THIS week sees the anniversary of two battles that took place just one year apart in the 1650s and made September 3 a red letter day for Oliver Cromwell and a forgettable date for Scotland.

Friday will see the 370th anniversary of the Battle of Worcester which took place on September 3, 1651, and effectively ended the Wars of the Three Kingdoms with a mainly Scottish Royalist force soundly defeated by the Parliamentarian army.

I will go into more detail about that battle later, but exactly a year to the day previously, Oliver Cromwell and his New Model Army destroyed the Scottish forces in the Battle of Dunbar.

The battle happened because after Cromwell had King Charles I executed after a show trial in 1649, the Scots fell out with the Parliamentarian forces’ commander – really that should read dictator – and acclaimed the dead king’s son as King Charles II of Scotland. . The Scottish Government of the time consisted of zealous Presbyterian Covenanters, and Cromwell as a Puritan had some admiration for them, not least because the Covenanter-led Scottish army had once been his allies. Yet he could not tolerate their loyal support for Charles II, who had promised to make Presbyterianism the state religion if he was restored to the throne, and when Charles landed in Scotland in June, 1650, Cromwell persuaded Parliament to let him invade Scotland in a pre-emptive strike to prevent Charles and a Scottish army marching into England. Thomas Fairfax, lord commander of the New Model Army, resigned rather than fight his former allies, so Cromwell himself went north as commander of the Parliamentarian forces – some 10,000 infantry and 5000 horsed troops. The Scots had an experienced general, David Leslie, in charge, but the Covenanters insisted on purging the Scottish Army of some of its best officers and around 4000 soldiers who were not Covenanters, many of them Highlanders. The New Model Army was also bereft of many men – their supply lines had been over-extended and many troops were sick.

Leslie fought a containment campaign around Edinburgh and eventually Cromwell and his disease-ridden troops retired to their main supply base at Dunbar. The idea was that food and ammunition would be imported there by sea, but foul weather put paid to that. A sensible commander would have evacuated his men on an English fleet, but Cromwell stayed put. Leslie, with an army now numbering 25,000, saw the chance of cutting off the main road south to Berwick, and encircled the East Lothian town. He offered battle to Cromwell and the English leader accepted.

Though the Battle of Dunbar is often characterised correctly as an English rout of the Scots, in fact it was a close-run thing for most of the action. The problem for the Scots was that while they had a fine general in Leslie and good officers, their troop numbers consisted of many raw recruits, while the New Model Army was battle-hardened and well drilled.

They had the better leadership, too. The Scots had taken up a very strong position but the Covenanters wanted blood and forced Leslie to march off it.

Cromwell saw the Scots moving on the evening of September 2, and exulted that God had given him the chance to smite his opponents. In the early morning he shouted “now let God arise, and his enemies shall be scattered”, a quote from the Book of Numbers, and launched a fierce attack.

The Scottish army held firm, giving ground very slowly, but Cromwell threw in his reserves and led them on horseback to smash through the Scottish lines. In less than an hour, the Battle of Dunbar was over with 3000 Scots dead and 10,000 captured for the loss of fewer than 100 English troops. Leslie escaped, and managed to march his remining troops north and west.

Cromwell sent his troops up the east coast where they sacked Dundee. Charles II was thus able to rally an army to the west, and his Scottish coronation took place at Scone on January 1, 1651, the last time a monarch was crowned on Scottish soil.

Cromwell’s forces still occupied much of Scotland north of the Forth, but Charles was able to progress down the west coast in a rapid march south. Charles, with Leslie commanding the 16,000-strong Royalist army, the vast majority of whom were Scots, hoped English royalists would join them – they did not – so Charles decided to head down to Worcester where his army was able to rest and recuperate for five days before the fateful day of September 3, 1651.

Cromwell was well prepared however, and had recruited a huge and well-trained militia which enabled him to put 28,000 men into the lines. The early exchanges went in favour of the royalists, especially when a force of Highland clansmen thwarted an attempt by the Parliamentarians to cross a vital bridge.

When Cromwell himself arrived on the scene with three brigades of the New Model Army, sheer weight of numbers told. Charles ordered two sorties against the enemy, and led one himself, but after initial success both the attacks failed, and defeat became inevitable. The royalist retreat broke up in confusion, enabling Cromwell and his forces to capture royalist guns and turn them on the city.

Though he wanted to stay and fight, his officers persuaded Charles to flee the city. Behind him lay 3000 royalist dead, while 8000 Scottish prisoners were deported to America and the West Indies as “indentured servants” – slaves by another name.

Cromwell sent a famous victory message to Parliament: “The dimensions of this mercy are above my thoughts. It is, for aught I know, a crowning mercy.”

Charles II escaped to the Continent, famously via an oak tree.