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Historical Geography of the Clans of Scotland
By T. B. Johnston, F.R.G.S. and Colonel James A. Robertson
The Highland Campaigns
Montrose (1644 - 1650)

A DETAILED account of the causes which led to the Civil War in the time of Charles I. would be beyond the scope of this work. The ill-advised scheme of establishing Episcopacy in Scotland, which, so far as Scotland was concerned, was the main cause of the troubles, had, even before the Union of the Crowns, been a favourite project of James VI., who was of opinion that "a Scottish Presbytery agreeth as well with a monarchy as God with the devil." So long as the seat of monarchy remained at Edinburgh it was hopeless for any Scots sovereign to force a great religious change upon an unwilling people. The increase of power and independence which came with the accession to the English throne put the King in a very different position. In i6o6 the Scottish bishops were restored, with seats in Parliament. In i6i8 the famous Five Articles of Perth were passed in a General Assembly held there. By these certain forms of Episcopal worship were introduced. They were harmless enough from the modern point of view, but at the time they aroused deep and bitter feeling throughout the country. [The Five Articles sanctioned - (1) Kneeling at Communion; (2) administration of Communion to the sick in their own houses; (3) private baptism; (4) confirmation of children; and (5) observance of the festivals of Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost.] An ecclesiastical Court of High Commission was established, and in 1621 the Five Articles were ratified by the Estates, a majority being obtained with the utmost difficulty.

James VI. died in 1625. Charles I. inherited his purposes, but set about their realisation in a stern and resolute temper very different from his father’s. What to James had been matter of policy was to Charles matter of conscience. His course of action soon brought matters to a serious crisis. One of his first acts was the resumption, by an act of prerogative, of the Church revenues which had been granted away by the Crown since the Reformation. [See, for an account of the exceedingly important transactions with regard to ecclesiastical property at this time, Hill Burton’s History of Scotland, vol. vi., pp. 75-85.] These were chiefly held by the higher nobility, and the result of the King’s act was to create bitter hostility to the Crown on the part of many of the great nobles, and to array them on the side of the popular party in the Church. The King’s visit to Scotland in 1633 brought further matter of offence. Serious allegations were made that he had tampered with the constitutional powers of the Estates. The appointment of Laud as Archbishop of Canterbury gave the King as his chief adviser an ecclesiastical statesman who was little disposed to compromise, and who, as it proved, knew nothing of the temper of the Scottish people. In 1636 the Episcopalian Book of Canons was promulgated by royal authority. In the following year the Service Book was issued. The attempt to enforce its use caused the long-gathering storm to break.

The new liturgy was used for the first time in St. Giles’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, on Sunday, July 23, 1637. The riot which took place in the church, of which Jenny Geddes is the traditional heroine, is one of the best known incidents in Scottish history. Similar riots took place all over the country, and these were only the beginning of an agitation which soon became a great national movement. The popular party was known as the Supplicants, and assumed throughout an attitude of scrupulous humility. The Government was obdurate; the King and his advisers seem to have entirely misjudged the strength and character of the opposition. In the winter of 1637 was formed the committee known as the Tables, which was recognised by the Privy Council as representing the whole body of the Supplicants, and which soon became a power in the State co-ordinate with the Council itself. The Tables were four in number, representing respectively the nobles, the lesser barons, the burghs, and the ministers. Each Table consisted of four persons. A member of the Table of nobility was the young Earl of Montrose.

In February 1638 the National Covenant was signed. This famous document was in the form of a renewal of the Covenant which had been signed in the early days of Protestantism, with additions relative to the new dangers which threatened Church and State. It was scrupulously loyal in its language, but very explicit with regard to the great question of the hour. "We promise and swear," said the signatories, "by the great name of the Lord our God, to continue in the profession and obedience of the said religion; and that we shall defend the same and resist all those contrary errors and corruptions, according to our vocation, and to the utmost of that power which God hath put into our hands all the days of our life."

The project of renewing the Covenant is commonly attributed to Archibald Johnston of Warriston. It was an admirably devised and entirely successful plan for uniting and organising the anti-prelatical party throughout the kingdom. In the Greyfriars Churchyard at Edinburgh, on February 28, 1638, the Covenant was subscribed by a vast crowd amid a scene of wild enthusiasm. Copies were sent all over the country. Every effort was used to obtain signatures; both persuasion and coercion were freely employed and thousands of names were adhibited. Henceforth the popular party was known by the historic name of Covenanters, and came to be identified not only with the cause of Presbyterianism as against Episcopacy, but with the cause of national independence as against English aggression.

In the summer of 1638 the Marquis of Hamilton came down from London as Commissioner from the King to deal with the Covenanters. He had the widest powers. His confidential instructions were to gain time by every possible means, until the King should be in a position to suppress the Covenanters by force.

The demands of the Covenanters were explicit enough. They included the abolition of the Court of High Commission, the withdrawal of the obnoxious Book of Canons and Liturgy, a free Parliament, and a free General Assembly. It was well understood that Parliament and the Assembly would probably make a clean sweep of Episcopacy, and Hamilton tried in vain to obtain from the Covenanting leaders a guarantee that in the event of their meeting they should not go beyond certain limits. At length, after much temporising, and various journeyings between London and Edinburgh on the part of the High Commissioner, an entire surrender was announced. The Service Book, the Book of Canons, and the High Commission were revoked. A meeting of Assembly was proclaimed for November 21, and Parliament was to be summoned in the following May.

