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Highland Soldiers in France
Taken from the Celtic Magazine


WHEN, in 1690, it became apparent that the cause of the Stuart Dynasty was doomed, a great many Highland gentlemen, the remnant of Dundee's gallant army, went over to France, preferring to serve in a foreign country to living under, what they considered, the rule of an usurper. They were welcomed with avidity by the French King, who stationed them in different towns, and paid them according to the respective ranks they had borne at home.

For some time they served willingly, in the hope that before long they might be needed to fight for their own king; but after a year or two, seeing there was no chance of this, and feeling— whether rightly or wrongly—that they were considered a burden on the French King, they thought it would be better to form themselves into a regiment, and choose their own officers from among their ranks.

They approached King James. with a petition to this effect, and assured him that they were willing to serve as private soldiers, and to undergo any privations if they could only be together and commanded by their own countrymen. The King at first objected, for, while fully recognising their generosity and loyalty, he feared that gentlemen brought up as they had been, would never be able to put up with the disagreeableness and hardships of the life of a private soldier. However, they were unanimous in their desire, and at last the King gave his consent, and appointed Colonel Thomas Brown to be their Captain, Colonel Alexander Gordon and Colonel Andrew Scott to be Lieutenants, and Major James Buchan as Ensign, the rest to be merely private soldiers.

As soon as they were embodied they were ordered to take the route to Catalonia; but before leaving St Germains they were reviewed by James, who made them the following speech:

Gentlemen,—My own misfortunes are not so nigh my heart as yours; it grieves me beyond what I can express, to see so many brave and worthy gentlemen, who had once the prospect of being the chief officers in my army, reduced to the station of private sentinels. Nothing but your loyalty, and that of a few cf my subjects in Britain, who are forced upon their allegiance by the Prince of Orange, and who, I know, will be ready on all occasions to serve me and my distressed family, could make me willing to live. The sense of what all of you have done and undergone for your loyalty hath made so deep an impression on my heart, that if ever it please God to restore me, it is impossible I can be forgetful of your services and sufferings. Neither can there be any posts in the armies of my dominions, but what you have just pretensions to. As for my son, your Prince, he is of your own blood, a child capable of any impression, and as his education will be from you, it is not supposable that he can forget your merits.

At your own desires you are now going a long march, far distant from me; I have taken care to provide you with money, shoes, stockings, and other necessaries. Fear God, and love one another. Write your wants particularly to me, and depend upon it always to find me your Parent and King.

His Majesty then asked each gentleman his name, and wrote it in his pocket book, then taking off his hat with the grace so characteristic of the Stuarts, bade them farewell.

They had to march a distance of some nine hundred miles to Perpignan, in Rousillon, where they were to receive their uniform, and join the French army there encamped.

They began their long march in high spirits, and at every town they passed through they were received with respect by the inhabitants, and were billeted in the best houses. When leaving in the morning they were generally favoured with the presence of the ladies, who, with the ready sympathy of their sex, pitied the condition of these gallant gentlemen, who bore their reverse of fortune with so much equanimity and dignity of manner.

When, however, they had got further into the country, the people did not appear so friendly, most probably from the fact that the French soldiers were unpopular on account or their overbearing and exacting manners. To instance this feeling, once, while crossing a brook, which had been swollen by heavy rains, four of the company were carried down the stream, and only saved themselves from drowning by seizing hold of some bushes, and thus keeping their heads above water, but were unable to regain their footing. Though there were plenty of the country people close at hand, no one would help them, and the poor men had to wait in this unpleasant and dangerous position until their comrades came up to their assistance. Another time, when near the termination of their long march, one of them being billeted on a farmer, was set upon by the man, his wife, and servant, and most unmercifully beaten and ill used. However, on complaint being made to the governor of Rousillon. an aide-de-camp was immediately sent to the gentleman, to beg his pardon in the name and on behalf of the King of France, for the ill-treatment he had sustained, and to assure him that he should have every satisfaction.

Within two days the farmer was arrested, branded in the hand, and banished from France, while the whole of his furniture was carried into the market-place and publicly burnt, as a warning to others to show proper respect to these gentlemen.

On arriving at Perpignan they were drawn up in rank before the house of Lieutenant-General Shaseron, the governor, who re- ceived them with great courtesy, and their appearance so affected the ladies present that they were moved to tears, and privately made up a purse of two hundred pistoles for them.
Here they received their uniform and arms, and these gallant men had now, instead of carrying a half-pike, to shoulder a fire-lock, and exchange cartouch-boxes and haversacks for the garments and sashes they formerly wore. Still they bore all the discomforts of their new life with such dignified patience and manly bearing that they won golden opinions from the French. officers, who treated them rather with the respect due to their former position than to their present humble condition; and a frequent remark among the Frenchmen was that a detachment from all the officers in the French army could not equal this company of exiled Scots.

