General Monck's Massacre
Conventional folk memory (if there is such a thing) in Dundee recalls the sack and occupation of the town by General Monck in the middle of the 17th century as a particularly barbarous event which effectively ended the burgh's growing aspiration to be the second city of the kingdom. Although the Cromwellian assault was not on the scale of atrocities witness elsewhere, and particularly in Ireland, it remains a bitter strata in the civic history.
In the year 1651, Dundee was ripe for the picking. It was an obvious strategic target, the only remaining large town in Scotland that remained loyal to King Charles II. As a consequence, not only were its inhabitants suspect and legitimate targets in the eyes of Parliamentarian enemies, they were also hosts to traitors who flocked to the burgh from other places now overwhelmed and quelled.
Dundee prepared itself, knowing that an attack was inevitable. During most of August Stirling Castle had been the subject of siege, then assault, and strongly defended Dundee was in the firing line. As historian S. G. E. Lythe describes it:
As Monk and his Parliamentary forces drew nearer the Council went into a frenzy of activity. It enlisted women to wheel barrow-loads of turfs to strengthen the fortifications, demolished outlying buildings that might serve the invaders as sniping posts, and appointed 'General Major Robert Lumsden of Montquhanie' as its garrison commander, On the whole the defence was in good heart.
By the middle of August, Dundee was dangerously isolated and signed its own fate by refusing to surrender. The siege of the burgh began and led to an attack on the first day of September, when the drunken defenders were overwhelmed by cavalry and infantry forces (Monck's forces numbered 4,000 men).
The following is from the contemporary Narrative or Diary of the Proceedings of the Forces under Lt. General Monck, after their parting from the Army:
About 11 o'clock the signal was given, and breaches being made into the enemy's forts on the east and west sides of the town, our men entered, and after about half an hour of hot dispute, diverse of the enemy retreated to the church and steeple, and amongst the rest the Governor, who was killed with between four and five hundred soldiers and townsmen... There was killed of ours Capt. Hart and about 20 soldiers, and as many wounded. When our men got to the marketplace they gave quarter, and took about 500 prisoners, and amongst the rest Col. Coningham, Governor of Sterling, who was in the town with many of his soldiers which marched thence [after their surrender August 14].
The soldiers had the plunder of the town for all that day and night, and had very large prize, many inhabitants of Edinburgh and other places having sent their ware and gear thither.
Lumsden retreated to St Mary's Church, barricaded within the Old Steeple. Then he was forced out by smoke and killed. Here's where events get confused. The numbers of plain townsfolk slaughtered varies, from five or six hundred, upwards to eight hundred. One source claims that twohundred women and children were put to death by the invaders. Another historian wrote that two hundtred ships carried away the wealth of the town, though some of the booty sank in the Tay (a tale we shall return to below). The fact that the atrocity was nowhere near the devastation suffered similarly by Drogheda in Ireland two years earlier does not mitigate the effect the event had.
Drilling into the Details of Death and the Aftermath
A full study of the the details surrounding the initial assault on Dundee would fill up far too much space, but a little elaboration is called for. Some sources say that Lumsden's men were slain in the kirk yard, where two battalions of Lord Duffus's forces were also slaughtered. Baker's Chronicle gives the information that Lunsden himself surrendered to a Captain Kelly, who hoped to lead him to Monck and intercede to save his life. However, on the way to Monck, an English major named Butler shot him dead. Yet more defenders were killed immediately in the Fishmarket. Lumsden's severed head was placed upon an abutment in south-west corner of the Old Steeple. The Rev. Small records the tradition concerning the slaughter in the late 18th century: '...the carnage did not cease until the third day, when a child was seen in a lane, called the Thorter-Row, sucking its murdered mother'. This sounds like a folk legend, though whether contemporary or invented later, it is difficult to say. Some 300 men are said to have been captured by Monck's men at Alyth (from a force which had gathered in the hopes of relieving the siege of Dundee) and transported to London, where they remained imprisoned for two years.
It is likely the Commonwealth troops were given, officially or unofficially, free reign to plunder the captured town for a period of twenty-four hours, but the looting and violence may actually have carried on to some extent for as long as a fortnight and was not sufficiently kept in check by army commanders. A proclamation was issued by Monck against plundering, but not until the 15th September.
