Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

Sir Walter Scott
The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border
The Battle of Philiphaugh


This ballad is so immediately connected with the former, that it enables me to continue my sketch of historical transactions from the march of Lesly.

In the insurrection of 1640, all Scotland, south from the Grampians, was actively and zealously engaged. But, after the treaty of Rippon, the first fury of the revolutionary torrent may be said to have foamed off its force, and many of the nobility began to look round with horror, upon the rocks and shelves amongst which it had hurried them. Numbers regarded the defence of Scotland as a just and necessary warfare, who did not see the same reason for interfering in the affairs of England. The visit of King Charles to the metropolis of his fathers, in all probability, produced its effect on his nobles. Some were allied to the house of Stewart by blood; all regarded it as the source of their honours, and venerated the ancient hereditary royal line of Scotland. Many, also, had failed in obtaining the private objects of ambition, or selfish policy, which had induced them to rise up against the crown. Amongst these late penitents, the well-known Marquis of Montrose was distinguished - as the first who endeavoured to recede from the paths of "rude rebellion." Moved by the enthusiasm of patriotism, or perhaps of religion, but yet more by ambition, the sin of noble minds, Montrose had engaged, eagerly and deeply, upon the side of the Covenanters. He had been active in pressing the town of Aberdeen to take the covenant, and his success against the Gordons, at the bridge of Dee, left that royal burgh no other means of safety from pillage. At the head of his own battalion, he waded through the Tweed, in 1640, and totally routed the vanguard of the King's cavalry. But, in 1643, moved with resentment against the Covenanters, who preferred, to his prompt and ardent character, the caution of the wily and politic Earl of Argyle - or seeing, perhaps, that the final views of that party were inconsistent with the interests of monarchy and of the constitution - Montrose espoused the falling cause of royalty, and raised the Highland clans, whom he united to a small body of Irish, commanded by Alexander MacDonald, still renowned in the north, under the title of Colkitto. With these tumultuary and uncertain forces, he rushed forth, like a torrent from the mountains, and commenced a rapid and brilliant career of victory. At Tippermoor, where he first met the Covenanters, their defeat was so effectual as to appal the Presbyterian courage, even after the lapse of eighty years. * A second army was defeated under the walls of Aberdeen; and the pillage of the ill-fated town was doomed to expiate the principles which Montrose himself had formerly imposed upon them. Argyleshire next experienced his arms; the domains of his rival were treated with more than military severity; and Argyle Himself, advancing to Inverlochy for the defence of his country, was totally and disgracefully routed by Montrose. Pressed betwixt two armies, well appointed, and commanded by the most experienced generals of the Covenant, Montrose displayed more military skill in the astonishingly rapid marches, by which he avoided fighting to disadvantage, than even in the field of victory. By one of those hurried marches from the banks of Loch Katrine to the heart of Inverness-shire, he was enabled to attack, and totally to defeat, the Covenanters at Aulderne, though he brought into the field hardly one half of their force. Baillie, a veteran officer, was next routed by him, at the village of Alford, in Strathbogie. Encouraged by these repeated and splendid successes, Montrose now descended into the heart of Scotland, and fought a bloody and decisive battle near Kilsyth, where four thousand Covenanters fell under the Highland claymore.

This victory opened the whole of Scotland to Montrose. He occupied the capital, and marched forward to the Border; not merely to complete the subjection of the southern provinces, but with the flattering hope of pouring his victorious army into England, and bringing to the support of Charles the sword of his paternal tribes.

Half a century before Montrose's career, the state of the Borders was such as might have enabled him easily to have accomplished his daring plan. The Marquis of Douglas, the Earls of Home, Roxburgh, Traquair, and Annandale, were all descended of mighty Border chiefs, whose ancestors could, each of them, have led into the field a body of their own vassals, equal in numbers, and superior in discipline, to the army of Montrose. ** But the military spirit of the Borderers, and their attachment to their chiefs, had been much broken since the union of the Crowns. The disarming acts of James had been carried rigorously into execution, and the smaller proprietors, no longer feeling the necessity of protection from their chiefs in war, had aspired to independence, and embraced the tenets of the Covenanters. Without imputing, with Wishart, absolute treachery to the Border nobles, it may be allowed, that they looked with envy upon Montrose, and with dread and aversion upon his rapacious and disorderly forces. Hence, had it been in their power, it might not have altogether suited their inclinations to have brought the strength of the Border lances to the support of the northern clans. The once formidable name of Douglas still sufficed to raise some bands, by whom Montrose was joined in his march down the Gala. With these reinforcements, and with the remnant of his Highlanders, (for a great number had returned home with Colkitto, to deposit their plunder, and provide for their families,) Montrose, after traversing the Border, finally encamped upon the field of Philiphaugh.