Now it was that they began to realise the full extent of the sacrifice they had made to their loyalty, for their money getting exhausted, and their pay as privates, viz., 3d. a day, with one and a-half pounds of bread—being quite insufficient to support men used to good living—they were obliged to sell some of their clothes, such as their fine laced coats, embroidered waistcoats, Holland shirts, and even their watches.

Upon this merchandise they managed to exist from November 1692 to May 1693, when they were ordered into camp, and joined, to their mutual delight, by Major Rutherford's company of refugee Scots, and Captain John Foster, with some veteran troops of Dumbarton's regiment, and many a loyal health was drunk to King James, and the success of his cause by these reunited friends.

During an inspection of these three Scotch companies by Marshall de Noailles, his Excellency desired the company of officers to march past a second time, and was so pleased by their martial bearing that he complimented them highly, and presented them with a mule to carry their tents, which was a great relief to them.

They now marched over the Pyrenees and besieged a town called Roses situated in the valley of Lampardo, a most unhealthy place, and where the water was so bad that it produced a great deal of sickness among the troops; especially did the company of Scotch officers suffer, both from the climate and want of proper food, having little else than sardines, horse-beans, and garlic, which diet, however agreeable to the natives, did not agree very well with the stomachs of Scottish gentlemen.

Though weakened by privation and prostrated by fever these brave men refused to go into hospital, preferring to do their duty, and take their share of the hard work which was the more arduous in consequence of there being no pioneers. Consequently the soldiers had to cut wood, make fascines for the trenches, etc.

During the attack on the town of Roses the company of officers who acted as grenadiers, behaved with such conspicuous bravery that after the place surrendered the Governor asked the French General what countrymen these grenadiers were, and said that it was they who caused him to give up the town, for they fired so hotly that he believed they were about to attack the breach. The Marshal replied with a smile "les sont vies enfaits." "They are my children," adding, "They are the King of Great Britain's Scotch officers, who, to show their willingness to share his miseries, have reduced themselves to the carrying of arms, and chosen to serve under my command."

The next day when riding along the ranks, the Marshal halted before the company of officers, and with hat in hand, thanked them for their good services, and freely acknowledged that it was their bravery which caused the surrender of the town, and assured them that he should report their services to his Sovereign.

The Marshal kept his word, and on the French King receiving the despatches at Versailles, he immediately took coach to St Germains, and showed them to King James, and thanked him for the services his subjects had rendered in taking Roses. James was much affected, and said" These gentlemen were the flower of my British officers, and I am only sorry that I cannot make better provision for them."

Marshal de Noailles did not confine his admiration of this gallant corps to mere compliments, for he very kindly gave each of them some money, two shirts, a nightcap, two cravats, and a pair of shoes. King James also gave them an allowance of fivepence a day to each man; but in spite of these additional comforts, fevers and agues still prevailed amongst them. On hearing this, Marshal de Noailles wished them to leave the camp and go into any garrison they chose. They, however, declared that they would not pass a day in idleness while the King of France, who befriended their King, had need of their services, and that they would not leave the camp so long as a single man of them remained alive.

About the middle of June 1693, the army, numbering twenty- six thousand, marched from Roses to Piscador; but the sickness and mortality was so great that only ten thousand reached their destination. On one occasion a sudden alarm being given, our company of officers was the only one that presented itself promptly and in good order, on observing which the General exclaimed, "Se gentilhomrne est toujours gentilkomme, et se montre toujours tel dans an besoin, et dans le danger "-" gentlemen are gentlemen, and will always show themselves such in time of need and danger."

Their sickness still continuing, King James got them removed to another province—Alsace—thinking, as the climate there was cold, it would better agree with his hardy Scots; but unfortunately it only proved going from bad to worse. On 4th December 1693 they, with the other two Scotch companies, began the long and fatiguing march from Tureilles in Rousillon to Silistad in Alsace. The winter was unusally severe, and these unfortunate gentlemen veer in a very unfit state for such a journey, so that when they arrived at Lyons their condition was indeed pitiable. Their coats were old and thin, their shoes and stockings worn and torn, while the extreme hardships they had undergone had reduced them so much that they looked more like living skeletons than anything else. Still their spirits were undaunted, and to quote the words of a contemporary writer, "Their miseries and wants were so many and so great, that I am ashamed to express them. Yet no man that conversed with them, could ever accuse them of a disloyal thought, or the least uneasiness under their misfortunes. When they got over their bottles (which was but, seldom), their conversation was of pity and compassion for their King and young gentleman, and how His Majesty might be restored, without any prejudice to his subjects."

After three days' rest in Lyons they proceeded on their weary march to Silistad. Their sufferings during this long journey were extreme, the snow lay several feet deep, and the country they passed through was so famine-stricken, that they were very nearly starved. All they could get was a few horse- beans, turnips, coiworts, and a little yellow seed which they boiled in water. When they arrived at Silistad they had to again resort to the expedient of selling from their very limited stock of clothes to provide themselves with food, and what affected them still more, they were obliged to part with treasured articles, which they had kept to the very last, and which nothing but the direst distress would ever compel them to part with. Thus, one would say " This is the seal of our family, I got it from my grandfather, and will therefore never part with it" Another would say, "This ring I got as a keepsake from my mother, I would rather die than sell it"; while the rest would have rings, snuff-boxes, buckles or dirks, all endeared to them by associations with loved ones in their far off country. Yet in a few weeks the pangs of cold and hunger overcame these fine feelings of sentiment, and the long treasured relics passed into the hands of the stranger. Notwithstanding these sacrifices several of them died during, their stay at Silistad from want of proper food and clothes. This reaching the ear of James, he sent orders for as many of them as wished to claim their discharge from the French service, and 'return to him at St Germains.