By this time, however, it was clear that sooner or later matters must come to the arbitrament of the sword. The Covenanters were quietly making preparations for war. Early in the year the nucleus of a war-chest was raised by subscription, the list of subscribers being headed by Montrose. Arrangements were made for the collection throughout the country of a "voluntary" contribution, which seems to have been as rigidly exacted as any tax. Large quantities of arms were purchased in Holland. Scots officers trained in the Thirty Years’ War were unobtrusively brought over from the Continent. The great stronghold of the Royalist party was in Aberdeenshire, and by far the most powerful of the King’s adherents was the "Cock of the North," George, Marquis of Huntly, chief of the great house of Gordon. An attempt was made to gain him over. Colonel Robert Monro, the original of Scott’s Dugald Dalgetty, was sent to Strathbogie with tempting offers, including a promise to pay off the Marquis’s debts, which amounted to about £100,000 sterling. Huntly’s answer uncompromisingly expressed the spirit of Cavalier loyalty. "His family," he said, had risen and stood by the Kings of Scotland, arid for his part, if the event proved the ruin of this King, he was resolved to lay his life, honours and estate under the rubbish of the King’s ruins."

On November 21, 1638, the General Assembly met in Glasgow Cathedral. The Marquis of Hamilton was present as Commissioner; Alexander Henderson was chosen Moderator, and Johnston of Warriston Clerk of Assembly. The elections had been worked by the Tables so as to produce a thoroughly Covenanting Assembly. Everybody knew what its main business was to be—the trial of the bishops. The first few days were occupied in formal and preliminary business. On the seventh day of meeting it was formally decided that the bishops were amenable to the jurisdiction of the Assembly. Thereupon the Commissioner, in the King’s name, declared the Assembly dissolved, and on the following day its further meeting was discharged by proclamation under pain of treason.

The Assembly proceeded with its business. The bishops were tried and deposed on various grounds; six of them, together with the two archbishops, were excommunicated. The whole fabric of Episcopacy, Service Book, Book of Canons, Articles of Perth and all, was demolished, and the Episcopal office was declared to be for ever abrogated. The Assembly rose on December 20. "We have now," said the Moderator, "cast down the walls of Jericho; let him that rebuildeth them beware of the curse of Hiel the Bethelite."

The Covenanters had now openly defied the royal authority, and war was inevitable.

The great struggle was to take place in England, but it was in the north of Scotland that the first blow was struck. Aberdeenshire was, as we have seen, the main stronghold of the Royalist party, and there efforts to gain adherents to the Covenant had met with little success. In prospect of a more serious conflict in the south, the Covenanting leaders determined first to get rid of the enemy in their rear, and for this purpose an army of some three or four thousand men was organised under the Earl of Montrose.

James Graham, Earl and afterwards Marquis of Montrose, head of the house of Graham, was at this time a young man of seven-and-twenty. He was a man of unbounded energy and ambition; his mental powers had been trained by education at the University of St. Andrews and by foreign travel; and, as was soon to appear, he possessed in the highest degree the qualities of a leader of irregular troops—personal courage, dash, resourcefulness in emergency, and unfailing constancy in misfortune. Cardinal de Retz said of him that more nearly than any man of his age he resembled one of the heroes of antiquity. He seems to have possessed a marvellous personal magnetism. Patrick Gordon of Ruthven says of him that "he was so affable, so courteous, so benign, as seemed verily to scorne ostentation and the keeping of state, and therefore he quickly made a conquest of the hearts of all his followers, so as when he list he could have led them in a chain to have followed him with cheerfulness in all his enterprises; and I am certainly persuaded that this his gracious, humane, and courteous freedom of behaviour . . . was it that won him so much renowne and enabled him chiefly, in the love of his followers, to go through so great enterprises." His early association with the Covenanters is attributed to his having met with an unexpectedly cold reception from the King on his return from his travels. Be this as it may, we find him in the spring of 1639 at the head of the Covenanting army destined for the North.

Having been joined by General Alexander Leslie, the veteran of the Thirty Years’ War, who acted as his military adviser, Montrose marched on Aberdeen. His army was excellently equipped and organised, "weill armed," says Spalding, "both on horse and foot, ilk horseman having five shot at the least, with ane carabine in his hand, two pistols by his sides, and the other two at his saddell toir; the pikemen in their ranks, with pike and sword; the musketeers in their ranks, with musket, musketstaff, bandelier, sword, powder, ball, and match. Ilk company, both on horse and foot, had their captains, lieutenants, ensigns, sergeants, and other officers and commanders, all for the most part in buffle coats and goodly order."

On the approach of the Covenanting army Aberdeen was abandoned by the Marquis of Huntly, and Montrose entered the town peaceably on March 30. At Aberdeen his army was augmented by the accession of 500 Campbells, whom Argyll had sent from the west, and of many Frasers, Keiths, and others, who joined him rather out of hatred to the Gordons than from any love of the Covenant. Leaving a strong garrison in Aberdeen, he marched northward against Huntly. Huntly, however, opened negotiations, and was ultimately induced to come to Aberdeen, where he was made a prisoner and sent to Edinburgh. There the strongest pressure was brought to bear on him to sign the Covenant, but he remained steadfast in his loyalty. "For my own part," said he "I am in your power, and resolved not to leave that foul title of traitor as an inheritance upon my posterity. You may take my head from my shoulders, but not my heart from my sovereign."

The main body of the Covenanting army marched southward in April. In the following month the first blood was drawn in the civil war. A body of some 2000 Covenanters assembled at Turriff on May 13. There they were attacked by a force of the Gordons, with four field-guns. The Covenanters were defeated and driven out of the town. This was the affair known as the "Trot of Turray." The victors marched on Aberdeen, and entered it on May 15. A few days later they disbanded their army. The chiefs remained in Aberdeen until they were driven out by the advent of the Earl Marischal, who entered the town on May 23. Two days later he was joined by Montrose with 4000 men.