The deliberate intention to slaughter townsfolk is as much a matter of debate as the actual numbers killed. (It is interesting to note that the provost, Sir Thomas Mudie, survived the onslaught and remained in office for several years.) General Monck was no remote commander, but a front line leader who was on site and remained so for a considerable period. According to James Thompson, he:
is said to have occupied the house at the foot of the Overgate, next the High Street [and] was detained for some weeks in Dundee by illness, which even his panegyrists appear to have regarded as a judgment upon the terrible service he had been engaged in. On the 19th October, he received a letter written from Inverary by the Marquis of Argyll, on hearing of the atrocities at Dundee, imploring him to assemble a Convention at some convenient place to devise means for stopping bloodshed. To this he refused to accede without an order from Parliament. Shortly after, he withdrew to the south with his troops, and the town was garrisoned by another body of Cromwell's troops, who conducted themselves with strict discipline and propriety. Many of the soldiers were tradesmen, and seem to have exercised their callings, and cultivated friendly relations among the inhabitants. Amor vincit omnia ['love conquers all'] within eight years, sixty-six of the garrison married as many of the townswomen, and 255 baptisms appear on the register as the result of these unions.
There are occasional remainders of the darker side of the event. When the Nethergate was dug up for road widening in 1810, vast quantities of human bones were found, buried in shallow graves and a haphazard fashion - possibly victims of Monck's shock troops.
Whatever the extent of the killing, it seems clear that the economy and life force of Dundee were shattered by the event. Maxwell summons up an Englishman's sympathetic view of the town not long after the event:
The town did not for a long time recover from the heavy blow it had sustained by the merciless slaughter of its inhabitants, and the pitiless plunder of their goods. Its commerce was crippled and its energies prostrated, and during the rule of Cromwell it continued to be a quiet member of the Commonwealth. Richard Franck, who was
a captain of cavalry in the army that invaded Scotland, and appears from his acquaintance with the circumstances to have been present at the assault upon Dundee, made another visit to the country in 1656 on an angling expedition, and wrote an account of that peaceful enterprise, which was published some time afterwards. Upon his return journey he passed through the town, and gives a lamentable picture of its sufferings and desolation in language of inflated hyperbole, for which the old trooper might have profitably substituted a plain description. 'Deplorable Dundee!' he exclaims, 'and not to be exprest without a deluge of tears, because stormed and spoiled by the rash precipitancy of mercenaries, whose rapinous hands put a fatal period to her stately imbellishments, with the loss of many innocent lives,altogether unconcerned in that unnatural controversy Can honour shine in such bloody sacrifices, to lick up the lives of inhabitants as if by a studied revenge ? Can nothing sweeten the conqueror's sword but the reeking blood of orphans and innocents? There was wealth enough to answer their ambitions, and probably that, as soon as anything, betrayed her. Could nothing satisfy the insatiable swordbut the life of Dundee to atone as a sacrifice Englishmen without mercy are like Christians without Christianity. Disconsolate Dundee! where the merciless conquerour stuck down his standard in streams of blood.' [The History of Old Dundee, p. 552.]
Court-Martials in the Occupying Army
For those who wish to delve deeper into the circumstances of defeated Dundee just after the killing ceased, the court-martial records of the Parliamentary army make fascinating reading. They are, 'The only complete records of the proceedings of any courts - martial which have survived from the Puritan Revolution,' and cover a scanty four month period. The trials are for the most part mundane, but show the army had a firm grip on its men and would not tolerate law breaking.
Typical is the charge against Thomas Edgecouf (17th September), accused of stealing six cows, three miles outside the burgh. At the other end of the scale are George Scutter and Laurence Milton of Captain Lee's troop, 'accus'd about the killing of a boy'. The detail is missing, but the men were said to have taken the boy unwillingly on the back of a horse and then threw him violently off, causing his death. They were apparently acquitted, due to lack of evidence. Breaking orders of discipline, plus incidents of blaphemy, fornication and common disorder, are also recorded, and this more detailed incident:
Information of Major Dorney against Henry Sparkes, corporall to Major Rede in Col. Fenwick's regiment, David Pew and John Humphries. Read as followeth: The information of Major Henry Dorney taken upon oath in the Court Marshall, Sept. 19, 1651. That yesterday, being Thursday the 18 instant, haveing newly given out orders on the churchyard at Dundee, he heard a souldier whose name is David Pew (as he cals himself being with them that play'd), swearing in a grosse manner, which to his remembrance was 'by God's bloud and wounds'; that afterwards about 11 of the clock att night, walking to view the guards neere the Lt. Generall's quarters in Dundee, he heard much swearing amongst a company of souldiers, and amongst the rest hee looked in at a window and tooke particular notice of 2, whose names are (as hee is since inform'd), John Humphryes and Henry Sparkes, to be more emenently swearing 'by God,' or 'as God shall judge mee,' with other oathes and execrations to that effect.
