The Marquis of Montrose
Fighting was in the blood of the Grahams, and when James, hereafter to be known as the 'great marquis of Montrose,' was a little boy he loved to hear tales of the deeds of his ancestors, who had struck hard blows for the liberty of Scotland in days of old. One, Sir John Graham, a friend of Sir William Wallace's, had been killed at Falkirk more than three hundred years before; another had died on Flodden field, and a third had fallen at Pinkie, besides many who had taken part in less famous battles. James knew all about them, and was proud to belong to them, and did not guess that it was his name and not theirs which would be best remembered through the centuries to come.
But the Grahams were not only brave soldiers; they were for the most part clever men. There was an archbishop among them and a bishop, while James's grandfather had held the highest offices of the state under King James VI, and was president of the Parliament when the king was far away in Westminster talking broad Scotch to the great nobles and servants of his dead cousin queen Elizabeth. Montrose's own father, however, had no love either for war or statesmanship, and after he lost his wife in 1618 stayed quietly at home in one of his many castles, taking care of his family, keeping accounts of every penny he spent, and shooting and playing golf with his friends and neighbours.
James, his only son, was six years old when his mother died, but there were five daughters of all ages, who were always ready to play with the boy. To be sure, the two eldest, Lilias and Margaret, married early, and before two years had passed by one was lady Colquhoun and the other lady Napier of Merchiston. Still Dorothy and Katherine were left, and Beatrix, who was only three years younger than her brother, and the one he liked best of all.
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When the great business of marrying his two eldest daughters was safely over, lord Montrose took his little boy with him on a riding tour of visits to his estates in Forfar, Perthshire, Dunbarton, and the Lothians, stopping in the houses of his many friends on the way. James loved horses all his life, and bills for 'shoes for naigs' were constantly coming in to him. He spent a good deal of time practising archery at the butts, and would make up matches with the boys who lived in the different houses where he and his father went to stay; on wet days they would get out their foils and fence in the hall, or even dance solemnly with the young ladies. Of course, he did some lessons too, when he was at home, probably with his sisters, but while his father only puts down in his accounts the items of six shillings for books and seven shillings for a 'pig [or stone bottle] of ink,' we read of nine shillings for bowstrings and three pounds for '12 goiff balls.' As for tobacco, the elder Montrose smoked the whole day, a new accomplishment in those times, and an expensive one when tobacco was sometimes as much as thirteen shillings and fourpence an ounce; but this habit was hated by James, who never could bear the smell of a pipe all his life long.
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After his son's twelfth birthday lord Montrose decided that his son must go to college at Glasgow like other youths of his age and position. The news filled the little girls with awe; it seemed to make their brother a man at once, and they were sure he would never, never want to play bowls or hide and seek with them again. But James, though in his secret heart he may have agreed with them, was too kind to say so, and he comforted them with the thought of the fine things he would bring them from the great city, and the stories he would have to tell of its strange ways. And, if they wished, they might even now come and see the 'stands' (or suits) of clothes that had been prepared for him.
Drying their tears, the girls eagerly accepted his offer. The mixed grey cloth English clothes were passed by in scorn, but the bright trimming of a cloak was much admired by the young ladies, though they would have liked James to have been dressed in red, like his two pages and kinsfolk, Willy and Mungo Graham. Still, even in the despised grey suit they thought he made a brave show as he rode away from the door on his white pony, with his tutor, master Forrett, by his side, the pages and a valet following. Bringing up the rear were some strong, broad-backed 'pockmanty naigs,' or baggage-horses, bearing the plate, linen and furniture for the large house lord Montrose had taken for his son in Glasgow.
Gay indeed that house must have looked with its red and green and yellow curtains and cushions and counterpanes. As for food, it seems to have been simple enough, if we can judge by the bills sent in by the tutor for bags of oatmeal and barrels of herrings. There are also, we are glad to find, some bills for books, among them Raleigh's 'History of the World,' only recently published, a Latin translation of Xenophon, and Seneca's Philosophy. These last two James only read because he was obliged to, but he would sit half the morning poring over the pages of Raleigh, of whose own life and adventures master Forrett could tell him much.
For a short time his little sister Katherine lived with him. Probably she had been ill, and the soft air of the west was thought good for her; for Glasgow was only quite a small place then, and the sky over the Clyde was bright and clear, instead of being dark with smoke, as it often is now. But in two years' time James Graham's life at Glasgow came to a sudden end, owing to the death of his father, and, distressed and bewildered at the duties of his new position, he rode swiftly away one November morning to Kincardine Castle, to make arrangements for the funeral.
The ceremonies attending the burial of a great noble were of vast importance in the seventeenth century. The widow, if he had one, was expected to spend weeks, or even months, in a room hung with black, in a bed with black curtains and coverings, no ray of sunlight being suffered to creep through the cracks of the shutters. The young earl of Montrose had, as we are aware, no mother, but his sisters were kept carefully out of sight, while he prepared the list of invitations, to be despatched by men on horseback, to the friends and relations of the dead earl. For seven weeks they stayed at Kincardine, every guest bringing with him a large supply of game or venison, though the castle larders already held an immense amount of food. Poor James must have felt the days terribly long and dismal, and doubtless escaped, as often as he could, to take counsel with his brother-in-law, Sir Archibald Napier, who remained his staunch friend to the end.
