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Chapter 7 The Great Montrose

THE story of the paladin of Scottish history, the man whom Cardinal de Retz thought equal to any of the heroes of antiquity, is scarcely to be equalled for swift drama in the records of any land. James Graham, the first Marquis of Montrose, began his marvellous career at the age of thirty-two, and crowded into two years the campaigns which made him master of Scotland. He died on the scaffold when he was only thirty-eight, leaving behind bin) the reputation of perhaps the greatest soldier ever born north of the Tweed, and certainly one of the purest and most chivalrous figures in his country’s annals. Few men have ever covered country with his lightning speed, and the whole tale of his exploits is a tale of escapes and hurried journeys, I propose to tell of two episodes in his short career, but I would add that they are no more stirring than a dozen others.

In 1643 the English Civil War began. Sir John Hotham shut the gates of Hull in the King’s face. On the 22nd of August Charles raised the Royal Standard at Nottingham, and on 22nd October was fought the Battle of Edgehill. Montrose had originally been a Covenanter that is, he had signed the National Covenant which protested against the imposition of a foreign church system on Scotland. He commanded an army in the first Covenant War, but as time went on he began to see that more was involved in the struggle than the question of liturgies. He realized that the Church in Scotland was beginning to make claims which meant the complete abolition of civil government. He therefore drew towards the King’s side, and there began that antagonism with the Marquis of Argyle which was inevitable between two men with such different temperaments and creeds.

In the early winter of 1643 he joined the King’s court at Oxford, and proposed to Charles “to raise Scotland “ on his behalf. It looked a crazy proposal, for even then the Scottish army was over the Border in arms against the King, and the Covenant held every city north of Tweed. The few loyalists who still stood out were mostly vain nobles who had some personal quarrel with the other side. But such was the ardour of the young Montrose that he Impressed the King and his graver councillors lite Hyde and Endymion Porter. He asked for little help. Lord Antrim was to raise troops in Ireland and land in the west of Scotland to keep Argyll occupied in his own country. Montrose himself hoped to borrow a body of horse from Newcastle’s army in the north to help him to cut his way through the Lowlands to the Highland line. Charles consented, and Antrim was sent to Ulster, with instructions to land 2,000 troops in Argyll by April 1, 1644. Montrose was made lieutenant-general of the King’s forces in Scotland, and on a March morning in 1644 he left Oxford by the north road to win a kingdom for his master.

When St. Theresa, as a child, set out to convert the Moors, she was engaged in an adventure scarcely less hopeful than that which Montrose had now set himself. Where was he to find troops? The best of the old professional soldiers were with Leven. He could get nothing in the Scottish Lowlands, for on them the Kirk had laid an iron hand. The nobles and the gentry were jealous and self-centred. Antrim’s Ulstermen would do more harm than good; for though most of them were Scots and Macdonalds, they were Catholics and would drive every Presbyterian to the other side. There was no solid hope anywhere save in the soul of the adventurer. He flung himself into a hostile country without a base, without troops, without munitions, in the hope that his fiery spirit would create armies out of nothing.

He reached Newcastle’s camp safely and found that things there were going badly. Newcastle could only offer him 100 ill-mounted troopers and two brass cannon a poor outfit for the conquest of Scotland. He managed to raise some of the northern militia and a band of local gentlemen, and with 1,300 men he crossed the Border in April and took Dumfries. There, however, he could not stay. The gentry of Nithsdale and Annandale would not stir, and he was compelled to return to England, where he found that Newcastle had flung himself into York and was closely beset by Leven, Fairfax, and Manchester. With a handful of men he captured Morpeth, and presently he received a summons from Prince Rupert, who was then marching through Lancashire to the relief of York. He set off to join him, but before they met the King’s cause had suffered its first disaster. Rupert indeed relieved York, but on the 2nd July about five in the afternoon lie met the Parliamentary forces on Marston Moor and discovered that new thing in England the shock of Cromwell’s horse. His army was scattered; Newcastle fled overseas; and he himself, with some 6,000 troops, rode westward into Wales. Two days after the battle Montrose found him in an inn at Richmond, in Yorkshire; but Rupert had nothing to give. On the contrary, he stood much in need of Montrose’s scanty recruits. So with a sad heart Montrose rode by Brough and Appleby to Carlisle, to write his report of failure to the King.

Four months had passed and nothing had been achieved. The news from Scotland was the worst conceivable. The land lay quiet under the Covenant, and Antrim’s levies seemed to have vanished into the air. The nobles were tumbling over each other in their anxiety to swear fealty to Argyll. There seemed nothing to be done except to surrender the royal commission and go abroad to wait for happier times. So his friends advised, and Montrose made a pretence of acquiescing. He set out for the south with his friends, but a mile out of Carlisle he slipped behind, and, as his servants and baggage went on, it was presumed that lie was following. It was as well that he stopped, for the rest of the party were captured by Fairfax at Ribble Bridge.