Hen: Dorney. Question. Whether to proceede against Corporall Henry Sparkes, being of another garrison? Resolved in the affirmative.
Uppon debate by the testimony of Major Dorney and others, Henry Sparkes, David Pew and John Humphries were found guilty of swearing, and theruppon sentenc't: To bee gagy'd (sitting uppon the horse) for an hower, with their faults written uppon their backs, vizte. For swearing.
Wm. Wells call'd in about striking of Capt. Lee, who hindred him from carrying away of bookes. Left to Capt. Lee to take his submission. Francis Mencour of Capt. Fitche's company in regiment, inform'd against by Capt. Dawborne, who mett him with 3 seamen carrying a sayle of a shippe. Seamen's names Geo. Maners, Jo. Mason, and Wm. Hamonds, belonging to Capt. Wheeler, saves, that they fetch't itt out of an house where noe body dwelt. Souldier sayes that itt was in his Landladyes house. That hee knew nott that the plunder of the towne was done.
Dismis't with a sharpe reproof.
Despite the probably large scale distribution of wealth among the occupiers, some troopers were allegedly not adverse to trying to extort more from the subjugated locals. A violent incident occurred at Dronley, between Auchterhouse and Muirhead, to the north-west of Dundee. On Friday 19th September 1651 a corporal named Phillip Rackham had been in the house of Robert Haye at Dronley when he saw two troopers forcibly driving two local men before them. One of the soldiers knocked down a Scot with his pistol '3 severall times'. Rackham followed the men and saw them steal a horse. He then sent word to Dundee, where his criminal countrymen were captured.
A local man named Andrew Tindall, who had been gathering peat and fowls with his father in law near Dronley, was returning home to Newtyle when they met two English troopers around 4 p.m. on 19th September. The soldiers were identified later as Henry Brigges and Brian Carter. One of the troops accosted Tindall and threatened him: 'You Scottish roge, give's your mony.' And he threatened to pistol whip him. The locals were then robbed. James Terry, the father in law, said he was struck over the head several times by the flat of Carter's sword, after which he was deprived of 1s. 6d. and the soldiers rode away.
The two thieving soldiers were tried and convicted by the 'Article of Misdemeanour'. Their punishment was as follows:
Tryed and found guilty by testimony and their owne confession of plundering and offering violence to the persons of two countrymen. Resolved that Brian Carter and Henry Brigges bee brought from the prison, with ropes about their neckes, and their faults uppon their brests, to the gallowes att the time of the parade, and being tide uppe by the neck receive 30 stripes appeece uppon their bare backes. Afterwards to aske forgivenesse uppon their knees for the injury done to the poore men and the army. And after that to bee kept with bread and water till they have restor'd fower fold to the countrymen for what they have taken away.
Treasure in the Tay?
It is rumoured that Dundee's captured wealth was so immense that all of Monck's troops gained £60 out of the pillage. (The total was £2.5 million Scots, according to one source.) Dr Gamble, Monck's chaplain, who wrote an account of the campaign stated that the concentrated wealth had been bolstered by those Royalists bringing in their loot from Edinburgh and other places. Sixty vessels of the town were captured in the harbour, but allegedly lost on the bar of the Tay when the English forces sought to take them away.
Six years ago there were press reports regarding plans to locate the ships which Monck's forces were taking bath to Leith and which had sunk in the mouth of the Tay. Marine archaeologist Neil Cunningham Dobson (of Odyssey Marine Exploration) reckoned that the submerged hoard could be estimated at a value of £2.5 billion. Historic Scotland cautiously agreed that the presence of sunken ships was a possibility in the vicinity. This plan came a decade after businessman Gary Alsopp also set forward a scheme to explore the underwater area, but it cam to nothing due to funding issues. However, Dundee city archivist cautiously advised at the time of Dobson's plan that there was no hard and fast evidence about the wrecks and there was no confirmation in the scrupulous contemporary Cromwellian records about sinkings. The story, he thought, was 'part of Dundee's folklore-. No full-scale exploration appears to have ensued.
A decade before this the Coventry based exploration company Internet Subsea Explorer, which conducted a ten week survey of the area. The notion of treasure was stirred up by plans for an underwater survey of the mouth of the Tay.