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At length the old customs had been fulfilled; the last guest was gone, and in January 1627 Montrose, not yet fifteen, set out for the University of St. Andrews. Here he found many acquaintances, with whom he played golf or tennis, or, what he loved still more, practised archery at the butts. Bows instead of pictures hung on his walls, and in the second year of his residence the place of honour was given to the bow with which he gained the silver medal that may still be seen in the college. On wet days he spent his free hours in chess and cards, or in making verses like all young cavaliers, but he studied Cæsar and other Latin authors under his tutor master Lambe and worked at his Greek grammar, so that he might read Plutarch's 'Lives' in the original tongue. Everybody liked him in spite of his hot temper, he was so kind-hearted and generous and free with his money, and though never a bookworm, his mind was quick and thoughtful and his speech ready. His vacations he either passed with the Napiers, or in visiting the houses of his friends in Forfar or Fife, hunting, hawking, playing billiards or attending races; but he never failed to go to the kirk on Sundays or days of preachings in his best clothes with a nosegay in his coat, for he was very fond of flowers, and always had them on his table.
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At seventeen this pleasant college life came to an end, and Montrose married Magdalen Carnegie, whose father was later created earl of Southesk. We do not know very much about his wife, and most likely she was not very interesting, but the young couple remained at lord Carnegie's house of Kinnaird for some years, till in 1633 Montrose, now twenty-one, set out on his journey to Rome, leaving lady Montrose and two little boys behind him. In his travels 'he made it his work to pick up the best of the qualities' of the foreigners whom he met, and learned 'as much of the mathematics as is required for a soldier,' but 'his great study was to read men and the actions of great men.'
What the foreigners in their turn thought of the young man with the long bright brown hair and grey eyes, whose height was no more than ordinary, yet whose frame was strong and spare, we do not know. They must have admired his quickness and skill in games and exercises, and the grace of his dancing; but his manner kept strangers at a distance, though he was always kind to his servants and those dependent on him.
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During the three years that Montrose spent abroad grave events took place in Scotland. Charles I, who had already excited the angry suspicion of his Scotch subjects by what they considered the 'popish' ceremonies of his coronation at Holyrood, had lately been enraging them still more by his measures for putting down the national Church and supporting bishops throughout the country. The king, in spite of many good qualities, could never be trusted, and was very obstinate. Also, what was worse both for himself and his people, he could never understand the signs of the times or the tempers of those with whom he had to deal. The gatherings held in various parts of Scotland to express discontent with the king's proceedings did, indeed, alarm him a little, but not even some strange scenes that took place in 1637 taught him how serious the matter really was. The Scottish Church then used no prayer-book, but, by the royal commands, the bishop and dean of Edinburgh were reading certain new prayers in the church of St. Giles' on Sunday, July 23, when 'the serving-maids began such a tumult as was never heard of since the Reformation.' This 'tumult' was no sudden burst of feeling, but 'the result of a consultation in the Cowgate of Edinburgh, when several gentlemen recommended to various matrons that they should give their first affront to the [prayer] book, assuring them that the men should afterwards take the business out of their hands.'
We are not told why 'the men' did not do 'the business' to begin with, but the matrons and serving-maids seemed to have enjoyed themselves so much on this occasion that they were quite ready for a second effort a month later.
On August 28 Mr. William Annan preached in St. Giles', defending the Litany, and when the news was spread about what the subject of his sermon was to be there arose, says the chronicler, in the town and among the women a great din.
'At the outgoing of the church, about thirty or forty of our honestest women in one voice before the bishop and magistrates did fall a railing, cursing, and scolding, with clamours on Mr. William Annan. Some two of the meanest were taken to the Tolbooth,' or city prison, where Montrose in after years was himself to lie.
Mr. Annan got safely to his own house, but being troubled over these events in his mind resolved to ask counsel of his bishop. So that evening, 'at nine on a mirk night,' he set out in company of three or four ministers to the bishop's dwelling, but no sooner had the little party stepped into the street than they were surrounded by 'hundreds of enraged women with fists and staves and peats, but no stones. They beat him sore; his cloak, ruff, hat were rent. He escaped all bloody wounds, yet he was in great danger even of killing.'
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This was the beginning of the struggle which was to rend Scotland for so many years. A bond or covenant was drawn up, part of which was copied from one of the reign of James VI, fifty years before, guarding against the establishment of 'popery.' But now new clauses were added, protesting against the appointment of bishops, or allowing priests of any sort power over the laws of the country. This document Montrose signed with the rest, and consented to act if necessary as one of the defenders of the religion and liberty of Scotland.
Charles of course declined to give way on the smallest point, and issued a proclamation, to be read at Edinburgh, declaring all who opposed him to be traitors. In answer the malcontents raised a scaffold beside the cross, and on it stood Warriston, with a reply written by the nobles representing the people, which was received with shouts of applause. Montrose sat at Warriston's side, his legs dangling from a cask.
'Ah, James,' cried old lord Rothes, as he saw him, 'you will never be at rest till you be lifted up there above the rest, with a rope.' Strange words, which were exactly fulfilled twelve years later.
So the first covenant was read, and afterwards it was laid on a flat tombstone in Greyfriars churchyard, and signed by the earl of Sutherland as the first noble of Scotland, and then by others according to their degree. During two days it was borne round the city, followed by an immense crowd, sobbing and trembling with excitement; from time to time they all stopped for fresh signatures to be added, and copies were made and sent over the country, so that each man should place his mark. Next, subscription lists were opened, taxes apportioned, and a war committee chosen.
And Charles heard and grew frightened, though even yet he did not understand.
