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General History of the Highlands
1644 (September)  - 1645 (February)

MONTROSE now entertained confident expectations that many of the royalists of the surrounding country who had hitherto kept aloof would join him; but after remaining three days at Perth, to give them an opportunity of rallying round his standard, he had the mortification to find that, with the exception of Lords Dupplin and Spynie, and a few gentlemen from the Carse of Gowrie, who came to him, his anticipations were not to be realized. The spirits of the royalists had been too much subdued by the seventies of the Covenanters for them all at once to risk their lives and fortunes on the issue of what they had long considered a hopeless cause; and although Montrose had succeeded in dispersing one army with a greatly inferior force, yet it was well known that that army was composed of raw and undisciplined men, and that the Covenanters had still large bodies of well-trained troops in the field.

Thus disappointed in his hopes, and understanding that the Marquis of Argyle was fast approaching with a large army, Montrose crossed the Tay on the 4th of September, directing his course towards Coupar-Angus, and encamped at night in the open fields near Collace. His object in proceeding northward was to endeavour to raise some of the loyal clans, and thus to put himself in a sufficiently strong condition to meet Argyle. Montrose had given orders to the army to march early next morning, but by break of day, and before the drums had beat, he was alarmed by an uproar in the camp. Perceiving his men running to their arms in a state of fury and rage, Montrose, apprehensive that the Highlanders and Irish had quarrelled, immediately rushed in among the thickest of the crowd to pacify them, but to his great grief and dismay, he ascertained that the confusion had arisen from the assassination of his valued friend Lord Kilpont. He had fallen a victim to the blind fury of James Stewart of Ardvoirlich, with whom he had slept the same night, and who had long enjoyed his confidence and friendship. According to Wishart, wishing to ingratiate himself with the Covenanters, he formed a design to assassinate Montrose or his major-general, Macdonald; and endeavoured to entice Kilpont to concur in his wicked project. He, therefore, on the night in question, slept with his lordship, and having prevailed upon him to rise and take a walk in the fields before daylight, on the pretence of refreshing themselves, he there disclosed his horrid purpose, and entreated his lordship to concur therein. Lord Kilpont rejected the base proposal with horror and indignation, which so alarmed Stewart that, afraid lest his lordship might discover the matter, he suddenly drew his dirk and mortally wounded Kilpont. Stewart, thereupon, fled, and thereafter joined the Marquis of Argyle, who gave him a commission in his army. (Wishart, p. 84. — Stewart’s descendant, the late Robert Stewart of Ardvoirlich, gives an account of the above incident, founded on a "constant tradition in the family." tending to show that his ancestor was not so much a man of base and treacherous character, as of "violent passions and singular temper." James Stewart, it is said, was so irritated at the Irish, for committing some excesses on lands belonging to him, that he challenged their commander, Macdonald, to single combat. By advice of Kilpont, Montrose arrested both, and brought about a seeming conciliation. When encamped at Collace, Montrose gave an entertainment to his officers, on returning from which Ardvoirlich, "heated with drink, began to blame Kilpont for the part he had taken in preventing his obtaining redress, and reflecting against Montrose for not allowing bins what he considered proper reparation. Kilpont, of course, defended the conduct of himself and his relative, Montrose, till their argument came to high words, and finally, from the state they were both in, by an easy transition, to blows, when Ardvoirlich, with his dirk, struck Kilpont dead on the spot." He fled, leaving his eldest son, Henry, mortally wounded at Tippermuir, on his death-bed.—lntrod. to Legend Montrose).

Montrose now marched upon Dundee, which refused to surrender. Not wishing to waste his time upon the hazardous issue of a siege with a hostile army in his rear, Montrose proceeded through Angus and the Mearns, and in the course of his route was joined by the Earl of Airly, his two sons, Sir Thomas and Sir David Ogilvie, and a considerable number of their friends and vassals, and some gentlemen from the Mearns and Aberdeenshire. This was a seasonable addition to Montrose’s force, which had been greatly weakened by the absence of some of the Highlanders who had gone home to deposit their spoils, and by the departure of Lord Kilpont’s retainers, who had gone to Menteith with his corpse.

After the battle of Tippermuir, Lord Elcho had retired, with his regiment and some fugitives, to Aberdeen, where he found Lord Burleigh and other commissioners from the convention of estates. As soon as they heard of the approach of Montrose, Burleigh, who acted as chief commissioner, immediately assembled the Forbeses, the Frasers, and the other friends of the covenanting interest, and did everything in his power to gain over to his side as many persons as he could from those districts where Montrose expected assistance. In this way Burleigh increased his force to 2,500 foot and 500 horse, but some of these, consisting of Gordons, and others who were obliged to take up arms, could not be relied upon.

When Montrose heard of these preparations, he resolved, notwithstanding the disparity of force, his own army now amounting only to 1,500 foot and 44 horse, to hasten his march and attack them before Argyle should come up. On arriving near the bridge of Dee, he found it strongly fortified and guarded by a considerable force. He did not attempt to force a passage, but, directing his course to the west, along the river, crossed it at a ford at the Mills of Drum, and encamped at Crathas that night (Wednesday, 11th September). The Covenanters, the same day, drew up their army at the Two Mile Cross, a short distance from Aberdeen, where they remained till Thursday night, when they retired into the town. On the same night, Montrose marched down Deeside, and took possession of the ground which the Covenanters had just left.

On the following morning, viz., Friday, 13th September, about eleven o’clock, the Covenanters marched out of Aberdeen to meet Montrose, who, on their approach, despatched a drummer to beat a parley, and sent a commissioner along with him bearing a letter to the provost and bailies of Aberdeen, commanding and charging them to surrender the town, promising that no more harm should be done to it; "otherwise, if they would disobey, that then he desired them to remove old aged men, women, and children out of the way, and to stand to their own peril". Immediately on receipt of this letter, the provost called a meeting of the council, which was attended by Lord Burleigh, and, after a short consultation, an answer was sent along with the commissioner declining to surrender the town. On their return the drummer was killed by the Covenanters, at a place called Justice Mills; which violation of the law of nations so exasperated Montrose, that he gave orders to his men not to spare any of the enemy who might fall into their hands. His anger at this occurrence is strongly depicted by Spalding, who says, that "he grew mad, and became furious and impatient."

