Storm of Dundee

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Storm of Dundee  


The Siege of Dundee, and the subsequent massacre

On 1st of September 1651, the storming of Dundee and the siege of General Monck began. General George Monck, Commander-in-chief to Oliver Cromwell, stormed the town of Dundee and captured its townsfolk. A bloody battle and siege ensued, provoked by Cromwell’s outrage at the Royalist stance of it’s people.

At the time of the Civil War of 1642-1651 which saw republican Oliver Cromwell destroy the English Crown and execute Charles I, Dundee was a royalist stronghold.

Behind its stout stone walls it was one of the safest towns in the entire country even Edinburgh kept its gold reserves in Dundee, as did nobles from as far away as the borders.

Cromwell wanted royalist power extinguished in Scotland too so he unleashed General George Monck.

Devon-born Monck was by then 43 years old, a soldier all his days, and if there was something he knew well it was to how to handle a campaign.

He stormed into Scotland and arrived at Dundee’s gates near the end of August 1651 with his army of 7,000 seasoned Puritan troops and supporting artillery.

Dundee was not intimidated: they had their militia, they had their walls. But, unfortunately, they also had lots to drink. Indeed, intelligence gleaned from spies reported that the town’s soldiers were “usually drunk by lunchtime”.

On September 1, the day of the assault, three hours of thundering cannon fire smashed the northern wall as the city cowered.

Breaching the walls was only half the battle, of course, and Monck promised his troops that they could loot and pillage “without licence” if they took the town he was effectively telling them they could do whatever they wanted. With sword, pistol and pike the Puritans poured into the shattered wall and the city was taken in just 30 minutes.

Governor of Dundee Robert Lumsden and a handful of his troops fell back into the Old Steeple church which stands at the heart of the city centre to this day and made a desperate last stand.

Across this prosperous and well-ordered city Monck’s troops smashed into homes robbing, killing and raping. The plunder was exceptional and the murder without equal in Scotland’s history. It has been stated that the massacre only ceased when Monck himself witnessed a terrified infant trying to cuddle against his slaughtered mother and ordered his soldiers to stop.

Meanwhile, Lumsden’s embattled party only surrendered when they were promised “honourable terms”.

They laid down their arms, walked out and were murdered on the spot Lumsden’s head was displayed on a spike for all to see.

Conservative estimates for those killed are around 1,000, but some accounts state 2,000 people captured members of the garrison, innocent men, women and even children died in the carnage. Monck’s forces lost 20 killed and a similar number injured.

One of Monck’s officers later stated: “The townspeople were most obstinate, being confident of their own works and strength. But they have now most suffered for it, and paid dearly for their contempt.”

The streets literally ran with blood for 3 days, and it was said that it took the sight of a dead woman with a baby still feeding at her breast to move Monck to pity and call off his men. The troops pillaged everything of value they could find, and a fleet of 60 ships, many commandeered from the harbours of Dundee was needed to take the vast amounts of treasure back to England. A collection of over 200,000 gold coins, estimated to be worth up to £12 billion is suspected to have been on board, but the full value of the treasure pillaged from Dundee is not known.

When the fleet sailed from Dundee, stories say that a freak storm rose up to swallow all 60 ships to the bottom of the Tay estuary. Other stories refer to a fire on one of the ships, which quickly got out of control and spread to the rest of the fleet, causing the ships to sink. Whatever tragedy befell the vessels, one thing remained clear – the treasure had been lost. Despite many subsequent search efforts, the ships have never been recovered, and the wrecks of the 60-strong fleet laden with treasure remain lost to the sea, eager to be found and returned to land.

Dundee’s famed wall was torn down, the dead were buried and the city rebuilt.

As for Monck, he carefully kept his cards close to his chest and when Cromwell died, he quietly moved back to the royalist side and served Charles II. He died at the age of 62 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

And to this very day, building work in Dundee’s city centre is likely to bring up the bones of those cut down in 1651.

•  It is thought that Col Richard Douglas, then commanding what had been Sir Andrew Kerr of Greenhead’s Regiment of Foot, was part of the Garrison of Dundee and possibly besieged there from August to September, and destroyed' at the 'Storm of Dundee'.
•  The Siege of Dundee in 1645 is sometimes referred to as the Storm of Dundee.  However, when is is, the accompanying description bears a remarkable likeness to that described above.  It seems likely that the earlier event was a lesser affair as when General Baillie's forces arrived on the scene, Montrose beat a hasty retreat towards Arbroath, although damage to persons and property was indeed done.



Sources for this article include:
  • Dundee Evening Telegraph, 18 Sep 2013

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