The Raid of Ruthven was a political conspiracy where several Presbyterian nobles, led by William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie, abducted the young King James VI of Scotland. They wanted to reform the government of Scotland and limit the influence of French and pro-catholic policy, and to prevent or at least manage the return of Mary, Queen of Scots from England. Their very short lived rule was known as the Gowrie Regime.

In July 1582 the nobles who were discontent with the current governing leaders made a pact to support each other in getting rid of the Catholic influences around the young King. Their main opponents were the French Esme Stewart, and James Stewart who shared control of the government.

While the young King was hunting near the castle of Ruthven, in Perthshire on 22nd August 1582 he was invited by the Earl of Gowrie to stay in his Castle for an evening. He felt instantly threatened once in the castle, by the number of other nobles there; many of them strangers to him, including the Master of Glamis, Earl of Mar and Pittenweem, Lord Lindsay, and the Constable of Dundee among others. He had no idea however, 1000 men, well-armed, were dispersed throughout the neighbourhood. When King James tried to leave the next day, he was blocked from leaving, and his aides thrown out of the castle. He had been kidnapped – finding himself a prisoner he threatened and tried to talk his way out, and finally burst into tears; he was only 15 years old after all.

Now, this wasn’t exactly an exceptional thing to do as in the previous centuries, under the other five James’ reigns factions in the nobility were often warring, and the sovereign was often a prisoner in the hands of some powerful combination led by one or more of the influential nobility, and when he was freed from the domination of one faction it was only to fall into the snares of their rivals.

The King was held and controlled by the Ruthven Lords for almost a year, moved around a number of houses. Although they treated him well and with respect, they limited his movements and who he could speak to. The Earl of Gowrie was the head of this government, who forced their two main opponents the two Stewart’s into exile, and favoured an ultra-Protestant regime. Queen Elizabeth was pleased with these events, and, in September 1582, sent £1000 (a huge sum of money in those days) as wages for the King’s guard.

In response to all of this, opponents of the Ruthven Regime including the Earls of Huntly, Argyll, Crawford, Montrose and others wrote a letter to the town of Edinburgh telling them that their ‘auld enemies’ the English had funded an army to take away their King, and when they arrived in their town the people should take arms against them. No one in Edinburgh seemed to take up this suggestion.

After almost a year in captivity, the King managed to speak to some of the opponents of the Gowrie Regime, and they made plans to have armed men waiting at St Andrews where the King could escape. He managed to sneak away from his guards, and meet up with these opponents in St Andrews Castle. Finally having escaped, although it was common for there to be punishment after such a thing including banishment or arrests for treason, James was far more forgiving to his captors. They were pardoned, as long as they would ‘show themselves penitent, crave pardon in due time and not provoke him by any further unlawful actions’.

The Earl of Gowrie however, found that no matter how humbly he professed his sorrow for his, very significant, part in the capture of the King, he could not regain his favour with the King. He wrote to his past conspirators the Master of Glamis who had fled to Ireland, and the Earl of Mar who had left to England, trying to get them to return and make another attempt to seize and control the King.

This was a new conspiracy, of which the Earl of Gowrie was now the leader. He obtained permission to travel to France from King James, and headed to Dundee under the excuse of needing to find a ship to take him there. But he lurked about in Dundee for far longer than he should, and was gaining suspicion. Even 5 months after Glamis and Mar had left, he was still lingering in Dundee, saying he would be leaving ‘any day now’ for France. His permission to go to France ended in March 1584, and he was told if he was found after that date he would be punished as a rebel.

Gowrie had no intention of leaving Dundee, he was busy there preparing for his new conspiracy. James got word however that Gowrie was corresponding with Glamis and Mar. The plan was that Glamis and Mar would return to Scotland, and take control of Stirling Castle, while Gowrie and the Earl of Angus along with some of the other nobles were to send a force to the King.

Mar and Glamis made it back to Scotland, but just two days before they were due to take Stirling Castle, the Royal Guard stormed the house of William Drummond, a burgess of Dundee, where Gowrie was staying. Gowrie put up a fight but as the soldiers were assisted by people of the town of Dundee, he had no choice but to be taken in. Mar and Glamis had no idea this had happened and attacked Stirling on the 18th of April 1584, taking control of the town. But this all fell apart in a few days, as word spread Gowrie had been arrested, the expected money and support from other nobles failed to materialise, and James had raised his own army who marched to Stirling. It was impossible for Glamis and Mar to continue, and so they fled to England.

Gowrie, having been arrested, was not so fortunate. Put onto trial in Stirling, many of those nobles who had opposed him were more than happy to give evidence of his treasonable behaviour. He was sentenced to be executed, and after a long speech on the scaffold where he maintained that all his actions were for the benefit of the King, calmly laid his head on the block and it was severed in one stroke. His servants, sewed his head to his body and buried him whole.



The Scottish Wars

First History of Dundee

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The Rough Wooing was a very tumultuous time in Dundee’s history, during which almost the entire town was destroyed.  In 1543 England was feeling trapped and surrounded by Catholic powers. Scotland was still part of the ‘auld alliance’ with France and Catholicism still reigned here, so the English worried about the potential for invasion from France via Scotland.

The Treaty of Greenwich laid out a plan for peace between England and Scotland, including a marriage between the then infant Mary, Queen of Scots, and Edward, Henry VIII’s son. The Regent Arran, acting on behalf of Mary, initially agreed to the treaty. But after meeting with Cardinal Beaton and upon pressure from Scots who didn’t want the marriage or alliance to go ahead, rejected the treaty and all of its terms. This caused the fury of Henry VIII to be aimed squarely at Scotland. Five days later, war was declared in Edinburgh.

