HITHERTO the history of the Highlands has been confined chiefly to the feuds and conflicts of the clans, the details of which, though interesting to their descendants, cannot be supposed to afford the same gratification to readers at large, who require more inciting events to engage their attention than the disputes of rival families and petty chieftains. We now enter upon a more important era, when, for the first time, the Highlanders may be said to have appeared on the theatre of our national history, and to have given a foretaste of that military prowess, for which they, afterwards, became so highly distinguished.
In entering upon the details of the military achievements of the Highlanders, during the period of the civil wars, and the campaigns of Montrose, it seems to be quite unnecessary and foreign to our purpose, to trouble the reader with a history of the rash, unconstitutional, and ill-fated attempt of Charles I., to introduce English episcopacy into Scotland; nor, for the same reason, is it requisite to detail minutely the proceedings of the authors of the covenant. Suffice it to say, that in consequence of the inflexible determination of Charles to force the forms of the English church service upon the people of Scotland, the great majority of the nation declared their determination “by the great name of the Lord their God,” to defend their religion against what they considered to be errors and corruptions. Notwithstanding, however, of the most positive demonstrations on the part of the people to resist, Charles, acting by the advice of a privy council of Scotsmen established in England, exclusively devoted to the affairs of Scotland, resolved to suppress the covenant by open force, and in order to gain time for the necessary preparations, he sent the marquis of Hamilton, as his commissioner, to Scotland, who was instructed to promise “that the practice of the liturgy and the canons should never be pressed in any other than a fair and legal way, and that the high commission should be so rectified as never to impugn the laws, or to be a just grievance to loyal subjects,” and that the king would pardon those who had lately taken an illegal covenant, on their immediately renouncing it, and giving up the bond to the commissioners.
When the covenanters heard of Hamilton’s approach, they appointed a national fast to be held, to beg the blessing of God upon the kirk, and on the tenth of June, sixteen hundred and thirty-eight, the marquis was received at Leith, and conducted to the capital by about sixty thousand covenanters, and five hundred ministers. The spirit and temper of such a vast assemblage overawed the marquis, and he, therefore, concealed his instructions. After making two successive journeys to London to communicate the alarming state of affairs, and to receive fresh instructions, he, on his second return, issued a proclamation, discharging “the service book, the book of canons, and the high commission court, dispensing with the five articles of Perth, dispensing the entrants into the ministry from taking the oath of supremacy and of canonical obedience, commanding all persons to lay aside the new covenant, and take that which had been published by the king’s father in fifteen hundred and eighty-nine, and summoning a free assembly of the kirk to meet, in the month of November, and a parliament in the month of May, the following year.”1 Matters had, however, proceeded too far for submission to the conditions of the proclamation, and the covenanting leaders answered it by a formal protest in which they gave sixteen reasons, showing, that to comply with the demands of the king would be to betray the cause of God, and to act against the dictates of conscience.2
In consequence of the opposition made to the proclamation, it was generally expected that the king would have recalled the order for the meeting of the assembly at Glasgow; but no prohibition having been issued, that assembly, which consisted, besides the clergy, of one lay elder, and four lay-assessors, from every presbytery, met at the time appointed; viz., in the month of November, sixteen hundred and thirty-eight. After spending a week in violent debates, the commissioner, in terms of his instructions, declared the assembly dissolved; but encouraged by the accession of the earl of Argyle, who placed himself at the head of the covenanters, the members declined to disperse at the mere mandate of the sovereign, and passed a resolution, that, in spiritual matters, the kirk was independent of the civil power, and that the dissolution by the commissioner was illegal and void. After spending three weeks in revising the ecclesiastical regulations introduced into Scotland since the accession of James to the crown of England, the assembly condemned the liturgy, ordinal, book of canons, and court of high commission, and assuming all the powers of legislation, abolished episcopacy, and excommunicated the bishops themselves, and the ministers who supported them. Charles declared their proceedings null by proclamation; but the people received them with great joy, and testified their approbation by a national thanksgiving.3
Both parties had for some time been preparing for war, and they now hastened on their plans. In consequence of an order from the supreme committee of the covenanters in Edinburgh, every man capable of bearing arms was called out and trained. Experienced Scottish officers who had spent the greater part of their lives in military service in Sweden and Germany, returned to Scotland to place themselves at the head of their countrymen, and the Scottish merchants in Holland supplied them with arms and ammunition. The king advanced as far as York with an army, the Scottish bishops making him believe that the news of his approach would induce the covenanters to submit themselves to his pleasure; but he was disappointed in this vain idea, for instead of submitting themselves, they were the first to commence hostilities. On Friday the ninth of March, sixteen hundred and thirty-nine, General Leslie, the covenanting general, at the head of one thousand men, surprised the castle of Edinburgh, and on the following day the earl of Traquair surrendered Dalkeith house, and on the Sunday during the observance of a solemn fast, the covenanters obtained possession of the castle of Dumbarton. The king, on arriving at Durham, dispatched the marquis of Hamilton with a fleet of forty ships, having on board six thousand troops, to the Frith of Forth; but as both sides of the Frith were well fortified at different points, and covered with troops, he was unable to effect a landing.
In the meantime the marquis of Huntly raised the royal standard in the north, and as the earl of Sutherland, accompanied by Lord Reay and John, Master of Berridale and others, had been very busy in Inverness and Elgin, persuading the inhabitants to subscribe the covenant, the marquis wrote him confidentially, blaming him for his past conduct, and advising him to declare for the king; but the earl informed him in reply, that it was against the bishops and their innovations, and not against the king, that he had so acted. The earl then, in his turn, advised the marquis to join the covenanters, by doing which he said he would not only confer honour on himself, but much good on his native country: that in any private question in which Huntly was personally interested he would assist, but that in the present affair he would not aid him. The earl thereupon joined the earl of Seaforth, the Master of Berridale, the Lord Lovat, the Lord Reay, the laird of Balnagown, the Rosses, the Monroes, the laird of Grant, Mackintosh, the laird of Innes, the sheriff of Moray, the baron of Kilravok, the laird of Altire, the tutor of Duffus and the other covenanters on the north of the river Spey.
