27th July 1689 The Battle of Killiecrankie

As the hands of the clock moved round to midnight on Tuesday 26th July 1689, John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount Dundee and Lieutenant-General of King James’ army in Scotland, took a slow sip of wine.

Sat with him around the big, oak dining room table in the Great Hall of Blair Castle were some dozen of the principal Chiefs of the Highland Clans and a handful of his own officers.

They sat in silence as they awaited the return of the scouts, riders that Claverhouse had sent south just a few hours ago, directed to confirm the whereabouts and intentions of the Government redcoat army, commanded by General Hugh MacKay.

And as they waited they ate and drank enthusiastically from the larder of the Master of Blair Castle, John Murray, 2nd Earl of Atholl who was absent having allied himself with the forces of the aforementioned General MacKay.

While Claverhouse and his commanders dined and waited so did the soldiers of their small army, camped outside Blair Castle’s walls. Every man fully aware that the battle which would determine the outcome of this 10 week campaign would be fought within the next few hours.

Blair Castle, where Claverhouse's army camoped the night before Killiecrankie

Blair Castle, where Claverhouse’s army camped the night before Killiecrankie

The circumstances which had brought them here on this warm Scottish evening had been unwinding for many years previously but could be traced back five and a half years to February 1685 when the old King, Charles II, restored to the throne in 1660 amid such wild celebrations and public optimism, after the long dark years of Cromwellian rule, had suffered a sudden seizure and died.

Charles II, whose death in 1685 initiated James' rule and subsequent usurpation

Charles II, whose death in 1685 initiated James’ rule and subsequent usurpation

The crown had passed to his younger brother, James, Duke of York, who had chronically mismanaged the situation from day one. A committed Catholic, in darkly Protestant times, his mishandling of his own affairs as well as those of the crown had created widespread dissatisfaction with his rule and had led to the prominent members of the English and Scottish political leadership to extend an invitation to James’ own son-in-law, the deeply ambitious and suitably Protestant William Prince of Orange, to come and seize the throne for himself.

James VII/II, whose mismanagement of the business of kingship created the problem in the first place

James VII/II, whose mismanagement of the business of kingship created the problem in the first place

Needing little encouragement William and his invasion force had landed at Torbay in December 1688 and headed for London as King James’ support melted away by the minute. James, despite the entreaties of those loyal to him, Claverhouse in particular, had vacillated whilst his natural despondency grew until in the week before Christmas he had fled his capital city for France, flinging the Great Seal into the Thames as he went. Within days William and his wife had been declared joint rulers of England.

William, Prince of Orange, whose unprincipled pursuit of ambition was rewarded with the Crown of the Three Kingdoms

William, Prince of Orange, whose unprincipled pursuit of ambition was rewarded with the Crown of the Three Kingdoms

The Convention of the Scottish Estates had been summoned in Edinburgh in March to determine whether the Scottish people would take a similar decision or choose James instead to continue to rule his Scottish subjects. Support for James was weak from the outset but, bolstered by the efforts of Claverhouse and other loyal men, the decision was still far from certain when letters from both monarchs were received and duly read to the assembled body.

The letter which James should have sent, carefully crafted by Claverhouse and other allies of the King, which was a model of tempered leadership, had been discarded at some point. And the one which was read out, penned by the sort of foolish men who the King had chosen to surround himself with, both during his rule and now in exile, was anything but and the mood of the gathering swung sharply in favour of the usurper.

Within hours Claverhouse stood alone in committing himself to firm action to restore his king to the ancient throne of his fathers and left the Convention for Dundee. With the collapse of support for James the Convention duly reached their decision and William and Mary were pronounced joint rulers of the three kingdoms of Scotland, England and Ireland.

Three weeks later on 13 May 1689, with his commission as James Lieutenant-General in Scotland issued, Claverhouse raised the Royal Standard on Dundee Law and the first Jacobite Rising was under way.

At this point his ‘army’ comprised only the 200 officers and men of the horse troop that he had commanded for the last few years as he had sought to maintain the rule of law in those parts of Scotland where men and women, deeply committed to the establishment of undiluted Presbyterian Rule, as set out in the Solemn League and Covenant first penned in 1643, went about furthering their aims through violent insurrection.

However, as the weeks passed Claverhouse and his men moved through the Highlands drawing to their cause many influential leaders of men, particularly those of the highland chiefs who could be persuaded that the best option for them and for the people of Scotland was the overthrow of William and the return of a Stuart to the throne.

Faced with this development the Convention appointed General MacKay in command of their forces and charged him with bringing Claverhouse’s rebel force to battle and destroying it. Since then both armies had played cat and mouse with each other throughout the highlands and about the north-east of Scotland as they sought circumstances which would favour victory. Hitherto these circumstances had proven elusive but now, in the dog days of July, matters had drawn to a head.

 

Now in the early hours of the short Scottish night, the scouts returned. MacKay’s army comprising almost four thousand men was, it seemed, camped at Dunkeld, some twenty plus miles south of Blair Castle, with the intention of moving north at first light to seek out King James’ army and bringing it finally to battle.

Claverhouse, his officers and the chiefs sat around the big oak table in silence as the full implications of this news sank in. Whilst all were warriors and eager for a decisive victory they were each aware of the likely consequences of defeat: the end of the Stuart cause with William secure on his throne for years to come, the ruin of their clans’ fortunes with a vengeful government unlikely to be reluctant to pursue Jacobite loyalists to their utter ruin and either execution or transportation for any fortunate to survive defeat.

General Hugh MacKay of Scourie, commander of the Williamite army destroyed at Killiecrankie

General Hugh MacKay of Scourie, commander of the Williamite army destroyed at Killiecrankie

Then the Viscount broke the silence and with a calm and decisive voice swept away the doubt and indecision. Announcing his intention to head south and engage MacKay as soon as dawn broke, he issued a stream of orders concerning the marching order of the army and the route to be taken.

In the meantime twenty miles to the south at Dunkeld, General Hugh MacKay, similarly appraised of the whereabouts of his enemy had already issued his instructions for the morning’s northern march and his force lay abed.

As dawn broke both armies formed up into marching order and headed towards each other. Mackay himself was a highlander but had left Scotland long before to pursue a military career. He had one concern only this morning and that was the fear that Claverhouse’s army, faced with superior odds, would again decline to engage him and melt away like highland mist and the seemingly endless pursuit would have to continue. In his mind the only challenge was to bring Claverhouse to battle at which point the superior quality of his men, their equipment and his leadership would bring about the inevitable victory.

However, there was the difficulty of the Pass of Killiecrankie to be first hazarded. The road north from Dunkeld follows the River Tummel for some miles until it meets the confluence with the River Garry at which point the way closes in to a dark and narrow defile which is the Pass. Even a General such as MacKay with his unshakeable belief in the superiority of his troops was cautious about this passage. Consequently, he had directed some of his troops to hold the Pass the previous day and as he now drew near to the entrance in the early afternoon sunlight it was not without concern that his troops entered the dark and forbidding way.

The narrow defile of the Pass of Killiecrankie.

The narrow defile of the Pass of Killiecrankie.

When his command subsequently emerged at the other end and a galloping trooper brought the news to him at the head of the column that the last of his soldiery were safely through, it would have seemed to him that the last remaining possibility of failure had passed.

