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Battle of Tippermuir, 1644
Battle of Tippermuir

1st September 1644
The first battle that Montrose ever fought for the King was Tippermuir. It was perhaps one of his most amazing of victories (weren't they all?) when one considers how badly outnumbered and ill-equipped his force was. When Montrose first met the men he was going to lead, he was appalled to see just how badly under-strength they were. The Earl of Antrim had promised him 10,000 . Here there was less than that, 1,600, which together with his own men took the number up to 2,000. They were badly armed and in need of food. Facing this was a well-equipped, well-paid and well-trained Covenant force.

However not everything was against Montrose, and if his force lacked weapons, food and money, then they more than made up for this with enthusiasm and experience, and if there was one thing that the Covenanters lacked it was experience of any actual fighting - it's one thing to scare and terrorise a local populace and stomp around acting hard, it's quite another to go into battle against veterans such as the men Montrose led. When they arrived at Tippermuir, Montrose and his men at once saw what awaited them; Lord Elcho with 7,000 men of the Covenant army. The foot numbered about 6,000. The cavalry, considered to be the cream of this outfit (probably by their own reckoning) numbered 800, under the command of Lord Drummond. It is interesting to note that these cavalrymen were trained in the 'old' fashion - that is to say that they carried four pistols, a lance and a carbine - troopers later on in the Civil War carried a pair of pistols and a sword, anything else was considered to be excess baggage. Clearly the Covenanters still had a lot to learn. In addition to this, Elcho also fielded nine small cannon, as well as the local militia (from Perth) who were under the command of their Captain, David Grant.

All in all a fairly formidable force. However they were trained to fight according to the book, and books about fighting have a marked tendency to be written by people with little or no experience of actual fighting. The Covenanters were, however, confident of an easy victory over Montrose and his men - whom they believed to be little more than savages. Indeed such was their confidence of an easy win, many of the burghers of Perth had come to watch what they considered to be the death throes of Montrose. Lord Elcho had chosen his ground well; Tippermuir being little more than a flat plain. The foot regiments were drawn up at the base of Methven Hill, with 400 cavalrymen on either side. Elcho commanded the right wing, James Murray of Gask the centre and the left flank was given over to Sir James Scott of Rossie, the only veteran soldier present in the Covenant army that day.
The ranks of the Highland army had now gone up to 3,000 men and 3 horses. However the Highlanders were not dismayed at the vastly superior force, they were in fact quite happy at the prospect of a fight and easy victory! Montrose quickly deployed his men. He put Lord Kilpoint and 400 archers on the left so that they were in front of Elcho. They were accompanied by the Lochaber men who carried their famous axes which were very useful against cavalry. On the left, Montrose commanded himself, and in the centre he placed the Irish men.

At the outset, the Covenanters gave their battle-cry of "Jesus and no quarter!". Montrose's speech on the other hand, had less to do with religion, and more to do with how his men should conduct themselves; "Gentlemen: it is true you have no arms; your enemy, however, to all appearance, have plenty. My advice to you therefore is that as there happens to be a great abundance of stones upon this moor, every man should provide himself, in the first place, with as stout a one as he can manage, rush up to the first Covenanter he meets, beat out his brains, take his sword, and then I believe he will be at no loss how to proceed!". At this the Gaels gave a great howl and started pressing forward. There was one last formality that Montrose had to complete. He sent out the Master of Madertie under the flag of truce to beg Elcho to reconsider, and that if they wanted a fight could they wait until the next day as today was the Sabbath. Instead they seized Madertie (contrary to the conventions of the time) and claimed that they had the "choice of the Lord's Day for doing the Lord's work".
The fight then started. Aiming to harass the Highlanders line, Elcho sent forward two troops of horse and 160 foot. However both Alistair MacDonald and Lord Rollo saw the move, and sent 120 men forward to halt it in its tracks. They succeeded, and in the skirmish that followed, Drummond's men were pushed back into the main body of the Covenanters. Montrose immediately ordered his army to advance. The Royalists then roared down the slopes. The Covenanters who were manning the cannon turned and fled, barely seconds before their position was overrun by Highlanders, who in turn, went straight for Elcho's musketeers who stood behind. The Irish attacked the centre, waiting until their matchlocks were a "pike's length away" then blasting a volley into a dense mass of pikemen, before reversing their muskets and charging in. Behind them came the clansmen who were only armed with stones, and started beating and clawing at their enemies, before grabbing fallen weapons to use upon the enemy.This was too much for the newly-raised Covenant troops, who had never dared to believe that battle could be as savage as this. For many it was too much, and they started edging backwards. This soon turned into a full-blooded rout, and the road back to Perth was soon jammed with a heaving mass of bodies trying to escape the carnage, while the cavalry, the so-called 'cream' of the army, tried to push their way through the rabble in a desperate bid to escape. Behind them they left the dead and wounded to an inglorious end. Only on the left flank, was there an attempt at a stand. Sir James Scott of Rossie rallied his men, and tried to lead them to some ruined cottages. Unfortunately for him, Montrose guessed what his intention was, and led the Athollmen in a charge that placed them in front of Scott's men. They were pushed back into the main body of the Covenanters.
Now the slaughter began in earnest. The Gaels tore into the retreating army and cut down all those in their path. The townsfolk who had come to view the battle were caught up in the slaughter, and in the confusion many died. Elcho's army now existed in name only. They had lost 2,000 dead and 1,000 prisoners. Montrose suffered only one casualty, and Henry Stewart would die later.

Article by Alan Frize, Loudoun's Musket. Taken from the Covenant Clarion newsletter to the Earl of Loudoun's Regt. Comments appreciated.

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