The marquis of Huntly assembled his forces first at Turriff, and afterwards at Kintore, whence he marched upon Aberdeen, which he took possession of in name of the king. The marquis being informed shortly after his arrival in Aberdeen, that a meeting of covenanters, who resided within his district, was to be held at Turriff on the fourteenth day of February, he resolved to disperse them. He therefore wrote letters to his chief dependents, requiring them to meet him at Turriff the same day, and bring with them their usual arms. One of these letters fell into the hands of the earl of Montrose, who determined at all hazards to protect the meeting of his friends, the covenanters. In pursuance of this resolution, he collected, with great alacrity, some of his best friends in Angus, and with his own and their dependents, to the number of about eight hundred men, he crossed the range of hills called the Grangebean, and took possession of Turriff on the morning of the fourteenth of February. When Huntly’s party arrived during the course of the day, they were surprised at seeing the little churchyard of the village filled with armed men; and they were still more surprised to observe them levelling their hagbuts at them across the walls of the churchyard. Not knowing how to act in the absence of the marquis, they retired to a place called the Broad Ford of Towie, about two miles south from the village, when they were soon joined by Huntly and his suite. After some consultation, the marquis, after parading his men in order of battle along the north-west side of the village, in sight of Montrose, dispersed his party, which amounted to two thousand men, without offering to attack Montrose, on the pretence that his commission of lieu tenancy only authorised him to act on the defensive. This act of pusillanimity weakened the confidence of his friends.4
Montrose had, about this time, received a commission from the Tables, as the boards of representatives, chosen respectively by the nobility, county gentry, clergy, and inhabitants of the burghs, were called, to raise a body of troops for the service of the covenanters, and he now proceeded to embody them with extraordinary promptitude. Within one month, he collected a force of about three thousand horse and foot, from the counties of Fife, Forfar, and Perth, and put them into a complete state of military discipline. Being joined by the forces under General Leslie, he marched upon Aberdeen, which he entered, without opposition, on the thirtieth of March, the marquis of Huntly having abandoned the town on his approach. Some idea of the well-appointed state of this army may be formed from the curious description of Spalding, who says, that “upon the morne, being Saturday, they came in order of battell, weill armed, both on horse and foot, ilk horseman having five shot at the least, with ane carabine in his hand, two pistols by his sydes, and other two at his saddell toir; the pikemen in their ranks, with pike and sword; the musketiers in their ranks, with musket, musket-staffe, bandelier, sword, powder, ball, and match; ilk company, both on horse and foot, had their captains, lieutenants, ensignes, serjeants, and other officers and commanders, all for the most part in buff coats, and in goodly order. They had five colours or ensignes; whereof the earl of Montrose had one, haveing this motto, ‘FOR RELIGION, THE COVENANT, AND THE COUNTRIE;’ the earle of Marischall had one, the earle of Kinghorne had one, and the town of Dundie had two. They had trumpeters to ilk company of horsemen, and drummers to ilk company of footmen; they had their meat, drink, and other provision, bag and baggage, carryed with them, all done be advyse of his excellence Felt Marschall Leslie, whose councell Generall Montrose followed in this busieness. Now, in seemly order, and good array, this army came forward, and entered the burgh of Aberdein, about ten hours in the morning, at the Over Kirkgate Port, syne came doun throw the Broadgate, throw the Castlegate, out at the Justice Port to the Queen’s Links directly. Here it is to be notted, that few or none of this haill army wanted ane blew ribbin hung about his craig, doun under his left arme, which they called the Covenanters’ Ribbin. But the Lord Gordon, and some other of the marquess’ bairnes and familie, had ane ribbin, when he was dwelling in the toun, of ane reid flesh cullor, which they wore in their hatts, and called it The Royall Ribbin, as a signe of their love and loyalltie to the king. In despyte and derision thereof this blew ribbin was worne, and called the Covenanters’ Ribbin, be the haill souldiers of the army, and would not hear of the royall ribbin; such was their pryde and malice.”5
At Aberdeen, Montrose was joined the same day by Lord Fraser, the master of Forbes, the laird of Dalgettie, the tutor of Pitsligo, the Earl Marshall’s men in Buchan, with several other gentlemen and their tenants, dependants and servants, to the number of two thousand, an addition which augmented Montrose’s army to nine thousand men. Leaving the earl of Kintore, with fifteen hundred men, to keep possession of Aberdeen, Montrose marched the same day towards Kintore, where he encamped that night. Halting all Sunday, he proceeded, on the Monday, to Inverury, where he again pitched his camp. The marquis of Huntly grew alarmed at this sudden and unexpected movement, and thought it now full time to treat with such a formidable foe, for his personal safety. He, therefore, despatched Robert Gordon of Straloch and Doctor Gordon, an Aberdeen physician, to Montrose’s camp, to request an interview. The marquis proposed to meet him on a moor near Blackhall, about two miles from the camp, with eleven attendants each, with no arms but a single sword at their side. After consulting with Field Marshall Leslie, and the other officers, Montrose agreed to meet the marquis, on Thursday the fourth of April, at the place mentioned. The parties accordingly met. Among the eleven who attended the marquis were his son James, Lord Aboyne, and the Lord Oliphant. The Lords Elcho and Cowper were of the party who attended Montrose. After the usual salutation, they both alighted, and entered into conversation, but coming to no understanding, they adjourned the conference till the following morning, when the marquis signed a writing substantially the same as the covenant, and obliged himself to make his friends, tenants, and servants to subscribe the covenant.6 The marquis, after this arrangement, went to Strathbogie, and Montrose returned with his army to Aberdeen, the following day.
The marquis had not been many days at Strathbogie, when he received a notice from Montrose to repair to Aberdeen with his two sons, the Lord Gordon and Viscount Aboyne. The reason for such a step does not sufficiently appear; but it seems highly probable that Montrose had been actuated by a distrust of the sincerity of the marquis’ promises, and that as he was meditating a journey to the south, he might consider it a wise and prudent course to secure the person of the marquis, and thus prevent a rising in the north.
Some writers have attributed, and not without reason, the arrest of the marquis to the intrigues of the Frasers and the Forbeses, who bore a mortal antipathy to the house of Huntly, and who were desirous to see the “Cock of the North,” as the powerful head of that house was popularly called, humbled. But, be these conjectures as they may, on the morning after the marquis’ arrival at Aberdeen, viz. on the eleventh of April, a council of the principal officers of Montrose’s army was held, at which it was determined to arrest the marquis and Lord Gordon, his eldest son, and carry them to Edinburgh. It was not, however, judged adviseable to act upon this resolution immediately, and to do away with any appearance of treachery, Montrose and his friends invited the marquis and his two sons to supper the following evening. During the entertainment, the most friendly civilities were passed on both sides, and, after the party had become somewhat merry, Montrose and his friends hinted to the marquis the expediency, in the present posture of affairs, of resigning his commission of lieutenancy, and returning the same to the king. They also proposed that he should write a letter to the king along with the resignation of his commission, in favour of the covenanters, as good and loyal subjects; and that he should despatch the laird of Cluny, the following morning, with the letter and resignation. The marquis, seeing that his commission was altogether unavailable, immediately wrote out, in presence of the meeting, a resignation of his commission, and a letter of recommendation as proposed, and, in their presence, delivered the same to the laird of Cluny, who was to set off the following morning with them to the king. It would appear that Montrose was not sincere in making this demand upon the marquis, and that his object was, by calculating on a refusal, to make that the ground for arresting him; for the marquis had scarcely returned to his lodgings to pass the night, when an armed guard was placed round the house, to prevent him from returning home, as he intended to do, the following morning.
When the marquis rose, next morning, he was surprised at receiving a message from the covenanting general, by two noblemen, desiring his attendance at the house of the Earl Marshall; and he was still farther surprised, when, on going out, along with his two sons, to the appointed place of meeting, he found his lodging beset with sentinels. The marquis was received by Montrose with the usual morning salutation, after which, he proceeded to demand from him a contribution for liquidating a loan of 200,000 merks, which the covenanters had borrowed from Sir William Dick, a rich merchant of Edinburgh. To this unexpected demand the marquis replied, that he was not obliged to pay any part thereof, not having been concerned in the borrowing, and of course, declined to comply. Montrose then requested him to take steps to apprehend James Grant, and John Dugar, and their accomplices, who had given considerable annoyance to the covenanters in the Highlands. Huntly objected, that, having now no commission, he could not act, and that, although he had, James Grant had already obtained a remission from the king, and as for John Dugar, he would concur, if required, with the other neighbouring proprietors in an attempt to apprehend him. The earl, finally, as the covenant, he said, admitted of no standing hatred or feud, required the marquis to reconcile himself to Crichton, the laird of Frendraught, and take him by the hand, but this the marquis positively refused to do. What Montrose’s design was, in making these proposals, is not easy to conjecture. That he anticipated a refusal to all of them seems very problematical; and yet it can scarcely be supposed that the marquis’ compliance with any one of these demands, would have saved him from the snare which had been laid for him. Finding the marquis quite resolute in his determination to resist these demands, the earl suddenly changed his tone, and thus addressed the marquis, apparently in the most friendly terms, “My lord, seeing we are all now friends, will you go south to Edinburgh with us?” Huntly answered that he would not that he was not prepared for such a journey, and that he was just going to set off for Strathbogie. “Your lordship (rejoined Montrose) will do well to go with us.” The marquis now perceiving Montrose’s design, accosted him thus, “My lord, I came here to this town upon assurance that I should come and go at my own pleasure, without molestation or inquietude; and now I see why my lodging was guarded, and that ye mean to take me to Edinburgh, whether I will or not. This conduct, on your part, seems to me to be neither fair nor honourable.” He added, “My lord, give me back the bond which I gave you at Inverury, and you shall have an answer.” Montrose thereupon delivered the bond to the marquis. Huntly then inquired at the earl, “Whether he would take him to the south as a captive, or willingly of his own mind?” “Make your choice,” said Montrose. “Then,” observed the marquis, “I will not go as a captive, but as a volunteer.” The marquis there upon immediately returned to his lodging, and despatched a messenger after the laird of Cluny, to stop him on his journey.7
It was the intention of Montrose to take both the marquis and his sons to Edinburgh, but Viscount Aboyne, at the desire of some of his friends, was released, and allowed to return to Strathbogie. On arriving at Edinburgh, the marquis and his son, Lord Gordon, were committed close prisoners to the castle of Edinburgh, and the Tables “appointed five guardians to attend upon him and his son night and day, upon his own expenses, that none should come in nor out but by their sight.”8
Some time after the departure of Montrose’s army to the south, the covenanters of the north appointed a committee meeting to be held at Turriff, upon Wednesday, the twenty-fourth of April, consisting of the Earls Marshal and Seaforth, the Lord Fraser, the Master of Forbes, and some of their kindred and friends. All persons within the diocese, who had not subscribed the covenant, were required to attend this meeting for the purpose of signing it, and failing compliance, their property was to be given up to indiscriminate plunder. As neither Lord Aboyne, the laird of Banff, nor any of their friends and kinsmen, had subscribed the covenant, nor meant to do so, they resolved to protect themselves from the threatened attack. A preliminary meeting of the heads of the northern covenanters was held on the twenty-second day of April, at Monymusk, where they learned of the rising of Lord Aboyne and his friends. This intelligence induced them to postpone the meeting at Turriff till the twenty-sixth of April, by which day they expected to be joined by several gentlemen from Caithness, Sutherland, Ross, Moray, and other quarters. At another meeting, held by the same parties at Kintore, on the twenty-fourth of April, they postponed the proposed meeting at Turriff, sine die, and adjourned to Aberdeen; but as no notice had been sent of the postponement to the different covenanting districts in the north, about 1500 men assembled at the place of meeting on the twenty-sixth of April, and were quite astonished to find that the chiefs were absent. Upon an explanation taking place, the meeting was adjourned till the twentieth of May.
