Friday, November 8, 2013

Inchkeith Island; Edinburgh's Historical Thorn (Part 2)

The invasion of the Channel Islands (Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and four smaller islands) by the Nazis in 1940 caused consternation in Churchill’s war cabinet. But these English Islands, sited just twenty miles from the French coast just could not be defended. Over one hundred miles from English soil, they had to be forgotten; one of the unspoken military surrenders.
But four hundred years earlier, the Island of Inchkeith, situated just five miles offshore from Edinburgh, became a huge military thorn in Edinburgh’s side, and remained so for many generations.
In the 16th century, at the time of the ‘Rough Wooing’ (King Henry the Eighth’s Guerilla war against the Scots) Inchkeith was garrisoned by the English Edward Seymour, the Earl of Somerset. He invaded the island in 1547 after the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh. But don’t think they just visited, and stayed for a few days to wave some nice-looking flags at the sight-seers in Leith.... His marines reinforced the island, living there for many years, building a large square fort with corner towers, finished in 1564, on the site of the present day lighthouse. “The wall and rampart was 30 feet thick, being 14 feet of stone behind 16 feet of earth.” (A French soldier, Jean de Beaugué, described how the building works were visible from Leith in June 1548. De Beaugué wrote that four companies of English soldiers and a company of Italians were ordered to help the English workmen, who were seen as pioneers not soldiers.)
Can you imagine the people of Edinburgh, watching the erection of an enemy fort, just five miles from their capital city, and witnessing their government doing nothing to oppose it? But it only gets worse. English admiral, Edward Fiennes de Clinton, anchored his fleet at Inchkeith in August 1548. His task was to prevent sea traffic in the Forth and the security of the English at the siege of Haddington.
Questions abound.
The sleepy Toon of Haddington, held by the English was besieged? Yup it was.
The English blockaded the Forth Estuary? Really?
Yes, it all happened; Admiral Clinton reported destroying 38 ships on 9 August 1548. French galleys lay off Burntisland, filled with French troops ready for insertion into the fray. The sleepy dales of East Lothian had suddenly become the epicenter of the battlefield of Europe. Quiet towns like Dunbar, Aberlady, and Pinkie were bloody encounters in the confused times.
Ultimately, as winter approached, the English garrison in Haddington had to withdraw, but at one point over fifteen nationalities had fought around Haddington; Germans, Italians, Spanish, Hessians, Frenchmen, and… yes, even an Albanian division. Mary of Guise, the Regent of her daughter, Mary Queen of Scots, ultimately chased the English back over the border, but of course, nothing could be attempted against Inchkeith until spring/summer.
In June, 1549, the English garrison was ejected by a combined Franco-Scottish force under General D’Essé; Scots, French and Germans charged a group of English and Italians, who’d made a stand on the summit of the island. On the following day, Mary of Guise, visited the island, to see the "three and four hundred of her dead foes still unburied". Seven English banners captured on the island were sent to Henri II of France. On 17 July 1549, he gave the soldiers who brought the banners lifetime pensions.
A Scots/French garrison would occupy the island for many years. In 1560, during the Siege of Leith, there were “140 French soldiers with 70 women, boys and laborers” on the island. In the 1560’s as Mary Queen of Scots came to power, she maintained a presence on the island and it is reported that a cannonade from the island bombarded the English vessel The Aide in September 1565, as it tried to blockade Leith. But in 1567, after Mary’s execution by her cousin Queen Elizabeth of England, the fort on the island was demolished. Stone removed from stone; the last time the island would be used in war.
As a ten-year-old boy I visited the island in 1969, and walked the grassy surfaces unaware of such a turbulent history. I took photographs of my mother and father, reclining on the bloodied grass. Today, it is owned by ‘Kwik Fit’ millionaire Tom farmer. With the lighthouse totally automated, permission is required to land on the island.

For the first part of the History of Inchkeith, go here;
The staggering macabre beginnings of the island... Scotland's own Island of Doctor Moreaux.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...