[History of the Highlands Contents]
The successive victories of Montrose, in Scotland, were more than counterbalanced by those of the parliamentary forces in England. Under different circumstances, the success at Alford might have been attended with consequences the most important to the royal cause; but the defeat of the king, on the fourteenth of June, at Naseby, had raised the hopes of the covenanters, and prepared their minds to receive the tidings of Baillie’s defeat with coolness and moderation.
Upon the day on which the battle of Alford was fought, the parliament had adjourned to Stirling from Edinburgh, on account of a destructive pestilence which had reached the capital from Newcastle, by way of Kelso. Thither General Baillie, Lord Balcarras, and the committee of estates, which had accompanied the covenanting army, repaired, to lay a statement of the late disaster before the parliament, and to receive instructions as to their future conduct. They arrived just as the parliament was about sitting, and, with the exception of Baillie, were well received. Balcarras, who had particularly distinguished himself in the battle at the head of his horse, received a vote of thanks, and a similar acknowledgment was, after some hesitation, awarded to Baillie, notwithstanding some attempts made to prejudice the parliament against him. But the fact was, they could not dispense in the present emergency with an officer of the military talents of Baillie, who, instead of shrinking from responsibility for the loss of the battle of Alford, offered to stand trial before a court martial, and to justify his conduct on that occasion. To have withheld therefore, the usual token of approbation from him, while bestowing it upon an inferior officer, would have been to affix a stigma upon him which he was not disposed to brook consistently with the retention of the command of the army; and as the parliament resolved to renew his commission, by appointing him to the command of the army then concentrating at Perth, they afterwards professed their unqualified satisfaction with him.
After the battle of Alford, the army of Montrose was considerably diminished, in consequence of the Highlanders, according to custom, taking leave of absence, and returning home with the spoil they had taken from the enemy. This singular, though ordinary practice, contributed more to paralyze the exertions of Montrose, and to prevent him from following up his successes, than any event which occurred in the whole course of his campaigns, and it may appear strange that Montrose did not attempt to put an end to it; but the tenure by which he held the services of these hardy mountaineers being that they should be allowed their wonted privileges, any attempt to deviate from their established customs would have been an immediate signal for desertion.
As it would have been imprudent in Montrose, with forces thus impaired, to have followed the fugitives, who would receive fresh succours from the south, he, after allowing his men some time to refresh themselves, marched to Aberdeen, where he celebrated the funeral obsequies of his valued friend, Lord Gordon, with becoming dignity.
The district of Buchan, in Aberdeenshire, which, from its outlying situation, had hitherto escaped assessment for the supply of the hostile armies, was at this time subjected to the surveillance of Montrose, who dispatched a party from Aberdeen into that country to collect all the horses they could find for the use of his army, and also to obtain recruits. About the same time, the marquis of Huntly, who had been living in Strathnaver for some time, having heard of the death of his eldest son, Lord Gordon, meditated a return to his own country, intending to throw the influence of his name and authority into the royal scale. But as he might be exposed to danger in passing through countries which were hostile to the royal cause, it was arranged between Montrose and the Viscount Aboyne, who had just been created an earl, that the latter should proceed to Strathnaver, with a force of two thousand men to escort his father south. This expedition was, however, abandoned, in consequence of intelligence having been brought to Montrose that the covenanters were assembling in great strength at Perth.
The Parliament which, as we have seen, had left Edinburgh, and gone to Stirling on account of the pestilence, had been obliged, in consequence of its appearance in Stirling, to adjourn to Perth, where it was to meet on the twenty-fourth of July; but before leaving Stirling, they ordered a levy of 10,000 foot to be raised in the shires to the south of the Tay, each of which shires was to furnish a proportionate number of men; and to insure due obedience to this mandate, all noblemen, gentlemen, and heritors, were required to attend at Perth on or before that day well mounted, and to bring with them such forces as they could raise, under a heavy penalty.1
On leaving Aberdeen, Montrose took up his quarters at Crabston, situated a few miles from Aberdeen, between the rivers Don and Dee, where he remained for some time in the expectation of being joined by reinforcements from the Highlands under Major-Macdonald, who had been absent about two months from the army in quest of recruits; but as these expected succours did not arrive within the time expected, Montrose, impatient of delay, crossed the Dee, and marching over the Grampians, descended into the Mearns, and pitched his camp at Fordoun in Kincardineshire, celebrated for being the burial place of St Palladius, and the birth place of Joannes a Fordun, author of the Scoti-Chronicon. From thence he dispatched a message to the earl of Aboyne, who was at the time in Aberdeen, to join him with such forces as he had been able to raise. This order the earl immediately obeyed, but on his arrival at the camp with a very small party, Montrose immediately sent him back to the north with instructions to levy additional troops.
Proceeding on his march through Angus and Blair Gowrie to Dunkeld, Montrose had the good fortune to be successively joined by his cousin, Patrick Graham of Inchbrakie, at the head of the brave Athole Highlanders, and by Macdonald his major-general, who brought with him the chief of the Macleans, and about seven hundred of that clan, all animated by a strong feeling of animosity against Argyle and his partizans. He was also joined by John Muidartach, the celebrated captain of the Clanranald, at the head of five hundred of his men; by the Macgregors and Macnabs, headed by their respective chieftains; by the Clandonald, under the command of the uncles of Glengarry and other officers, Glengarry himself, “who,” says Bishop Wishart, “deserves a singular commendation for his bravery and steady loyalty to the king, and his peculiar attachment to Montrose,”2 having never left Montrose since he joined him at the time of bis expedition into Argyle. Besides all these, the Stewarts of Appin, some of the Farquharsons of Braemar, and small parties of inferior clans from Badenoch, rallied round the standard of Montrose.
Having obtained these timeous reinforcements, Montrose now formed the design of marching upon Perth, and breaking up the parliament which had there assembled, and thereafter of proceeding to the south, and dissipating the levies which were raising beyond the Tay. But the want of cavalry, an arm in which he was constantly deficient, formed a bar to this plan, and Montrose was, therefore, obliged to defer his project till he should be joined by the earls of Aboyne and Airly, whom he expected soon with a considerable body of horse. In the meantime, Montrose crossed the Tay at Dunkeld, and encamped at Amulree. The covenanting army, with the exception of the garrison of Perth, was then lying on the south side of the Erne, and a body of four hundred horse was posted near the town, for the protection of the estates or parliament.
This movement, on the part of Montrose, created some alarm in the minds of the covenanters, which was greatly increased by a report from their horse, stationed in the neighbourhood of the town, who, seeing some of his scouts approach it, had fancied that he was going to storm it. While this panic was at its height, Montrose, who had no intention of attacking the town, raised his camp, and took up a position in the wood of Methven, about five miles from Perth. During this movement, the town was thrown into a state of the greatest consternation, from an apprehension that Montrose was about to attack it, and the nobility and the other members of the parliament were earnestly solicited to secure their safety by a speedy flight, but the estates remained firm, and could not be persuaded to abandon their posts. In order, if possible, still farther to increase the panic in the town, Montrose advanced almost to the very gates of Perth with his horse the following day, which, although not exceeding a hundred, were made to appear formidable by the addition of the baggage-horses, on which some musketeers were mounted. This act of bold defiance magnified the fears of those who were in the town, and made them imagine that Montrose was well provided in cavalry. The covenanting troops, therefore, were afraid to venture beyond the gates; and Montrose having thus easily accomplished his object, was encouraged, still farther, to cross the Erne at Dupplin, when he openly reconnoitred the enemy’s army on the south of that river, and surveyed the Strath with great deliberation and coolness without interruption.
Both armies remained in their positions for several days without attempting any thing, each waiting for reinforcements. During all this time, the enemy had been deceived respecting the strength of Montrose’s horse, but having learned his weakness in that respect, and the deception which he had practised so successfully upon them, and being joined by three regiments from Fife, they resolved to offer him battle. Montrose, however, from his great inferiority of numbers, particularly in horse, was not in a condition to accept the challenge, and wisely declined it. Accordingly, when he saw the enemy advancing towards him, he prepared to retreat among the neighbouring mountains; but to deceive the enemy, and to enable him to carry off his baggage, he drew out his army as if he intended to fight, placing his horse in front, and securing the passes into the mountains with guards. While making these dispositions, he sent off his baggage towards the hills under an escort; and when he thought the baggage out of danger, he gave orders to his army to march off in close rank; and to cover its retreat and protect it from the cavalry of the enemy, he placed his horse, lined as usual with his best musketeers, in the rear.
