Category Archives: Montrose

The Battle of Tippermuir, 1st September 1644

Early in the morning of Sunday 1st September 1644, James Graham, Marquis of Montrose stood on the field of Tippermuir, some 3 miles to the west of the town of Perth, watching his enemies assembling their force into battle order.

Behind him, already formed up and ready to engage, stood the motley army he had managed to assemble in the previous two months.


His ultimate aim was to conquer whatever forces that the Covenant put into the field against him thus restoring the rule of Charles I to the troubled kingdom of Scotland. Then he would march his army south, join with Prince Rupert of the Rhine, defeat the armies of the English Parliament and restore the King to his throne. That process would start today on this sunny Sabbath morning.

Montrose and MacColla’s route to Tippermuir

Ultimately Montrose would require to fight six battles in the 12 months of this campaign, the Year of Victories. And he would win them all. However, final success would elude both him and his sorry monarch.


The army he commanded was as eclectic as any that had ever taken to a battlefield in Scotland, before then or since. As King Charles’ properly commissioned Captain-General, Montrose was designated commander of all forces raised in the King’s name, However, a significant element of the men under his command had been brought from Ireland by Alasdair MacColla, who presently stood with them in the centre of the royalist formation.


On the flanks of Alasdair’s Irish stood men from both north and south of the Highland Line. Some of these were experience soldiers, most were not. And it was their rawness that had persuaded Montrose to put them on the flanks ensuring that Alasdair’s men took the centre of the formation to face the most experience element of the Covenant force facing them.

This very force, however, exceeded the Royalist army in its lack of battle experience. With the full Covenant Army deployed south of the border in support of the English Parliamentary army, there were few left behind with any experience or appetite for fighting. They did have two advantages though: greater numbers, probably twice Montrose’s 2000 men; and cavalry, some 300 against Montrose’s complete lack of mounted warriors. With the undisputed Covenant leader, Archibald Campbell, Marquis of Argyll, temporarily missing from the scene. The command of the army fell to The Earl of Lothian. He, however, was in Edinburgh “attending important meetings” so it was Lord Elcho who suddenly found the position thrust upon him, wholly unexpectedly. 11 months later he would once again command in battle against Montrose, at the equally disastrous Battle of Kilsyth.

Lord Elcho, Covenant commander on the day

On the face of it, it seemed like an easy victory for the home team. However, it was to prove to be men against boys. While there were some seasoned veterans of the wars in the Spanish Netherlands amongst the Royalist Scots, Alasdair’s men were emphatically battle-hardened, primarily from the fighting in Ireland which had raged since the initial outbreak of warfare there in 1641.


The men they faced were for the most part hastily levied peasants and burghers, untrained and poorly led. Although Montrose was not aware of this and his decision to now engage superior enemy forces reflects his temperament and his need for a swift and conclusive victory to establish his own martial credentials and to both retain his army as a cohesive fighting force and to attract further recruits.


With the opposing forces now drawn up the action could commence. The Covenant leadership sent forward a detachment of horse in the traditional manner to draw their enemy’s fire and lure them into a premature and ill-co-ordinated forward thrust which could then be exploited by their massed infantry. This manoeuvre back-fired completely. Within moments, in response to this opening move, the entire Royalist centre under Alasdair’s personal command launched what was to become the trademark move of Royalist / Jacobite armies over the next century – the Highland Charge.

A not untypical study of the Royalist infantry

The ferocity of this so discombobulated the Covenant centre that they broke almost immediately. Their flank forces followed soon after and the engagement soon dissolved into full-scale, one-sided slaughter as the fleeing Covenanters were pursued back to Perth.


Numbers in Montrose’s battles are always contentious as for the most part the primary sources often contradict one another. However, a consensus of 1500 dead is evident. With corresponding Royalist losses so small as to merit a mention.


First blood then to Montrose.










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!



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.

The Battle of Auldearn – Was Montrose a Genius or Just Lucky?

The Battle of Auldearn was fought on 9 May 1645.

The Commemoration Stone on the battlefield of Auldearn

The Commemoration Stone on the battlefield of Auldearn

There was a time when Auldearn was seen to be the most straightforward of the six battlefield wins carved out by Montrose and Alasdair MacColla against the armies of the Scottish covenanting Parliament during their year of victories between the summers of 1644 and 1645.

Primarily this was because back in the nineteenth century that erstwhile legend of English Civil War historianship, Samuel Rawson Gardiner, in his seminal work The History of the Great Civil War, had included an extensive analysis of the battle in what was commonly deemed to be the definitive work on the episode.

