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Battle of Dunbar, 1650
  In 1650 Oliver Cromwell’s army defeated a Scottish army at Dunbar. For more information and frequently asked questions about the battle see below.



Following the execution of Charles I in January 1649, the Scottish parliament recognised his son, Charles II, as king of Great Britain, France and Ireland. Charles reached Scotland in June1650, which brought Oliver Cromwell into Scotland with an army of about 16,000 men in July 1650. He was opposed by a Scottish army of about 20,000 under the command of veteran general David Leslie. Leslie’s army had carried out a scorched earth policy in East Lothian, in order to deny the English food supplies, and had established a strong position near Edinburgh in August 1650. However, the army had been purged of around 5000 men, many professional soldiers, deemed to be Engagers (supporters of a previous alliance between many of the Scottish nobility and Charles I) by the kirk party, which controlled Scotland at that time.

The Battle
Cromwell’s advance had been frustrated and his army was short of supplies and suffering from sickness. On 31 August 1650 he withdrew to the port of Dunbar, but the Scottish army followed him and on the 2 September the Scots moved down from a strong position on high ground and were surprised by an attack on the following morning by Cromwell. In the resulting rout the Scots lost 3000 men and between 5,000 and 10,000 men were captured by the English and force-marched to Durham, from where over 200 were transported to Virginia.

Cromwell’s victory left much of Scotland at his mercy, but illness prevented him occupying more than the south east of the country immediately. Members of the kirk party succeeded in raising what was, in effect, an independent army in the shires of Ayr, Renfrew, Lanark and Galloway (the Western Association), which was defeated in the battle of Hamilton in December 1650. Charles II meanwhile had raised a royalist army north of the Tay, which marched into England and was defeated at Worcester on 3 September 1651. From 1651 Cromwell’s control was extended to most of Scotland by General Monck, who garrisoned major towns, ports and castles

John Grainger, Cromwell Against the Scots: the last Anglo-Scottish War 1650-1652 (East Linton, 1997); Frances Dow, Cromwellian Scotland (Edinburgh, 1999); Edward M Furgol, A Regimental History of the Covenanting Armies 1639-51 (Edinburgh, 1990); David Stevenson, Revolution and Counter Revolution in Scotland, 1644 -1651 (London, 1977); W S Douglas, Cromwell’s Scotch Campaigns 1650-51 (London, 1898); Philip Warner, British Battlefields: Scotland and the Border (Reading, 1975).


Frequently Asked Questions

1. How can I confirm whether someone was captured at the battle of Dunbar?

Image 1
image of battle of Dunbar document
Extract from a list of Scottish army officers captured at the Battle of Dunbar, 1651 (National Archives of Scotland, reference: GD40/2/16).




Joanna Baird, Robin Urquhart (both SCAN)