17th Century

Marquis of Montrose (1612-1650)

James VI of Scotland in 1581 had signed the “National League and Covenant” which essentially provided protection for the new Presbyterianism worship set against the continuing silent Catholicism with its edicts from Rome, coupled to the invasion of Episcopalianism from the south. In its clauses the King was beholden to maintain the new religion and resist, if necessary by force, any attempt to have it usurped. This edict allowed the people of Scotland the right to express dissent in matters of religion foisted on them by any King.

James’s son, Charles I, who came to the throne in 1625, was a firm believer in Catholicism and the divine right of kings. He subsequently lost his head over the latter issue. He, to a large degree, rebuffed the document and its intent and had already alienated much of the population by marrying Henrietta Maria, the Catholic daughter of Henry IV of France. He also had displayed apparent sympathy for Catholicism at his Scottish coronation in Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh in 1633.

Suspicion of him had become evident early in his reign when he issued from England an act of revocation cancelling all grants for crown and church property which had been in effect for over a hundred years. It therefore was apparent that Charles was a discreet advocate of Catholicism. His activities in matters of religion and display of religious worship caused a lot of discomfort to many in Britain and in Scotland in particular. A new book of common prayer was introduced in St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. It caused an instant furore. Emotions were high in protest and became so heated that Jennie Geddes, (obviously a female activist!), and no doubt part of Knox’s “monstrous regiment”, threw a stool at the officiating Dean in the Cathedral. Riots occurred in the streets with the poor prelates running for their homes chased by angry mobs. The issue of divine right surfaced three years later and the English Civil War commenced with all the fury that a civil war brings.

As most Scots were aligned with the Act of Covenant, positions were taken. James Graham, the Marquis of Montrose, a Protestant by birth, rose to leadership of the King’s army. His opponents were known as the Covenanters. Their army was commanded by Alexander Leslie. Leslie was a Scots mercenary soldier on the continent. He had been persuaded to return from Sweden, and given the rank of Field-Marshal. On his return to Scotland he had brought with him a plentiful supply of arms and ammunition as well as military men.

James Graham - Marquis of Montrose (1612-1650 )

There was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing in this war in both England, and in Scotland. There was a continual jockeying for position with more emphasis initially on the philosophical issues rather than in actual combat. Matters changed considerably however during, and after, 1644. Like-minded men, mostly following dictates from their clan chiefs or the landowners, formed allegiances and created armies. They fought under different clan banners, but espoused the same cause. The stage was thus set. On the one hand those who supported King Charles and the maintenance of the established Catholic status quo and on the other, the forces supporting the Act of Covenant. Montrose as the King’s commander in Scotland was accompanied by some Perthshire “lights” including the eldest son of the Earl of Monteith, John Graham-Lord Kilpont, David Drummond Master of Maderty (Madderty), Sir John Drummond, and a son of the Earl of Perth. They collected a motley crew of levies from a variety of clans which included Appin Stewarts, Camerons, Farquharsons, Gordons, several cadet branches of the clan MacDonald, MacKinnons, MacLeans, MacNabs, Macphersons, as well as mercenaries from Ireland.

On the other team, and opposed to the dictates of the King, under the command and control of Archibald Campbell, was the eighth Earl, and first Marquis of Argyll. Argyll could summon the multitudes of Clan Campbell and he appointed as its army commander, Lord Elcho. Elcho surrounded himself with a mixed bag of acolytes including, strange to say, some from Covenanting families like Murray of Gask, and some from non-Covenanting families like Lord Drummond’s. He had collected about 8,000 men including a squadron of 700 horses. On Sunday September 1, 1644, at Tippermuir, outside Perth, the opposing forces met for the first time, steel clashed and casualties occurred. Elcho had chosen as his battle cry on the day “Jesus and no quarter!”

Montrose’s force of foot soldiers was outnumbered by three to one and they were poorly equipped. Most of their number had no weapons other than broadswords, Lochaber axes, dirks and obsolete guns. Some had no weapons at all relying on stone throwing! Montrose decided that the best way of securing weapons for his soldiers was to tell them to go and take them from the opposing force. As the ground was relatively flat he decided to do this by employing recently introduced European tactics first used by Gustavus of Leipzig. He lined his men up in three ranks. The first two ranks had muskets which were fired simultaneously and the third rank, which were almost prehistoric, could only throw stones! This procedure would then be followed up using a frontal attack in a traditional Highland charge.

Prior to issuing the order to engage the enemy Montrose had sent over a truce party under David Drummond of Madderty informing Elcho that as the King’s representative, and acting under a royal commission in Scotland as appointed lieutenant-general, he had no wish to cause bloodshed. He also reminded Elcho that his (Elcho’s) allegiance was to the throne. Furthermore he stated that there should be no violence on the Sabbath. Elcho heard these words and saw what stood against him. Emboldened he promptly seized the envoys telling them at the same time that he would hang them in Perth after the battle.

Elcho, seeing this rabble in front of his forces decided to lure them into a position within range of his nine pieces of cannon which fired five pound balls. The idea was to use some of his horse for this purpose and when they withdrew Montrose’s forces would be exposed. He could then cut them to pieces at his leisure. Unfortunately for him the ruse did not work. Montrose fired a volley from both of his ranks and the troopers were shot off their horses. This was quickly followed by a Highland charge.

A Highland charge, which one could describe as somewhat fearsome if one was at the receiving end of it, took place. With the spirit high, the King’ army bore down on the lines of the Covenanters less than a mile away with speed and, at close quarters, savagery. They broke the line causing Elcho’s position to collapse completely. The rout which then followed was catastrophic for the Covenanters.

