BY helping to draft the National Covenant and being one of the first men to sign it, the Earl of Montrose, as he then was, had put himself firmly in the Covenanting camp against the Royalists who supported King Charles I. The poet and scholar was now about to become a warrior general, and possibly the finest ever seen in Scotland.

As we saw in last week’s first part on James Graham, Marquis of Montrose, there may have been initial doubts about his claims to soldierly ability, but these soon disappeared when the Covenanting government gave him a Commission to raise an army. Within a month he had 3000 well-trained and well-armed men, both infantry and horsemen, and when General Alexander Leslie arrived home from running the Swedish army to take overall command, he found Montrose’s force in such good order that he allowed the Earl to have the honour of occupying the city of Aberdeen in 1639.

The National:

By this point Montrose had already started making powerful enemies, not the least of whom was the Earl of Argyll, the chief of Clan Campbell. Ostensibly they were on the same side, but only on sufferance. He had also angered the Royalist Marquis of Huntly by effectively kidnapping him and his son and forcing them to sign the Covenant. Huntly’s second son the Viscount of Aboyne attempted to battle Montrose but on June 19, 1639, Montrose scattered the Aboyne force at the Brig O’Dee to record his first military victory in Scotland. It would not be the last.

King Charles came north with an under-trained English army to attack the Covenanters and was humiliatingly sent back south with the Pacification of Berwick effectively his surrender in the face of a better army. Ironically it was signed on June 18, 1639, the day before the skirmish at the Brig O’ Dee but in those days communications were rather slower and it was thus the only serious military encounter – though there were less than 20 fatalities on both sides – of what became known as the First Bishops War.

The following year Charles sent an army north again and Montrose led the Covenanters across the Tweed to drive back the English troops and take Newcastle. Again Charles had to concede defeat and the Second Bishops War had lasted just a few days. The warrior had taken arms against his king, and had won.

What was he like personally? Patrick Gordon of Ruthven was a chronicler of the age and he has left us a description of Montrose: “It cannot be denied but he was ane accomplished gentleman of many excellent partes; a bodie not tall, but comely and well compossed in all his liniamentes; his complexion meerly whitee, with fiaxin haire; of a stayed, grave, and solide looke, and yet his eyes sparkling and full of lyfe; of speach slowe, but wittie and full of sence; a presence graitfull, courtly, and so winneing upon the beholder, as it seemed to claime reuerence without seweing for it; for he was so affable, so courteous, so benign, as seemed verily to scorne ostentation and the keeping of state, and therefor he quicklie made a conquest of the heartes of all his followers, so as whan he list he could have lead them in a chaine to have followed him with chearefullnes in all his enterpryses; and I am certanely perswaded, that this his gratious, humane, and courteous fredome of behauiour, being certanely acceptable befor God as well as men, was it that won him so much renoune, and inabled him cheifly, in the love of his followers, to goe through so great enterprysses, wheirin his equall had failled, altho they exceeded him farre in power, nor can any other reason be given for it.”

Flattering, definitely, but Montrose must have had great personal charisma to pull off his many feats of leadership.

Yet he was also a very troubled man in 1640. He was becoming hugely concerned about the extreme nature of the Presbyterianism wanted by the leading faction of the Covenanters, led by the Earl of Argyll. They were straying far from the spirit of the original Covenant that he had helped to draft, so Montrose convened a meeting in August of that year at Cumbernauld, and with 17 other nobles including Lord Fleming and William Keith, the Earl Marischal, who had been Montrose’s principal ally in the Bishops Wars, they signed the Cumbernauld Bond to defend the Covenant against those who wanted to use it for their own ends – Argyll and his cohort in other words.

Montrose was soon imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle, but Argyll could not convince the Committee of Estates which was now running the country that Montrose and the other signees were traitors. The two were now well on the way to enmity, not helped when King Charles made Argyll a marquis in 1641 during his controversial visit to his native land in which he abolished episcopacy – a handy fact for Montrose who was released in a general amnesty.

The following year saw the start of English Civil War, always a misnomer as all three kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland were involved.

Montrose was by now openly turning against the Covenanters, not least because they wanted to ally themselves with the Roundheads against the King. He was no longer torn between his loyalty to the King and his devotion to the Covenant, and he began advising the King on how to conduct the war, at least in Scotland.

AFTER the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant in 1643 and the subsequent Scottish invasion of England on the side of Parliament, Montrose had nothing to hold him back and he entered fully into the service of King Charles who made him his Lieutenant in Scotland and appointed him a Marquis.

While Field Marshal Leslie, now the Earl of Leven, went south with the Covenanting Army in early 1944, Montrose came north with a small force of fewer than 2000 men and captured Dumfries for the King.

The Marquis of Argyll had left his stronghold in the west of Scotland to defeat Royalist forces in the north east, but when he returned, he would face a new and old enemy – the former being Alasdair McColla McDonald, or Colkitto, from the north of Ireland and the latter being Montrose.

