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The Story of the Royal Scots
Chapter II - Royal Warrant for Hepburn's Regiment, 1633-1636


Charles the First’s Order—Arguments as to Seniority—Serving Louis XIII against Germany—Death of Sir John Hepburn in 1636.

The story of Hepburn’s valorous campaigns with the 1633 Green Brigade in the wars of Gustavus Adolphus forms a great chapter in the record of the Scots abroad, but so far it has not been the story of a British regiment. Hepburn and his men, like all the Scots who fought on the great Swede’s side, were soldiers of fortune. Mercenary is an ugly name, but in its simple meaning, robbed of unpleasant implications, it expresses their status. They owed no patriotic allegiance to the “Lion of the North,” and Hepburn himself was of the same religion as his foes. The spurs to their gallantry were their love of adventure and the lure of military glory: we do not hear that they grew very rich in that hard employment. “Irregulars” is a fairer sounding and truer name, but this was soon to be changed.

On January 26, 1633, Sir John Hepburn received Jan. 26 his new commission from Louis XIII. Now comes a new and important fact which has but lately emerged.

After an audience with the French king, Hepburn went to Scotland to collect recruits, but no longer in the old fashion under his own name and relying only on his great reputation as a successful leader.

Presumably as the result of negotiations between Charles I and Louis XIII, the Privy Council of Scotland, by warrant1 dated Edinburgh, April 24, 1633, and given under the King's Authority at Whitehall on the 25th of March, gave order to raise twelve hundred men in Scotland. It is fair, therefore, to regard the regiment as henceforth British, and no less British because it was for many years to fight in the French service.

Mr. Fortescue has said that “the British standing army dates not from 1661, but from 1645, not from Monk’s regiment, but from the famous New Model which was established by Act of the Long Parliament." That is true, and the Coldstreams are the British foot regiment with the longest continuous Parliamentary sanction. It is none the less true that the King’s order of March 1633 establishes The Royal Scots as the regiment with the longest continuous Royal sanction, and their continuity did not suffer even the same technical break as the Coldstreams, when on February 14, 1661, the latter ceased to be Monk’s regiment and straightway became the Lord General's Foot Guards.

Hepburn’s recruiting in 1633 was swift and beyond the King’s warrant. On August 8 “two thousand men, good soldiers and mostly gentlemen" landed at Boulogne,3 and “ Le Sieur Douglas " followed with a hundred more later in the month. The old Scots companies, which had been serving in France since Green Brigade Incorporated 1590 and were now incorporated in the Regiment d’Hebron, had greatly dwindled, but by 1635 the number was made up to three thousand, mostly new men from Scotland. The new corps was thus the junior Scots regiment in France. Senior not only to them but even to every French regiment was the Scottish Guard, a survival from the Crusades, all gentlemen of the first Scots families, commanded by the Marquess of Huntly.

The Gendarmes Ecossais was also a distinguished old corps and the senior troop of the old gendarmerie. There were also in the French service two regiments of Scots Guards and the regiments of Colonels Leslie and Ramsay. Hepburn’s new command, junior to them all, was destined to survive them all as a unit. The colonel himself was promoted to be Marechal de Camp, a rank junior only to the Marshals of France, and he had not long to wait before active service began. In 1634 he fought alongside Turenne at the siege of La Mothe, and it was due to their combined skill that the fortress fell in July 1634.

After the death of Gustavus, the Protestant cause had fallen on evil times, and the French, not for love of the Reformed Religion but to suit their own purposes, went to their help. Richelieu declared war against the Holy Roman Empire.

Hepburn crossed the Rhine—a happy augury for Royal Scots—and broke the blockade of Mannheim and Heidelberg in December. Pushing on to Landau, the Marshal de la Force and Hepburn, now united, joined up with the Swedes, with whom were the battered remnants of the old Green Brigade. The joy of Hepburn’s comrade in arms, Colonel Munro, and indeed of all his war-worn veterans, may well be imagined. As the relieving force approached, deafening shouts were raised, the Scottish March was played, and the sole surviving piper, last of the thirty-six who had gone to Gustavus with Mackay’s Highlanders, skirled a welcome on the great war-pipes of the north.