After some operations against the castles of some of the Aberdeenshire Royalists, Montrose again retired to the south, and in June Aberdeen was once more occupied by the Royalists under Lord Aboyne. On June 14 they advanced upon Stonehaven. They camped for the night at Muchalls, and on the following day were attacked and defeated by the Earl Marischal and Montrose, who had marched north to meet them. They fell back on Aberdeen. Montrose followed them up, forced the Bridge of Dee, and again entered Aberdeen in triumph. Next day hostilities were brought to an end by the news of the Pacification of Berwick.

While these events were taking place in the north, preparations for war on a much larger scale were going on in the Lowlands. On February 27 the King, determined to reduce his rebellious subjects to obedience, issued the Commission of Array, calling upon the feudal force of England to assemble at York. In Scotland the royal fortresses were seized by the Tables, and an army of over 22,000 men, well organised and equipped, was assembled at Edinburgh. On May 21 it began its march towards the Border under the command of that "little old crooked soldier," Alexander Leslie. The army was accompanied by a contingent of Argyll’s Highlanders. These "uncanny trewsmen "—the phrase is Robert Baillie’s [The letters of the Rev. Robert Baillie, afterwards Principal of the University of Glasgow, form one of the most valuable sources of information as to the military and political events of the time.]—seem to have been a source of considerable anxiety to their friends. It is curious to note that Highland troops should have made their first appearance on the Borders as the allies of the Covenant.

The two armies never came to blows. The Scots encamped on Duns Law. The King was on the other side of the Tweed. Negotiations were opened, which resulted in the Pacification of Berwick. It was agreed that the royal fortresses were to be restored, and the questions at issue were to be left to the arrangement of a free General Assembly and a free meeting of the Estates.

The Pacification of Berwick merely postponed hostilities. From the first each party accused the other of bad faith. War broke out again in the following summer. In July the Scots army was again assembled for the invasion of England, and on August 28, 1640, the battle of Newburn was fought.

During the next four years there was no important fighting in the north. In Scotland the Covenant was supreme. What restlessness there was among the Aberdeenshire Royalists was suppressed by a force under General Monro. In the summer of 1640 Argyll, acting under a "Commission of Fire and Sword" from the Estates, ravaged the lands of his feudal enemies in the central Highlands and in Angus. It was during this ferocious raid that there took place that destruction of Airlie Castle, which forms the subject of the ballad of the "Bonnie House of Airlie."

The Long Parliament met in November 1640. In the autumn of 1641 the King visited Scotland, and was present at a meeting of the Estates, at which, in outward form, all was harmony; the troubles were brought to an end, and honours and offices were lavished on the Covenanting leaders. On Charles’s return to London he found his difficulties with the English Parliament thickening fast. On August 25, 1642, the Royal Standard was raised at Nottingham and the great English Civil War began.

At first things went badly for the Parliamentary cause, and every endeavour was made by its leaders to secure the help of Scotland against the King. In 1643 the Solemn League and Covenant was signed. It was followed by the march of a Scots army into England, again commanded by Sir Alexander Leslie, now Earl of Leven, who had as his major-general his more famous nephew, David Leslie. On July 3, 1644, the combined armies decisively defeated the King at Marston Moor.

Long before this Montrose had severed his connection with the Covenant, and had cast in his lot with the King. Immediately after the raising of the Royal Standard at Nottingham, Charles had written to him asking for his advice and assistance. Now that the English Parliamentary party had secured the co-operation of the forces of the Covenant, the King was sorely overmatched. If the Scottish army could be compelled to recross the Border, the conditions would be again equalised. Montrose knew the Highlanders thoroughly. They were unaccustomed to discipline; they owned no allegiance except to their own chiefs; it was hopeless for any ordinary general to attempt to handle them as a regular army: but Montrose well knew how formidable a force they might be under a leader who could secure their confidence and who knew how to manage them. He believed that he was himself such a leader, and, as the result proved, his belief was entirely justified. He conceived the idea of marching into Scotland with a force which was strong enough to make its way to the Highlands, and which might there form the nucleus of an army to be composed of the loyal clans and certain Irish supports which had been promised by the Earl of Antrim.

Montrose received from the King a commission, dated February 1, 1644, by which he was appointed Lieutenant - General of the royal forces in Scotland. He found himself, however, unable to obtain a body of troops sufficient to force his way to the Highlands as he had designed. He accordingly resolved to find his way through the enemy’s country in disguise, a characteristic beginning of the brilliant and daring enterprise which has immortalised his name, and thoroughly in accordance with the character of the leader who was ever ready to stake all upon a single cast.

The companions of his perilous journey were Major, afterwards Sir William, Rollo and Colonel Sibbald. Montrose passed as their servant. On August 22 the party reached the house of Tullibelton, near Dunkeld, which belonged to Montrose’s kinsman, Graham of Inchbrakie.

There he lay for some time in hiding, and sent out messengers to collect intelligence as to the state of the royal cause in the country. They returned with the worst news. Under the stern rule of Argyll and the Committee of Estates, the King’s adherents had been thoroughly cowed. The enterprise seemed hopeless.

At last news came that the promised Irish succour had landed. Instead of the 10,000 men who were expected, a force of some 1500, commanded by Alastair Macdonald (called Colkitto, "the left-handed,") had reached the Hebrides in July, and had subsequently landed in Knoydart. They had found little support among the western clans. Montrose succeeded in communicating with Colkitto, and directed him to march with all despatch into Atholl. They met at Blair, and there the standard was joined by some 800 of the Atholl men, chiefly Stewarts and Robertsons.

Montrose was now at the head of some 3000 men. Promptitude of action was everything. Argyll, who had assembled a force to attack Colkitto, was approaching from the west. Montrose at once determined to strike a blow at Perth before Argyll could come up. He accordingly marched southward and crossed the Tay.

Perth was defended by a force of 6000 foot and 700 horse, with four guns, the whole commanded by Lord Elcho. Montrose was thus vastly outnumbered; he had neither cavalry nor artillery; and not a few of his men had no better arms than the stones which they picked up on the battle-field.

