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The Story of the Royal Scots
Chapter I - The Fighting Scots Abroad, 1421-1632

Scots in Mediaeval France—Regiments serving with Gustavus Adolphus—Sir John Hepburn—The Green Brigade—Le Regiment d’Hebron.

It is not for nothing that The Royal Scots have pride of place in the Army List at the head of the roster of infantry regiments. The old First Foot may trace their origin, as a military unit, dimly but with authentic truth, to the year 1421, when a large Scots force first took a permanent place in the service of France, and so made a fateful entry into European politics. [Fortescue’s History of the British Army, Vol. I. p. 62.]

Six years after the battle of Agincourt, while Henry V was still fighting France, the Duke of Clarence was defeated at Beauge. The victorious general owed his success not so much to the French soldiers as to a body of Scotsmen serving under the Earl of Buchan, hardy fellows, inured to desperate encounters by continual forays in their own country. The true date of the foundation of the Garde Ecossais of the French kings has not been established, but there are legends in plenty. They relate that Charles III had twenty-four armed Scots about his person in 882, and that the life of Saint Louis was preserved in the 1234 Crusade by a Scots bodyguard. In 1254 it ls sa*d that Louis formally constituted them into a corps of Guards, but there is no authentic evidence as to this, or as to when the Gendarmes Ecossais were established. 1421 From 1421 onward Scots men-at-arms of both these corps filled a prominent place in the French service, and they did notable service at Vemeuil in 1424. Other bands of Scots irregulars served with them from 1484 until 1515, the date of the battle of Pavia, but we reach more definite ground in 1590.

1590 Some companies of foot were then recruited in Scotland for the service in France of Henri IV in his war against the League. Daniel1 says that these men were trained and officered by men of the Garde du Corps Ecossais and the Gendarmes Ecossais, but he does not say when the Captain of the Scottish Archer Guard first won the proud title of “ the first gentleman of France." However that may be, the men who crossed to France in 1590 do not seem to have formed a single regiment, and were probably used as separate companies wherever they were most needed.

Meanwhile the swords of adventurous Scotsmen were not placed solely at the disposal of the French. Despite the hereditary sympathy between the two nations, which is shown by similarities in architecture and law as well as by the alliances between the reigning families, war-making was a matter of money, and these professional fighters were apt to place themselves at the disposal of the highest bidder. Before the union of the Scottish and English crowns, a Scots regiment 1600 under Sir William Edmunds was fighting in 1600 by the side of English and Dutch about Ostend and Nieuport and over the sandy dunes of the Yser, but the 1600 Spaniards were too strong, and it did not anticipate the successes of our Scottish regiments against the Germans on the same terrain.

It was in the struggle for the Protestant cause, headed by Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, that the Scots played a far greater and more successful part.

As early as 1612 the “Lion of the North” had two 1612 Scots regiments, and they did well in 1620 at the siege of Riga. At the same time Scots Catholics were helping the Austrians, and a Lindsay fought for them while seven of his kinsmen were with Gustavus. We must pass over the great services of Sir Alexander Leslie, afterwards Lord Leven, and of Sir Alexander Hamilton, the artilleryman, and the men who fought with them, because they were not the ancestors of The Royal Scots. In 1626 King Christian of Denmark, 1626 the ally of Sweden, suffered a severe defeat at Lutter.

Our Charles I had promised help, but gave it in very meagre fashion. A big regiment of Scotsmen, partly Lowlanders, but including many of the clan Mackay, sailed in 1626 for the Elbe under the leadership of Sir Donald Mackay, and on the death of Count Mansfield, who had guaranteed their pay, they were sworn in as part of the Danish army.

A year later they were fighting for King Christian 1627 under Major Dunbar, and eight hundred of them held Boitzenburg against Tilly’s Imperial army of ten thousand. When their ammunition failed, and Tilly, who had already lost about one thousand men, essayed to storm the ramparts, the Scots fell upon them with butt-end and pike, slew five hundred more and sent the whole army packing, marching out afterwards in 1627 brave order. It is sad to have to tell that, shortly afterwards, a similar defiance of Tilly’s army by four of Dunbar’s companies resulted in all but seven or eight men being annihilated.