He had resolved on the craziest of adventures. He would break through the Covenanting cordon in the Lowlands and win to his own country of Perthshire, where lived his kinsmen. There, at any rate, were loyal hearts, and something might be devised to turn the tide. He chose as his companions Sir William Rollo, who was lame, and Colonel Sibbald, who had served under him before. These two wore the dress of Leven’s troopers, while Montrose followed behind as their groom, riding one ill-conditioned horse and leading another.

It was a dangerous road to travel. The country was strewn with broken men and patrolled by Covenanting dragoons, and a gentleman in those days was not so easily disguised. At first all went smoothly. The disreputable clan of the Grahams held the lower Esk, and as the three rode through the woods of Netherby they learned that its chief. Sir Richard Graham, had joined the Covenant and appointed himself Warden of the Marches. This they had from one of his servants, who spoke freely to them as to Leven’s troopers. A little farther on they fell in with a Scot, one of Newcastle’s soldiers, who, to their consternation, disregarded Rollo and Sibbald, but paid great attention to the groom and hailed him by Ms proper title. Montrose tried to deny it; but the man exclaimed, “ What! do I not know my Lord Marquis of Montrose well enough? Go your way and God be with you.” A gold piece rewarded the untimely well-wisher.

The journey grew daily more anxious till the Forth was passed. “ It may be thought,” says Patrick Gordon, a Royalist historian, “ that God Almighty sent His good angel to lead the way, for he went, as if a cloud had environed him, through all his enemies.” We do not know the exact route they travelled, whether by Annandale and then by Tweed or Clyde, or up Eskdale and thence over the Tweedside range to the Lothians. Probably they went by the former and followed the belt of moorland which runs north, by Carnwath almost to the Highland hills. From Carlisle to Perth is a hundred miles, and the party rode by day and night, keeping, we may suppose, away from towns and villages and frequented parts of the highway.

On the fourth day they came to the Montrose lands in Stirling and Strathearn, but they did not draw rein till they reached the house of Tullibelton between Perth and Dunkeld. Here lived Patrick Graham of Inchbrakie, one of the best loved of all Montrose’s kin, and here at any rate was safe shelter for the traveller while he spied out the land and looked about for an army.

So the curtain rises, and the first act of the great drama reveals a forlorn little party late on an August evening knocking at the door of a woodland tower about the shining reaches of Tay. The Bong’s lieutenant-general makes a very modest entry on the scene. Two followers, four sorry screws, little money, and no baggage, seem a slender outfit for the conquest of a kingdom; but in six months he was to see Scotland at his feet.

For six days the royal lieutenant lay in close hiding, spending most of his time in the woods and hollows, sleeping at night in hunters’ bothies. The scouts he had sent out returned with a melancholy tale. Huntly in the north had made a mess of it, and the Gordons were leaderless and divided. Even some of the Graham and Drummond kinsmen were in arms against the King. There were rumours of a Covenant army in Aberdeenshire, and Argyll in the west had his clan in arms. Montrose wondered at this strange activity. The battleground now was England, and, with. Scotland in so iron a grip, these elaborate military precautions seemed needless.

He was soon to learn the reason. As he was one day in the wood of Methven, sleeping the night there, he fell into a great despondency of spirit. While he reflected upon the hopelessness of his case, he suddenly saw a man carrying a fiery cross and making for the town of Perth. He stopped him and inquired what the matter was. The messenger told him that Alastair MacDonald of Ulster, commonly called Colkitto (a corruption of the Gaelic word meaning “ Coll who can fight with either hand “), had come into Atholl with a great army of Irish. At last Antrim’s levies had come out of the mist. Presently Montrose had a letter from Alastair MacDonald himself, directed to him at Carlisle, announcing his arrival and asking for instructions.

If Montrose needed help, no less did the Irish commander. He had landed in July in Ardnamurchan, on the west coast, and proceeded to ravage the Campbell lands. His ships were all destroyed, so he resolved, being in a desperate situation, to march across Scotland and join the Gordons. But in Lochaber he heard that the Gordons had made their peace with the Covenant, and the other northern clans, like the Mackenzies, nad no love for Alastair’s tartan and would have nothing to do with him. Headed back on all sides, Alastair decided that the holdest course was the safest. He marched to the head-waters of the Spey and issued a summons calling on the clans to rise in the names of the King and Huntly. This brought him 500 recruits, most of them Gordons; but the other clans refused and blocked the road down the Spey.