As soon as Montrose received notice of the refusal of the magistrates to surrender the town, he made the necessary dispositions for attacking the enemy. From his paucity of cavalry, he was obliged to extend his line, as he had done at Tippermuir, to prevent the enemy from surrounding or outflanking him with their horse, and on each of his wings he posted his small body of horsemen along with select parties of musketeers and archers. To James Hay and Sir Nathaniel Gordon he gave the command of the right wing, committing the charge of the left to Sir William Rollock, all men of tried bravery and experience.

The Covenanters began the battle by a cannonade from their field-pieces, and, from their commanding position, gave considerable annoyance to the royal forces, who were very deficient in artillery. After the firing had been kept up for some time, Lord Lewis Gordon, third son of the Marquis of Huntly, a young man of a very ardent disposition, and of a violent and changeable temper, who commanded the left wing of the Covenanters, having obtained possession of some level ground where his horse could act, made a demonstration to attack Montrose’s right wing; which being observed by Montrose, he immediately ordered Sir William Rollock, with his party of horse, from the left wing to the assistance of the right. These united wings, which consisted of only 44 horse, not only repulsed the attack of a body of 300, but threw them into complete disorder, and forced them to retreat upon the main body, leaving many dead and wounded on the field. Montrose restrained these brave cavaliers from pursuing the body they had routed, anticipating that their services might be soon required at the other wing; and he was not mistaken, for no sooner did the covenanting general perceive the retreat of Lord Lewis Gordon than he ordered an attack to be made upon the left wing of Montrose’s army; but Montrose, with a celerity almost unexampled, moved his whole cavalry from the right to the left wing, which, falling upon the flank of their assailants sword in hand, forced them to fly, with great slaughter. In this affair Montrose’s horse took Forbes of Craigievar and Forbes of Boyndlie prisoners.

The unsuccessful attacks on the wings of Montrose’s army had in no shape affected the future fortune of the day, as both armies kept their ground, and were equally animated with hopes of ultimate success. Vexed, but by no means intimidated by their second defeat, the gentlemen who composed Burleigh’s horse consulted together as to the best mode of renewing the attack; and, being of opinion that the success of Montrose’s cavalry was owing chiefly to the expert musketeers, with whom they were interlined, they resolved to imitate the same plan, by mixing among them a select body of foot, and renewing the charge a third time, with redoubled energy. But this scheme, which might have proved fatal to Montrose, if tried, was frustrated by a resolution he came to, of making an instant, and simultaneous attack upon the enemy. Perceiving their horse still in great confusion, and a considerable way apart from their main body, he determined upon attacking them with his foot before they should get time to rally; and galloping up to his men, who had been greatly galled by the enemies’ cannon, he told them that there was no good to be expected by the two armies keeping at such a distance—that in this way there was no means of distinguishing the strong from the weak, nor the coward from the brave man, but that if they would once make a home charge upon these timorous and effeminate striplings, as he called Burleigh’s horse, they would never stand their attack. "Come on, then," said he, "my brave fellow soldiers, fall down upon them with your swords and muskets, drive them before you, and make them suffer the punishment due to their perfidy and rebellion." These words were no sooner uttered, than Montrose’s men rushed forward at a quick pace and fell upon the enemy, sword in hand. The Covenanters were paralyzed by the suddenness and impetuosity of the attack, and, turning their backs, fled in the utmost trepidation and confusion, towards Aberdeen. The slaughter was tremendous, as the victors spared no man. The road leading from the field of battle to Aberdeen was strewed with the dead and the dying; the streets of Aberdeen were covered with the bodies, and stained with the blood of its inhabitants. "The lieutenant followed the chase into Aberdeen, his men hewing and cutting down all manner of men they could overtake, within the town, upon the streets, or in the houses, and round about the town, as our men were fleeing with broad swords, but (i.e. without) mercy or remeid. Their cruel Irish, seeing a man well clad, would first tyr (strip) him and save his clothes unspoiled, syne kill the man." In fine, according to this writer, who was an eye-witness, the town of Aberdeen, which, but a few years before, had suffered for its loyalty, was now, by the same general who had then oppressed it, delivered up by him to be indiscriminately plundered by his Irish forces, for having espoused the same cause which he himself had supported. For four days did these men indulge in the most dreadful excesses, "and nothing," continues Spalding, was "heard but pitiful howling, crying, weeping, mourning, through all the streets." Yet Guthry says that Montrose " shewed great mercy, both pardoning the people and protecting their goods."

It is singular, that although the battle continued for four hours without any determinate result, Montrose lost very few men, a circumstance the more extraordinary as the cannon of the Covenanters were placed upon advantageous ground, whilst those of Montrose were rendered quite ineffective by being situated in a position from which they could not be brought to bear upon the enemy. An anecdote, characteristic of the bravery of the Irish, and of their coolness in enduring the privations of war, has been preserved. During the cannonade on the side of the Covenanters, an Irishman had his leg shot away by a cannon ball, but which kept still attached to the stump by means of a small bit of skin, or flesh. His comrades-in-arms being affected with his disaster, this brave man, without betraying any symptoms of pain, thus cheerfully addressed them :—" This, my companions, is the fate of war, and what none of us ought to grudge: go on, and behave as becomes you and, as for me, I am certain my lord, the marquis, will make me a trooper, as I am now disabled for the foot service." Then, taking a knife from his pocket, he deliberately opened it, and cut asunder the skin which retained the leg, without betraying the least emotion, and delivered it to one of his companions for interment. As soon as this courageous mar. was able to mount a horse, his wish to become a trooper was complied with, in which capacity he afterwards distinguished himself.

