of the injured. The minutes for Culross Abbey (Fife) Kirk Session on 12th October 1650 noted ‘something to be given them according to their several conditions, till they mend’. Travelling north to Fyvie Castle (Aberdeenshire) a few days after the battle, Anne Murray encountered a number of badly wounded soldiers on the road. When her party stopped at Kinross (Perth and Kinross), Anne set up an impromptu dressing station and treated about 60 casualties. One man was so severely injured that his brain was visible; and another boy of about 16 had been run through with a rapier. The wound was crawling with maggots. The injuries of one man, who had been shot in the arm, smelt so badly that no-one but Anne could bear to go near him.

When the survival of families was threatened by the disappearance of their loved ones, appeals could be made to the Kirk for help. Helen Smith, spouse to John Young, who was killed at Dunbar, was awarded an allocation of 12 shillings monthly by the Kirk in Culross. Five years later, on the 26th September 1655 the Synod of Fyfe advised on the re-marriage of women whose husbands had been killed at the Battles of Dunbar or Worcester (in 1651); they should not marry again unless there was clear evidence of their husband’s death, or the verdict of a civil judge competent to deal with such matters.

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Archaeology and the Battle of Dunbar 1650: From the Scottish Battlefield to the New World

Durham University