Tag 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.










28th August 1640, the Battle of Newburn Ford

Newburn was the only battle fought during the Second Bishops War, an even more obscure campaign then the First Bishops War.

It was one of those unusual occasions when a Scottish army marched south, conducted itself in commendable martial fashion against an admittedly ill-led, ill-prepared English opposition and won the day handsomely. Its worth looking at just on the basis of this rarity alone.

Of itself the battle had a profound impact, playing a key role in the prolonged deterioration of the relationship between Charles I and his English Parliament which led to the regicide of said monarch and all the unfortunate train of events which then ensued; the war of the Three Kingdoms, the Cromwellian Interregnum, the Restoration, James II’s disasterous reign, William’s usurpation, the Jacobite Risings, the Union of the Crowns and so on ad infinitum.

This war, as with its predecessor, arose from the belief amongst Covenanting Scots that the aforementioned Covenant could only be defended on the field of battle and so a sizeable Scottish Army, of some 20,000 infantry and 3, 000 horse, headed south in mid August in order to pursue the resolution of their grievances with King Charles’ military representatives. An army assembled by the unconstitutional authority of a Parliament which convened itself without the constitutionally essential Royal Commissioner and in the face of the King’s direct instruction for proroguement, declaring the King’s consent to be tacit. It was the same fiction by which the Long Parliament would be subsequently convened at Westminster


Command of this army was given to Alexander Leslie, one of the foremost military commanders in Scottish and Swedish history. Leslie’s force marched south and was led in person across the Tweed at Coldstream by the Great Montrose, over the very ford that Walter Scott has Marmion riding on the eve of Flodden.

Alexander Leslie

King Charles, meanwhile, struggled to field a presentable force and was compelled to call the Short Parliament that he might raise the necessary supplies for it. Sadly, for this noble monarch, his persuasive efforts, as was so often the case, proved fruitless and he dissolved this august body of men.

Charles I, King of both the victors and the vanquished at Newburn Ford.

Charles I, King of both the victors and the vanquished at Newburn Ford.

The English army was commanded by Edward, Lord Conway. This would prove to be the only occasion that the good lord was entrusted to command men in battle, during his brief military career.

As Leslie’s army approached Newcastle’s unfortified flank from the north, Conway drew up his force at Newburn Ford to prevent his enemy crossing the river. There was, to be fair, little else he could do as the Scots Army greatly outnumbered his and the quality of men under his command led a great deal to be desired, according to various contemporary accounts.

Leslie’s army was on higher ground and well blessed with cannon which it used to shell the English into an early and full-scale retreat from the river bank. The following morning the city of Newcastle meekly surrendered.

Leslie's Scottish Army crosses Newburn Ford having blown the English soldiery out of their positions and into full-scale retreat

Leslie’s Scottish Army crosses Newburn Ford having blown the English soldiery out of their positions and into full-scale retreat

The battle had no small significance to the constitutional future of both kingdoms and was won in an afternoon with only sixty dead on the losing side and around a dozen from the victors.

The Covenanting Army then proceeded to occupy Newcastle, thus controlling the supply of coal to London and Charles was compelled to agree the raising of a levy from the surrounding district to maintain the occupying force in victuals.


The ramifications of Leslie’s victory went far beyond the mere financial and the dizzy descent into the War of the Three Kindoms gathered apace.


13th November 1715, The Battle of Sherrifmuir

Sheriffmuir was the only battle fought in Scotland during the 3rd Jacobite Rising. Often deemed a draw on the basis that at the end of the engagement both sides withdrew from the field in good order, it was, in fact, a complete strategic defeat for the Jacobite Campaign and effectively ended Jacobite hopes for the Rising there and then.

The monument at the site of the battle

The monument at the site of the battle

The 1715 Rising was a more complex adventure than any of the other Jacobite campaigns (Claverhouse’s in 1689, the 1708, the 1719 and the 1745) involving, as it did, simultaneous, co-ordinated military efforts north and south of the border and an ambitious splitting of the Scottish arm to reinforce the southern effort.