Hoping that the news of the victory he had obtained would create a strong feeling in his favour among the Gordons, some of whom had actually fought against him, under the command of Lord Lewis Gordon, Montrose sent a part of his army towards Kintore and Inverury, the following day, to encourage the people of the surrounding country to declare for him; but he was sadly disappointed in his expectations. The fact is, that ever since the appointment of Montrose as lieutenant-general of the kingdom,—an appointment which trenched upon the authority of the Marquis of Huntly as lieutenant of the north,—the latter had become quite lukewarm in the cause of his sovereign; and, although he was aware of the intentions of his son, Lord Lewis, to join the Covenanters, he quietly allowed him to do so without remonstrance. But, besides being thus, in some measure, superseded by Montrose, the marquis was actuated by personal hostility to him on account of the treatment he had formerly received from him; and it appears to have been partly to gratify his spleen that he remained a passive observer of a struggle which involved the very existence of the monarchy itself. Whatever may have been Huntly’s reasons for not supporting Montrose, his apathy and indifference had a deadening influence upon his numerous retainers, who had no idea of taking the field but at the command of their chief.

As Montrose saw no possibility of opposing the powerful and well-appointed army of Argyle, which was advancing upon him with slow and cautious steps, disappointed as he had been of the aid which he had calculated upon, he resolved to march into the Highlands, and there collect such of the clans as were favourably disposed to the royal cause. Leaving Aberdeen, therefore, on the 16th of September, with the remainder of his forces, he joined the camp at Kintore, whence he despatched Sir William Rollock to Oxford to inform the king of the events of the campaign, and of his present situation, and to solicit him to send supplies.

We must now advert to the progress of Argyle’s army, the slow movements of which form an unfavourable contrast with the rapid marches of Montrose’s army. On the 4th of September, four days after the battle of Tippermuir, Argyle, who had been pursuing the Irish forces under Macdonald, had arrived with his Highlanders at Stirling, where, on the following day, he was joined by the Earl of Lothian and his regiment, which had shortly before been brought over from Ireland. After raising some men in Stirlingshire, he marched to Perth upon the 10th, where he was joined by some Fife men, and Lord Bargenny’s and Sir Frederick Hamilton’s regiments of horse, which had been recalled from Newcastle for that purpose. With this increased force, which now consisted of about 3,000 foot and two regular cavalry regiments, besides ten troops of horse, Argyle left Perth on the 14th of September for the north, and in his route was joined by the Earl Marshal, Lords Gordon, Fraser, and Crichton, and other Covenanters. He arrived at Aberdeen upon the 19th of September, where he issued a proclamation, declaring the Marquis of Montrose and his followers traitors to religion and to their king and country, and offering a reward of 20,000 pounds Scots, to any person who should bring in Montrose dead or alive. Spalding laments with great pathos and feeling the severe hardships to which the citizens of Aberdeen had been subjected by these frequent visitations of hostile armies, and alluding to the present occupancy of the town by Argyle, he observes that "this multitude of people lived upon free quarters, a new grief to both towns, whereof there was quartered on poor old Aberdeen Argyle’s own three regiments. The soldiers had their baggage carried, and craved nothing but house-room and fire. But ilk captain, with twelve gentlemen, had free quarters, (so long as the town had meat and drink,) for two ordinaries, but the third ordinary they furnished themselves out of their own baggage and provisions, having store of meal, molt and sheep, carried with them. But, the first night, they drank out all the stale ale in Aberdeen, and lived upon wort thereafter."

Argyle was now within half a day’s march of Montrose, but, strange to tell, he made no preparations to follow him, and spent two or three days in Aberdeen doing absolutely nothing. After spending this time in inglorious supineness, Argyle put his army in motion in the direction of Kintore. Montrose, on hearing of his approach, concealed his cannon in a bog, and leaving behind him some of his heavy baggage, made towards the Spey with the intention of crossing it. On arriving at the river, he encamped near the old castle of Rothiemurchus; but finding that the boats used in passing the river had been removed to the north side of the river, and that a large armed force from the country on the north of the Spey had assembled on the opposite bank to oppose his passage, Montrose marched his army into the forest of Abernethy. Argyle only proceeded at first as far as Strathbogie; but instead of pursuing Montrose, he allowed his troops to waste their time in plundering the properties and laying waste the lands of the Gordons in Strathbogie and the Enzie, under the very eyes of Lord Gordon and Lord Lewis Gordon, neither of whom appears to have endeavoured to avert such a calamity. Spalding says that it was "a wonderful unnaturalitie in the Lord Gordon to suffer his father’s lands and friends in his own sight to be thus wreckt and destroyed in his father’s absence;" but Lord Gordon likely had it not in his power to stay these proceedings, which, if not done at the instigation, may have received the approbation of his violent and headstrong younger brother, who had joined the Covenanters’ standard. On the 27th of September, Argyle mustered his forces at the Bog of Gicht, when they were found to amount to about 4,000 men; but although the army of Montrose did not amount to much more than a third of that number, and was within twenty miles’ distance, he did not venture to attack him. After remaining a few days in Abernethy forest, Montrose passed through the forest of Rothiemurchus, and following the course of the Spey, marched through Badenoch to Athole, which he reached on 1st October.

When Argyle heard of the departure of Montrose from the forest of Abernethy, he made a feint of following him. He accordingly set his army in motion along Speyside, and crossing the river himself with a few horse, marched up some distance along the north bank, and recrossed, when he ordered his troops to halt. He then proceeded to Forres to attend a committee meeting of Covenanters to concert a plan of operations in the north, at which the Earl of Sutherland, Lord Lovat, the sheriff of Moray, the lairds of Balnagown, Innes and Pluscardine, and many others were present. From Forres Argyle went to Inverness, and after giving some instructions to Sir Mungo Campbell of Lawers, and the laird of Buchanan, the commanders of the regiments stationed there, he returned to his army, which he marched through Badenoch in pursuit of Montrose. From Athole Montrose sent Macdonald with a party of 500 men to the Western Highlands, to invite the laird of Maclean, the captain of clan Ranald, and others to join him. Marching down to Dunkeld, Montrose himself proceeded rapidly through Angus towards Brechin and Montrose.

