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The Story of the Royal Scots
Chapter V - The Regiment's Service Under William III,
1689-1702


Steenkirk—Death of Sir Robert Douglas—Lord George Hamilton becomes Colonel—Landen—The Siege of Namur—Uncle Toby’s account of the Assault—Treaty of Ryswick—Five years of Peace.

The first battalion joined the allied army near Tirlemont on June 10, 1689, and meanwhile the second battalion was recruiting in Scotland.

In mid-August the French moved against the Allies near Walcourt, which was held by Germah troops. The Royals formed part of a foraging party of six hundred British troops, which, with two hundred Dutch horse, was commanded by an old officer of the Scots, Colonel Hodges, then promoted to the command of the Sixteenth, and a brilliant soldier. The engagement began as a skirmish but ended in a serious action, in which the Allies inflicted immense losses on the French, and “Colonel Hotges,” as a letter to King William called him, “and the English who were with him performed marvels.” The old curse of English army mismanagement showed itself in the sufferings of the troops from lack of clothing and no doubt preventable sickness, which sent all the British regiments into quarters, where the first battalion was then joined by the second from Scotland.

The next year was quieter abroad, and the main energies of Great Britain were concentrated on the Irish campaign. The Royals took no part in it, but they lost their colonel by the death of Schomberg at the battle of the Boyne on July 1.

A threatened reduction of the regiment to a single battalion was not carried out.

In 1691 Sir Robert Douglas, who had been lieu-tenant-colonel for some time, was promoted full colonel, and thus the regiment returned to its old name of Douglas's. The experience of 1914 has given Mons a bitter, albeit a glorious sound, to Royal Scots, and therein history has repeated itself. The town had been in the hands of the Allies, but fell in 1691 after a feeble defence, and during the rest of the year the position was one of stalemate. A foolish blunder was made when Marlborough was removed from the command-in-chief in favour of Count Solmes of the Dutch Foot, an old soldier and a stupid one.

It is worth noting that a list of that year describes the regiment as “ Sir Robert Douglas's Scots Foot (not, be it observed, called “ Royal ”). An attempt : by King William to recapture Mons in the following year failed, but the incident marks the dignified customs of seventeenth-century war. Sir Robert Douglas and Colonel O'Farrell, of the Twenty-first, walked into the arms of a French patrol as they were returning from a council of war. Carried prisoners into Mons, they were soon after released on payment of ransoms. These were arranged on a regular scale varying with gradations of rank, and Douglas was back with his regiment by June 29. The idea of imprisonment for the term of a war was not then established. It would, indeed, have been a great hardship, because hostilities of a sort continued often for a dozen years at a stretch without formal peace being made. The release of Douglas was his undoing, for on July 23 William moved against the French. The Duke of Wurtemberg was in command of the advance guard consisting of six regiments, one of them The Royal Scots, as usual, on the right.

They were facing Steenkirk, and Luxembourg had got out of his bed to command the French, as yet unsuspicious of the allied advance. The British opened with artillery, a Royal Scot, Captain M'Cracken, directing the fire with consummate skill. D’Auvergne credits him with enfilading a French battalion so that nearly every man in one rank of it fell. M'Cracken did not himself live through the engagement. The six regiments had to wait two hours before they were allowed to advance, and this delay destroyed the advantage which surprise would have given them. However, they flung themselves on the greatly superior French forces, The Royal Scots with the colonel at their head. It was not until Luxembourg brought up his fourth line, the French and Swiss Guards, that the twelve British battalions, reduced by heavy casualties, were forced back, and then only inch by inch. In a violent dash through a hedge by the French, The Royal Scots lost one of their colours. Sir Robert Douglas followed the captor and retook the colour, but was struck on the instant by a bullet. “Feeling himself sinking, the last thought of his life was for the honour of his regiment; with all his remaining strength he flung the colour over to his men, and fell dead.” The story of the colonel’s gallantry has something of the flavour of the heroic sea-fight in Westward Ho! when Michael Hurd slew the captain of the Madre Dolorosa and then hewed down the Spanish colour and flung it far from the sinking ship.