The armies met on the 1st of September at Tippermuir, between four and five miles to the west of Perth. The right wing of the Covenanters was commanded by Elcho; the left by Sir James Scott, and the centre by the Earl of Tullibardine. Montrose drew up his men three deep, with as long a front as possible. An attack by a party of Elcho’s horse, under Lord Drummond, was easily beaten off. Then Montrose’s line advanced to the attack. It was made in the traditional Highland manner, which was so often to prove successful against regular troops. The assailants advanced to within short range; then such of them as had muskets fired a volley; then they rushed in and attacked with the broadsword; The peaceable burghers of whom the Covenanting army was largely composed had little chance in a hand-to-hand conflict with savage mountaineers. They broke and fled in utter rout. The Rev. John Robertson, one of the ministers of Perth, describes the sorry plight of some of the citizens who reached the town, "all forefainted and bursted with running, insomuch that nine or ten died that night in town without any wound." "The Provost came into one house," he says, "where there were a number lying panting, and desired them to rise for their own defence: They answered—their hearts were away—they would fight no more although they should be killed." The number of killed on the Covenanting side is variously stated; Wishart, Montrose’s chaplain and chronicler, gives it as 2000. On the same day Montrose entered Perth as a victor. There he was able to provide his army with clothing, abundance of arms and ammunition, and six pieces of cannon.

At the head of "a pack of naked runagates," as Baillie calls them, Montrose had now defeated an immensely superior force in the field, and had captured one of the chief towns of the kingdom. It was no part of his policy to remain there. After a victory a Highland army always began to melt away, the men returning homewards to secure their plunder and save their harvest. In any case an open town could not be defended against a regular siege by Argyll’s army. Elcho had retreated to Aberdeen, and Montrose resolved to follow him up.

He marched northwards through Angus and the Mearns, being joined on the way by the old Earl of Airlie and a considerable force of the Ogilvies and their friends. On reaching the Dee he made no attempt to force the bridge at Aberdeen, but marched up the right bank of the river and forded it at the Mills of Drum. On the night of September 11 he camped at Crathes. On the 13th the Covenanters marched out of Aberdeen to meet him. Their force, which was commanded by Lord Balfour of Burleigh, consisted of some 2000 foot and 500 horse. Montrose had about 1500 foot and only 44 mounted men. The armies met a little to the west of the city, "between the Craibstane and the Justice Mills," where the Hardgate now runs. After a four hours’ engagement the Covenanters broke and fled. Montrose’s Irish troops behaved with great spirit in action, but after the battle they seem to have got badly out of hand, and horrible atrocities were committed by them in Aberdeen. "The men that they killed," says Spalding, "they would not suffer to be buried, but tirred (stripped) them of their clothes, syne left their naked bodies lying above the ground. The wife durst not cry or weep at her husband’s slaughter before her eyes, nor the mother for the son, nor daughter for the father, which if they were heard then they were presently slain also. Nothing," he says, "was heard but pitiful howling, crying, weeping, mourning through all the streets."

Montrose left Aberdeen on September 16. He had hoped for a large accession of strength in the Gordon country, but found himself disappointed in this, apparently through the personal jealousy of the Marquis of Huntly. With the force at his command he could not meet Argyll’s army in the field, so during the following weeks we find him moving rapidly from place to place in the Highlands, on Speyside, in Badenoch, in Atholl, down in Angus, and again up in Aberdeenshire. Argyll had marched northward from Perth on September 14 with a force of some 3000 foot and two regular cavalry regiments, besides ten troops of horse. After following Montrose all over the country he came up with him at Fyvie on October 28. Notwithstanding the great disparity of’ forces Montrose gave him battle. Argyll was repulsed, and allowed Montrose to retreat into Strathbogie. He himself returned to Edinburgh, "where," says Spalding, "he got but small thanks for his service against Montrose." Thence he withdrew to his castle at Inverary.

Montrose again marched down through Badenoch into the Atholl country. Notwithstanding his military successes his prospects did not seem very cheering. He had not succeeded in raising anything like the force he expected from among the clans, and many of his Lowland officers had left him. Old Lord Airlie and his two sons alone remained faithful throughout. A descent upon the Lowlands was thought of and abandoned. Then was conceived the most daring and brilliant operation of the whole campaign—one of the most daring in all military history. This was to attack Argyll in his own impregnable fortress of Inverary. A blow struck there would shake the Covenanting power to its very foundation, and would gather to the royal standard the many enemies of the well-hated race of Campbell. A forced march in mid-winter over the Argyllshire mountains was only possible to such an army as Montrose’s. It was effected with startling rapidity. Montrose passed like a meteor from Blair Atholl along Loch Tay, through Breadalbane and Glenorchy, ravaging the Campbell lands as he went. Argyll fancied himself absolutely secure, believing as he did that Inverary was quite inaccessible to an army from the east. He was rudely undeceived. Early in December some shepherds arrived from the hills with the news that Montrose was close at their heels. Argyll had just time to save his own skin. He escaped by sea to Roseneath. For six weeks, till near the end of January 1645, Montrose’s troops pillaged the Campbell country at their pleasure.

His next move was to march northward by Glencoe and Lochaber, with the object of attacking Inverness, which was held by a Covenanting force under Seaforth. By this time he had been joined by many of the western chiefs. At Kilcummin, now Fort Augustus, on January 29 and 30, a bond promising support to the royal cause was subscribed by the chiefs present. Among the signatures appear those of Maclean of Duart, Maclean of Lochbuy, Macdonald of Keppoch, Macdonald younger of Glengarry, the Captain of Clanranald, the Tutor of Struan, the Tutor of Lochiel, the Macgregor, the Macpherson, and Stewart younger of Appin. It was immediately after the signature of this bond that the news reached Kilcummin that Argyll was again on Montrose’s track at the head of some 3000 men, partly his own clansmen and partly some of the troops which had been recalled from England. With these he was ravaging Lochaber. Montrose’s resolution was at once taken. He made one of his astonishing forced marches over Corryarrack, and down Glen Roy, and on the morning of February 2 swooped on Argyll at Inverlochy.

