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Making the Union: Scottish Royalists and the British Civil War

Painting of Charles II greeting his Scottish troops at the Battle of Worcester available from this page.

In part 3 of our series "Making the Union", which looks at the British Civil War (1638-1660), we remember the Scottish Royalist forces who fought to put Charles II on the throne of Great Britain.


In 1644, when Charles I was still on the throne, the Scottish Covenanters were allied with the English Parliamentarians. A combined Covenanter and Parliamentarian army – led by Alexander Leslie, Earl of Leven – besieged York. The city was held by Sir Thomas Fairfax and pro-Charles Royalists.

Royalist forces were sent up to relieve the city, led by Prince Rupert of the Rhine, but they were to lose on the 2 July 1644 at the Battle of Marston Moor, thought to be one of the largest battles fought on British soil.

It was at this Battle that Oliver Cromwell distinguished himself as a cavalry commander.

REGICIDE OF CHARLES I – 30 January 1649

On 30 January in 1649, Charles I was beheaded at Whitehall.

On 5 February 1649, 6 days later, the Covenanter Parliament of Scotland proclaimed his son Charles II "King of Great Britain, France and Ireland".

However, they refused to allow him to enter Scotland unless he accepted their Presbyterian terms.

Note they proclaimed him "King of Great Britain, France and Ireland". That is, a body with (arguably) the authority to do so, pronounced him King of all these realms.

Therefore, the idea that Britain was a republic between the execution of Charles I and the restoration of Charles II in England on 29 May 1660 is not entirely correct when viewed from this perspective.

There was still a King who was recognised by many people, albeit a contested one without complete constitutional authority.

Certainly, we can say that Scotland has always been a Monarchy, never a Republic!

The statue of Charles II in Parliament Square which sits beside the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. (Photo by AFFG.)


By 1650, the Scottish Covenanters had grown disillusioned with the English Parliamentarians.

They backed Charles II in the hope that he – in return for their support – would impose their political and religious ideas on the rest of Great Britain.

On 1 May 1650, Charles II signed the Treaty of Breda (the place in the United Netherlands where he was holding court), in which he agreed that in return for the support of the Covenanters and the control of their army, he would unite the Crowns of Scotland, England and Ireland and establish a Presbyterian church in England.

The Covenanters who had previously been fighting alongside Oliver Cromwell and his Parliamentarians and against Charles I, were now fighting alongside Charles II and against Cromwell!

BATTLE OF DUNBAR – 3 September 1650

Charles II arrived in Scotland on the 24 June, and as a consequence, Oliver Cromwell and his Parliamentarians invaded Scotland on 22 July in an attempt to pre-empt a Scottish invasion of England.

David Leslie commanded the Scottish Royalist forces. He pursued Cromwell's forces to Dunbar, but even though his forces outnumbered Cromwell's, he suffered defeat at the Battle of Dunbar on 3 September 1650.

Many of the Scots were taken to Durham Cathedral, where they were imprisoned.

In 2013, the skeletons of between 17 and 28 men were discovered in a mass grave at Durham Cathedral. It is believed they are Scottish soldiers taken prisoner after the Battle of Dunbar.

A Channel 5 programme in 2018, "Britain's Great Cathedrals with Tony Robinson: Durham Cathedral", claimed that Cromwell took "5,000" Scottish prisoners at the Battle of Dunbar, and that "2,000" died on the march south. ["2,000" dying from Dunbar to Durham – approximately 110 miles via road today seems quite unlikely (why would they?) but who knows? Note: We urge caution and advocate maintaining a healthy scepticism regarding estimations of army sizes, and deaths, for historic battles prior to the modern age. Having counted the Scottish nationalist marches, we know from experience the extent to which hugely over-estimated self-serving figures can be written into history by winners or losers – both of whom have an interest in exaggerating the numbers they were up against – or by media and historians who perhaps do not have access to alternative information.]

Charles II was crowned King of Scots at Scone on 1 January 1651.


Exactly one year on from the Battle of Dunbar, on the 3 September 1651, the Battle of Worcester was fought. It was the last major conflict of the British Civil War.