Lord Aboyne had not been idle during this interval, having collected about 2000 horse and foot from the Highlands and Lowlands, with which force he had narrowly watched the movements of the covenanters. Hearing, however, of the adjournment of the Turriff meeting, his lordship, at the entreaty of his friends, broke up his army, and went by sea to England to meet the king, to inform him of the precarious state of his affairs in the north. Many of his followers, such as the lairds of Gight, Haddo, Udney, Newton, Pitmedden, Foveran, Tippertie, Harthill, and others, who had subscribed the covenant, regretted his departure; but as they had gone too far to recede, they resolved to continue their forces in the field, and held a meeting on the seventh of May at Auchterless, to concert a plan of operations.
A body of the covenanters, to the number of about 2000, having assembled at Turriff as early as the thirteenth of May, the Gordons resolved instantly to attack them, before they should be joined by other forces, which were expected to arrive before the twentieth. Taking along with them four brass field-pieces from Strathbogie, the Gordons, to the number of about eight hundred horse and foot, commenced their march on the thirteenth of May, at ten o’clock at night, and reached Turriff next morning by day-break, by a road unknown to the sentinels of the covenanting army. As soon as they approached the town, the commanders of the Gordons ordered the trumpets to be sounded and the drums to be beat, the noise of which was the first indication the covenanters had of their arrival. Being thus surprised, the latter had no time to make any preparations for defending themselves. They made, indeed, a short resistance, but they were soon dispersed by the fire from the field-pieces, leaving behind them the lairds of Echt and Skene, and a few others, who were taken prisoners. The loss on either side, in killed and wounded, was very trifling. This skirmish is called by the writers of the period, “the Trott of Turray,”9 and is distinguished as the place where blood was first shed in the civil wars.10
The successful issue of this trifling affair had a powerful effect on the minds of the victors, who forthwith marched on Aberdeen, which they entered on the fifteenth of May. They expelled the covenanters from the town, and were there joined by a body of men from the Braes of Mar under the command of Donald Farquharson of Tulliegarmouth, and the laird of Abergeldie, and by another party headed by James Grant, so long an outlaw, to the number of about 500 men. These men quartered themselves very freely upon the inhabitants, particularly on those who had declared for the covenant, and they plundered many gentlemen’s houses in the neighbourhood. The house of Durris, belonging to John Forbes of Lesslie, a great covenanter, received a visit from them. “There was (says Spalding) little plenishing left unconvoyed away befor their comeing. They gott good bear and ale, broke up girnells, and buke bannocks at good fyres, and drank merrily upon the laird’s best drink: syne carried away with them alse meikle victual as they could beir, which they could not gett eaten and destroyed; and syne removed from that to Echt, Skene, Monymusk, and other houses pertaining to the name of Forbes, all great covenanters. ”11
Two days after their arrival at Aberdeen, the Gordons sent John Leith of Harthill, and William Lumsden, advocate in Aberdeen, to Dunnotter, for the purpose of ascertaining the sentiments of the Earl Marshal, in relation to their proceedings, and whether they might reckon on his friendship. The earl, however, intimated that he could say nothing in relation to the affair, and that he would require eight days to advise with his friends. This answer was considered quite unsatisfactory, and the chiefs of the army were at a loss how to act. While deliberating on the subject, Robert Gordon of Straloch, and James Burnet of Craigmylle, a brother of the laird of Leys, who were both peaceably inclined, apprehensive of the dangers which might ensue, if the Gordons kept the field any longer, earnestly begged of them to dissolve the army. They proposed to enter into a negotiation with the Earl Marshal, but Sir George Ogilvy of Banff would not listen to such a proceeding, and, addressing Straloch, he said, “Go, if you will go; but pr’ythee, let it be as quarter-master, to inform the earl that we are coming.” Straloch, however, went not in the character of a quarter master, but as a mediator in behalf of his chief; and having, in conjunction with Burnet, had an interview with the Earl Marshal, he returned with this answer, that the earl had no intention to take up arms, without an order from the Tables; that, if the Gordons would disperse, he would give them early notice to re-assemble, if necessary, for their own defence, but that if they should attack him, he would certainly defend himself.
This answer of the Earl Marshal had the desired effect; but although the Gordons agreed to disband their army, the Highlanders, who had come down to the lowlands in quest of plunder, could not be induced to recross the mountains till they should collect a sufficient quantity of spoil. The army was accordingly disbanded on the twenty-first of May, and the barons went to Aberdeen, there to spend a few days. The depredations of the Highlanders upon the properties of the covenanters were thereafter carried on to such an extent, that they complained to the Earl Marshal, who immediately assembled a body of men out of Angus and the Mearns, with which he entered Aberdeen on the twenty-third of May. The barons thereupon made a precipitate retreat. Two days thereafter, the earl was joined by Montrose, at the head of 4000 men, an addition which, with other accessions, made the whole force assembled at Aberdeen, exceed 6000.
Meanwhile a large body of northern covenanters, under the command of the earl of Seaforth, was approaching from the countries beyond the Spey; but the Gordons having crossed the Spey, for the purpose of opposing their advance, an agreement was entered into, between both parties, that, on the Gordons retiring across the Spey, Seaforth and his men should also retire homewards.
After spending five days in Aberdeen, Montrose marched his army to Udney, from thence to Kellie, the seat of the laird of Haddo, and afterwards to Gight, the residence of Sir Robert Gordon, to which he laid siege. But intelligence of the arrival of Viscount Aboyne, in the bay of Aberdeen, deranged his plans. Being quite uncertain of Aboyne’s strength, and fearing that his retreat might be cut off, Montrose quickly raised the siege, and returned to Aberdeen. Although Lord Aboyne still remained on board his vessel, and could easily have been prevented from landing, Montrose most unaccountably abandoned the town, and retired into the Mearns.
Viscount Aboyne had been most graciously received by the king, and had ingratiated himself so much with the monarch, as to obtain the commission of lieutenancy which his father held. The king appears to have entertained good hopes, from his endeavours to support the royal cause in the north of Scotland, and before taking leave, he gave the viscount a letter addressed to the marquis of Hamilton, requesting him to afford his lordship all the assistance in his power. From whatever cause, all the aid afforded by the marquis was limited to a few officers and four field-pieces: “The king,” says Gordon of Sallagh, “coming to Berwick, and business growing to a height, the armies of England and Scotland lying near one another, his majesty sent the viscount of Aboyne, and Colonel Gun (who was then returned out of Germany) to the marquis of Hamilton, to receive some forces from him, and with these forces to go to Aberdeen, to possess and recover that town. The marquis of Hamilton, lying at anchor in Forth, gave them no supply of men, but sent them five ships to Aberdeen, and the marquis himself retired with his feet and men to the Holy Island, hard by Berwick, to reinforce the king’s army there against the Scots at Dunslaw.”12 On his voyage to Aberdeen, Aboyne’s ships fell in with two vessels, one of which contained the lairds of Banff, Foveran, Newton, Crummie, and others, who had fled on the approach of Montrose to Gight; and the other had on board some citizens of Aberdeen, and several ministers, among whom were Thomas Thoirs, minister of Udney; John Paterson, minister of Foveran; David Leitch, minister of Ellon; John Gregory, minister of Drumoack; Francis Thomson, minister of Pitterculter; John Kemp, preacher; and others, who had refused to sign the covenant, all of whom the viscount persuaded to return home along with him.