As soon as Baillie, the covenanting general, perceived that Montrose was in full retreat, he dispatched General Hurry with the cavalry in pursuit of him; but from a most unaccountable delay on Hurry’s part in crossing the Powe – so slow, indeed, had his movements been, that Baillie’s foot overtook him at the fords of the Almond – that Montrose had almost reached the passes of the mountains before he was over taken.3 Chagrined at his easy escape, and determined to perform some striking exploit before Montrose should retire into his fastnesses, a body of three hundred of the best mounted covenanting cavalry set off at full gallop after him, and attacked him with great fury, using at the same time the most insulting and abusive language. To put an end to this annoyance, Montrose selected twenty expert Highlanders, who from habit were good marksmen, and requested them to bring down some of the assailants. Accordingly, these marksmen advanced in a crouching attitude, concealing their guns, and having approached within musket shot, they took deliberate aim, and soon brought down the more advanced of the party. This unexpected disaster made the assailants more cautious in their advances, and caused them to resolve upon an immediate retreat; but the marksmen were so elated with their success, that they actually pursued them down into the plain, “and resolutely attacked the whole party, who putting spurs to their horses, fled with the utmost precipitation, like so many deer before the hunters.”4 In this retreat Montrose did not lose a single man.
After giving over this fruitless pursuit, the enemy returned to Montrose’s camp at Methven, where, according to Wishart, they committed a most barbarous act in revenge of their late affront, by butchering some of the wives of the Highlanders and Irish who had been left behind. Montrose took up his quarters at Little Dunkeld, both because he was there perfectly secure from the attacks of the enemy’s cavalry, and because it was a convenient station to wait for the reinforcements of horse which he daily expected from the north under the earls of Airly and Aboyne. Although both armies lay close together for several days, nothing was attempted on either side. The covenanting general now became quite disgusted with the service in consequence of the jealousies and suspicions which it was too evident the committee entertained of him, and an event occurred which increased his displeasure. This was the sudden return of the Fife men to their country, who preferred their domestic comforts to the vicissitudes of war, but who unfortunately were, as we shall soon see, to be sacrificed at its shrine.
At length, the earl of Aboyne, accompanied by Sir Nathaniel Gordon, arrived at Little Dunkeld, but with a force much inferior in numbers to that expected. They only brought two hundred horse and a hundred and twenty musketeers, which last were mounted upon carriage horses. The smallness of their number was compensated, however, in a great measure by their steadiness and bravery. The earl of Airly, and his son, Sir David Ogilvy, joined Montrose at the same time, along with a troop of eighty horse, consisting chiefly of gentlemen of the name of Ogilvy, among whom was Alexander Ogilvy, son of Sir John Ogilvy of Innerquharity, a young man who had already distinguished himself in the field.
Never at any former period of his eventful career, did the probabilities of ultimate success on the side of Montrose appear to greater advantage than now. His army, ardent and devoted to the royal cause, now amounted to nearly five thousand foot and about five hundred horse; the greater part of which consisted of brave and experienced warriors whom he had often led to victory. A considerable portion of his army was composed of some of the most valiant of the Highland clans led by their respective chiefs, among whom, the renowned captain of Clanranald, in himself a host, stood conspicuous. These last were animated by a feeling of the most unbounded attachment to what they considered the cause of their chiefs, and by a deadly spirit of revenge for the cruelties which the covenanters under Argyle had exercised in the highlands. The Macleans and the Athole highlanders in particular, longed for an opportunity of retaliating upon the covenanting partizans of Argyle, the injuries which they had repeatedly received at his hands, and thereby wiping out the stain, which, as they conceived, had been cast upon them. But fortunate as Montrose now was in having such an army at his disposal, the chances in his favour were greatly enhanced by this lucky circumstance, that whereas, in his former campaigns, he had to watch the movements of different armies and to fight them in detail, he was now enabled, from having annihilated or dispersed the whole armies formerly opposed to him, to concentrate his strength and to direct all his energies to one point. The only bar which now presented itself to the entire subjugation of Scotland to the authority of the king, was the army of Baillie, and the defeat or destruction of this body now became the immediate object of Montrose. His resolution to attack the enemy was hastened by the receipt of information, that the Fife regiments had left Ballie’s camp and returned home, and that the general himself was so dissatisfied with the conduct of the covenanting committee, who thwarted all his plans and usurped his authority, that he was about to resign the command of the army.
Montrose, therefore, without loss of time, raised his camp and descending into the lowlands, arrived at Logie Almond, where he halted his foot. From thence he went out with his cavalry to reconnoitre the enemy, and came in full view of them before sunset. They made no attempt to molest him, and testified their dread of this unexpected visit by retiring within their lines. Early next morning, Montrose again rode out to make his observations, but was surprised to learn that the enemy had abandoned their camp at Methven during the night and had retired across the Erne, and taken up a position at Kilgraston near the bridge of Erne. Montrose immediately put his army in motion towards the Erne, which he crossed by the bridge of Nether Gask, about eight miles above Kilgraston. He then proceeded forward as far as the Kirk of Drone, by which movement he for the first time succeeded in throwing open to the operations of his army the whole of the country south of the Tay, from which the enemy had hitherto carefully excluded him. The enemy, alarmed at Montrose’s approach, made every preparation for defending themselves by strengthening the position in which they had entrenched themselves, and which, from the narrowness of the passes and the nature of the ground, was well adapted for sustaining an attack.
Montrose was most anxious to bring the enemy to an engagement before they should be joined by a large levy then raising in Fife; but as they were too advantageously posted to be attacked with much certainty of success, and as he could not by any means induce them to leave their ground, he, after spending two or three days in fruitless attempts to entice them from their position, marched to Kinross for the double purpose of putting an end to the Fife levies and of withdrawing the enemy from their position, so as to afford him an opportunity of attacking them under more favourable circumstances. This movement had the effect of drawing Baillie from his strong-hold, who cautiously followed Montrose at a respectful distance. In the course of his march, Baillie was again joined by the three Fife regiments. On arriving at Kinross in the evening, Montrose learned from an advanced party he had sent out to collect information through the country, under the command of Colonel Nathaniel Gordon, and Sir William Rollock, that the people of Fife were in arms, a piece of intelligence which made him resolve immediately to retrace his steps, judging it imprudent to risk a battle in such a hostile district. Although the men of Fife were stern covenanters, and were ready to fight for the covenant on their own soil, yet living for the most part in towns, and following out the sober pursuits of a quiet and domestic life, they had no relish for war, and disliked the service of the camp. Hence the speedy return of the Fife regiments from the camp at Methven, to their own country, and hence another reason which induced Montrose to leave their unfriendly soil, viz. that they would probably again abandon Baillie, should he attempt to follow Montrose in his progress west.