The river Ettrick, immediately after its junction with the Yarrow, and previous to its falling into the Tweed, makes a large sweep to the southward, and winds almost beneath the lofty bank, on which the town of Selkirk stands; leaving, upon the northern side, a large and level plain, extending in an easterly direction, from a hill, covered with natural copse-wood, called the Harehead-wood, to the high ground which forms the banks of the Tweed, near Sunderland hall. This plain is called Philiphaugh; *** it is about a mile and a half in length, and a quarter of a mile broad; and being defended, to the northward by the hills which separate Tweed from Yarrow, by the river Ettrick in front and by the high grounds, already mentioned, on each flank, it forms at once, a convenient and a secure field of encampment. On each flank Montrose threw up some trenches, which are still visible; and here he posted his infantry, amounting to about twelve or fifteen hundred men. He himself took up his quarters in the burgh of Selkirk, and, with him, the cavalry, in number hardly one thousand, but respectable, as being chiefly composed of gentlemen and their immediate retainers. In this manner, by a fatal and unaccountable error, the river Ettrick was thrown betwixt the cavalry and infantry, which were to depend upon each other for intelligence and mutual support. This might be overlooked by Montrose, in the conviction, that there was no armed enemy of Charles in the realm of Scotland; for he is said to have employed the night in writing and dispatching this agreeable intelligence to the King. Such an enemy, however, was already within four miles of his camp.

Recalled by the danger of the cause of the Covenant, General David Lesly came down from England, at the head of those iron squadrons, whose force had been proved in the fatal battle of Long Marston Moor. His army consisted of from five to six thousand men, chiefly cavalry. Lesly's first plan seems to have been, to occupy the midland counties, so as to intercept the return of Montrose's Highlanders, and to force him to an unequal combat. Accordingly, he marched along the eastern coast, from Berwick to Tranent; but there he suddenly altered his direction, and, crossing through Mid-Lothian, turned again to the southward, and following the course to Gala Water, arrived at Melrose, the evening before the engagement. How it is possible that Montrose should have received no notice whatever of the march of so considerable an army, seems almost inconceivable, and proves, that the country was strongly disaffected to his cause or person. Still more extraordinary does it appear, that, even with the advantage of a thick mist, Lesly should have, the next morning advanced from Melrose, forded the Ettrick, and come close upon Montrose's encampment, without being descried by a single scout. Such, however, was the case, and it was attended with all the consequences of the most complete surprisal.

The first intimation that Montrose received of the march of Lesly, was the noise of the conflict, or, rather, that which attended the unresisted slaughter of his infantry, who never formed a line of battle; the right wing alone, supported by the thickets of Harehead-wood, and by the intrenchments, which are there still visible, stood firm for some time. But Lesly had detached two thousand men, who, crossing the Ettrick still higher up than his main body, assaulted the rear of Montrose's right wing. At this moment, the Marquis himself arrived, and beheld his army dispersed, for the first time, in irretrievable rout. He had thrown himself upon a horse the instant he heard the firing, and, followed by such of his disorderly cavalry as had gathered upon the alarm, he galloped from Selkirk, crossed the Ettrick, and made a bold and desperate attempt to retrieve the fortune of the day. But all was in vain; and, after cutting his way, almost singly, through a body of Lesly's troopers, the gallant Montrose graced by his example the retreat of the fugitives. That retreat he continued up Yarrow, and over Minchmoor; nor did he stop till he arrived at Traquair, sixteen miles from the field of battle. Upon Philiphaugh he lost, in one defeat, the fruit of six splendid victories; nor was he again able effectually to make head, in Scotland, against the covenanted cause. The number slain in the field did not exceed three or four hundred; for the fugitives found refuge in the mountains, which had often been the retreat of vanquished armies, and were impervious to the pursuer's cavalry. Lesly abused his victory, and dishonoured his arms, by slaughtering, in cold blood, many of the prisoners whom he had taken; and the courtyard of Newark Castle is said to have been the spot, upon which they were shot by his command. Many others are said, by Wishart, to have been precipitated from a high bridge over the Tweed. This, as Mr. Laing remarks, is impossible; because there was not then a bridge over the Tweed betwixt Peebles and Berwick. But there is an old bridge over the Ettrick, only four miles from Philiphaugh - and another one over the Yarrow, both of which lay in the very line of flight and pursuit; and either might have been the scene of the massacre. But if this is doubtful, it is too certain, that several of the royalists were executed by the Covenanters, as traitors to the King and Parliament. +

