Category Archives: Tudor Wars

7th May A Forgotten Failure – the Siege of Leith 1560

560px-Siege_of_Leith_map,_1560A good Quiz question.  Which foreign army occupied a Scottish port for over a decade in the middle of the C16th?

A:The Siege of Leith ended a twelve-year encampment of French troops at Leith, the port near Edinburgh, Scotland. The French troops arrived by invitation in 1548 and left in 1560 after an English force arrived to assist in removing them from Scotland. They finally left under the terms of a treaty signed by Scotland, England and France.

Siege of Leith here.

Wikipedia article

Site opn the History of Leith 

One of the key episodes was the assault on 7th May 1560.    Elizabeth and her secretary William Cecil were exerting pressure on Norfolk for a result at Leith. To show that progress was being made, Norfolk started forwarding Grey’s dispatches and apologising for his deputy’s “humour”, asking that Elizabeth should send Grey a letter showing her thanks. Norfolk brought in expert military advisors, Sir Richard Lee and his own cousin Sir George Howard, who Norfolk believed would bring the siege to a rapid conclusion. Norfolk wrote to William Cecil on 27 April that it was a shame to have “to lie so long at a sand wall.”

It was planned to storm the town before daybreak on 7 May. In early May cannon were deployed to make a substantial breach in the western ramparts.  The assault was to be carried out in two waves, the first at 3.00 am by 3,000 men, the second by 2,240, with a further 2,400 holding back to keep the field. William Winter would wait for a signal to land 500 troops on the quayside of the Water of Leith at the Shore inside the town. As a diversion, Cuthbert Vaughan’s 1,200 men with 500 Scotsmen were to attack from the south, crossing Leith Links from Mount Pelham. James Croft’s men would assault from the north-west, presumably at low-tide.

Mary of Guise, Regent of Scotland from 1554 to 1560
Mary of Guise, Regent of Scotland from 1554 to 1560

There was an accidental fire in Leith on 1 May which burnt in the south-west quarter. The next evening Grey planted his battery against the west walls and started firing before 9.00 am, writing to Norfolk that his gunners had not yet found their mark. Next day, Grey was worried that the French had effected repairs so the town appeared even stronger. He continued with the bombardment and ordered his captains to try small-scale assaults against the walls to gather intelligence. Cuthbert Vaughan measured the ditch and ramparts for making scaling ladders.

The attempt was now scheduled for 4.00 am on Tuesday 7 May and by two hours past daylight the English were defeated. Although there were two breaches, the damage to the walls was insufficient. None of the flanking batteries were disabled, and the scaling ladders were too short. The result was heavy losses estimated at 1000 to 1500 Scots and English.

A report by Peter Carew estimated a third of the dead were Scottish. However, Carew’s total of six-score dead, which was followed by George Buchanan, is roughly a tenth of the other reports. The accountant Valentine Browne noted there were 1,688 men unable to serve, still on the payroll, hurt at the assault or at various other times, and now sick or dead. The author of the Diurnal of Occurents put the total number slain at 400.[61] Humfrey Barwick was told the French collected the top-coats of the English who had reached and died on the walls, and 448 were counted. The French journal claims only 15 defenders were killed. John Knox and the French journal attributed some of the casualties to the women of Leith throwing stones from the ramparts.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Leith

30th April 1524 –”Good night” for the Good Knight

Pierre_Bayard490 years ago, Pierre Terrail, seigneur de Bayard, the commander of the French rear guard at the Battle of the Sesia, was mortally wounded by an arquebus ball, on April 30, 1524. This French soldier, generally known as Chevalier de Bayard, was renowned by his contemporaries as the fearless and faultless knight (le chevalier sans peur et sans reproche). He himself preferred to be referred to as “le bon chevalier”, or “the good knight”. The death of a man famed for his chivalry at the hands of an anonymous arquibussier appear to symbolise a transition in warfare. However the Bon Chevalier was much more than just a symbol. While most of his military services was in Italy and the borders of France, there are parts of his story which touches British Military history.

From the insular Britain the reign of the Tudors is fairly peaceful, fgive or take the odd Scottish incursion or Yorkist plot. But the forty years from 1490 was a turbulent time in Europe, with France at war for most of the time with Spain and the Holy Roman Empire was fought in Italy and along France’s still ill defined boundaries. This was a period when military technology, organisation and tactics were changing rapidly.

The wikipedia entry on Chevalier de Bayard lists his military service over thirty years service for three successive French monarchs Charles VII, Louis XII and Francis I mainly in Italy but also in Flanders. He seems to have played an important role in many of the battles of the Italian wars, from Charles’ ,VII’s campaigns .

The Chevalier de Bayard seems to have combined the personal qualities expected of a medieval knight with the professional abilities needed in the new world of gun powder, and pike and shot. While his chivalrous deeds and gallantry charmed Kings and courtiers – and Lucretia Borgia, he was far more than a dashing knight. He was a good organiser and trainer. In 1509 he raised a body of horse and foot which set the standard for discipline and battlefield effectiveness in an army which had previously despised infantry as a mere rabble. As a commander he was known for his accurate knowledge of the enemy, obtained by skilled reconnaissance and efficient espionage. In 1521, with 1000 men he had successfully held the “indefensible” city of Mezieres in the Meuse valley against an Imperial army of 35,000

Chevalier de Bayard defends the Bridge over the Garigliano near Minturno 1509
Chevalier de Bayard on the Bridge over the Garigliano

In 1503 the re was a battle on the line of , with the Spanish Army assaulted the French Army across the the River Garigliano, via bridges of boats. One of the more famous incidents of the battle is the single handed defence of a bridge over the Chevalier de Bayard single handed held off a force of 300 Spaniards. This took place close to the village of Minturno, close to where the British Army attacked in a similar fashion in January 1944 and a few hundred metres from the Commonwealth War Cemetery.

Troops of the Fifth Army near the Garigliano river 19 Jan 1944© IWM (TR 1527)
Fifth Army crossing the Garigliano 19 Jan 1944© IWM (TR 1527)
Map showing the crossing by 2nd  Wiltshires in relation to the site of the medieval bridge over the Garigliano
Map showing the crossing by 2nd Wiltshires in relation to the site of the medieval bridge over the Garigliano

Ten years later Bayard fought at the battle of Guines, known by the English as the battle of the Spurs, in which a French cavalry force was defeated by the English. Fleeing from the field Bayard was trapped, but noticing an English knight un-armoured and resting he forced the man to yield and then in turn offered himself as a prisoner. This act of chivalry endeared him to Henry VIII who released him on parole.

battleofspurs

On 30th April 1524 Bayard died in “the midst of the enemy, attended by Pescara, the Spanish commander, and by his old comrade, Charles, duc de Bourbon, who was now fighting on the opposite side. Charles is reported to have said “Ah! Monsieur de Bayard… I am very sad to see you in this state; you who were such a virtuous knight!” Bayard answered,“”Sir, there is no need to pity me. I die as a man of honour ought, doing my duty; but I pity you, because you are fighting against your king, your country, and your oath.”

That is an interesting view from a historic figure at a time which we assume is dominated by treachery, Machaivelli and mercenaries.

For more about Chevalier de Bayard check the following:-

His Wikipedia entry

The Battle of the Garigliano 1503 

and the Battle of the Garigliano in 1944

And the assault crossing 

The Battle of the Spurs 

and more documents on the battle of the Spurs

The Battle of the River Sesia 

To visit the battlefields of Chevalier de Bayard contact mus!