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Scots in Sweden
Scots in Sweden, by Jonas Berg and Bo Lagercrantz
Robert Monro, by Frans G. Bengtsson - Part 1


Some time in the 1630’s the Scottish mercenary Colonel, Robert Monro, sat down to compose a narrative — "to the use of all worthie Cavaliers favouring the laudable profession of Armes" — of the services in Germany of himself and his regiment, "the honourable Scotch regiment, call’d McKeyes" — "first under the magnanimous King of Denmark, during his warres against the Emperour; afterward, under the Invincible King of Sweden, during his Majesties life time; and since, under the Directour Generall, the Rex-chancellor Oxensterne and his Generalls." Monro had returned to his fatherland in 1633, with Oxenstierna’s commission to levy troops in order to bring his depleted regiment up to full strength. It was presumably the disaster at Nordlingen that intervened to prevent his return: Swedish shares, we may suppose, no longer stood very high on the mercenary market in the months that followed, and in that fatal battle his regiment had been as good as wiped out. For lack of any better occupation this unemployed Colonel now took to the pen, and proceeded, in a narrative whose particularity does not make it the less moving, to reduce to words the epic experiences of seven years, adding by way of adornment such quotations, applications of military lore, pious reflections and tangled pedantries of style as might reasonably be expected of a right-thinking cavalier with some pretensions to education, some hazy recollection of his youthful studies in the Latin tongue, and a clear eye for the inherent majesty of his subject. His book appeared in London in 1637; its title, long as a preface, is well-known to readers of A Legend of Montrose, where Scott inserts it into his Introduction. It is usually referred to simply as Monro his Expedition.

Colonel Monro himself is not wholly unknown to those who remember their Scott; for it was he who provided a good deal of the material for the immortal Dugald Dalgetty — "Rittmaster Dugald Dalgetty of Drumthwacket", the valorous soldier of fortune and military theorist, who returned to Scotland just in time to take part in Montrose’s campaigns, and to edify his brothers-in-arms with endless reminiscences of the time when he followed "the invincible Gustavus Adolphus, the Lion of the North, and the Bulwark of the Protestant Faith". Dalgetty is of course by no means a mere copy of our Colonel: Scott has in great measure stylised him. As a rhetorician he has been made better than his model, and can at any moment produce well-turned periods of preposterous phraseology, to the frequent imperilment of the gravity of his audience, while Monro keeps to a more modest level and achieves the sublimely comic only by way of exception. On the other hand Scott’s hero, for artistic reasons, has been made of coarser moral fibre than his original. Dalgetty is a pure mercenary without ideals of any sort, pushing, valiant, and jealous of his honour; proud of his profession, and imbued with the most minute interest for its etiquette and technique, but completely devoid of any idea that the trade of war may have a more ideal side. He fights as cheerfully for Papists, Arminians and Anabaptists as for Protestants —provided only that his wages be honestly paid, or at least that he be given now and then a decent chance of plunder; for a moment he has even contemplated entering the Turkish service; the religious element in him is limited to the Biblical phraseology of his descriptions of Gustavus Adolphus. Monro, on the other hand, takes a personal interest in the success of the Protestant Cause, and is in general very ready to speak of religion: he could never have reconciled himself to serving with Tilly or Wallenstein; he notes with satisfaction that English and Scottish soldiers of fortune prefer to follow the Swedish standard. On the battlefield of Breitenfeld, where Monro had intervened effectively in the hand-to-hand struggle which brought Tilly’s great infantry attack to a standstill, he applied to the King after the victory was won for permission to reinforce his depleted regiment by incorporating all prisoners of British nationality. He obtained leave to do so, and applied to Banér, who had charge of the sorting-out of the prisoners. And when, among all the thousands of prisoners available, the two of them succeeded in dredging up only three Irishmen — then Monro was indeed somewhat downcast at a recruiment so poor from the point of view of the service, but derived none the less a certain moral satisfaction from telling the King of his ill-success, as being proof that the British Isles produced in the main men who fought for the cause of righteousness.