In October of the same year, 1627, the regiment withstood Tilly’s onslaught with immensely larger forces, and drove them back despite the defection of the Danes and Germans. Half the regiment fought for two hours and then was relieved by the other, and so they alternated for nine hours. Officers and men alike, fresh and comparatively untrained though they were, fought with a contemptuous valour which is showm by their casualties, sixteen officers and four hundred in the ranks. They did not forgive the Danes for leaving them in the lurch by their retreat that night, and when next they met them in quarters seven or eight men lost their lives in the scuffle. For all that, they fought on in the Danish service until 1630 1630, by wffiich time Mackay’s and Lord Spynie’s regiments had been almost wholly destroyed. After their ranks had been refilled by recruiting in Scotland, they entered the service of Gustavus Adolphus.

But wfe must go back a few years and follow the Scots in Bohemia. A daughter of James VI of Scotland and I of England had married the Count Palatine, King of Bohemia, who had a Scots regiment fighting for him against Austria and the Hapsburgs. Colonel Sir Andrew Gray was in command and John Hepburn 1G20 an officer in 1620, when the regiment was formed at Monkrig. They w'ere doubtless turbulent fellowrs, for the Lords of the Scottish Council handed over to Gray one hundred and twenty moss-troopers who had been arrested for violent doings. Hepburn was a cadet of the Hepburns of Athelstaneford, where he was born about 1600, and descended from the Hepburns of 1620 Hailes and Bothwell. The entry of this young man on a military career was to have far-reaching results, for he was the Father of The Royal Scots. Fischer says of him: “Whenever an enterprise of a particularly daring character was to be undertaken, it was mostly Hepburn who was chosen for it, and thanks to his eminent gifts of strategy and his equally great courage, he generally succeeded in bringing the matter to a victorious issue.” The flight of the Bohemian king to Holland caused the Scots regiment to move into the Palatinate, and after some fighting in Germany it withdrew to Holland and was disbanded. It would appear from a reference to engagements in which “Sir James Ramsay and Colonels Hepburn and Hume highly distinguished themselves,” that Hepburn had been promoted to the command of half the regiment, but on April 7,1625, after the disbandment, he accepted 1625 service with his company as a captain in the army of Gustavus Adolphus. The company must soon have grown into a regiment, and Hepburn’s military genius clearly developed very rapidly, for in the same year we find “ Colonel Hepburn’s regiment ” doing tremendous service for the Swedes in Poland. In 1627 Gustavus knighted him, and by 1631, at the age of thirty-one, he 1631 was in command of the whole Scots, or Green Brigade.

This consisted of his own regiment (still called Hepburn’s), Mackay’s Highlanders, the earlier exploits of which have been sketched, Stargate’s Corps and Sir James Lumsden’s musketeers. After the Brandenburg campaign, in which the Scots did well and revenged at Frankfort the slaughter of their countrymen at New Brandenburg, they found themselves facing their old enemy, Tilly, in Saxony. They met on the plain of Leipzig on September 7, 1631. On the Protestant side the Saxons were on the left, and the Swedes with the Scots on the right. When Tilly attacked, the Saxons ran like hares, but the Imperialists were hurled back on the right, and to such good purpose that the Saxon failure did not compromise the issue.

There is a curiously modem ring about the records of this battle, in which the Scots did the lion’s share. Tilly’s failure was due in the main to the Imperial habit of close formation. The superior mobility of Swede and Scot enabled Gustavus to cover the failure of his Saxon Allies and to turn his repulse of Tilly’s left wing into a rout. The Imperial mantle of 1631 still covers Imperial shoulders in 1915, with results in casualties which all will appreciate.