On the sixth of June, Lord Aboyne, accompanied by the earls of Glencairn and Tullibardine, the lairds of Drum, Banff, Fedderet, Foveran, and Newton, and their followers, with Colonel Gun and several English officers, landed in Aberdeen, without opposition. Immediately on coming on shore, he issued a proclamation which was read at the cross of Aberdeen, prohibiting all his majesty’s loyal subjects from paying any rents, duties, or other debts to the covenanters, and requiring them to pay one-half of such sums to the king, and to retain the other for themselves. Those persons who had been forced to subscribe the covenant against their will, were, on repentance, to be forgiven, and every person was required to take an oath of allegiance to his majesty.
This bold step inspired the royalists with confidence, and in a short space of time a considerable force rallied round the royal standard Lewis Gordon, third son of the marquis of Huntly, a youth of extraordinary courage, on hearing of his brother’s arrival, collected his father’s friends and tenants, to the number of about one thousand horse and foot, and with these he entered Aberdeen, on the seventh of June. These were succeeded by a hundred horse sent in by the laird of Drum, and by considerable forces led by James Grant and Donald Farquharson. Many of the covenanters also joined the viscount, so that his force ultimately amounted to several thousand men.
On the tenth of June, the Viscount left Aberdeen, and advanced upon Kintore with an army of about two thousand horse and foot, to which he received daily accessions. The inhabitants of the latter place were compelled by him to subscribe the oath of allegiance, and notwithstanding their compliance, “the troops,” says Spalding, “plundered meat and drink, and made good fires; and, where they wanted peats, broke down beds and boards in honest men’s houses to be fires, and fed their horses with corn and straw that day and night.”13 Next morning the army moved upon Hall Forrest, a seat of the earl Marshall, which surrendered on their approach. Although the house was filled with property of different kinds, which had been placed there by the people of the neighbourhood for the sake of security, no part thereof was touched, and the troops contented themselves with carrying off all the arms and provisions they could find. From Hall Forrest, they proceeded to the house of Muchells, belonging to Lord Fraser; but Aboyne, hearing of a rising in the south, gave up a resolution he had formed of besieging it, and returned to Aberdeen.
As delay would be dangerous to his cause in the present conjuncture, be crossed the Dee, on the fourteenth of June, with the intention of occupying Stonehaven, and of issuing afresh the king’s proclamation at the market cross of that burgh. He proceeded as far as Muchollis, the seat of Sir Thomas Barnet of Leyes, where he encamped that night. On hearing of his approach, the earl Marshal posted himself very commodiously with twelve hundred men, and some pieces of ordnance which he had drawn from Dunotter castle, on the direct road which Aboyne had to pass, and waited his approach.
Although Aboyne was quite aware of the position of the earl Marshal, instead of endeavouring to outflank him by making a detour to the right, he crossed the Meagre hill next morning, directly in the face of his opponent, who lay with his forces at the bottom of the hill. As Aboyne descended the hill, the earl Marshal opened a heavy fire upon him, which threw his men into complete disorder. The Highlanders, unaccustomed to the fire of cannon, were the first to retreat, and in a short time the whole army gave way. Aboyne, thereupon, returned to Aberdeen with some horsemen, leaving the rest of the army to follow him; but the Highlanders took a homeward course, carrying along with them a large quantity of booty which they gathered on their retreat. The disastrous issue of “the Raid of Stonehaven,” as this affair has been called, has been attributed to treachery on the part of Colonel Gun, to whom, on account of his great experience, Aboyne had intrusted the command of the army; but although he certainly committed a fatal blunder in sending the cannon belonging to the army by sea, by which step Aboyne’s army was deprived of the use of them, there does not appear sufficient evidence for supporting such a charge.
On his arrival at Aberdeen, Aboyne held a council of war, at which it was determined to send some persons into the Mearns to collect the scattered remains of his army, for, with the exception of nine-score horse men and a few foot soldiers, the whole of the fine army which he had led from Aberdeen had disappeared; but although the army again mustered at Leggetsden to the number of four thousand, they were prevented from recrossing the Dee and joining his lordship by the Marshal and Montrose, who advanced towards the bridge of Dee with all their forces. Aboyne, hearing of their approach, resolved to dispute with them the passage of the Dee, and as a precautionary measure, he blocked up the entrance to the bridge of Dee from the south by a thick wall of turf, besides which he placed a hundred musketeers upon the bridge under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John stone, to annoy the assailants from the small turrets on its sides. The viscount was warmly seconded in his views by the citizens or Aberdeen, whose dread of another hostile visit from the covenanters induced them to afford him every assistance in their power, and it is recorded that the women and children even occupied themselves in carrying provisions to the army during the contest.
The army of Montrose consisted of about 2,000 foot, and 300 horse, and a large train of artillery. The forces which Lord Aboyne had suddenly collected on the spur of the occasion, were not numerous, but he was superior in cavalry. His ordnance consisted only of four pieces of brass cannon. Montrose arrived at the bridge of Dee on the eighteenth of June, and without a moment’s delay, commenced a furious cannonade upon the works, which had been thrown up at the south end, and which he kept up during the whole day without producing any material effect. Lieutenant Colonel Johnstone defended the bridge with determined bravery, and his musketeers kept up a galling and well directed fire upon their assailants. Both parties reposed during the short twilight, and as soon as morning dawned, Montrose renewed his attack upon the bridge, with an ardour which seemed to have received a fresh impulse from the unavailing efforts of the preceding day; but all his attempts were vain. Seeing no hopes of carrying the bridge in the teeth of the force opposed to him, he had recourse to a stratagem, by which he succeeded in withdrawing a part of Aboyne’s forces from the defence of the bridge. That force had indeed been considerably impaired before the renewal of the attack, in consequence of a party of fifty musketeers having gone to Aberdeen to escort thither the body of a citizen named John Forbes, who had been killed the preceding day; to which circumstance Spalding attributes the loss of the bridge; but whether the absence of this party had such an effect upon the fortune of the day is by no means clear. The covenanting general, after battering unsuccessfully the defences of the bridge, ordered a party of horsemen to proceed up the river to some distance, and to make a demonstration as if they intended to cross the river. Aboyne was completely deceived by this manœuvre, and sent the whole of his horsemen from the bridge to dispute the passage of the river with those of Montrose, leaving Lieutenant Colonel Johnstone and his fifty musketeers alone to protect the bridge. Montrose having thus drawn his opponent into the snare set for him, immediately sent back the greater part of his horse under the command of Captain Middleton, with instructions to renew the attack upon the bridge with redoubled energy. This officer lost no time in obeying these orders, and Lieutenant Colonel Johnstone having been wounded in the outset by a stone torn from the bridge by a shot, was forced to abandon its defence, and he and his party retired precipitately to Aberdeen.
When Aboyne saw the colours of the covenanters flying on the bridge of Dee, he fled with great haste towards Strathbogie after releasing the lairds of Purie Ogilvy, and Purie Fodderinghame, whom he had taken prisoners, and carried with him from Aberdeen. The loss on either side, during the conflict on the bridge, was trifling. The only person of note who fell on Aboyne’s side, was Seaton of Pitmedden, a brave cavalier, who was killed by a cannon shot while riding along the river side with Lord Aboyne. On that of the covenanters was slain another valiant gentleman, a brother of Ramsay of Balmain. About fourteen persons of inferior note were killed on each side, including some burgesses of Aberdeen, and several were wounded.