We have Montrose’s own account of this famous march and fight, written to the King the day after the batttle:-

"My march was through inaccessible mountains," he says, "where I could have no guides but cowherds, and they scarce acquainted with a place but six miles from their own habitations. If I had been attacked with but one hundred men in some of these passes I must have certainly returned back, for it would have been impossible to force my way, most of the passes being so strait that three men could not march abreast. I was willing to let the world see that Argyle was not the man his Highlandmen believed him to be, and that it was possible to beat him in his own Highlands.

"The difficultest march of all was over the Lochaber mountains, which we at last surmounted, and came upon the back of the enemy when they least expected us, having cut off some scouts we met about four miles from Inverlochy. Our van came within view of them about five o’clock in the afternoon, and we made a halt till our rear was got up, which could not be done till eight at night. The rebels took the alarm and stood to their arms, as well as we, all night, which was moonlight and very clear. There were some few skirmishes between the rebels and us all the night, and with no loss on our side but one man. By break of day I ordered my men to be ready to fall on upon the first signal, and I understand since, by the prisoners, the rebels did the same. A little after the sun was up both armies met, and the rebels fought for some time with great bravery, the prime of the Campbells giving the first onset, as men that deserved to fight in a better cause. Our men having a nobler cause did wonders, and came immediately to push of pike and dint of sword after their first firing. The rebels could not stand it, but after some resistance at first began to run, whom we pursued for nine miles together, making a great slaughter, which I would have hindered if possible, that I might save your Majesty’s misled subjects. For well I know your Majesty does not delight in their blood, but in their returning to their duty. There were at least fifteen hundred killed in the battle and the pursuit, among whom there are a great many of the most considerable gentlemen of the name of Campbell, and some of them nearly related to the Earl. I have saved and taken prisoners several of them, that have acknowledged to me their fault and lay all the blame on their chief. Some gentlemen of the Lowlands that had behaved themselves bravely in the battle, when they saw all lost fled into the old castle, and upon their surrender I have treated them honourably and taken their parole never to bear arms against your Majesty. . . . We have of your Majesty’s army about two hundred wounded, but I hope few of them dangerously. I can hear but of four killed, and one whom I cannot name to Your Majesty but with grief of mind—Sir Thomas Ogilvy, a son of the Earl of Airlie, of whom I writ to your Majesty in my last. He is not yet dead, but they say he cannot possibly live, and we give him over for dead. Your Majesty never had a truer servant, nor there never was a braver, honester gentleman."

The defeat at Inverlochy was a crushing blow to the Covenanters. The power of the Campbells was humbled to the dust. From the safe refuge of a boat on Loch Fyne Argyll had witnessed the rout of his army and the slaughter of his kinsmen. Montrose thought that he would shortly have Scotland at his feet, and that he would ere long cross the Border at the head of a victorious army. "I am in the fairest hopes," he writes to Charles, "of reducing this kingdom to your Majesty’s obedience. And if the measures I have concerted with your other loyal subjects fail me not, which they hardly can, I doubt not before the end of this summer I shall be able to come to your Majesty’s assistance with a brave army, which, backed with the justice of your Majesty’s cause, will make the rebels in England, as well as in Scotland, feel the just rewards of rebellion. Only give me leave, after I have reduced this country to your Majesty’s obedience, and conquered from Dan to Beersheba, to say to your Majesty then, as David’s General did to his master, ‘Come thou thyself lest this country be called by my name.’"


Montrose did not rest upon his laurels. After his victory he again marched northward, up what is now the line of the Caledonian Canal. The Covenanting army at Inverness melted away at his approach. On February 19 he reached Elgin. Here he received a welcome accession of strength; he was joined by a force of the Gordons under Lord Gordon, Huntly’s eldest son, and Lord Lewis Gordon.

His object now was to strike at the Lowlands. The road to the south was blocked by a force of the troops who had been recalled from England, commanded by General William Baillie of Letham, an old soldier of Gustavus Adolphus’s, and a much more formidable antagonist than the amateur commanders whom as yet Montrose had had opposed to him. There was also a force of some 600 horse under Sir John Hurry, a soldier of fortune who changed sides four times during the troubles.

From Elgin, Montrose marched by Huntly and Kintore to Stonehaven, plundering the lands of the north-country Covenanters as he went. Near Fettercairn he came into touch with Hurry’s cavalry, who retreated before him. Baillie well knew the peculiar weakness of a Highland army. He determined to avoid an engagement as long as possible, knowing that every day of waiting and manoeuvring would weaken his enemy by desertions. Wishart tells a characteristic story of the two commanders. The armies had come face to face with each other at Coupar-Angus, on opposite banks of the Isla. Neither could cross the river without serious loss if the passage was disputed. Montrose, in the spirit of old-world chivalry, sent Baillie a challenge by a trumpeter. He asked permission to cross the river unopposed, or if the Covenanting general preferred he might himself cross to Montrose’s side, if he would pledge his honour to fight without further delay. The old campaigner drily replied "that he would mind his own business himself, and would fight at his own pleasure, and not at another man’s commands."