Superb as the British had been, they could not perform miracles unsupported. Royal Scots, Scots Fusiliers, Grenadiers and Cameronians all alike had done well and could have won if William III, or rather his general, Count Solmes, had sent reinforcements, but not a man came. "Damn the English,” said Solmes, ”if they are so fond of fighting let them have a bellyful.”

They had it, and when the King saw the shattered regiments falling back, “repulsed,” as Mr. Fortescue says, "but unbeaten,” he could not repress a cry of anguish.

It was no victory for the French, and the British made their way back to camp after the heaviest infantry battle that history had yet recorded. The Royal Fusiliers helped to cover the retreat. One of their officers was Lord George Hamilton, afterwards Earl of Orkney, fifth son of the third Duke of Hamilton. So gallantly had he fought that he was promoted to the colonelcy of The Royal Scots, in which he had been a company officer in 1684, when his uncle, the Earl of Dumbarton, was in command, and it was from him he learnt the art of war. He continued colonel until his death in 1737. The total British losses were over eight thousand, and the French not many less, so the regiment had big gaps to fill when it went into winter quarters at Bruges, and recruiting parties were busy in Scotland at the end of 1692. In this year also died the Earl of Dumbarton, who had been colonel until the fall of James II, whom he followed into exile.

The next summer saw William III and Luxembourg facing each other once more, and the King was again out-generalled. At Landen on July 19, fifty thousand of the Allies had to stand up to eighty thousand French. They lost the battle, but the superiority of the Allies, man for man, was well established. Both battalions of the Scots were, unusually for them, on the British left, and the Grenadier company occupied a house in the village of Neer Landen. Four French brigades attacked the four Allies’ battalions at this point, but they were beaten back. The Grenadier company showered their missiles on the attackers to very good purpose, and the Scots battalion and the Queen’s—old comrades of theirs in the Tangier campaigns—cleared the French out of the village after two hours of struggle. The Allies’ failure elsewhere on the line caused them to yield their advantage, and Landen, indeed, was a worse defeat than Steenkirk. October saw the regiment again in Bruges. It is worth noting that the precedence lists of this period give the regiment the name of “Royall,” and put it first of the Line.

In May of the next year the British army was i concentrated at Louvain, and our first battalion with it, but the second remained in the Bruges winter quarters until June, and the year’s campaign presents little of interest. In the winter the true Scots character of the regiment was emphasized by orders not to recruit for it in England.

The spring of 1695 brings the story to the great siege of Namur, and all those memories of Uncle Toby which have enchanted generations of lovers of Tristram Shandy. The town, with its castle, occupied by sixteen thousand of the flower of the French army under Boufllers, was thought to be impregnable, but King William himself set about its siege. The importance of reducing it w'as obvious. The place was as important to the French in 1695 (protecting one end of their fortifications which extended to the sea), as it was in 1914 as a point of resistance to the German advance. In the former as in the latter case the fortress fell, and on both occasions because the means of defence had not been developed with the same success as the means of attack. Nineteen-fourteen plagiarized sixteen-ninety-five. But in the early siege the British were on the attacking side. The assault was opened on July 6 by the Brigade of Guards, who forced their way to the gates of the town. Cannon gives the date July 8 for The Royals’ assault on the suburb of Bouge to the north-east of the town, a position defended by heavily manned outworks. It seems more likely, however, that the two attacks w'cre related and on the same day, the 6th.* The Bougc attack was pretty work. Some Royal Fusiliers and the First Grenadiers led it and cleared the way for the pioneers with gabions and woolsacks: the Dutch Guards attacked on the left. The assault was followed up by The Royal Scots and more of the Fusiliers, and despite their heavy losses during the advance over exposed ground, the French were driven by the irresistible onslaught to the gates of the town. It was then that the colonel was wounded. On July 10 he was promoted Brigadier-General for his good services. Trench fighting and storming parties continued until the supreme moment of the siege. Tristram Shandy can relate the rest as he had it from Uncle Toby, who there received his wound in the groin:

”One of the most memorable attacks in that siege was that which was made by the English and Dutch upon the point of the advanced counterscarp, between the gate of St. Nicholas, which inclosed the great sluice or water-stop, where the English were terribly exposed to the shot of the counter-guard and demi-bastion of St. Roch : the issue of which hot dispute, in three words, was this : that the Dutch lodged themselves upon the counter-guard and that the English made themselves masters of the covered-way before St. Nicholas-gate, notwithstanding the gallantry of the French officers, who exposed themselves upon the glacis sword in hand.”

