Martin Hannan: Honour our Dunbar dead

Oliver Cromwell took thousands of prisoners. Some of their remains have been found recently. Picture: Getty
Oliver Cromwell took thousands of prisoners. Some of their remains have been found recently. Picture: Getty
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THERE are far too many people who think of Scotland as “invictus” – unconquered – pointing out that not even the Romans conquered us.

They certainly did not conquer the far north of what we now know as Scotland, and no-one else did either, except for two men – Oliver Cromwell and General George Monck, later the first Duke of Albemarle.

Scotland’s part in what is most often called the English Civil War, but should more accurately be known as the War of the Three Kingdoms, was not exactly glorious, especially in the conflict of 1650-1655 (sometimes known as the Third Civil War).

During that time, Cromwell’s New Model Army, under military governor General Monck, occupied all of Scotland and suppressed Royalist rising after rising, establishing forts all over the land. The only nit-picking is whether Cromwell and Monck thought they were conquering a foreign country or just part of what has become the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

That is just semantics – to all intents and purposes, Cromwell annexed Scotland into what became the Commonwealth or Protectorate.

They would not have had a chance of conquering Scotland had it not been for the Battle of Dunbar right at the start of the occupation in 1650. I am often amazed at how neglected this battle is in the history of the UK.

The Covenanters controlled Scotland at that time, and signed the Treaty of Breda with Charles II which guaranteed their support for his restoration as king in return for the establishment of Presbyterianism as the state religion.

Cromwell and the New Model Army marched north, but, ravaged by sickness, halted their advance at Dunbar where they could be supplied by sea. The Scottish Covenanting Army under Sir David Leslie left their defences around Edinburgh and left a favourable position, so that even though outnumbered, Cromwell was able to launch a devastating attack.

The Scots were either cut to ribbons, captured, or forced to flee. The entire history of the UK would have been different had the Scots won at Dunbar. But as it was, Cromwell was able to consolidate his rule over three kingdoms.

The tragic aftermath of Dunbar saw Scottish prisoners die in their hundreds as they were marched south, and about 3,000 were incarcerated at Durham – it is thought up to 1,700 of those imprisoned died of malnutrition, disease and cold.

It is there that the skeletons of up to 29 prisoners captured at Dunbar were recently found. It is beyond a reasonable doubt that they were Scots imprisoned after the battle. The skeletons must be buried properly – it is a condition of their exhumation. A meeting will be held in Dunbar on St Andrew’s Day to consult on what should happen.

I have no qualms whatsoever in saying that the bodies of these men should be repatriated to Scotland and buried with full military honours. They were fighting for Scotland and I think it is incumbent on the Scottish Government, the Church of Scotland, the Royal Regiment of Scotland and East Lothian Council to hold a dignified, formal ceremony to bury these bodies.

At long last, these Scottish soldiers are to take the low road home to Scotland.

Let them be buried at Dunbar, where they fought for their homeland. We should all welcome their return and honour them.

Petitions are worth testing

I have to say that I thought the Petitions Committee of Edinburgh Council was a bit of a gimmick, something brought in so that councillors could at least pay lip service to the idea of broadening local democracy.

But last week I watched the Lorne Street community deliver their petition to the committee and in one fell swoop the whole business of public petitions was completely justified.

When the residents were told that they were being given a six-month extension to their time for setting up a community ownership bid, the Petitions Committee itself came of age. Keep up the good work.

Celebrations and a mystery

I will raise a glass to Robert Louis Stevenson on his “day” on Friday and congratulate the organisers for this tribute to one of the city’s greatest sons.

There’s always been one question that intrigued me about RLS – was Jekyll and Hyde based on Deacon Brodie or Major Thomas Weir, or was it Stevenson himself? It remains a mystery.