Although some delay had been occasioned in Montrose’s movements by his illness for a few days in Badenoch, this was fully compensated for by the tardy motions of Argyle, who, on entering Badenoch, found that his vigilant antagonist was several days’ march a-head of him. This intelligence, however, did not induce him in the least to accelerate his march. Hearing, when passing through Badenoch, that Montrose had been joined by some of the inhabitants of that country, Argyle, according to Spalding, "left nothing of that country undestroyed, no not one four footed beast;" and Athole shared a similar fate.

At the time Montrose entered Angus, a committee of the estates, consisting of the Earl Marshal and other barons, was sitting in Aberdeen, who, on hearing of his approach, issued on the 10th of October a printed order, to which the Earl Marshal’s name was attached, ordaining, under pain of being severely fined, all persons, of whatever age, sex, or condition, having horses of the value of forty pounds Scots or upwards, to send them to the bridge of Dee, which was appointed as the place of rendezvous, on the 14th of October, by ten o’clock, a.m., with riders fully equipped and armed. With the exception of Lord Gordon, who brought three troops of horse, and Captain Alexander Keith, brother of the Earl Marshal, who appeared with one troop at the appointed place, no attention was paid to the order of the committee by the people, who had not yet recovered from their fears, and their recent sufferings were still too fresh in their minds to induce them again to expose themselves to the vengeance of Montrose and his Irish troops.

After refreshing his army for a few days in Angus, Montrose prepared to cross the Grampians, and march to Strathbogie to make another attempt to raise the Gordons; but, before setting out on his march, he released Forbes of Craigievar and Forbes of Boyndlie, on their parole, upon condition that Craigievar should procure the liberation of the young laird of Drum and his brother from the jail of Edinburgh, failing which, Craigievar and Boyndlie were both to deliver themselves up to him as prisoners before the 1st of November. This act of generosity on the part of Montrose was greatly admired, more particularly as Craigievar was one of the heads of the Covenanters, and had great influence among them. In pursuance of his design, Montrose marched through the Meams, and upon Thursday, the 17th of October, crossed the Dee at the Mills of Drum, with his whole army. In his progress north, contrary to his former forbearing policy, he laid waste the lands of some of the leading Covenanters, burnt their houses, and plundered their effects. He arrived at Strathbogie on the 19th of October, where he remained till the 27th, without being able to induce any considerable number of the Gordons to join him. It was not from want of inclination that they refused to do so, but they were unwilling to incur the displeasure of their chief, who they knew was personally opposed to Montrose, and who felt indignant at seeing a man who had formerly espoused the cause of the Covenanters preferred before him. Had Montrose been accompanied by any of the Marquis of Huntly’s sons, they might have had influence enough to have induced some of the Gordons to declare for him; but the situation of the marquis’s three sons was at this time very peculiar. The eldest son, Lord Gordon, a young man "of singular worth and accomplishments," was with Argyle, his uncle by the mother’s side; the Earl of Aboyne, the second son, was shut up in the castle of Carlisle, then in a state of siege; and Lord Lewis Gordon, the third son, had, as we have seen, joined the Covenanters, and fought in their ranks.

In this situation of matters, Montrose left Strathbogie on the day last mentioned, and took up a position in the forest of Fyvie, where he despatched some of his troops, who took possession of the castles of Fyvie and Tollie Barclay, in which he found a good supply of provisions, which was of great service to his army. During his stay at Strathbogie, Montrose kept a strict outlook for the enemy, and scarcely passed a night without scouring the neighbouring country to the distance of several miles with parties of light foot, who attacked straggling parties of the Covenanters, and brought in prisoners from time to time, without sustaining any loss. These petty enterprises, while they alarmed their enemies, gave an extraordinary degree of confidence to Montrose’s men, who were ready to undertake any service, however difficult or dangerous, if he only commanded them to perform it.

When Montrose crossed the Dee, Argyle was several days’ march behind him. The latter, however, reached Aberdeen on the 24th of October, and proceeded the following morning towards Kintore, which he reached the same night. Next morning he marched forward to Inverury, where he halted at night. Here he was joined by the Earl of Lothian’s regiment, which increased his force to about 2,500 foot, and 1,200 horse. In his progress through the counties of Angus, Kincardine, Aberdeen, and Banff, he received no accession of strength, from the dread which the name and actions of Montrose had infused into the minds of the inhabitants of these counties.

The sudden movements of Argyle from Aberdeen to Kintore, and from Kintore to Inverury, form a remarkable contrast with the slowness of his former motions. He had followed Montrose through a long and circuitous route, the greater part of which still bore recent traces of his footsteps, and instead of showing any disposition to overtake his flying foe, seemed rather inclined to keep that respectful distance from him so congenial to the mind of one who, "willing to wound," is "yet still afraid to strike." But although this questionable policy of Argyle was by no means calculated to raise his military fame, it had the effect of throwing Montrose, in the present case, off his guard, and had well-nigh proved fatal to him. The rapid march of Argyle on Kintore and Inverury, in fact, was effected without Montrose’s knowledge, for the spies he had employed concealed the matter from him, and while he imagined that Argyle was still on the other side of the Grampians, he suddenly appeared within a very few miles of Montrose’s camp, on the 28th of October.

