AN AMATEUR historian has forced the Encyclopedia Britannica to revise their account of one of the bloodiest episodes in Scottish history – exonerating an English nobleman from killing thousands of Scots.
At the Battle of Dunbar in 1650, Cromwell defeated a Scots army loyal to Charles II, killing some 3,000 and taking 10,000 prisoners.
The established account is that Sir Arthur Hesilrige – Cromwell’s lieutenant – led the prisoners on a death march to Durham Cathedral, where he let them freeze and starve.
In total 3,500 prisoners of war were estimated to have been killed on the march and during their following imprisonment.
But now a Berwickshire historian has convinced authors of the oldest English-language encyclopedia that the captured Scots actually died because Hesilrige fed, rather than starved them.
Laurie Pettitt, 67, has said the Scots soldiers probably died from “refeeding syndrome” – caused by the body reacting in shock to eating after a period of malnutrition. It was first discovered when Jews and allied soldiers freed from concentration and POW camps began dying after eating, having been underfed for years.
Mr Pettitt – a retired engineer – said: “The first sign of people dropping dead, according to a letter Hesilrige wrote, was when they were locked overnight in a field of cabbages.
“According to Hesilrige, the men had started to recover and put weight on but then they suddenly died.
“This account is similar to that seen in American soldiers who returned from POW camps in Japan. They were put on a rich diet and began to recover and put weight on but then they died suddenly.
“We now know this is refeeding syndrome, so poor Hesilrige tried to help the Scots but didn’t stand a chance.”
Encyclopedia Britannica editor John Cunningham said in a letter to Mr Pettitt: “Upon review, one of my colleagues has revised the article.”
In Hesilrige’s encyclopedia entry, the section now reads: “Some blame the deaths on mistreatment and food poisoning.
“Others suggest that the cause was refeeding syndrome (the rapid initiation of refeeding after a period of undernutrition, which can be fatal).”