Clan Carruthers

Clan Carruthers: the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh

The Battle of Pinkie or giving it its full title, the battle of Pinkie Cleugh, was a disaster for both Scotland and the borderers who fought there. It was to be the last pitched battle between England and Scotland. This piece is taken almost wholly, to include the bibliography, from the superb history site: and It is well worth a visit: battle_pinkie_1547


In an effort to unite the Kingdoms with a marriage between Prince Edward of England and Princess Mary of Scotland, the Battle of Pinkie (1547) saw a resumption of the Rough Wooing. The invading English were attacked by a larger Scottish force but destroyed it through formidable fire-power (and the use of the naval ships, moored in the Forth of Forth).  Nearby Fa’side Castle was burnt as the English withdrew, but was rebuilt in time.

Historical Background

When James IV of Scotland and Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII, married in 1503 the English King allegedly mooted that one day it may result in a unification of the two Crowns. If so he was right for one hundred years later Margaret’s great grandson, James VI, would become King of both countries. But by the late 1540s there was no clear indication this outcome would ever be achieved; Henry VIII had finally had a legitimate male child and it looked like his dynasty would thrive and diverge from that of his sister. Furthermore warfare between the two countries still blighted both their fortunes – the Battle of Solway Moss had been fought in November 1542 following Scotland’s refusal to follow England’s lead breaking with the Church of Rome. And only a few decades earlier James IV had invaded England in support of the ‘Auld Alliance’ with France. To the medieval (English) mind a merger of the two Kingdoms was the only viable solution to ensure an unhindered effort against France. The infants Prince Edward (later Edward VI) of England and Mary (later Mary, Queen of Scots) in Scotland made such a potential union viable.

James ,Earl of Arran

The English invaded in May 1544 with an army under Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford attacking and burning Edinburgh. A Scottish victory at the Battle of Ancrum Moor in February 1545 brought a re-think in English policy with peace between the two nations although internal religious tensions continued. During this period St Andrews Castle was attacked and taken by a Protestant force with the pro-French Cardinal Beaton lynched.

In January 1547 Henry VIII died and was succeeded by his nine year old son, Edward VI. The Regent during his minority was Edward Seymour, now elevated to Duke of Somerset, who continued the push for an English-Scottish marriage and was infuriated by what he regarded as intransigence by the Scots. Furthermore French military aid had been engaged in Scotland suppressing Protestantism; in 1546 a French naval force had taken St Andrews Castle resulting in the enslavement of John Knox.



On September 1, the English army crossed the border into Scotland.The army wasn’t huge but was well-balanced and well supported. It totaled around 18,000 men, a quarter of them cavalry, with eighty cannons, and hundreds of carts and wagons in its supply train.

Somerset mustered his forces at Berwick-upon-Tweed and invaded Scotland advancing along the coast into Lothian supported through by the English Navy under Lord Clifford. In response Arran mustered his forces at Edinburgh and moved east to intercept. Initial skirmishing took place in vicinity of Dunbar but the two forces were not in the immediate vicinity of each other until 9 September. Arran drew up his men into a strong defensive position stretching from the water to the high ground to their south completely blocking the Edinburgh road. Crucially he also controlled the bridge over the River Esk over which the coastal road travelled. To continue their advance to Edinburgh the English would have to attack the entrenched Scottish position. Arran had his troops closest to the sea construct an earth bank to their north to protect them from artillery fire from the English ships.


battle of Pinkie

The Scots also generally lacked cavalry, and what was present tended to be light cavalry on horses that doubled as work horses in civilian life. The Scots did have a company or so of “reivers” (mounted infantry operating in the border areas between England and Scotland who served as scouts for the Scottish army.

The Scottish army was further divided into Lowland and Highland components, each with its own tactics, training and traditions. At Pinkie Cleugh, then, it was mainly a foot army that faced the English, as had been most Scottish armies through history). 

The Scots had been faster than the English to adopt the pike as the standard infantry weapon, partly stemming from their experiences from using heavy spears to defend against cavalry (as for instance at Bannockburn) in earlier battles.  Scottish infantry tactics in 1547 had evolved based on influences from the continent, where Swiss pikemen had led the development of new fighting techniques (rendering the pike an offensive weapon as well as a strong defence against cavalry). At the outset the pike should have been an ideal weapon to deal with the English arms and tactics at the time of the battle, save for the emerging role of the artillery. 

