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The Military System in East Lothian 1600 – 1790

The Regiment of East Lothian

Scotland’s ancient method of raising armies persisted into the seventeenth century. When a proclamation was issued by Crown or Government, the men of the county would muster and form a regiment within the Scottish host.

The muster was in two parts – foot and horse. The foot, the Regiment of East Lothian, in principal comprised all lieges or ‘fencible persons’ (the origin of a term used in regimental titles in the succeeding century) between the ages of 60 to 16 with their ‘best arms’. The second part, a regiment of horse, was drawn from ‘heritors, liferenters and wadsetters’ – essentially the well-to-do, landowning and holding class.

This conscript force began to take on more in the nature of a regular army by the middle of the century. In 1639 communities were mandated to contribute, often by ballot, a quota only to the regiment, the total to be raised being set by the Government. The regiment was in almost continuous existence from March 1639 to February 1647 as part of Alexander Leslie’s Covenanter army of Scotland. It served as part of that army in England and participated in several pitched battles.

Observations of the strength of the Regiment of East Lothian in this period vary between 400 to more than 1000. They were equipped with the pike, stiffened with a few musketeers.  Colonels include Sir Patrick Hepburn of Waughton, his son (John) being then lieutenant-colonel, and Sir Adam Hepburn of Humbie.

In 1650, at a time of great crisis, the army of Scotland was in the field on home ground. Oliver Cromwell, who had once fought in partnership with the Scots, had led an English army across the Border. The Scottish general in the field, David Leslie, successfully contained the threat but as the centre of the action was East Lothian, the regiment was unable to muster (although elements may have been in action at Musselburgh and Tantallon). Thus it was not present at the great defeat inflicted by Cromwell on Leslie at Dunbar.

James VII attempted to raise an army in Scotland in September 1688, of which the Regiment of East Lothian under Sir James Hay of Limplum was to be part. But the time of levied regiments was past and it was the embryonic regiments of the British army that fought out the final battles of the Glorious Revolution in Scotland.

Few details are known about East Lothian’s military contributions in the seventeenth century. However, there are indications that salient information is hidden within archival Kirk and burgh records. Some of the detail above was gleaned from here and here. There are copies available at Local History and Archives in the John Gray Centre.

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