Siege of Dundee (1651)

The Siege of Dundee was a dramatic battle which took place from 30 August to 1 September 1651 (plus around three days aftermath). A decisive victory for General Monck representing Oliver Cromwell, it was the final battle of the English Civil War on Scottish soil.

Siege of Dundee (1651)
Part of Wars of the Three Kingdoms
Date30 August to 1 September 1651
Result Decisive Parliamentarian victory
Scottish Covenanters English Parliamentarians
Commanders and leaders
Robert Lumsden 
John Leslie 
General Monck


Following the Battle of Flodden Scottish towns feared English invasion and many built defensive walls. That of Dundee dated from 1545 and was remarkably entire in comparison to other Scottish towns.[1]

In the mid-17th century Dundee was a compact and well-defended town, with a town wall to west, north and east and the Tay Estuary to the south. It had a good harbour and links to Aberdeen and Edinburgh (Leith) by sea were excellent. Roads by comparison were very poor. The town wall had three gates (ports) on each of its three sides, the main gate being to the west to connect to Perth.[2]

The topography was dominated by Dundee Law a hill to the north of the town wall. Inside the wall a spired church (St Mary's) standing on a small hill dominated the townscape.[3]

Due to the unsettled times and "security" of Dundee in relation to other Scottish cities, it was used as a storehouse for Scottish gold, and this fact was known to the English.[4]

The English Civil War was in its ninth year: Charles I was dead and England was won over by Cromwell's army and the army had moved into Scotland to destroy pockets of Royalist support (which continued after the death of Charles I in the name of Charles II). The Battle of Dunbar (1650) had failed to quash Scottish support for Charles II and the hoped for Restoration.[5]

The Siege

General Monck had moved a substantial force (probably around 5000 to 7000) including cavalry, artillery and siege mortars, to encircle Dundee in August 1651, following their success in the surrender of Stirling Castle. This movement was at least partially by sea, and was clearly visible to the citizens of Dundee.[6]

As the actions were slow and motivation clear, the Loyalists had opportunity to bring other local troops into Dundee to defend the town including cavalry regiments controlled by Lt Col John Leslie.[7]

Dundee had a barracks (in the west of the town) but the total number of troops was certainly below 1000. Six small armed ships belonging to the Royalists lay in Dundee Harbour, but these could not fire on the outer sides of the town wall as this would be firing across Dundee itself. Defence of the town fell on the town barracks and to a number of armed volunteers from surrounding estates. Although cavalry was present this was of limited or perhaps no value, within the closed walls.

General Monck had everything in place by 26 August and sent a written demand for surrender to the governor Robert Lumsden, fully expecting his capitulation in the circumstances. Lumsden however was abnormally confident that the town's walls were secure and refused to surrender. Monck was infuriated and not only began his bombardment but also instructed his troops that once they were within the walls that they may murder and plunder as they pleased. Within this instruction there was a general understanding that the army would loot the large quantity off Scottish gold held in Dundee.[8]

The use of cannon and mortars began on 29 August and was concentrated on the town gates. The town refused to surrender, being confident their walls would hold. However, three days of bombardment continued.[8]

Stories regarding the Dundee garrison being drunk hold little weight as (drunk or not) this was not a surprise attack, and the defenders were expecting a fight.[9]

At 4am on 1 September the surrounding army began their final assault, including use of mortar. At 11am the west and east ports were breached and the defending force retreated to the main church. The battle then focussed upon the attack of the church (now known as the Steeple Church).[10]

In the convention of the day, the resistance of the garrison meant that "no quarter" was given by the attacking troops and a massacre ensued.[11] The most believable account is the contemporary diary of John Lamont, which put English casualties at only 20 (and only one officer: Captain Hart) but Scottish casualties at 500 to 600, including militia, soldiers, townsfolk and "strangers". English estimates went up to 1100 killed.[12] A further 500 (*presumably soldiers) were taken prisoner. This in total equates to the entire military force of Dundee. The townsfolk loss was considerable but statistically could not exceed 200.[13] The population of Dundee at this time is not accurately recorded but comparing to other known towns would be between 5000 and 10000. Modern accounts of one third of the town being killed are therefore gross exaggeration.[9]

500 prisoners were taken (which was the residue of the military force). This included Col Coningham, previously the military governor of Stirling castle. The Military Governor of Dundee, Robert Lumsden or Lumsdaine of Balwhinnie (or Montquhinnie) was certainly killed, Contemporary accounts say he was killed in the battle for the church. Later accounts say he was singled out for punishment as a public example and beheaded in the town centre.[8]

Around 200,000 gold coins were plundered, with a 21st-century value of around £12 billion! The English also captured the ships in the harbour six of which were armed with cannon (40 cannon in total, the largest ship being ten-gun). And 190 sail (ships were counted in sails) totalling around 60 ships in total.[8]


The large number of dead were buried in mass graves on 3 September. Deaths from wounds would presumably continue for around a month. Stories that the bodies were buried in the earth roads are perhaps true as there is no evidence of mass graves in the churchyard, nor would this huge number be capable of containment.

The harbour fleet was used to transport the huge haul of gold to England. Whilst stories as to the fate of the ships vary, all agree the ships did not reach their destination, and sank either due to storm, or other disaster, in the Tay Estuary. This may be seen as poetic justice.[14]

The English army occupied Dundee for nine years after the siege. Dundee never recovered its former position.[15]

Not until December 1669 did the Scottish Parliament vote monies to repair the damage done in Dundee. They placed the cost of the damage at 100,000 Scots pounds. This excluded the robbery of gold, which if true was one of the largest thefts ever in British history.[16]

The Civil War

On 3 September 1651 (two days later) the New Model Army won a decisive victory over the Royalist army at Worcester: the final battle of the English Civil War. The shift of power in England moved permanently to the Parliament rather than the Crown.[17]

The Royalist cause continued as a bloodless campaign. Charles II had been crowned King of Scotland at Scone in 1649, and in theory retained this title, despite military actions defeating the Royalist army. However, he was not crowned King of England until 1660: an 11-year discrepancy during which Scotland had a King but England did not.[18]

Notable Deaths

  • John Leslie, Lord Newton leading the cavalry on the Royalist side in Dundee, killed alongside his son
  • Robert ("Robin") Lumsden, Governor (military) of Dundee


  1. "Dundee Feature Page on Undiscovered Scotland".
  2. "Photo". Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  3. "View: Dundee - 'The Prospect of ye Town of Dundee' - John Slezer's Engravings of Scotland".
  4. "17th century Archives".
  5. History of the English Civil War: Churchill
  6. "General George Monck - Home Page".
  7. ODNB: John Leslie
  8. "The Storming of Dundee". 3 September 2014.
  9. Dundee Evening Telegraph 18 Sept 2013
  10. Scots Magazine 11 May 2015
  11. Wainwright, Brian (14 January 2012). "English Historical Fiction Authors: General George Monck and the Siege of Dundee".
  12. "1645 Seige of Dundee [sic]". FDCA. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  13. Diary of John Lamont 1 September 1651
  14. Scotsman newspaper 3 August 2002
  15. "BBC - History - British History in depth: Scottish Wars of Independence".
  16. "Records of the Parliaments of Scotland".
  17. "The Battle of Worcester, 1651". Historic UK.
  18. "King Charles II: Biography on Undiscovered Scotland".
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