However, the king saw it was needful to do something, and, as was usual with him, he did the wrong thing. He chose the earl of Hamilton (in whom he believed blindly, though no one else did) to go down to Scotland as his commissioner, with leave to yield certain points when once the covenant had been retracted, but with secret orders to spin out as much time as possible, so that Charles might be able to get ready an army. Yet, secret as Hamilton's instructions were, old Rothes knew all about them, and on his side made preparations. As each week passed it became increasingly plain that the two parties could never agree. The General Assembly, which had been held in November in Glasgow Cathedral, was dissolved by Hamilton, who had presided over it. The covenanters answered by deposing the bishops, and suppressing the liturgy, and then dissolving itself; and the earl of Argyll, soon to be Montrose's deadliest enemy, joined the covenanters.
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One town only remained loyal, and this was Aberdeen, situated in the country of the Gordons, whose chief, the marquis of Huntly, was Argyll's brother-in-law. Huntly, like Leslie, who held a command in the covenanting army under Montrose, had seen much foreign service, so Charles appointed him his lieutenant in the north, though he bound him hand and foot by orders to do nothing save with Hamilton's consent. Chafing bitterly under these restrictions, Huntly was forced to disband his army of two thousand men, and had the mortification of seeing the covenanters enter Aberdeen the following week, wearing their badge of blue ribbons in their Highland bonnets.
The citizens were granted easy terms, and all pillage was strictly forbidden. Huntly himself was given a promise of safe conduct, but was afterwards held as a prisoner and sent with his son to Edinburgh castle. It is not clear how far Montrose himself was guilty of this breach of faith. The covenanters had always detested Huntly, and it is possible that he found it difficult to act against them, but at any rate he does not appear to have taken any active steps to stop their proceedings, and in after days paid a heavy penalty for his weakness.
Shortly after the English army, consisting of nineteen ships and five thousand men, arrived in the Firth of Forth, but so dense were the crowds on both shores that Hamilton, who commanded it, saw that landing was impossible. Suddenly the multitude gathered at Leith (the port of Edinburgh) parted asunder, and down the midst rode an old lady with a pistol in her hand. Hamilton looked with the rest and turned pale at the sight, for the old lady was his own mother, who in a voice that almost seemed loud enough to reach the vessel where her son stood, declared she would shoot him dead before he should set foot on land.
The time was evidently not ripe for invasion, so the men encamped on the little islands in the Forth, and spent their days in drill.
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As often during Montrose's wars, Aberdeen was again the centre of fighting, but again the general preserved the city from pillage, against the express wishes, and even orders, of the covenanters. Then came the news that a peace, or rather truce, had been signed at Berwick, by which Charles had consented that a parliament should assemble in August in Edinburgh, though, as he insisted that the fourteen Scottish bishops should be present at its sittings, wise men shook their heads, and prophesied that no good could come of the measure. Their fears were soon justified. Riots broke out in the capital, and Aboyne, Huntly's son, narrowly escaped violence; the people refused to allow the army to be disbanded or the fortresses to be dismantled, as had been stipulated by the peace, till the king had fulfilled the promise made by Hamilton at the assembly at Glasgow of abolishing the bishops.
This he showed no signs of doing, but merely desired a number of the leading covenanters to appear before him. Six only obeyed, at the risk, some thought, of imprisonment or death, but neither Rothes nor Montrose, who headed them, was given to think of peril to themselves.
The old covenanter seems to have told Charles some plain truths, and the king in return forgot the courtesy which so distinguished him, and retorted that Rothes was a liar. No man was present when Montrose was summoned to confer with the king, and neither he nor Charles ever let fall a word upon the subject; but after that day his friends noted that he was no longer as bitter as before against his sovereign, nor so entirely convinced that the covenanters were right in their acts. Yet, whatever his feelings may have been, he strongly opposed the king's desire of filling the bishops' vacant places with inferior clergy at the meeting of Parliament, and, as might have been expected, the assembly was prorogued, leaving matters precisely as they were.
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After this the Scotch took on themselves the management of their own affairs, and a Committee of Estates was formed, to which was entrusted absolute power both in state and army. Leslie was one of this committee; Montrose was another, and immediately he set about raising troops from his own lands, and carried out the plan of campaign that had been agreed on by attacking Airlie castle. On its surrender he garrisoned it with a few men, and went away; but shortly after Argyll arrived, turned out the garrison, and burned the castle, at the same time accusing Montrose of treason to the covenant in having spared it. But the Committee of Estates declared Montrose 'to have done his duty as a true soldier of the covenant,' and the accusation fell to the ground.
Montrose, however, though entirely cleared of the charge, was not slow to read the signs of the times. He saw that the covenanters were no longer content with guarding their own liberties of church and state, but desired to set at naught the king's authority, perhaps even to depose him. So he and certain of his friends, Mar, Almond, and Erskine among them, formed a bond by which they swore to uphold the old covenant which they had signed in 1638, 'to the hazard of their lives, fortunes, and estates, against the particular perhaps indirect practising of a few.' This was the covenant to which Montrose held all his life, and for which he was hanged beside the city cross.
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Having as he hoped taken measures to checkmate Argyll, Montrose joined the army, which had now swelled to twenty-five thousand men, was the first to cross the Tweed at Coldstream, and marched straight on Newcastle. The town surrendered without firing a shot, and Montrose sent a letter to the king again professing his loyalty. When later he was imprisoned on a charge of treason to the covenant in so doing, he answered that his conscience was clear in the matter, and that it was no more than they had all declared in the covenant, which no man could deny. But soon another storm was raised on account of the famous bond which he and his friends had made a short time before they were put in prison, and the clamour was so great that even his own party was alarmed, and gave it up to be burned by the hangman.