At last Baillie retired towards Fife, without ever having come to an action. Montrose marched westward and occupied Dunkeld. The way to the south was now open, but Baillie’s Fabian policy had succeeded. Montrose’s army had melted down to some 800 men. With such a force it was out of the question to invade the Lowlands. Montrose’s information was that the whole of Baillie’s force was now on the west side of the Tay. He determined to make a dash on Dundee. Early in the morning of April 3 he started from Dunkeld. Dundee was reached next day, and occupied with little resistance. Montrose, however, had been misinformed as to Baillie’s movements, and he just escaped irreparable disaster. His men had scattered through the town in quest of drink and plunder, when news came that Baillie and Hurry, with 3000 foot and 800 horse, were within a mile of the town. Montrose managed to collect his troops—a notable example of his personal power of command—and escaped from the east gate of the town just in time. Baillie followed close at his heels during the night, hoping to corner him against the sea at Arbroath. Montrose, however, doubled back, slipped round Baillie’s rear, crossed the South Esk at Careston Castle at sunrise, and succeeded in reaching the Grampians. It was a wonderful achievement; the men had been marching and fighting for three days and two nights without food or sleep, and were half dead with hunger and fatigue. Wishart says that he often "heard officers of experience and distinction, not in Britain only, but also in Germany and France, prefer this march of Montrose to his most famous victories."

As we have seen, Montrose’s army had dwindled to a mere handful. Lord Lewis Gordon, always untrustworthy, had deserted, and had taken many of the Gordons with him. There was nothing to be done but to retire again to the North and endeavour once more to build up an army. Baillie was watching the Highlands from Perth, and Hurry had gone north to Inverness to collect forces for an attack on the Gordons. Lord Gordon had gone home to his own country to raise further levies, and, if possible, to bring back the men who had been carried off by Lord Lewis.

After picking up some recruits in Perthshire, Montrose found his way into the Mar country. There he met Lord Gordon at the head of 1000 foot and 200 horse. He had already been joined by Lord Aboyne, who, with a few horsemen, had escaped from beleaguered Carlisle. By a daring raid on Aberdeen Aboyne secured a much-needed supply of gunpowder. Then it was decided to attack Hurry.

Montrose marched over the hills by the route which is now followed by the road from Cocksbridge to Tomintoul, and then down Strathspey. Hurry advanced from Inverness to meet him. Near Elgin the armies came into touch. Hurry retired on Inverness, closely followed by Montrose. At Inverness the Covenanting army received a large accession of strength, being joined by the Earl of Seaforth, who had again changed sides, the Earl of Sutherland, and a force of the Frasers. This placed Hurry at the head of nearly 4000 men, of whom 400 were cavalry. Montrose’s force did not amount to more than 1500 foot and 250 horse, the latter consisting chiefly of the Gordons. Hurry turned upon his enemy, secure of victory. On the evening of May 8 Montrose reached the village of Auldearn, on the road between Forres and Nairn, some two miles east of the latter. Here he was attacked by Hurry on the following morning.

Montrose took up his position along the ridge crowned by the village of Auldearn, at right angles to Hurry’s line of advance. The village itself was the centre of his position. It was only occupied by a handful of men, enough to lead the assailants to believe that it was held in force. Alastair Macdonald with 400 Irish was posted on the right, in a position strongly defended by dykes and ditches. Montrose himself was on the left, behind the ridge, with the remainder of the infantry and the whole of the cavalry, the latter under Lord Gordon. Hurry’s right wing was commanded by Campbell of Lawers, his left by Captain Drummond; he himself remained in the rear in command of the reserves.

The royal standard had been entrusted to Macdonald, with the object of causing Hurry to believe that Montrose himself was stationed on the right, and if possible of inducing him to make his main attack there. The ruse was successful. Hurry sent the bulk of his force to attack the Irish. Macdonald in an evil moment allowed himself to be drawn from his strong position, and narrowly escaped disaster, though he himself performed Homeric feats of personal prowess. "Some of the pikemen," says Wishart, "by whom he was hard pressed again and again pierced his target with the points of their weapons, which he mowed off with his broadsword by threes and fours at a sweep." News was sent to Montrose that the right wing was routed. Wishart describes what followed. "To prevent a panic among his men at the bad news, with admirable presence of mind he (Montrose) at once called out, ‘Come, my Lord Gordon, what are we waiting for? Our friend Macdonald on the right has routed the enemy and is slaughtering the fugitives. Shall we look on idly and let him carry off all the honours of the day?" With these words he hurled his line upon the enemy. The shock of the Gordons was irresistible. After a brief struggle Hurry’s horse wavered, recoiled, wheeled, and fled, leaving their own flanks naked and exposed. Though deserted by the horse, the infantry, being superior in numbers and much better armed, stood their ground bravely until Montrose came to close quarters and forced them to fling down their arms and save themselves by flight." Having thus disposed of Hurry’s right wing, Montrose turned upon those who were assailing Macdonald’s position. "The horse fled headlong, but the foot, mostly veterans from Ireland, fought on doggedly, and fell man by man almost where they stood." The victory was complete. The Covenanters were pursued for miles with tremendous slaughter. The whole of their colours, baggage, and ammunition were captured by the Royalists.

A week before the battle of Auldearn, Baillie, whom we left at Perth, had broken into the Atholl country, where Blair Castle was held for the King. On hearing of the battle he marched northward, and at Strathbogie was joined by Hurry with the remains of his defeated army. Montrose, weakened by the desertion of many of his Highlanders, was in no haste to fight, and withdrew up Strathspey into Badenoch. Lord Lindsay was collecting a force in Forfarshire with the object of advancing against Montrose from the south. An attempt on Montrose’s part to attack him was frustrated by the desertion of the bulk of the Gordon horse. Montrose retired into Strathdon, and took up his position at Corgarff Castle, there to await events.

By the end of June he was once more in a position to fight. Lord Gordon and Colonel Nathaniel Gordon had succeeded in bringing back most of the Gordons, and Alastair Macdonald had brought in more men from the Highland glens. Montrose was at the head of some 2000 men. Baillie, on the other hand, had been seriously weakened by the transfer to Lindsay’s force of over 1000 of his best men, in exchange for 400 recruits. He was still in the North, where he had been ordered by the Estates to lay waste Huntly’s country.

