Thursday, 1 September 2011

General Monck takes Dundee - On this day in Scottish Military History - 1651

Thanks again to Karen Nichols of Dundee for today's 'On this Day'. Karen is steeped in the history of Dundee and runs several themed tours of the City. Her Royal Burgh Tour covers the old town and includes a stop at George Monck's former lodgings.

The Siege of Dundee 1651

The 1651 siege of Dundee by General George Monck is one of the few episodes in the city’s history that most residents are sure they know. During the Civil War there was a six week siege that ended with a nine year occupation by the English.

According to legend the royal burgh was assailed by Cromwell’s General for six weeks before an innocent boy climbing over the dilapidated town walls gave Monck the information that the guards were in the ale-house for breakfast and drunk by lunchtime. This allowed a brutal assault and dishonourable execution of the Governor followed by three days of looting and mass murder that ended when Monck himself came across a suckling infant at the breast of his dead mother. During the occupation the treasures of the town were placed on 50 ships for export to England. The discovery of human remains throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries seems to add weight to this legend. As with most legends the key facts have been forgotten and unsubstantiated details are now ‘fact’.

After assaulting St. Andrews, Dundee was called upon to surrender on 26th August 1651 by General Monck. The royalist Governor of Dundee, Robert Lumsden, replied that as a king’s officer he desires all that bear arms against the king to lay them down and conform with his Majesty’s declarations. Not surprisingly this request was not considered. On the last Sunday of August firing began against the walls and continued throughout the night. On the morning of 1st September 1651 an assault took place either from 4am or before 10am. The town was stormed at the east and west as well as by gunboats on the River Tay. The Governor and his loyal men had taken possession of the first floor in St. Mary’s Tower and were shooting through a rose window towards the invaders until smoked out. After surrendering in the honoured fashion in the kirk yard an un-named English commander made a decision to shoot the Governor and gave the order for his decapitated head, still in its helmet, to be placed on a spike of pinnacle on the south-west corner of the Steeple’s lower parapet. It allegedly fell down of its own accord in 1660, which is coincidentally the year of Charles II’s Restoration.

By 1811 newspaper accounts had every house broken down and pillaged with every man and officer shot down at the Yarn and Fish markets, where ‘lust, rapacity and cruelty reigned supreme’. Indeed, men were ‘robbit, evin to the sark’. Another nineteenth century account allows for no quarter until the market place. The discovery of a cast-iron musket ball found in the woodwork of a house being demolished 235 years later suggests fighting was still heavy in that market-place. Although Monck granted 24hr plunder with ‘nane escaping their handis’ the order to cease had to be repeated, with increasing punishments threatened, on each of the following three days. With booty recorded at in excess of ‘twa millions and halffe (£) Scots’, it has been speculated that the average booty for each of the soldiers was £60 Scots.

The church stables that had been ‘made useless’ by the Marquis of Montrose six years earlier seemed capable of stabling Monck’s horses and reputedly Bonnie Prince Charlie’s in 1745. There is no evidence for Monck repeating his 1643 visit to Peterborough when he ‘did miserably deface the Cathedral church, break down organs and destroy the glass windows, committing many other outrages on the house of God…’.

The population loss during the massacre 'cannot be estimated at much less than 1/5 of the whole population.’ Monck’s chaplain and chronicler, Gumble, strangely accounted for seven score women killed and twenty-two Edinburgh men. Nicolls in his Diary offers ‘be estimation of wyse men wes about ten or ellevin hundredth beside four or five hundredth prissoneris’. It is known that up to 300 prisoners were captured and placed on ships leaving nearby Broughty Ferry for London. Ironically, the population had been temporarily increased as many saw the walled town as a safe retreat for their bodies and possessions in the troubled times. The 1791 Statistical Accounts names many visitors to the town, including a minister, a parson and the former Governor of Stirling. Their fate is undetermined. Also slaughtered were two battalions of Duffus' regiment and another battalion at the Fishmarket. For the interested, Robertson’s account of the siege goes into greater detail.

The remains of an unknown woman and child were found in Thorter Row, adjacent to the parish church, in 1810 and have been immortalised as victims of the massacre. This area has been subjected to regular development and is now notorious for producing human bones. Indeed, when internal changes were being made to the parish church so many bones were found that it was thought to relocate the remains in a pit to the north. However, this plan was foiled when the chosen spot uncovered even more bones. Hearth tax records in 1690s indicate a population of approximately 8,250, which is a third below that of pre-war figures.

Gumble, Monk's chaplain and chronicler, talks of Dundee as a 'very rich and thriving place' and '60 ships taken in the harbour, & sent away loaded with booty, consisting chiefly of plate and money'. Unfortunately ‘the ships were cast away …and the great wealth perished without any extraordinary storm … ill got, soon lost.’ Although Dundee’s port was the second in Scotland it is doubtful if 50 or 60 ships could be berthed simultaneously. In one action Dundee was reduced from a position of wealth to destitution.

The effects of this second attack compounded the losses after Montrose’s attack, which were calculated at £162,000. The town walls that had cost £162 to repair after the 1645 attack by Montrose were now declared as ‘inconvenient’ and ordered to be dung doon. By the following year the state owed the royal burgh £26,500 for outstanding war funds, £31,000 for quartering of troops and £35,000 for fortifications. From dues totalling £250,000 they received a mere £20,000. Despite losses and a financial decline worse than Aberdeen that suffered similar military action the burgh remained the 2nd highest revenue payer in Scotland until overtaken by the Glasgow tobacco lords from the 1670s. This speaks volumes of the wealth of the royal burgh as do the fragments of architecture that survive from the period.

It took three Acts of Parliament to restore the losses by granting privileges and revenues on imports, a national collection for harbour repairs and the inauguration of two eight-day annual fairs. As if that wasn’t enough a 1649 Act excused the burgh two months maintenance because of a plague outbreak that put the town in quarantine.
Dundee’s trade had always been based on imports and exports through the harbours. Due to Cromwell’s war with the Dutch this trade diminished and again during the 1665-67 war. The following year a great storm that swept up the River Tay broke the seawalls of the harbour causing ruination of the ships and their goods. By 1707 the burgh that was attacked by both sides of the same argument faced bankruptcy. Contemporaries blamed the attacks by Montrose and Monck.

Further Reading

Diary of public transactions, J Nicolls, 1836
Dundee and the Civil Wars, 1639-60, J. Robertson, Friends of Dundee City Archives, 2007.
Dundee, Renaissance to Enlightenment, C, McKean, B Harris, C Whatley (eds), Dundee University Press, 2009
Lost Dundee, C. McKean, P Whatley, Birlinn, 2008
Statistical Accounts, 1791-99, J Sinclair, (ed) Vol XIII

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