The war began with an attack on Edinburgh on 3 May 1544, led by the Earl of Hertford. Hertford had instructions to burn Edinburgh and issue Henry’s proclamation which laid the blame on Cardinal Beaton’s “sinister enticement” of Regent Arran. Henry’s instructions for the invasion force were to;

“Put all to fire and sword, burn Edinburgh, so razed and defaced when you have sacked and gotten what ye can of it, as there may remain forever a perpetual memory of the vengeance of God lightened upon (them) for their falsehood and disloyalty.”

This was the last big conflict between Scotland and England, and with the two countries at war Dundee suffered greatly. While the name for the conflict might be a little whimsical, there was an awful lot of rough, and not very much wooing going on. The name ‘Rough Wooing’ was first introduced many years later, the war itself was too bloody and savage a for such a name at the time. Historian William Ferguson points out the juxtaposition of the name with the violence of the conflict:

“English policy was simply to pulverise Scotland, to beat her either into acquiescence or out of existence, and Hertford’s campaigns resemble nothing so much as Nazi total warfare, “blitzkrieg”, reign of terror, extermination of all resisters, the encouragement of collaborators, and so on.

There was also a great deal of propaganda during the war, as the idea of an alliance with England had some wavering support – some didn’t like the French interference with Scottish affairs, and others wanted to use the alliance to further reformation of religion towards Protestantism. To this end, George Wishart was sent from England along with a group returning from negotiations, as he had been a preacher in Montrose and was to return and continue spreading the protestant faith.

Just after the war began, in 1544, Dundee was ravaged by plague, and it swept through the town with a fatal severity. So many of the townspeople died that the next year when a call was put out across Scotland to gather an army to defend against Henry VIII’s forces, no one from Dundee was able to join. While Dundee was under the blanket of plague, in its darkest hour, George Wishart preached to the Dundonians afflicted with plague, banished from the town and left to die outside the gates. He was loved by the people, and it is his influence that is said to have caused the change in religion in the city which led to the destruction of the old monasteries of the Friars.

Henry VIII had also asked Hertford to destroy St Andrews, the home of Cardinal Beaton, but the distance proved too far with so many of their resources in the war further south. Henry was too distracted with his troubles with France, so any attacks north of Edinburgh were shelved for now.

After a victory at the Battle of Ancrum Moor, the Scots were included in a treaty which had also brought the end to the Italian War of 1542-6. This brought peace between Scotland and England for 18 months. However, in 1546 Fife Lairds had murdered Cardinal Beaton at St Andrews Castle, and held up at the castle hoping for support from the English Military. After the death of Henry VIII, Hertford, now Protector Somerset wanted to continue the war and it was to be even bloodier than before, still determined to force the marriage between Edward and Mary. He fought and won at the Battle of Pinkie, crushing the Scots, gaining control of the whole of southern Scotland.

It wasn’t until 1547 that the war came to Dundee. The English fleet sailed up the Tay, led by Andrew Dudley. Instead of attacking Broughty Castle with force, they only fired a few parting shots as the castle had already been given up by the traitor Lord Gray. The English then garrisoned the castle, then a place of great strength in a commanding position to defend against invaders.

The Regent Arran and then the Earl of Argyll tried to capture the castle on 22 November 1547 and then in January 1548, without success. But again treason was to be Dundee’s downfall, when Argyll made a truce with the English it gave them the opportunity to reinforce their garrison by sea. He then ‘retired’, having received a bribe of one thousand crowns of money from Lord Gray, given to him by the enemy. This left Dundee in a very vulnerable position.

An account of the invasion of the town is given by a French gentleman who took part in the attack. He says that the English, after being strengthened:

“seized upon a little hill distant from Broughty nine hundred paces, and here they built a very fine fortress, and spared no cost to render it admirable, and to furnish it with men and ammunition of all sorts.” From this position, “they sent betwixt sixteen and seventeen hundred lances, both foot and horse, to Dundee, which they entered without opposition: For although this last is one of the most beautiful, rich, and populous towns in the kingdom, and though ’twere easy to render it impregnable, yet, as the Scots have ever been careless to fortify their country, those in Dundee had no other defence than the walls of their private houses.”

Although an army was raised at Edinburgh to march north to surprise the English and take back the town, news of this reached the English, who then abandoned all of the fortifications they were building in the town, and during eight days looted all the could from the town and its houses, set the town on fire, and then retreated to Broughty Castle. When the Scots army got to Dundee they found nobody around, just a few peasants left to try and put out the fires, the town razed to the ground.

Dundee lay in ruin for a long time after the rough wooing, the destruction left behind decimated the whole area – St Mary’s Church, the tolbooth, steeple, alms house and many other common places were completely ruined, along with the history of the town in its most ancient texts and records, which burned along with the tolbooth. Because the English could aid Broughty Castle by sea, they managed to hold possession of the castle for another 2 years. Finally, in February 1550 a fleet of French and Scots ships and armies managed to siege and retake the Castle.

During this time, the young Mary was taken to safety and betrothed to the Dauphin in France in August 1548. This made it clear, even to the English, that any marriage between Mary and Edward was not going to happen. Internal strife in England caused the Downfall of Somerset, and he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. His successor, Warwick, was more concerned with his own position than continuing the war with Scotland. The Treat of Norham in 1551 formally ended the war, and the English Military withdrew from Scotland. After the war ended many Scots were accused of assurance or collaboration as a crime; 192 citizens of Dundee were acquitted in 1553 and the whole town of Dumfries received a pardon.