Although Scotland was quite familiar with gunpowder weapons, the relative weakness of the Scottish economy had prevented a domestic gun powder industry to develop.  Therefore, the Scots relied on imports, mainly from France, for their weapons and supplies. They had even implemented legislation to force all traders to carry back harquebuses and gunpowder from their visits to mainland Europe, and by the time of the battle of Pinkie Cleugh, it is estimated that the Scots had as many as 1,000 harquebusiers in the field. The Scots were, in other words, well on the way to develop an army similar to the “pike and shot” armies that operated in mainland Europe. On paper then, the Scots in some ways fielded the more modern force of the two armies on the 10th September 1547, despite some historians claiming that the Battle pitched an English “renaissance army” against a Scottish “medieval army”. 

Somerset had a smaller force probably in the region of around 18,000 men. However this was a balanced and professional army – 13,000 infantry included detachments of mercenaries and pioneers whilst almost 5,000 troops were mounted. Their infantry was armed with a mix of bills, pikes, longbows and light firearms. Crucially just offshore, within easy artillery range, was Lord Clifton and the large English Navy. The Scots had nothing to match this since imprudently selling off James IV’s fledgling naval force following that King’s death at Flodden.

The main battle was fought over a two day period between the 9-10 September 1547.

– Day 1 / Stage 1: Initial Skirmish

On 9 September the English arrived and camped at Prestonpans under the protection of the guns of the English fleet. The Scottish cavalry, under Lord Home, crossed the River Esk and had taken Falside Hill to the south of the English camp.


– Day 1 / Stage 2: Scottish Cavalry Defeated

After some initial reluctance, Somerset deployed his cavalry to dislodge the Scots and with greater superiority in numbers easily took the position. Lord Home was captured and Arran’s already limited cavalry component was effectively neutralised. Nearby Fa’side Castle remained occupied by Scottish forces but were isolated and the garrison was too small to cause trouble.

– Day 2 / Stage 1: English Deployment

Around 8am on Sunday 10 September Somerset moved his forces out of Prestonpans planning to take the high ground to the south and also to capture Inversesk Church to use it as an artillery platform from which he could attack the Scottish camp. Arran however pre-empted him and moved from a defensive posture to an offensive one; he advanced his forces across the River Esk and forward against the English positions.

– Day 2 / Stage 2: English Cavalry Attack

Somerset sent his cavalry into action attempting to delay the Scots to buy him sufficient time to configure his army into full battle array – the vanguard, the main-guard and the rear-guard – all with archers on the left and hagbutters (the hagbut was an early form of musket) on the right. The Scots however effectively drove off the English horse and continued their advance on the English lines.

– Day 2 / Stage 3: Intense Artillery Assault

The English cavalry’s attack had not been in vain – the dead and dying horses and men made obstacles around which the advancing Scottish pike formations had to manoeuvre causing their formations to forge into a dense mass rather than individual battles. Nevertheless Arran kept his forces on the move – provided they could maintain forward momentum then they had sufficient numbers to break the English lines. Their dense formation came under the full weight of fire from Somerset’s lines – hagbuts, longbows and artillery pieces within the infantry formations – all concentrated their attack on the Scottish advance. Furthermore, having now moved from the safety of the earthwork they had dug for their defence, the advancing Scots were now visible to the English fleet who opened fire with their massed broadsides of heavy artillery.

– Day 2 / Stage 4: Scottish Defeat

By the time the Scottish forces had reached the English frontline their cohesion – so critical for the success when using pikes – had been broken. The bulk of the forces broke and those that attempted a fighting withdrawal found the pike to be an ineffective weapon for supporting a retreat. Somerset sent his remaining cavalry into pursuit and the rout was complete; perhaps as many as 6,000 Scots were killed in the retreat with a further 1,000 captured.


The battle was a resounding tactical victory for the English and is noteworthy for being the first battle where gunpowder artillery played a decisive role and also the last pitched battle fought between England and Scotland (when excluding events of the Wars of Three Kingdoms). However, despite being an immediate victory for the English, the campaign ultimately failed. Despite having destroyed the Scottish army, Somerset was unable to capitalise on his success and lacked resources to build and sustain the garrisons that would have been needed to control the country. No further battles were fought in the war and peace was agreed with the Treaty of Norham (1550).

Following the defeat at Pinkie, Mary was moved to the relative safety of Dumbarton Castle and entered into negotiations with the French for a marriage between the young Scottish Princess and the Dauphin of France. A French warship whisked Mary away from Dumbarton in August 1548 and she would spend the next 13 years in France where she later (1558) married the Dauphin, Prince Francis (later Francis II). In 1603, with the death of Elizabeth I, James VI of Scotland succeeded to the throne of England uniting the countries to the current day.