Montrose reaching the north bank of the Dee, proceeded immediately to Aberdeen, which he entered without opposition. So exasperated were Montrose’s followers at the repeated instances of devotedness shown by the inhabitants to the royal cause, that they proposed to raze, the town and set it on fire; but they were hindered from carrying their design into execution by the firmness of Montrose. The covenanters, however, treated the inhabitants very harshly, and imprisoned many who were suspected of having been concerned in opposing their passage across the Dee; but an end was put to these proceedings in consequence of intelligence being brought on the following day; viz., on the twentieth of June, of the treaty of pacification which had been entered into between the king and his subjects at Berwick, upon the eighteenth of that month. On receipt of this news, Montrose sent a despatch to the earl of Seaforth, who was stationed with his army on the Spey, intimating the pacification, and desiring him to disband his army, with which order he instantly complied.
The articles of pacification were preceded by a declaration on the part of the king, in which he stated, that although he could not condescend to ratify and approve the acts of the “pretended general assembly at Glasgow for many grave and weighty considerations,” yet, not withstanding of the many disorders which had of late been committed, he not only confirmed and made good whatsoever his commissioner had granted and promised, but he also declared that all matters ecclesiastical should be determined by the assemblies of the kirk, and matters civil by the parliament and other inferior judicatories, established by law. To settle, therefore, “the general distractions” of the kingdom, his majesty ordered that a free general assembly should be held at Edinburgh on the sixth of August next following, at which he declared his intention, “God willing, to be personally present,” and he, moreover, ordered a parliament to meet at Edinburgh on the twentieth of August, for ratifying the proceedings of the general assembly, and settling such other matters as might conduce to the peace and good of the kingdom of Scotland. By the articles of pacification, it was, inter alia, provided that the forces in Scotland should be disbanded and dissolved within forty-eight hours after the publication of the declaration, and that all the royal castles, forts, and warlike stores of every description, should be delivered up to his majesty after the said publication, as soon as he should send to receive them. Under the seventh and last article of the treaty, the marquis of Huntly and his son, Lord Gordon, and some others who had been detained prisoners in the castle of Edinburgh by the covenanters, were set at liberty.
It has been generally supposed that neither of the parties were sincere in their intentions to observe the conditions of the treaty. Certain it is, that the ink with which it was written was scarcely dry before its violation was contemplated. On the one hand, the king, before removing his army from the neighbourhood of Berwick, required the heads of the covenanters to attend him at Berwick, obviously with the object of gaining them over to his side; but, with the exception of three commoners and three lords, Montrose, Loudon, and Lothian, they refused to obey. It was at this conference that Charles, who was exceedingly insinuating and persuasive, made a convert of Montrose, who, from that time, determined to desert his associates in arms, and to place himself under the royal standard. The immediate strengthening of the forts of Berwick and Carlisle, and the provisioning the castle of Edinburgh, were probably the suggestions of Montrose, who would, of course, be intrusted with the secret of his majesty’s designs. The covenanters on the other hand, although making a show of disbanding their army at Dunse, in reality kept a considerable force on foot, which they quartered in different parts of the country, to be in readiness for the field on a short notice. The suspicious conduct of the king certainly justified this precaution.
The general assembly met on the day fixed upon, but instead of attending in person as he proposed, Charles appointed the earl of Traquair to act as his commissioner. After abolishing the articles of Perth, the book of canons, the liturgy, the high commission and episcopacy, and ratifying and approving of the late covenant, the assembly was dissolved on the thirtieth of August, and another general assembly was appointed to be held at Aberdeen on the twenty-eighth day of July of the following year, sixteen hundred and forty. The parliament met next day; viz., on the last day of August, but they were prevented, for a time, from proceeding to business, in consequence of a difficulty which arose, owing to the absence of the bishops, who formed the third estate, and who had been forced to leave Scotland in consequence of the turbulence of the times. The covenanters themselves did not, however, think the presence of the bishops by any means necessary; but they were afraid that the king might afterwards seize upon their absence as a good ground for questioning the legality of the acts of this parliament. To get rid of this dilemma, the clumsy device of electing fourteen persons to supply the places of the bishops, was proposed; but no sooner was this agreed to than another question arose, – Whether the king, by virtue of his royal prerogative, or the two estates, should nominate these pseudo-representatives. A vote being taken, it was decided by a plurality of votes, that the other two estates should elect the fourteen persons to represent the third estate.14 Why they did not steer a middle course, by dividing the nomination with the king, appears strange; but the violence of faction knows no medium. His majesty’s commissioner protested against the vote and against farther proceedings till the king’s mind should be known, and the commissioner immediately sent off a letter apprising him of the occurrence. Without waiting for the king’s answer, the two estates passed an act substituting the lesser barons for the third estate, and they were proceeding with a variety of bills for securing the liberty of the subject and restraining the royal prerogative, when they were unexpectedly and suddenly prorogued by an order from the king till the second day of June in the following year.
If Charles had not already made up his mind for war with his Scottish subjects, the conduct of the parliament which he had just prorogated determined him again to have recourse to arms in vindication of his prerogative. He endeavoured, at first, to enlist the sympathies of the bulk of the English nation in his cause, but without effect; and his repeated appeals to his English people, setting forth the rectitude of his intentions and the justice of his cause, being answered by men who questioned the one and denied the other, rather injured than served him. The people of England were not then in a mood to embark in a crusade against the civil and religious liberties of the north; and they had too much experience of the arbitrary spirit of the king to imagine that their own liberties would be better secured by extinguishing the flame which burned in the breasts of the sturdy and enthusiastic covenanters.
But notwithstanding the many discouraging circumstances which surrounded him, Charles displayed a firmness of resolution to coerce the rebellious Scots by every means within his reach. The spring and part of the summer of sixteen hundred and forty were spent by both parties in military preparations. Field Marshal Leslie, an old and experienced officer who had been in foreign service, was appointed generalissimo of the Scots army by the war committee. When mustered by the general at Choicelee, it amounted to about twenty-two thousand foot and two thousand five hundred horse. A council of war was held at Dunse at which it was determined to invade England. Montrose, to whose command a division of the army, consisting of two thousand foot and five hundred horse, was intrusted, was absent when this meeting was held; but, although his sentiments had, by this time, undergone a complete change, seeing on his return no chance of preventing the resolution of the council, he dissembled his feelings and openly approved of the plan. There seems to be no doubt that in following this course he intended, on the first favourable opportunity, to declare for the king, and carry off such part of the army as should be inclined to follow him, which he reckoned at a third of the whole.15
On the twentieth of August, General Leslie crossed the Tweed with his army, the van of which was led by Montrose on foot. This task, though performed with readiness and with every appearance of good will, was not voluntarily undertaken, but had been devolved upon Montrose by lot; none of the principal officers daring to take the lead of their own accord in such a dangerous enterprise. There can be no doubt that Montrose was insincere in his professions, and that those who suspected him were right in thinking “that in his heart he was turned Royalist,”16 a supposition which his correspondence with the king and his subsequent conduct fully justify.
Although the proper time had not arrived for throwing off the mask, Montrose immediately on his return to Scotland, after the close of this campaign, began to concert measures for counteracting the designs of the covenanters; but his plans were embarrassed by some of his associates disclosing to the covenanters the existence of an association which Montrose had formed at Cumbernauld for supporting the royal authority. A great outcry was raised against Montrose in consequence, but his influence was so great that the heads of the covenanters were afraid to show any severity towards him. On subsequently discovering, however, that the king had written him letters which were intercepted and forcibly taken from the messenger, a servant of the earl of Traquair, they apprehended him, along with Lord Napier of Merchiston, and Sir George Stirling of Keir, his relatives and intimate friends, and imprisoned them in the castle of Edinburgh. On the meeting of the parliament at Edinburgh in July, sixteen hundred and forty-one, which was attended by the king in person, Montrose demanded to be tried before them, but his application was rejected by the covenanters, who obtained an order from the parliament prohibiting him from going into the king’s presence. After the king had returned to England, Montrose and his fellow-prisoners were liberated, and he, thereupon, went to his own castle where he remained for some time, ruminating on the course he should pursue for the relief of the king.17
Although Charles complied with the demands of his Scottish subjects, and heaped many favours and distinctions upon the heads of the leading covenanters, they were by no means satisfied, and they entered fully into the hostile views of their brethren in the south, with whom they made common cause. Having resolved to send an army into England to join the parliamentary forces, who had come to an open rupture with the sovereign, they attempted to gain over Montrose to their side by offering him the post of lieutenant-general of their army, and promising to accede to any demands he might make; but he rejected all their offers; and, as an important crisis was at hand, he hastened to England in the early part of the year sixteen hundred and forty-three, in company with the Lord Ogilvy, to lay the state of affairs before the king, and to offer him his advice and service in such an emergency. Charles, however, either from a want of confidence in the judgment of Montrose, who, to the rashness and impetuosity of youth, added, as he was led to believe, a desire of gratifying his personal feelings and vanity, or overcome by the calculating but fatal policy of the marquis of Hamilton, who deprecated a fresh war between the king and his Scottish subjects; declined to follow the advice of Montrose, who had offered to raise an army immediately in Scotland to support him.