Claverhouse, in the meantime, also a seasoned veteran of formal, continental warfare as well as the more haphazard style of fighting which prevailed in Scotland at the time, had cause for doubt which matched MacKay’s confidence in magnitude. He was now committed to leading his irregular force in to battle against greater numbers of regular infantry. To engage toe-to-toe in a stand up fight would be to invite disaster. So he had to find and fully utilize any opportunity for advantage that might be gleaned.

The first such was terrain. Aware that MacKay would need to traverse the Pass following the road at the bottom of the gorge, the Viscount held firmly to the high ground as his army made passage south. The single tactical ploy for a highland army is to charge and while this had proven effective on flat ground its advantage would be considerably multiplied if it could be deployed downhill.

The HIghland Charge, a challenge to defend against on level ground. Considerably harder downhill of it.

The Highland Charge, a challenge to defend against on level ground. Considerably harder downhill of it.

So the two armies felt their way towards each other as the day wore on. Not long after MacKay’s men had cleared the Pass a shout went up from the front of their column and all eyes followed the direction of pointing hand up the hill on their right hand side where a handful of kilted figures had emerged from the trees. These were followed by several more and it became clear that this was indeed the vanguard of Claverhouse’s army.

MacKay immediately realised the weakness of his tactical position, his army with their backs to the thundering River Garry and at the bottom of a steep slope. Ordering his men through a quarter turn he issued orders for them to head a little up the slope where a slight ridge promised a better tactical position.

Meantime the Highland army had cleared the woods and under the direction of Claverhouse and the chiefs, formed easily from column of march into battle order. As MacKay completed his initial dispositions further down the hill it was clear that the Highlanders still retained a significant advantage at the top of the steep slope. Furthermore it was equally clear that the width of the Claverhouse’s frontage exceeded his own and thus threatened to outflank him.

MacKay, somewhat discomfited by this realisation, issued orders to thin his ranks from three to two in order to extend his frontage to match Claverhouse’s. Whose initial tactical advantage at the top of the slope now greatly increased in magnitude without any effort on his own part.

Many an eyebrow will have been raised further up the hill as they watched the execution of this manoeuvre. For an experienced general, steeped in the ways of warfare, MacKay’s fortunes were dwindling rapidly before a ball had been kicked.

Finally, with both armies optimally disposed in the view of their respective commanders, all now settled down for the inevitable, interminable wait which was the custom of the time.

Claverhouse sat on his horse a little behind the front centre of the army. Dressed for once in a buff coat at the insistence of the senior chiefs who knew to the extent which the fortunes of this escapade rode on the shoulders of this one man. After all the drama and intrigue and endless marching of the past few months it all now came down to this one engagement.

Finally, with the sun dipping behind the hills to the west and shining into the eyes of the redcoat soldiers Claverhouse gave the order to charge. It has been said that “Even a haggis, God bless her, can charge down a hill”. And the view has been expressed that a Highland army ceases to resemble a comic opera the moment it starts to move.

What a sight and sound that must have been as over two thousand of the finest fighting men in the kingdom hurtled down the hill roaring their determination. Whatever the cumulative experience of MacKay’s command little of their previous combat exploits would have prepared them for this.

Within moments the highland charge struck the redcoat line which, thinned to two troopers only, almost immediately came apart. With the angle of the slope pulling the impetus of this wave of ferocious humanity slightly to the one side, some redcoat regiments remained intact while others were completely swept away. MacKay, to his credit, retained his composure and was able to pull his surviving forces into some semblance of order as he led the retreat back in the direction whence they had marched so confidently but a few short hours before.

The pursuit of the shattered wreckage of his command continued in all directions for several miles with fully two thirds of those engaged failing to survive the day.

At the height of the battle the slaughter was tremendous.

At the height of the battle the slaughter was tremendous.

The disasterous news for the Jacobite army, however, was further up the slope, where King James’ Lieutenant-General lay mortally wounded. With the battle at its height and Claverhouse seeking to pull the imbalanced charge back onto better order, an enemy musket ball had penetrated under his raised sword arm, beyond the protection of his breast-plate. Within a few minutes John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount Dundee and the man who had pulled the whole rising together in the first place by sheer determination and force of personality was dead.

Claverhouse passes away and the hopes of the Jacobite cause die with him.

Claverhouse passes away and the hopes of the Jacobite cause die with him.

With him also passed the fortunes of the Jacobite cause. Although there were to be four further attempts to restore the Stuarts to the throne over the next fifty six years none had any real prospect of success. As Claverhouse will have realised from the very beginning their best chance was for James to have stood his ground in the face of William’s initial advance.

And so passed one of Scotland’s finest leaders of men. And as the history of any struggle is penned by the victors and not the vanquished, his memory has been sorely traduced in the intervening centuries with the focus falling on the false history of the ‘Killing Times’.

22 June 1679, The Battle of Bothwell Bridge

On the anniversary of this key military encounter I re-post an updated version of last year’s piece……

In a previous post we looked at the Battle of Drumclog where on 1st June 1679, a small government force under Bonnie Dundee’s command was attacked and routed by a larger, irregular force of Covenanters.

Emboldened by this outstanding success the Covenanters moved to capitalise on it. While in Edinburgh, the Privy Council initiated counter measures designed to quell the rebellion before it got completely out of hand. All of this would lead to a second and decisive military encounter some three weeks later and 20 odd miles further north on 22 June at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge.

Battle of Bothwell Bridge monument

Battle of Bothwell Bridge monument

In the immediate aftermath of his defeat at Drumclog, Dundee had written a full report to his commander, the Earl of Linlithgow, Major General of his Majesty’s forces in Scotland expressing his opinion that “This may be counted the beginning of the rebellion”. And so this would seem to be the case with the sudden appearance of covenanting sympathies in many hitherto seemingly law-abiding citizens.

3rd Earl of Linlithgow, Claverhouse's commander

3rd Earl of Linlithgow, Claverhouse’s commander

While many of those to the fore of the Covenanting force could be deemed to be determined, ruthless and experienced, none of them were generals. And the military command initially fell upon Robert Hamilton who, as was so often the case in these troubled times, would feature in a prominent role on both pro and anti Stuart divide, having fought for the Stuarts in the defeats at Cromwell’s hands at Dunbar (1650) and Worcester (1651) and would eventually flee to Holland in the aftermath of the failure of the Monmouth Rising (1685) the purpose of which was to remove James VII and II from the throne, replacing him with Charles II’s illegitemate but acceptably Protestant offspring, the Duke of Monmouth.

As soon as they had abandoned their pursuit of Dundee’s defeated force after Drumclog, the Covenant Army resolved, under Hamilton’s leadership, to “continue and abide together in arms”. They understood well that it was only a matter of time before the Government would move against them, in force. On the afternoon of their victory they marched the fifteen miles to Hamilton (the village not the man) where they camped. Glasgow, where Dundee and his remaining troops stood to arms with the Government garrison under the command of Lord George Ross of Hawkhead, was only 10 miles distant.

In the wee, small hours of the following morning the post boy galloped through the dark, Edinburgh streets bearing Ross’ despatch to Linlithgow announcing the defeat at Drumclog and his intention to barricade the streets of Glasgow in the face of the advancing covenanting host. Within an hour the Privy Council were gathered and plans laid to assemble the scattered Government troops from Fife and Dumfries for the Earl of Linlithgow to lead westwards against the rebels on 4th June.