But, for a time at least, there was peace. Dundee did eventually rebuild and up until the mid 17th century was one of the most prosperous burghs of Scotland, second only to Edinburgh. They had certainly learned their lesson about defending the town, and a wall surrounding the town was complete by 1592. While this made the job of invaders more difficult, it was certainly not the last time war would reign down on Dundee’s streets.


The History of Old Dundee, Maxwell – p 26-27

Rough Wooing: James V Trilogy 3, Tranter


Wikipedia page on Rough Wooing

When the Scottish Reform Act was finally passed into law in 1832, none were more jubilant than the folk of Dundee.  Known as a ‘radical toon’, Dundee is said to have been of significant help to the cause of Reform.  Once the news had hit the town, it quickly spread to the Radicals, who prepared to celebrate with an ‘illumination’.  An illumination was the preferred way to celebrate events, and involved lighting up pubs and homes until they were as bright as they could be.  Usually, gunpowder would be ignited in the streets to add further illumination and excitement.

The Reform Act sought to change the way the landscape of politics and voting was to be decided, so, as you could imagine, many of the self-appointed burgh officials weren’t particularly keen on the new legislative changes.  This being said, there was no “official” celebration of the Act – the illumination celebration was very much a public affair.  The weekend proceeding the news of the Act’s passing was one of excitement, happiness and a great deal of fun.  It was the end of June, and a perfect time for an outdoor celebration.  Pubs and Inns took part, helping to light up areas of the centre as people partied into the early hours.

Despite all the revelry, some believed that this party was not quite up to the standard of such a prominent event, and preparations were soon under way for a party on Monday night, much bigger and brighter than the first.  Arguments against allowing this new party to go ahead were heard by the Town Council, but it was decided to allow the celebrations to continue without interruption unless things got out of control.  Perhaps, already sensing their loosening grip on the city, the Town Council agreed purely to avoid a rebellious riot.  Whatever they were thinking, nobody could have foretold the events that soon unfolded.

Monday certainly lived up to its hype.  The hills of Fife burned with celebratory fire as Dundee’s harbour was festooned with sailing vessels covered in flags, illuminated by a multitude of buildings and fires all the way into the centre of town.  Still in need of more illumination, a tar barrel was placed inside and old boat and the barrel set alight.  From there, the burning boat was hauled up Union Street to the corner of Nethergate as people whooped and cheered, shooting pistols into the air.  Whilst it all seems a bit crazy to us, this was just how our ancestors partied!

The atmosphere was said to have been one of happiness and relative peace as the fire was topped up and the boat pulled in a circle through the Nethergate, Tay Street, Overgate and then High Street, nearby where the Town House stood at this time.  As the party roared into the latter part of the evening, people began to disperse – it was Monday night, after all, and many would have had work in the morning.  As late evening turned to night, things took an unexpected turn that had disastrous consequences.

The Police Force, alongside Special Constables, commandeered the fire, pouring water on it to extinguish not only the flames, but the party, too.  By this point, it is estimated that there were still around 200 people enjoying the party, which had, by all accounts, been fairly incident-free.  As people tried to prevent their fun from being stopped, it is alleged officers handled the revellers somewhat roughly.

This did not go down well with the people of Dundee, and they turned from party animals into an angry mob, pelting the Police with sticks and stones, forcing them away from the fire.  The sudden disruption saw approximately 40 people arrested and put into the cells overnight; the party now well and truly over.  In the morning, almost everyone was let away by the Justices, with the exception of three men whom the Justices were confident had assaulted Police Officers the night before.

Many people took objection to this, and, as news spread of the three men’s detainments, crowds began to gather outside the Town House.  It did not take long for things to get as rowdy as they had the previous evening; crowds threw rocks, stones and threats at the doors of the Town House, but the Justices refused to budge on their position.  In scenes that echoed those of less than 24 hours before, a flaming boat was heaved from the harbour once again and placed against the doors of the Town House.  Here, the story seems to take an unlikely turn which was instrumental in what was to become total chaos.  It is said that when one of the Justices went to the Police Offices to release the men and quell any more tension, the key to the cells could not be found.

The already-mad crowd became as inflamed as the fires they had set and tore along to the Police Offices filled with rage.  Grabbing a thick plank of wood, they relentlessly battered at the locked doors of the Police Office until they finally yielded.  As the doors flew open, anyone who wasn’t a prisoner fled through the back doors, fearing for their lives.  The mob, by now completely uncontrollable, released the prisoners and began tearing the place apart.  The office itself was completely destroyed, with everything that could possibly be removed taken into the street and set alight.

Meanwhile, some of the men had broken into the Superintendent’s house, smashing all his windows, destroying his belongings and throwing things out into the street before attempting to set the house on fire.  Thankfully they didn’t succeed, but destroyed a grocery owned by another Police Officer on their way back into the centre.  In the early hours of Wednesday morning, Dundee was still at the hands of the rioters.  With not enough officers to suppress the mobbing men, Police presence was non-existent and reinforcements had been called in from Perth in the form of the 78th Highland Regiment.

The Lord-Lieutenant of the County at the time, the Earl of Airlie arrived on Wednesday morning, a few hours before the arrival of the 78th Highland Regiment, in an attempt to try and bring about some peace and order.  Amidst the burnt rubble and wreckage of what used to be the Police Office, he stood talking to the angry mob as they continued to shout at him and throw things at him from the charred, cooling remains of the fire.