The unexpected arrival of Argyle’s army did not disconcert Montrose. His foot, which amounted to 1,500 men, were little more than the half of those under Argyle, while he had only about 50 horse to oppose 1,200. Yet, with this immense disparity, he resolved to await the attack of the enemy, judging it inexpedient, from the want of cavalry, to become the assailant by descending into the plain where Argyle’s army was encamped. On a rugged eminence behind the castle of Fyvie, on the uneven sides of which several ditches had been cut and dikes built to serve as farm fences, Montrose drew up his little but intrepid host; but before he had marked out the positions to be occupied by his divisions, he had the misfortune to witness the desertion of a small body of the Gordons, who had joined him at Strathbogie. They, however, did not join Argyle, but contented themselves with withdrawing altogether from the scene of the ensuing action. It is probable that they came to the determination of retiring, not from cowardice, but from disinclination to appear in the field against Lord Lewis Gordon, who held a high command in Argyle’s army. The secession of the Gordons, though in reality a circumstance of trifling importance in itself, (for had they remained, they would have fought unwillingly, and consequently might not have had sufficient resolution to maintain the position which would have been assigned them,) had a disheartening influence upon the spirits of Montrose’s men, and accordingly they found themselves unable to resist the first shock of Argyle’s numerous forces, who, charging them with great impetuosity, drove them up the eminence, of a considerable part of which Argyle’s army got possession. In this critical conjuncture, when terror and despair seemed about to obtain the mastery over hearts to which fear had hitherto been a stranger, Montrose displayed a coolness and presence of mind equal to the dangers which surrounded him. Animating them by his presence, and by the example which he showed in risking his person in the hottest of the fight, he roused their courage by putting them further in mind of the victories they had achieved, and how greatly superior they were in bravery to the enemy opposed to them. After this emphatic appeal to their feelings, Montrose turned to Colonel O’Kean, a young Irish gentleman, highly respected by the former for his bravery, and desired him, with an air of the most perfect sang froid, to go down with such men as were readiest, and to drive these fellows (meaning Argyle’s men), out of the ditches, that they might be no more troubled with them. O’Kean quickly obeyed the mandate, and though the party in the ditches was greatly superior to the body he led, and was, moreover, supported by some horse, he drove them away, and captured several bags of powder which they left behind them in their hurry to escape. This was a valuable acquisition, as Montrose’s men had spent already almost the whole of their ammunition.

While O’Kean was executing this brilliant affair, Montrose observed five troops of horse, under the Earl of Lothian, preparing to attack his 50 horse, who were posted a little way up the eminence, with a small wood in their rear. He, therefore, without a moment’s delay, ordered a party of musketeers to their aid, who, having interlined themselves with the 50 horse, kept up such a galling fire upon Lothian’s troopers, that before they had advanced half way across a field which lay between them and Montrose’s horse, they were obliged to wheel about and gallop off.

Montrose’s men became so elated with their success that they could scarcely be restrained from leaving their ground and making a general attack upon the whole of Argyle’s army; but although Montrose. did not approve of this design, he disguised his opinion, and seemed rather to concur in the views of his men, telling them, however, to be so far mindful of their duty as to wait till he should see the fit moment for ordering the attack. Argyle remained till the evening without attempting anything farther, and then retired to a distance of about three miles across the Spey; his men passed the night under arms. The only person of note killed in these skirmishes was Captain Keith, brother of the Earl Marshal.

Next day Argyle resolved to attack Montrose, with the view of driving him from his position. He was induced to come to this determination from a report, too well founded, which had reached him, that Montrose’s army was almost destitute of ammunition ;—indeed, he had compelled the inhabitants of all the surrounding districts to deliver up every article of pewter in their possession for the purpose of being converted into ammunition; but this precarious supply appears soon to have been exhausted. On arriving at the bottom of the hill, he changed his resolution, not judging it safe, from the experience of the preceding day, to hazard an attack. Montrose, on the other hand, agreeably to his original plan, kept his ground, as he did not deem it advisable to expose his men to the enemy’s cavalry by descending from the eminence. With the exception of some trifling skirmishes between the advanced posts, the main body of both armies remained quiescent during the whole day. Argyle again retired in the evening to the ground he had occupied the preceding night, whence he returned the following day, part of which was spent in the same manner as the former; but long before the day had expired he led off his army, "upon fair day light," says Spalding, "to a considerable distance, leaving Montrose to effect his escape unmolested."

Montrose, thus left to follow any course he pleased, marched off after nightfall towards Strathbogie, plundering Turriff and Rothiemay house in his route. He selected Strathbogie as the place of his retreat on account of the ruggedness of the country and of the numerous dikes with which it was intersected, which would prevent the operations of Argyle’s cavalry, and where he intended to remain till joined by Macdonald, whom he daily expected from the Highlands with a reinforcement. When Argyle heard of Montrose’s departure on the following morning, being the last day of October, he forthwith proceeded after him with his army, thinking to bring him to action in the open country, and encamped at Tullochbeg on the 2d of November, where he drew out his army in battle array. He endeavoured to bring Montrose to a general engagement, and, in order to draw him from a favourable position he was preparing to occupy, Argyle sent out a skirmishing party of his Highlanders; but they were soon repulsed, and Montrose took possession of the ground he had selected.

Baffled in all his attempts to overcome Montrose by force of arms, Argyle, whose talents were more fitted for the intrigues of the cabinet than the tactics of the field, had now recourse to negotiation, with the view of effecting the ruin of his antagonist. For this purpose he proposed a cessation of arms, and that he and Montrose should hold a conference, previous to which arrangements should be entered into for their mutual security. Montrose knew Argyle too well to place any reliance upon his word, and as he had no doubt that Argyle would take advantage, during the proposed cessation, to tamper with his men and endeavour to withdraw them from their allegiance, he called a council of war, and proposed to retire without delay to the Highlands. The council at once approved of this suggestion, whereupon Montrose resolved to march next night as far as Badenoch; and that his army might be able to accomplish such a long journey within the time fixed, he immediately sent off all his heavy baggage under a guard, and ordered his men to keep themselves prepared as if to fight a battle the next day. Scarcely, however, had the carriages and heavy baggage been despatched, when an event took place which greatly disconcerted Montrose. This was nothing less than the desertion of his friend Colonel Sibald and some of his officers, who went over to the enemy. They were accompanied by Sir William Forbes of Craigievar, who, having been unable to fulfil the condition on which he was to obtain his ultimate liberation, had returned two or three days before to Montrose’s camp.

This distressing occurrence induced Montrose to postpone his march for a time, as he was quite certain that the deserters would communicate his plans to Argyle. Ordering, therefore, back the baggage he had sent off, he resumed his former position, in which he remained four days, as if he there intended to take up his winter quarters.