Battle Scene

The sword and the half-pike were instruments whose use Monro understood down to the smallest particular; with the pen he felt himself less at ease, and his manoeuvres to get to grips with what he wishes to say can often become somewhat tedious. His subject is akin to Xenophon’s, his enthusiasm for Gustavus Adolphus is reminiscent of Joinville’s for St Louis; but while the lucidity of the Athenian and the easy conversational style of the Sénéchal of Champagne have put their military memoirs among the fixed stars in the literary firmament, Monro has not succeeded in making his narrative of the campaigns in which he took part much more than a forgotten curiosity of literature. No subject is great enough in itself to make a book readable. It may be treated as seriously and conscientiously as you please; but a certain literary instinct — often almost impossible to detect, but still decisive for the reader — must have been operative at the moment when events were clothed in words, if any such narrative is to escape the fate of becoming no more than a source for the historian. Few men have been less affected with literary arrière-pensée than a man such as Joinville when he dictated his book on King Louis; in so far as he troubled himself about the arrangement of his material at all, he usually succeeded in putting the cart before the horse, and in his narrative he chattered away, just as things occurred to him, with supreme disregard of other considerations. Nevertheless his book emerged as great literature, partly perhaps because he had in comparison with a writer such as Monro one great advantage: as became a gentilhomme in his day, he could neither read nor write. He spoke to his secretary in the tone of a man of the world, easily and with a charming lightness, entirely fascinated by his subject, and the result was readable from start to finish. But Monro, full of Latin quotations, and with Frontinus and Quintus Curtius at his finger-ends, saw (thanks to his studies) the portals of the land of pedantry open wide before him; and with much painful care he has succeeded in rendering his book largely unreadable, unless the reader bring considerable patience to the task. Parallel to every narrative chapter in his book runs a chapter of Observations, highly repetitious and packed with didactic verbiage; but containing nevertheless matter which makes it impossible simply to skip them in the reading. Thus Monro spreads over the events he describes a veil of heaviest baroque ornamentation, obscuring them from the eye of the reader; and it is only rarely that he permits a more or less clear image to slip through.

Nevertheless Monro is a writer worthy of all respect — a barbarized Xenophon from an age when literary products blossomed only with extreme rarity in the tented field. In bibliographies of the Thirty Year’s War his book occupies an almost unique place: memoir-writing by active participants — whether in war or politics — seems to have been almost exclusively confined to France. He stands therefore as a virtually unique spokesman for a great confraternity: many inarticulate spirits, many simple-minded men of the sword in him find a voice, and the uncomplicated philosophy and ethics of the honourable craft of arms is given clear expression in his reflections and commentaries.

Battle Scene

The regiment whose fortunes Monro relates (he commanded one half of it throughout the period of its Swedish service) was levied by Lord Reay, and was originally intended to be used as reinforcement for Count Mansfeld, at that time Protestantism’s one remaining champion in Germany. But by the time it was brought up to full strength and embarked at Cromarty — in the autumn of 1626 — Mansfeld’s restless life had already closed, and instead they steered their course to Christian IV of Denmark, then busily engaged in raising men for his German war. Monro began his career as Lieutenant under "the worthie and well-born Captaine, Thomas McKenzie of Kildon"; but his own merits — assisted by sword and pestilence — brought him quick promotion, and after little more than a year he became Lieutenant-Colonel, and commanded the regiment in Lord Reay’s absence. Lord Reay tended to be mainly absent. Men of rank such as himself raised regiments and lent them the lustre of their name, and arranged the details of high finance with any Kings who might be interested; but for routine service on the battlefield or at the head of the storming-columns they rarely had the time to spare: such things fell to the lot of simpler folk such as Monro. The clan of Monro was numerously represented in the regiment: the subalterns, N.C.S.’s and privates of that name, whom the conscientious Colonel notes down in the course of his narrative as dead, are the sands of the sea in number. The regiment included no less than three members of the family who afterwards became Colonels under Gustavus Adolphus: Robert Monro the Lord of Fowles, head of the house, called "the Black Baron", who had been compelled by financial difficulties to mortgage his estate and enlist as a soldier, and who died of wounds at Ulm; John Monro of Obstell, who fell at Wetterau on the Rhine; and the author himself, longer-lived than most of the others — though he was rarely out of the way when an important action was to be fought.