I have reviewed, at some length, the details of this memorable engagement, which, at the same time, terminated the career of a hero, likened, by no mean judge of mankind, ++ to those of antiquity, and decided the fate of his country. It is farther remarkable, as the last field which was fought in Ettrick forest, the scene of so many bloody actions. +++ The unaccountable neglect of patrols, and the imprudent separation betwixt the horse and foot, seem to have been the immediate cause of Montrose's defeat. But the ardent and impetuous character of this great warrior, corresponding with that of the troops which he commanded, was better calculated for attack than defence; for surprising others, rather than for providing against surprise himself. Thus, he suffered loss by a sudden attack upon part of his forces, stationed at Aberdeen; *+ and, had he not extricated himself with the most singular ability, he must have lost his whole army, when surprised by Baillie, during the plunder of Dundee. Nor has it escaped an ingenious modern historian, that his final defeat at Dunbeath so nearly resembles in its circumstances the surprise at Philiphaugh as to throw some shade on his military talents. - LAING'S History.

The following ballad, which is preserved by tradition in Selkirkshire, coincides accurately with historical fact. This, indeed, constitutes its sole merit. The Covenanters were not, I dare say, addicted, more than their successors, to "the profane and unprofitable art of poem-making." **+ Still, however, they could not refrain from some strains of exultation over the defeat of the truculent tyrant, James Graham. For, gentle ready, Montrose, who, with resources which seemed as none, gained six victories, and reconquered a kingdom; who, a poet, a scholar, a cavalier, and a general, could have graced alike a court, and governed a camp, this Montrose was numbered, by his covenanted countrymen, among "the troublers of Israel, the firebrands of hell, the Korahs, the Balaams, the Doegs, the Rabshakehs, the Hamans, the Tobias, and Sanballats of the time." 


*Upon the breaking of the insurrection in the year 1715, the Earl of Rothes, sheriff and lord-lieutenant of the county of Fife, issued out an order for all "fencible men of the countie to meet him at a place called Cashmoor. The gentlemen took no notice of his orders, nor did the commons, except those who the ministers forced to go to the place of rendezvouse, to the number of fifteen hundred men, being all that their utmost diligence could perform. But those of that countie having been taught by their experience that it is not good meddling with edge tools, especiallie in the hands of Highlandmen, were very averse from taking arms. No sooner they reflected on the place of rendezvouse, Cashmoor, than Tippermoor was called to mind; a place not far from thence, where Montrose had routed them, while under the command of my great-grand-uncle the Earl of Wemyss, then general of God's armie. In a word, the unlucky choice of a place, called Moor, appeared ominous; and that, with the flying report of the Highlandmen having made themselves masters of Perth, made them throw down their armes, and run, notwithstanding the trouble that Rothes and the ministers gave themselves to stop them." - MS. MEMOIRS OF JOHN MASTER OF SINCLAIR, vol i. p. 130. {This gentleman commanded a party of Fifeshire cavaliers at Sheriffmoor, and died in 1750, leaving these Memoirs, which are written with very considerable talent. - ED.}
** {In this passage, Sir Walter Scott must have in remembrance John Home's sorrowful account of the Earl of Home's appearance, with only a couple of menial servants, at the headquarters of the royal army, in the campaign of 1745. - ED.}
*** The Scottish language is rich in words expressive of local situation. The single word haugh conveys to a Scotsman almost all that I have endeavoured to explain in the text, by circumlocutory description.
+ A covenanted minister, present at the execution of these gentlemen, observed, "This wark gaes bonnilie on!" an amiable exclamation, equivalent to the modern ca ira, so often used on similar occasions. _WISHART'S Memoirs of Montrose.
++ Cardinal du Retz.
+++ I have often heard Sir Walter Scott tell the story of one of Lesly's officers, who had his quarters the night before the battle at the farm-house of Toftfield, included in the estate of Abbotsford. This gentleman, having been courteously treated by his hosts, before he mounted his horse in the morning, drew the good wife aside, and intrusted his purse to her keeping. "You have been kind to me," he said, "and being a brotherless and childless man, in case I fall this day, I would as soon you should be my heir as any other person." He returned in the evening, but only to die in his old quarters, and the farmer's family were said to have risen some steps in the world in consequence of his bequest. - ED. 
*+ Colonel Hurry, with a party of horse, surprised the town, while Montrose's Highlanders and cavalies were "dispersed through the town, drinking carelessly in their lodgings; and, hearing the horses' feet, and great noise, were astonished, never dreaming of their enemy. However, Donald Farquharson happened to come to the causey, where he was cruelly slain, anent the Count de Guard; a brave gentleman, and one of the noblest captains amongst all the Highlanders of Scotland. Two or three others were killed, and some (taken prisoners) had to Edinburgh, and cast into irons in the tolbooth. Great lamentation was made for this gallant, being still the King's man for life and death." - SPALDING, vol. ii p. 281. The journalist, to whom all matters were of equal importance, proceeds to inform us, that Hurry took the Marquis of Huntly's best horse, and, in his retreat through Montrose, seized upon the Marquis's second son. He also expresses his regret, that "the said Donald Farquharson's body was found in the street, stripped naked; for they tirr'd from off his body a rich stand of apparel, but put on the same day." - Ibid. 
**+ So little was the spirit of illiberal fanaticism decayed in some parts of Scotland, that only thirty years ago, when Wilson, the ingenious author of a poem called Clyde now republished, was inducted into the office of schoolmaster at Greenock, he was obliged formally, and in writing, to abjure the "profane and unprofitable art of poem-making." It is proper to add, that such an incident is now as unlikely to happen in Greenock as in London. 1803.

