1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Dunbar
DUNBAR (Gaelic, “the fort on the point”), a royal, municipal and police burgh, and seaport of Haddingtonshire, Scotland. Pop. (1901) 3581. It is situated on the southern shore of the entrance to the Firth of Forth, 29¼ m. E. by N. of Edinburgh by the North British railway. Dunbar is said to have the smallest rainfall in Scotland and is a favourite summer resort. The ruins of the castle, and the remains of the Grey Friars’ monastery, founded in 1218, at the west end of the town, and Dunbar House in High Street, formerly a mansion of the Lauderdales, but now used as barracks, are of historic interest. The parish church, a fine structure in red sandstone, the massive tower of which, 107 ft. high, is a landmark for sailors, dates only from 1819, but occupies the site of what was probably the first collegiate church in Scotland, and contains the large marble monument to Sir George Home, created earl of Dunbar and March by James VI. in 1605. Among other public buildings are the town hall, assembly rooms, St Catherine’s hall, the Mechanics’ institute and library.
There are two harbours, difficult of access owing to the number of reefs and sunken rocks. Towards the cost of building the eastern or older harbour Cromwell contributed £300. The western or Victoria harbour is a refuge for vessels between Leith Roads and the Tyne. On the advent of steam the shipping declined, and even the herring fishery, which fostered a large curing trade, has lost much of its prosperity. The industries are chiefly those of agricultural-implement making, rope-making, brewing and distilling, but a considerable business is done in the export of potatoes. Dunbar used to form one of the Haddington district group of parliamentary burghs, but its constituency was merged in that of the county in 1885.
About 4 m. S.W. is the village of Biel, where, according to some authorities, William Dunbar the poet was born. One mile to the S.E. of the town is Broxmouth Park (or Brocksmouth House), the first position of the English left wing in the battle of 1650, now belonging to the duke of Roxburghe.
The site of Dunbar is so commanding that a castle was built on the cliffs at least as early as 856. In 1070 Malcolm Canmore gave it to Cospatric, earl of Northumberland, ancestor of the earls of Dunbar and March. The fortress was an important bulwark against English invasion, and the town—which was created a royal burgh by David II.—grew up under its protection. The castle was taken by Edward I., who defeated Baliol in the neighbourhood in 1296, and it afforded shelter to Edward II. after Bannockburn. In 1336 it was besieged by the English under William, Lord Montacute, afterwards 1st earl of Salisbury, but was successfully defended by Black Agnes of Dunbar, countess of March, a member of the Murray family. Joanna Beaufort, widow of James I., chose it for her residence, and in 1479, after his daring escape from Edinburgh Castle, the duke of Albany concealed himself within its walls, until he contrived to sail for France. In 1567 Mary made Bothwell keeper of the castle, and sought its shelter herself after the murder of Rizzio and again after her flight from Borthwick Castle. When she surrendered at Carberry Hill the stronghold fell into the hands of the regent Moray, by whom it was dismantled in 1568, but its ruins are still a picturesque object on the hill above the harbour.
The Battle of Dunbar was fought on the 3rd (13th) of September 1650 between the English army under Oliver Cromwell and the Scots under David Leslie, afterwards Lord Newark. It took place about 3 m. S.E. of the centre of the town, where between the hills and the sea coast there is a plain about 1 m. wide, through the middle of which the main road from Dunbar to Berwick runs. The plain and the road are crossed at right angles by the course of the Brocksburn, or Spott Burn, which at first separated the hostile armies. Rising from the right bank of the Brock is Doon Hill (650 ft.), which overlooks the lower course of the stream and indeed the whole field. For the events preceding the battle, see Great Rebellion.
Cromwell, after a war of manœuvre near Edinburgh, had been compelled by want of supplies to withdraw to Dunbar; Leslie pursued and took up a position on Doon Hill, commanding the English line of retreat on Berwick. The situation was more than difficult for Cromwell. Some officers were for withdrawing by sea, but the general chose to hold his ground, though his army was enfeebled by sickness and would have to fight on unfavourable terrain against odds of two to one. Leslie, however, who was himself in difficulties on his post among the bare hills, and was perhaps subjected to pressure from civil authorities, descended from the heights on the 2nd of September and began to edge towards his right, in order first to confront, and afterwards to surround, his opponent. The cavalry of his left wing stood fast, west of Doon Hill, as a pivot of manœuvre, the northern face of Doon (where the ground rises from the burn at an average slope of fifteen degrees and is even steeper near the summit) he left unoccupied. The centre of infantry stood on the forward slope of the long spur which runs east from Doon, and beyond them, practically on the plain, was the bulk of the Scottish cavalry. In the evening Cromwell drew up his army, under 11,000 effective men, along the ravine, and issued orders to attack the Scots at dawn of the 3rd (13th). The left of the Scots was ineffective, as was a part of their centre of foot on the upper part of the hillside, and the English commander proposed to deal with the remainder. Before dawn the English advanced troops crossed the ravine, attacked Doon, and pinned Leslie’s left; under cover of this the whole army began its manœuvre. The artillery was posted on the Dunbar side of the burn, directly opposite and north of Doon, the infantry and cavalry crossed where they could, and formed up gradually in a line south of and roughly parallel to the Berwick road, the extreme left of horse and foot, acting as a reserve, crossed at Brocksmouth House on the outer flank. The Scots were surprised in their bivouacs, but quickly formed up, and at first repulsed both the horse and the foot. But ere long Cromwell himself arrived with his reserve, and the whole English line advanced again. The fresh impulse enabled it to break the Scottish cavalry and repulse the foot, and Leslie’s line of battle was gradually rolled up from right to left. In the words of an English officer, “The sun appearing upon the sea, I heard Nol say, ‘Now let God arise, and let His enemies be scattered,’ and following us as we slowly marched I heard him say, ‘I profess they run.’” Driven into the broken ground, and penned between Doon Hill and the ravine, the Scots were indeed helpless. “They routed one another after we had done their work on their right wing,” says the same officer. Ten thousand men, including almost the whole of the Scottish foot, surrendered, and their killed numbered three thousand. Few of the English were killed. “I do not believe,” wrote Cromwell, “that we have lost twenty men.”
The account of the battle of Dunbar here followed is that of C. H. Firth, for which see his Cromwell, pp. 281 ff. and references there given. For other accounts see Carlyle, Cromwell’s Letters and Speeches, letter cxl.; Hoenig, Cromwell; Baldock, Cromwell as a Soldier; and Gardiner, Hist. of the Commonwealth and Protectorate, vol. i.