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Preserving the Past for the Future

Eyemouth Fort comes back to life


Eyemouth Fort, Berwick, is regarded as the first 'Trace Italienne' fortification in Britain. The local museum has launched an interactive exhibit where visitors are able to watch a guided tour of the fort and 'play' the fort via an Xbox controller!

Visitors view the Fort's history through the 'War of the Rough Wooing' - the attempt by Henry VIII to force a marriage between his son, Edward, and the infant Mary of Scotland.

Eyemouth fort

Simplified layout with English work in red and French in blue
Small peninsula (to left with cannon) a weakness as opposing force could mount guns to batter fort
English - cramped casements and restricted field for gunloops
French - plenty of room and walls flanked by heavy weapons in bastions

 

See more at the University of St Andrews Virtual Histories Project website. Click here to view a virtual representation of how the fort may have looked in 1557.

Fort of 1547

Henry VIII was not a man to be trifled with and, when the Scots refused his offer of marriage and a political union, he declared war but died in January 1547 before hostilities could begin. His 9-year-old son became King and the boy's uncle, Edward Seymour, newly created Duke of Somerset and Protector, continued the late King's policy.

Eyemouth harbour

The high rocky peninsula viewed from the harbour

On 'Black Friday', 10th September 1547, Somerset won an overwhelming victory over the Scots at the Battle of Pinkie. Still, the Scots would not agree to the marriage and Somerset resolved to remain in Scotland until they did so. Having failed to capture either Edinburgh or Dunbar Castles, he hit upon Eyemouth as a suitable place to garrison.

Eyemouth gate

The small peninsula which lay outside the English fort's defences

Here was a site just one day's march from Berwick. A narrow, elevated peninsula, jutted into the sea and overlooked the harbour; only the landward side required fortification. Somerset, with his knowledge of Italian fortification, constructed a massive, single bastion at the neck of the peninsula, but it was a flawed design. Notably it could not be flanked, the gun rooms were cramped; the sight lines restricted and a nearby peninsula offered a gun platform to any attacking force.

Eyemouth peninsula

Approach to the English gate with Somerset's high bastion high on left

Eyemouth wall

Outer face of French wall with eroded bastion to left and ditch in front

By January 1548, the fort was complete but to no purpose. The war had taken on a momentum that Somerset could never have imagined. The French landed at Leith to support the Scots and fought him to a standstill. Mary was in France where she was to marry the Dauphin. His policy in tatters, the war was over and it was time to go home. Somerset did not last long, he was beheaded in 1552.

Eyemouth gate ditch

French gate with wall and ditch to left and right of it - the English works are hidden behind rampart

Fort of 1557

War resumed in 1557 and, this time, it was the French who occupied Eyemouth. They rebuilt the fort and added a new curtain wall flanked with bastions to the front of Somerset's work.

This was a marked improvement as the fort was increased in size; the curtain wall was flanked; heavier weapons could be mounted and the problem of the nearby peninsula was solved simply by enclosing it within the new works.

The English made no attempt to capture the fort and by 1560 the war was over. Both the English and the French returned to their respective countries and, by treaty, Eyemouth Fort was pulled down.

Eyemouth battery

Two gun battery installed in the 1860s as harbour defence against the French!
Figure in red braving the cold wind is SCA member Annick McGarrigle, who, very aptly, happens to be French!


Article by SCA member Brian McGarrigle


Date posted: 16 Mar 2015Last updated: 16 Jul 2015