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Scots in Sweden
Introduction by Eric Linklater


I have before me a small book called Scottish Literature to 1714. It was written by Agnes Mure Mackenzie, a woman whose delicate body sustained a passionate and learned mind, and whose learning was illumined by an heroic — or, at the least, romantic — apprehension of history. It was typical of her — and is, I think, typical of her country — that in a history of its literature her first chapter includes a couple of pages about the soldiers whom, for so long, it exported to Europe; and in the notes which, with a scholar’s need for justification, she appended to her essay, she has this to say about a tradition which left Danzig with a quarter called Little Scotland and gave Orleans a street called the Street of the Sword of Scotland:

‘This tradition did not cease with the Middle Ages: the civil wars of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries did much to strengthen it. . . The most famous instance, after the Garde Ecossaise, is the Scots troops of Gustavus Adolphus. He had 34 Scots colonels and 50 lieutenant-colonels in his service, with Scots commands, and like the King of France had a Scots bodyguard, while he was said to have made over 60 Scotsmen governors of castles and towns in the conquered provinces of Germany. At the taking of Frankfurt in 1632, Lumsden’s Regiment alone, captured nine stands of colours from the enemy, and at the great victory of Leipzig, one of the decisive battles of the world, it was the Scots Brigade who led the advance. The Swedish connection lasted for some time after the ‘Forty-Five, the son of that Lord Cromartie who had led my own clan went into Swedish service and rose to be general — to return after the amnesty and die in 1789 a British Major-general and founder of that distinguished corps the Highland Light Infantry. As late as 1857, the Marshal of the Kingdom of Sweden was a Hamilton.’

Many of the soldiers who fought under Gustavus Adolphus came home when their own country was embroiled in the disastrous mixture of politics and theology — or theomachy — which brought about the execution of Charles I, the elevation of that great but detestable man Oliver Cromwell, and the perpetuation in Scotland of a destructive, internecine, doctrinal strife; and these soldiers’ professional aptitude for war, taught them by a master of the cruel art, did a little to dignify a futile squabble between unforgivable intolerances with the discipline learnt in the honesty of mercenary service.

Best known of the veterans of Swedish service are the two Leslies: Alexander who became the Earl of Leven, and David who was raised to the peerage as Lord Newark. Alexander, who had fought for the Swedish king at Lutzen, his last battle, came home with the rank of Marshal and a welcome assortment of cannon and muskets which he had accepted in lieu of back pay. An ardent Covenanter, he was given command of the Scottish army that was being raised for prospective war against England, and presently, having defeated the King’s troops on the Tyne, occupied the northern English counties as far down as the Tees. Then came the treaty of Ripon, and Alexander — a little, rather deformed man, and very rich — entertained Charles in Edinburgh with great magnificence; and Charles made him Earl of Leven.

When the Great Rebellion broke England apart, Leven, with some indifference to his late protestations of loyalty to the King, took command of new forces to invade England, and at the battle of Marston Moor — where David Leslie and Cromwell commanded on the left — commanded the centre. Two years later, when Charles took refuge with the Scots, Leven was less than tactful in urging him to accept the Covenant, and after Charles had been betrayed to the English Parliament a new division of forces took place, and the bewildered Scots found themselves cast in the role of King’s men. As such they were defeated by Cromwell, and Leven, now old and infirm, handed over command to David Leslie. He spent some time as a prisoner in the Tower of London, from which he was released by the intercession of the Queen of Sweden, and retiring to Balgonie in Fife, lived there till he was over eighty.

David Leslie, who came home in 1640 as a Colonel of cavalry, fought with great distinction as a Major-general at Marston Moor; and then surprised and defeated a better man than himself, the great Marquis of Montrose, at Philiphaugh near Selkirk. He stained the credit of his victory by permitting the slaughter of Irish prisoners, but got a reward of 50,000 marks and a gold chain in despite of butchery. In 1650, in one of those dislocations of policy and re-alignments of force which make the history of the war so tiresome to read, David was appointed to command an army levied in support of Charles II, and soon pushed Cromwell into grave difficulty—into a position in sight not only of the town of Dunbar, but of imminent defeat—from which Cromwell was rescued by the Scotch Presbyterian ministers who opposed to Leslie’s strategy and tactics their preference for politics and theocracy.

He accompanied Charles II, as his Lieutenant-general, to Worcester and defeat in battle there; and remained a prisoner in the Tower till the Restoration. Then, created Lord Newark and given a pension of 500 pounds a year, he retired, also to Fife, and like Leven lived till he was over eighty.

In the early days of the war Leven had taken Edinburgh Castle and its commander, Patrick Ruthven, an old comrade of the German wars —there were veterans of the Swedish service on both sides — and Leven allowed his crippled opponent — physically crippled as well as defeated —to march out with the honours of war. Another of the Swedish Monarch’s officers, was James, Marquess of Hamilton, and subsequently its first Duke.

His King, Charles I, had earlier said of him that he was ‘very active in his own preservation’. His activities, however, were in the long run insufficient to save him from execution in 1649. In popular memory, though a Duke and further elevated on the scaffold, he has long been outlived by a much humbler man — but a man of gentle origins — who, having first acquired some learning at the Marischal College of Aberdeen, served in the Swedish forces ‘six years first private gentleman of the company, and three years lance speisade; disdaining to receive a halbert, as unbecoming my birth’. Later he rose to be lieutenant and ritt-master ‘under that invincible monarck, the bulwark of the Protestant faith, the Lion of the North’ — and received immortality from the hands of Sir Walter Scott, who gave him the name of Dugald Dalgetty of Drumthwacket.

Fiction has its uses as well as history, and a power not less than history: to schoolboys of my generation Dugald Dalgetty was a livelier representative of the German wars, a clearer image of hard soldiering, even than the two Leslies.

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