Viewed from the historical perspective this was to be the closest that the Jacobites were ever to come to securing military victory and thus the political ambition of restoring the Stuart monarchy to the unified throne.

Unfortunately, the not unfamiliar crisis of leadership emerged at the key battles of Sheriffmuir and Preston, fought at the same time, and the opportunity slipped away, with even the subsequent and much vaunted effort of the ’45 failing to match the promise of this earlier drama.

There are those who have argued that by 1715 the restoration of the Stuart monarchy had become entirely anachronistic over the course of the past 27 years which had seen the House of Hannover become firmly entrenched in Whitehall and the final establishment of political union between Scotland and England. It’s hard to disagree with that view.

However, in 1715 there were many among the Clan Chiefs of the Highlands who took the view that the political situation that existed at the time was detrimental to the interests of Scotland and, more importantly, threatened their very way of life. This awareness, coupled with the repressive measures implemented by the London Government in the wake of the failed 1708 Rising, led many of the chiefs to believe that they had a simple choice of two alternatives: take up arms to bring about the restoration of the Stuart monarchy and thereby preserve their existence or be swept passively away within the foreseeable future.

The Earl of Mar who was to raise King James Standard to initiate the Rising, was a not untypical product of the political climate of 17th century Scotland. His efforts to maintain one foot in each political camp giving rise to his nickname of ‘Bobbing John’. As one of the Commissioners of the Union he was heavily involved in the establishment of the 1707 Treaty and held the position of Secretary of State for Scotland, thoroughly in bed with the unionist and Hanoverian establishment. However, with the death of Queen Anne in 1714 and the subsequent succession of George I, he fell out of political favour as Whigs superceded Tories as the party of power. He was removed from his position and headed back home in a huff.

John Erskine, 22nd Earl of Mar. Commander of the Jacobite Army

John Erskine, 22nd Earl of Mar. Commander of the Jacobite Army

In his next act was then to assemble an army for King James, raising the Royal Standard on 6 September at Braemar, although he didn’t receive his formal commission till later in October.

Mar had no military experience and was poorly equipped on a personal basis both to lead men and to take decisive action when required. His every move in his political life hitherto had been made on the basis of risk minimization. And his conduct of the Rising reflected these personal shortcomings. He was able to quickly put together an army of considerable size; estimates vary, as is usual in Scottish history, between 6 and 12, 000 men with the smaller number being the likelier. This, and the fact that most towns on the east coast declared for King James, is a fair reflection of the depth of popular antipathy towards both the rule of the House of Hannover and to political union with England.

Despite these factors and the strong position they put him in, Mar habitually hesitated: reluctant to commit himself fully in either direction lest he end up on the losing side to the wreck of his personal ambition.

The other key figure commander in the Jacobite ranks, north of the border was William Borlum of Mackintosh. And on 11th October after an extended period of inactivity on the part of the Jacobite Army, Borlum was despatched south with some 2000 clansmen. His mission was to link up with such of those English and border Jacobites who had mobilized in support, under the leadership of the Earl of Derwentwater and Viscount Kenmure. History is vague as to who determined this move. But given his overwhelming lack of vision and reluctance to take decisive action, it seems unlikely to have been Mar. With Borlum, in consultation with the other chiefs, being the likeliest candidate.

Borlum, now unleashed as it were, was able to demonstrate exactly the kind of decisive action and ability to manoeuvre a large body of men at speed which was required and which had been so clearly displayed in the past by other men of substance such as Claverhouse and Montrose.

John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee

John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee

With the Firth of Forth heavily patrolled by the English navy he was able to muster sufficient small boats to ferry his entire command across to the other side, during the hours of darkness, incurring no loss and with his enemy entirely unaware of what was happening. A remarkable action comparable with Montrose’s strike at Inverary at Christmas 1644, his surprise flank march prior to the Battle of Inverlochy in February 1645 and the merry dance that Claverhouse and his small army led the unfortunate General MacKay during the Killiecrankie campaign in the summer of 1689.

