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The Lairds of Glenlyon: Historical Sketches
Chapter 24


AT the request of the Northumberland rebels for a body of infantry, as previously noticed, M'Intosh of Borlum, with a force of about 2,500, was detached from the main army at Perth, and descended to the coasts of Fife, covered by some squadrons of horse under the command of Sir John Areskine of Alva, the Master of Sinclair, and Sir James Sharp, grandson of the Archbishop. The expeditionary force had difficulties of the first magnitude to encounter, and such as perhaps none in the rebel camp but Brigadier M'Intosh would successfully undertake to surmount. The royal fleet anchored at the mouth of the Firth, and cruisers and custom-house smacks incessantly scoured from point to point, and removed to Leith all the boats they found, pursuant to orders from the Commander-in-Chief. Argyle, with his forces, lay ready to take them up should they by any accident escape the fleet; for Mar had been in this, as in all other matters during the rebellion, a day behindhand. The movement on Stirling, which was calculated to draw off Argyle from molesting M'Intosh, had been executed only after the latter had effected the passage of the Forth. A feint was made to embark at Burntisland, while under cover of night (12th October), the main body secretly embarked in open boats at Pittenweem, Crail, Elie, and other places on the coast. The fleet, having espied the embarkation, weighed anchor ; but the wind was in favour of the rebels, and the greater number landed on the south coast. One boat with 40 men was captured, and others were driven upon the Isle of May, from which they got back to the coast of Fife next night. In all about 1,600 effected the passage; and though but a small body, the fame of the leader, the courage of his followers— who were all picked men—and the success with which they accomplished the passage of the Forth, augured well for the cause in which they had embarked, and wonderfully revived the hopes of the rebels, whose spirits had been drooping under the inactivity of Mar, and the divided councils in the camp at Perth.

The first night they rested at Haddington; but next day, instead of marching southward to join Dervventwater and his friends in the north of England, as intended by their leaders, and expected by every person, they suddenly faced about and marched for Edinburgh. It was one of those moments in which the authority of the chiefs, far less the military obedience to which they had never been accustomed, failed to check the instinctive impulse of the Highlanders.

Among the many causes conducive to the eccentric movement, was the Highlanders' traditional respect for Edinburgh as the capital of Scotland. What Delhi is, or was, to the Hindus, "Auld Reekie" was to the rebels— the city of sacred recollections, the seat of the tribunals, which they feared even while they disobeyed them, the abode of their ancient kings, from St. David downwards, and until recently the place of the national legislative assembly. It is not to be forgotten that the avowed object of the rebellion was twofold—the restoration of the Stuarts and the repeal of the Act of Union, which from the first had been distasteful to a large section of Scotchmen, and was by this time reprobated nearly by all. The passage in the manifesto issued by Mar and the leading rebels at the commencement of the struggle, bearing upon the subject of the union, gave expression, in well chosen words, to the feeling generally prevalent among their countrymen, and gratified the honest but blind patriotism which sheltered itself behind ancient associations and time-honoured prejudices:—"Our fundamental constitution has been entirely altered and sunk amidst the various shocks of unstable faction ; while in the searching out of new expedients, pretended for our security, it has produced nothing but daily disappointments, and has brought us and our posterity under a precarious dependence upon foreign councils and interests, and the power of foreign troops. The late unhappy union, which was brought about by the mistaken notions of some, and the ruinous and selfish designs of others, has proved, so far from lessening and healing differences betwixt his Majesty's subjects of Scotland and England, that it has widened and increased them. And it appears by experience so inconsistent with the rights, privileges, and interests of us and our good neighbours and fellow-subjects of England, that the continuance of it must inevitably ruin us, and hurt them; nor can any way be found out to relieve us and restore our ancient and independent constitution, but by the restoring of our rightful and natural king who has the only undoubted right to reign over us."