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Montrose's next object was to induce the king to come to Edinburgh in order to persuade the Scotch that he was ready to keep his word, and to grant the country the religious and civil liberties demanded by the covenant. Charles came, and was gracious and charming as he knew how to be, even going to the Presbyterian service, which he hated. This pleased everyone, and hopes ran high; but the quarrel was too grave to be soothed by a few soft words spoken or a few titles given. Plots and rumours of plots were rife in Edinburgh, and the king was forced to employ not the men he wished, but the men whom the Parliament desired. In November he returned to England, first promising that he would never take into his service Montrose, who had just been released after five months spent in prison, where he had been thrown with the rest of his party after the discovery of the bond.
To one who knew Scotland as well as he it was apparent that the Scotch Parliament and the English would speedily join hands, and he retired to one of his houses to watch the course of events. The covenanters tried to win him back, but Montrose felt that they disagreed among themselves, and that it would be impossible for him to serve under them. Meanwhile in England things marched rapidly: Edgehill had been fought; episcopacy had been abolished by Parliament in England as well as Scotland; and Hamilton's brother Lanark was using the Great Seal to raise a Scotch army against the king, for, by a treaty called the Solemn League and Covenant, Scotland was to fight with the English Parliament against the king, and England was to abolish bishops and become Presbyterian like Scotland. England, however, did not keep her promise.
It was then that Charles, in his desperation, turned to Montrose. Montrose was too skilful and experienced a general to think lightly of the struggle before him, but he formed a plan by which Scotland was to be invaded on the west by the earl of Antrim from Ireland, while he himself, reinforced by royalist troops, would fall on the Scotch who were on the border. But the reinforcements he expected hardly amounted, when they came, to one thousand one hundred men, and these being composed of the two nations were constantly quarrelling, which added to the difficulties of the commander. At Dumfries he halted, and read a proclamation stating that 'he was king's man, as he had been covenanter, for the defence and maintenance of the true Protestant religion, his majesty's just and sacred authority, the laws and privileges of Parliament, the peace and freedom of oppressed and thralled subjects.' Adding that 'if he had not known perfectly the king's intention to be such and so real as is already expressed' he would 'never have embarked himself in his service,' and if he 'saw any appearance of the king changing' from these resolutions he would continue no longer 'his faithful servant.'
Thus he said, and thus we may believe he felt, but none the less not a man joined his standard as he marched along the border. He tried to reach Prince Rupert, the king's nephew, in Yorkshire, but Marston Moor had been lost before he arrived there. Then, dressed as a groom, he started for Perthshire, and after four days arrived at the house of his kinsman Graham of Inchbrackie, where he learned that the whole of the country beyond the Tay was covenanting, with the single exception of the territory of the Gordons. No one knew of his presence, for he still wore his disguise, and slept in a little hut in the woods, where food was brought him. All day he wandered about the lonely hills, thinking over the tangled state of affairs, and waiting for the right moment to strike.
One afternoon when he was lying on the heather, wondering if he ought not to come out of his hiding, and join either the Gordons or Prince Rupert, he beheld a man running quickly over the moor, holding in his hand the Fiery Cross, which, as every Highlander knew, was the call to arms. Starting to his feet, Montrose stopped the man and asked the meaning of the signal, and whither he was going.
'To Perth,' answered the messenger, 'for a great army of Irishmen have swooped down in the Atholl country, and Alastair Macdonald is their leader. I myself have seen them, and I must not tarry,' so on he sped, leaving Montrose with his puzzle solved. The Irishmen whom he expected had arrived, and he would go to meet them.
There was no need for hiding any more, and glad was he to throw off his disguise and put on his Highland dress again. Then, accompanied by the laird of Inchbrackie, he walked across the hills to join Macdonald, bearing the royal standard on his shoulder.
As soon as he reached the meeting-place where the clans and the Irish were already waiting, he stuck the standard in the ground, and, standing by it, he read aloud the king's commission to him as lieutenant-general. Shouts of joy made answer when he had done, and next Montrose went round the ranks to inspect the troops he was to fight with, and find out what arms they had. The numbers only amounted to about two thousand three hundred, and it was not long before the clans began to quarrel with each other, and all with the Irish. As to their weapons, the Irish had matchlock guns, which took a long time to load, and one round of ammunition apiece, while the Highlanders had seized upon anything that happened to be in their cottages and showed a medley of bows, pikes, clubs, and claymores--a kind of broad sword. As to horses, they could only muster three.
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With this ragged army Montrose marched, and his first victory was gained against lord Elcho, on the wide plain of Tippermuir, near Perth. The covenanting force was nearly double that of the royalists, but many of the troops were citizens of Perth, who thought more of their own skins than of the cause for which they were fighting. When Montrose's fierce charge had broken their ranks, they all turned and fled, and many of them are said to have 'bursted with running' before they got safely within the city gates.
In Perth Montrose fitted out his army with stores, arms, and clothes, and released some of the prisoners on their promising not to serve against him, while others enlisted under the royal banner. Before he set out for Aberdeen he was joined by his two eldest sons and their tutor, master Forrett; and in Forfarshire he found lord Airlie and his sons awaiting him, with the welcome addition of fifty horse, which formed his entire cavalry. These, and one thousand five hundred foot, were all the army he had when he crossed the Dee fifteen miles from Aberdeen, and the covenanters mustered a thousand more.
Two miles from the town the two armies met. As was his custom, Montrose sent an envoy summoning the enemy to surrender, and with the envoy went a little drummer-boy, who was wantonly shot down by a covenanter. When Montrose heard of this deed of deliberate cruelty his face grew dark, but he began to dispose his men to the best advantage. Both sides fought well, and for a moment victory seemed uncertain; then Montrose brought up reinforcements and decided the day by one of his rapid charges.