Colkitto was a huge man who towered over Montrose yet accepted his generalship, and their meeting near Blair Atholl was to be the start of the Annus Mirabilis, the year of miracles, in which Montrose proved irresistible.

As was traditional, Montrose raised the King’s Standard to signal the start of military encounters. Thanks to the 1st Marquis of Montrose Society we know it was raised at a spot described by Napier in his Memorials of Montrose as “a conspicuous elevation called the Truidh, near the Castle of Blair, and about three quarters of a mile behind the modern House of Lude” – a cairn was erected near the site in 2003 by the Society.

The Covenanters had assembled a force under Lord Elcho but with his force of around 2000 tough Irish warriors and a Highland force that was growing by the day, Montrose marched north to Tippermuir just west of Perth. Despite being outnumbered, after standing firm in the face of Elcho’s first sally, the Royalist forces smashed through the Covenanters’ lines in a single furious charge, the tactic for which Montrose would become famous even though Colkitto brought it with him from Ireland.

Overnight the Royalist cause in Scotland was revived, and Montrose went off to capture Aberdeen after a battle just outside the city – again it was a furious charge which won the day against a superior force, though Montrose’s reputation was damaged by the looting and carnage carried out by his men after the city fell.

Colkitto went off to raise the Scottish clans who were only too happy to join an army whose next target was Clan Campbell and Argyll himself. The Campbell chief had set out with his forces to get revenge on Montrose but it was now that the Marquis showed his tactical nous by evading Argyll’s much larger army for weeks in the depths of winter and with Colkitto’s men they went rampaging through Campbell territory, though Argyll and another Covenanter force were coming to meet them.

In one of the greatest feats of arms in Scottish history, Montrose led his men on a flanking march across wild terrain, some of it snowbound. They covered 36 miles in 36 hours and arrived at Inverlochy on the morning of February 2, 1645, taking their opponents completely by surprise.

Argyll had departed the scene with an arm injury, leaving his kinsman Sir Duncan Campbell of Auchinbreck in charge of their army of around 2000 men. Montrose had three-quarters of that number, and it was more than enough – in fighting of horrendous ferocity, the Campbell forces were all but annihilated, with Auchinbreck among the dead.

If Inverlochy was bloody, the next battle was a nightmare of savagery. The Covenanters sent a new army north just as many of Montrose’s force went home, some to treat their wounds. But other Royalists including members of Clan Gordon reinforced Montrose and at Auldearn, east of Nairn, on May 9 the Marquis set up a brilliant diversion so that the Covenanting army under Sir John Urry was tricked into an attack that left their flank open to a Montrose charge. The Covenanters fled and bodies were found up to 14 miles from the battlefield, cut down where Montrose’s men had found them.

With lowland levies joining Montrose, his army could now match the Covenanters in numbers. They were also battle-hardened and destroyed their opponents once again at Alford in Aberdeenshire though Montrose lost key men such as Lord Gordon.

The last of his great victories came at Kilsyth on August 15 where Montrose cunningly took advantage of a mistake by the Covenanters – their leaders overruled the tactics of their general William Baillie – to inflict a devastating defeat that made him briefly the Master of Scotland.

But Charles had lost the Battle of Naseby and when Montrose marched south with a much depleted force to join his King, Sir David Leslie proved to be a general of note as he brought a huge army north and at Philiphaugh the Royalist forces were crushed. Montrose was then ordered by Charles, by now Oliver Cromwell’s prisoner to lay down his arms. The Year of Miracles was over.

In exile in Norway, Montrose learned of the execution of Charles which had angered many Scots. He raised a small army and came back to Scotland, once again appointed Lieutenant General, this time by Charles II.

It was a disaster. The army of mercenaries and a few clansmen were caught by a Covenanter force under Colonel Archibald Strachan at Carbisdale in Ross-shire on April 27, 1650 and were wiped out. Montrose fled, disguised as a shepherd, but was betrayed by the family of MacLeod of Assynt at Ardvreck Castle.

His execution without trial as a traitor to the Covenanting government was inevitable.

Remarkably, as he awaited death in Edinburgh, in the final hours of his life Montrose went back to poetry and wrote what is known as his Metrical Prayer.

Let them bestow on ev’ry airth a limb;

Open all my veins, that I may swim

To Thee, my Saviour, in that crimson lake;

Then place my parboil’d head upon a stake,

Scatter my ashes, throw them in the air:

Lord (since Thou know’st where all these atoms are)

I’m hopeful once Thou’lt recollect my dust,

And confident thou’lt raise me with the just.

Montrose was hanged in Edinburgh on May 21, 1650. He was just 38. His body was quartered and his head was indeed set upon a pike near the Tolbooth.

With the Restoration of Charles II, in 1661 the various parts of Montrose were retrieved and he was buried with full honours in St Giles Cathedral. The head which replaced Montrose’s on the spike was that of his enemy the Marquis of Argyll, found guilty of treason and beheaded by the Maiden, a form of guillotine, on May 27, 1661.

History barely remembers Argyll, but the name of Montrose echoes down the ages yet.