Accordingly, after remaining a night at Kinross, Montrose, the following morning, marched towards Alloa, in the neighbourhood of which he arrived in the evening, and passed the night in the wood of Tullybody. The Irish plundered the town of Alloa, and the adjoining lordship, which belonged to the earl of Mar; but notwithstanding of this unprovoked outrage, the earl and Lord Erskine gave Montrose, the earl of Airly, and the principal officers of the army, an elegant entertainment in the castle of Alloa. Montrose, however, did not delay the march of his army while partaking of the hospitality of the earl of Mar, but dispatched Macdonald immediately west to Stirling with the foot, retaining only the horse to serve him as a body guard. In this route the Macleans laid waste the parishes of Muckhart and Dollar, of which the marquis of Argyle was the superior, and burnt Castle Campbell, the principal residence of the Argyle family in the lowlands, in requital of similar acts done by the marquis and his followers in the country of the Macleans.5
As the pestilence was still raging in the town of Stirling, Montrose avoided it altogether, lest his army might catch the infection. He halted within three miles of the town, where his army passed the night, and being apprised next morning, by one of Baillie’s scouts who had been taken prisoner, that Baillie was close at hand with the whole of his army, Montrose marched quickly up to the fords of Frew, about eight miles above Stirling bridge, and there crossed the Forth. Pursuing his march the following morning in the direction of Glasgow, he made a short halt about six miles from Stirling, to ascertain the enemy’s movements, and being informed that Baillie had not yet crossed the Forth, he marched to Kilsyth, where he encamped. During the day, Baillie passed the Forth by Stirling bridge, and marching forwards, came with in view of Montrose’s army, and encamped that evening within three miles of Kilsyth.6
The covenanting army had, in its progress westward, followed exactly the track of Montrose through the vale of the Devon. The marquis of Argyle availing himself of this circumstance, caused the house of Menstrie, the seat of the earl of Stirling, the king’s secretary, and that of Airthrie, belonging to Sir John Graham of Braco, to be burnt. This was done by way of retaliation for the destruction of Castle Campbell and the properties of his vassals, by the Macleans. He, moreover, sent an insolent message to the earl of Mar, notifying to him, that, on the return of the army from the pursuit of Montrose, he, the earl, might calculate on having his castle also burnt, for the hospitality he had shown Montrose.7
The conjecture of Montrose, that the Fife regiments would not cross the Forth, was not altogether without foundation. In fact, when they arrived near Stirling, they positively refused to advance further, and excused themselves, by alleging that they were raised on the express condition that they should not be called upon to serve out of their own shire, and that, having already advanced beyond its limits, they would on no account cross the Forth. But their obstinacy was overcome by the all powerful influence of the ministers, who, in addition to the usual scriptural appeals, “told them jolly tales that Lanark, Glencairn, and Eglinton, were lifting an army to join them, and therefore entreated that they would, for only one day more, go out,” until that army approached, when they should be discharged.8
While the Fife regiments were thus persuaded to expose themselves to the unforeseen destruction which unfortunately awaited them, an incident occurred on the opposite bank of the Forth, which betokened ill for the future prospects of the covenanting army. This will be best explained by stating the matter in General Baillie’s own words. “A little above the park (the king’s park at Stirling), I halted until the Fife regiments were brought up, hearing that the rebels were marching towards Kilsyth. After the upcoming of these regiments, the marquis of Argyle, earl of Crawford, and Lord Burleigh, and, if I mistake not, the earl of Tulliebardin, the Lords Elcho and Balcarras, with some others, came up. My lord marquis asked me what next was to be done. I answered, the direction should come from his lordship and those of the committee. My lord demanded what reason was for this? I answered, I found myself so slighted in every thing belonging to a commander-in-chief, that, for the short time I was to stay with them, I would absolutely submit to their direction and follow it. The marquis desired me to explain myself, which I did in these particulars, sufficiently known to my lord marquis and the other lords and gentlemen then present. I told his lordship, (1.) Prisoners of all sorts were exchanged without my knowledge; the traffickers therein received passes from others, and sometimes passing within two miles of me, did neither acquaint me with their business, nor, at their return, where, or in what posture, they had left the enemy: (2.) While I was present, others did sometimes undertake the command of the army: (3.) Without either my order or knowledge, fire was raised, and that destroyed, which might have been a recompense to some good deserver, for which I would not be answerable to the public. All which things considered, I should in any thing freely give my own opinion, but follow the judgment of the committee, and the rather because that was the last day of my undertaking.”9 It is here necessary to state, by way of explanation, that Baillie had, in consequence of the previous conduct of the committee, resigned his commission, and had only been induced at the earnest solicitation of the parliament, to continue his services for a definite period, which, it appears, was just on the point of expiring.
The differences between Baillie and the committee being patched up, the covenanting army proceeded on the fourteenth of August in the direction of Denny, and having crossed the Carron at Hollandbush, en camped, as we have stated, about three miles from Kilsyth.
Before the arrival of Baillie, Montrose had received information, which made him resolve to hazard a battle immediately. The intelligence he had obtained was to this effect, that the earls of Cassillis, Eglinton, and Glencairn, and other heads of the covenanters, were actively engaged in levying forces in the west of Scotland, and that the earl of Lanark had already raised a body of a thousand foot and five hundred horse in Clydesdale, among the vassals and dependents of the Hamilton family, and that this force was within twelve miles of Kilsyth.
Having taken his resolution, Montrose made the necessary arrangements for receiving the enemy, by placing his men in the best position which the nature of the ground afforded. In front of his position were several cottages and gardens of which he took possession. Baillie, seeing the advantageous position chosen by Montrose, would have willingly delayed battle till either the expected reinforcements from the west should arrive, or till Montrose should be induced to become the assailant; but his plans were over-ruled by Argyle and the other members of the committee, who insisted that he should immediately attack Montrose. Accordingly, early in the morning, he put his army in motion from Hollandbush, and advanced near Auchinclogh, about two miles to the east of Kilsyth, where he halted. As the ground between him and Montrose was full of quagmires, which effectually prevented Montrose from attacking him in front, he proposed to take up a defensive position without advancing farther, and await an attack. But here, again, the committee interposed, and when he was in the very act of arranging the stations of his army, they advised him to take a position on a hill on his right, which they considered more suitable. It was in vain that Baillie remonstrated against what he, and as the event showed, justly considered an imprudent advice – the committee were inexorable in their resolution, and Baillie had no alternative but to obey. In justice, however, to Lord Balcarras, it must be mentioned that he disapproved of the views of the committee.
When Montrose saw the covenanting army approach from Hollandbush, he was exceedingly delighted, as, from the excellent state of his army, the courageous bearing of his men, and the advantage of his position, he calculated upon obtaining a decisive victory, which might enable him to advance into England and retrieve the affairs of his sovereign in that kingdom. But while Montrose was thus joyfully anticipating a victory, which, he flattered himself, would be crowned with results the most favourable to the royal cause, an incident occurred which might have proved fatal to his hopes, had he not, with that wonderful self-possession and consummate prudence for which he was so distinguished, turned that very incident to his own advantage. Among the covenanting cavalry was a regiment of cuirassiers, the appearance of whose armour, glittering in the sun, struck such terror into Montrose’s horse, that they hesitated about engaging with such formidable antagonists, and, while riding along the line, to encourage his men and give the necessary directions, Montrose heard his horse muttering among themselves and complaining that they were now for the first time to fight with men clad in iron, whose bodies would be quite impenetrable to their swords. The crisis was important, and not a moment was to be lost in removing the dangerous impression from their minds. To have led such a body of men into battle, labouring under the influence of fear, would have been to rush upon open destruction; and to have avoided battle, under such circumstances, supposing that a battle could have been avoided, would have been tant amount to a defeat. There have been but few commanders who would not have been disconcerted or embarrassed by an event so sudden and unexpected, and fewer still who could have, almost in an instant of time, by the mere dint of genius alone, revived the drooping spirits of their men; but Montrose is one of those very rare instances in which, by a singular combination of genius and presence of mind, under instant difficulties, those very difficulties themselves are made subservient to their own removal. When the terror of a foe has once taken hold of the mind, it can only be sufficiently eradicated by supplanting it with a feeling of contempt for the object of its dread, and no man was better fitted by nature than Montrose for inspiring such a feeling into the minds of his troops. Accordingly, scarcely had the murmurings of his horse broken upon his ears, when he rode up to the head of his cavalry, and (pointing to the cuirassiers) thus addressed his men:- “Gentlemen, these are the same men you beat at Alford, that ran away from you at Auldearn, Tippermuir, &c.; they are such cowardly rascals that their officers could not bring them to look you in the face till they had clad them in armour; to shew our contempt of them we’ll fight them in our shirts.”10 No sooner had these words been uttered, when, to add to the impression they could not fail to produce, Montrose threw off his coat and waistcoat with great vigour, and, drawing his sword with the mien of a hero, stood before his men, at once an object of their wonder and a model for their imitation. The effect was instantaneous. The example thus set by Montrose was immediately followed by the whole army, every man stripping himself to his shirt, and the cavalry, partaking in the general enthusiasm, assured themselves of victory. As the day was uncommonly hot and oppressive, the troops found great relief by disburdening themselves of their clothes, and the infantry were, in consequence, enabled to display greater agility in combat. The extraordinary appearance of Montrose’s men after they had parted with their clothes, excited the astonishment of the covenanters, and as they could only attribute such a singular preparation for battle to a fixed determination on the part of the royalists to conquer or to die, fearful doubts arose in their minds as to the probable result of the contest in which they were just about to engage.
