The Marquis of Montrose, one of Scotland’s most romantic
historical figures, was the Kings Lieutenant and commander
of the Royalist Army in Scotland during the Great Civil
Wars that waged throughout Britain between 1644 and 1652.
A poet as well as a great military leader, he was to pay
with his life for the beliefs he held and his devotion to
the Stuart cause.
A one time supporter of the Covenant cause and signatory
of the National Covenant, Montrose believed that the aims
of the Covenant had been achieved following the Bishop’s
Wars of 1639/40 and subsequent withdrawal of the Common
Prayer book. When the Solemn League and Covenant was drawn
up in 1643 replacing the aims of the National Covenant he
was disillusioned by it’s demands and wary of the
ambition of it’s champion the Duke of Argyll. Withdrawing
his support for the Covenanters he took up the Royalist
cause and headed south to the court of Charles I.
He was at first treated with wariness
but through his persistence was finally granted the Kings
Commission. He returned to Scotland in 1644 without an army
but intent on raising the country for the King. The task
was enormous, he was perceived as a turncoat and mistrusted
by many who could have supported him such as the Marquis
of Huntly. What support he did raise also worked against
him, for when he finally gathered his army it was made up
of highlanders and Irish troops from Antrim, under the command
of Alasdair MacDonald (MacColla) (However the latter was
probably the real talent of the partnership). Lowland Scots
feared and despised the highland and Irish Gaels. The Gaelic
culture was alien to them and their fear of the propaganda
image of marauding wild men (the Irish were in fact veteran
troops who had been fighting on the continent) was a serious
hindrance to the capturing of popular support.
Montrose successfully waged his
campaign of war throughout 1644/45 winning victory after
victory against superior odds. He constantly crossed and
re-crossed Scotland outwitting his enemies whilst trying
to raise the loyal clans that would provide him with sufficient
forces to win the war as well as the battles. Following
the Battle of Kilsyth, where once again the Royalist army
had been victorious, Montrose finally believed that Scotland
would now support the King and wrote to Charles assuring
him that victory was theirs.
His optimism was premature, the surge of popular support
failed to materialise, instead much of his army melted away
leaving barely 500 troops to march into the borders. At
Philiphaugh the Royal Army was surprised by a Covenant army
returning from England. The Irish regulars under the command
of Manus O’Cahan fought valiantly to the death, those
few accepting quarter were soon executed, the army was smashed!
Montrose escaped but never again was he to come close to
winning Scotland for the Royalist cause.