Surprisingly, things took an unexpected turn, and the mob seemed to eventually warm to the Earl and began to settle down.  The 78th Highland Regiment made their presence very well known that day and night, just in case it all got a bit rowdy again, but it seemed that a 2 day riot was enough for any one person, and the streets fell quiet.  Although many people, including Police Officers were hurt, there appears to be no mention of any deaths as a result of the riot, which is unusual considering how out of hand it got.

7 men were eventually singled out and tried for the outbreak; the three original prisoners who had been detained for the first attack on Police Officers, and 4 others who had been identified as being involved in the jail-break and destruction of the Police Office.  The first 3 were lucky; Thomas Kettle, James Barnet and John Jolly were sentenced to 6 months in Dundee Jail after pleading guilty to rioting, but the other 4 pleaded not guilty, but were found guilty anyway.  James Findlay and John Tomlinson were sentenced to transportation to Botany Bay for 14 years.  17-year old George Haggart was sentenced to transportation for 7 years.

In returning their guilty verdict, the jury had recommended mercy for the 4th accused, watchmaker James Findlay.  It was unclear his level of involvement, and his alibi was more credible than the others, but they were still certain he had something to do with it, however minor.  He was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment in Bridewell Prison.

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WW2 was the deadliest conflict in the history of the human race, with an estimated 50 to 85 million casualties. Whilst China and Japan had already been at war over Japan’s aggressive domination of Asia, things didn’t heat up to a global level until Germany invaded Poland on 1st September 1939. Tensions continued to heat up as more countries found themselves caught up Germany’s invasions. So many lives were lost to war and genocide on an unprecedented scale that it was impossible to keep count amidst all of the horror. Nuclear weaponry was used, with devastating consequences to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki in an attempt to end a seemingly unstoppable war.

During WW2, as Nazi Germany desperately tried to take over Britain, our RAF took to the skies to valiantly defend our country with their lives. During the summer of 1940, a battle within the War had formed, with Winston Churchill declaring it The Battle of Britain:

“What General Weygand has called The Battle of France is over. The battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle, depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of a perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour”.”.

Hitler had a plan to besiege Britain by land and by water, in a fierce double-pronged attack dubbed Operation Sea Lion. On September 15th 1940, thanks to our RAF troops in the air, we took control of the skies, shooting down 56 of Hitler’s Luftwaffe, forcing him to abandon his plans for invasion. During a period aptly named The Blitz, Hitler’s air forces bombarded air bases, factories, manufacturing plants and anywhere else they felt was critical to Britain’s continued success in battle. On 25th October, 21 year old, Dundee-born Pilot Officer William Pattullo lost his life whilst defending us from Hitler’s army in the skies over Kent. Whilst the Battle of Britain officially ended on 31st October, having been fought and aerial superiority won by Britain, the Blitz continued to rage on until 21st May 1941.

London was the worst affected by the Blitz, being bombed by the German forces for 57 consecutive nights. Ports in places such as Plymouth, Southampton and Glasgow, to name only a few, came under heavy bombing. Despite perpetuating a myth that Hitler’s own granny came from the city (a story the people used to explain why we had escaped largely unscathed) it seemed that not even Dundee remained entirely without its war wounds.

On 5th November 1940, 8 bombs were dropped in Dundee – Farington Terrace; the gardens of Fernbrae Nursing Home; a home in Briarwood Terrace; a home at the junction of Marchfield Road and Middlebank Crescent; the back courtyard at 258 Blackness Road; the tenements at 19 Rosefield Street; near the power station on Forest Park Place and finally, one in Queen Victoria Works on Brook Street. There were three fatalities that evening as a result of the bombings; Elizabeth Cooper, a housekeeper, died in the bombing at Briarwood Terrace, and 2 others died during the collapse of the tenement building at 19 Rosefield Street.

Charles Toshney tells us that the bombings were perhaps part of an aborted air attack on the Tay Bridge, which could have been devastating to this part of the country. The civilian areas were not the intentended targets that night, but after the RAF chased off the German bombers, the pilots had to unload their bombs in an effort to facilitate a speedier escape. Unfortunately the citizens of Dundee were collateral damage for this aborted attempt to take out the bridge.

We found an online account from a lady called Lily R Fox, who kindly contributed her story to Dundee Central Library:

That night, my young sister, who was 10½ years old, myself (12), and my two cousins, Nancy (10½) and Bobby (7), went to the pictures at the Forest Park picture house with Mr and Mrs Gracie, who lived up my close and were friends with my Mum and Dad. In those days we didn’t say were going to see a film – it was “going to the pictures”. Well, in we went to the cheap seats, 4d for adults and 2d for children, because it was during the week and we only went to the dear seats (6d and 4d) on a Saturday night. We got settled down and sat engrossed watching the pictures. It must have been about 8 p.m. when we heard four loud bangs. That did not upset us, because there were two out-facing double doors on Forest Park Road and boys used to kick on the doors with their boots. That was what it sounded like, but the lights went out and the film stopped and then someone started to scream. Mr. Gracie stood up on a seat, shouted for order and told everyone to line up against the walls, because he said if the walls fell down, they would not hurt us if we were leaning against the walls. A silence then came over everyone, and the cinema manager came on stage and spoke to everyone. The emergency generator came on, and we had lights again. He asked everyone if they wanted to see the rest of the show. Of course, we said we wanted to stay and see the rest of the picture, so we sat down again and the picture came back on.