In moving to take up the new position which had been assigned to Baillie’s army by the committee, the utmost disorder prevailed among the covenanting army, which the general was unable to correct. Indeed, so unruly had the troops become, that some regiments, instead of taking the stations assigned to them by the commander, took up, at the suggestion of Argyle, quite different ground, while others, in utter disregard of Baillie’s instructions, actually selected positions for themselves. Thus, at the moment the battle was about to begin, Baillie found all his plans completely over-ruled, and as he now saw how utterly impossible it then was for him to carry any of his contemplated arrangements into effect, he was necessitated to engage Montrose under the most unfavourable circumstances.
The covenanting general, however, might have so accommodated himself in the unexpected dilemma in which he had been placed as to have prevented the disastrous result which followed, had not his horse regiments, from an impression that Montrose had begun a retreat, rashly commenced the action before all the infantry had come up, by attempting to carry the cottages and gardens in which the advanced guard of Montrose was placed. Although they made a violent charge, they were as warmly received by Montrose’s musketeers, who, being protected by the dykes and inclosures, kept up such a galling fire upon their assail ants as to oblige them to retreat with precipitation and some loss.
A body of about a thousand Highlanders, who were posted next to Montrose’s advanced guard, became so suddenly elated with this success that, without waiting for orders from Montrose, they immediately ran up that part of the hill where the main body of the covenanting army was posted. Montrose was highly displeased with the Highlanders for this rash act, which seemed to threaten them with instant destruction; but there was no time for remonstrance, and as he saw an absolute necessity for supporting this intrepid body, he stifled his displeasure, and began to consider how he could most effectually afford that support. Owing to the tardy advance of the enemy’s rear, it was some little time before the covenanting army attacked this resolute body. At length, three troops of horse and a body of about two thousand foot, were seen advancing against them, and in a short time both parties closed upon each other. The Highlanders, as usual, displayed great intrepidity, and firmly maintained their ground; but as it was evident to Montrose that they could not long withstand the overwhelming force opposed to them, and as their defeat might have the most injurious effect upon the rest of his army, Montrose resolved immediately to send a force to their relief; but, when giving orders for that purpose, he was exceedingly mortified to find that there existed a general unwillingness among his men to engage in a piece of service which they considered extremely hazardous. Many even positively refused, when ordered, to undertake such a duty; but notwithstanding of this embarrassment, Montrose did not lose his accustomed presence of mind. After several ineffectual attempts to induce different parties of his army to volunteer in defence of the brave men who were struggling for their existence within view of their companions in arms, Montrose, as a dernier resort, appealed to his tried friend, the earl of Airly, in behalf of the rash men who had thus exposed themselves to imminent danger. He represented to him the perilous situation in which they had, by their imprudence, placed themselves, – that, if not immediately supported, they would assuredly be destroyed by the enemy’s horse, and that as the eyes of the whole army were in this conjuncture directed towards him, the earl, as the fittest officer, indeed the only one who, from tried experience, joined to great discretion, could extricate the Highlanders from the perils which beset them, he begged of him, in the name of God! to perform the duty expected of him. This appeal to the chivalrous feelings of the venerable earl met with a ready and willing response from him, and after stating his readiness to undertake the duty assigned him, he immediately put himself at the head of a troop of his own horse, commanded by Colonel John Ogilvy of Baldavie, who had distinguished himself in the Swedish service, and rode off with great speed towards the enemy. He instantly ordered his squadron to charge the enemy’s horse, who stood the attack with firmness at first, but they could not long withstand the impetuous bravery of the Ogilvies, and were forced to retire. The earl of Airly did not allow them an opportunity of rallying, but kept pressing so closely upon them that they got entangled among the covenanting foot, which they put into disorder.
As soon as Baillie perceived that his horse were falling back, he endeavoured to bring up his reserve to support them; but this body, which consisted chiefly of the Fife militia, became so alarmed at the retreat of the horse, that they immediately abandoned their ranks and fled. On the other hand, the rest of Montrose’s men, encouraged by the success of the Ogilvie’s, could no longer restrain themselves, and rushing forward upon the enemy with a loud shout, completed the disorder. The wild appearance of the royalists, who were almost in a state of complete nudity – for, with the exception of the cavalry, who had thrown off merely their upper garments, the whole of Montrose’s troops had cast away every article of their apparel but their shirts – added to the dreadful yells which they set up, created such a panic among the astonished covenanters, that, in an instant, and as if by a simultaneous impulse, every man threw away his arms, and endeavoured to secure his personal safety by flight. In the general rout which ensued, the covenanting horse, in their anxiety to escape, galloped through the flying foot, and trampled many of their companions in arms almost to death.
In the pursuit which followed, Montrose’s men cut down the defenceless covenanters without mercy, and so great was the carnage, that, out of a body of upwards of six thousand foot, probably not more than a hundred escaped with their lives. The royalists were so intent upon hewing down the unfortunate foot, that a considerable part of the cavalry effected their escape. Some of them, however, in the hurry of their flight, having ran unawares into a large morass, called Dolater bog, now forming a part of the bed of the Forth and Clyde canal, there perished, and, many years afterwards, the bodies of men and horses were dug up from the bog, without any marks of decomposition; and there is a tradition still current, that one man was found upon horseback, fully attired in his military costume, in the very posture in which he had sunk.11 Very few prisoners were taken, and with the exception of Sir William Murray of Blebo, James Arnot, brother to Lord Burleigh, and Colonels Dyce and Wallace, and a few other gentlemen, who received quarter, and, after being well treated by Montrose, were afterwards released upon parole, all the officers of the covenanting army escaped. Some of them fled to Stirling, and took temporary refuge in the castle; others galloped down to the south shore of the Frith of Forth. Among the latter, Argyle was the most conspicuous, who, according to Bishop Guthry, “never looked over his shoulder until, after twenty miles riding, he reached the South Queensferry, where he possessed himself of a boat again.”12 Wishart sarcastically observes, that this was the third time that Argyle had “saved himself by means of a boat; and, even then, he did not reckon himself secure till they had weighed anchor and carried the vessel out to sea.”13
The whole of the baggage, arms, and stores, belonging to the covenanting army were captured by the royalists. The loss on the side of Montrose was, as usual, extremely trifling, amounting only to six or eight men, three of whom were of the Ogilvies, who fell in the charge which decided the fortune of the day.
The news of this disastrous and melancholy victory, speedily spread throughout the kingdom and filled it with mourning. The plague, which had devastated some of the most populous of the covenanting districts, was still carrying on its depopulating career, and the spirits of the people, already broken and subdued under that afflicting scourge of providence, were reduced to a state almost bordering on despair when they received the afflicting intelligence of the utter annihilation of an army on which their only hopes were placed. No alternative, therefore, now remained for them but unconditional submission to the conqueror, by throwing themselves entirely upon the clemency of Montrose, and accordingly, deputies were sent to him from different parts of the kingdom, to assure him of the return of the people to their allegiance to the king, to proffer their obedience to Montrose as his lieutenant, and to offer him assistance in support of the royal cause. The nobility and other persons of note who had hitherto kept aloof, or whose loyalty had been questionable, also crowded to the royal standard to congratulate Montrose upon the favourable aspect of affairs and to offer their services.
