Battle of Dunbar 1650

On this day in Scottish History

On the 3rd September 1650, English Parliamentarians commanded by Oliver Cromwell decisively defeat a Scottish Covenanter army led by David Leslie, Lord Newark, at the Battle of Dunbar.

Following the execution of Charles I, the Scottish Covenanter government in Edinburgh abandoned their alliance with the English Parliamentarians and proclaimed Charles II as king.

Oliver Cromwell, who had taken over from Sir Thomas Fairfax as commander-in-chief, crossed the border on 22nd July with 15,000 men and by the 29th was just a few miles from Edinburgh. With Scottish defences in and around Edinburgh too strong to attack and with supplies running low, Cromwell withdrew towards Dunbar on the 2nd August.

Cromwell opened negotiations in the hope that conflict could be averted but was unsuccessful. On the 1st September, a Scottish Covenanter army numbering around 22,000 took up a position overlooking Cromwell’s encampment at Dunbar. On the 2nd the Covenanters abandoned their position on the high ground and redeployed behind a stream called the Broxburn.

battle of dunbar
Deployments at Dunbar | © Neil Ritchie/OpenStreetMap contributors

At dawn on the 3rd September, Cromwell’s forces crossed the Broxburn and attacked the Covenanters, inflicting a heavy defeat, with 800-3000 Scots killed and around 6000 or more taken prisoner. Casualties on the Parliamentarian side did not exceed 100.

The battlefield of Dunbar has been inventoried and protected by Historic Environment Scotland under the Historic Environment (Amendment) Act 2011.

 

Further Reading:

Dunbar 1650: Cromwell’s most famous victory, (2004), Stuart Reid, Osprey Publishing

Cromwell’s Masterstroke: Dunbar 1650, (2006), Peter Reese, Pen & Sword Military

Civil War: The War of the Three Kingdoms 1638-1660, (2006) Trevor Royale, Abacus

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