He had already bidden the magistrates of Aberdeen to bring out the women and children to a place of safety as he would not answer for their lives, but, as he had twice preserved the city from pillage, it is probable they looked on his words as a mere idle threat, and left them where they were. After the battle the sack began; houses were burned and robbed, and many fell victims, though the dead, including those who had fallen in battle, did not exceed a hundred and eighteen. But his friends lamented that this time also he had not restrained his soldiers, and a price of 20,000 l. was set on his head by the enraged covenanters.
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Never was Montrose's power of moving his men swiftly from one place to another more greatly needed than now. The Gordons were all in arms against him; Argyll was advancing from the south with a strong force, and Montrose had been obliged to send a large body of men into the west under Macdonald to raise fresh levies. With the remainder he retired into the Grampians, and turned and twisted about among the mountains, Argyll always following.
At Fyvie Montrose suddenly learned that his enemy was within two miles of him. Hastily ordering all the pewter vessels that could be found in the castle to be melted down for bullets, he disposed his troops on a hill, where a few trees and some outhouses gave them cover. Here they waited while the covenanters gallantly made the best of their way upwards. Then Montrose turned to young O'Gahan, who commanded the Irish, and said gaily, 'Come, what are you about? Drive those rascals from our defences, and see we are not troubled by them again.'
Down came the Irishmen with a rush which scattered the covenanters far and wide, and seizing some bags of powder that lay handy, the victors retreated up the hill again, while Montrose with some musketeers attacked Argyll's flank, till they retired hastily.
After this defeat the covenanting leader went into Argyllshire, where was his strong castle of Inverary, by the sea. But Montrose crossed the pathless mountains, deep in snow, drove Argyll to Edinburgh, and when he came back with all his clan, turned on them suddenly, destroyed them at Inverlochy, and caused Argyll to escape in a boat.
The hopes of the king's lieutenant rose high as he thought of all he had done with the few undisciplined troops at his command.
'I trust before the end of this summer I shall be able to come to your majesty's assistance with a brave army,' he wrote; but meanwhile he dared not go to Edinburgh, where he had been sentenced to death by the Committee of Estates, and his property declared forfeited. But though the campaign had been successful beyond his expectations, yet his heart was heavy, for his eldest son had died of cold and exposure and the second was a prisoner in Edinburgh castle.
* * * * *
Such was the state of things when he went west again into the country of the Macdonalds, who flocked to his standard. On the other hand the Lowlanders fell off, and began to cast longing eyes at the rewards promised to those who joined the covenant. If Montrose could only have forced a battle on Baillie, who commanded the covenanting army, another victory would probably have been gained, but Baillie was wise, and declined to fight. Then the Highlanders grew sullen and impatient, and every day saw them striding over the hills to their own homes. By the time he reached Dunkeld the royal army had shrunk to six hundred foot and two hundred horse.
With this small force he entered Dundee, the great fortress of the covenant, and his men took to drinking. At that moment news was brought him that Baillie was at the gates, and with marvellous rapidity he collected his men and marched them out of the east gate as the English entered by the west. The Grampians were within a long march, and once there Montrose knew he was safe.
And, far away in Sweden and in Germany, the generals who had been trained under Wallenstein and under Gustavus Adolphus looked on, and wondered at the skill with which Montrose met and defeated the armies and the wealth arrayed against him.
* * * * *
But to those who had eyes to see the end was certain. It was to no purpose that he, with the aid of the Gordons, now once more on his side, gained a victory at Auldearn, between Inverness and Elgin, and another at Alford, south of the Don, which cost him the life and support of Huntly's son, lord Gordon. In vain did Ogilvies, Murrays, and Gordons swell his ranks, and the covenanting committee play into his hands by forcing Baillie to fight when the general knew that defeat was inevitable. The battle of Kilsyth had been won near Glasgow on August 14, and the day was so hot that Montrose ordered his men to strip to their shirts so that they might have no more weight to carry than was strictly necessary. Baillie was not even allowed to choose his own ground, but though he did all that man could do, the struggle was hopeless, and the Fife levies were soon in flight.
Only a year had passed since Montrose, now captain-general and viceroy of Scotland, had taken the field, and yet the whole country was subdued, largely by the help of the Irish, and of their leader Macdonald, whom he had knighted after Kilsyth. But for the royalist cause Naseby had been lost, Wales was wavering, Ireland was useless, and Montrose was not strong enough to make up for them all.
* * * * *
From Kilsyth, which is near Glasgow, it was easy for Macdonald to lead his men across the hills and lay waste the territories of his hereditary enemy Argyll. He would, he said, return to Montrose if he was wanted; but the marquis took the words for what they were worth, and waited to see whose turn to desert would come next. It was young Aboyne, who was tired of fighting, which had not brought him any of the rewards he thought his due, and he took with him four hundred horse and many infantry. At the end there only remained five hundred of Macdonald's Irish, who had cast in their lot with Montrose, and about one hundred horsemen. With these he marched to the south, trusting in the promises of help freely given by the great border nobles, and hoping to enter England and help the king.
* * * * *
And doubtless these promises would have been kept had the king's cause showed signs of triumph, but the speedy advance of four thousand horsemen under David Leslie, the best cavalry officer of the day, turned the scale. Roxburgh and Home at once proclaimed themselves on the side of the covenant, and only Douglas reached Montrose's camp on the river Gala, and brought a few untrained and unwilling recruits with him. It was the best he could do, yet he knew well enough how little reliance could be placed on his country contingent, who had been taught to look on the king and Montrose as monsters of evil, seeking to destroy whatever they held most dear.