Samuel Rawson Gardiner, key historian of the 'English'Civil War

Samuel Rawson Gardiner, key historian of the ‘English’Civil War


Some years later it was accepted that the principal road from Inverness to Nairn which passed through the village of Auldearn and was a key feature of the battlefield, had in fact been moved ninety degrees between the battle and Gardiner’s assessment. For this reason among others, most notably the discovery of further primary sources, his version of events has in recent years been extensively challenged by a number of significant authors, most notably David Stevenson (Highland Warrior, 1980) and Stuart Reid (The Campaigns of Montrose1990).


The Campaigns of Montrose by Stuart Reid

The Campaigns of Montrose by Stuart Reid

Furthermore since Auldearn was otherwise the least documented of the six battles, with the lowest number of first hand accounts, each of which contradicts the others even more so than is normally the case with Montrose’s battles, it is now the most disputed of the six victories.

Each of the key aspects of the battle are debated and thus the conclusions as to Montrose’s personal performance on the day are spread along a spectrum which on the one hand sees the King’s Captain-General as a tactical genius with the inspired deployment of the mounted flank attack which swung the battle in his favour as being reminiscent of Napoleon’s victory against the Third Coalition at Austerlitz in 1805. While on the other extreme it is claimed that his basic, and oft-repeated error in not deploying sufficient scouts, led to his force suffering a surprise attack from the Government force he believed to be camped in Inverness, in which only the determination and martial skill of Alasdair MacColla and his Irish troops prevented a disastrous defeat.

Napoleon's victory at Austerlitz

Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz

The mists of time obscure not only the events on the battlefield itself but also the movements of the armies in the days before with the decision by the covenanting General Baillie to split his force in two being central to their subsequent defeat. Whether this decision was one that Montrose compelled him to carry out, allowing the latter to then meet and defeat each element individually, or whether it was taken independently of any action by Montrose, is also hotly debated. Regardless, this last point is less of a concern as clearly Montrose, on realising the opportunity provided, exploited it with speed and skill.

Anyway, let’s focus on the events of the day. Montrose, for once, was in pursuit of a Government force. This commanded by Sir John Urry. It was testimony to the strangeness of the times that Urry had previously served in Prince Rupert’s royalist army at the battles of Chalgrove Field and Marston Moor and would in the future serve in the Royalist Engagement force which Cromwell destroyed at Preston in 1648 and, most strangely of all perhaps, would go on to lead the cavalry element in Montrose’s army during his 1650 campaign which ended in defeat at Carbisdale.

Now in May 1645 he was leading a force of probably 2000 infantry and cavalry towards Inverness with Montrose and Alasdair in pursuit. It was Urry’s aim to use the Inverness garrison and other recently raised troops to bring his force up to a strength greater than Montrose’s and then turn and attack him.

Whether Montrose pursued him right to Inverness before falling back to Auldearn or whether he stopped there first is not certain. The evidence favours the view that having passed though the village on his way to Inverness, he then pulled back to this favourable spot and thus the battle was subsequently fought on the ground of his choosing. We do know that Urry, now reinforced to about 4000 infantry and cavalry moved east during the night to find then attack the royalist army.

Now to the next major controversy: to what extent were royalist scouts deployed? It was a foul night and the assumption was that the enemy was fourteen miles away and camped for the night. The criticism has been levelled that, though there were scouts out they were at no fair distance from their own camp and were more concerned with keeping dry than keeping watch. Also that if Urry’s men had not been instructed to fire their muskets to ensure they were dry for action then the royalist army would have had no warning at all of the enemy’s approach.

So there were scouts deployed and they heard the test shots when fired some four to six miles from the camp. That’s over an hour’s march which in the event was sufficient to allow satisfactory preparations to be made to meet them. In this writer’s view, the criticism is unfair. It may well have been a determining issue for Montrose’s fortunes on other battlefields but not tonight.

Next issue: Urry’s approach route to the village. Was it through Nairn and from the west? Or over the River Nairn and then through Cawdor from the south west? It doesn’t matter. It makes no odds to the outcome. The key element is that Montrose had more than an hour’s clear warning of the attack and was able to determine and implement an effective battle plan.

What about the numbers deployed? More controversy here, but of the more usual kind. The various sources have Montrose’s force at a minimum of 1400 and a maximum of 3000. With Urry given between 4000 and 4500. A reasonable average of these would give the Government army an advantage of some two to one. In any event there were significantly more of them.

However, for the first time Montrose had at his disposal an effective number of mounted troops, some 200 Gordons. One would expect that his fertile imagination would have been seeking an opportunity to use these effectively from the moment they had ridden into his camp some days before. Indeed they were to be a primary feature of the plan he was now devising.

Alasdair and his Irish troops were camped in the village itself while Montrose, most of the rest of his highlanders and all the cavalry were resting behind, to the north east, of the village and effectively out of sight of the covenant army which now formed up to attack the village. Perhaps the criticism of weak, ineffective indeed non-existent scouting is more properly levelled at Urry as he now launched a full frontal attack on what he perceived to be the main body of his enemy with no awareness of what threats might lie out of sight across the broken, hilly ground.

