The Battle of St Monans of 1548

08 June 2017
Newark-Castle-2372-64549.jpg Newark Castle, Fife
Author Leonard Low explores the evidence for a sixteenth-century battle between Scots and English which is little documented in historical sources.

The Battle of St Monans doesn’t exist in any military credits of Scottish history? This is mighty peculiar! A fight between the Scots and English in which the Scots heavily defeated the invaders to our coast, would usually be celebrated by monuments and scriptures celebrating the victorious heroes who fought it. But none exists….

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When we find that 900 died, that’s more than the Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s (Bonnie Prince Charlie) two victories 200 years later at Prestonpans and Falkirk. Both these conflicts have memorials and countless books on the battles. And the combatants were the High Admiral of England and James Stewart (Mary Queen of Scots’ half brother) who are major players in our country’s history.

Researching the battle

I made it my goal to unearth this mystery, and find why history this rich has been so forgotten; to write a history of what details are known and the reasons why the battle is so lost to history.

It took two years, but my first clue to this mystery was an author writing in the 1700s. James Anderson, researching for his three volume book on Mary Queen of Scots, makes an apology - in his research through the records and archives he found great  tracts of files missing for the years of 1548, 1550,1551. The villain for these deeds is no less than Oliver Cromwell!

In 1650 Cromwell transported all the Scottish records to the safekeeping of the Tower of London where they remained for ten years until he was replaced by King Charles II.

Shipwreck tragedy

The records were returned to Scottish shores, but disaster struck when a ship sank near Newcastle, taking 85 barrels of records. It took the records of 1548, 1550 and 1551 and among the losses were details of the Battle of St Monans.

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Further research shows that the leaders from both sides in the St Monans conflict would all be dead within a few years of the conflict. Admiral Seymour was beheaded and James Stewart assassinated.

Also, to add insult to the Battle of St Monans’ history, the nearby Abbey of St Monans on the battleground itself, would naturally been where the victors thanked and praised God for such an unexpected victory against fearsome odd. It was ransacked during the 1560 reformation of the church….again more records would have been lost.

It is due to two very rare books that the battle has been intimately documented, both books feature the testimony of men who were good friends of James Stewart or took part in some of the action themselves. The History of Scotland by John Lesley (1830) and The History of Scotland by Robert Lindsay (Pittscottie) from 1778 are two old books which give details of the battle.

The John Lesley book was written by hand, in French as a gift to Mary Queen of Scots in 1571 and after her death it was collected by Lord Melville and remained in his library till the Bannatyne Club in 1829 published 100 copies of the book in English.

Because of the details I have given, and the rarities of the two books that tell the story of the Battle of St Monans, I have pieced the conflict from its beginnings and the intimate details of the fight, asd well as the sad futures of those who fought.

For the first time the whole affair is put forward for the reader to access a piece of lost history and a significant Scots victory. But above all the reader must imagine how much more of our history is lost, sitting in a wreck with 85 barrels at the bottom of the sea!

About the author

Leonard Low is the author of The Battle of St Monans, published by Steve Savage Publishers at £9.95. To order a copy, visit the website.