While at Kilsyth, two commissioners, Sir Robert Douglas and Mr Archibald Fleming, commissary, arrived at Montrose’s camp on the part of the inhabitants of Glasgow, to obtain favour and forgiveness, by congratulating him upon his success, and inviting him to visit their city. Montrose received these commissioners and the other numerous deputations and individuals who afterwards waited on him, not merely with courtesy but with kindness, and promised to bury all past occurrences in perfect oblivion, but on the condition that they should return to their allegiance and conduct themselves in future as loyal subjects. “The whole country now,” says Wishart, “resounded Montrose’s praise. His unparalleled magnanimity and bravery, his happiness in devising his plan of operations, and his quickness in executing them, his unshaken resolution and intrepidity, even in the greatest dangers, and his patience in bearing the severest hardships and fatigues; his faithfulness and strict observance of his promises to such as submitted, and his clemency towards his prisoners; in short, that heroic virtue which displayed itself in all his actions, was extolled to the skies, and filled the mouths of all ranks of men, and several poems and panegyrics were wrote upon this occasion.”14 It is believed, however, that there was little sincerity in these professions.
This submission of the people was accelerated by the dispersion of the covenanting nobility, an event which put a temporary end to the government which they had established. Argyle, Crawford, Lanark, and others, sought protection in Berwick, and Glencairn, and Cassillis took refuge in Ireland.
Montrose might have now marched directly upon, and seized the capital, where many of his friends were confined as prisoners; but he considered it of more importance to march to the west and disperse some levies which were there raising. Accordingly, after refreshing his troops two days at Kilsyth, he dispatched a strong body under the command of Macdonald, his major-general, into Ayrshire to suppress a rising under the Earls of Cassillis and Glencairn; and with the remainder of his army he proceeded towards Glasgow, which he entered amidst the general acclamations of the citizens. Here Montrose immediately commenced an inquiry into the conduct of the leading covenanters of the city, some of whom he put to death as a terror to others, a circumstance which detracts from the usual clemency of Montrose, but perhaps he considered it necessary to show an example of rigour among a population on whose fidelity he probably placed little reliance. Montrose remained only a day in Glasgow, and encamped the following day on Bothwell moor, about twelve miles from the city. His object in doing so, was to put an end to some excesses on the part of his Irish and Highland troops, in which they were beginning to indulge, and which from the precarious tenure of their services, and his inability to pay them, he could not venture to control by the severities of martial law.15 And as he was apprehensive that some of his men might lurk behind, or visit the city for the purpose of plunder, he allowed the inhabitants to form a guard among themselves to protect it. The citizens, in gratitude for the favour and clemency thus shown them, presented Montrose with the sum of ten thousand merks.
In the meantime, major-general Macdonald arrived in Ayrshire, where he was received with open arms. The levies which had been raised in the west quietly dispersed; and the Earls of Cassillis and Glencairn filed to Ireland. The Countess of Loudon, whose husband had acted a conspicuous part against the King, received Macdonald with great kindness at Loudon castle, and not only embraced him in her arms, but entertained him with great splendour and hospitality; and she even sent a servant to Montrose to offer her respects to him.16
During Montrose’s stay at Bothwell, where he remained till the fourth of September, he was waited upon by many of the nobility in person, to congratulate him upon his recent victory, and to tender their services. Others sent similar communications by their friends. The Marquis of Douglas, the Earls of Linlithgow and Annandale, the Lords Seton, Drummond, Fleming, Maderty, Carnegie and Johnston, were among the first who came forward. Deputations also arrived from the shires of Linlithgow, Lanark, Renfrew, and Ayr, and also from the towns of Greenock, Ayr, and Irvine, to implore forgiveness for past offences, and to give pledges for their future loyalty. Montrose received them all very graciously, and relying upon their assurances, granted them an amnesty.
Montrose expected that the city of Edinburgh, which had been the focus of rebellion, would have followed the example of Glasgow and the other towns; but whether from obstinacy or from the dread of a refusal of pardon, the authorities did not send commissioners to Montrose, and it was not until a body of the royalist horse appeared within four miles of the city, that they resolved to proffer their submission, and to throw themselves on the mercy of the conqueror. The following interesting and circumstantial account of Montrose’s intentions, with regard to the city, and of the conduct of the inhabitants on this trying occasion, is given by Dr Wishart, who was at the time in question, a prisoner in the jail of Edinburgh.
“Montrose’s first and principal concern, after the victory at Kilsyth, was about his friends in prison. His generous soul was touched with their miserable condition; they had continued long under the hardships of a nasty and squalid imprisonment in the tolbooth of Edinburgh, and had been condemned to death for no other alleged crime, but their loyalty to their sovereign, and were daily expecting the execution of this sentence. He, therefore, dispatched his nephew, Archibald Master of Napier, and Nathaniel Gordon, with a select body of horse, to Edinburgh, in order to summon the city to surrender, to secure its obedience and fidelity, and to set the prisoners at liberty; but if they refused to submit, then their orders were to attack them with fire and sword. When they came within four miles of the town, they stopped, not intending to approach nearer, unless they were obliged by the obstinacy of the citizens: this they did, both to preserve the city and its inhabitants from the fury and rapacious insolence of their soldiers, who, considering it as the chief spring and fomenter of this accursed rebellion, might, in the transports of their rage and fury, be hurried to commit the greatest cruelties, and perhaps set the city on flames, and consume it to ashes; a thing Montrose had principally cautioned them to guard against: as also to preserve their own men from the infection of the plague, which then raged in that place and neighbourhood, and daily cut off great numbers.
“When the news of their approach reached the town, an universal consternation seized all ranks; they despaired of obtaining terms, and appeared as frantic as if the city had been already in a blaze, and an enraged enemy murdering and destroying within its gates. Many, conscious of their guilt, accused themselves as sacrilegious, perjured and ungrateful traitors, and unworthy of that clemency and forgiveness for which they so ardently prayed.
“They privately made application to the prisoners, and, in the most humble manner, entreated them, out of compassion to the place, which was already ruined by the pestilence, and to the miserable remains of the inhabitants, that they would intercede for them with Montrose, and by their good offices avert that rage, which they now acknowledged they had justly provoked. All their hopes, they said, were centered in their undertaking this generous office, as the only mean to preserve a sinking city from utter destruction. They acknowledged themselves guilty of all the crimes laid to their charge, but solemnly protested, that should they at this time experience his clemency and goodness, they should atone for their former rebellion by the most exemplary loyalty, and implicit duty and obedience. The prisoners, whom, not long before, even the meanest of the mob had treated in the most contemptible and despiteful manner, and had devoted to the gibbet, unmindful of the cruel treatment they had received, farther than that the sensible remembrance of it prompted them to return thanks to God for thus bringing about their preservation and deliverance at a time when they so little expected it, encouraged their enemies, and told them, that neither the king himself, nor Montrose, his lieutenant, had any pleasure in the ruin and destruction of his subjects, but earnestly wished and laboured for their safety and prosperity, could they be only brought to see it themselves. They advised them forthwith to send commissioners to Montrose, to implore his pardon, as nothing could more effectually contribute to mollify the heart of a conqueror than a speedy submission; promising to intercede with Montrose in their behalf; and they did not doubt but his great and generous soul would allow itself to be overcome with the humble entreaties and supplications of a distressed city.
“The citizens of Edinburgh, thus encouraged with hopes of success, immediately convened the town council, in order to make choice of proper commissioners to send to Montrose. Among the prisoners there were two especially eminent for their high birth, and thoroughly acquainted with Montrose. The first of these was Ludovick earl of Crawfurd, chief of the ancient and noble family of the Lindesays, a per son famous for his military achievements abroad, in the Swedish, Austrian and Spanish services. The earl of Lindesay, his cousin, from an ambition to attain to the title and honours of Crawfurd, thirsted for his blood, and had such address and influence with the covenanters as to get him condemned. The only crime they laid to his charge, was, that he had served the king his master with the greatest fidelity and bravery, in his capacity as a soldier, and they feared would still do so, were he left alive. The other was James Lord Ogilvy, son to the earl of Airly, who was very highly esteemed by Montrose, and was, besides, odious to the rebels, both for his own and his father’s courage and power. And, as he was a declared enemy to Argyle, both on account of the ancient animosities that subsisted betwixt the families, and some recent injuries they had received from Argyle, he was, therefore, accused of the same crime with Crawfurd, and condemned to the same punishment. The council of Edinburgh made choice of these two noblemen from among the prisoners, and set them at liberty, earnestly imploring them to use their interest with the lord-governor in their behalf, and assist their deputies in obtaining their request, thereby to preserve a city, already sore afflicted with the avenging hand of heaven; at the same time wishing destruction to themselves and their posterity, if ever they should prove unmindful of the favour, or ungrateful to their benefactors.