Carruthers of Holmains


Although the House of Holmains would not become Chiefs until the death of Simon Carruthers of Mouswald and therefore the demise of that House in 1548, their laird, John Carruthers 5th of Holmains and 1st Baron, married to Blanche Murray, led around 200 light cavalry to fight and were part of the cavalry troops badly mauled on day 1 of the battle.

The House of Holmains were listed as one of the King’s adherents in Dumfriesshire in 1454, and were thus seen as bein loyal to the Crown. At the Battle of Pinkie, the Laird of Holmains with the 162 followers he had left, were compelled to surrender to the English. What is interesting is in the following year, the same John of Holmains was declared a traitor by the Scottish Parliament in 1548. How circumstances change in the space of 12 months. However, things greatly improved for the House of Holmains who went from strength to strength and, who were now the Chiefly line of Carruthers.


(The losses are as ever not entirely clear, with some historians suggesting claims of up to 15,000 Scots killed. However, this is around 75% fatalities, which is difficult to believe. It seems clear that the losses were very high and that a large number of Scots were killed. This is especially true during the intial cavalry engagement, where it is suggested that the Scots lost up to 800 killed or taken, which was over half of the available cavalry. The English figures have also been exaggerated, but in the opposite direction. The English official losses were 250, but it is more likely to have been double that with the heavy losses suffered by the cavalry).

Whats there

pinkie_1547_battlefield1708x189.jpgA large portion of the battlefield remains undeveloped and the visitor can certainly appreciate the general terrain. Fa’side Castle, although extensively restored and now hidden by trees, is also visible albeit now a private residence with limited access.

Bibliography ( battle_pinkie_1547)

Barrett, C.R.B (1896). Battles and Battlefields in England. London.

Battlefields Trust. Battlefield Report: Pinkie 1547. Battlefields Trust.

British Library (Undated). The Englishe victore agaynste the Schottes by Muskelbroghe 1547. (Presumed to be pre-1549)

Cauldwell, D.H (1998). Scotland’s Wars and Warriors: Winning against the Odds. Historic Scotland, Edinburgh.

Chandler, D (1998). A Guide to the Battlefields of Europe. Wordsworth, London.

Cyprien, M and Fairbairn, N (1983). A Traveller’s Guide to the Battlefields of Britain. Evans Brothers Ltd, London.

Dodds, G.L (1996). Battles in Britain 1066-1746. Arms & Armour, London.

Donaldson, G (1997). Scottish Historical Documents. Neil Wilson Publishing, Castle Douglas

Douglas, D.C and Williams, C.H (ed) (1975). English Historical Documents Vol 5 (1485-1558). Routledge, London.

Dunbar, A. H (1899). Scottish Kings: A Revised Chronology of Scottish History 1005-1625. David Douglas, Edinburgh.

Fergusson, J (1947). 1547: the Rough Wooing. Blackwood’s Magazine no. 262, London.

Green, H (1973). Guide to the Battlefields of Britain and Ireland. Constable, London.

Guest, K (1996). British Battles: the front lines of history in colour. Harper Collins, London.

Hamilton, J (2004). Scottish Battles. Geddes & Grosset, New  Lanark.

Kinross, J (1979). The Battlefields of Britain. London.

Lancaster, J.H.D (2014). Pinkie: Battlefield visit notes and observations.

Mackenzie, W. M. (1913). The Battle of Bannockburn. A study in mediaeval warfare. Grant and Murray, Edinburgh.

Marix Evans, M (1998). The Military Heritage of Britain and Ireland. Andre Deutsch, London.

Matthews, R (2003). England versus Scotland, The Great British Battles. Leo Cooper, Barnsley.

Ordnance Survey (2015). East Lothian. 1:1250. Southampton.

Phillips, G (1999). The Anglo-Scots Wars 1513-1550: A Military History. Boydell Press, Woodbridge.

Ridpath, G (1776). The Border History of England and Scotland. T Cadell, London.

Robson, J (1897). Border Battles and Battlefields. J.H.Rutherford, Kelso.

Sadler, J (2010). Scottish Battles. Birlinn, Edinburgh.

Smurthwaite, D (1993). The Complete Guide to the Battlefields of Britain. Michael Joseph, London.

Clan Carruthers Society WP footnote grey

4 thoughts on “Clan Carruthers: the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh”

  1. As one who lives in Dunbar were there any Carruthers involed in Leslies Army at the Battle Of Dunbar which had a knock on affect even as far as North America.?

    1. Interestingly I’m doing a study group with the University of Durham on the Battle with a view to writing a piece as you requested in the past.

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