17th century Glasgow, where the Covenanting rebels attacked Claverhouse and Ross

17th century Glasgow, where the Covenanting rebels attacked Claverhouse and Ross

At sunrise on 2nd June the rebel force approached Glasgow and at 11 am made a rash and ill-judged assault on the barricades at the bottom of High Street and the Gallowgate. The troops of Ross and Claverhouse fired on them from behind these and within a short time their assailants withdrew leaving many wounded lying in the street and at least seven dead. They rallied a mile to the east of the town where the setback of their repulse now gave rise to the splits and schisms long-threatened in a mob where each man and woman considered themselves to be a party of one.

If they possessed ‘leaders of integrity and followers with a singleness of purpose’ then this army of Covenanters might have been forged into a force as strong as any led by Cromwell. However, with fully two thirds of them deemed by themselves to be preachers, with the vanity and unwillingness to subvert to the greater good often prevalent in the species, it was a hopeless cause. Even with strong leadership it would have been an almost impossible task but the leadership of this rebel force was inept to a degree rarely seen before or since in our little corner part of the world.

The total number of different shades of religious opinion amongst them would have been impossible to determine but in broad terms they were split into two factions. These being the Moderates (which was purely a relevant term) led by John Welsh of Irongray, a great grandson of John Knox. And the Honest Party, led by the previously mentioned Robert Hamilton, who had no aspirations to moderation when it came to matters religious amd political. And a considerable surprise it would have been, no doubt, for the redoubtable Mr Welsh to find himself for once outstripped in his fanaticism.

John Welsh, leader of one of the Covenant factions at Bothwell Bridge

John Welsh, leader of one of the Covenant factions at Bothwell Bridge

Having checked the forward movement of the rebels, Linlithgow now amended his initial plan of concentrating his forces in Glasgow and decided instead to carry out this assembling of his forces at Stirling. A strange choice explained only by timidity on his part and one which left both Glasgow and Edinburgh vulnerable to subsequent advance by the still intact rebel force. And if they were to repeat their manouevre of the Pentland Rising of 1666 then there might yet be an undesired outcome to this revolt.

Thus Ross and Dundee were ordered to withdraw from Glasgow towards Stirling, doing so on 3rd June while Linlithgow advanced from Edinburgh. Their forces joined at Bonnybridge on the 5th. This combined force now numbered 1800 men; horse, dragoons (mounted infantry) and foot. A despatch was then received from the magistrates of Glasgow reporting that the Covenanters, now some 7000 strong, were camped in the vicinity of Bothwell Bridge, near Hamilton.

Bothwell Bridge, scene of the eponymous battle

Bothwell Bridge, scene of the eponymous battle

Linlithgow advanced once more, reaching Kirkintilloch at midday on 6th June. A reconnaissance party reported that the rebels had now occupied Glasgow and after due consideration and consultation with his officers, Linlithgow decided that the disparity in size of the two armies was such that he risked disaster by attacking and was duly recalled to Edinburgh by the Privy Council. Drumclog was only 5 days old and the rebellion was now entirely out of hand.

Still more of the disaffected rallied to the Covenant banner and the rebel force continued to grow in size, and to their collective misfortune, to grow also in disparity of strongly-held opinion. There now ensued fully two weeks of internecine bickering over religious intricacies. On 8th June a ‘very great convention’ was held in Rutherglen where a resolution was determined by the Honest Party to remain aloof from Welsh and his moderates. They met again the following day where both sides of the debate agreed on the necessity of issuing a unified, public declaration of their aims. Yet neither could accept the other’s drafting of this. On 10th June there was a ‘very hot disputation, particularly concerning the indulgence’ which is to say who was to be forgiven for previous political / religious transgressions and who was not. Again no resolution was determined. And so it continued. Each passing day brought further discussion and yet more disagreement as the differences between the disparate viewpoints became emphasised and that which drew them together became drowned in the din.

But now the King, his majesty Charles II, became stirred into action by the reports of rebellion from the north. He decided to appoint his illegitimate son, James, Duke of Monmouth as commander-in-chief of his forces in Scotland. Monmouth’s orders were issued on 11th June and he disembarked in Edinburgh on 19th June.

James, Duke of Monmouth. commander of the Government army at Bothwell Bridge

James, Duke of Monmouth. commander of the Government army at Bothwell Bridge

He brought only two troops of horse from England to supplement the Scottish Government’s now concentrated army which he rendezvoused with at Blackburn, West Lothian on 19th June, assuming overall command of a combined force of some 5000 men.

If this army force was small in numbers it was strong in leadership. Monmouth had extensive campaigning experience in Flanders. The 3 principal dragoon officers were seasoned and experienced men. Claverhouse and the Earls of Home and Airlie commanded their own separate troops and with Montrose (not The Montrose, note) leading the Life Guards there was no shortage of skill, experience and, crucially, military discipline.

On 20th June Monmouth was at Muirhead and on the evening of 21 June he was advancing on Bothwell Bridge and the larger Covenanting Army. How had things gone with them in the meantime? Not well. The advance of the Government Army had merely accentuated the acute divisions in their camp. On 16th, 17th and 18th, camped on Shawhead Moor, their leadership, such as it was, continued to meet in acrimonious debate. Hamilton’s Moderates had proposed a Day of Humiliation which Welsh’s Honest men had protested. With the whole gathering deep in confusion they had recrossed Bothwell Bridge on 18th June and encamped on Hamilton Moor.

The wrangling continued through the 19th, and on 20th June they were joined by reinforcements from Galloway. These were favourers of the Indulgence and thus natural allies of Welsh’s party. They submitted a written statement of their desires to Hamilton who promptly, and unsurprisingly, rejected it.

Late in the evening of 21 June, just hours before the battle would commence, the two factions met in their final council of war. One desired to purge the army of undesirables while the other refused to fight under the officers which had been selected prior to the arrival of the Galloway men which had given the moderates numerical superiority in the argument. After heated discussion Hamilton and his people withdrew. The Moderates sat down to frame a petition to Monmouth but once again agreement over the content proved impossible. And in a few short hours this host of pious men, leaderless, unprepared and distracted would blunder into battle.

The surviving comments from among their number give us an insight into the shortcomings of their situation;……..”We were not concerned with an enemy as if there were none within 100 miles of us”………………..”There were none went through the army to see if we wanted powder or ball”……”A little before day we saw the enemy kindling their matches a great way off”…………
At about 3 am in the morning of 22 June the advance guard of Monmouth’s army closed on one end of the bridge. The rebels formed into two bodies with one holding their end of the bridge and the other drawn up a mile or so to the rear, while the single piece of cannon they possessed was dragged down to command the approach to the bridge. This piece and its gunner would be the star of the show for the discomfited rebels.

An exchange of pistol fire began across the water as Monmouth came to the front line. The two rebel factions, faced now with the imminent destruction of their host, had managed to thrash together a parley with which they could both live and now this representation was made to Monmouth, who could do little but entertain it. So hostilities ceased temporarily.