During the Danish period of the war the regiment’s experiences in the field were certainly extremely arduous, but on the whole they were satisfactory to Monro, who looked at them wholly from the regiment’s point of view. The campaign itself was as unfortunate as possible; but the regiment covered itself with glory at the storm of sundry places and in a number of reaguards actions. The Scots soon won the reputation of a picked regiment; and the Danish command relied largely upon them in moments of difficulty, gave them the posts of danger, and allowed them to bear the brunt of the fighting without reinforcement for much longer periods than in the case of other troops. All of which is no doubt very honourable for a regiment, and redounds to the glory of Scotland too; but even Scots have limits to their endurance and their taste for fighting, and once or twice in Oldenburg Monro seems to have felt that here was too much of a good thing. When Tilly advanced into Holstein the regiment sustained a serious disaster. Three of its companies were defending Bredenberg, a fortified castle in those parts; after a summons to capitulate had been rejected, the Imperialists stormed the castle and put to death every man, woman and child inside it; only one ensign escaped to carry a report to the regiment. What particularly irritated the Scots about this was that their regimental chaplain had been slain with the rest, although he had been found on his knees, praying for his life with uplifted hands. Shortly after this Monro in his turn stormed a place in Holstein garrisoned by the Imperialists (disguised in his narrative under the name of Aickilfourd); the Scots now, by way of quid pro quo, refused to give quar the imperialists at last barricaded themselves in a church; and Monro, after a short struggle with his conscience, caused the door to be broken open with battering-rams: no place, he felt, could be sufficiently sacred to afford sanctuary to people who killed regimental chaplains. These two episodes provided a sort of prelude in miniature to the similar incidents at Neu-Brandenburg and Frankfurt on the Oder in which the regiment was to play a part a few years later.

With the King of Denmark Monro was well-pleased; he was not, perhaps, much of a commander, but wages were punctually paid, and he took pains to arrange for good quartering. His standing epithet with Monro is "the Magnanimous", his appearance was truly regal; his wisdom, carefulness and tenacity win Monro’s commendation. He was, besides, in his dealings with honourable cavaliers an amiable and loquacious gentleman; Monro ate at his table, and even on one occasion, when they were quartered on Laaland, had the honour of a visit from the King which lasted until 3 o’clock in the morning; upon which Monro’s only comment is that the King departed without saying farewell — a piece of absent-mindedness which is not perhaps entirely incapable of explanation, in view of the hour and His Danish Majesty’s prowess with the bottle. Monro, it is clear, never had better quarters than those he enjoyed in Denmark — at least until the march through the Rhineland in the autumn of 1631. Minor clashes with their Danish hosts and with other regiments did indeed occur from time to time, but they appeared almost as an agreeable break in an existence which might otherwise have declined into torpid luxuriousness. Upon his return from Holstein, Monro (he had just got his majority) was sent with a portion of the regiment to Assens, on the island of Fyn, where he found another Major with some squadrons of the Rhinegrave’s cavalry. The question as to which of them had the right to command the garrison soon produced a coolness between the two Majors, a coolness which communicated itself to their devoted troops; so that the ensuing street-fights soon showed a daily casualty-return of from four to five killed per regiment. Major-General Slammersdorff was forced to quit his headquarters at Odense, to hold a court-martial, and to pronounce a verdict in Monro’s favour, before this civil war could be brought to a conclusion. When next these two regiments encountered one another — both were by that time in Swedish service — these little irrations seem to have been forgotten; or perhaps Gustavus Adolphus and his order-loving Field-Marshal Horn had effective prophylactics against private diversions of this sort.

Battle Scene

When from time to time Danish burghers and peasants grew exasperated at the Scots billetted upon them, they had at first recourse to the obvious remedy of thrashing such of them as they encountered alone; but when this proved in the long run not to be a very paying proposition, they hit upon a better method, and brought accusations of rape. In one case Monro lost three men at a stroke, on account of a single peasant girl; the court-martial in Copenhagen, which had called in Monro as assessor, allowed itself to be persuaded to defer sentence on grounds of insufficient evidence. However, when this had been agreed on, and Monro had left Copenhagen, the court nevertheless caused the accused to be summarily hanged. Monro shook his head at this way of doing business, partly because he considered the accusations to be false, but mainly because he felt that the court-martial had acted in an ungentlemanly fashion towards him by arranging for the hanging privily and in his absence.

