Blast from past


• Bloody siege at port lasted from 1559 to 1560

• Cannonball may have been fired at French troops

• Open day being held at site this weekend


"These excavations have proven to be of enormous significance in our understanding of the development of the port of Leith and for post-medieval trade and industry within the town." - Council archaeologist JOHN LAWSON.

STORY IN FULL IT was the scene of a bloody battle where thousands of occupying French troops were attacked by a unique alliance of Scots and English forces.

The Siege of Leith, from 1559 to 1560, led to the Treaty of Edinburgh, the eventual fall of the Catholic Church in Scotland and the end of the Franco-Scottish Alliance.

Now experts have uncovered a cannonball in a Leith construction site which they believe may have been fired during the bitter battle.

Archaeologists discovered the cannonball - which dates back to at least the 16th century - while carrying out an extensive excavation of a site in Giles Street.

It is believed it could have been fired as the English forces, under the orders of Queen Elizabeth I, joined with the Scots to fight French troops who refused to leave the fortress.

The excavations link two of Leith’s early streets, Giles Street and St Andrew’s Street. Their 16th-century remains have almost entirely disappeared in the wake of slum clearance and redevelopment.

Other unusual objects discarded on the 3500sq m site over the centuries include an anchor or grappling iron, a bone toothbrush, cheap copper cufflinks, a ring and even a coconut shell, which in the 19th century would have been regarded as an exotic item.

Experts from Headland Archaeology moved on to the site following the demolition of warehouses to make way for almost 80 luxury one and two-bedroom flats by developer Barratt.

Council archaeologist John Lawson said the discoveries provided a fascinating insight into life and the economy of Leith, which was fortified and garrisoned by French troops under the Queen Regent, Mary of Guise in the 1550s.

"These excavations have proven to be of enormous significance in our understanding of the development of the port of Leith and for post-medieval trade and industry within the town."

The siege greatly impacted on Scotland’s history and sealed the Protestant faith’s grip on the country.

The French had sent thousands of men to Leith during the English-French war to help the Scots drive out an English garrison in Inchkeith that was creating havoc with shipping in the Forth.

They soon succeeded in destroying the garrison and slaying the commander of the English troops, but it became clear they had no intention of going home again.

Even after the English encampments in Scotland packed up and went home, the 3000 troops of the French garrison and their wives and families refused to move.

By 1559, the people of Edinburgh had had enough and, led by the Protestant Lords of the Congregation, 12,000 people set out to clear the French from their fortified positions - to no avail.

They turned to Queen Elizabeth of England who sent an English fleet and troops to reinforce the siege.

The siege finally ended in 1560 with the Treaty of Edinburgh, under which the French agreed to go home and destroy the fortifications in Leith.

Ironically, a year later, Mary Queen of Scots arrived from France at the very spot where the siege took place to mount a challenge to Elizabeth for the English throne.

Harbour councillor Gordon Munro said: "I am thrilled that the public will have the chance to view the work in progress."

Excavation of the site is expected to continue for around two weeks with an open day there planned for Sunday, from 11am.

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