Their submission though was merely a list of their grievances and a request that they might meet with Monmouth to discuss the matters. The erstwhile Duke sent back that he could not enter into any discussions with rebels until they lay down their arms. He did not bother to await their reply before recommencing preparations for his assault and ordered the deployment of his own cannon to command the bridge. A second parley was sent out from the Covenant lines desiring to be told the nature of any terms that he might have brought from England. Monmouth sent them packing and duly ordered his cannon to open fire.

And this provided the first surprise of the day as the lone Covenant gun, manned by a stalwart whose name posterity has not preserved but was their one true hero if the day, drove the government artillerymen from their pieces. However, after their initial discomfiture they returned to their pieces and under the cover of their fire a storming party of dragoons led by the splendidly named Major Theophilus Oglethorpe, stormed and forced the bridge.

Oglethorp's dragoons storm the bridge

Oglethorp’s dragoons storm the bridge

Under instruction not to advance any further than the other end of said bridge, they became carried away by the heat of the moment and advanced up the hill towards the main body of the enemy. Who, perceiving the small numbers of the force approaching them, moved down the hill and drove them into the houses at that end of the bridge.

In response 300 foot, under the command of Lord Livingstone’s son, were sent across the bridge and they, in turn, drove the Covenanters back on their main body. Monmouth himself now came forward over the bridge with his own troop and together with those already over, formed up to face the rebels ‘but two carabines shot apart’.

A haphazard and leaderless effort, but an effort nonetheless, was made by the rebels in an attempt to rescue the day. An assault was made on a body of Atholl Highlanders on Monmouth’s right, as the commander sought to form his second line. A brief cannonade forced them back in confusion with the Covenanting horse among them driven headlong from the field. Seconds later the foot joined the stampede and the rout began.

Oglethorp and Claverhouse were ordered to pursue with Monmouth following with the foot. At about ten o’clock that morning a messenger was despatched to Edinburgh bearing news of the victory.

And so the rule of law was once again imposed in all areas of the nation. The defeat at Drumclog could now be placed in proper perspective as a one-off thrown up by the particular circumstances of the day. And appropriate, measured action could now be taken against those who had initiated rebellion against King and lawful Government.

The bubble which had been blown at Rutherglen two months previously had now burst spectacularly with the rout at Bothwell. Monmouth was able to lead his men through the country across which the rebels had so recently roamed at will and confirmed the conclusion that all signs of rebellion were extinguished. On June 25th the local militia were dismissed, their function fulfilled. And on the 26th Monmouth returned to Edinburgh for the grateful thanks of the Privy Council, receiving the Freedom of the City in a large gold box. By 29th June he was on his way back to London.

Controversy, inevitably abounds as we look back on the whole episode, particularly in relation to two of the day’s participants; the Duke of Monmouth, commander-in-chief of the Government force and a lowly commander of horse troops, John Graham of Claverhouse.

Within 6 years Monmouth was dead: tried and executed for treason following his defeat at the Battle of Sedgemoor as he attempted to overthrow his uncle, King James VII and II, and seize the British throne for himself. From this vantage point many re-assess his behaviour at, and after Bothwell Bridge and seek to find indications, through his clemency towards the rebels, of his future treasonous actions.

As far as Claverhouse is concerned there has been as much opprobrium heaped upon him by future historians over his actions at Bothwell Bridge as there is at any other occasion in his career. The attempt to redress which is the driving force for this blog.

Much of this abuse is due to Sir Walter Scott’s depiction of the events of Bothwell Bridge in his novel,Old Mortality, which was published in 1816, nearly 140 years after the events took place. Scott gives Claverhouse a degree of prominence which far outweighs his actual involvement on the day and  also bestows upon him an aura of rapacious cruelty and vengefulness for which there is no basis. However, to be fair to Scott, he could have had little idea of the extent to which his work would outlive and outgrow him to the degree that it has. As Charles Terry, briefly and eloquently puts it, sober history competes unequally with romance.

Scott, author of Old Mortality

Scott, author of Old Mortality

Scott portrays Claverhouse as a colonel at the battle, promoted to General in the aftermath, whereas he was but a plain captain of horse, on the day and for some time afterwards. He and General Tam Dalziel, who was not in fact present at the battle having refused to serve under Monmouth, are credited by Scott with the ruthless pursuit of the fleeing rebels, in flagrant disobedience of Monmouth’s orders, rapaciously slaughtering the vanquished enemy.

Doubtless the emotion generated by his defeat at Drumclog would have been strong. The extensive source material relating to the battle itself and its immediate aftermath make passing mention only of his leading the cavalry on the right once Monmouth was over the bridge and reference to the capture ‘with his own two hands’ of two Covenant battle standards. Once again tradition becomes crystallized into fact in the face of a total absence of evidence. But it was ever thus.

29 May 1679, The Rutherglen Declaration

This was a minor event of primarily symbolic importance. It was sandwiched between other happenings of considerably greater import. These being the cold-blooded murder of Archbishop Sharp on Magus Moor on 3 May by a handful of Covenanter lairds and the comprehensive defeat of assembled Covenanters at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge on 22 June.

By the spring of 1679 the enthusiasm of those committed to the Covenant increased by a degree as more and younger people were drawn to the cause and as the voice of the more extreme veterans of the movement, men such as Donald Cargill, an inveterate enemy of compromise, moved to the fore.

Claverhouse had been sent “to the west” some months before, in command of a newly raised troop of government horse in order to assist in the process of keeping the peace. He had then been promoted to Sheriff-depute for Dumfries and Annandale in reflection of the poor fist that was being made of the peace-keeping process by the local, heritable sheriffs who were, by and large, entirely sympathetic with the lawless if not fully involved in the law-breaking process themselves.

The elements for escalation were now in place but the spark that set the kindling ablaze didn’t happen down on the south-west as might have been expected but many miles to the east in Fife.

The murder of Archbishop Sharp, was, now as then, utterly indefensible. A prelate, a holder of one of the major offices of the state, ambushed in broad daylight by a gang of thugs who then hacked him to death while one of them held his daughter back to prevent her interference in the deed and that she might better bear witness to the hideous death inflicted on her father.

The brutal murder of Archbishop Sharp, in front of his daughter

The brutal murder of Archbishop Sharp, in front of his daughter

Even by the standards of the time it was shocking. Although there were many prepared to defend it and even now, two hundred and thirty odd years later there are those who would view it as not unreasonable. Having carried out the deed, the culprits immediately mounted their horses and fled south-west in the hope that they might conceal themselves in the heartland of their support.

In the immediate aftermath there were a number among the extremists who saw this event as a sign, as a justification for the escalation of further extreme action. Amongst their number was the 29-year-old Robert Hamilton who saw the need to carry out some further public demonstration of their cause in order to rally the faithful and to further wave an angry fist in the direction of the Privy Council.

They waited a short time until 29 May, the birthday of the King, Charles II, when public celebrations, bonfires and suchlike, were happening in the monarch’s honour. Hamilton and his 80 odd mounted support initially planned on carrying out their demonstration in Glasgow but on hearing of the presence there of Government troops, took the more cautious option of Rutherglen. There they dramatically extinguished such bonfires that had been lit in the King’s honour then created their own and on to these tossed copies of the various pieces of recent Government legislation and Royal Proclamations that they deemed to be offensive to honest Covenanting folk. Then they fixed their Declaration to the Market Cross, a reiteration of there endless, baseless complaints, the content of which does not seem to have survived the passage of time. And having made their point, they once again, in time-honoured fashion, fled the scene.