The reunion was more than temporary, for the veterans were at once absorbed into the Regiment d'Hebron, which then boasted a grand total of eight thousand three hundred and sixteen men, the finest regiment in Europe. It is not true that at this time all the older Scots regiments in France were incorporated into Hepburn's. According to Pere Daniel, two regiments of Scots Guards were continuing as independent units in 1643, and were not absorbed into the Regiment d'H£bron until the Earl of Dumbarton was in command.

During the campaign against Germany of 1635, when Cardinal de la Valette was in supreme command of the French forces, there were quarrels between Hepburn's regiment and the regiment of Picardy. The latter was the oldest French line regiment, raised in 1562, and was irritated that Hepburn’s, by reason of having in its ranks some of the Old Scottish Archer Guard, claimed pride of place in military dispositions. It was then that the Scots were nicknamed Pontius Pilate’s Guards, a sardonic quip at their claim to immemorial antiquity which has not lost its freshness.

At the end of this luckless campaign Hepburn's men were, as usual, in the post of danger, bringing up the rear during a difficult retreat. One good story of his resource must be told. He had the ill luck to be taken prisoner by the Imperial forces while directing an encampment. By pretending to be a German and by giving his captors orders in German with infinite assurance, they were deceived so perfectly that " they felt it quite an honour to let him go.” Hepburn’s kindly and helpful treatment of the broken French troops was as marked as the skill with which his own regiment extricated itself from countless tight corners. The gallantry of the Scots, moreover, saved the remnant of the Cardinal’s forces by their desperate resistance to Gallas’ nine thousand fresh cavalry, whom they broke in a defile in the mountains of Lorraine. The next year, 1636, brought some relief to Louis’ harassed forces, which were then supported by the army of the Duke of Weimar. Hepburn’s skill and valour in this campaign earned for him the supreme honour of being appointed a Marshal of France. But the sands were running out. He was the life of the campaign which began in May with the siege of Saverne, better known to-day as Zabern. Cardinal de la Valette and Hepburn attacked on one side, Bernard of Saxe-Weimar on the other. Above the town, which was set amongst chestnut woods, stood a strong castle, crowning the summit of a steep and lofty rock. There was no approach to it, save by a rock-hewn pathway, narrow and swept by the guns on the frowning ramparts above. On June 9 a breach was made in the walls of the town and a general assault was ordered. Hepburn, Turenne and Jean d’Hunau were in the forefront of the fight. The last of these was left dead with hundreds of his men when night fell and the French forces fell back exhausted and unsuccessful. Two weeks went by, and further assaults alike failed. On July 21 the artillery attack was redoubled to prepare for a final effort. Hepburn decided to examine the principal breach. With his usual cool courage he advanced too near. The batteries of town and castle were firing into the French lines with greater fury than ever. A ball from the ramparts struck him; he fell and was carried away by his faithful Scots.

Stung with grief and anger, Turenne led a fourth assault by the same breach which had led Hepburn to his death. It was the last. The walls were stormed. Saverne was won, but Hepburn did not live to hear the news. As the sun set behind the mountains of Alsace on that brilliant July evening, this gallant Scottish gentleman breathed his last amongst the comrades whom he had led so brilliantly and loved so well. By a trick of Fate, his Marshal’s baton did not reach the camp from the King until Hepburn had fallen.1 But they laid it on his coffin when they bore him to his grave in the south transept of the cathedral of Toul.

Two Hepburns, his kinsmen, were aided by the greatest soldiers of France in the last offices, and the Bishop sang solemn mass amidst universal grief; but the last words of the first colonel of The Royal Scots had been of sorrow that he could not lie by his old home in the shadow of the green hills of Dirleton.

The great Cardinal Richelieu mourned for his blunt-spoken friend, and thought Saverne dearly purchased by his death. It had been a great career for a man not more than thirty-six when he died. Years went by, and Louis XIV set up a noble monument in the cathedral to his gallant memory. It did not survive the havoc of the Revolution, but his grave slab can still be deciphered, and not long since the regiment placed above it a wreath of bronze.


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