A convention of estates called by the covenanters, without any authority from the king, met at Edinburgh on the twenty-second of June, sixteen hundred and forty-three, and he soon perceived from the character and proceedings of this assembly, the great majority of which was covenanters, the mistake he had committed in rejecting the advice of Montrose, and he now resolved, thenceforth, to be guided in his plans for subduing Scotland to his authority by the opinion of that nobleman. Accordingly, at a meeting held at Oxford, between the king and Montrose, in the month of December sixteen hundred and forty-three, when the Scots army was about entering England, it was agreed that the earl of Antrim, an Irish nobleman of great power and influence, who then lived at Oxford, should be sent to Ireland to raise auxiliaries with whom he should make a descent in the west parts of Scotland in the month of April following; – that the marquis of Newcastle, who commanded the royal forces in the north of England, should furnish Montrose with a party of horse, with which he should enter the south of Scotland, – that an application should be made to the king of Denmark for some troops of German horse; – and that a quantity of arms should be transported into Scotland from abroad.18
Instructions having been given to the earl of Antrim, to raise the Irish levy, and Sir James Cochran having been dispatched to the continent as ambassador for the king, to procure foreign aid, Montrose left Oxford on his way to Scotland, taking York and Durham in his route. Near the latter city, he had an interview with the marquis of Newcastle for the purpose of obtaining a sufficient party of horse to escort him into Scotland, but all he could procure, was about one hundred horse, badly appointed, with two small brass field pieces.19 The marquis sent orders to the king’s officers and to the captains of the militia in Cumberland and Westmoreland, to afford Montrose such assistance as they could, and he was, in consequence, joined on his way to Carlisle by eight hundred foot and three troops of horse, of Cumberland and Northumberland militia. With this small force, and about two hundred horse, consisting of noblemen and gentlemen who had served as officers in Germany, France, or England, Montrose entered Scotland on the thirteenth of April, sixteen hundred and forty-four. He had not, however, proceeded far, when a revolt broke out among the English soldiers, who immediately returned to England. In spite of this discouragement, Montrose proceeded on with his small party of horse towards Dumfries, which surrendered to him without opposition. After waiting there a few days in expectation of hearing some tidings respecting the earl of Antrim’s movements, without receiving any, he retired to Carlisle, to avoid being surprised by the covenanters, large bodies of whom were hovering about in all directions.
To aid the views of Montrose, the king had appointed the marquis of Huntly, on whose fidelity he could rely, his lieutenant general in the north of Scotland, who, on hearing of the capture of Dumfries by Montrose, immediately collected a considerable body of horse and foot, consisting of Highlanders and lowlanders, at Kincardine-O’Neil, with the intention of crossing the Cairn-a-Mount; but being disappointed in not being joined by some forces from Perthshire, Angus, and the Mearns, which he expected, he altered his steps, and proceeded towards Aberdeen, which he took. From thence he dispatched parties of his troops through the shires of Aberdeen and Banff, who brought in quantities of horses and arms for the use of his army. Another party, consisting of one hundred and twenty horse and three hundred foot, commanded by the young laird of Drum and his brother, young Gicht, Colonel Nathaniel Gordon and Colonel Donald Farquharson and others, proceeded, contrary to the opinion of the marquis, to the town of Montrose, which they took, killed one of the bailies, made the provost prisoner, and threw some cannon into the sea as they could not carry them away. But, on hearing that the earl of Kinghorn was advancing upon them with the forces of Angus, they made a speedy retreat, leaving thirty of their foot behind them prisoners. To protect themselves against the army of the marquis of Huntly, the inhabitants of Moray on the north of the Spey, raised a regiment of foot and three companies of horse, which were quartered in the town of Elgin. When the convention heard of the marquis of Huntly’s movements, they appointed the marquis of Argyle to raise an army to quell this insurrection. He, accordingly, assembled at Perth, a force of five thousand foot and eight hundred horse out of Fife, Angus, Mearns, Argyle and the shire of Perth, with which he advanced on Aberdeen. Huntly, hearing of his approach, fled from Aberdeen and retired to the town of Banff, where, on the day of his arrival, he disbanded his army. The marquis himself thereafter retired to Strathnaver, and took up his residence with the master of Reay. Argyle, after taking possession of Aberdeen, proceeded northward and took the castles of Gicht and Kellie, made the lairds of Gicht and Haddo prisoners and sent them to Edinburgh, the latter of whom, along with one Captain Logan, was afterwards beheaded.20
We now return to Montrose, who, after an ineffectual attempt to obtain an accession of force from the army of Prince Rupert, Count Palatine of the Rhine, determined on again entering Scotland with his little band. But being desirous to learn the exact situation of affairs there, before putting this resolution into effects he sent Lord Ogilvy and Sir William Rollock into Scotland, in disguise, for that purpose. They returned in about fourteen days, and brought a spiritless and melancholy account of the state of matters in the north, where they found the whole passes, towns, and forts, in possession of the covenanters, and where no man dared to speak in favour of the king. This intelligence was received with dismay by Montrose’s followers, who now began to think of the best means of securing their own safety. In this unpleasant conjuncture of affairs, Montrose called them together to consult them on the line of conduct they should pursue. Some advised him to return to Oxford and inform his majesty of the hopeless state of his affairs in Scotland, while others gave an opinion that he should resign his commission, and go abroad till a more favourable opportunity should occur of serving the king; but the chivalrous and undaunted spirit of Montrose, disdained to follow either of these courses, and he resolved upon the desperate expedient of venturing into the very heart of Scotland, with only one or two companions, in the hope of being able to rally round his person a force sufficient to support the declining interests of his sovereign.
Having communicated this intention privately to Lord Ogilvy, he put under his charge the few gentlemen who had remained faithful to him, that he might conduct them to the king; and having accompanied them to a distance, he withdrew from them clandestinely, leaving his servants, horses, and baggage behind him, and returned to Carlisle. Having prepared himself for his journey, he selected Sir William Rollock, a gentleman of tried honour, and one Sibbald, to accompany him. Disguised as a groom, and riding upon a lean, worn-out horse, and leading another in his hand, Montrose passed for Sibbald’s servant, in which condition and capacity he proceeded to the borders. The party had not proceeded far when an occurrence took place, which considerably disconcerted them. Meeting with a Scottish soldier, who had served under the marquis of Newcastle in England, he, after passing Rollock and Sibbald, went up to the marquis, and accosted him by his name. Montrose told him that he was quite mistaken; but the soldier being positive, and judging that the marquis was concerned in some important affair, replied, with a countenance which betokened a kind heart, “Do not I know my lord marquis of Montrose well enough? But go your way, and God be with you.”21 When Montrose saw that he could not preserve an incognito from the penetrating eye of the soldier, he gave him some money and dismissed him.
This occurrence excited alarm in the mind of Montrose, and made him accelerate his journey. Within four days he arrived at the house of Tullibelton, among the hills near the Tay, which belonged to Patrick Graham of Inchbrakie, his cousin, and a royalist. No situation was better fitted for concocting his plans, and for communicating with those clans and the gentry of the adjoining lowlands who stood well affected to the king. It formed, in fact, a centre, or point d’appui to the royalists of the Highlands and the adjoining lowlands, from which a pretty regular communication could be kept up, without any of those dangers which would have arisen in the lowlands.