After this excellent start, though, things fell away and once Borlum joined his command with Kenmure’s and Derwentwater the southern campaign was similarly blighted by hesitancy and indecision and ended in ignominy with the surrender of the entire force at the Battle of Preston. Events which don’t concern us here.

The Jacobite Army is surrenedered after the Battle of Preston

The Jacobite Army is surrendered after the Battle of Preston

Mar, meantime, finally cajoled into action by his men made a move south from Perth on 11th November. He knew no further recruits would join his army until some degree of success had been seen to be achieved and ominously, news had reached him that regular Dutch troops had landed in England to strength the government forces.

As he moved the army south the government army in Scotland under the command of the Duke of Argyll moved to intercept them at Dunblane. Mar’s force was now, most agree, a mximum of 7000 troops with possibly 1000 of them mounted. Argyll’s command was barely half that number.

By the evening of November 12th both sides were aware of the other’s presence and in the morning they commenced to make their dispositions for battle. The ground at Sheriffmuir, on the lower slopes of the Ochils is rough and broken and it would seem that for much of this preparatory period neither side had a clear view of what the other was doing.

In contrast to Mar’s lack of military experience, John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll and the first leader of the House of Campbell in 4 generations not to be christened Archibald, was a different creature.

John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll. Victor at Sheriffmuir Archibald's son, John. The first head of the House of Argyll in 4 generations not christened Archibald.

John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll. Victor at Sheriffmuir Archibald’s son, John. The first head of the House of Argyll in 4 generations not christened Archibald.

He had seen service in both the Wars of the Grand Alliance and the Spanish Succession and was familiar with what needed to be done to meet the demands of this particular situation.

As the battle opened the right wing of each side achieved significant early success, much in the manner of the initial stages of the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644. As each commander then rallied his victorious wing back to the field it was clear that the earlier inequality in nunbers had become more acute and Mar’s force was now some three times greater in magnitude than Argyll’s who, consequently, chose to now position his men in a strong defensive situation based on some ditches and turf walls and awaited the inevitable onslaught from Mar’s force.

And this was it, the decisive point of the Battle of Sheriffmuir. The decisive point indeed of the entire 1715 Jacobite Rising. The decisive point, arguably, for the whole Jacobite dream, stretching back from when Claverhouse first raised the Standard on Dundee Law in April 1689 to the final destruction of the massed clansmen on Drumossie Moor in April 1746.

All that was required was a commander of simple courage and expediency with firm personal loyalty to the cause he espoused, who would send his men forward to complete the destruction of the enemy and leave the way open to take the army south to where the decisive military decisions would ultimately be determined.

But sadly what we had was the 22nd Earl of Mar. A man haunted by his unfulfilled, if ill-defined, personal ambition. Whose loyalty to any cause stretched no further than the furtherance of personal goals. “Oh, for an hour of Dundee”, legend has it, was the cry that went up from his waiting men. But they waited in vain.

Although Argyll, taking advantage of the fading light, led his men across the Allan Water for the night, Mar made no move and in the morning withdrew his force back to Perth.

It could, of course, be argued that even if Mar had won the day at Sheriffmuir, that it would have been to no avail as the southern Jacobite Army was, that very day, experiencing defeat at the Battle of Preston and the northern town of Inverness fell back into Hanoverian hands. Thus in the same way that Claverhouse’s victory at Killiecrankie did not lead to the ultimate triumph of the House of Stewart and that even after his Year of Victories when he vanquished 6 parliamentary armies in 6 battles and became military master of Scotland, ultimate victory eluded even the Great Montrose.

The Great Montrose

The Great Montrose

It would seem that the fortunes of the righteous in Scotland would ever be thus.

Detail on the Sheriffmuir monument

Detail on the Sheriffmuir monument

25 September 1703, the Death of the 1st Duke of Argyll

On this day, 25 September 1703 died Archibald Campbell, the 10th Earl and 1st Duke of Argyll……..which Argyll was this one then…?