THE BATTLE OF PHILIPHAUGH

On Philiphaugh a fray began
At Hairhead wood it ended;
The Scots out o'er the Graemes, they ran,
See merrily they bended.

Sir David frae the Border came,
Wi' heart an' hand came he;
Wi' him three thousand bonny Scots,
To bear him company.

Wi' him three thousand valiant men,
A noble sight to see!
A cloud o' mist them weel conceal'd,
As close as e'er might be.

When they came to the Shaw burn, * 
Said he, "Sae weel we frame,
I think it is convenient
That we should sing a psalm." - **

When they came to the Lingly burn, ***
As daylight did appear,
They spy'd an aged father,
And he did draw them near.

"Come hither, aged father!"
Sir David he did cry,
"And tell me where Montrose lies,
With all his great army." -

"But, first, you must come tell to me,
If friends or foes you be;
I fear you are Montrose's men,
Come frae the north country." -

"No, we are nane o' Montrose's men,
Nor e'er intend to be;
I am Sir David Lesly,
That's speaking unto thee." -

"If you're Sir David Lesly,
As I think weel ye be,
I am sorry ye hae brought so few
Into your company.

"There's fifteen thousand armed men,
Encamped on yon lee;
Ye'll never be a bite to them
For aught that I can see.

"But halve your men in equal parts,
Your purpose to fulfill;
Let ae half keep the water side,
The rest gae round the hill.

"Your nether party fire must,
Then beat a flying drum;
And then they'll think the day's their ain,
And frae the trench they'll come;

"Then, those that are behind them, maun,
Gie shot , baith grit and sma';
And so, between your armies twa,
Ye may make them to fa'," -

"O were ye ever a soldier?" -
Sir David Lesly said;
"O yes; I was at Solway Flow,
Where we were all betray'd. + 

"Again I was at curst Dunbar,
And was a prisoner ta'en,
And many weary night and day
In prison I hae lien." -

"If ye will lead these men aright,
Rewarded shall ye be;
But, if that ye a traitor prove,
I'll hang thee on a tree." -

"Sir, I will not a traitor prove;
Montrose has plunder'd me;
I'll do my best to banish him
Away frae this country." -

He halved his men in equal parts,
His purpose to fulfil;
The one part kept the water side,
The other gaed round the hill.

The nether party fired brisk,
Then turn'd and seem'd to rin,
And then they a' came frae the trench,
And cry'd "The day is ain!" -

The rest then ran into the trench,
And loosed their cannons a';
And thus, between his armies twa,
He made them fast to fa'.

Now, let us a' for Lesly pray,
And his brave company!
For they hae vanquish'd great Montrose
Our cruel enemy.

*A small stream, that joins the Ettrick, near Selkirk, on the south side of the river.
** Various reading - "That we should take a dram."
*** A brook, which falls into the Ettrick, from the north, a little above the Shaw burn.
+ The traditional commentary upon this ballad states this man's name to have been Brydone, ancestor to several families in the parish of Ettrick, particularly those occupying the farms of Midgehope and Redford Green. It is a strange anachronism, to have made this aged father state himself to have been at the battle of Solway Flow, which was fought a hundred years before Philiphaugh, and a still stranger, to mention that of Dunbar, which did not take place until five years after Montrose's defeat.

Return to the The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border Index Page

privacy policy