“These two noblemen cheerfully undertook this office, to the great satisfaction of the whole city, and, having joined the delegates, went out to meet the master of Napier. In his way towards Edinburgh, Napier had released his father and spouse, Sir George Stirling of Keir, his brother-in-law, and his sisters, from the prison of Linlithgow, to which they had been sent by the covenanters from the castle of Edinburgh; and, now being attended with this agreeable company and by the city delegates, Mr Napier returned directly to his uncle.
“Montrose was transported with joy at the sight of his dearest friends Crawfurd and Ogilvy, whom he met with the tenderest embraces of friendship, having been so long deprived of their company and assistance. He congratulated them on their safety and deliverance, and gave them all the respect and accommodation possible, as a consolation, in some degree, for their long confinement. On the other hand, they expressed the utmost gratitude to him, and extolled him as their avenger and deliverer; both parties thus seeming to vie with one another in mutual expressions of their affection and esteem.
“The city delegates were then admitted to audience; they made a free surrender to him of the town, and humbly deprecated his vengeance and implored his pardon and forgiveness, promising, in name of the whole inhabitants, an inviolable fidelity and obedience for the future, and committing themselves and all their concerns to his patronage and protection, which they humbly entreated he would grant them. They promised also, immediately to release all the prisoners in their custody, and desired him to assure himself that any thing else he should desire of them should be instantly complied with. The town, they said, had been almost depopulated by a dreadful plague, so that no supplies of men could be expected from it; but they were ready to contribute all they could to defray the expense of what troops he might raise in other places. Above all, they most earnestly implored him to intercede for them with their most gracious and merciful king, to obtain his pity and pardon, and that he would not condemn the whole city for the crime of rebellion, in which they had been involved by the craft and example of a few seditious men, armed with power and authority. Montrose gave them reason to hope for the royal forgiveness; and the only conditions he required of them, were, sacredly to observe their loyalty and allegiance to his majesty for the future; to renounce all correspondence with the rebels, whether within or without the kingdom: the castle of Edinburgh, which he well knew was then in their power, he required they should surrender to the king’s officers; and that, as soon as the delegates returned to the city, all the prisoners should be immediately set at liberty, and sent to his camp.”
Although the commissioners agreed to these conditions, and promised to perform them, the only one they ever fulfilled was that which stipulated the release of the prisoners, who were immediately on the return of the commissioners sent to Montrose’s camp, – in the non-fulfilment of which conditions they were guilty of a piece of deceit, which, says Wishart, “was agreeable to their usual perfidy and ingratitude.” Indeed, it was scarcely to be expected from the character of the times, that the citizens of Edinburgh, who had all along been warm partizans of the covenanting interest, would show a readiness to comply with stipulations which had been extorted from their commissioners, under the circumstances we have mentioned.
While at Bothwell Montrose received different communications from the king, who was then at Oxford. The most important of these were two commissions under the great seal, one appointing Montrose Captain general, and Lieutenant-governor of Scotland, and conferring on him full powers to raise forces, punish state offenders, and make knights, &c. and the other authorising him to summon a parliament to meet at Glasgow, to settle the affairs of the kingdom. The bearer of these important documents was Sir Robert Spottiswood, formerly president of the court of session, and who now acted as secretary of state for Scotland. As a person so well known as Sir Robert, could not travel by any of the ordinary roads without risk of apprehension, he took a circuitous route from Oxford, passing through Wales, and from thence crossing over to the Isle of Man, he took shipping and landed in the West Highlands. From Lochaber he proceeded down into Athole, whence he was conducted by a party of Athole-men to Montrose, at Bothwell Moor.
The instructions brought by Sir Robert Spottiswood, regarding the holding of a parliament and the matters connected therewith, were in the meantime superseded by orders from the king of a later date, brought by a more direct route. By these he was directed to march immediately to the borders, where he would, it was said, be joined by the earls of Roxburghe, Traquair and Home, and the other royalist nobility of the Southern shires at the head of their numerous vassals and tenants, as well as by a body of horse which his majesty would send from England, and that with these united forces, he should watch the motions of General David Leslie, who was advancing to the north with a body of six thousand cavalry. In fact, Leslie, who had acquired great celebrity by his conduct in the battle of Long Marston Moor, had reached Berwick in the beginning of September, having been called thither on his road to Hereford by the covenanting nobility, who had taken refuge there after the battle of Kilsyth.
Pursuant to raising his camp for the Tweed, Montrose reviewed his army on the third of September, on which occasion Sir Robert Spottiswood delivered to him the commission, appointing him his majesty’s lieutenant-governor for Scotland, and general of all his majesty’s forces, “in a respectful manner under the royal standard.”17 Montrose, on receiving this and the other commission, delivered them to Archibald Primrose, who had acted as clerk to the committee of estates, and had lately joined Montrose, to be proclaimed to the army. After these commissions had been read, Montrose addressed his army in a short and feeling speech, in the course of which he took occasion to praise their bravery and loyalty, and expressed great affection for them. In conclusion, addressing Macdonald, his major-general, he bestowed upon him the tribute of his praise, and by virtue of the power with which he had been invested, conferred the honour of knighthood upon Macdonald, in presence of the whole army. Little did Montrose imagine, that the man whose services he was now so justly rewarding had resolved immediately to abandon him, and, under the pretence of avenging some injuries which his friends had sustained at the hands of Argyle four years before, to quit for ever the service of his royal master.
Montrose’s ranks had, before the review alluded to, been thinned by private desertions among the Highlanders, who carried off with them all the booty they had been able to collect; but as soon as Montrose announced his intention, in terms of the instructions he had received from the king, to march south, the Highlanders in a body demanded liberty to return home, for a short time, to repair their houses which had been reduced to ruins by the enemy, and to provide a stock of provisions for their wives and families during the ensuing winter. To induce Montrose to comply the more readily with their request, they promised to return to his camp within forty days, and to bring some of their friends along with them. As Montrose saw that the Highlanders had formed a determined resolution to depart, and that consequently any attempt to retain them would be unavailing, he dissembled the displeasure he felt, and after thanking them in the king’s name for their services, and entreating them to return to him as soon as possible, he granted them leave of absence with apparent good will. But when Sir Alaster Macdonald also announced his intention to return to the Highlands, Montrose could not conceal his chagrin, and strongly remonstrated against such a step. “Montrose, (says Guthry,) dealt most seriously with him to have staid until they had been absolute conquerors, promising then to go thither himself, and be concurring with him in punishing them, (Argyle and his party) as they deserved; and withal told him, that his separating at this time must be the occasion of ruin to them both. But all was to no purpose; he would needs be gone, and for a reason enlarged himself in reckoning up the Marquis of Argyle’s cruelties against his friends who, as he said, did four years ago draw his father and brother to Inverary upon trust, and then made them prisoners; and since, (his friends having retired to the Isles of Jura and Rachlin, for shelter) sent Ardkinlass and the captain of Skipness, to the said isles to murder them, which, (said he) they did without mercy, sparing neither women nor children. With such discourses he justified his departure, and would not be hindered.” Macdonald, accordingly, after returning thanks to Montrose in a formal oration for the favours he had received, and pledging himself for the early return of the Highlanders, departed for the Highlands on the day of the review, accompanied by upwards of three thousand Highlanders, the elite of Montrose’s army, and by one hundred and twenty of the best of the Irish troops, whom he had selected as a body guard.
The desertion of such a large body of men, consisting of the flower of his army, was a subject of the deepest concern to Montrose, whose sole reliance for support against the powerful force of Leslie, now depended upon the precarious succours he might obtain on his march to the south. Under such circumstances a commander more prudent than Montrose would have hesitated about the course to be pursued in such an unlooked for emergency, and would probably have either remained for sometime in his position, till the levies raising in the south should assemble, or retreated across the Forth, and there awaited for reinforcements from the north; but the ardent and chivalrous feelings of Montrose so blinded him, as to make him altogether disregard prudential considerations, and the splendour of his victories had dazzled his imagination so much, as to induce him to believe that he had only to engage the enemy to defeat them.
