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Under Many Flags
Chapter V. An Old Cavalier: Sir James Turner


He was not seventeen years old—this man of many adventures—when he obtained his degree of Master of Arts at Glasgow; in obedience, as he tells us, to his father, and not from any desire of his own. For it was never his intention to make use of a title which he, like many others, had never deserved. Our Cavalier—afterwards so widely known as Sir James Turner—then spent a year with his father at Dalkeith, studying humane letters and history, and the points of controversy between the Roman and Protestant Churches. To a young man of Turner’s energetic temper such a course of life soon became intolerable; and flinging aside Bellarmine and Liguori, he buckled on his sword and set out for the wars. He hoped to become, if not an actor in, at least a spectator of, the memorable contention which was then pending between Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, the Lion of the North, and the Catholic princes of the Empire, and secured a pair of colours in a Scotch regiment levied by Sir James Lumsden for service under the Swedish King’s flag. Gustavus, however, fell on Liitzen’s hard-fought field before Lumsden and his Scots arrived in Germany; and in February 1633, Turner found himself under the command of Duke George of Brunswick, serving in the trenches before the strong town of Ham-melln. Late in the following June, an Imperialist army, twenty thousand strong, advanced to its relief.

“We broke up,” says Turner, “and met them four English miles from thence, and fought them. This was a battle wherein so much blood was shed, as was enough to flesh such novices as I was. We gained the victory, which was a great one to be gained with so little loss on our side. Near nine thousand of the Imperialists were killed in the place, three thousand taken, with eighteen cannon, and above eighty standards and colours." Hammelln afterwards capitulated. During the remainder of the campaign Turner saw much fighting — of which those who had a stomach for it could easily get large measure in Turner’s stirring days! — but suffered not a little from want of provisions and clothes, lying out in the fields with no, or scanty, shelter, marching a-foot, and drinking nothing stronger than water—this last being a privation which Turner and his comrades greatly took to heart. But he soon learned to love a soldier’s life; and grew so tough and strong with his hard knocking about, that the hardships of the camp and the bivouac ceased to trouble him. He came to feel as if he could always be content with a crust of bread and a bundle of straw—so true it is that Habitus est altera natnra. [Note that Sir James occasionally flourishes a Latin quotation to remind you that he was an M.A. of Glasgow University.

Turner rapidly grew experienced in the ways and methods of a soldier of fortune. He picked up enough German to understand and be understood. He acquired the fashions and manners, such as they were, of the German officers ; and soon became an expert in the science of living without regular pay, so that during the remainder of his foreign service he wanted little that daring or ingenuity, force or stratagem, could furnish him with. In the later months of 1634 he was temporarily recalled to Scotland by his father’s death and the family arrangements necessary thereupon ; and owing to the severity of the winter, was unable to return to the field of war until the spring, when he proceeded to Hamburg to join a projected expedition to Persia. But the expedition never came off; and Turner, who had gone on to Osnaburg, was shut up within its walls by the unwelcome appearance of an Imperialist army, and had to endure the privations of a siege until the city was relieved in the summer of 1636 by the Protestant forces.

There seem to have been occasions when even a soldier of fortune was moved by the horrors of war. In quite pathetic terms does Turner describe the cruelties of the Imperialist General, Bigod, who, in 1637, burned three fair towns, Eschvegen, Ollendorp, and Vitsenshausen, before the eyes of the Protestant leaders. “A mournful sight it was,” he says, “to see the whole people follow us, and climb the two high rocks which flanked us. Old and young left their houses, by the loss of them and their goods to save their lives. Aged men and women, many above fourscore, most lame or blind, supported by their sons, daughters, and grandchildren, who themselves carried their little ones on their backs, were a ruthful object of pity to any tender-hearted Christian [like James Turner, I suppose !], and did show us with what dreadful countenance that bloody monster of war can appear in the world.” Turner, however, did nothing to avoid the face of that “bloody monster,” but kept to his trade of fighting, and rose through the successive stages of ensign, lieutenant, captain-lieutenant, captain.

The Swedish Government owing him a sum of four hundred dollars in arrears of pay, he repaired to Sweden in 1639 in the hope of getting it. “Stockholm,” he says, “is the capital city of that kingdom. There I saw one of the fairest castles, and of the greatest reception, of any I ever looked on, all covered with copper, of which metal that kingdom abounds. It stands on a pretty ascending hill from the sea ; and under it, for most part, rides the navy royal, composed of great and tall ships, carrying some fifty, some sixty, some seventy, and some eighty brass guns. The Oueen [Christina] was then about fourteen years old, applying herself much to learn foreign languages, and to the study of those sciences, which by the strength of her great natural endowments she soon acquired, which has made her so famous all the world over.”

