Edinburgh – 1544

In May 1544 an English army gathered on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Led by the Earl of Hertford (brother to Henry VIII’s third wife Jane Seymour) the English had orders to ‘burn Edinburgh town’, and leave the Scottish capital ‘so razed and defaced’ that ‘there may remain forever a perpetual memory of the vengeance of God’.

Fortunately for the residents of Edinburgh, the English failed to fully achieve their aims. A combination of Edinburgh’s natural geographic advantages, and determined defence by gunners based at the Castle, frustrated much of the English efforts. After harrying the Scottish capital for less than two weeks Hertford’s forces withdrew.

The English claimed that following their assaults on Edinburgh ‘neither within the walls nor in the suburbs was left any one house unburnt beside the innumerable bodies, pillages and spoils that our soldiers brought from thence’. The reality was probably more complicated. Although Holyrood and the Canongate seem to have sustained significant damage, the extent of destruction in the heart of the burgh of Edinburgh is debatable.

The Edinburgh 1544 Project reconstructs the appearance of the Scottish capital on the eve of these momentous events. Inspired by a drawing in the British Library made by the English military engineer Richard Lee (who accompanied Hertford’s expedition, and took part in the sack of Holyrood), the reconstruction visualises the historic burghs of Edinburgh and the Canongate as they may have appeared just before Hertford’s forces arrived.

You can explore the groundbreaking reconstruction of sixteenth-century Edinburgh both via this website, and our Virtual Time Binoculars, a new virtual reality app for iOS and android devices.

The Canmore entry for Edinburgh Canongate is here.