In the meantime Montrose had the mortification to witness the defection of almost the whole of his officers, who were very numerous, for, with the exception of the Irish and Highlanders, they outnumbered the privates from the Lowlands. The bad example which had been set by Sibbald, the intimate friend of Montrose, and the insidious promises of preferment held out to them by Argyle, induced some, whose loyalty was questionable, to adopt this course; but the idea of the privations to which they would be exposed in traversing, during winter, among frost and snow, the dreary and dangerous regions of the Highlands, shook the constancy of others, who, in different circumstances, would have willingly exposed their lives for their sovereign. Bad health, inability to undergo the fatigue of long and constant marches—these and other excuses were made to Montrose as the reasons for craving a discharge from a service which had now become more hazardous than ever. Montrose made no remonstrance, but with looks of high disdain which betrayed the inward workings of a proud and unsubdued mind, indignant at being thus abandoned at such a dangerous crisis, readily complied with the request of every man who asked permission to retire. The Earl of Airly, now sixty years of age and in precarious health, and his two sons, Sir Thomas and Sir David Ogilvie, out of all the Lowlanders, alone remained faithful to Montrose, and could, on no account, be prevailed upon to abandon him. Among others who left Montrose on this occasion, was Sir Nathaniel Gordon, who, it is said, went over to Argyle’s camp in consequence of a concerted plan between him and Montrose, for the purpose of detaching Lewis Gordon from the cause of the Covenanters, a conjecture which seems to have originated in the subsequent conduct of Sir Nathaniel and Lord Lewis, who joined Montrose the following year.

Montrose, now abandoned by all his Lowland friends, prepared for his march, preparatory to which he sent off his baggage as formerly and after lighting some fires for the purpose of deceiving the enemy, took his departure on the evening of the 6th of November, and arrived about break of day at Balveny. After remaining a few days there to refresh his men, he proceeded through Badenoch, and descended by rapid marches into Athole, where he was joined by Macdonald and John Muidartach, the captain of the Clanranald, the latter of whom brought 500 of his men along with him. He was also reinforced by some small parties from the neighbouring Highlands, whom Macdonald had induced to follow him.

In the meantime Argyle, after giving orders to his Highlanders to return home, went himself to Edinburgh, where he "got but small thanks for his service against Montrose." Although the Committee of Estates, out of deference, approved of his conduct, which some of his flatterers considered deserving of praise because he "had shed no blood;" yet the majority had formed a very different estimate of his character, during a campaign which had been fruitful neither of glory nor victory. Confident of success, the heads of the Covenanters looked upon the first efforts of Montrose in the light of a desperate and forlorn attempt, rashly and inconsiderately undertaken, and which they expected would be speedily put down; but the results of the battles of Tippermuir, Aberdeen, and Fyvie, gave a new direction to their thoughts, and the royalists, hitherto contemned, began now to be dreaded and respected. In allusion to the present "posture of affairs," it is observed by Guthry, that "many who had formerly been violent, began to talk moderately of business, and what was most taken notice of, was the lukewarmness of many amongst the ministry, who now in their preaching had begun to abate much of their former zeal." The early success of Montrose had indeed caused some misgivings in the minds of the Covenanters; but as they all hoped that Argyle would change the tide of war, they showed no disposition to relax in their seventies towards those who were suspected of favouring the cause of the king. The signal failure, however, of Argyle’s expedition, and his return to the capital, quite changed, as we have seen, the aspect of affairs, and many of those who had been most sanguine in their calculations regarding the result of the struggle, began now to waver and to doubt.

While Argyle was passing his time in Edinburgh, Montrose was meditating a terrible blow at Argyle himself to revenge the cruelties he had exercised upon the royalists, and to give confidence to the clans in Argyle’s neighbourhood. These had been hitherto prevented from joining Montrose’s standard from a dread of Argyle, who having always a body of 5,000 or 6,000 Highlanders at command, had kept them in such complete subjection that they dared not, without the risk of absolute ruin, espouse the cause of their sovereign. The idea of curbing the power of a haughty and domineering chief whose word was a law to the inhabitants of an extensive district, ready to obey his cruel mandates at all times, and the spirit of revenge, the predominating characteristic of the clans, smoothed the difficulties which presented themselves in invading a country made almost inaccessible by nature, and rendered still more unapproachable by the severities of winter. The determination of Montrose having thus met with a willing response in the breasts of his men, he lost no time in putting them in motion. Dividing his army into two parts, he himself marched with the main body, consisting of the Irish and the Athole-men, to Loch Tay, whence he proceeded through Breadalbane. The other body, composed of the clan Donald and other Highlanders, he despatched by a different route, with instructions to meet him at an assigned spot on the borders of Argyle. The country through which both divisions passed, being chiefly in possession of Argyle’s kinsmen or dependants, was laid waste, particularly the lands of Campbell of Glenorchy.

When Argyle heard of the ravages committed by Montrose’s army on the lands of his kinsmen, he hastened home from Edinburgh to his castle at Inverary, and gave orders for the assembling of his clan, either to repel any attack that might be made on his own country, or to protect his friends from future aggression. It is by no means certain that he anticipated an invasion from Montrose, particularly at such a season of the year, and he seemed to imagine himself so secure from attack, owing to the intricacy of the passes leading into Argyle, that although a mere handful of men could have effectually opposed an army much larger than that of Montrose, he took no precautions to guard them. So important indeed did he himself consider these passes to be, that he had frequently declared that he would rather forfeit a hundred thousand crowns, than that an enemy should know the passes by which an armed force could penetrate into Argyle.