The Highlanders who crossed the Forth interpreted these declarations more strictly than Mar, who probably used them as convenient claptrap, ever intended. If they had succeeded in effecting a permanent footing in the capital— a thing that was fairly within the range of probability, had the main army at Perth been sooner on the march and led by an enterprising General—the Scottish Parliament would have been revived, and the Stuarts legislatively restored to their ancient kingdom of Scotland. This, though far from an actual restoration, would be a fiction calculated, in the temper of the times, when the strength of prejudices under the force of clique and unionistic suppression had acquired the virulence of concentrated poison, both to give immediate eclat and consistency to the cause, and put the ultimate issue upon a greater footing of equality. It proved a providential mercy to the British nation, that James's advisers did not at that critical period rest their claim upon the nationality question pure and simple. True blue Presbyterians, such was the feeling then, would risk, for a dissolution of the union, and a total separation of the kingdoms, the advantages of the Protestant succession, and take their chance of wrangling afterwards with a Stuart King of Scotland about religious privileges, rather than consent to be sacrificed (as in the Darien affair) to England's merchants, and in the legislature to be swamped (as on the Patronage Act) by England's commoners and peers.

There is no doubt the Highlanders had also been deluded into taking this unexpected step by the false representations of the Edinburgh Jacobites, who waxed confident in their hopes of success through the absence of Argyle at Stirling, the unprotected state of the city, and the Jacobite predilections of the mob. The Provost, John Campbell, was, however, a staunch Protestant, and took his measures for opposing the attempts of the rebels with prudence and foresight. He ordered the city guards, the trained bands, and associate-volunteers, to their respective places, for guarding the internal peace of the city, and defending it from the enemy. On the day the Highlanders were marching upon the city, the volunteers issued a "Resolution" which would have done no discredit to Louis Napoleon's fire-eating Colonels, wherein they "protested and declared, before God and the world, that it was their unanimous and hearty resolution, by the blessing of God, and the assistance of such of their honest neighbours as God should inspire with the same sentiments, whether fewer or more, under whatsoever discouragements, to defend the city against the rebels to the utmost extremity." The Lord Provost, very wisely, did not choose to commit the safety of the capital to the untried valour of the associate volunteers. On the morning of the 14th October, by the time the Highlanders were leaving Haddington for Edinburgh, an express was despatched from the latter city for Stirling, to inform Argyle of the threatened advent of the rebels, and to demand a detachment of regulars to support the loyal citizens.

Mar still slumbered at Perth, and had as yet made no demonstration whatever to molest the Duke's front, or draw off his attention from the detachment of rebels in the Lothians. On receipt of the Provost's message, Argyle, with his customary promptitude, marched at the head of 300 dragoons, and 200 picked infantry mounted on country horses for expedition's sake, to the relief of the capital. By ten at night the relieving force entered the West Port, "to the unspeakable joy of the loyal inhabitants." Argyle was joined immediately after by the horse militia of Lothian and Merse, and a crowd of armed volunteers, who, with their commanders the Marquis of Tweeddale and Lord Bel-haven, fled to Edinburgh before the rebels.

The rebels, marching from the east, were within a mile of Holyrood, when the Duke andhis reinforcements entered the city. An exaggerated report of the Duke's arrival with his main army brought them speedily to a halt. After a Council had been called, they hastily marched to the right and entered Leith. They broke open the Tolbooth, and rescued the 40 men captured in the boat while crossing the Firth. A quantity of brandy and other provisions were seized in the custom-house, but private property enjoyed every immunity at the hands of these so-called robbers of the North. Leith was an open town without fortification: but an old square fort, called the citadel, built by Oliver Cromwell, had been left standing, though without gates, or any protection from assault, beyond what was afforded by a dry ditch half-filled up, and ramparts crumbling under the effects of time. Here the rebels posted themselves, and mounted upon the old walls pieces of cannon, which they had audaciously seized by hoarding the ships in the harbour. In the same manner, quantities of ammunition, and whatever else was necessary for the defence, had been provided. That evening was so actively employed in fortifying the old citadel, that next morning it was found by the Commander-in-Chief to be a very respectable place of strength in the hands of the audacious spirits who then held it.