This kind offer was declined by the great majority, who were determined not to give up; but fourteen of the company returned, and were very kindly received by James, who gave them their choice, either to stay with him on an allowance, or to take a a sum of money and return to Britain and make their peace with the Government, and he allowed them some days to make their choice.

One day during their stay at St Germains, the young Prince met four of them in the park. Knowing from their dress who they were, he beckoned them to approach him. On their kneeling and kissing his hand, he said "He was sorry for their misfortunes, and that he hoped to live to see his Majesty in a condition to reward their sufferings; as for himself, he was but a child, and did not understand much; but according to the rude notions he had of government and the affairs of the world, they were men of honour, and loyal subjects, and had by their sufferings laid such obligations upon him in his childhood, that he could never forget them." He then took out his purse, and expressing regret that the Queen, his mother, did not keep him better supplied, he gave it, with its contents, to them, and then got into his carriage, while they adjourned to a tavern, and expended the money in drinking the health of the young Prince and his royal father.

When the gold was spent they began to dispute who should have the honour of keeping the purse as a souvenir of the Prince. The quarrel grew so fierce and the noise so great that the King sent to inquire the cause, and on learning what it was, he sent an officer to take away the purse; so harmony was once more restored.

We must now return and follow the further adventures of those who preferred to die at their post of duty than ask their discharge during a time of war. While they, and the other two Scotch companies, were in garrison at Silistad, the Governor of that fortress was apprehensive that Prince Lewis of Baden, who had crossed the Rhine with 8o,000 men, would besiege him, and he declared publicly that if they did, he should depend more on the three companies of Scots than on the whole of the rest under his command.

Silistad, however, was not attacked, and, soon after, the company of officers were ordered to Fort-Cadette on the Rhine. After staying there more than a year they were sent to Strasburg. In 1697 they again made themselves conspicuous by their bravery.

The Germans under General Stirk were on one side of the Rhine with 16,000 men, while the Marquis de Sell was on the other with only 4000 men, among whom were the Scotch officers. Between the two armies, in the middle of the Rhine, was an island which both parties were anxious to get possession of
While the French general was sending for boats to go over to take possession of this coigne of vantage, the Germans quietly threw over a bridge from their side, posted 500 men on the island, and opened a most destructive fire upon the French. The Scots, ever eager for glory, and despising danger, begged permission to attack the Germans, who were entrenched on the island. The Marquis replied that as soon as the boats arrived they should be the first to attack. To this they answered they need not wait for boats; but that they would wade across. On hearing this the Marquis shrugged his shoulders, blessed himself, and bid them do as they pleased.

When it was dark the company assembled quietly, unknown to the rest of the French army, took off their shoes and stockings, which, with their firelocks, they tied round their necks, advanced with caution to the river, waded hand in hand in the old Highland fashion, the water coming up to their breasts. As soon as they got out of the depth of the river, they unslung their arms, and made a sudden rush on the enemy, who were quite taken by surprise, being unconscious of their approach. The attack was so unlooked for that the Germans were seized with a panic, rushed to their bridge, which in the confusion was broken down, and many of them were drowned, the rest being killed by the victorious Scots. When the Marquis de Sell heard the firing, and understood the Germans were driven out of the island, he made the sign of the cross on his face and breast, and declared that it was the bravest action that he ever saw. When the boats at last arrived, the Marquis sent word to the Scots that he would immediately send troops and provisions. The answer he got was "that they wanted no troops, and could not spare time to make use of provisions, and only desired spades, shovels, and pickaxes, wherewith they might entrench themselves."

The next day the Marquis crossed to the island, and kindly embraced every man of the company, thanking them for the very signal service they had rendered to him.

For six long weeks they encamped on this island, while the Germans made every effort to regain possession; but our heroes were too watchful, and at last the enemy had to decamp. The island was afterwards named Isle d' Escosse, in honour of these brave men.

After this exploit they returned to Strasburg, where they remained for two years, when a treaty of peace was entered into, one of the conditions made by William the Third being that this gallant company of heroic Scots should be disbanded. This was done, and the officers had permission to go where they pleased. "And thus was dissolved one of the best companies that ever marched under command, gentlemen who, in the midst of all their pressure and obscurity never forgot they were gentlemen; and whom the sweet of a brave, a just, and honourable conscience, rendered, perhaps, more happy under those sufferings, than the most prosperous and triumphant in iniquity, since our own minds stamp our happiness." E. S. M.


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