It was on September 12 that Montrose drew up his forces at Philiphaugh between a line of hills and the river Ettrick, while shelter was given on the west by some rising ground covered with trees. Trenches had been made still further to protect them, and the Irish foot soldiers were ordered to occupy the position, which seemed secure against attack. But on this day, which was destined to decide whether the king or the covenant should rule Scotland, Montrose's military skill--even his good sense--deserted him; he posted his horse and best generals at Philiphaugh, on the other side of the river close to Selkirk, and he himself slept in the town. More than this, instead of placing his sentinels himself, as was his invariable custom, he allowed his officers to do it, and also to send out whatever scouts they may have thought necessary without orders from himself, while he sat undisturbed, writing despatches, little knowing that Leslie was only three miles away, at Sunderland Hall.
So the night of the 12th passed, and Montrose took counsel with the three men he most trusted, the earls of Crawford and Airlie, and his brother-in-law, old lord Napier, as to what should be their next step when the battle was won. The mist was thick and heavy over the land when morning dawned, but in spite of the cold their hearts grew light as one scout after another came in, reporting that there was not a sign of an enemy within miles. Had they been bribed? We shall never know, yet it is hardly possible that they could all have overlooked the presence of several thousand men so close to their own camp. At that very moment Leslie's army was crossing the river, and it began the attack while the royalists were putting on their uniforms for an inspection.
Montrose was at breakfast in Selkirk when a messenger burst in upon him with the news, but before he could ford the river with his horse his left wing had given way under Leslie's steady pressure. At the head of a handful of troopers, and followed closely by his faithful friends, Montrose twice charged the covenanters and forced them to retire. But a detachment of Leslie's men which had crossed the river higher up fell upon the right wing, composed of the Irish, who were placed in the wood. Desperate was the fight and bravely and faithfully the king's men died at their posts. Montrose seems to wish to die too, and bitterly he must later have regretted that he listened to his friends, who bade him remember his duty as a general, and besought him to fly. At length he yielded, and with fifty comrades galloped off the field, bearing the standards with him.
* * * * *
With the battle of Philiphaugh the cause of the king was hopelessly lost, and with it also the fortunes of his followers. A hundred of the Irish surrendered on promise of quarter, and were shot down next day, while their wives and children were killed on the spot, or imprisoned, and hanged later. Strange as it may appear to us, Montrose did not recognise the meaning of the defeat, and, with the dash and energy that marked him to the last, he collected a fresh army of Highlanders, and prepared to set out for the south, hoping to rescue his personal friends, who were now prisoners in Glasgow. Yet again his judgment failed him, and instead of attacking the English general who was holding Huntly in check in the north of Aberdeenshire, he left him alone, and then found that without the Gordons he was not strong enough to cope with Leslie's army. Once more the mountains were his refuge, and from their shelter he crept out to attend the burial of his wife in the town of Montrose. On his way he probably passed the ruins of his castles, which had been burned by order of the covenanters.
Owing to the special desire of the Scottish rulers every possible degradation was heaped on the imprisoned nobles, and it was a rare favour indeed when they were suffered to die on the block, and not by the common hangman. Lord Ogilvy was saved by his sister, who, like lady Nithsdale sixty years later, forced him to exchange his clothes for hers, and remained in his cell, ready to take the consequences.
Then came the rumour that the king, with cropped hair like a Puritan and wearing a disguise, had ridden over Magdalen bridge at Oxford, attended by lord Ashburnham and Hudson, his chaplain, and entered the Scottish camp in the hope of softening his foes by submission. He was soon undeceived as to the way in which they regarded him, for before he had even eaten or rested he was begged--or bidden--to order the surrender of Newark, which still held out, and to command Montrose to lay down his sword. Charles, whose manhood returned to him in these hours of darkness, positively refused; but at Newcastle he found he was powerless to resist, and wrote to his faithful servant to disband his army and to go himself to France.
In the letter which the marquis sent in reply he asks nothing for himself, but entreats the king to obtain the best terms possible for those that had fought for him, and the conditions arranged by Middleton were certainly better than either king or general expected. The men who had served in Montrose's wars were given their lives and liberty, and also were allowed to retain whatever lands had not been already handed over to other people. As to Montrose himself, he, with Crawford and Hurry the general, was to leave Scotland before September 1 in a ship belonging to the Committee of Estates. Should they be found in the country after that date death would be the penalty.
* * * * *
After disbanding his army--or what was left of it--in the king's name, and thanking them for their services, Montrose went to Forfarshire to await the ship which was to convey him to France. But day after day passed without a sign of it, and the marquis soon became convinced that treachery was intended, and took measures to prevent it. Leaving old Montrose, he went to Stonehaven, another little town on the coast, and settled with a Norwegian captain to lie off Montrose on a certain day. So when, on August 31, the covenanting captain at last appeared, and declared his ship would not be ready to sail for another eight days--by which time, of course, Montrose's life would be forfeit--he found his bird flown; for the exile and a friend had disguised themselves and put off one morning in a small boat to the larger vessel that was waiting for them, and in a week were safe across the North Sea at Bergen.