Montrose accordingly endeavoured to bring Baillie to an engagement at Keith. Baillie, who occupied a strong position there, was not to be drawn. Montrose retired south towards the Don. Baillie had to follow him or leave the road to the Lowlands open. Montrose crossed the Don at Alford and took up his position on a ridge of high ground to the south of the river. There Baillie attacked him on July 2.

The forces were nearly equal in respect of numbers; the Covenanters had rather the best of it in cavalry. Montrose’s force was drawn up along the crest of the ridge with the cavalry on the flanks, under Lord Gordon and Aboyne. Part of the force was concealed behind the ridge. Baillie forded the Don about half a mile in front of Montrose’s centre, crossed a piece of boggy ground near the river-side, and advanced up the slope of the hill to the attack. He was not waited for. The horse on Montrose’s right wing, headed by Lord Gordon and supported by a body of Irish musketeers, charged his cavalry and drove it back in confusion. Then the main body rushed down and fell on with the claymore. The Covenanting infantry made a brave stand, but soon they too broke and fled. Montrose had won another decisive victory. Young Lord Gordon was struck down in the moment of victory by a shot from one of the fugitives. His death was a terrible loss to the army and to the royal cause in Scotland. "Montrose," says Wishart, "could not restrain his grief, but mourned bitterly as for his dearest and only friend."

The victory at Alford cleared Montrose’s way to the south. Six days after the battle the Covenanting Parliament met at Stirling and resolved to levy a new army from the Lowland counties. It was to assemble at Perth on July 24. The unlucky Baillie, foreseeing certain disaster, twice tendered his resignation, but it was not accepted, and to make matters worse he was subjected to the control of a military committee whose members could not even agree among themselves.

Montrose in the meantime was receiving great accessions of strength. The news of his victory and the prospect of a descent on the Lowlands brought crowds of clansmen to his standard—Macleans from the west, Macdonalds of Clanranald and Glengarry, Macgregors, Macnabs, Macphersons from Badenoch, Farquharsons from Braemar, and a contingent of Atholl men under Patrick Graham of Inchbrakie. Towards the end of July he marched south from Fordoun, where he had awaited his reinforcements, and appeared in the neighbourhood of Perth. He was still expecting further reinforcements and had no desire to fight a serious battle just yet. A few skirmishes took place, in which the Covenanters always had the worst of it. Early in August he was joined at Dunkeld by a strong force of the Gordons, and by eighty horsemen of the Ogilvies under the brave and ever loyal old Earl of Airlie. All was now ready for the advance into the Lowlands. Montrose marched down through Kinross, descended the vale of the Devon, destroyed Argyll’s castle of Castle Campbell near Dollar, and crossed the Forth at the Fords of Frew. On August 14 he reached Kilsyth.

Baillie had to follow him. He crossed the Forth at Stirling Bridge, and on the night of the 14th he camped at Hollinbush, about two and a half miles east of Montrose’s position. According to Wishart his force consisted of 6000 foot and 800 horse, while Montrose had 4400 foot and 800 horse. The Covenanting force, however, consisted of hastily raised and untrained levies, mostly Fifeshire men who could with great difficulty be persuaded to serve out of their own shire, and their commander was sorely hampered by the Committee which had been set over him, and which included among its members Argyll, whom Montrose had beaten at Inverlochy, Elcho, whom he had beaten at Tippermuir, and Balfour of Burleigh, whom he had beaten at Aberdeen.

The Committee imagined that Montrose was anxious to avoid an engagement. Exactly the reverse was the case. A Covenanting force of 1500 men had been raised in Clydesdale by the Earl of Lanark; they were approaching from the west, and were now within 12 miles of Kilsyth. Montrose’s one object was to fight Baillie before Lanark could come up. He drew up his men in an open meadow a little to the east of Kilsyth. On the morning of the15th the Covenanters advanced to attack him over rugged ground.

To the north of Montrose’s position there was a hill which commanded his left flank. It appeared to the Committee that if this could be occupied they would be in a position to cut off Montrose’s expected retreat. They accordingly directed Baillie to move to his right and take possession of the hill. To try to execute a flank movement across the front of an active and determined enemy was simply fatuous, and Baillie knew it, but the Committee insisted on their point. The fatal movement was begun. Montrose saw what was aimed at and despatched a force under Adjutant Gordon to hold the hill. A glen with a burn running through it had to be crossed by the Covenanters. The obvious result happened. The straggling column was charged in flank by the Macleans and Macdonalds and cut in two. Its head was attacked on the hill by Gordon, who was soon strongly reinforced, and was cut to pieces. The rout became general, and the fields were soon covered with terrified fugitives. The pursuit was remorseless and the slaughter frightful; Wishart says that 6000 of the Covenanters perished. Some of their leaders took refuge in Stirling Castle; some escaped by sea; Argyll went on board ship at Queensferry and reached Newcastle.

Kilsyth was Montrose’s crowning victory. Baillie had told the Committee that the loss of the day would mean the loss of the kingdom, and he was right. The King’s Lieutenant now had Scotland at his feet. The Covenanting leaders fled or submitted; the western levies dispersed to their homes. The imprisoned Royalists were set at liberty. The towns opened their gates; Edinburgh surrendered in the most abject manner. It seemed that the royal authority was completely restored, and Montrose, in the King’s name, summoned a meeting of Parliament for October.

His immediate object, however, was to go to the help of the King in England. He had assured Charles that he would soon cross the Border at the head of 20,000 men. He had imagined that the Lowlanders, once freed from the tyranny of Argyll and the Kirk, would flock to his standard, and that he would continue his career of victory till the royal cause was- triumphant throughout the island.