He now seemed in a fair way to be exterminated. The Campbells intercepted his retreat to the sea, and Argyll was hot-foot on his track. The Mackenzies cut Mm off from the north and east, his new levies were mutinous and distrustful, and south lay the unfriendly Lowlands and clans like the Stewarts of Atholl, who would never serve under any leader of an alien name. He had proved that, whoever might band the Highlands into an army, it would not be a man of Highland blood. Hence his despairing letter to the lieutenant-general asking for instructions and help. He can scarcely have hoped for much from his appeal, for Carlisle was a long way from Badenoch and he had the enemy on every side.

Montrose sent an answer, bidding Alastair be of good heart and await him at Blair. The latter obeyed and marched into Atholl, but the local clans resented his appearance. The fiery cross was sent round, and there seemed every chance of a desperate conflict between two forces who alike detested the Covenant and followed the King.

The situation was saved by a hairbreadth. Montrose, accompanied by Patrick Graham the younger of Inchbrakie Black Pate, as the countryside called him set off on foot over the “Mils to keep the tryst. He had acquired from Inchbrakie a Highland dress the trews, a short coat, and a plaid round his shoulders. He wore, we are told, a blue bonnet with a bunch of oats as a badge, and he carried a broadsword and a Highland buckler. Thus accoutred he entered upoa the scene in the true manner of romance, unlooked-for and invincible.

Alastair and his ragged troops were waiting hourly on battle, when across the moor they saw two figures advancing. Black Pate was known to every Atholl man, and there were many who had seen Montrose. Loud shouts of welcome apprised the Ulsterman that here was no bonnet laird, but when he heard that it was indeed the “King’s lieutenant he could scarcely believe his ears. He had looked for cavalry, an imposing bodyguard, and a figure more like his own swashbuckling self than this slim young man with the quiet face and searching grey eyes.

In a moment all quarrels were forgotten. Montrose produced his commission and Alastair promptly took service under him, thankful to be out of a plight which for weeks had looked hopeless. The AthoU Highlanders were carried off their feet by the grace and fire of their new leader, and 800 of them brought to his side those broadswords which that morning had been dedicated to cutting Ulster throats. Next morning the Royal Standard was unfurled on a green knoll above the river Tilt. The King’s lieutenant had got him an army.

I pass over the next two months. On the 1st September, with his ill-assorted forces, he met the Covenant army under Lord Elcho at Tippermuir, near Perth, and scattered it to the winds. Then he marched to Aberdeen, and on the 13th of that month soundly defeated another army under Lord Balfour of Burleigh. Thereafter his difficulties increased. He found that Ms Lowland gentlemen began to slip away, for they had no love for a mid — winter campaign conducted at Montrose’s incredible pace. Moreover, Alastair went off on an expedition of Ms own to the west, and the rest of the Highlanders had private grievances, the avenging of which they thought of far greater moment than any royal necessities.

The end of November came; the heavy rains in the glens told of the beginning of winter, and the hills were whitened with snow. Argyll was at Dunkeld, and for a moment the campaign languished. Then one morning at Blair, Alastair’s pipes announced Ms return, bringing with him the rest of Ms Ulstermen and a considerable levy of the western clans MacDonalds of Glengarry, Keppoch, and Ganranald, Macleans from Morvern and Mull, Stewarts from Appin, and Camerons from Lochaber. The clans had only one object, to take order with Argyll, for they hated the house of Diarmaid far more than the Covenant. Now was the time to avenge ancient wrongs and to break the pride of a cMef who had boasted that no mortal enemy could enter his country. The hour had come when the fray must be carried to Lorn.

Montrose had that supreme virtue in a commander wMch recognizes facts. He could not maintain his army without wtx, and Lowland war they would not as yet listen to. If he looked to their help in the future he must whet their valour and rivet their loyalty by fresh successes. In return for their assistance in the King’s quarrel they must have the help of the King’s lieutenant in their own. Besides, the plan could be justified on other grounds of strategy and politics. A blow at the Campbells in their own country would shatter Argyll’s not too robust nerve, and put fear into the heart of the Covenant.

But it was the wildest of wild adventures. Clan Campbell was the largest, most prosperous, and most civilized of all the Highland peoples. Indeed, they formed almost a separate state, and it was not without reason that Argyll had boasted that his land was impregnable. Strategically it had every advantage. On the eastern side, where it looked to the Lowlands, there were the castles of Eoseneath and Duhoon to keep watch, and deep sea lochs to hinder the invader. South and west lay the sea, and the Campbells had what little navy existed in Scotland at the time. North lay a land of high mountains and difficult passes, where no man could travel save by permission of the sovereign lord. Moreover, the Campbells of Lochow and Glenorchy had flung their tentacles over Breadalbane and held the glens around the head waters of Tay. There might be a raid of Macgregors or Maclarens on the east, or a foray from Appin on Loch Etiye side but it seemed that not even the King and his am could get much beyond the gates. “ It is a fai cr, to Lochow,” so r............

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