* * * * *
But Norway was merely a stepping-stone to Paris, where the queen of England was living under the protection of her sister-in-law, Anne of Austria, and of the young king Louis XIV. The handsome pension allowed her in the beginning gradually ceased when the civil war of the Fronde broke out in 1648, and, as we know, she was found one day by a visitor sitting with her little girl, whom she had kept in bed because she could not afford a fire. And even at this time, in 1647, she always spent whatever she had, so from one cause or another no money was forthcoming to help Montrose, who perhaps did not understand the situation, and thought that she was unkind and careless of her husband's welfare. As often before, he spoke out his feelings when he would have done better to be silent, and pressed on the queen advice that was not asked for, and may not have been possible to follow. Yet, if he felt that there was no place for him in the little English court, ample evidence was given him of the high respect in which he was held elsewhere. The all-powerful minister, cardinal Mazarin, desired to enlist him in the French service, and the greatest nobles paid court to him. Montrose, however, was not the sort of man to find healing for his sorrows in honours such as these. He gave a grateful and courteous refusal to all proposals, and bidding farewell to his hosts, made his way to the Prague to offer his sword to the emperor Ferdinand. Like the rest, the emperor received him warmly, and created him a field-marshal, but there was no post for Montrose in the Austrian army, and in the end he joined some friends in Brussels, whence he kept up an intimate correspondence with Elizabeth of Bohemia, Charles I's sister, who was staying at the Hague with her niece, Mary of Orange, and the young prince of Wales.
There in February arrived the news of the king's execution, and when he heard it Montrose vowed that the rest of his life should be spent in the service of his son, and in avenging his master. Charles II did not like him; he was too grave and too little of a courtier; and besides, the new king had listened and believed the stories to his discredit brought by men whose fortunes had been ruined in their own country, and who sought to build them up in Holland! Charles soon found for himself how untrue were these tales, and though the two never could become friends, he recognised Montrose's loyalty and ability and appointed him commander-in-chief of the royal forces and lieutenant-governor of Scotland, and gave him leave to get what mercenaries he could from Sweden and Denmark.
Full of hope, Montrose at once set off on his recruiting journey, and sent off some troops to the Orkneys to be drilled under the earls of Kinnoull and Morton; but Morton in a very short time caught fever and died. Meanwhile his friend, Elizabeth of Bohemia, looked on with distrust and alarm at her nephew's proceedings, for well she knew--as did Charles himself--that the surrender of Montrose would be the first article of any treaty made by the covenant. She even wrote to put Montrose on his guard; but he, judging the king by himself, believed the assurances of help and support given in Charles' own letters, accompanied by the gift of the garter, as a pledge of their fulfilment. He was bidden to lose no time in opening the campaign, but one thousand out of the one thousand two hundred men whom he despatched went down in a great gale, and only two hundred reached the shore. So April had come before the general had collected sufficient soldiers to march southwards, and by that time the forces of the enemy were ready to meet him.
It was on April 27 that Montrose's last battle was fought at Carbisdale, near the Kyle, where the rivers Shin and Oykel reach the sea. The earl of Sutherland secured the passes of the hills, while colonel Strachan and a large body of cavalry approached from the south. When they arrived within a few miles of the royalist camp at the head of the Kyle, Strachan ordered two divisions of his cavalry to proceed under cover of some woods and broken ground, and only suffered a few horse, led by himself, to remain visible. These were seen, as they were meant to be, by Montrose's scouts, who, as at Philiphaugh, were either careless or treacherous or very stupid, and they brought back the report that the covenanting force was weak. Montrose, taking for granted the truth of their report, disposed of his foot on a flat stretch of ground, and ordered his horse to advance. Then the trees and the hills 'started to life with armed men'; the Orkney islanders fled without striking a blow; and though the foreign troops made a stout resistance, they were overpowered by numbers, and those of their leaders who were not dead were taken prisoners. Montrose, who was badly wounded, fought desperately on foot, but at length after much entreaty accepted the horse ridden by Sutherland's nephew and dashed away into the hills, throwing away as he did so his star, sword and cloak--a fatal act, which brought about his discovery and death. Their horses were next abandoned, and Montrose changed clothes with a peasant, and with young lord Kinnoull and Sinclair of Caithness plunged into the wild mountains that lay on the west.
Now began for the three fugitives the period of bodily anguish that was to cease only with their lives. The country was strange to them, and was almost bare of inhabitants, so that for two days they sought in vain to find a road which might take them to Caithness, whence they could escape to France or Norway. During these two days they ate absolutely nothing, and passed the cold nights under the stars. At length Kinnoull, who had always been delicate, flung himself down on the heather, and in a few hours died of exhaustion. There his friends were forced to leave him, without even a grave, and wandered on, their steps and their hearts heavier than before, till a light suddenly beamed at them out of the dusk. It was a shepherd's cottage, where they were given some milk and oatmeal, the first food they had eaten since the battle; but the man dared not take them into his hut, lest he should bring on himself the wrath of the covenant for harbouring royalists, even though he knew not who they were.
The reward offered for Montrose sharpened men's eyes and ears, and in two days he was discovered lying on the mountain side almost too weak to move. It was Macleod of Assynt to whom the deadly shame of his betrayal is said to belong, and Montrose prayed earnestly that the mercy of a bullet in his heart might be vouchsafed him. But the man who for many years had defied all Scotland could not be dealt with like a common soldier, so he was put on a small Shetland pony, with his feet tied together underneath, and led through roaring, hissing crowds, which pressed to see him in every town through which they had to pass. The wounds that he had received in the battle were still untouched, and he was feverish from the pain. This was another cause of rejoicing to his foes; but they were careful to give him food lest he should escape them as Kinnoull had done. And at each halting-place there came a minister to heap insults and reproaches on his head, which he seldom deigned to answer. But though the ministers of peace and goodwill had no words bad enough for him, one is glad to think that Leslie the general did what he could, and allowed his friends to see him whenever they asked to do so, and also permitted him to accept and wear the clothes of a gentleman, which were given him by the people of Dundee. It was to Leslie also that he probably owed a last interview with his two little boys, when he stopped for the night at the castle of Kinnaird, from which he had been married.