Monro in this connection is concerned to point out that the machinery for the administration of justice was by no means lacking in such a regiment as his; and his account of how it was organized is of its kind a good picture of his age:

"To conclude this observation, there are lawes and justice observed as well among souldiers, as in other governments, and the strictest justice, that is, with least partiality: our lawes are the Kings Articles, we are sworne to obey our President or Judge, he amongst us present having the command, to whom his Majesty joynes, as assessor to the Judge, an Auditor for doing of justice, our Assisers of Jury we have not to seeke (viz.) a competent number of thirteene of our owne Regiment, Officers, Captaines, Lievetenants, Antients, Sergeants and Corporalls, till our number be full: our Proforce or Gavilliger brings in the complaints, and desires justice, in his Majesties name, to the party offended, and to his Master the Kings Majesty or Generall, that fuers or leads the warre; and every Regiment is bound to have an executioner of their owne, which if the Regiment wants, the Colonell is obliged to hire another to doe the execution for paiment, and sometimes as the crime and the person is respected, that is to suffer, he is honoured to be shot by his camerades, or beheaded, not suffering an executioner to come neare him. Other slight punishments we enjoyne for slight faults, put in execution by their Camerades; as the Lowpegarthe, when a Souldier is stripped naked above the waste, and is made to runne a furlong betwixt two hundred Souldiers, ranged alike opposite to others, leaving a space in the midst for the Souldier to runne through, where his Camerades whip him with small rods, ordained and cut for the purpose by the Gavilliger, and all to keepe good order and discipline; for other lesser faults, there is ordaited slighter punishments, as Irons, standing at a jost, his hands bound up above his head; likewise sitting on a Treen or woodden Mare, in some publicke place, to make him ashamed of his fault: At also sometimes to stand six or seaven hours longer than ordinary at the centrie posture; as I was once made to stand in my younger years at the Louver gate in Paris, being then in the Kings Regiment of the Guards, passing my prenticeship, for sleeping in the morning, when I ought to have beene at my excercise, for punishment I was made stand from eleven before noone, to eight of the Clocke in the night Centry, Armed with Corslet, Head-piece, Bracelets, being Iron to the teeth, in a hot summers day, till I was weary of my life, which ever after made me the more strict in punishing those under my Command."

In May 1628 the regiment received orders to march with all speed to Elsinore, whence it was shipped to serve as garrison in Stralsund, which at that time was menaced by the attacks of Wallenstein, and had been taken under the protection of Christian IV. Here Monro and his men were to experience their severest trials in the Danish service. Wallenstein, who had sworn to take the town "were it grappled to Heaven with iron chains", pushed the siege with great fury. Three attempts at storm were made upon the positions held by Monro; outworks were taken and retaken in desperate nocturnal encounters with pike, club and partisan; the regiment in a few weeks lost more than half its strength. But Scottish blood did not flow in vain: the town was held, despite Wallenstein’s efforts, and the Imperialists, as Monro points out with satisfaction, lost in their attacks at least thrice as many men as he. When the crisis was at its worst, he was cheered by the arrival of a famous fellow-countryman, Alexander Leslie, Major-General in the Swedish service, who had been sent with sufficient aid by Gustavus Adolphus; and Monro in reporting this unexpected deliverance compares Stralsund with Sara the wife of Abraham, who was made fruitful when she least expected it. The Danish troops were now withdrawn; and with such of his men as survived — and, for his own part, with a musket-ball in one knee — Monro returned to Copenhagen. Here Lord Reay now appeared with a large number of new levies which he had raised on a recruiting tour in Scotland, and the regiment was again brought up to its full strength of twelve companies. In the winter of 1628-1629 Monro lay in quarters in "Malline [Malmo] in Skonland", with a couple of companies in "Alzenburg" [Halsingborg] and one in "London" [Lund] in the same kingdom. Malmö makes a favourable impression on the observant Lieutenant-Colonel: The food in burgher homes he finds excellent without being extravagant; silver articles were plentiful and servants numerous; while the better class of people made laudable efforts to imitate the King, as far as possible, in dress, manners and appearance.


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