Our Archibald, 10th Earl and 1st Duke of Argyll

Our Archibald, 10th Earl and 1st Duke of Argyll

This Archibald, hereinafter to be referred to as Our Archibald, was the latest in a long line of ennobled Archibald Campbells who held title over Argyll in the centuries after Colin Campbell was first raised to the peerage as the 1st Earl of Argyll by James II, in 1457.
A contemporary of Claverhouse, born in 1658, he played as much a part on the grand stage of Scottish Affairs as any of his forefathers. Which is why he features in this blogpost.


It can be difficult for even the enthusiastic student of Scottish History to keep track of the various Earls, Dukes and Marquesses who ruled the House of Argyll through the centuries. Suffice to know that most of these were christened Archibald and the vast majority were heinous criminals. Men fueled by towering ambition both for themselves and their noble house and, since the advent of the Reformation in the 16th century, the bitter, cheerless gall of hard core Presbyterianism layered a further patina of unpleasantness on them and their actions.


As the 10th Earl, Our Archibald was the son of Archibald, the 9th Earl who was executed in 1685 for his involvement in the Monmouth Rebellion.

Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll. Our Archibald's father

Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll. Our Archibald’s father

This was naked attempt to overthrow the incumbent of the British throne, James II & VII and place the Duke of Monmouth, Charles II’s illegitimate offspring, there in his stead.

Much has been written of Monmouth’s part of the rebellion but there is comparatively little commentary on Argyll’s efforts with the Scottish aspect of the rebellion.

Monmouth, having landed at Lyme Regis in June 1685 with less than 100 men, was quickly reinforced by local volunteers to the tune of 1000 troops. Over the next 4 weeks his army fought a serious of indecisive skirmishes against royalist troops before he was brought to a definitive set-piece battle at Sedgemoor a month after landing where his poorly trained and disorganized force was utterly routed by the regulars of the King’army. Monmouth was duly executed for high treason.

Monmouth docks at Lyme Regis to start his abortive Rebellion (June 1685)

Monmouth docks at Lyme Regis to start his abortive Rebellion (June 1685)

If Monmouth’s end of the rebellion was comical, Argyll’s efforts north of the border degenerated swiftly to the farcical. Arriving in Orkney a month before Monmouth docked at Lyme Regis, Archibald spent 4 weeks sailing around the west coast attempting to round up supporters for his cause. Bedevilled by lack of support and mutiny amongst those who did rally to his colours, he finally found himself at Dumbarton with only his son and 3 friends by his side. Subsequently captured by Government troops Argyll was executed in Edinburgh fully one week prior to Monmouth’s denouement at Sedgemoor.
This Archibald, the 9th Earl, features in the Claverhouse story as much as Our Archibald, the 10th Earl. To his credit he fought for his king and Scotland against the depredations of Cromwell and took part in both military disasters of the Battle of Dunbar in 1650 and then the Battle of Worcester the following year. He survived through the interregnum, keeping one foot on both Stuart and Cromwellian camps, trusted by neither and viewed with high suspicion by both. And his father, Archibald the 8th Earl was executed on Charles II command in the immediate aftermath of the restoration in 1660.


In the complicated political atmosphere post the Restoration, Archibald the 9th Earl, sought to navigate the difficult waters but was confounded by the passing of the Test Act in 1681. This required all the nobility to take an oath which required a profession of the Protestant religion AND an affirmation of royal supremacy in all matters spiritual and temporal. This created too much of a compromise for Archibald who refused to take the oath and was, consequently, tried before his peers in December 1681, with one John Graham of Claverhouse present on the jury, he was sentenced to death. But prior to his execution he managed to escape from Edinburgh Castle, in disguise, and abetted by his step daughter Lady Sophie Lindsay. He was eventually executed, as outlined above, following the failure of Monmouth’s Rebellion.