For some days Montrose did not venture to appear among the people in the neighbourhood, nor did he consider himself safe even in Tullibelton house, but passed the night in an obscure cottage, and in the day time wandered alone among the neighbouring mountains, ruminating over the strange peculiarity of his situation, and waiting the return of his fellow-travellers, whom he had dispatched to collect intelligence on the state of the kingdom. These messengers came back to him after some days’ absence, bringing with them the most cheerless accounts of the situation of the country, and of the persecutions which the royalists suffered at the hands of the covenanters. Among other distressing pieces of intelligence they communicated to Montrose the premature and unsuccessful attempt of the marquis of Huntly in favour of the royal cause, and of his retreat to Strathnaver to avoid the fury of his enemies. These accounts greatly affected Montrose, who was grieved to find that the Gordons, who were stern royalists, should be exposed, by the abandonment of their chief, to the revenge of their enemies; but he consoled himself with the reflection, that as soon as he should be enabled to unfurl the royal standard the tide of fortune would turn.
While cogitating on the course he should pursue in this conjuncture, a report reached him from some shepherds on the hills, that a body of Irish troops had landed in the West, and was advancing through the Highlands. Montrose at once concluded that these were the auxiliaries whom the earl of Antrim had undertaken to send him four months before, and such they proved to be. This force, which amounted to fifteen hundred men, was under the command of Alexander Macdonald, son of a gentleman of Iona, named Coll Mac-Gillespie Macdonald, who had been greatly persecuted by the Earl of Argyle. Macdonald had arrived early in July, sixteen hundred and forty-four, among the Hebrides, and had landed and taken the castles of Meigray and Kinloch Alan. He had then disembarked his forces in Knoydart, where he expected to be joined by the marquis of Huntly and the earl of Seaforth. As he advanced into the interior he dispatched the fiery cross for the purpose of summoning the clans to his standard; but, although the cross was carried through a large extent of country, even to Aberdeen,22 he was only joined at first by the Clan-Donald, under the captain of Clan Ronald, and the laird of Glengary, The marquis of Argyle collected an army to oppose the progress of Macdonald; and to cut off his retreat to Ireland, he sent some ships of war to Loch Eishord, where Macdonald’s fleet lay, which captured or destroyed them. This loss, while it frustrated an intention Macdonald entertained of returning to Ireland, in consequence of the disappointment he had met with in not being joined by the clans, stimulated him to farther exertions in continuing his march, in the hope of meeting Montrose.
As Macdonald was perfectly ignorant of Montrose’s movements, and thought it likely that he might be still at Carlisle, waiting till he should hear of Macdonald’s arrival, he sent letters to him by the hands of a confidential friend, who resided in the neighbourhood of Inchbrakie’s house. This gentleman, who knew nothing of Montrose’s return to Scotland, having luckily communicated to Mr Graham the secret of being entrusted with letters to his kinsman, Montrose, Graham offered to see them safely delivered to Montrose, though he should ride to Carlisle himself. The gentleman in question then delivered the letters to Graham, and Montrose having received them, wrote an answer as if from Carlisle, in which he requested Macdonald to keep up his spirits, that he would soon be joined by a seasonable reinforcement and a general at their head, and he ordered him with all expedition to march down into Athole. In fixing on Athole as the place of his rendezvous, Montrose is said to have been actuated by an implicit reliance on the fidelity and loyalty of the Athole-men, and by a high opinion of their courage. They lay, besides, under many obligations to himself, and he calculated that he had only to appear among them to command their services in the cause of their sovereign.
When Macdonald received these instructions, he marched towards Athole; but in passing through Badenoch he was threatened with an attack by the earls of Sutherland and Seaforth, at the head of some of their people, and by the Frazers, Grants, Rosses, and Munroes, and other inhabitants of Moray, who had assembled at the top of Strathspey; but Macdonald very cautiously avoided them, and hastened into Athole. On arriving in Athole Macdonald was coldly received by the people of that as well as the surrounding country, who doubted whether he had any authority from the king; and besides they hesitated to place themselves under the command of a person of neither noble nor ancient lineage, and whom they considered an upstart. This indecision might have proved fatal to Macdonald, who was closely pressed in his rear by the army of Argyle, had not these untoward deliberations been instantly put an end to by the arrival of Montrose at Blair, where Macdonald had fixed his head-quarters. Montrose had travelled seventy miles on foot, in a highland dress, accompanied by Patrick Graham, his cousin, as his guide.23 His appearance was hailed by his countrymen with every demonstration of joy, and they immediately made him a spontaneous offer of their services.
Accordingly, on the following day, the Athole-men to the number of about eight hundred, consisting chiefly of the Stewarts and Robertsons, put themselves under arms and flocked to the standard of Montrose. Thus, in little more than twenty-four hours, Montrose saw himself at the head of a force upwards of two thousand men, animated by an enthusiastic attachment to his person and to the cause which he had espoused. The extraordinary contrast between his present commanding position, and the situation in which he was placed a few days before, as a forlorn wanderer among the mountains, produced a powerful effect upon the daring and chivalrous spirit of Montrose, who looked forward to the success of his enterprize, with the eagerness of a man who considered the destinies of his sovereign as altogether depending upon his individual exertions. Impressed with the necessity of acting with [promptitude], he did not hesitate long as to the course he should pursue. He might have immediately gone in quest of Argyle, who had followed the army of Macdonald, with slow and cautious steps, and by one of those sudden movements which no man knew better how to execute with advantage, surprised and defeated his adversary; but such a plan did not accord with the designs of Montrose, who resolved to open the campaign at once in the lowlands, and thus give confidence to the friends and supporters of the king.
In pursuance of this determination, he put his small army in motion the same day towards Stratherne, in passing through which, he expected to be joined by some of the inhabitants of that and the adjoining country. At the same time he sent forward a messenger with a friendly notice to the Menzieses, of his intention to pass through their country, but instead of taking this in good part, they maltreated the messenger and harassed the rear of his army. This unprovoked attack so exasperated Montrose, that he ordered his men, when passing by Weem castle, which belonged to the Clan-Menzies, to plunder and lay waste their lands and to burn their houses, an order which was literally obeyed. He expected that this example of summary vengeance would serve as an useful lesson to deter others who might be disposed to imitate the conduct of the Menzieses from following a similar course. Notwithstanding the time spent in making these reprisals, Montrose passed the Tay with a part of his forces the same evening, and the remainder followed very early next morning. He had at the especial request of the Athole-men themselves, placed them under the command of his kinsman, Patrick Graham of Inchbrakie, and he now sent him forward with a select party to reconnoitre. Inchbrakie soon returned with information that he had observed a party of armed men stationed upon the hill of Buchanty. On inquiry, Montrose ascertained that this body was commanded by Lord Kilpont, eldest son of the Earl of Menteith, and by Sir John Drummond, son of the Earl of Perth, both of whom were his relations. The force in question, which consisted of about five hundred men, was on its way to Perth to join the other covenanting troops who were stationed there. Montrose immediately marched up to this body, with the intention, if he could not prevail on them to join him, of attacking them, but before he had approached sufficiently near, Lord Kilpont, who had ascertained that Montrose commanded, sent some of his principal officers to him to ascertain what his object was in thus advancing. Montrose having explained his views and stated that he acted by the king’s authority, and having entreated them to return to their allegiance, they and the whole of their party immediately joined him. This new accession augmented Montrose’s army to about three thousand men.
Montrose now learned from his new allies, that the covenanters had assembled their forces in great numbers at Perth, and that they lay there waiting for his approach. The covenanting army, in fact, was more than double that of Montrose, amounting to about six thousand foot and seven hundred horse, to which were attached four pieces of artillery. Montrose, on the other hand, had not a single horseman, and but three horses, two of which were for his own use, and the other for that of Sir William Rollock, and besides he had no artillery. Yet with such a decided disparity, Montrose resolved to march directly to Perth and attack the enemy. He appears to have been influenced in this resolution by the consideration of the near proximity of Argyle with his army, and the danger in which he would be placed by being hemmed in by two hostile armies, and he could only expect to avoid such an embarrassment by risking an immediate engagement.