Turner lost most of his four hundred dollars, receiving only a small gratuity which kept him above water, until he was attracted towards his native land by the rude echoes of the war which had broken out between Charles I. and the Puritan party. He confesses, frankly enough, that, in Germany, he had “swallowed without chewing,” a maxim of military morals which he admits to be a very dangerous one; namely, that if a soldier served his master faithfully, it mattered not who that master was; and circumstances preventing him from going to England and offering his sword to the King, as he had first intended, he made up his mind to cross into Scotland and take up the cause of the Covenant. His skipper landed him at Cove, on the Aberdeenshire coast. Thence he rode post to Edinburgh, where he learned that General Leslie had marched across the Border, and putting Lord Conway- and a loyalist force to defeat at Newburn, had made himself master of Newcastle and of the whole bishopric of Durham.

“I found,” says Turner, “this success had elevated the minds of my countrymen in general to such a height of vanity, that most of them thought, and many said, they should quickly make a full conquest of England; but,” he soberly adds, “time hath shown them since that they made their reckoning without their host, for the very contrary fell out.”

Our captain followed Leslie to Newcastle, and, through the influence of the Earl of Rothes, was appointed major of Lord Kirkcudbright’s regiment. In this capacity he served for two months in the Scots army, though he had not taken the Covenant; not that he would have refused, he says with his usual candour, to have sworn to it and signed it, and have observed it too, but that nobody asked him ; all supposing, naturally enough, that an officer in the Covenanting army would be a True Blue ! At the end of the year the army returned to Scotland, and our doughty Cavalier was condemned to several months of inaction. In 1641 he was appointed major in Lord Sinclair’s regiment, included in the army of ten thousand Scots who had been hired by the English Parliament to assist in putting down the great Irish Revolt. They landed at Carrickfergus, and leaving a garrison there, marched inland with fire and sword, inflicting on the Irish Papists a bloody retaliation for their massacre of the Protestants. At Newry the rebel soldiery capitulated ; but, next day, with many merchants and traders of the town, were conveyed to the bridge and put to death in cold blood, some by shooting, some by hanging, and some by drowning, the innocent suffering with the guilty. “Our soldiers,” says Turner, “seeing such pranks played by authority at the bridge, thought they might do as much anywhere else ; and so ran upon a hundred and fifty women, or thereby, who had got together in a place below the bridge, whom they resolved to massacre by killing and drowning, which villany the sea seemed to favour, it being then flood. Seeing afar off what a game these godless rogues intended to play, I got a-horseback and galloped to them with my pistol in my hand; but before I got at them, they had dispatched about a dozen; the rest I saved.”

In this Irish campaign Turner had many rough experiences. On one occasion he was sent to Carrickfergus to fetch up some reinforcements from Scotland. Marching through the dense woods and wild hills of Morne, they killed and captured several rebels. On the route they suffered one of the stormiest and most tempestuous nights that the oldest among them had ever known. “All the tents were in a trice blown over. It was not possible for any match to keep fire, or any soldier to handle his musket, or yet to stand; yea, several of them died that night of mere cold. So that if the rebels,” says Turner, “whereof there were five hundred not far from us, had offered to beat up our quarters with such weapons as they had, which were half-pikes, swords, and daggers, they would undoubtedly have had a cheap market of us. Our soldiers, and some of our officers too (who suppose that nothing that is more than ordinary can be the product of nature), attributed this hurricane to the devilish skill of some Irish witches; and if that was true,” says the shrewd old Cavalier, “then I am sure their master gave us good proof that he was really prince of the

He tells us also of the sufferings of himself and his men from want of provisions, and of the irregularity with which they were paid; of their guerilla-like war with the rebels, and their long and wearisome marches; all of which he seems to have undergone with the nonchalance of a good soldier, though as modesty is by no means a marked feature of his character, we must necessarily accept his statements with judicious reserve. Early in 1644 he was back in Scotland ; and finding that the Earl of Leven (the elder Leslie) had marched into England with twenty thousand foot and two thousand horse, to the assistance of Parliament, he hastened to follow him. I suspect his reception was not to his liking; for he soon rode back to Scotland; and after a fresh study of the Solemn League and Covenant, came to the sudden conclusion that it was a treacherous and disloyal combination, and concerted with some other swashbucklers to join the Marquis of Montrose, who held the King’s commission. They kept their intention secret, however, until they had persuaded the Executive to pay up their arrears, and furnish them with equipment for every private soldier in their commands. They then sent messengers to Montrose, inviting him to join them at Stirling, where he would find town, castle, and troops at his disposal. But Montrose would not advance so far with his small force into a hostile neighbourhood ; and the opportunity was lost.