We must have been watching for about another 15 minutes, when the usherette came down shining her torch on all the people. My Mum was looking for her bairns, so we had to go out with her. Also we had Nancy and Bobby, whom we took up to Rosefield Street and handed over to my Auntie Nan. They lived in number 7 Rosefield Street and one bomb had gone through number 9. When we came out of the pictures, that was when shock set in. Of course everything was in darkness, but the streets were littered with debris. Slates, stones, bricks, wood, chimneys, walls and glass covered the roads and pavements. There was not a clear space to put your feet down. Everything was covered with muck and all the shop windows were blown in.

We got home to Miss Kerr’s house: she had a low door and when an air raid was on during the night, my Mum lifted the three of us and we slept, covered with blankets, on Miss Kerr’s floor underneath her big table, until the “all clear” went. Next day, when we went off to school (I was at Logie School), we had to stand in our lines all morning in the playground, because all the classrooms were littered with glass. All the windows had been blown in because of the blast, and there was a huge hole in the roof where a huge piece of wall had gone through the big hall roof. We were finally sent home at 12 o’clock and told not to come back until further notice. It took months and months for the repairs to be done, as it was such a big job. So we lost almost a full year of schooling, because all the men were away to the war and it was only the old men who could get on with the work. Also it was very difficult to get materials to complete the work needing done.

The havoc one string of bombs caused in Dundee that evening! Luckily, only one person was killed. We were very lucky that night, because a bomb fell on the electricity generator for Dundee, which was next door to the picture house. 20 yards nearer and it would have been on us, and there would have been a lot of deaths and injuries. God was looking over us that night.
Lily R. Fox. via Dundee Central Library

The evening telegraph also ran a story detailing another Dundee resident’s account of the bombings. George Wilmott’s interview can be read on the evening telegraph’s website by clicking this link.

WW2 eventually ended with the unconditional surrender of the Axis forces (detailed on the chart below). The Nazi concentration and extermination camps which claimed around 11 million innocent lives, were neutralised. The Italian dictator, Mussolini was captured on 27th April and executed the following day; his body being taken to the Piazzle Loreto of Milan and hung up for all to see. Two days following Mussolini’s execution, Adolf Hitler and his recently wedded wife, Ava Braun, committed suicide. Germany soon fell to the might of the opposition and had fully surrendered by 8th May 1945, hence why we celebrate VE Day (Victory in Europe Day) on 8th May.

Japan had other ideas, however, and was still having its Pacific War with China (which predated WW2). Fearing another huge escalation, allied forces prepared for an invasion of Japan’s mainland. By late July of 1945, Japan was told to surrender or expect “prompt and utter destruction”. With no sign of relenting from the Japanese side, President Truman of the United States of America ordered an atomic bomb known as Little Boy to be dropped on Hiroshima, killing tens of thousands of people instantly, with the effects of radiation continuing to slowly kill thousands more people as time went on. Truman again called for Japan’s surrender, telling them that their failure to do so would result in “rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth”. Three days after his threat, Truman stood by his threat and dropped a Fat Man bomb on Nagasaki. Within a second of impact, the North of Nagasaki had been completely destroyed, and approximately a fifth of the population wiped out. This was the last time in history, to date, that nuclear weapons have been used in war.

WW2 death statistics
WW2 Deaths statistic: “World War II Casualties” by TheShadowed at English Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons
Bomb damage image courtesy of evening telegraph.

Vikings were portrayed as uniformly violent and bloodthirsty by their enemies. The chronicles of medieval England portrayed them as rapacious “wolves among sheep”. Bloody raids, pillaging and deadly battles is how we see the Vikings of the age. And while this is true for many parts of Scotland (see here if you want to read about the nice, cuddly side of the Vikings!) Dundee was likely a prime target.  Longboats carried Vikings from their strongholds in Orkney and Shetland towards the mainlands to assault any settlements they could reach; nowhere with water access was safe, and Dundee was surely no exception.

Local historians agree that there is evidence of Vikings in the area, and DNA analysis suggests 8% of us have Viking ancestry in our genes. One account of such an invasion is the infamous Battle of Barry, said to have taken place in 1010. The first account of the battle is by Hector Boece, a 16th century historian. Sueno, king of Denmark and England, uphappy with the news of his army’s defeat at Mortiach, ordered a naval task force to set sail for Scotland.

The army landed at Lunan Bay and after sacking Montrose, the Army headed inland and razed Brechin to the ground. Camus received word that an army headed by King Malcolm II was in Dundee and ordered the Danes to march south. The Scots army set camp at Barry, a few miles to the east of Dundee. The two sides met and fought at the Lochty Burn, which is now where the Carnoustie town centre lies. The battle was fierce and raged on for many hours, so much so that the burn ran red with the blood of Scots and Danes.

On the losing end of the battle, Camus fled to the hills but was caught and killed by Robert de Keith at Brae Downie, where, it is said, the Camus Cross was erected in memory of him (


The battle also inspired a legend of the naming of Carnoustie. The Norse gods were so incensed by the loss of their favourite warrior that they put a curse on the neighbourhood, letting thousands of crows loose across Barry. The crows colonised the whole area around what is now Buddon Ness their numbers swelling so large that the area became known as Craw’s Nestie, which was later altered to Carnoustie.