While thus reposing in fancied secufity in his impregnable stronghold, and issuing his mandates for levying his forces, some shepherds arrived in great terror from the hills, and brought him the alarming intelligence that the enemy, whom he had imagined were about a hundred miles distant, were within two miles of his own dwelling. Terrified at the unexpected appearance of Montrose, whose vengeance he justly dreaded, he had barely self-possession left to concert measures for his own personal safety, by taking refuge on board a fishing boat in Loch Fyne, in which he sought his way to the Lowlands, leaving his people and country exposed to the merciless will of an enemy thirsting for revenge. The inhabitants of Argyle being thus abandoned by their chief, made no attempt to oppose Montrose, who, the more effectually to carry his plan for pillaging and ravaging the country into execution, divided his army into three parties, under the respective orders of the captain of clan Ranald, Macdonald, and himself. For upwards of six weeks, viz., from the 13th of December, 1644, till nearly the end of January following, these different bodies traversed the whole country without molestation, burning, wasting, and destroying every thing which came within their reach. Nor were the people themselves spared, for although it is mentioned by one writer that Montrose "shed no blood in regard that all the people (following their lord’s laudable example) delivered themselves by flight also," it is evident from several contemporary authors that the slaughter must have been immense. In fact, before the end of January, the face of a single male inhabitant was not to be seen throughout the whole extent of Argyle and Lorn, the whole population having been either driven out of these districts, or taken refuge in dens and caves known only to themselves.

Having thus retaliated upon Argyle and his people in a tenfold degree the miseries which he had occasioned in Lochaber and the adjoining countries, Montrose left Argyle and Lorn, passing through Glencoe and Lochaber on his way to Lochness. On his march eastwards he was joined by the laird of Abergeldie, the Farquharsons of the Braes of Mar, and by a party of the Gordons. The object of Montrose, by this movement, was to seize Inverness, which was then protected by only two regiments, in the expectation that its capture would operate as a stimulus to the northern clans, who had not yet declared themselves. This resolution was by no means altered on reaching the head of Lochness, where he learned that the Earl of Seaforth was advancing to meet him with an army of 5,000 horse and foot, which he resolved to encounter, it being composed, with the exception of two regular regiments, of raw and undisciplined levies.

While proceeding, however, through Abertarf, a person arrived in great haste at Kilcummin, the present fort Augustus, who brought him the surprising intelligence that Argyle had entered Lochaber with an army of 3,000 men; that he was burning and laying waste the country, and that his head-quarters were at the old castle of Inverlochy. After Argyle had effected his escape from Inverary, he had gone to Dumbarton, where he remained till Montrose’s departure from his territory. While there, a body of covenanting troops who had served in England, arrived under the command of Major-general Baillie, for the purpose of assisting Argyle in expelling Montrose from his bounds; but on learning that Montrose had left Argyle, and was marching through Glencoe and Lochaber, General Baillie determined to lead his army in an easterly direction through the Lowlands, with the intention of intercepting Montrose, should he attempt a descent. At the same time it was arranged between Baillie and Argyle that the latter, who had now recovered from his panic in consequence of Montrose’s departure, should return to Argyle and collect his men from their hiding-places and retreats. As it was not improbable, however, that Montrose might renew his visit, the Committee of Estates allowed Baillie to place 1,100 of his soldiers at the disposal of Argyle, who, as soon as he was able to muster his men, was to follow Montrose’s rear, yet so as to avoid an engagement, till Baillie, who, on hearing of Argyle’s advance into Lochaber, was to march suddenly across the Grampians, should attack Montrose in front. To assist him in levying and organizing his clan, Argyle called over Campbell of Auchinbreck, his kinsman, from Ireland, who had considerable reputation as a military commander. In terms of his instructions, therefore, Argyle had entered Lochaber, and had advanced as far as Inverlochy, when, as we have seen, the news of his arrival was brought to Montrose.

Montrose was at first almost disinclined, from the well-known reputation of Argyle, to credit this intelligence, but being fully assured of its correctness from the apparent sincerity of his informer, he lost not a moment in making up his mind as to the course he should pursue. He might have instantly marched back upon Argyle by the route he had just followed; but as the latter would thus get due notice of his approach, and prepare himself for the threatened danger, Montrose resolved upon a different plan. The design he conceived could only have originated in the mind of such a bold and enterprising commander as Montrose, before whose daring genius difficulties hitherto deemed insurmountable at once disappeared. The idea of carrying an army over dangerous and precipitous mountains, whose wild and frowning aspect seemed to forbid the approach of human footsteps, and in the middle of winter, too, when the formidable perils of the journey were greatly increased by the snow, however chimerical it might have seemed to other men, appeared quite practicable to Montrose, whose sanguine anticipations of the advantages to be derived from such an extraordinary exploit, more than counterbalanced, in his mind, the risks to be encountered.

The distance between the place where Montrose received the news of Argyle’s arrival and Inverlochy is about thirty miles; but this distance was considerably increased by the devious track which Montrose followed. Marching along the small river Tarf in a southerly direction, he crossed the hills of Lairie Thierard, passed through Glenroy, and after traversing the range of mountains between the Glen and Ben Nevis, he arrived in Glennevis before Argyle had the least notice of his approach. Before setting out on his march, Montrose had taken the wise precaution of placing guards upon the common road leading to Inverlochy, to prevent intelligence of his movements being carried to Argyle, and he had killed such of Argyle’s scouts as he had fallen in with in the course of his march. This fatiguing. and unexampled journey had been performed in little more than a night and a day, and when in the course of the evening, Montrose’s men arrived in Glennevis, they found themselves so weary and exhausted that they could not venture to attack the enemy. They therefore lay under arms all night, and refreshed themselves as they best could till next morning. As the night was uncommonly clear, it being moonlight, the advanced posts of both armies kept up a small fire of musketry, which led to no result.