Finding himself suspected by the Committee of Estates, Turner made a virtue of necessity, and to regain their good opinion, solemnly swore to the Covenant. He gives us to understand, however, that all the time he was only playing a part. Moralizing as is his wont, when doing something immoral, he describes this act of treachery as “a thing (though too much practised in a corrupt world) yet in itself dishonest, sinful, and disavow-able; for it is certain that no evil should be done that good may come of it.” Surely James Turner missed his vocation, and the pulpit would have suited him better than the saddle! Or he should have been a village dominie, and have written nice little commonplaces as texts for his scholars to copy. Unfortunately his moral sense never made itself felt until after the event. He continued to serve under the Earl of Leven; and at the storm of Newcastle, in 1644, led the first two companies which fought their way into the town. He was present at the siege of Newark in the summer of 1646, when King Charles surrendered himself to the Scots, who, after they had captured Newark, returned with him to Newcastle. “At Sherburne,” says Turner, “I spoke with him, and his Majesty having got some good character of me, bade me tell him the sense of our army concerning him. I did so, and withal assured him he was a prisoner, and therefore prayed him to think of his escape, offering him all the service I could do him.” This was the only time he had conversation with the King, who, as we know, saw no necessity to act upon his advice, and did not put Turner’s loyalty to the test.

During the following winter Turner was married to Mary White, a beautiful young Irish girl, whose acquaintance he had made in Ireland. So strong was her affection and so profound was her confidence in our bold Cavalier, that she gave up her parents, her friends, her country, and all that was dear to her, to become his wife. A charming little story might, I think, be founded on this incident, which casts as it were a bright gleam of romance on the sombre background of strife and death. It may well be doubted whether he was really worthy of so much devotion. He admits that on her arrival she found him “ but in a bad condition.” Having drunk too freely with a great personage, he was riding home, somewhat distempered, when he fell in with a Colonel Wren, against whom he had some cause of quarrel. As the Colonel was on foot, Turner sprang from his horse that both might be on an equality, and forced him to draw his sword, which was “two great handfuls” longer than his own. Truly a monstrous sword! “Perceiving this,” says Turner, “I gripped his sword with my left hand and thrust at him with my right; but he, stepping back, avoided it, and drew his sword away, which left so deep a wound between my thumb and foremost finger that I had almost lost the use of both.” Some passers-by interfered, and made the combatants put up their swords; and Turner could never again meet with his adversary to be revenged on him, though he sought him far and near. Now comes in the inevitable bit of moralizing! “This was an effect,” he says, “of drinking, which, I confess, besides the sin against God, bath brought me in many inconveniences. This was the first time ever my blood was drawn, though I have hazarded it and my life very often, not only in battles, skirmishes, rencontres, sieges, sallies, and other public duties of service, but also in several private duels.” After a vain attempt to obtain employment in Ireland, Turner visited Lieutenant-General Leslie’s quarters at Dunblane, and was “easily persuaded” to accept the post of Adjutant-General in the Covenanters’ army, though it was employed in the putting down that cause of the monarchy with which he professes to have been in sympathy. He took an active part in all the cruel work that was done in the Western Highlands and the Hebrides —smoking fugitives out of the caves to which they had retreated, slaying in cold blood prisoners who had surrendered on a promise that their lives should be spared. But in 1648, when a considerable faction in the Scots Parliament resolved on raising forces to march into England and effect the King’s release, his inclination coincided with his duty; and it was with alacrity he obeyed orders to advance upon Glasgow, which showed a disposition to oppose the new policy. He tells us that he easily enforced submission upon the Glasgow citizens. The quartering of a few troopers and musketeers proved argument strong enough, in two or three nights’ time, to convert the most obstinate burgher from the cause of the Kirk to that of the Parliament. He then placed before the citizens a short paper, promising that those who signed it should be released from the presence of the soldiers. It was a submission to all orders of the Parliament agreeable to the Covenant; and “Turner’s Covenant,” as it was thereafter called, received without delay a crowd of signatures. He was then sent into Renfrewshire, where he met with the same success; and afterwards joined the main body of the army, which, under the Duke of Hamilton, crossed the Border to co-operate with Sir Marmaduke Langdale, who was still maintaining the King’s cause in the north of England.

Turner relates with much gusto an accident that befell him while he and his brigade were quartered near Appleby. He was lodged in the house of a loyal Cavalier who, at the time, was fighting under Sir Marmaduke, while his wife, through illness, kept her chamber. What happened shall be told as nearly as possible in Turner’s own language.

