A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Trouble Next Door

Tantallon Castle today

After Cromwell's victory at the Battle of Dunbar, in 1650, raiding groups of Scottish horsemen known as the Moss Troopers and the Desperado Gallants continued to operate against the English army, and they were based at the East Lothian castles of Innerwick, Dirleton and Tantallon. Innerwick was soon abandoned, but Dirleton and Tantallon required formal sieges before they were suppressed. Tantallon is of particular interest to me since it is near to my house - right next door in rural terms - and, while I know it well as a local ruin and tourist site, in the 12 years I have lived here I have never got round to finding out much about it, a situation which may seem as strange as it is lamentable.

I am currently reading a lot about the English Civil Wars, and, of course, I now have the opportunity to make good a little of my lack of knowledge. One valuable advantage of living in Scotland is that you can't move for history - it sort of drips off the walls. There are a great many fantastic sites worth visiting, and many of them are well-maintained and accessible - the National Trust for Scotland is a fine institution. Good so far - you can get there and you can look around - but the history itself is not so straightforward. It depends who you ask...

I am not a native of Scotland. I have lived here most of my life, but I did not have the advantage of learning the history and the traditions as part of my upbringing and education. I've made a couple of brave attempts to get to grips with the history, but I didn't do awfully well. I got halfway through Prof JD Mackie's standard work and realised I would have to start again - I had literally lost the plot. Second time through I was taking notes and everything, but it was still very heavy going, and I was very glad there was no exam at the end. Convoluted. Scotland has had periods when there were several kings on the go at the same time. Some of them were Danes, some were Picts, some of them may even have been Scots. The constant conflicts that went on are confused by the superimposition of family, religious and political divisions, and the fact that half of them seem to have been called David doesn't help. And then, of course, they intermarried, and murdered each other, and the French and the accursed English kept getting involved. Even when formal warfare was not current, something very like it would be carried on by the main families.

I apologise wholeheartedly if this seems dismissive or in any other way disrespectful - it is not intended to be so - it is just a summary of the struggle that I, as a relative outsider, have had to understand what went on here - and we are speaking of matters which people have lived and died and fought for over centuries, and from which many of the factions and the grievances are still around today, so I really do have to watch what I say.

Anyway - back to Tantallon. There have been a number of sieges there over the years, but the last was in 1651. It was severely damaged by General Monk's men, and I believe that the Desperado Gallants were granted surrender terms which were much more generous than they expected. Subsequently the castle was substantially demolished to prevent its future use as a military base. The account of the 1651 siege also relates that the walled community of Castletown adjacent to Tantallon had to be fought over first. These days Castleton is merely a farm, with a steading and a Victorian house and a line of 4 cottages - it doesn't look like a military objective. Obviously it was a thriving little town in the 17th Century.

There is some good material and some enthusiastic artwork on a website here. Mostly I am reminded that I am overdue another visit to the castle - it is one of my son's favourite days out, but you have to pick your day carefully. If the weather is not completely favourable, it is potentially the windiest, most wretched place you can find around here. Anyway, I have some more reading to do before I'm ready.

The Siege of Tantallon 1651

A more traditional moody view of the castle, this one painted by Thomas Moran about a hundred years ago. This picture is of personal interest to us since it is obviously viewed from a location we know as 'Our Secret Beach', which is only accessible at low tide - and it's hairy enough then. Either Moran was a quick painter or else he took sandwiches and blankets and toughed it out for the duration

1 comment:

  1. MSF

    Thanks for posting this -I wasn't aware of this site with the family history. We Douglas' have a long and proud tradition of getting killed while fighting the English.