So once more, as with the Pentland Rising, thirteen years previously, extreme and brutal action carried out by hot heads was then fanned by the even more extremist covenant clergy into some indication of divinely inspired justification for full-scale rebellion and before you knew it there were a mob of heavily armed men and women fully assembled and ready to take whatever action was determined to be in the best interests of their cause. And once more, in a holy mob where each individual was essentially a party of one, collective agreement as to unity of purpose was impossible.

News reached Claverhouse in Falkirk that same evening concerning the events in Rutherglen and he immediately moved his troops to take the necessary action. Two days later at Drumclog, while searching for an illegal conventicle he ran headlong into some 200 heavily armed covenanters and his force was defeated and driven from the field.

The Battle of Drumclog, 1st June 1679

The Battle of Drumclog, 1st June 1679

With that the full weight of the forces of law and order were brought to bear and on 22 June at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge order was finally restored.

The Battle of Bithwell Bridge, 22 June 1679. The end of the rebellion.

The Battle of Bothwell Bridge, 22 June 1679. The end of the rebellion.

21 May 1650, the Execution of Montrose

James Graham, the Great Montrose, born in Montrose in 1612 was tried for treason by the Scottish Covenanting government and hanged in 1650 in Edinburgh.

James Graham, Montrose

James Graham, Montrose

What WERE the man’s qualities exactly?

He was an outstanding military commander with a firm grasp of both strategic and tactical spheres of operation.
He was a charismatic leader of men. In his case, touchy and fickle highlander warriors who are not easily led.
He was a man of uncompromising principle whose adherence to those very principles in an age when the perceptions of society as to what principles mattered moved so wildly, that the impression was created in the eyes of the unwise that it was he who changed his stance.
He was a man of such vision and personal courage that when he failed to convince Prince Rupert, after the disaster of Marston Moor in the summer of 1644 to give him some of his soldiery to allow him to win Scotland for their King, Charles I, that he then entered Scotland with but two companions and subsequently pulled together an entire army by his own force of personality and led it to six consecutive victories between the summers of 1644 and 1645.

Prince Rupert of the Rhine, nephew of Charles I, defeated at the Battle of Marston Moor, June 1644.

Prince Rupert of the Rhine, nephew of Charles I, defeated at the Battle of Marston Moor, June 1644.

But if all this were true then he would stand as a historic icon, known to us all from childhood. Would that this were the case. However, with the ultimate triumph of the Protestant Ascendancy, the Glorious Revolution and the final disaster of the Union of Parliaments, our history has been written from the other side of this struggle. So Montrose is little known to us today and when his name is raised he is vilified as the military incompetent vanquished at Philiphaugh and a man of such uncertain principle that he would be the first to sign the National Covenant in 1638 then raise an army to oppose it in 1644.

Anyway, where’s the evidence?
As a military commander he stands with the other greats of this particular age, Conde and Cromwell. He is described by no less an authority than the honourable J.W. Fortescue in his 20 volume history of the British Army as “perhaps the most brilliant natural military genius disclosed by the civil war”.

Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Conde, the other outstanding general of the time

Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Conde, the other outstanding general of the time

A significant assessment of a man who’s only previous military experience had been the haphazard engagements of the Bishops’ War in 1639 when Scots took up weapons for the first time since the Battle of Langside in 1568, and thus he did not have the benefit of learning his craft in continental wars, in the fashion of the Earl of Leven or Alexander Leslie.

His six victories at Tippermuir, Aberdeen, Inverlochy, Alford, Auldearn and Kilsyth demonstrate clearly this outstanding ability. Ably assisted by Alasdair McColla and his Irish army, without which the whole 1644-45 campaign would not have been possible, he persuaded the clans of the central highland to fight together for the first time since the Battle of Harlaw in 1411 AND to fight with Alasdair’s men.

Much is made of the quality of the troops that opposed him at these fights but they were of exactly the same stock which he had led to victory during the aforementioned Bishops’ War.

His decisions first in November 1644, with deep winter looming, to attack Argyll’s citadel of Inverary, then in the following February to attempt a 40 mile flank march over the mountains in order to take on Argyll’s full army at Inverlochy and to utterly defeat them is the stuff of legend, and demonstrate his unrivalled grasp of the strategic aspects of warfare, with no less an authority than John Buchan describing the latter as “one of the great exploits in the history of British arms.”

His tactical dispositions particularly at Auldearn and Kilsyth merit close study.

Whilst Cromwell led a New Model Army fused together by his moral and religious authority, James Graham had no such aid and had to hold the whole army together by his personal authority alone.

Oliver Cromwell, who's military leadership owed much to external religious authority, seen here after Charles I's execution in 1649

Oliver Cromwell, who’s military leadership owed much to external religious authority, seen here after Charles I’s execution in 1649

And it was his achievements with a highland army which paved the way for another Graham, John of Claverhouse, to tread the same road some forty years later in his attempt to restore another Stuart monarch to the unified throne.

Montrose's kinsman, John Graham of Claverhouse, who follwed in Montrose's footsteps with another highland army in 1689

Montrose’s kinsman, John Graham of Claverhouse, who follwed in Montrose’s footsteps with another highland army in 1689

It was his success in persuading said highland army to fight south of the highland line which brought about his key victory at Kilsyth, the last of his six victories. And so to Philiphaugh where it all fell apart, his army was defeated on the field and then vindictively annihilated in the aftermath with Montrose forced to flee abroad. The subsequent campaign in 1650 saw only one battle fought, his defeat at Carbisdale. And when he threw himself upon the mercy of Neil MacLeod of Assynt only to be betrayed to the Government’s forces by the aforementioned’s spouse.

The execution of Montrose, 21 May 1650

The execution of Montrose, 21 May 1650

His execution in May, some 16 months after that of his King, Charles I was a turning point in our history. The ultimate triumph of Cromwell over all military forces allayed against him throughout the three kingdoms and the establishment of his Commonwealth was followed inevitably by the Stuart Restoration as the internal contradictions of Cromwell’s interregnum tore itself apart after his death. The general merriment of Charles II’s reign then led to the criminal mishandling of the job by his brother James II with William’s subsequent invasion and elevation to the throne in the Glorious Revolution, closely followed by the Union of the Parliaments.

And so we live with the consequences.

A traitor sold him to his foes;
O deed of deathless shame!
I charge thee, boy, if e’er thou meet
With one of Assynt’s name–
Be it upon the mountain’s side,
Or yet within the glen,
Stand he in martial gear alone,
Or backed by armed men–
Face him, as thou wouldst face the man
Who wronged thy sire’s renown;
Remember of what blood thou art,
And strike the caitiff down!

 

W.E.Aytoun

16 April 1746: The Battle of Culloden Moor, The End of The Whole Jacobite Adventure

And so, 47 years and 3 days after Claverhouse first raised the Royal Standard on Dundee Law to initiate the military attempt to restore the Stuarts to the throne of their fathers, the last such efforts were crushed at Culloden Moor.

Culloden Moor, the final defeat (16 April 1746)

Culloden Moor, the final defeat (16 April 1746)

During this period there were five unsuccessful efforts to bring about the Stuart Restoration. Some of them, such as in 1708, barely got off the ground. Others, such as 1745, achieved enough sustained success over a period of months to create genuine grounds for optimism as to their possible success. But none of them really came close.