Sir John Hepburn's own part in this great battle was so great that, if we may believe an old Scots writer, “Unto him, in so far as praise is due to man, was attributed the honour of the day." It is at least true that after the flight of the Saxons—their Elector was the first to run—it was the platoon firing of Hepburn’s men which stemmed the Imperialist rush and saved the unprotected left flank of Gustavus’ line. Harte says  that this was the first time that platoon firing had been done, and that it utterly confounded Tilly's army. If this is true the Scots must be credited with a notable tactical invention. The dust of battle was so dense that the enemy were able to retreat under cover of its cloud, and Hepburn's Brigade could distinguish neither friend nor enemy, whereupon, as Sir T. Urquhart. relates, “having a drummer by me, I caused him beat The Scots March till it cleared up, which re-collected our friends unto us.”

During the next year Hepburn and his devoted 1632 friend Munro earned fresh laurels at the storming of Marienburg, at the sconce on the Rhine, at Donauworth, and during all Gustavus’ victorious march through Bavaria. On May 7, 1632, they entered Munich, of which Hepburn was made governor, about a dozen years only after his first visit to that city as a subaltern under Gray.

But this good fortune was not to be lasting. The Swedish king’s generalship did not save his smaller forces from heavy disaster in 1632 at Nuremburg, where Wallenstein, with seventy thousand, held the Protestant forces of less than half that number in an iron grip.

In a tragic effort to break through, the Scots suffered hideous losses. In twenty-four hours one detachment of five hundred was reduced to thirty, and, when the retreat to Neustadt followed, the Brigade had become only a handful.

Matters had not been bettered by a quarrel between Hepburn and Gustavus. The King made some scoffing remarks about Hepburn’s splendid armour, of which he was inordinately proud, and still worse about his faith, which was Catholic, and Sir John resigned his command, which devolved on Colonel Munro of Foulis. Still, Hepburn could not leave the beleaguered city, where he remained as spectator, and he rode near the King in the great assault on the Alta Feste. At a critical moment he went on a desperate mission at the King’s desire and saved several regiments.

1632 Gustavus fell at Lutzen in 1632, a month after Hepburn left him, and in the first great action into which he had gone without Scots regiments at his back; and though Munro fought on into next year with so rigid a devotion that the regiment became reduced to one company, that chapter in the history of the fighting Scots was nearly closed. All this time they had been called either the Scots Brigade, or the Green Brigade, because Hepburn’s was the Green regiment and his command gave the name to the Brigade. The colours 1632 of the regiment were shown in the men’s clothing simply by scarves or armlets, for military dress was not yet uniform. The drawing, based on contemporary prints and reproduced in Fig. 1, shows the musketeers and pikemen of the regiment at this period.1 Among the contributions of Gustavus to military science were his establishment of regiments of one thousand men, which has remained the number for a battalion until now, the brigading of four regiments together and the invention of cartridges. Each regiment consisted partly of pikemen, who formed the centre division in action, and partly of musketeers, who fought on the wings. The musketeers had so heavy a weapon with its four-foot barrel and forked rest and cartridges in bandoliers (an equipment almost as cumbrous as a modem machine gun), that they wore no body armour.

The pikemen were protected by headpiece and gorget, a corselet with taces and sometimes armpipes. It is a tribute to their physical hardiness that with all this hamper they could win battles by their mobility.

We left Sir John Hepburn quitting the Swedish service, but it was not to take rest. He spent the autumn of 1632 in London, and about the turn of the year crossed to France. Louis XIII was alive to the splendid qualities of the Scots mercenaries, and gladly received Hepburn into his service. A new regiment was formed, doubtless from the fragments of old Scots companies, and was called after its colonel. As, however, Hepburn was an awkward vocable for French tongues, it was corrupted, and the colonel came to be called Le Chevalier d’Hebron, and his Regiment the Regiment d’Hebron. The next incident in Hepburn’s career is so important that it must be narrated in a new chapter.

[The whole question of the development of the regiment’s uniform and equipment is discussed exhaustively in an appendix to The Records, and illustrated by drawings by Mr. Leask, some of which are reproduced by permission in this book.]

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