WHEN King Charles had been a prisoner for about two
years, the English condemned him to death, and cut off his head. Then they
said they would have no more kings, and they made a soldier called Cromwell,
ruler, giving him the title of Lord Protector. When Montrose heard that his
King was dead, he was filled with grief and anger. Being a poet as well as a
soldier, he drew his sword, and with the point of it he wrote a poem full of
sorrow and defiance.
'I'll sing thine obsequies with trumpet sounds,
And write thine epitaph in blood and wounds.'
Not only Montrose, but every loyal Scot, was filled
with grief and anger. Even the Covenanters, who had fought against the King,
had never meant that he should be killed ; they had hoped to force him to
rule better. So now they proclaimed as King his son Charles, and messengers
were sent to Holland, where he had taken refuge, to ask him to come to
Scotland to be crowned. These messengers made it plain to Charles, however,
that they would only accept him as King if he promised to rule according to
the law, and if he promised to sign the Covenant, and to leave them free in
matters of religion.
These conditions did not please Charles. He wanted to
be a despot, like his father, and to do exactly as he pleased. He thought
that if he could conquer the land, there would be no need to yield to these
conditions. So he said neither 'yes' nor 'no' to the messengers of the
Covenant, but hesitated and delayed.
He hesitated and delayed, because gallant Montrose,
with his poet's sword in his hand, was sailing back to Scotland. He was
going to write his King's epitaph, as he had said, in blood and wounds, and
to set his son upon the throne.
Montrose landed in Orkney, and then crossed to the
mainland. But the people did not flock to his standard as they had done
before. A few men of Orkney, a few foreign soldiers whom he had brought with
him, one or two loyalist gentlemen, that was his whole army. It was not
enough with which to re-conquer a kingdom, and when this little company met
the Covenanting army, the Orkney fishermen fled without striking a blow; the
foreign soldiers fought for a while, but they too gave in, leaving Montrose
and his few friends to fight alone.
Many were killed, others taken prisoners, but Montrose
himself escaped. Changing clothes with a peasant, he wandered about for
several days, suffering much from hunger, cold, and weariness. At last,
utterly worn out, he was discovered by his enemies and betrayed, it has been
said, to the Covenanters by a false friend, for the price of a few bags of
The Covenanters hated Montrose, and now that they had
him in their power, they were very cruel to him. They mounted him upon a
rough Highland pony, with straw for a saddle, and a rope for a bridle, and
with his legs tied together, led him from town to town, dressed still in the
ragged, dirty clothes in which he had been captured. Insults were heaped
upon him. In every town and village the women and children came out to hoot
and yell, and to curse at him as he passed. But through it all, the Marquis
rode with calm dignity, showing neither shame nor anger.
At last they came to Edinburgh. The whole city was
ablaze with excitement because this great enemy of the Covenant had been
taken. Bells were rung, bonfires were lit, and the streets were crowded from
end to end as Montrose passed through them. Tied to a cart, which was driven
by the common hangman, he was led to prison. But so splendid and noble did
he look, that those who had come to jeer and laugh were silent; many were so
touched with pity that they sobbed aloud.
There was not even the mockery of a trial. Montrose
had been condemned before he reached Edinburgh, but he was taken before the
Parliament in order to hear his sentence. There he defended himself nobly.
'I did engage in the Covenant, and was faithful to it,' he said. 'When I saw
some, under pretence of religion, intended to take the authority from the
King. and seize on it for themselves, I judged it my duty to oppose it to
the uttermost. As to my coming at this time, it was by his Majesty's just
commands. Be not too rash, let me be judged by the laws of God, and the laws
of this land.'
But nothing that Montrose could plead was of any use.
He was condemned to die.
Next morning the Marquis was awakened by the sound of
drums and trumpets. It was the soldiers being marshalled to guard the
streets, in case any one should try to rescue him on his way to death.
'What,' he said, 'is it possible that I, who was such a terror to these good
men when alive and prosperous, continue still to frighten them when I am
bound for death?'
He rose, and dressed himself carefully, combing out
his long hair. As he was doing this, one of the men who hated him most came
into his prison cell. 'Why is James Graham so careful of his locks?' he
'My head is yet mine own,' replied the Marquis calmly.
'I will arrange it as I please. To-night, when it will be yours, you may do
with it what you like.'
Once again, for the last time, he marched through the
crowded streets. He was no longer dressed in his shabby old clothes, but in
a beautiful suit of velvet, which his friends had been allowed to give him.
Every window, every balcony, from the Tolbooth to the Grassmarket, where he
was to die, was thronged with people. Many had come to scoff, yet none
scoffed. lie stepped along the street with so great state, he looked so
handsome, grand, and grave, that every one was full of sad astonishment.
Once only, the silence was broken by the shrill laughter of a woman's voice.
Even his enemies shed tears, and owned him to be the bravest subject in the
world. He looked more like a king than a felon condemned to shameful death.
The Marquis was not allowed to speak to the people,
lest even at the last they should rise and rescue him. But to those around
him he spoke, ending with the words, 'I leave my soul to God, my service to
my Prince, my goodwill to my friends, my love and charity to you all.'
When the last moment came, the hangman burst into
tears, and a quivering sob broke from the crowd.
Montrose was only
thirty-eight when he died. To the last he was a poet, and the night before
he died he wrote his own epitaph:—
'Scatter my ashes, strew them in the air.
Lord! since Thou knowest where
all these atoms are,
I'm hopeful Thou 'it recover once my dust,
confident Thou 'It raise me with the just'