THE job of a historian is to write facts and interpretations for which there is evidence. That’s why journalists are often credited with writing the first draft of history.

For true journalists and true historians, facts should – make that MUST – be sacred. Facts are “chiels that winna ding” as Robert Burns put it, yet nowadays politicians in particular just make things up and woe betide any journalist that tries to argue for truth when the President of the US and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and their cohorts are hell bent on twisting facts to promote their own agenda. Sometimes I feel that I am living in a parallel universe where facts are whatever people want them to be.

That’s why this column starts with a plea for us all to take our own history more seriously. I started my studies of Scottish history more than 40 years ago when the powers-that-were at my school decided that I had to study geography instead of history – no right of appeal back then, but in a way I am glad because it inspired me to really learn Scottish history and my first discovery was that our history had been largely suppressed in favour of a spurious “British” history, one of the many reasons we need more Scottish historians.

There’s a young woman who is a former pupil of my partner who is currently considering whether or not to study history at university. I wish I had had that privilege but instead I have had to be an autodidact, and frankly that’s been a lot of fun. Yet I still wish I had been able to do a structured degree, so that’s why my advice to Iona Barrie is to go ahead and study history, not least because in future years we are going to need professional historians and history teachers whose job will be to try and tell the facts to a world that increasingly needs convincing.

It was Iona who has inspired this two-part series on the Marquis of Montrose, which I dedicate to her, because she told me honestly that she had not heard of him. That’s very understandable when he hardly figures in the modern school curriculum, possibly because he wasn’t always what we would call politically correct.

To me he has been an almost fantastical figure since the days when I first became interested in the mid-17th century in Scotland – arguably the most contentious and dramatic period in our history after the Wars of Independence, the Reformation and the Jacobite uprisings.

Right at the heart of that momentous era was James Graham, the first Marquis of Montrose – I am using the French spelling and not the more technically correct English marquess, because that is how most Scots refer to him. He was by turn a scholar, a poet, a brilliant soldier and general, a Covenanter and a royalist, and a martyr for his beliefs. He was a Renaissance man in a Scotland that believed in repression. In short, he was a man of his time, and a man out of his time.

James Graham was born in Montrose is the second half of 1612, the exact date being unknown, as the only son of the fourth Earl of Montrose, chief of the Clan Graham, and his wife Margaret Ruthven, which made his grandfather the Earl of Gowrie. The early Grahams had served Robert the Bruce well, and he gave them their lands around Montrose, while James’s ancestors had fallen in the service of the Stewart kings at the Battles of Flodden and Pinkie Cleugh.

James was a precocious child, certainly blooming early as a scholar. John Buchan, in his masterly work on Montrose, writes: “At the age of 12 Lord Graham was entrusted to a certain William Forrett, master of arts, to be prepared for the college of Glasgow. Thither he journeyed with a valet, two pages in scarlet, a quantity of linen and plate, a selection from his father’s library, and his favourite white pony. He lived in the house of Sir George Elphinstone of Blythswood, the Lord Justice Clerk; it stood near the Townhead, and may have been one of the old manses of the canons of the Cathedral.

“The avenues to learning must have been gently graded, for he retained a happy memory of those Glasgow days and of Master Forrett, who in later years became the tutor of his sons. He seems to have read in Xenophon and Seneca, and an English translation of Tasso; but his favourite book, then and long afterwards, was Raleigh’s History of the World, the splendid folio of the first edition.”

His father’s death when he was just 14 saw young James Graham leave Glasgow and head home to Montrose from where he moved to continue his studies at St Salvator’s College at the University of St Andrews.

We know he enjoyed his student days, becoming a noted archer – he won the college’s silver medal – and swordsman as well as a horseman of considerable ability who enjoyed nothing better than a day at the races in Fife. Perhaps his studies faltered, but he was certainly a roundly educated young man.

We also know he had an eye for the lassies, and particularly the pretty daughters of Lord Carnegie of Kinnaird, especially Magdalen whom he married at the age of 17.

Family tradition is that he turned to poetry to express his love for Magdalen and the following is said to be his earliest work:

I would be high; but that the cedar tree

Is blustered down whilst smaller shrubs go free.

I would be low; but that the lowly grass

Is trampled down by each unworthy ass.

For to be high, my means they will not doe;

And to be low my mind it will not bow.

O Heavens! O Fate! when will you once agree

To reconcile my means, my mind, and me?