Our Archibald’s grandfather was the 8th Earl, also christened Archibald, and it was he who felt the eventual wrath of Charles II, when the Stuart monarchy was restored in 1660 following that disastrous period of miserableness known to history as the Cromwellian interregnum. It was he who set himself against the Great Montrose and although bested by this outstanding hero of Scottish history both on the military and political stage, he was the man peering through the blinds of his Edinburgh home on 20th May 1650 when Montrose was put to death at the order of the misguided covenanting Government.

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


Anyway, let’s get back to Our Archibald, the 10th Earl. He had much to live up to, given the extensive record of his father and grandfather, both of whom had been executed for high treason, and he applied himself enthusiastically to his task. Following King James’ accession to the throne in 1685, after the death of Charles II, Archibald enthusiastically lobbied for the restoration of his father’s attainder. And when his entreaties were treated with the contempt of which they were thoroughly deserving, Archibald took himself off to The Hague and the Court of the Prince of Orange where he joined the motley crew of ambitious, exiled men who were minded to persuade the young Prince to seek his father-in-law’s throne for himself.

William of Orange, once more thrown from a horse

William of Orange, once more thrown from a horse

With the usurpation of King James from the throne in December 1688, Archibald continued in his personal support of the new monarchs, William and Mary. A devotion which in turn led to the restoration of his father’s land and holdings. When Dundee raised King James’ Standard on Dundee Law in April 1689, and initiated the first Jacobite Rising which was intended to restore James to said throne, Our Archibald proceeded to raise an armed force in King William’s name to protect the Hanoverian Crown. Although, this was done in such a slow and haphazard fashion that the decisive action of that campaign had been fought at Killiecrankie ere an armed Campbell marched forth from Argyll.

The Battle of Killiecrankie, July 1689. Fought without contribution from Archibald or his Campbell's

The Battle of Killiecrankie, July 1689. Fought without contribution from Archibald or his Campbell’s

With the eventual end of Dundee’s campaign it was clear to many that with a monarch of satisfactory protestant heritage ensconced on the throne, and an ambitious and capable one at that, the deposed Stuart monarch and his court exiled in France and the shifting political sands of the last ninety years now beginning to solidify into set cement, the requirement for caution of loyalty, often manifested as outright duplicity, was now gone. And it was now possible for a noble lord to throw himself wholeheartedly behind the monarch in order to best profit one’s standing and the resultant inheritance to be handed down. It was in this climate of enthusiastic loyalty that Our Archibald found himself. He became William’s principal advisor on Scottish affairs and was made a Privy Councillor. On the military side he was made Colonel-in-Chief of the Earl of Argyll’s Regiment of Foot. This was the body of men who were entrusted by William’s Scottish advisors to carry out that action of political repression known to us all as the Massacre of Glencoe, in 1692. Although, to be fair to Our Archibald, he was far and distant from the aforementioned Glen when the slaughter of the women and children was taking place.

The Massacre of Glencoe, February 1692. Carried out by The Earl of Argyll's Regiment of Foot of which Our Archibald was Colonel-in-Chief.

The Massacre of Glencoe, February 1692. Carried out by The Earl of Argyll’s Regiment of Foot of which Our Archibald was Colonel-in-Chief.

Elevated to 1st Duke of Argyll in 1701 by a grateful monarch he died on 25th September 1703 at Cherton House, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne. His son, John, not Archibald, continued to serve the Hanoverian house in the same loyal fashion and indeed commanded the detachment of the British Army which, at the Battle of Sheriffmuir, confounded the Earl of Mar’s attempts to move south during the 1715 Jacobite Rising. An afternoon’s action which effectively ended the Rising.

Our Archibald's son, John. The first head of the House of Argyll in 4 generations not christened Archibald.

Our Archibald’s son, John. The first head of the House of Argyll in 4 generations not christened Archibald.

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.


The Signing of the National Covenant – Let the Bloodshed Begin

On this day in 1638 the National Covenant was signed in Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh.

(c) City of Edinburgh Council; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Signing of the National Covenant

It was not the first such covenant to be drawn up and publicly signed in Presbyterian Scotland. Nor, sadly would it be the last. However, it was the most significant and its effects more far reaching and profound than any of those previously penned.