The first night he slept well enough; but on rising next morning, missed a linen stocking, a half-silk one, and a boot-hose, the accoutrement under a boot for one leg; neither could they be found on the most careful search. Being provided with more of the same kind, he dressed and rode to head-quarters. On his return'—no news of his stockings. Next morning he found himself used, or rather misused, in the same manner; missing the three stockings for one leg, the other three being left entire as they were the day before. A close search led to no result. As he had got in reserve a pair of “whole stockings” and a pair of boot-hose larger than the former, he put them on; but on the third morning, lo and behold! again only the stockings of one leg were left to him. He and his servants then concluded that some rats were the nocturnal thieves who showed such a partiality for a Cavalier’s hose; and the room being carefully examined, the top of his great boot-hose was found in a hole into which the rats had dragged the rest of their booty. The boards were taken up in the presence of a servant of the house, sent for the purpose by his mistress. On the first plank being partly raised, Turner’s boy thrust in his hand, and brought out four-and-twenty pieces of gold and one angel, which the servant immediately claimed for his mistress. Thereupon Turner repaired to her chamber and told her that as Lambert, the Puritan General, had formerly been quartered in the house, the gold had probably been hidden by one of his domestics, and was therefore Turner’s lawfully, by right of war ; but if she could show it belonged to her he would immediately give it up. The poor gentlewoman replied, with many tears, that her husband being none of the frugallest of men, she had, unknown to him, concealed the money as a reserve when she might have special occasion; and conjured him, as he loved the King, for whom her husband and she had suffered much, not to deprive her of it. She added that the exact quantity she had put there was four-and-twenty whole pieces and two angels; and that she had placed them in a red velvet purse. On further search being made, the other angel was found, and also the purse—gnawed to bits, as the stockings were; and the gentlewoman’s story being thus confirmed, the money was restored to her.

Turner’s comments on this episode are too characteristic to be passed over.

“I have often heard,” he says, “that -the eating or gnawing of clothes by rats is ominous, and portends some mischance to fall on these to whom the clothes belong. I thank God I never was addicted to such divinations, or heeded them. It is true that more misfortunes than one fell on me shortly after; but I am sure I could have better foreseen them myself than rats or any such vermin ; and yet did it not. I have heard, indeed, many fine stories told of rats; how they abandon houses and ships, when the first are to be burnt and the second drowned. Naturalists say they are very sagacious creatures, and I believe they are so; but I shall never be of the opinion they can foresee future contingencies, which I suppose the devil himself can neither foreknow nor foretell; these being things which the Almighty hath kept hidden in the bosom of His Divine prescience. And whether the great God hath pre-ordained or predestinated these things, which to us are contingent, to fall out by an uncontrollable and unavoidable necessity, is a question not yet decided.” And our Cavalier wisely made no attempt to decide it.

Turner was present at Preston field, where the Scots felt the heavy hand of Cromwell. Having joined the Puritan army, under General Lambert, among the Yorkshire hills, he had then moved upon Preston, and finding the Royalists, under the incompetent authority of the Duke of Hamilton, loosely scattered over a wide extent of country, he fell upon their vanguard, led by Sir Marmaduke Langdale, on Wednesday night, August 16th, and dispersed it to the winds. Next day he attacked their main body. The English regiments fought well, though ill supported by their Scotch allies, owing to divisions of counsel among the commanders; but after a three hours’ struggle, they were driven across the Ribble in great disorder, with the loss of a thousand slain and five thousand taken prisoners.

During the night, the Duke of Hamilton, with his Scots, retreated upon Wigan, pursued by Cromwell, “killing and taking divers all the way.” Within three miles of Wigan, the Scots made a stand, until the main body of the Parliament army coming up, they fell back upon the town, and there spent the night of the 18th. The following day they resumed their retreat, until at Winwick, three miles from Warrington, they made a last desperate effort to check Cromwell’s furious pursuit. But it was in vain; and after sustaining heavy loss, the infantry surrendered, and the great Puritan soldier pushed forward into Scotland, leaving Lambert to follow up the cavalry as far as Uttoxeter, where they too were forced to capitulate. It was agreed that the officers and privates should be held prisoners of war, but civilly used, until they could secure their liberty by exchange or ransom; that they should keep the clothes they wore and all the money they had about them—the rest of the baggage, with the arms and horses, going as “booty and prize ” to the victor.

Turner, who was one of the prisoners, was removed to Hull, where he was kindly treated by the Governor, Colonel Overton, being allowed the use of paper, pens, ink, and books; to attend the services of his church; to take exercise on the town walls; and even to receive visits from some “honest Royalists.” His captivity lasted for about fourteen months, when he was released by order of Fairfax, on giving his parole to go beyond the seas, and not return for a twelvemonth to any one of the three kingdoms. With a joyful heart—for inaction was a torture to a man of Turner’s temperament— he embarked, early in November 1649, on board of a ship which landed him safely at the “rich and flourishing” town of Hamburg.


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