When the village of Carnoustie gained burgh status in 1899 the local officials created a crest for the town featuring three crows flying over a tree. Crow’s continue to feature in the town’s stories and events, with the Craw’s Nest Tassie ( golf tournament – and there are still large numbers of crows in the area.


Many bodies have been uncovered from mediaeval times in the Carnoustie area, many of them who seem to have been slain in battle with limbs hacked off. In the 16th Century Raphael Hollinshed claimed that the bodies were those of the Danes killed in the Battle of Barry. However, later evidence uncovered by historians in the 19th century showed many of these graves to be of Pictish origin, and likely belonged to those living in the area, with battles between Picts and Scots a common affair.

Sadly all that remains of the battle are these stories, which, due to becoming lost in time, the battle itself is now regarded to be apocryphal (of doubtful authenticity, although widely circulated as being true). No other written evidence of Camus exists, and it is likely to be a misunderstanding of the name ‘Camuston’ which was a village in the area at that time. The Camus Cross was also later discovered to be a Pictish era monument, likely named for the nearby village. A burial was found near the Camus Cross in the 17th century, believed to be that of Camus himself. The skeleton was described as huge with a sword wound on the back of the head the likely cause of death. What was found here was supposedly taken to Brechin Castle at the time, but little other information remains.

Whether the details of the battle are correct, there can be no doubt that Vikings visited the area, and it was unlikely that no blood was shed. The legend of the battle lives strong in the tales and stories of the area, and maybe next time a flock of crows flies overhead, you just might wonder if the Norse gods are still angry at the loss of their fearless warrior.

Long before the city of Dundee arose, the land around the Tay estuary was the site of many a battle and skirmish. There is evidence showing the Law being used as a fort back to the Iron Age, and remains from Roman times can also be found…but evidence of any long-ago fought battles is lost to us.

The earliest referenced battle fought on these lands was the “Great Battle” where Alpin lost his head to the Picts in 836. The Battle of Pitalpin was fought in the Liff area, to the west of what was the village of Pitalpin; a small village named because it was the resting place or ‘pit’ of Alpin.

This story of King Alpin battling the Picts is something of a legend in Dundee’s history, with conflicting accounts on the exact date, and even the location of the battle. Many records and important details of Scottish history were lost in the many wars of independence as well as invasions, particularly from Edward I, as though seeking to quash any ideas of an independent Scotland by erasing its history.

We’ll choose to go with the account taken from ‘The History of Dundee’ by James Thompson, published in 1847 and available here ( in full text.

In 836, Scotland was not the united nation we know today, and was divided roughly into the Scots, who were Gaelic people on the west, the Picts who claimed the land from the firth of Forth northwards, the Scots of Dál Riata (the west coast), the Britons of Alt Clut (Strathclyde) and the Anglian kingdom of Bernicia (southern Scotland and Northern England).


Alpin was King of the Scots, but was also the grandson to Hungus, King of Pictland, and thus he laid claim to their kingdom. The Picts themselves chose another King, Brude, after King Alpin had invaded their land, laying waste and exercising great cruelty to the Pictish people, ‘spairing sex nor age’ in his bloodshed while invading the Lothian region.

Brude gathered a great army, and crossed the river Tay at the castle of Caledonia (Dunkeld) marching towards Angus to meet Alpin in battle. He met Alpin who had a force of 20,000 scots in the fields where Liff and Camperdown now sit. Initially Alpin witnessed the forces meeting from the top of the Law. It was recorded that ‘With much blood was it fought for many hours together’ till Alpin joined his army, and with great force gave a fresh charge on his enemies. It was this final charge which was to be his undoing.

The story goes that, seeing defeat, the King fled towards the coast to escape, while the Scots escaped into the mountains, leaving the Picts victorious that day. As Brude was determined to capture Alpin, he raced after him. When enquiring in which direction the king fled, he was pointed towards the coast, and this direction became known as the Kingsway, which is now of course a dual carriageway running through Dundee. The Picts did indeed capture the king and beheaded him, leaving the body behind and carrying his head to their city of Camelon where they mounted his head upon a pole in the middle of their city. These were gruesome days indeed.


It has been suggested that the site of the beheading was on the very stone where Alpin raised the standard, a stone which can still be found today in the grounds of Camperdown. However some have speculated that this would have been an unsuitable place to easily behead someone.

While excavating the land around Dryburgh, a mound was excavated and found to contain a skeleton which was thought to be King Alpin’s body – minus the head of course. There is some evidence to suggest the graves found here were the resting places of important individuals as only the great and powerful were buried with much care and using material such as flagstone slabs for interment.

In the ninth century the Scots and Picts combined under the House of Alpin to form a single Kingdom of Alba, with a Pictish base and dominated by Gaelic culture. Brude had been killed by a Viking invasion, and in the confusion of succession, and no doubt through several more battles and conquests, Alpin’s son Kenneth, became the King of Alba (though not referred to as such until later), and his legacy was being the forebearer of a dynasty of rulers who ruled Scotland for much of the medieval period.

Dundee was certainly a pivotal city in the life of William Wallace, he was certainly educated here and did reclaim the city from the English during the wars of independence. But did he in fact, strike his first blow in the war that was to shape his life, here in Dundee? The story starts in 1288, when Wallace was finishing his education in Dundee. It was in this year that Edward I, and English King, seized control of Scotland and took over many of the cities castles, including the Castle of Dundee.