In the fifty one years that were to pass from this momentous day until William’s usurpation of James VII & II in 1689, this document would lead directly to the violent death of more Scots than the Great War of 1914 – 18.

concept originally inspired by the Old Testament covenants between the Israelites and their god, the covenant idea had been reinforced in the reformist teachings of Luther and Calvin in the 15th century.This National Covenant drew from the first covenant penned by the Lords of Congregation in 1557, in response to their outrage at the proposed marriage of the young Mary, Queen of Scots to the future King of France. It also leaned heavily on the Negative Confession of Faith signed by James VI in 1581.

Penned by two men, Archibald Johnston, a lawyer, and Alexander Henderson, a Presbyterian minister, it was both a brilliant concept and an inspired piece of writing and it was entirely unprecedented in European history.


Archibald Johnston, co-author of the National Covenant

The sequence of events that led to its creation began in 1603 when James VI of Scotland became also King of England and Ireland on the death of Elizabeth. Scotland and the Scots were now in a new and confusing relationship, neither bound politically with England nor an entirely separate state. James, much to his credit, held it all together for 22 years until his death in 1625. However, under his son, Charles I, the wheels began to come off the bus of royal rule. By 1637 England and Ireland were in complete turmoil and the Scots, in simple terms, launched a revolution.
Chas I

Charles I

Charles was hell bent on having a unified form of religious observance throughout his three kingdoms and this would not be Calvinist in nature. In Scotland in 1636 he issued a new set of rules for worship: the Canons and Constitutions Eclesiasticall, which drew heavily on the Church of England’s rule-book of 1604. Historically any fundamental changes to the nature of worship in Scotland had been thrashed out and handed down by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Charles, however, enthusiastically sought to bend the Presbyterian towards the Anglican, and imposed these changes by simple royal prerogative.

In the same arbitrary manner a new Common Prayer Book was issued on 23 July 1637. The king was playing fast and loose with one thing that meant a great deal to the common people of Scotland – how they worshipped their god. Public outrage grew.

On the day many ministers simply ignored the command to use the new prayer book. When the Bishop of Brechin placed it on his lectern before his glowering congregation it was flanked ostentatiously with two loaded pistols. In St Giles Cathedral, when the minister began to read from it Jenny Geddes famously picked up her stool and threw it at him.

Jenny GeddesJenny Geddes hurls her stool at the minister in St Giles

And so the crisis developed. Support for the King’s changes was thin on the ground at all levels of society and opposition was loud, vehement and growing apace. In January 1638 the Scottish Privy Council, the executive agency of Royal Government, was compelled to meet in Stirling, such was the level of civil disturbance in Edinburgh.

The protesters then took a major step when they set up a parallel authority to the Council, known as the ‘Tables’. This had representation from each of the four estates of the kingdom; nobles, gentry, burgesses and clergy. It did not, however, have any constitutional authority whatsoever. But it became the focus of the protests of the nation.

It was this demand for meaningful protest and effective action that led directly to the National Covenant being drafted by Johnston and Henderson. On 27th February this first draft was read to a gathering of nobles and ministers and some tinkering carried out. The following afternoon after a religious ceremony in Greyfriars it was solemnly displayed and duly signed by the nobility, the lesser barons and the gentry.

National CovenantL_tcm4-564497

The National Covenant itself

Prominent on this document even now, over 370 years later, is the bold and clear signature of Montrose. James Graham, 5th Earl, soon to be 1st Marquis. One of the first to pen his signature in protest at the King’s high-handedness, he would be Charles I’s Captain-General in the war that ripped across Scotland six years later. But we’ll deal with that in another post.

[ montroseThe Marquis of Montrose, among the first signatories

By 2nd March there were multiple copies circulating throughout the kingdom as the common people queued up for hours to make their mark on the rebellious parchment.