In the meantime Argyle, after committing his army to the charge of his cousin, Campbell of Auchinbreck, with his customary prudence, went, during the night, on board a boat in the loch, excusing himself for this apparent pusillanimous act by alleging his incapacity to enter the field of battle in consequence of some contusions he had received by a fall two or three weeks before; but his enemies averred that cowardice was the real motive which induced him to take refuge in his galley, from which he witnessed the defeat and destruction of his army. This somewhat suspicious action of Argyle—and it was not the only time he provided for his personal safety in a similar manner—is accounted for in the following (? ironical) way by the author of Britane’s Distemper (p. 100):-

"In this confusion, the commanders of there armie lightes wpon this resolution, not to hazart the marquisse owne persone; for it seems not possible that Ardgylle himselfe, being a nobleman of such eminent qualitie, a man of so deepe and profund judgement, one that knew so weell what belongeth to the office of a generall, that any basso motion of feare, I say, could make him so wnsensible of the poynt of honour as is generally reported. Nether will I, for my owne pairt, belieue it; but I am confident that those barrones of his kinred, wha ware captanes and commanderes of the armie, feareing the euent of this battelle, for diuers reasones; and one was, that Allan M’Collduie, ane old fox, and who was thought to be a seer, had told them that there should be a battell lost there by them that came first to seiko battell; this was one cause of there importunitie with him that he should not come to battell that day; for they sawe that of necessitie they most feght, and would not hazart there cheife persone, urgeing him by force to reteire to his galay, which lay hard by, and committe the tryall of the day to them; he, it is to be thought, with great difficultie yeelding to there request, leaues his cusine, the laird of Auchinbreike, a most walorous and brane gentleman, to the generall commande of the armie, and takes with himselfe only sir James Rollocke, his brother in lawe, sir Jhone Wachope of Nithrie, Mr. Mungo Law, a preacher. It is reported those two last was send from Edinburgh with him to beam witnesse of the expulsion of those rebelles, for so they ware still pleased to terme the Royalistes."

It would appear that it was not until the morning of the battle that Argyle’s men were aware that it was the army of Montrose that was so near them, as they considered it quite impossible that he should have been able to bring his forces across the mountains; they imagined that the body before them consisted of some of the inhabitants of the country, who had collected to defend their properties. But they were undeceived when, in the dawn of the morning, the warlike sound of Montrose’s trumpets, resounding through the glen where they lay, and reverberating from the adjoining hills, broke upon their ears. This served as the signal to both armies to prepare for battle. Montrose drew out his army in an extended line. The right wing consisted of a regiment of Irish, under the command of Macdonald, his major-general; the centre was composed of the Athole-men, the Stuarts of Appin, the Macdonalds of Glencoe, and other Highlanders, severally under the command of Clanranald, M’Lean, and Glengary; and the left wing consisted of some Irish, at the head of whom was the brave Colonel O’Kean. A body of Irish was placed behind the main body as a reserve, under the command of Colonel James M’Donald, alias O’Neill. The general of Argyle’s army formed it in a similar manner. The Lowland forces were equally divided, and formed the wings, between which the Highlanders were placed. Upon a rising ground, behind this line, General Campbell drew up a reserve of Highlanders, and placed a field-piece. Within the house of Inverlochy, which was only about a pistol-shot from the place where the army was formed, he planted a body of 40 or 50 men to protect the place, and to annoy Montrose’s men with discharges of musketry.  The account given by Gordon of Sallagh, that Argyle had transported the half of his army over the water at Inverlochy, under the command of Auchinbreck, and that Montrose defeated this division, while Argyle was prevented from relieving it with the other division, from the intervening of "an arm of the sea, that was interjected betwixt them and him," is probably erroneous, for the circumstance is not mentioned by any other writer of the period, and it is well known, that Argyle abandoned his army, and witnessed its destruction from his galley, — circumstances which Gordon altogether overlooks.

It was at sunrise, on Sunday, the 2d of February, 1645, that Montrose, after having formed his army in battle array, gave orders to his men to advance upon the enemy. The left wing of Montrose’s army, under the command of O’Kean, was the first to commence the attack, by charging the enemy’s right. This was immediately followed by a furious assault upon the centre and left wing of Argyle’s army, by Montrose’s right wing and centre. Argyle’s right wing not being able to resist the attack of Montrose’s left, turned about and fled, which circumstance had such a discouraging effect on the remainder of Argyle’s troops, that after discharging their muskets, the whole of them, including the reserve, took to their heels. 

Inverlochy Castle - From M'Culloch's celebrated picture in the Edinburgh National Gallery
Inverlochy Castle - From M'Culloch's celebrated picture in the Edinburgh National Gallery

The rout now became general. An attempt was made by a body of about 200 of the fugitives, to throw themselves into the castle of Inverlochy, but a party of Montrose’s horse prevented them. Some of the flying enemy directed their course along the side of Loch Eil, but all these were either killed or drowned in the pursuit. The greater part, however, fled towards the hills in the direction of Argyle, and were pursued by Montrose’s men, to the distance of about eight miles. As no resistance was made by the defeated party in their flight, the carnage was very great, being reckoned at 1,500 men. Many more would have been cut off had it not been for the humanity of Montrose, who did every thing in his power to save the unresisting enemy from the fury of his men, who were not disposed to give quarter to the unfortunate Campbells. Having taken the castle, Montrose not only treated the officers, who were from the Lowlands, with kindness, but gave them their liberty on parole.

Among the principal persons who fell on Argyle’s side, were the commander, Campbell of Auchinbreck, Campbell of Lochnell, the eldest son of Lochnell, and his brother, Cohn; M’Dougall of Rara and his eldest son; Major Menzies, brother to the laird, (or Prior as he was called) of Achattens Parbreck; and the provost of the church of Kilmun. The loss on the side of Montrose was extremely trifling. The number of wounded is indeed not stated, but he had only three privates killed. He sustained, however, a severe loss in Sir Thomas Ogilvie, son of the Earl of Airly, who died a few days after the battle, of a wound he received in the thigh. Montrose regretted the death of this steadfast friend and worthy man, with feelings of real sorrow, and caused his body to be interred in Athole with due solemnity. Montrose immediately after the battle sent a messenger to the king with a letter, giving an account of it, at the conclusion of which he exultingly says to Charles, "Give me leave, after I have reduced this country, and conquered from Dan to Beersheba, to say to your Majesty, as David’s general to his master, Come thou thyself, lest this country be called by my name." When the king received this letter, the royal and parliamentary commissioners were sitting at Uxbridge negotiating the terms of a peace; but Charles, induced by the letter, imprudently broke off the negotiation, a circumstance which led to his ruin.

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