As the day was too far advanced to proceed to Perth, Montrose ordered his men to bivouack during the night about three miles from Buchanty, and began his march by dawn of day. As soon as Lord Elcho, the commander of the covenanting army, heard of Montrose’s approach, he left Perth and drew up his army on Tippermuir, a pretty extensive plain between four and five miles west from the town. Reserving to himself the command of the right wing, he committed the charge of the left to Sir James Scot, an able and skilful officer, who had served with great honour in the Venetian army; and to the earl of Tulbardine, he entrusted the command of the centre. The horse were divided and placed on each wing with the view of surrounding the army of Montrose, should he venture to attack them in their position. As soon as Montrose perceived the enemy thus drawn up in battle array, he made the necessary dispositions for attacking them. To counteract as much as possible the danger arising to such a small body of men, unprotected by cavalry, from the extended line of the covenanters, Montrose endeavoured to make his line as extensive as possible with safety, by limiting his files to three men deep. As the Irish had neither swords nor pikes to oppose the cavalry, they were stationed in the centre of the line, and the Highlanders, who were provided with swords and Lochaber axes, were placed on the wings, as better fitted to resist the attacks of the cavalry. Some of the Highlanders were, however, quite destitute of arms of every description, and it is related on the authority of an eye witness, that Montrose seeing their helpless condition, thus quaintly addressed them: – “It is true you have no arms; your enemies, however, have plenty. My advice, therefore, is, that as there happens to be a great abundance of stones upon this moor, every man should provide himself, in the first place, with as stout a stone as he can well manage, rush up to the first covenanter he meets, beat out his brains, take his sword, and then, I believe, he will be at no loss how to proceed.”24 This advice, as will be seen, was really acted upon. As Montrose was almost destitute of powder, he ordered the Irish forces to husband their fire till they should come close to the enemy, and after a simultaneous discharge from the three ranks, (the front rank kneeling,) to assail the enemy thereafter as they best could. To oppose the left wing of the covenanters, commanded by Sir James Scot, Montrose took upon himself the command of his own right, placing Lord Kilpont at the head of the left, and Macdonald, his major-general, over the centre.
During the progress of these arrangements, Montrose, anxious to spare the effusion of blood, dispatched an accomplished young nobleman, named Drummond, eldest son of Lord Madarty, “with a message to the chiefs of the covenanters’ army, importing that he, as well as his royal master, by whose commission he acted, had the utmost abhorrence to shed the blood of his countrymen, and that it was their first and most earnest wish to obtain a victory without bloodshed; and this might be compassed by both armies at the same time, if, without trying the doubtful chance of a battle, they would lay down their arms and return to their duty and obedience to the sovereign. He assured them that, for his own part, he aimed at neither the places nor honours, estates nor lives, of any of his fellow subjects, for whom, on the contrary, he entertained the greatest affection; all that he desired of them, and he obtested it most earnestly in the name of God, was to consult their own safety, and hearken to his advice; nor any longer obstinately refuse to trust to the clemency, faith and protection, of so good a king, who, as he had hitherto fully complied with the demands of his Scots subjects as to matters both civil and religious, though to the very great detriment of his prerogative, so he was still ready like a most indulgent parent, though provoked by repeated injuries, to embrace them with open arms, when convinced of their error, and become submissive. But if they should still continue obstinate in their rebellion, he called God to witness, that he was forced by their own stubbornness into the present encounter, for the consequences of which they alone were to be answerable.”25 Instead, however, of returning any answer to this message, they seized the messenger, and sent him to Perth under an escort, with an intimation, that, on obtaining a victory over his master, they would execute him. Indeed, the probability of a defeat seems never, for a moment, to have entered into the imaginations of the covenanters, and they had been assured by Frederick Carmichael, a minister who had preached to them the same day, being Sunday the first of September, “that if ever God spoke truth out of his mouth, he promised them, in the name of God, a certain victory that day.”26
All hopes, therefore, of an accommodation being put an end to, both armies, after advancing towards each other, remained motionless for a short time as if unwilling to begin the attack; but this state of matters was speedily put an end to by the advance of a select skirmishing party under the command of Lord Drummond, sent out from the main body of the covenanting army, for the double purpose of distracting the attention of Montrose, and inducing his troops to leave their ranks, and thus create confusion among them; but Montrose kept his men in check, and contented himself with sending out a few of his men to oppose them. Lord Drummond and his party were routed at the first onset, and filed back upon the main body in great disorder. This trivial affair decided the fate of the day for the covenanters, many of whom were undisciplined, seeing the unexpected defeat of Lord Drummond’s party, became quite dispirited, and began to show symptoms which indicated a disposition for immediate flight. The confusion into which the main body had been thrown by the retreat of the advanced party, and the indecision which seemed now to prevail in the covenanters’ army in consequence of that reverse, were observed by the watchful eye of Montrose, who saw that the favourable moment for striking a decisive blow had arrived. He, therefore, gave orders to his men to advance, who, immediately setting up a loud shout, rushed forward at a quick pace towards the enemy. They were met by a random discharge from some cannon which the covenanters had placed in front of their army, but which did little or no execution. When sufficiently near, Montrose’s musketeers halted, and, as ordered, poured a volley into the main rank of the covenanters, which immediately gave way. The cavalry of the covenanters, thereupon, issued from their stations and attacked the royalists, who, in their turn, defended themselves with singular intrepidity. While the armed Highlanders made ample use of their Lochaber axes and swords, the Irish steadily opposed the attacks of the horse with the butt ends of their muskets; but the most effective annoyance which the cavalry met with, appears to have proceeded from the unarmed Highlanders, who having supplied themselves with a quantity of stones, as suggested by Montrose, discharged them with well directed aim at the horses and their riders. The result was, that after a short struggle, the cavalry were obliged to make a precipitate retreat. While this contest was going on, another part of Montrose’s army was engaged with the right wing of the covenanting army, under Sir James Scott, but although this body made a longer and more determined resistance, and galled the party opposed to them by an incessant fire of musketry, they were at last overpowered by the Athole-men, who rushed upon them with their broad swords, and cut down and wounded a considerable number. The route of the covenanters now became general. The horse men saved themselves by the fleetness of their horses; but during the pursuit, which was kept up to a distance of six or seven miles, many hundreds of foot were killed, and a considerable number made prisoners,27 some of whom afterwards served in Montrose’s army. The loss on the side of Montrose appears to have been very trifling, but we cannot suppose, with some writers, that none of his men were killed. By this victory, and the subsequent capture of Perth, which he entered the same day, Montrose was enabled to equip his army with all those warlike necessaries of which it had been so remarkably destitute in the morning, and of which the covenanters left him an abundant supply.
1 Dr Lingard, vi. p. 354, 4to ed. – Baillie, 69, 70. – Balfour, ii. 264-288. – Rushworth, ii. 752, 754, 787. – Burnet’s Hamiltons, 82, 88. – Natson, I. 32, 37.
2 Rushworth, 772-780.
3 Rushworth, ii. 872, 875-881. – Balfour, 303-315. – Hardwicke Papers, ii. 124. – Baillie, 135-139.
4 Spalding, vol. i. p. 94.
5 Troubles, vol, i. p. 107, 108.
6 Guthrie’s Memoirs, p. 46. Lond. 1702. Spalding, vol. i. p. 113.
7 Spalding, vol. i. p. 121.
8 Ibid. p. 127.
9 Turray is the old name of Turriff.
10 Gordon of Sallagh.
11 Spalding, vol. i. p. 136.
12 Continuation, p. 402.
13 Troubles, vol. i. p. 151.
14 Spalding, p. 149.
15 Wishart’s Memoirs, Edin. 1819, p. 24.
16 Guthrie’s Memoirs, p. 70.
17 Wishart’s Memoirs, p. 30.
19 The duchess of Newcastle says, in the memoirs of her husband, that the number was 200.
20 Gordon of Sallagh, p. 519.
21 Wishart, p. 64.
23 Wishart, p. 69.
24 Gentleman’s Mag. xvi. p. 153
25 Wishart, p. 79.
26 Ibid. p. 77.
27 There is a great discrepancy between contemporary writers as to the number killed. Wishart states it at 2000; Spalding at 1300, and 800 prisoners; though he says that some reckoned the number at 1500 killed. Gordon of Sallagh mentions only 300.