The brilliance of the document itself and its utilisation as a tool to bring about change can be seen in a number of ways. Firstly it coalesced a national feeling of agitation which was initially undirected. It also effectively formed a platform to license further action. Carefully phrased it would cause upset to no-one of a protestant persuasion regardless of their position on its extensive spectrum. For although Henderson and Johnston were vehemently opposed to the very idea of Bishops, since the purest Presbyterian faith required only the minister between each honest soul and his god, no mention of bishops was made in the text. Thus it would not alienate any of an Episcopalian persuasion, who in turn, were signing in protest at what they saw as the king’s attack on the authority of their Bishops.

Additionally, the National Covenant involved all signatories on an equal basis, regardless of their rank in society, and it demanded unequivocal commitment from each of them. Furthermore, by referring to the Negative Confession of 1581 and various other subsequent Acts of Parliament it highlights that all Scots were in law and duty bound to maintain “God’s true religion” ie Presbyterianism and that said religion was joined with the King’s authority. Thus ingeniously linking loyalty to the king with, but subordinate to, loyalty to the Kirk. There was further emphasis to clarify that loyalty to the king was dependent on “blessed and loyal conjunction” with the true religion.

Implicit in this wording was the notion that any king who tampers with the ‘true religion’ must be resisted. This justification for armed resistance against the monarch made the National Covenant a rebellious document. However, the clear implication that an individual could set his private conscience against his obligations to the King and the State made it revolutionary. And so all signatories who had hitherto merely been supplicants to the King now had a new name…..Covenanters.


Death of Charles II…..and its all downhill from here.

On this day in 1685 Charles II died after a short, sudden illness and was received into the Catholic Church on his passing.

Chas II admitted to Holy Mother ChurchCharles is converted to Catholicism on his death bed…..

And so his brother began his brief and troubled reign as James II and VII. The proclamation of his accession in Scotland was signed on 10th February by the entire Scottish Privy Council, including Bonnie Dundee, with no mention being made of the Covenant, that troubled document which had overshadowed all political and military events in Scotland since 1638.

Although it was in Scotland that Charles had first landed and been proclaimed King in 1649, on the basis that he signed up to the Covenant, he had had little interest in matters north of the border following his eventual Restoration to the throne of the three kingdoms in 1660. So in the following 25 years he made no effort to travel back to the kingdom of his fathers, in much the same fashion as his grandfather, James I and VI, after he acceded to the unified throne in 1603.

Chas II signs up to the Covenant

Charles II signs up to the Covenant

To be fair there were many other matters to demand his attention during this time; the first, second and third Dutch wars,  the Great Plague of London, the Great Fire of London and his determined efforts to achieve some degree of emancipation for English Catholics to name but a few.

great fire of london

The Great Fire of London….amongst Charles II’s concerns

Charles’ good lady wife, Catherine of Braganza, fell pregnant on a number of occasions but sadly none of these ended successfully. And since the fourteen odd illegitimate offspring that the “Merry Monarch” was able to produce could not inherit the throne the succession duly passed to James. If the loyal citizens of Scotland had thought that Charles’ reign had been a disappointment then they would soon find that there were new depths of dismay to be tholed.

If Charles was somewhat disconnected from affairs in Scotland the new monarch was considerably more familiar with matters Scots having set up in residence in Holyrood way back in 1679 when Charles had taken suddenly and seriously ill and a political storm had blown up in England over a Catholic being next in line to the throne. Irony abounds. James had been made a member of the Scottish Privy Council and rapidly came to take a dominant position on this august body which ruled the country on a day to bay basis in the King’s name.

holyrood-640x553Holyrood Palace ..from where the Duke of York headed up the Scottish Privy Council in 1679

Dundee had little involvement with Charles during his reign but had long enjoyed the patronage of James, from when he was first recommended to him by William of Orange following Dundee’s service in the Dutch Army. In due course, Dundee became a friend and close advisor to the then Duke of York. Sadly James took advice from many and was unable to distinguish between the good and the bad.

james-ii as DofY

James II & VII when still the Duke of York

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