* * * * *
From Dundee the prisoner was brought by ship to Leith, and taken to the palace of Holyrood, where he was received by the magistrates of the city in their robes of office, with the provost (or mayor) at their head. Here the order of the Parliament was read, and he listened 'with a majesty and state becoming him, and kept a countenance high.' Then his friends, who, like himself, were prisoners, were ordered to walk, chained two together, through the streets, and behind came Montrose, seated bareheaded on a chair in a cart driven by the hangman. The streets of the old town were crowded by people who came to mock and jeer, but remained dumb with shame and pity. The cart slowly went on its way, and at seven the Tolbooth prison was reached, with the gallows thirty feet high standing as it had stood twelve years before beside the city cross.
* * * * *
The last days of Montrose were disturbed by the constant visits of ministers, who tried to force from him a confession of treachery to the covenant, but in vain.
'The covenant which I took,' he said, 'I own it and adhere to it. Bishops I care not for. I never intended to advance their interest. But when the king had granted you all your desires, and you were everyone sitting under his vine and under his fig tree--that then you should have taken a party in England by the hand and entered into a league and covenant with them against the king was the thing I judged my duty to oppose to the yondmost.'
These words are the explanation of Montrose's conduct in changing from one side to another; but little he guessed that the new king, by whose express orders he had undertaken his present hopeless mission, had only a few days before, at the conference of Breda, consented to bid his viceroy disband his army and to leave Scotland. This knowledge, which would have added bitterness to his fate, was spared him; as was the further revelation of the baseness of Charles II, who gave orders to his messenger not to deliver the document if he found Montrose likely to get the upper hand.
* * * * *
As an act of extraordinary generosity the Parliament, which had voted to colonel Strachan a diamond clasp for his share in the final defeat of Montrose, permitted the prisoner's friends to provide him with a proper dress, so that he might appear suitably before them. Their courtesy did not, however, extend to a barber to shave him--a favour which, as he said, 'might have been allowed to a dog.' But he must have looked very splendid as he stood at the bar of the House, in black cloth trimmed with silver, and a deep lace collar, with a scarlet cloak likewise trimmed with silver falling over his shoulders, a band of silver on his beaver hat, and scarlet shoes and stockings.
A long list of his crimes was read to him, and these one by one he denied. 'For the league,' he said, 'I thank God I never was in it, and so could not break it. Never was any man's blood spilt save in battle, and even then, many thousand lives have I preserved. As for my coming at this time, it was by his majesty's just commands'--the commands of the king who a week earlier had abandoned him! But of what use are words and denial when the doom is already fixed? The chancellor's reply was merely a series of insults, and then the prisoner was ordered to kneel and hear the sentence read by Warriston, by whose side he had stood on the scaffold in 1638 when the first covenant was read, and old Lord Rothes had made his dark prophecy.
He had known beforehand what it would be--hanging, drawing, and quartering, with a copy of his last declaration and the history of his wars tied round his neck, and no burial for his body unless he confessed his guilt at the last. This did not trouble him. 'I will carry honour and fidelity with me to the grave' he had said eight years before, and that no grave was to be allowed him mattered little.
The ceremony over, he was led back to the Tolbooth, where his gaoler kept him free from the ministers who would fain have thrust their sermons and reproaches on the dying man.
* * * * *
Soldiers were early under arms on the morning of May 21, for even now the Parliament greatly dreaded a rescue. With the 'unaltered countenance' he had borne ever since his capture Montrose heard the beating of drums and trumpets, and answered calmly the taunt of Warriston as to his vanity in dressing his hair.
'My head is yet my own,' said Montrose, 'and I will arrange it to my taste. To-night, when it will be yours, treat it as you please.'
Every roof and window in the High Street and within sight of the city cross was filled with people as Montrose, clad in scarlet and black, walked calmly down at three that afternoon. 'Many of his enemies did acknowledge him to be the bravest subject in the world,' writes one who beheld him, and he walked up the steps as quietly as if he were taking his place to see some interesting sight.
They feared him too much to allow him to speak to the crowd, as was the custom, but he addressed himself to the magistrates and the ministers who were standing on the platform. Once more he confessed his faith and his loyalty, and when, in accordance with the sentence, the hangman suspended the two books round his neck, he said, 'they have given me a decoration more brilliant than the garter.' Then he mounted the ladder, and the hangman burst into tears as he gave the last touch.
* * * * *
So died Montrose, and eleven years later the king who had disowned him bethought him of his fate. In January 1661 the Parliament, which had been summoned by the restored monarch, Charles II, 'thought fit to honour Montrose his carcase with a glorious second burial, to compensate the dishonour of the first.' His limbs, which had been placed over the gates of the cities made memorable by his victories, remained in state at Holyrood for four months, and May 11 was fixed to lay them where they now rest, in the church of St. Giles. Heralds in their many-coloured robes arranged the procession, and the train-bands occupied the street to keep off the dense crowds. The magistrates, headed by the provost, walked two and two in deep mourning--had any of them taken part in that brutal scene eleven years ago?--and behind them came the barons and the burgesses. Next followed the dead man's kinsmen bearing his armour, the order of the garter, and his field-marshal's baton, and behind the coffin came his two sons and most of his kindred. Middleton, as lord high commissioner and representative of the king, occupied the place of honour, and brought up the rear in a coach drawn by six horses, with six bareheaded gentlemen riding on each hand.
Thus was Montrose lowered into his grave to the sound of the guns that he loved, which thundered from the castle. He has a beautiful tomb in the old church of St. Giles, adorned with the coats-of-arms of the Grahams and Napiers and his other brothers-in-arms.
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