These events must have affected the young Wallace, as we know he fought against the English and that he had a temper. Unfortunately much of what we know about Wallace’s deed come from poems and folklore, written many decades or centuries after. Blind Harry, also known as Henry the Minstrel, is renowned as the author of The Wallace. This was a lengthy poem recounting the life of William Wallace, written around 1477, or 172 years after Wallace’s death. Here’s the section on Wallace’s first kill.

And with disdain, said, “Scot, I pray thee stay; what devil clad thee in a suit so gay? A horse’s mantle was thy king to wear, And a Scots whittle at thy belt to bear, Rough roullion shoes, or any common trash, Did serve such whore’s sons through the dubs to plash; Give me that knife under thy girdle hings.” “Nay, pardon me, sir, I know better things; Therefore forbear, I earnestly entreat; It both defends me, and it cuts my meat.” Selby assaults him, and would take it by force, And so the plea went on from bad to worse. Fast by the collar Wallace did him take, Made the young squire tremble there and shake, His dagger with the other hand drew out, In spite of all his men so throng about, And boldly without fear or dread Upon the spot he stick’d young Selby dead

Fleeing the scene, Wallace set off from the Hawkhill, where the incident supposedly took place, and followed the Perth Road and eventually arrived in Longforgan where he rested upon a stone outside a cottage. The stone was preserved by the farmer’s descendants for nearly six hundred years, and is how housed in the McManus Galleries.

So clearly there are many believers in the story, since the stone has been kept, and a plaque bears the site of Wallace’s first blow for independence at the former location of Dundee castle. But did it really happen? As with so many stories from so long ago, we’ll never know the full truth. Do you believe?

In 16th century Scotland, a series of riots began to unfold along the East coast. Believed to have started in Fife, the riots quickly escalated and involved hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of angry protestors. Shipping ports were raided by weapon-wielding locals who assaulted crew members and destroyed grain-exporting ships. Granary deposits, warehouses and stores were broken into and their contents stolen as dozens of men, women and children fought for their ill-gotten supplies. The reasons behind the riots were not so much about the cost of grain, but more to do with the perceived shortage of it, as we continued to export it in massive quantities, often leaving very little for those at home.

The fact that the riots around this time featured in predominantly Jacobean-supported towns and burghs lends itself to the opinion that perhaps the riots were not so much about the fear of food shortages, and perhaps had more to do with the idea that people were opposed to trading our supplies with those who did not support the Jacobite cause. Whilst there is no evidence to directly support this, it is a widely-believed theory, and one which casts a different light on the proceedings at that time.

Anyone standing in the way of the rioters were beaten, and, in some extreme cases, killed. In Dundee, alarmed traders and officials called upon armed forces to attempt to quell the rabble after extensive damage was caused to ships, storehouses and shops. In their efforts to gain the upper hand, troops fired upon the rioters, causing at least one reported death. The Riot Act had been formed, declaring that any group of twelve or more people, deemed to be unlawfully assembled, were required to disperse or face punitive action.

Meal riots were not uncommon, and were not restricted to Scotland, hence the introduction of the Act in 1714. However, the proclamation of the Act itself was not without peril, as it required local officials to read aloud the conditions of the Act to the rioters, giving them one hour to disband or face punishment of death. The problems with the implementation of Act were many: in the first instance, it was difficult to find officials who were brave enough in the smaller districts to stand and read the Act to the rioters. Secondly, trying to shout over a screaming, rioting rabble of people was sometimes impossible. Thirdly, the part of the Act which was to be read was sometimes never read in full, allowing for those convicted to appeal their case and return to their communities without charge. Adding to this, and probably the most frustrating aspect for those trying to police the riots was that it was very difficult to round up every single suspected rioter, meaning that many walked away without apprehension or charge.

Attempts were made, however, to make “examples” of some of the apprehended rioters, and those unfortunate enough to be sentenced were “transported” out of the country for years at a time. In more extreme cases, some were never allowed to return. It must be noted that capital sentencing was never actually carried out, despite repeated threats of the death sentence. Thomas Gilkie, an influential Dundee rioter, along with others from surrounding areas found himself stripped of his burgess-ships and was banned from trading within his locality.

The wording that had to be read out to the assembled gathering was as follows:

“Our Sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the Act made in the first year of King George the First for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies.

God Save the King!”

What made matters worse was that, if, for any reason, the paper on which the Act was written was stolen or damaged during the reading, it was deemed that the Act was never read, and the rioting continued.
To this day many jurisdictions that have inherited the tradition of English common law and Scots law still employ statutes that require police or other executive agents to deliver an oral warning, much like the Riot Act, before an unlawful public assembly may be forcibly dispersed.

Because the authorities were required to read the proclamation that referred to the Riot Act before they could enforce it, the expression “to read the Riot Act” entered into common language as a phrase meaning “to reprimand severely”, with the added sense of a stern warning. The phrase remains in common use in the English language.

On 4th December, 1816, there was yet another meal riot in Dundee, described at the time by Sheriff Duff as “one of the greatest in modern times”. For four days, a mob raged through the town, robbing and pillaging as they went, causing untold damage to people and property.

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. Dundee was completely walled-in at that time – viewed by many as one of the safest towns in the country – and was a rich, thriving community. Dundee was home to the largest gold depository in Scotland and the majority of the wealth of many viscounts and earls lay nestled within its confines. A previous warning from General Monck to the people of Dundee for their surrender was met with refusal, and he was greatly angered by this.