Charles led his Royalist army out of Scotland into England, pursued south by Cromwell. Estimates of the size of the Royalist force differ. Some say "12K", while Wikipedia says "16K" Royalists, and "28K" Parliamentarians. In any case, the majority of the Royalists were Scottish.

Wikipedia says that around "3,000" Royalists were killed during the battle and a further "10,000" were taken prisoner.

Although the Royalists lost, they went down in Worcestershire history with admiration and respect. So much so, that they are known as "The Courageous Scots". There is a museum at Bewdley, where it says that many of them were taken prisoner while trying to cross the River Severn at Bewdley Bridge.

Wikipedia says that around "8,000" Scottish prisoners were deported to New England, Bermuda, and the West Indies to work for landowners as indentured labourers.

The Royalist cavalry was under the command of David Leslie (who fought at Dunbar). He was captured and sent to the Tower of London. He was released on the Restoration of Charles II, and died in 1682.


After the Battle, Charles and a small group of supporters fled north. They journeyed to Stourbridge where the decision was made for Charles to hide out on the Boscobel Estate, further north in Shropshire, owned by Charles Gifford.

It was during his time here, disguised as a farm labourer, that he famously hid in an Oak tree along with Colonel William Carlos, to evade the Parliamentarian troops who had arrived to search the Estate.

This has since given rise to the term "The Royal Oak", the name of many pubs throughout the UK!

He was to remain undetected and was smuggled out of Britain in a coal boat from Shoreham, Sussex on 15 October 1651. Two hours after the ship set sail, Parliamentarians rode into town with orders to arrest "a tall black man, six feet two inches in height". (In those days, a "black man" was the description given to a man with very dark hair.)

King Charles II and Colonel William Carlos in the Royal Oak by Isaac Fuller. (National Portrait Gallery, London.)

CROMWELL'S DEATH – 3 September 1658

After Cromwell's death on 3 September 1658 (Old Style), and with his son unsuited to the role of "Lord Protector", unable to achieve the support of Parliament, and with Parliament unable to reach agreement, it was General George Monck, supreme commander of the armed forces, who would become in control of state affairs in February 1659.


Monck encouraged Charles to issue the "Declaration of Breda" on 4 April 1660 (Old Style, or 14 April New Style). It laid out his commitment to constitutional monarchy, while promising a "free and general pardon" to all his subjects, with exceptions to be agreed with Parliament. (See Documents of the English Reformation 1526-1701, chapter 48 at pp.544-559 at

Note: The Declaration of Breda is to be distinguished from the Treaty of Breda, as above.

The English Parliament assembled on 25 April and on 8 May voted unanimously to pass a declaration stating:

it can no way be doubted but that His Majesty's right and title to his Crowns and Kingdoms is and was every way completed by the death of his most royal father, without the ceremony or solemnity of a proclamation.

Ever since the moment of Charles I's execution Charles II was affirmed to have been:

the most potent and undoubted King of England, Scotland and Ireland

(See "A Proclamation of Both Houses of Parliament, for Proclaiming of His Majesty King of England, Etc." 8 May, 1660.)

For them, it was as if the events since the regicide of his father on 30 January 1649 had never happened and Charles was officially recorded as being in the twelfth year of his reign.

In that sense, they eventually caught up with what the Scottish Parliament had been saying from the start!


When Charles II made a triumphant return to London on his birthday on 29 May 1660 [Old Style], the day would become known as "Oak Apple Day", or "Restoration Day".

In 1660, the English Parliament passed "An Act for a Perpetual Anniversary Thanksgiving on the Nine and Twentieth Day of May" for "keeping of a perpetual Anniversary, for a Day of Thanksgiving to God, for the great Blessing and Mercy he hath been graciously pleased to vouchsafe to the People of these Kingdoms, after their manifold and grievous Sufferings, in the Restoration of his Majesty".

Arguably, the Spring Bank Holiday which occurs at the end of May/beginning of June is a carry-over from this event. In 2023, it falls on 29th May!

Charles II was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 23 April 1661.


Part 3: Scottish Royalists and the British Civil War



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