Argyle, who had been equally active in preparing for an assault, led down his forces early next morning. The numbers on both sides were nearly equal; but though Argyle had the advantage of leading 500 regularly trained soldiers, the majority of his troops, consisting of the militia, new levies, and volunteers, were in nothing except in framing bold resolutions, to be matched with the hardy sons of the north. Even their ministers, armed to the teeth, failed to animate the associate-volunteers. Argyle, however, summoned the rebels to lay down their arms and surrender, declaring that if they obliged him to bring cannon to force them, and any of his men were killed in resisting, he would grant no quarter. David Stewart of Kynachin, Foss, a descendant of that Stewart of Garth who, in spite of all James IV. could do, had burned Castle Menzies in 1502, and made Sir Robert Menzies a captive, replied resolutely to the arrogant summons of the herald, "that as to surrendering, such a word was not in their native language, and they laughed at it; and as to bringing cannon, and assaulting them, they were ready for him. As to quarter, they would neither take nor give any quarter with him ; and if he thought he was able to force them, he might try his hand." The duke was by this time within 200 paces of the citadel, and the enemy's balls were grazing among his horse's feet; and finding that the fort could not be carried without great loss, and "being unwilling to expose the brave gentlemen-volunteers to such danger (the life of one of whom was worth ten of the enemy), he retired to Edinburgh in the evening, to make farther preparations for dislodging the enemy on the morrow." Such is the account of the loyal historians, but the Highland version differs considerably. According to the latter, Argyle was obliged to retire on account of the universal dismay of his soldiers, and especially of the bold gentlemen-volunteers whose courage in presence of the enemy oozed out at their fingers'-ends. A ludicrous panic undoubtedly seized upon the loyal host in the retreat, and their ranks being all confused and lost, a panting mob, and not an army, found refuge within the city gates. The incident, which is well established, confirms the rebel account, and gives edge to the coarse joke of the Highlanders, that "the men of the cloak\ and bawbee could that night make a fortune in Edinburgh"—alluding to a rude substitute for sanitary conveniences anciently known in "Auld Reekie."

Before leaving their position in Leith, the rebels sent an express across the Firth to Mar, for hastening his march to Stirling; but the Earl fatuously delayed putting his army in motion, and the detachments sent to Dunblane for making a demonstration were driven back to Perth from fear of an attack by Argyle, a few days after the rebels abandoned Leith.

Some hours after the Duke's forces retired, the rebels left the citadel of Leith, and, under cover of night, marched to Seaton Castle, seven miles from the city. The Duke, enraged at their escape, made immediate preparations for besieging them in their new position, but was called off from the undertaking by the sham movement of Mar's detachments to Dunblane, which necessitated his return to Stirling with the greater part of his forces.

He left, however, Colonel Ker, with some troops and the gentlemen-volunteers, with orders to attack Seaton House, but the moment the gallant horsemen appeared, a party of Highlanders marched out of the castle and formed in order to receive them, and so the party from Edinburgh, thinking, as at Leith, that the better part of valour was discretion, wheeled round and returned to the city. On the following morning (Monday, the 17th October), Lord Torphichen and the Earl of Rothes made a similar attack, and with similar results.

The Highlanders liked their new position too well to be in any hurry to leave it. Their foraging parties brought in provisions in abundance, and never had the ceathaimich a better opportunity for driving creachs, and the opportunity was very well used. On the 19th, however, they left Seaton House for England, in accordance with despatches received from the Earl of Mar, and a pressing letter from Mr. Forster, to join at Kelso or Coldstream, without delay, the small body of rebels which had been raised in Dumfries by Lord Kenmure. General Whitman followed the Highlanders with his horse, but did little damage beyond capturing a few stragglers. The Northumberland rebels were also on the March to Kelso at the time the Highlanders left Seaton, and the three bodies formed a junction in that town upon the 22nd October. The Scots cavalry mustered at Kelso paid the Highlanders the well-merited compliment of going out to meet them, and of escorting them, amidst general enthusiasm, into the town. The Earl of Kenmure assumed the command of the army, which now amounted to 1,500 foot and 600 horse.


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