He would remain a poet for the rest of his life, as we shall see in part two. His most famous work was also dedicated to Magdalen: My Dear and Only Love, which contains the famous lines:

He either fears his fate too much,

Or his deserts are small,

That puts it not unto the touch

To win or lose it all.

What a pity that so few people do not know the verses which follow those lines:

But I must rule and govern still,

And always give the law,

And have each subject at my will,

And all to stand in awe.

But ’gainst my battery, if I find

Thou shunn’st the prize so sore

As that thou sett’st me up a blind,

I’ll never love thee more.

Or in the empire of thy heart,

Where I should solely be

Another do pretend a part

And dares to vie with me;

Or if committees thou erect,

And go on such a score,

I’ll sing and laugh at thy neglect,

And never love thee more.

But if thou wilt be constant then,

And faithful of thy word,

I’ll make thee glorious by my pen

And famous by my sword:

I’ll serve thee in such noble ways

Was never heard before;

I’ll crown and deck thee all with bays

And love thee evermore.

Vainglorious? Boastful? Or perhaps just a young man with the gift of the gab who used it to woo his beautiful wife, whom he married on November 10, 1629, in Kinnaird, Magdalen’s ancestral home.

They were happy there, and Magdalen soon give birth to a son and heir, but there was still a part of his education to complete and in 1633, the fifth Earl of Montrose, as he now was, set off for his own Grand Tour of the Continent during which he bought a French Bible that can be seen in Innerpeffray Library – Scotland’s oldest lending library. His own jottings are visible on the leaves of the Bible.

He visited Rome and somewhere else on the tour he conceived the desire of becoming a soldier, and may well have picked up some military service along the way, most probably for the King of Sweden. Or at least that’s what he told people …

One of his contemporaries wrote of him: “His natural darkness and reservation in his discourse made him to be thought a wise man, and his having been in command under the King of Sweden, as his continual discourse of battles and fortifications, made him to be thought a soldier. And both these mistakes were the cause that made him to be looked upon as a worse and a more dangerous man than in truth he deserved to be.”

He returned home in 1636 to a land in ferment. Stopping off in London to be introduced to King Charles I, James was at first rebuffed by the monarch and perhaps that is what led him to take up the cause which would alter his life – the National Covenant.

As we have seen in earlier columns, Charles wanted to impose his religious edicts on the Scottish Kirk, and promptly started a riot – literally so, when parishioners rebelled against the reading of the new prayer book in St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh.

James Graham was faced with a dilemma – how to protest against the king’s actions while remaining loyal. With the enthusiasm of youth, he joined the faction led by the Lord Rothes and was soon in the forefront of the movement which led to the National Covenant of 1638. So active was he that Rothes famously prophesied: “James, you will never be at rest till you are lifted up above the rest in three fathoms of a rope.”

IT is believed that Montrose had a direct input to the creation of the Covenant, especially these words: “We declare before God and men that we have no intention nor desire to attempt anything that may turn to the dishonour of God, or to the diminution of the King’s greatness or authority. But on the contrary we promise and swear that we shall, to the utmost of our power ... stand to the defence of our dread Sovereign, the King’s Majesty, his person and authority, in the defence and preservation of the foresaid true religion, liberties, and laws of the kingdom: as also to the mutual defence and assistance, everyone of us in the same cause of maintaining the true religion, and His Majesty’s authority ... against all sorts of persons whatsoever ... so that whatsoever shall be done to the least of us for that cause shall be taken to be done to all in general and to every one of us in particular. Neither do we fear the foul aspersion of rebellion ... seeing what we do ... ariseth from an unfeigned desire to maintain the true worship of God, the Majesty of the King, and the peace of the Kingdom.”

Yet the Presbyterian faith was pulling him more strongly. Much later, Montrose would write: “Traitors we are not, to God, nor King, nor Country. Not to God because we stand or fall, by God’s assistance, for the reformed religion ... Traitors to the King we are not for we go about His Majesty’s expedition according to his express mandate ... Traitors to our country we are not but we endeavour the liberties thereof ... And as for shedding of blood – we would by all means shun the same: neither ever did we shed the blood of any but of such as were sent forth by them to shed our blood, and to take our lives, whose blood we shed in our defence.”

On February 22, 1638, the National Covenant was signed in the kirkyard of Greyfriars in Edinburgh. One of its first signatories was James Graham, the Earl of Montrose. His die was cast.