He was bitterly undeceived. Mr Gardiner comments with justice on the astonishing absence of all grasp on the concrete facts of politics, which in Montrose was coincident with the most intense realisation of the concrete facts of war. He entirely misjudged the temper of the Lowlands. The sympathies of the common people were all on the side of the Kirk; probably most of them desired nothing more than to be left in peace by both parties to get their harvests in; in any case they hated and feared the Highlander and the Irishman, who had won Montrose’s victories. Montrose entirely failed to raise a Lowland army; what recruits he did get were almost all of the upper classes. On the other hand, the army of Kilsyth was rapidly melting away. The clansmen had no fancy to be led south of the Tweed; they were disappointed in not getting the plunder of the Lowland towns; they all found pressing reasons of one kind or another for returning to their homes. The Macdonalds left in a body with Alastair at their head. Montrose marched southward from Bothwell in the beginning of September. Before he reached the Border he found himself in command of a mere handful of men.

In the meantime a formidable antagonist was approaching from the south. David Leslie, at the head of 4000 cavalry, had been detached from the Scottish army before Hereford, and was making for the Border with all possible speed. In the first week of September he crossed the Tweed at Berwick. He continued his march towards Edinburgh, expecting to fight Montrose in the Lothians. When in East Lothian he heard that his enemy was at Kelso. He turned to the west, marched down by Gala Water, and on the night of September 12 encamped at the village of Sunderland.

Montrose was at Selkirk. The greater part of his army was encamped on Philiphaugh, on the north side of the Ettrick. The number of men with him is variously given. According to Mr Gardiner, he had only 500 of his faithful Irish and some 1200 horse, of whom only 150, under Lord Airlie and Nathaniel Gordon, took part in the fight. He was badly served by his cavalry scouts. On the morning of the 13th, favoured by a thick mist, Leslie with his whole force succeeded in surprising the doomed Royalists. With such disparity of force the battle was a mere rout. A brief and gallant stand was made in vain. Montrose and a few others succeeded in saving themselves by flight; most of the men were slain or taken prisoners. The Covenanters butchered their prisoners in cold blood. Among the camp followers were some 300 Irish women, the wives of the soldiers, with their infant children. These shared the fate of their husbands and fathers. Most of the prisoners of rank perished on the scaffold.

The crushing disaster of Philiphaugh ended Montrose’s brilliant and fruitless career of victory. Ever since the battle of Naseby (June 14, 1645) the royal cause in England had been hopeless. It was now equally hopeless in Scotland. Montrose escaped to the Highlands, where he attempted in vain to reconstruct an army. In May 1646 the King surrendered himself to the Scots army in England. Shortly afterwards he commanded Montrose to disband his forces. Montrose himself escaped to Norway in September. "His high enterprise had failed," says Mr Gardiner. "No skill of warrior or statesman could deal successfully with a problem the solution of which depended on the one hand upon the wisdom of Charles, and on the other on the discipline of the Gordons and of the Highland clans."

Four years later Montrose again appeared in arms in Scotland. The last act of his drama is brief and tragic. The execution of Charles I. took place on January 30, 1649. The dominant faction in Scotland acknowledged Charles II. as his successor in the kingdom of Scotland, and proceeded to open those negotiations which led to his appearance in Scotland for a brief period in the character of a "Covenanted King." Montrose, filled with grief and rage by the death of his master, was burning with desire to avenge his blood and to restore his son to the crown. Charles, while actually in treaty with the Covenanters, granted to Montrose a commission authorising him to solicit help from the Northern Powers and to effect a descent on Scotland. Montrose landed in Orkney in March 1650 with some 700 men. There he remained some weeks, and was joined by about 800 men from the islands. With this force he crossed into Caithness. A strong force under David Leslie was sent north to meet him. On April 27 he was attacked and defeated at Carbisdale by a detachment under General Archibald Strachan. He escaped wounded from the fight, and a few days later was captured by Macleod of Assynt and handed over to the Covenanting general.

His fate was now sealed. He was sent as a prisoner to Edinburgh. After the battle of Inverlochy the doom of forfeiture and death had been pronounced against him by the Estates, and by the Church he had been "delivered into the hands of the devil." No trial was needed. On May 21, 1650, he was put to death at the Cross of Edinburgh with every circumstance of insult and degradation.

With the justice of his cause we are not here concerned, nor with the vindication of his political conduct. As to the latter, his own point of view is clear enough. "The Covenant which I took," he said to the Covenanting ministers the day before his death, "I own it and adhere to it. Bishops, I care not for them. I never intended to advance their interest. But when the King had granted you all your desires, and you were every one sitting under his vine and under his fig-tree, that then you should have taken a party in England by the hand, and entered into a League and Covenant with them against the King, was the thing I judged it my duty to oppose to the yondmost." His military reputation is beyond question. Dr Hill Burton speaks of it depreciatingly, on the ground that "he was defeated on the only occasion when he met face to face with another commander of repute." So he was, when the "other commander of repute" outnumbered him five to one. The story of his campaign speaks for itself. He was one of the greatest commanders of Highland troops that ever lived, and in personal loyalty and bravery he has left an illustrious example to all ages.

The battles of Dunbar and Worcester were followed by the rule of the Commonwealth in Scotland. One more attempt was made for the King in the North. In 1653 a force was raised in the West Highlands by the Earl of Glencairn, who was joined by Glengarry, Lochiel, and Atholl. His idea, apparently, was to emulate the feats of Montrose, but he was not the man to do it. The command of the force was taken over by General Middleton, who arrived from England, having escaped from the Tower. He held a commission as generalissimo of the King’s forces in Scotland. An army of 3000 men, under Monk and General Morgan, marched northward against the Royalists. Morgan met and defeated them on the banks of Lochgarry. Lochiel held out in the west for some time; but ultimately submitted. There was no more important warfare in the Highlands for a generation.

Return to Historical Geography of the Clans of Scotland


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