Perhaps a dozen or so men had been killed in the action on the battlefield but the ensuing slaughter set the stage for the type of war it was going to be; barbarous acts were substituted for civilized warfare. It was said that there were bodies strewn all around the battlefield and right along the road and into the city of Perth. Old scores between Highlanders and Lowlanders were settled with the sword, dirk and club... anything which could come to hand.

After the battle at a celebratory banquet hosted by Montrose, James Stewart of Ardvorlich killed his best friend, Lord Kilpont, at Collace, with a dirk. Kilpont was a Graham and a relation of the Marquis. Ardvorlich then took off, no doubt very quickly, and joined the Covenanting army where he was commissioned with the rank of Major. The body of the murdered Lord was taken to Monteith and interred in the Chapter House of the Priory of Inchmahome. Kilpont’s widow naturally was quite distraught and swore a blood feud between the Grahams and the Stewarts. The reasons given for the murder are unknown but are offered in the chapter on the Stewarts.

Thereafter the career of Montrose as a brilliant general became a reality. His lightning moves against the Covenanting army are the stuff of legends. He took them on time after time. At Aberdeen, Fyvie, Inverlochy, the classic retreat from Dundee to Auldearn, and Alford, followed up with the Battle at Kilsyth sealed for him a place amongst the great generals of history, Hannibal, Caesar, Bruce, Wellington and Slim.

In 1645 he was again in Strathearn and camped at Callum’s Hill in Crieff. He had with him only 500 foot soldiers and 50 horses. This time his opponent on the Covenanter’s side was Baillie who was camped twelve miles away on the Perth road. Taking his small force Montrose made a night march to their camp but Baillie had wind of the move and had drawn up his army. Montrose seeing that he stood no chance decided to retreat through Upper Strathearn. He was followed by two thousand foot and five hundred horse of the army of the Covenanters but was able to hold them at bay. On April 16-18th, 1645, James Graham, Marquis of Montrose, passed through Comrie with his small army and camped, like Wallace of three centuries before, for the night at Dundurn near St. Fillans. Thereafter he went on to Balquhidder and then north where he met up with Lord Gordon. The united force then marched to the village of Auldearn near Inverness where he defeated Colonel Urrey and the government army on the 4th May of that year. It was said that one of the horses complained to another horse that it had sore feet with all the marching!

Sadly for the Marquis his luck ran out. After a defeat at Carbisdale in 1650 he sought shelter at Ardvreck Castle in Assynt. This was one of the homes of the MacLeods. There, under their hospitality, and one supposes, protection, they betrayed him. He was taken to Edinburgh and vilified and humiliated on the way. A court made up of all his enemies, many Campbells among them, was convened. After due evidence was introduced and presented he was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence was a foregone conclusion but hanging was not a part of it. The axe, yes, the sword yes, but the rope, never! This was for the common criminal, not a noble Lord. His right was to be executed with the axe or sword. A fine line, no doubt, but fine lines sometimes make the difference!

An appeal was made but the Court was in no mood to be trifled with or dictated to by the Marquis and his request was denied. He, like many other noble fellows was hung at the Grassmarket by the rope on May 21st, 1650. He died nobly forgiving all his enemies and confirming his loyalty to his King and cause! His last words were, “God have mercy on this afflicted land!” I hope the rope was at least made of silk!

His head was cut off and shown to the public in the Tolbooth where it hung for eleven years eventually being replaced by the head of his enemy, Argyll! His body was sectioned and distributed to various towns. His limbs were displayed in prominent places in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Perth and Aberdeen. There all could see and take note! His torso was buried in the Boroughmuir graveyard. In early January, 1661, as many parts of his body as it was possible to find were gathered together and placed in a linen-draped casket for final internment. Sadly his heart was missing. He had been granted “honourable reparation” by the Scots Parliament and a great assembly foregathered.

Execution of the Marquis of Montrose

The casket was placed in Abbey Church in Holyrood and it was a great day by all accounts. There, in attendance, were both friends and enemies. The ceremony and subsequent procession was led by his half-brother, Sir Harry Graham. Standards were carried by representatives from the houses of Balgowan, Cairnie, Duntroon, Drums, Gorthie, Inchbrakie, Monzie and Morphie - all close supporters of his cause. The casket was carried by no less than fourteen earls including some of his bitterest opponents like Callendar, Eglington, Home, Roxburgh and Seaforth. The pall was carried by others who had let him down, or betrayed him, including Strathnaver. His two sons were there, as well as his brother-in-law Rollo, a close friend to his arch-enemy Argyll. Tweeddale who had voted for his death at his trial and Marischal who had defied him at Dunnottar were there standing close by his faithful friends Madderty, Frendraught, and the Marquis of Douglas.

He was laid to rest in St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh but his heart; it was said, travelled further afield. According to legend, sometime shortly after his execution, Lady Napier resurrected his trunk from the grave in Boroughmuir where the heart was removed, embalmed, and placed in a small egg-shaped case. This was then enclosed in a gold filigree box which had originally been a gift to her grandfather from the Doge of Venice. The box was bought and sold many times and in the mid 1800’s turned up in a market in a town in India where it was purchased and returned to Scotland!

St Gilles Cathedral, Edinburgh

In 1881 a monument was erected with these noble words inscribed on it:

“Scotland’s glory, Britain’s pride,

As brave a subject as ere for monarch dy’d

Kingdoms in Ruins often lye

But great Montrose’s Acts will never dye”

The castle referred to in Sir Walter Scott’s great novel ‘The Legend of Montrose” called “Darnlinvarach” was fashioned after Ardvorlich House.

The religious contrasts reflected the mood of the day when the Covenant and the Restoration collided - a schism which still exists! Each year a Conventicle is held in Comrie at Tullichettle Church yard - lest we forget!

Tullichettle Graveyard, Comrie - The McGrouther (of Meigar) Table Stone is in the background