When central Edinburgh became a battleground between two rival clans

Bloody ‘Cleanse the Causeway’ skirmish of 1520 claimed the lives of at least 70 clansmen

Friday, 11th September 2020, 12:30 am
On 30 April 1520, an intense battle broke out on the streets of Edinburgh between Clan Hamilton and Clan Douglas and their supporters.

United through ancestral bloodlines, the clans, Douglas and Hamilton, are today interwoven.

Only the strict laws of the Lyon Court concerning surnames prevent Alexander Douglas-Hamilton, the current chief of Clan Hamilton, from also assuming the chiefship of Clan Douglas.

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Wind the clock back precisely 500 years, however, and relations between the Lowland clans, two of Scotland's most ancient and noble, were volatile and fierce, the blood between them bad. So bad it would claim the lives of around 70 men on either side on one fateful day.

On 30 April 1520, a bloody skirmish broke out on the streets of medieval Edinburgh between rivals James Hamilton, 1st Earl of Arran, chief of Clan Hamilton, and Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, chief of Clan Douglas.

Referred to as Cleanse the Causeway, the fighting was the result of a protracted monarchical struggle between the two rival houses, both angling for supremacy within the court of the infant King James V of Scotland.

Desperate to put an end to the regal influence of the House of Douglas, a plot was hatched by Sir Patrick of Hamilton and Sir James Hamilton of Finnart, the Earl of Arran's bastard son, to apprehend the Earl of Angus.

The charge was lit when the Earl of Arran, who had assumed the role of Lord Provost of Edinburgh three years earlier, entered into a dispute with the Edinburgh burgesses over the sale of a cargo of Dutch timber.

Aligning himself with the merchants of Leith, Arran invoked the fury of the Edinburgh traders, who duly approached the Earl of Angus with the intention of gaining their revenge.

The vengeful feud reached its zenith on the last day of April as hours of intense fighting between Clan Hamilton, Clan Douglas and their supporters engulfed the slopes of Edinburgh famous Royal Mile and nearby closes.

The cleansing of the causeway did not end well for the House of Hamilton. Among the 70 or so deceased was Sir Patrick of Hamilton, whose life, it is said, was taken by the Earl of Angus himself.

Clan Hamilton chief the Earl of Arran and his illegitimate son, Sir James, managed to survive the skirmish. The defeated pair broke free of the melee down a close and fled away from Edinburgh across the marshes of the Nor' Loch on a stolen pack horse.

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