There are questions that we might ask concerning the entire adventure: was there ever, realistically, any hope for success? In the light of the huge sacrifices that were made over the years by those who strove to bring about the second Restoration, might greater efforts have been made in the first place to avoid the need? If success had been achieved would the world be a better place now? And, given that in the end the whole thing crashed and burned so disastrously, what are the positives that can be taken from it?

Was there any chance of success? Of course there was. But it would have needed a lot of ducks to line up nicely and a strong following wind. When Claverhouse kicked it all off on 13 April 1689 the prospects were slim. All the principals in England had repudiated James and signed up in support of William as king. Both English and Scottish Parliaments had deemed James to have absconded and anointed William and his wife in his place.

James VII/II flees to France (Dec 1688)

James VII/II flees to France (Dec 1688)

So the only remaining hope for those who wished to see James restored was with the common folk in Scotland and Ireland. Claverhouse followed a path that had been trodden so successfully by his kinsman Montrose a generation previously and forged an army from highlanders who, whilst among the finest fighting men in Europe at that time, were led by chiefs who were constrained by the most idiosyncratic mores that even the greatest of history’s military commanders would have struggled to assemble them together on a single battlefield. Assembling and preparing such an army in the first place was probably a greater achievement by Claverhouse than leading it to victory at Killiecrankie.

Claverhouse's victory at the Battle of Killiecrankie, July 1689.

Claverhouse’s victory at the Battle of Killiecrankie, July 1689.

With his death during the battle that powerful, unifying, commanding force was gone and with it any prospects of success. But what if he’d survived the fighting? There was no point in heading south as any support there was for James was fragmented and subdued. The choice would have been to ship the entire army to Ireland to join with James’ army there or to hold Scotland and await James’ arrival following his victory over William’s forces at the Boyne. And we know how that one turned out.

The 2nd Rising in 1708, when enthusiasm was re-ignited by the heavily opposed Union of Parliaments of 1707, was the only one of the five where no battle was fought and was also the only one where the sovereign-in-waiting turned up to participate in the process. However, it was a disappointed James (VIII/III) who sailed away from Montrose on a cold, wet night in February 1708.

In 1714 Queen Anne died without issue and the unified Parliament cast around Europe seeking a suitably Protestant candidate to be shipped in, declining the credentials of some 64 possible candidates before determining that Sophia, Electress of Hannover was sufficiently non-Catholic for their purpose. This pantomime re-ignited the process and the Earl of Mar raised the Standard to initiate the 1715 Rising.

The Earl of Mar raises the Standard (1715)

The Earl of Mar raises the Standard (1715)

Controversy still surrounds the major field action of that campaign, the Battle of Sheriffmuir. A cold and clinical assessment of that day, however, would decide that King George’s man, the Duke of Argyll, in preventing Mar’s army from heading south into England and joining forces with the Jacobite Army there, was clearly the day’s victor.

And it was here on Sheriffmuir, 13 November 1715 that hindsight would suggest the possibility of success came closest. That if Mar had not been Mar, but had been of the mettle of Claverhouse or even Lord George Murray, field commander during the ’45, that a proper, decisive effort would have been made. An effort worthy of those who fought and died through all of those campaigns, which would have seen Argyll’s army driven from the field.

But with the English end of the operation losing the Battle of Preston in shameful fashion at virtually the same time, those prospects would have become dimmed once more.

The 4th effort in 1719 saw often-promised foreign support materialize for the first time with Spanish Grenadiers participating in the only field action fought at Glenshiel. However, defeat was again the order of the day. And even victory would have left a small army isolated and far from where the key decisions needed to be made.

The Battle of Glenshiel (10 June 1719)

The Battle of Glenshiel (10 June 1719)

The ’45 is often portrayed as the closest that the Jacobites came to achieving the dream of a second Restoration. And with outstanding military victories over formidable, experienced redcoat formations at both Prestonpans in September 1745 and Falkirk in January of the following year, there were real grounds for optimism. Notwithstanding the decision to retreat back to Scotland when at Derby, some 71 miles north of London.

 

The Jacobite Army victorious at the Battle of Falkirk (17 Jan 1746)

The Jacobite Army victorious at the Battle of Falkirk (17 Jan 1746)

Once again, however, lack of support in England for the whole notion critically undermined the operation. And when Bonnie Prince Charlie, egged on by his sycophantic fellow-exiles decided that removing overall military command of the operation from Lord George Murray, who had masterminded the two earlier victories and taking that role on himself with all his palpable lack of military experience and understanding of the nature of the men at his command, was the best course of action then the die was cast.

When that last Jacobite Army lined up in the sleet on Culloden Moor that April morning, only hours after failing in the unsuccessful night march on Nairn and with one third of their number still engaged in foraging supplies far from the battlefield, the possibility of success grew slimmer with each passing hour.

The morning of the Battle of Culloden...exhausted after the failed night attack...awaiting orders that would never come..

The morning of the Battle of Culloden…exhausted after the failed night attack…awaiting orders that would never come..

Defeat was by no means inevitable but the lack of clear leadership then proved to be the decisive factor as the rank and file had to take it upon themselves to determine the best way forward.

And so it ended. And with the commencement of the Industrial Revoluton in Scotland some 14 years later with the opening of the Carron Ironworks, the Jacobite Risings passed into history.

If there had indeed been any prospects of success they were so slim as to be deemed, from our perspective, impossibly marginal. Better by far if away back in the dog days of 1688, James VII/II had taken it upon himself to become a leader of men and not a spineless oaf, and had led an army to threw William back into the sea. Then things would be different.

IF somehow any of these individual campaigns had succeeded, would we be any better of? Given what we know of the manner in which the early Stuarts engaged so enthusiastically in their pursuits of British interests then that would seem unlikely.

If the result had been to undo the disaster of parliamentary union then that would have been a step in the right direction. However, that would only have led back to the ridiculous and unsustainable situation with a single head of state and two parliaments of two nations with disparate and conflicting interests.

Are there any positives to take from it other than a host of images for shortbread tins and the basis of a healthy tourist industry today? Of course there are. Not least that all of this process did a little to sustain the notion that the interests of the people of Scotland are best served when they are controlled by the people of Scotland working with people everywhere else to make the world a better place. A debate which today takes place anew. Time will tell how this one works out.

27 March 1625 James VI/I Dies, Charles Succeeds, Disaster Ensues.

James died after a protracted period of illness and the crown was handed on, without demur, to his and heir Charles, his fourth child and only surviving son.

James has been much criticized as a monarch and as a person but the facts remain that his 57 year reign as monarch of Scotland was the longest of any of his 42 odd predecessors and also the most peaceful, on a per year basis.

From the Battle of Langside in 1568 when his mother’s final attempt to hold onto the Scottish throne was decisively defeated, to the opening salvo of the First Bishops War in 1639, when his son’s cack-handed attempts to enforce contentious forms of religious worship upon his unwilling subjects led to open civil war in his homeland, there were no major military engagements fought anywhere Scotland, beyond long-standing, local disputes.

So in 1639 when disenchanted Scotsmen felt compelled to pick up weapons to oppose King Charles in there were none alive who had previously wielded such, other than those who had gained experience in distant foreign wars.

