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Saturday, 31 May 2014


I’m descended in one branch of my family from the Mudies of Dundee. Their most prominent ancestor is Sir Thomas Mudie, who was Provost of the city from 1648 to 1653 (some sources say 1650-1658).

The Provost is the Scottish equivalent of the Mayor in English towns and cities. The title is a legacy of the so-called auld alliance, the traditionally close relationship between Scotland and France. In France, the prévôt was (before the French Revolution) the man in charge of the administrative and legal affairs of a burgh. The title was adopted in Scotland, where the office-bearer was normally the senior magistrate and leader of a town council.

The present Provost of Dundee, Bob Duncan. The present chain of office dates from 1872; the previous one (perhaps the one worn by Sir Thomas Mudie) was long enough to be coiled several times around the shoulders of the Provost

The Provost was the highest civil authority in the town; the Governor was senior to the Provost, responsible for the town’s military defence. In 1651, during Sir Thomas’s provostship, the Governor was Sir Robert Lumsden. It was Lumsden therefore, and not Mudie, whose duty it was to negotiate with the armies of Oliver Cromwell when they laid siege to Dundee in August that year.

Since the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when James VI of Scotland succeeded Queen Elizabeth and became James I of England, England and Scotland had shared a monarch from a Scottish royal house. The parliaments of the two countries however remained separate and independent.

The House of Stuart: L-R, James VI/I, Charles I, and Charles II – Scottish kings of England

James VI/I was succeeded by his son Charles I; and when the English parliamentarians fought a civil war against King Charles, the Scottish parliament remained royalist in sympathy. When Oliver Cromwell beheaded Charles I, the Scots put their weight behind his son Charles II.

Cromwell was not a man to tolerate dissent. He dispatched the New Model Army under General George Monck, which advanced through Scotland occupying town after town until it reached Dundee in August 1651. In the sweltering heat of a high Scottish summer, they laid siege to the town in an attempt to starve its population into submission.

General Sir George Monck (1608-1670)

Dundee was one of the most securely fortified towns in Scotland. Its walls were so thick that nobles from all over Scotland, and the Scottish parliament itself, kept their money in Dundee rather than in their own castles or towns. So when after two weeks of siege General Monck called on Sir Robert Lumsden to surrender, Sir Robert felt confident enough of his military position to reject the demand outright. Instead he called on Monck to surrender to him, a cheeky move which may have goaded Monck into the ensuing action.

On the morning of the 1st September Monck breached the city walls after a three-hour long bombardment. The New Model Army swarmed in and captured the town within thirty minutes of entering it. Lumsden and his officers were surrounded in the tower of St Mary’s Church and offered honourable terms on which to surrender. They did so and were promptly killed.

The Siege of Dundee, by Charles Gustav Louise Phillips (1924), depicts Sir Robert Lumsden’s last stand in the tower of St Mary’s Church

Monck gave his troops license to rape, loot and murder for twenty four hours, but such was the killing frenzy which possessed them that it took the general three days to bring them back under control. Figures are hard to estimate, but it is said that between a fifth and a third of the population was slaughtered. To this day, excavations in the city centre throw up newly discovered bones.

The town's treasury was loaded onto ships and lost at sea in a storm. The English army remained in Dundee for nine years. Lumsden’s head, still wearing its helmet, was displayed on the church steeple, and according to legend only fell from its perch in 1660 – the year the English soldiers left, the year the monarchy was restored in England and the year Sir Thomas Mudie died.

How did Thomas survive the massacre? Did he hide in his Provost’s mansion in Gray’s Close? Did he collaborate? He remained in office for two, perhaps seven years after Dundee fell. Did his religion save him? Monck had every single Catholic in Dundee put to the sword or stoned to death. But Sir Thomas was a devout Protestant in a town now controlled by a nation in the grip of protestant, puritan zeal. An anti-Catholic pamphlet, probably published in the 1650s, was dedicated to him by its author, the theologian William Guild of Aberdeen:
An ANSWER to a
Popish Pamphlet
made especially out of themselves.
the provost
and other magistrates of Dundee.
With that sort of testimonial, perhaps not even Butcher Monck was confident enough to slay Sir Thomas Mudie.

Gray’s Close, Dundee, in which Thomas Mudie’s Provost’s Mansion once stood (pictured c1925); mansion, close and city walls have all disappeared completely now

1 comment:

  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.


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