Alasdair MacColla, commander of the Irish troops in Montrose's Royalist Army

Alasdair MacColla, commander of the Irish troops in Montrose’s Royalist Army

Alasdair and his 700 odd Irish were now formed across the front of the village with both his own yellow banner and the Royal Standard flying high and proud. Perhaps he had clear orders from Montrose to demonstrate as though they were the main royalist centre and then engage and fully occupy Urry’s frontal attack. A tall order indeed, facing odds of probably four to one, but one which he and his men were fully equipped for. More so probably than any other fighting force in the British Isles at the time.

A not untypical study of the Royalist infantry

A not untypical study of the Royalist infantry

Montrose meanwhile supervised the Gordon horsemen as they prepared their mounts to launch their lauded surprise flank attack.

And perhaps the comparisons with events on the Pratzen Heights in October 1805 are not so wide of the mark. On that occasion Napoleon led the Grand Army forward through Bohemia seeking the Russian / Austrian army of the Third Coalition. As he passed over the Pratzen Heights he realised the opportunity this terrain presented and so retreated back down into the valley surrendering, apparently, the advantage of the high ground to his enemy. He then deployed his right wing in somewhat weaker numbers than he normally would have and further instructed them to conceal themselves as much as possible among the villages and woods of the valley.

When the Russian and Austrian emperors surveyed the situation from the vantage of the high ground it was to see exactly what Napoleon wanted them to see and reach the conclusions he wanted them to reach. As they despatched the centre of their army down the hill to first destroy Napoleon’s right and then roll up the rest of the Grand Army in a magnificent victory, Napoleon with watch in hand, enquired of Marshall Soult how long it would take him to march his entire corps to the top of the hill. To Soult’s response of fifteen minutes he went back to studying his watch and the progress of the enemy advance.

When he was happy that the enemy force was fully committed to their descent of the hill with their vanguard engaged with his right wing, which while weak was fully capable of precisely this task, he then unleashed Soult’s Corp. They rode up the hill and, using their own right wing as some great hinge, they swung round and completely destroyed the Third Coalition Army which had been so painstakingly assembled through the efforts of William Pitt the Younger.

And so in a similar fashion, on a much smaller scale, granted, Urry has been persuaded to launch a full attack on what he thinks is the main body of the Royalist Army. Alasdair and his men keep them fully occupied although true to their nature and fighting experience this was best done by attacking themselves. So they moved forward from their original positions and began to push Urry’s force back before then in turn being forced back to their original positions by sheer strength of numbers. And so we can see how the view subsequently developed that Alasdair’s hot headedness almost lost Montrose the battle. When in fact he was fully complying with the orders he had been given in a situation he and his men would have relished.

So as the fighting raged in front of the village and the Gordon horse stood ready out of sight behind the hill over behind Alasdair’s left shoulder, Montrose carefully surveyed the entire situation and waited. He waited until he was convinced that Urry’s main force was irrevocably committed and indeed had suffered significant casualties before he then ordered the Gordon horse to ride out and strike Urry’s force full on from the right flank.

The unit on Urry’s right which was faced with this sudden onslaught was a cavalry detachment of northern levies, the Moray Horse, under the command of a Major Drummond. They were already struggling to make their own assault over the rough ground and were neither of the necessary calibre or state of readiness to meet this fast moving wall of horse and sword. They swerved to their left and were immediately overrun. In the inevitable climate of finger pointing and blame evasion that inevitably followed the comprehensive defeat this Major Drummond was to be accused of either giving the wrong order or even or treacherously steering his command to its destruction in order to suit the need of the enemy. The unfortunate man was executed some days later.

As Urry’s line began to fold up from the right Montrose himself brought the rest of the infantry forward, some moving through Alasdair’s men with the rest extending his line to the left. Although the enemy infantry still outnumbered them they were constrained now by the ground and their rear and flanks open to attack. The comprehensive slaughter of this now stationary and leaderless force commenced with all the horrors redolent of the time.

Complete victory was achieved by Montrose and Alasdair’s royalist army. Virtually the entire covenanting force was wiped out and for the fourth time in ten months Montrose was victor of the field.

Perhaps it was all perfectly straightforward after all. Urry was no bufoon and had demonstrated his military leadership qualities many times previously and would do so again. On this occasion he was up against an opponent who was on a different level altogether. The scouting issue could perhaps have been handled better but here it served its purpose satisfactorily. And when confronted with an unexpected attack Montrose, on ground of his own choosing was able to deploy his resources in situations which entirely suited their capabilities: Alasdair and his Irishmen slogging it out against superior numbers and the Gordon horse charging wildly in, to comprehensively defeat the enemy who had been beguiled to launch an attack without reconnaissance and having been misdirected in terms of the target for their attack.

This, of course, is just this writer’s view. There are many others. Feel free to share them.


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