When you consider the turmoil of previous reigns and the turbulent bloodshed that the next seventy years would see throughout the three kingdoms, this is an achievement of some note.

And it is the comparison between the smooth handling of his reign, both north and south of the border versus the many and manifest failings of Charles that James’ abilities as a monarch stand most markedly.

The widely held historical view of James is not complimentary. Infamously described as ‘the wisest fool in Christendom’, as having a tongue too big for his mouth and ‘preferring the company of men’ he stands pilloried as ugly, homosexual and unable to competently discharge his responsibilities as head of state.

It makes you wonder to what extent each of us has our view of a particular period of history shaped by the images available. There are many portraits of James throughout his reign and he is represented in an attractive manner in none of them. From his earliest portrayal with his mother, dressed in apparel strangely matching hers, through the many depictions during his reign where undue emphasis might seem to put on his less appealing physical features.

A not untypical, less than heroic portrait of James VI/I

A not untypical, less than heroic portrait of James VI/I

It all compares poorly to the extensive glamorous and heroic portraiture of Charles I generated throughout his reign by his court painter, Anthony van Dyck. Perhaps this was simply Charles’ good fortune.

A typical Van Dyck heroic  portrait of Charles I

A typical Van Dyck heroic portrait of Charles I

 

Similarly who is not familiar, even subconsciously, with Alec Guiness’ depiction of the troubled Charles in the 1970 film Cromwell. Whereas James’ only depiction in cinematic drama is limited to the occasional TV mini series.

Alec Guiness as the troubled monarch, Charles I

Alec Guiness as the troubled monarch, Charles I

Whatever James’ shortcomings as a monarch it is unarguable that he presided over predominantly peaceful times. This is testified to by the cultural flourishings seen during his reign; the development of drama with Shakespeare and Bacon and their like and the publishing of the eponymous King James Bible to name but two.

Shakespeare flourished under the peaceful reign of James

Shakespeare flourished under the peaceful reign of James

Whereas under Charles we see turmoil, political schism, civil war waged separately and together throughout the three kingdoms under his charge. In Scotland his unshakeable belief in the rectitude of his view regarding divine worship led to the drafting and the signing of the National Covenant, its subsequent supercession by the Solemn League and Covenant, the then inevitable Covenant Wars and thence to that infamous period in Scottish history still referred to as the Killing Time. A gross misrepresentation of the facts which is so widely held to be true even to this day that men are driven to blog about it!

James was the first incumbent of the unified throne: the first head of state of two kingdoms which had been at war for a great deal of the previous millennium to one degree or another. A daunting prospect for even the most gifted of his forebears yet he managed to run the thing calmly and peacefully. When Charles succeeded in 1625 the whole operation had been up and running smoothly for 22 years but before he was done he had lost wars with both his Parliaments and met his end on the executioners block with his charge in ruins around him.

If Charles was to prove a less capable monarch how did they compare as men? To what extent did the value the efforts and service of those around them? Perhaps in James’ case the peaceful nature of the times meant there were no challenges to him in this area. Men rose and fell in his favour, such as the Earl of Carr and his replacement by the Duke of Buckingham. However, to lose the King’s favour in these times resulted only in loss of status and financial opportunities.

With Charles the opportunities to behave weakly in the treatment of those who served him led to such unfortunates being flung under the proverbial bus: with bothThomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford and Archbishop Laud beheaded as a direct result of their service to their king. Montrose’s remarkable efforts in Scotland during the 1644-45 campaign to defeat the forces of the Scottish Parliament and restore Charles to his throne met with little acknowledgement and he too met his end through execution.

 

The Earl of Strafford and Archbishop Laud: flung under the bus by Charles their king.

The Earl of Strafford and Archbishop Laud: flung under the bus by Charles their king.

On balance then, however you judge the wisdom of James taking up the position of the first monarch on the unified throne, he made a far better job of it than his generally higher-rated offspring.

Perhaps, gentle reader, you have a view you would like to share.

 

2nd February 1645, The Battle of Inverlochy: Montrose’s Finest Hour

By the end of January 1645 King Charles I had been at war with both of his parliaments for over two years and so far his fortunes had been mixed. In England it wasn’t going so well. His army, under the command of his nephew, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, had fought two major engagements against the forces of the English Parliament. The first at Edgehill in the autumn of 1642 had been inconclusive. However, in June 1644, Rupert’s army had been heavily defeated at Marston Moor and prospects for overall victory had dimmed as a consequence.

Prince Rupert of the Rhine, nephew of Charles I, defeated at the Battle of Marston Moor, June 1644.

Prince Rupert of the Rhine, nephew of Charles I, defeated at the Battle of Marston Moor, June 1644.

In Scotland it was a different story. There, his Captain-General, James Graham the Marques of Montrose had contrived to pull together an army of around 4000 men to serve his king’s interests. This comprised Scottish highlanders and a sizeable body of Irish warriors under the command of Alasdair McColla. How Montrose had persuaded the clans of the central highlands to fight on the same side for the first times since the Battle of Harlaw in 1411, and combined them with a similar size force of Irish whom they had set to destroy in the first place is a further remarkable story.

The Great Montrose

The Great Montrose

With himself and McColla at their head this little army had fought and destroyed two armies sent against them by the Scottish Parliament, at Tippermuir in August 1644 and then at Justice Mills (Aberdeen) in the November following. Despite this success their position was still vulnerable as Parliament had still further military resources at their disposal and was preparing these to inflict comprehensive defeat on the Royalist army.

With the bleak Scottish winter drawing in Montrose’s options were limited. It was the custom of the time for such bodies of armed men to seek winter quarters and await the arrival of springtime when campaigning could be resumed. And this was the expectation of his enemies. This was an unattractive option for Montrose as it would have meant his army dissolving to return to their homes and he would then have had to start recruiting afresh some months later.

The principal leader of the covenanting Government was Archibald Campbell, Marquess of Argyll and chieftain of Clan Campbell, the largest of the highland clans which had been engaged in an ambitious programme of expansion for some generations, to the cost of those clans whose land bordered Argyll’s.

Our Archibald's grandfather, also Archibald. 8th Earl and 1st Marquess of Argyll. In black-cowled Geneva Minister manifestation

Our Archibald’s grandfather, also Archibald. 8th Earl and 1st Marquess of Argyll. In black-cowled Geneva Minister manifestation

In a daring manoeuver which was to become his trademark, Montrose then led his men across Scotland and through the narrow snow-covered passes into Argyll and shortly before Christmas 1644 he attacked the town of Inverary, the principal settlement and port and the location of Argyll’s own castle. Argyll fled in his galley as Montrose and McColla’s men put all enemy combatants to the sword and then holed up in the town for another three weeks consuming the rich bounty of food and drink that they found there.

On 22nd January Montrose evacuated Inverary in the expectation that Argyll would be assembling fresh  forces with which to pursue them. A force of some 3000 men they were laden with booty and the principal township of the lands of Clan Campbell sat a smoking ruin behind them.

They were still deep in the hostile territory of Argyll in the depths of winter. And Argyll himself was assembling strong forces to attack them and avenge this assault on his home territory and, equally importantly, his personal political status.