Accordingly, on the day following the departure of the Highlanders, viz. the fourth of September, Montrose began his march to the south; but he had not proceeded far, when he had the mortification to find himself also abandoned by the earl of Aboyne, who not only carried off the whole of his own men, but induced the other horsemen of the north, who were not of his party, to accompany him. Of the Gordons, Sir Nathaniel Gordon appears to have been the only individual of that name who remained behind. The cause of such a hasty proceeding on the part of the earl of Aboyne, does not sufficiently appear; but it seems probable, that his lordship had taken some offence at Montrose, who, according to a partizan of the Gordon family, arrogated to himself all the honour of the victories which the earl had greatly contributed to obtain.18
The army of Montrose was now reduced to a mere handful of men, consisting only of about two hundred gentlemen who had joined him at Bothwell, and seven hundred foot, chiefly Irish.19 Yet he resolved to proceed on his march and reached Cranstoun-Kirk in Mid-Lothian, on Saturday the sixth of September, where he received intelligence that General David Leslie had arrived at Berwick with a great body of cavalry. He encamped at Cranstoun-Kirk with the intention of remaining there over the Sunday, and hearing Dr Wishart preach; but having, the following morning, been put in possession of a correspondence between Leslie and the heads of the covenanters, at Berwick, which developed their plans, without waiting for sermon, he quickly raised his camp and advanced into Strath-gala. A more imprudent step than this cannot be well conceived, as Montrose threw his little band into the jaws of Leslie who was laying ready to pounce upon him. In his march along Gala-water, he was joined by the marquis of Douglas and Lord Ogilvy at the head of a small party, the remains of a larger body which had been diminished by desertion: Montrose was waited upon at Galashiels by the earl of Traquair, who professed the most fervent attachment to the king, and promised to obtain information for him respecting Leslie’s movements, and in proof of his sincerity, sent his son Lord Linton with a troop of well mounted horse who joined him the following day.
From Galashiels Montrose marched to Kelso, where he expected to be joined by the Earls of Home and Roxburghe, and their vassals; but on his arrival there, he was surprised to find that these two noblemen had taken no measures to raise the levies they had promised. He, therefore, resolved to pay them a visit, to compel them to fulfil their engagements; but anticipating such a step, they had allowed themselves to be made voluntary prisoners by a party of Leslie’s horse and carried to Berwick. Roxburghe, whom Wishart calls “a cunning old fox,” was the contriver of this artful scheme, which, while it secured him and his colleague Home the favour of the covenanters, was intended to induce the king to believe that they were suffering for their loyalty.
This act of perfidy opened the eyes of Montrose to the danger of his situation, and made him instantly resolve to retrace his steps, so as to prevent his retreat to the north being cut off by David Leslie, who had by this time crossed the Tweed. He, therefore, inarched from Kelso west ward to Jedburgh, and from thence to Selkirk where he arrived on the twelfth of September, and encamped that night in a wood, called Hareheadwood, in the neighbourhood of the town at the head of a long and level piece of ground called Philiphaugh, on the north bank of the Ettrick. Montrose himself, with his horse, took up his quarters in the town.
The position thus selected by Montrose was well calculated to prevent his being taken by surprise, as Leslie, from the direction he had necessarily to advance, could only approach it by coming up the open vale of Philiphaugh; but unfortunately, Montrose did not, on this occasion, take those extraordinary precautions which he had been accustomed to do. It had always been his practice hitherto, to superintend in person the setting of the night watches, and to give instructions himself to the sentinels, and to the scouts he sent out, to watch the motions of the enemy; but having important letters to write to the king, which he was desirous of sending off before the break of day by a trusty messenger, he entrusted these details to his cavalry officers, whom he exhorted to great vigilance, and to take care that the scouts kept a sharp outlook for the enemy. Montrose had the utmost confidence in the wisdom and integrity of his officers, whose long experience in military affairs, he had many times witnessed; and as there seemed to be no immediate danger, he thought that, for one night at least, he could safely leave the direction of affairs to such men.
While occupied during the night preparing his despatches for the king, Montrose received several loose reports, from time to time, respecting the alleged movements of the enemy, of which he sent due notice to his officers, but he was as often assured, both by the reports of his officers and of the scouts, that not a vestige of an enemy was to be seen. Thus the night passed without any apparent foundation for the supposition that the enemy was at hand, and to make assurance doubly sure, some of the fleetest of the cavalry were sent out at break of day to reconnoitre. On their return, they stated that they had examined with care, all the roads and passes for ten miles round, and solemnly averred, that there was not the least appearance of an enemy within the range they had just scoured. Yet singular as the fact may appear, Leslie was lying at that very time at Melrose, with four thousand horse, within six miles of Montrose’s camp.
It appears that on the day of Montrose’s march from Jedburgh, general Leslie, who had a few days before crossed the Tweed at Berwick, held a council of war on Gladsmuir in East Lothian, at which it was determined that he should proceed towards Stirling to cut off Montrose’s retreat to the Highlands, whither it was supposed that he meant instantly to retire, for the purpose of obtaining reinforcements. But the council had scarcely risen, when letters were brought to Leslie, communicating to him the low and impaired state of Montrose’s forces, and his design of marching into Dumfries-shire to procure an accession of strength. On receiving this intelligence, Leslie abandoned his plan of marching northward, and ordering his army to turn to the left, he immediately marched to the south, and entering the vale of Gala, proceeded to Melrose, where he took up his quarters for the night, intending to attack Montrose’s little band next morning, in the hope of annihilating it altogether. Who the traitor was who made the communication in question to the covenanting general, is a point which has never been ascertained. Both Wishart and Guthry suspect that the earl of Traquair was the guilty person, and they rest their conjecture upon the circumstance of his having withdrawn during the night, (without acquainting Montrose,) the troop of horse under his son, Lord Linton, but this is not sufficient, of itself, to infer such a criminal act.
But the most extraordinary and unaccountable circumstance which preceded the battle of Philiphaugh, was this, that although Leslie was within six miles of Montrose’s camp, neither the scouts nor the cavalry, who are stated to have scoured the country four miles beyond the place where Leslie lay, could discover, as they reported, any traces of him. Did the scouts deceive Montrose, or did they not proceed in the direction of Leslie’s camp, or did they confine their perambulations within a more limited range? These are questions which it is impossible to answer with any degree of certainty. But what is to be said of the cavalry who having made their observations at day-break, and confessedly several miles beyond the enemy’s camp, returned as luckless as the midnight scouts? The only plausible answer that can be given to this question is, either that they had not visited the neighbourhood of Melrose, or that a thick mist, which prevailed on the morning of the thirteenth of September, had obscured the enemy from their view. However, be this as it may, certain it is that owing to the thickness of the fog, Leslie was enabled to advance, unobserved, till he came within half a mile of Montrose’s head quarters. On the alarm occasioned by this sudden and unexpected appearance of the enemy, Montrose instantly sprung upon the first horse that he met, and galloped off to his camp. On his arrival, he fortunately found that all his men, though the hour was very early, had risen, but considerable disorder prevailed in the camp in consequence of preparations they were making for an immediate march into Dumfries-shire in terms of instructions they had received the previous evening. The cavalry, however, were quite dismounted, some of the officers were absent, and their horses were scattered through the adjoining fields taking their morning repast. Short as the time was for putting his small band in a defensive position, Montrose acted with his accustomed presence of mind, and before the enemy commenced his attack, Montrose had succeeded in drawing up his men in order of battle, in the position which they had occupied the preceding night. Nothing but self-preservation, on which the cause of the king, his master, was chiefly dependant, could have justified Montrose in attempting to resist the powerful force now about to assail him. With about a thousand foot and five hundred horse, the greater part of which was composed of raw and undisciplined levies hastily brought into the field, and lukewarm in the cause, he had to resist the attack of a body of about six thousand veteran troops, chiefly English cavalry, who had distinguished themselves at the battle of Marston-moor, who, though they could make no addition to their laurels by defeating such a handful of men, may be supposed to have been especially desirous of annihilating the remains of an army which had been so long formidable and victorious.