In this immortal assault The Royal Scots played a distinguished part, and the town fell to King William on July 24, when the French retired across the river Sambre to the Citadel.

Our regiment did not see the next stages of the siege because it was moved to Genappe, but two of their officers remained to do engineer service, and both battalions were in at the death on August 26.

Six days earlier the Grenadier company joined with other Grenadiers in a violent attack under Lord Cutts, by which several lodgments were effected, though the castle itself remained intact. The French garrison did not wait for a further assault, and marched out with the honours of war on the 26th.

Early in 1696 Lord George Hamilton was made Earl of Orkney. This and the next year were comparatively uneventful, and after the Treaty of Ryswick, September 10, 1697, the Royals returned to England. The companies were reduced to a peace footing of forty-two men apiece, and the "reduced" men were shipped off to Scotland.

The only sort of fighting in 1698 was a duel between two officers of the regiment, Colonel Seymour and Captain Sinclair, in which the former was badly hurt. A warrant of precedence once more fixed The Royals as the first after the Guards.

After the colonel’s elevation to the peerage the regiment was generally known as ”My Lord Orkney’s,” and it is so described in the orders relating to its stations in Ireland during 1699.

In the following year it is called ”The Royall Regiment of Orkney.” This year is notable only for giving the earliest reference to a regimental court-martial, when two men were tried for desertion and one for forgery. Their crimes are uninteresting, but the punishment ”running the Gauntlope” (gauntlet) may be described because few who use the phrase in proverbial fashion have any idea of what an unpleasant business it was. This is the record 1 of the sentence :

“All plead guilty and are sentenced, the former to run the Gauntlope through both battalions of the regiment, three several days, and afterwards to be stripped and disgracefully chased away with drums; and the latter, in consideration that his crime was greater than the others, to run the Gauntlope four times through the said battalions, and afterwards to be chased away with drums, and disgracefully stripped of the King’s Livery, and turned out of the regiment.”

No details of this drastic penalty are given in the Records, but we may go to Colonel Clifford Walton for a description.

"The regiment or company paraded with open ranks, each man being, furnished with a willow wand or other stout switch; the ranks were then faced inwards so as to form so many lanes of men. The prisoner, stripped to the waist, was then brought out and marched down the lanes or ranks; as he passed along each soldier struck him on his naked back, breast, arms or where his cudgel should light. The Provost-Marshal attended the parade to regulate the details of the punishment, and he gave the signal to begin it by inflicting the first stroke. It was the business of the officers to see that no favour was shown. In order to drown the cries of the patient, drums were beaten during the punishment.”

It is easy to imagine what this would mean for an unpopular man. The convicted forger must have received something like six hundred stripes (at a modest estimate) not once, but on four days. We may be thankful that such organized savagery has long been forgotten in Great Britain, even if the German drill-sergeant has not wholly lost the hideous tradition.

If 1700 was uneventful for the regiment, European conditions were pointing the way to an end of peace. The death of Charles II of Spain and the accession of Louis the Fourteenth’s grandson, Philip of Anjou, as Philip V, raised once more the threatening spectre of a French hegemony over Europe. Incidentally it was a flagrant violation of all treaties, and the Protestant powers, with King William at their head, prepared to resist. Louis, by a sudden coup, surrounded and captured fifteen thousand of the flower of the Dutch army, and preparations went forward in England to resist the aggression.

Lord Orkney’s regiment was brought up to war strength, and both battalions sailed from Ireland for Holland, each twelve companies strong, some eighteen hundred men in all, but there was no fighting during 1701. The close of the year saw the British people dose their ranks against France, when Louis, on the death of the exiled James II, recognized the old Pretender as King of England.

In the following spring Orkney and his officers were ordered to rejoin their regiment abroad. William III had died in March and The Royals had renewed their oath to Queen Anne, who decided to prosecute the active campaign set on foot by William.


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