Additionally, but probably unbeknownst to Montrose, General William Baillie had been newly appointed as the commander-in-chief of the government forces. An old soldier of Gustavus Adolphus and veteran of Marston Moor, Baillie was his own man and did not hesitate in refusing to take instructions from Argyll when they met to discuss the pursuit of the Royalist army. Although he did transfer to the Marques’s command some 1100 of his regular troops. Baillie now sat in Perth with a sizeable force thus constituting a significant but unknown threat to the eastern flank of Montrose’s route north.

General William Baillie, whose force blocked Motrose's route east

General William Baillie, whose force blocked Montrose’s possible escape route to the east.

The immediate task facing Montrose was to conclusively defeat the remaining military forces of the Scottish covenanting parliament. As he marched his army north from Argyll negotiating the comb-frettted difficulties of the landscape of the west highland coast where the land was punctuated by deep sea lochs and boats were a scarcity, he would have been considering how best to achieve this goal.

Within a week they had made it to Inverlochy in the friendly territory of Lochaber where, as they rested, they were joined by further reinforcements as various clan chiefs, pushed off the fence of vacillation by the outcome of the remarkable attack on Inveraray now rallied to the King’s standard.

However, much of Scotland was still hostile territory for the King’s army. In the far north at Inverness the Earl of Seaforth, Clan Chief of the MacKenzies, who like many powerful men in Scotland had for long avoided full commitment to either cause had recently declared against the King. It was likely that he would soon be heading south down the Great Glen at the head of another sizeable force, bent on the destruction of Montrose’s command. By now Montrose would be aware of Baillie’s army positioned to the east in Perth and confirmation was also received that the Earl of Argyll approached from the south with the remainder of his Clan Campbell’s soldiery as well as the 1100 hundred men supplied by Baillie.

Positioned thusly between three hostile forces, each of which matched or exceeded his own in size, he probably determined that the best course of action was to seek out Clan Gordon in the north-east. The Gordons were second only in size and martial strength to the Campbells. And alone among the highland clans they had a measurable element of mounted men at their disposal. The Marquis of Huntly, Chief of Clan Gordon, had hitherto declined to declare support for his beleaguered monarch. Partly though resentment that Montrose had been given the royal commission in the first place; a rank which diminished his own of Lieutenancy of the north, and partly also due to previous disagreements between the two men during the Bishops Wars half a dozen years previously.

Nonetheless, in Montrose’s eyes, despite his victories at the Battles of Tippermuir and Justice Mills and the recent outstanding success in sacking Inverary, the struggle in Scotland now required the input of the Gordons if it were to be ultimately successful. And it was this challenge of persuading Huntly to throw in his lot with his King which would have pre-occupied Montrose’s mind as he led his army up the Great Glen where they overnighted at Kilcumin (now Fort Augustus) on the evening of 30 January.

Events, however, were about to overtake him and his plans for sweetalking the Marquis of Huntly would have to be shelved. Firstly a messenger arrived at their camp confirming that the Earl of Seaforth had assembled some five thousand men, Mackenzies and Frasers mostly but also two regiments of regular soldiery. They were currently some thirty milesto the north and about to march directly down the Great Glen to engage him. As Montrose weighed up the implications of this news another messenger arrived. He had been sent north from Lochaber by Locheil, Chief of Clan Cameron, and advised that the Earl of Argyll had arrived at Inverlochy, thirty odd miles to the south with over three thousand men and was on the point of heading up the Great Glen to find and engage Montrose.

So what now for the King’s Captain-General? A numerically superior force approached from the north, with another heading up from the south similar in size to his own and hell-bent on revenge, with Baillie’s army blocking the route east and to the west only the winter-gripped barrenness of the highland seaboard.

Negotiations with Huntly and the work of increasing the size of the King’s army would now have to wait as the fate of said army and, with it, the King’s cause in Scotland, and perhaps throughout the three kingdoms, was now threatened with disastrous defeat.

Stood around the campfire on that winter’s evening Montrose, Alasdair MacColla and the clan chiefs now discussed their options. Seaforth’s force was perhaps twice their size but the calibre of much of that they knew to be questionable. But Argyll’s assembly of Clan Campbell’s finest fighting stock, notwithstanding the losses suffered in the attack on Inverary, was a different matter altogether and included the 1100 regulars handed over by Baillie. And even if Montrose were to engage and defeat Seaforth, Argyll’s men would still need to be faced in turn. Furthermore it was clear that as this force had made their way north they had taken time to burn and pillage through the territory of any believed to be in sympathy with Montrose. Men who stood with him now and were moved to protect their own lands.

Thus the decision as to their next move made itself. Once victorious over Argyll they could then march to Gordon country and with a greater likelihood of success in persuading them to join forces.

However, to simply turn about and head back down the glen to attack Argyll was to invite defeat. It would require a different approach if their unlikely record of success was to be maintained. And so in the dark of the following morning, Friday 31 January, Montrose and his army of three thousand men embarked on that legendary flank march which has been deemed one of the great exploits of arms in the history of the British Isles. With the Great Glen carving a gash from south-west to north-east, they disappeared south-east up the rocky course of the little River Tarff and disappeared into the mountains.
Over the next thirty six hours they covered over thirty miles in weather as unkind as the Scottish winter can deliver, as Argyll and Seaforth’s scouts combed the Great Glen fruitlessly. Late on the Saturday evening they crossed over the northern buttress of Ben Nevis’ long slope and looked down upon the dark mass of Inverlochy Castle with the many camp fires of Clan Campbell dotted around it. The surprise was complete. Montrose, who had been confirmed at Loch Ness not two days before now stood at the head of his army ready to attack the assembled mass of the Sons of Diarmid.

Inverlochy Castle, around which Argyll's army was camped prior to the battle.

Inverlochy Castle, around which Argyll’s army was camped prior to the battle.

Argyll himself, recently injured in a horsefall and with little stomach for pitched battle, conferred full authority on his kinsman Duncan Auchenbreck, who he had, to be fair, recalled from Ireland specifically to lead this army. And the Chief of Clan Campbell was, one again,rowed out to his waiting galley which sat at anchor safely out on Lich Linnhie.

And so, on 2nd February, Candlemas Day, both armies lined up in battle order and waited out the remainder of the freezing night. As soon as there was deemed to be enough light to fight by, Alasdair, at Montrose’s direction led the two flanks of Irishmen forward. When they were close to the enemy they fired their muskets then followed up with sword and dirk. In just a few minutes the enemy flanks were in disarray and the centre quickly followed suit with many of the regular troops fleeing the field. At this point Montrose took the royalist centre forward and completed the rout.

Inverlochy was to be one of the bloodiest battles fought on Scottish soil and as is so often the case in such circumstances the majority of the slaughter was carried out on a terrified and defeated rabble as they fled the field. Some 1800 men of Argyll’s force met their end, some as far away as ten miles from the battlefield.

In terms of deaths per combatants involved, Inverlocht was one of the bloodiest battles fought in Scottish history.

In terms of deaths per combatants involved, Inverlochy was one of the bloodiest battles fought in Scottish history.

 

This success following so close on from the triumph of the raid on Iveraray would have been more than Montrose could have hoped for just two months previously. In the immediate aftermath of the fight he wrote a comprehensive despatch to his King detailing the recent successes and anticipating, not without some cause, ultimate victory.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: