1644 - Marquis of Montrose's year of victories

Civil War

As Britain descended into civil war, a new leader emerged for the Covenanters. In the Lowlands he was Earl (later Marquis) of Argyll, in the Highlands, however, he was MacCailein Mr: the great chief of clan Campbell. He brought to the covenanting cause an acute mind and a following of thousands of fighting men. He also brought with him the grudges held against his people by other clans of the Western Gaedhealtachd, pushed aside by the successful Campbells. As Argyll rose, James Graham, Earl (later Marquis) of Montrose found himself squeezed out of the covenanting hierarchy. When the Covenanters made common cause with the king's enemies in England, Montrose switched sides and supported the king. Nobody very much cared - until the young man had an amazing stroke of luck.

Roaming the Highlands of Scotland trying to raise forces for his master, Montrose chanced on a company of clan warriors: the battle-hardened men of Alasdair MacColla, fresh from the bloody civil wars of Ireland. They had crossed the sea to take revenge on the Campbells who had some years previously forced them out of their Scottish lands. Montrose had nothing to do but to put himself at the helm of MacColla's forces - giving royalist respectability to clan warfare. In 1644, he led his new army on the covenanting garrison of Aberdeen. Little did he know what he was letting loose.

John Spalding, who wrote this account of what followed, was a royalist like Montrose: but he was also an Aberdonian, and to him the covenanting army was 'our' army, because it defended the town. The royalists who attacked it were therefore 'the enemy,' though Spalding shows his divided loyalties by avoiding denouncing Montrose and heaping blame instead on his Irish troops.

Upone Frydday the 13th of September [1644], about ellevin houris, oure army beginis to marche out of the toun. Liuetennand Montroiss wreittis ane letter to the provest and balleis of Abirdein, sendis ane drummer to touk ane parle [call a parley], and ane commissioner to deliver the letter, quhilk [which] boor [bore] ane command and charge to rander [surrender] the toune to him lieutennant to his Majestie and in the Kingis name, quhairby [whereby] he micht receave peciabill entress [peaceable entry] to use his Majesteis proclamationis and sic orderis as he thoucht fitting, promesing assureans [assurance] that no moir [more] harme nor preiudice should be done to the toun, bot to take thair intertynnement [lodging] for that nicht; utherwayis [otherwise] if thay wold disobey, that then he desyrit them to remove old aigit [aged] men, wemen and children out of the get [gate], and to stand to thair awin [own] perrell [peril].

This letter was deliverit to the provest. He convenis his counsall at the Bowbrig in Alexander Fyndlateris houss, quhair the Lord Burlly, Lieutennand Arnot, Mr James Baird, and sum otheris wes [were]. Thay causit the commissioner and drummer drink hardlie, sendis ane ansuer; and be the way the drummer wes unhappellie slayne. Montroiss fand thair ansuer wes to stand out, and defend thame selffis to the uttermost. And, fynding his drummer, aganes [against] the law of nationis, most inhumanelie slayne, he grew mad, and becam furious and impatient, oure army being upone thair merche [march] (when he wes slayne) about ellevin houris, towardis the boundis of Justice Millis. At the recept [receipt] of the quhilk [which] answer the lieutennand cumis quiklie merchand [marching] fra the tua myll [two mile] cross to meit us, chargeing his men to kill and pardon none.

Oure cannon begins the play. Oure trouperis persewis hardlie [pursue hard]. The enemy schootis thair cannon also, and defendis stoutlie with muskiteires [musketeers]. The fight contynewis [continues] hotlie dureing the space of tuo houris. At last we tak the flight. Oure trouperis upone horsbak wan saiflie away, except Schir Williame Forbes of Craigiwar and Johne Forbes of Lairgy war takin prissoneris. Thair wes littill slauchter in the fight, bot horribill wes the slauchter in the flight fleing bak to the toune, whiche wes our toune's menis distruction; whairas if they had fled and not cum neir the toune thay micht haue bein in better securitie: bot being commandit be Patrik Leslie provest to tak the toune thay war undone, yit himself and the pryme convenanteris [covenanting leaders] being on horsbak wan saiflie them selffis away [escaped]. The lieutennand followis the chaiss [chase] in to Abirdein, his men hewing and cutting doun all maner of man thay could overtak within the toune, upone the streites, or in thair houssis, and round about the toune, as oure men wes fleing with brode suordis [broad swords] but [without] mercy or remeid. Thir cruell Irishis, seing a man weill cled [well clad], wold first tyr [strip] him and saif [save] the clothis [clothes] onspoyllit [unspoilt], syne [then] kill the man. We lost thrie piece of cannon with muche goode armour, besydis the plundering of oure toune houssis, merchand buithis [merchant shops], and all, whiche wes pitifull to sie. The Lord Burly, Mr Alexander Joffray [Joffray] and his sones, Mr Robert Farquhar, Walter Cochrum, Mr James Baird, aduocat in Edinburgh, and diverss utheris covenanteris, wan upone horss saif away [escaped on horseback]. Alwayes Montroiss follouis [follows] the cheass [chase] in to Abirdene, leaving the bodie of his army standing cloiss [nearby] unbrokin whill [until] his returne, except such Irishis as faucht [fought] the field. He had promesit to them the plundering of the toun for thair good service. Alwaies [any way] the lieutennand stayit not, bot returnit bak fra Abirdene to the camp this samen Frydday at nicht, leaving the Irishis killing, robbing, and plundering of this toune at thair plesour. And nothing hard bot pitifull howling, crying, weiping, murning, throw all the streittis.

This, thir Irishis contynewit Frydday, Setterday, Sonday, Mononday. Sum wemen thay preissit to defloir [rape], and uther sum thay took perforce to serve thame in the camp. It is lamentabill to heir how thir Irishis who had gottin the spoyll [spoil] of the toune did abuse the samen [same]. The men that they killit thay wold not suffer to be bureit [buried], bot tirrit [stripped] thame of thair clothis, syne left thair naikit bodeis lying aboue the ground. The wyf [wife] durst [dared] not cry nor weip at her husbandis slauchter befoir hir eyes, nor the mother for the sone, nor dochter for the father; whiche if thay war hard [heard], then thay war presentlie slayne also.

As thir savage Irishis ar at this wark, the lieutennand gave ordoris [orders] to the bodie of the army, upone Setterday, the 14th of September, to marche (except sic Irishis as wes plundering the toun and killing oure men, whiche went not with thame) forduardis [forward] to Kintor, Innervrie, and Gareoche.

John Spalding, Memorialls Of The Trubles in Scotland and in England A.D.1624-1645, Spalding Club, 1851.

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