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Cleanse the Causeway



causewayThe skirmish known as Cleanse the Causeway, or Clear the Causeway, took place in the High Street of Edinburgh, Scotland, on April 30, 1520, between rivals James Hamilton, 1st Earl of Arran, chief of Clan Hamilton, and Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, chief of Clan Douglas.

The skirmish was the result of enmity between the House of Hamilton and the "Red" Angus line of the House of Clan Douglas, both powerful noble families jealous of each other's influence over King James V. The Hamiltons, led by Sir Patrick Hamilton of Kincavil, half-brother of the Earl of Arran, and Sir James Hamilton of Finnart, the earl's bastard son, attempted to apprehend the Earl of Angus, and prompted a street fight.

The Earl of Arran had become Lord Provost of Edinburgh in 1517 and head of the King’s Council. In a dispute over the sale of a cargo of timber from a Dutch ship, he had sided with Leith merchants over the Edinburgh burgesses. The Leithers, supported by Robert Barton, had ignored any of the rights of the burgesses, but Arran still gave them his support, enraging the Edinburgh traders. During the skirmish, the burgesses of Edinburgh saw the opportunity for revenge, and took the side of Angus.

the Hamiltons were led by Sir Patrick Hamilton of Kincavil, illegitimate son of James Hamilton, 1st Lord Hamilton and half-brother of the Earl of Arran, and Patrick's nephew, Sir James Hamilton of Finnart, illegitimate son of the Earl of Arran. Sir Patrick had previously won notoriety in a duel with a French mercenary, John Coupante, some years earlier in Edinburgh castle, where, despite being unhorsed, he had forced the Frenchman to yield. He was renowned for his hot temper and love of a good fight and he was the spark in this particular powder keg.

Spurred on by Sir James Hamilton of Finnart, Patrick made his way onto the High Street in a furious rage accompanied by his men and ran straight into the Earl of Angus - the brawl began. In each road and alley way Hamiltons and Douglas set about battling each other with "bill and spear, sword and knife". Douglas’s ransacked known Hamilton safe houses, setting them alight in an attempt to smoke out those inside. In the panic, chaos and frenzy it was almost impossible for anyone to prove allegiance to either Hamilton or Douglas before being assaulted or killed. Many fled the city to escape the fighting, others barricaded their doors and hoped to be spared the fighting that followed in the alleyways and streets all the way up what is now the Royal Mile.

Although they instigated the fight, it went badly for the Hamiltons, and Sir Patrick Hamilton and about 70 others were killed in the incident, though some records record up to 300 deaths. The Earl of Arran and Sir James were able to fight their way out, escaping along a narrow close and stealing a nearby pack-horse  that had come into the city with coals before fleeing through the shallows of the Nor Loch marshes. The Earl of Angus sent out trumpeters to issue an ultimatum to the remaining Hamiltons to leave the city and over 800 horsemen took advantage of this, leaving the city in disgrace. By nightfall, the Douglases had control of the city and the castle.


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Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024