The covenanting general began the battle by charging Montrose’s right wing, consisting of horse, with the great body of his cavalry; but so firmly was the charge received by the brave cavaliers with Montrose at their head, that the assailants were forced to retire with loss. A second charge met a similar fate. Thus foiled in their attempts on the right, they next attacked Montrose’s left wing, consisting of foot, which, after a gallant resistance, retired a little up the face of the hill, where it was posted, to avoid the attacks of the cavalry. While this struggle was going on on the left, a body of two thousand of the covenanting foot which had made a circuitous rout, appeared in the rear of the right wing, which they attacked. The right wing not being able to resist this force, and apprehensive that a new attack would be made upon them by the enemy’s cavalry, and that they would thus be surrounded and perhaps cut to pieces, fled from the field. The foot who had taken up a position on the side of the hill, being thus abandoned to their fate, surrendered themselves as prisoners of war after a slight resistance; but horrible to tell, they were afterwards shot by orders of the covenanting general, at the instigation, it is said, of some presbyterian ministers, who declared that no faith should be kept with such persons.
Montrose was still on the field with about thirty brave cavaliers, and witnessed the rout of one part of his army and the surrender of another, with the most poignant feelings of regret. He might have instantly re treated with safety, but he could not brook the idea of running away, and, therefore, resolved not to abandon the post of honour, but to fight to the last extremity, and to sell his life as dearly as possible. It was not long before he and his noble band were nearly surrounded by the enemy, who kept pressing so hard upon him, and in such numbers, as almost to preclude the possibility of escape. Yet they did not venture to attack Montrose and his brave associates in a body, but in detached parties, every one of which was successively repulsed with loss. As the enemy grew tired of attacking him, and seemed to be more intent upon plundering his baggage than capturing his person, Montrose saw that the danger was not so great as he supposed, and, therefore, he began to reflect upon the folly of sacrificing his life so long as a ray of hope remained He had lost a battle no doubt; but in this there was no dishonour when the disparity of his force with that of the enemy was considered. Besides he had lost few of his men, and the Highlanders, on whom he chiefly relied, were still entire, and were ready to take the field as soon as he appeared again among them. And as to the effect which such a defeat might be supposed to have upon the adherents of the king, who were still numerous and powerful, it could be easily removed as soon as they saw him again at the head of a fresh force. That he could only expect to retrieve the present state of affairs by escaping from the present danger and raising new troops; but that if he rashly sacrificed his life the king’s affairs might be irretrievably ruined. These reflections being seconded by the marquis of Douglas and a few trusty friends, who implored him not to throw away a life so valuable to the king and to the country, Montrose resolved to consult his safety by an immediate flight. Putting himself, therefore, at the head of his troop, he cut his way through the enemy, without the loss of a single man. They were pursued by a party of horse, some of whom they killed, and actually carried off one Bruce, a captain of horse, and two standard-bearers, with their ensigns, as prisoners. Montrose went in the direction of Peebles, which he entered about sun-set, and here he was joined by different straggling parties of his men who had escaped.
Montrose lost in this engagement very few of his horse, but a considerable part of his foot was destroyed. He carried off, as we have seen, two of the enemy’s standards, and fortunately preserved his own, two in number, from the enemy. That belonging to his infantry was saved by an Irish soldier of great bravery, who, on seeing the battle lost, and the enemy in possession of the field, tore it from the pole and wrapping it round his body, which was without any other covering, nobly cut his way through the enemy sword in hand. He overtook Montrose at Peebles, and delivered the standard into his hands the same night. Montrose rewarded his bravery by appointing him one of his life-guard, and by committing the standard to his future charge.
It was to the honourable William Hay, brother to the earl of Kinnoul, a youth of a martial and enterprising spirit, that Montrose was indebted for the preservation of his second ensign belonging to the horse. Mr Hay had been appointed to the honourable post of standard-bearer, after the battle of Alford, instead of Mr Douglas, son of the earl of Morton, who had been seriously wounded in that engagement. This noble youth fled to the south carrying the royal ensign along with him, and, after concealing himself for some time about the English borders, he in company with Robert Touris of Inverleith, who had served as a captain in the French service, went in disguise to the north, where he joined Montrose, and delivered the royal standard into his hands.
Montrose passed the night at Peebles, where he was joined by most of his horse and part of his infantry; but some of his officers who had mistaken their way, or fled in a different direction, were seized by the country people, and delivered over to Leslie. Among these were the earl of Hartfell, the lords Drummond and Ogilvie, Sir Robert Spottiswood, Sir Alexander Leslie of Auchintoul, Sir William Rollock, Sir Philip Nisbet, the honourable William Murray, brother to the earl of Tulliebardine, Alexander Ogilvie of Inverquharity, colonel Nathaniel Gordon and Mr Andrew Guthry son of the bishop of Moray.20 Montrose did not tarry long in Peebles, from which he departed early the following morning, and crossing the Clyde at a ford shown him by Sir John Dalziel, where he was, to his great joy, joined by the earls of Crawfurd and Airly, and other noblemen who had effected their escape by a different route, he proceeded rapidly to the north, and entered Athole, after despatching the marquis of Douglas and the earl of Airly into Angus, and Lord Erskine into Mar, to raise forces. Montrose then sent letters to Sir Alexander Macdonald and the earl of Aboyne, requesting them to join him without delay, and to bring with them all the forces they could muster, to enable him to enter on a new campaign.
As soon as the members of the committee of estates, who had taken refuge in Berwick, heard of Montrose’s defeat at Philiphaugh, they joined Leslie’s army, which they accompanied to Edinburgh, and there concocted those measures of revenge against the unhappy royalists who had fallen into their hands, which they afterwards carried into execution. The first who suffered were Colonel O’Kean, to whose distinguished bravery at the battle of Fyvie, we have already alluded, and Major Laughlane, another brave officer. Both these were hanged, without trial, upon the Castle-hill of Edinburgh. Perhaps the circumstance of being Irishmen, appeared a sufficient reason in the eyes of their murderers for despatching them so summarily, but they were, nevertheless, the subjects of the king, and as fully entitled to all the privileges of war as the other prisoners. This hatred of the Irish by the covenanters was not confined to the cases of these individuals. Having in their march westward to Glasgow fallen in, near Linlithgow, with a body of helpless Irish women and children, who, in consequence of the loss of their husbands and fathers at the battle of Philiphaugh, were now seeking their way home to their own country, they were all seized by orders of the heads of the covenanters, and thrown headlong by the brutal soldiers over the bridge of Avon into the river below. Some of these unfortunate beings, who had sufficient strength left to reach the banks of the river, were not allowed to save themselves from drowning, but after being beaten on the head and stunned by blows from the butt ends of muskets and by clubs, were pushed back into the stream, where they all perished.21
The covenanting army continued its march to Glasgow, where a convention of the estates was held to determine upon farther measures. To testify their gratitude to Leslie, they granted him a present of fifty thousand merks and a gold chain, and they also voted the sum of twenty-five thousand merks to Middleton, the second in command, for his services.22
1 Guthrie’s Memoirs, p. 150.
2 Memoirs, p. 155.
3 Baillie’s Narrative, ii. 269.
4 Wishart’s Memoirs, p. 159.
5 Guthry’s Memoirs, p. 151.
6 Wishart, p. 156.
7 Guthry, p. 153.
9 General Baillie’s Narrative, Baillie’s Letters, vol. ii. pp. 270, 271.
10 Carte, iv. 538.
11 Nimmo’s General History of Stirlingshire, p. 396.
12 Memoirs, p. 154.
13 Memoirs, p. 171.
14 Memoirs, p. 174.
15 Burnet’s Memoirs of the Dukes of Hamilton, p. 276.
16 Guthry’s Memoirs, p. 155.
18 Gordon’s Continuation, p. 528.
19 Guthry’s Memoirs, p. 159.
20 Guthry’s Memoirs, p. 161.
21 Sir George Mackenzie’s Vind. vol. ii. 348. – Gordon’s History of the family of Gordon vol. ii. 490, 491.
22 Guthry, p. 169.