Legend says children from Dundee knew a secret way in and out of the town and had revealed to Moncks’ troops that the Dundee garrison had a habit of being drunk by lunchtime, so Monck attacked sometime in the morning of 1st September. A different theory offers that it may not have been a local child who helped Monck, but, in fact a short, child-like man employed by the bloodthirsty General to infiltrate the games of the town’s children in an attempt to glean vital information without arousing suspicion. Upon forcing entry, Monck promised his troops 24 hours free licence to loot and pillage the besieged town. Monck quickly lost control of his troops, and, as a result, the killing and looting went on for 3 days or more.

The town’s defenders were rounded up and massacred without mercy. The town was pillaged, set on fire, women raped and men, women and children put to the sword in a killing frenzy. The Governor of Dundee, Robert Lumsden was executed, beheaded and then had his head placed on a spike, which was then displayed from the parapets of the Steeple.
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.

Some say the once wealthy and prosperous town never fully recovered. The English Army occupied Dundee for 9 years after the siege, and we still walk today over the bodies of those fallen in this bloodiest of Dundee battles, buried in mass graves underneath the streets of our city centre.

Many have tried to find the loot, but all have failed. Perhaps the strong currents have washed the wrecked ships and treasure with it further away, perhaps the quick moving sands on the sea bed have already buried the treasure far below the surface. Whatever the fate of the fleet who ransacked Dundee, their actions left our city ravaged; forever changed by the deeds of Monck and his terrible army.

The following is a short extract from a diary of proceedings we found at, which gives a small insight into what happened during what could be Dundee’s bloodiest and darkest days:

Sept. 1. About 4 o’clock in the morning our great guns began to play before Dundee round about the line. The enemy for two or three hours answered us gun for gun, besides small shot from their works, til such time as large breaches were made in two of their most considerable forts… Mr. Hane the engineer played the mortar piece…

Three hundred horse and dragoons, being eleven of [each?] troop, were appointed to fall on with the foot with sword and pistol. Our men were drawn forth in ambuscades by daybreak to fall upon when breaches were made, and with them 200 seamen who had their posts assigned, and 400 horse appointed to second them mounted…

Capt. Hart led on the forlorn of Lt. General Monck’s regiment on the west side, Major Robinson the horse, and Col. Ashfield’s regiment went on the east side. Capt. Ely led on the Pioneers [engineer troops] who made way for the horse [through the breaches], and the Lt. General went in person. Our word was “God with us,” and the sign a white cloth or shirt hanging out behind.

About 11 o’clock the signal was given, and breaches being made into the enemy’s forts on the east and west sides of the town, our men entered, and after about half an hour of hot dispute, diverse of the enemy retreated to the church and steeple, and amongst the rest the Governor, who was killed with between four and five hundred soldiers and townsmen…

There was killed of ours Capt. Hart and about 20 soldiers, and as many wounded.

When our men got to the marketplace they gave quarter, and took about 500 prisoners, and amongst the rest Col. Coningham, Governor of Sterling, who was in the town with many of his soldiers which marched thence [after their surrender August 14].

The soldiers had the plunder of the town for all that day and night, and had very large prize, many inhabitants of Edinburgh and other places having sent their ware and gear thither.

There were about 60 [or 190] sail of ships in the harbor of 10, 6, and 4 guns, which were all prize; about 40 pieces of ordnance, many arms and store of ammunition…

By the best testimony we could get, the townspeople were most obstinate against a rendition on terms, being confident of their own works and strength, having formerly beat out Montrose, but they have now most suffered for it, and paid dearly for their contempt.

Sept. 2. Proclamation was made by the Lt. General that the soldiers should forbear further plundering or rifling of the houses in Dundee, and order given to the inhabitants to bury the dead.

The following text is the Act of Parliament for additional voluntary contributions to help with rebuilding the town from the aftermath:

Act of parliament, in favour of the Burgh of Dundee, for a voluntary contribution, in respect of the loss incurred at the Storming of the Town and destruction of the Walls, dated 23rd December, 1669
At Edinburgh the twentie-third day of December, one thousand six hundreth threescore nyne years: The King’s Majestie and Estates of Parliament takeing to their consideration the loyaltie, affection, and fidelitie of the Burgh of Dundie to His Majestie’s service, and that in September 1651 the samen was stormed and taken violently by the Usurpers, and their town plundered, with the loss of many lyves; and the great loss latelie sustained by the said Burgh & inhabitants thereof through the breaches made upon their Walls from their hospitall to the seagateport, and upon the harbour & bulwark to the utter demolishing thereof and loss of several of their ships, goods, and vessels, occassioned by the great storm and tempest of wether in the month of October lastly past, so that besides their losses sustained by them in their private fortunes, one hundreth thousand pund Scots will not repair their publick losses, Whereby the said Burgh and Inhabitants thairof are rendered unable to repair the said harbour without some supplie be granted to them for that effect. Therefore his King’s Majestie, with advice and consent of his Estates of Parliament, doe seriously Recommend the condition of the said burgh of Dundie to the archbishops, Bishops, and Ministers of the gospel, and all incorporations within the kingdome, for a free and voluntary contribution, to be gathered for the help and supplie of the said Burgh towards the reparation of their harbours and bulwark; And Recommends to them to order and direct the fittest and best way of contributing thairof, and that the samen may be delivered to any person who shall be entrusted by the Provost, Baillies, and Councill of the said burgh of Dundie having their Commission to receive the said contribution. – Extracted furth of the Records of Parliament by me, Sir Archibald Primrose of Thestor, Knight & Barronet, Clerk of his Majestie’s Councill Registers and Rolls.
A. Primrose, Clk. Reg