The news of the Cessation was incendiary, in many ways. Of course in England and Scotland many took it as proof positive that Charles was a man who would do anything to subject his kingdom to his tyranny, including using Catholics and Papists, and wasn’t this just more evidence that he was a closet lover of Catholic toleration? Amongst Irish protestants it pulled apart the uneasy alliance and resulted in two camps – the followers of Ormond and the Kings Deputy in Ireland, prepared to see the nuance among the Catholics, with some being loyalists and people whom they could treat, and others as being rebels with whom they would not; with some pain, this group accepted the cessation. But many protestants in Ireland on the other hand could not accept the idea of treating with the Irish Catholics; and among them, crucially, was Robert Munro, who held aloft from the agreement, and of course he controlled the most powerful protestant forces in Ireland, so that wasn’t good.
For those who accepted the cessation, it did not really help their situation, or rather, it led to fresh ones. English forces generally found that the supplies and pay for them promised under the cessation never appeared; given they could no longer take what they needed and wanted from the local population, because of the truce, many were now in trouble, given that there was no supply from England.
All of this meant that the Cessation had a limited impact on Charles’ military situation. Ormond did manage to send some men from the British armies in Ireland to land at Chester and Bristol, and Antrim would finally manage to send 2000 men to Scotland, but the impact was not huge; in all Charles would receive between 6,000 and 10,000 soldiers from Ireland into his English armies – it was never on the scale of Scottish intervention for parliament.
And meanwhile, the Cessation destroyed the relationship between Munro and Ormond. Munro started acting on his own initiative and kept right on fighting, including capturing Belfast in the summer of 1644. And for sure, it meant the idea of the Scottish army in Ireland returning to fight in England was a non starter.
Back in Britain, As you’d expect, a Leslie was appointed to command the new Scottish army that had assembled at Berwick in December, namely Lord Leven, Alexander Leslie. The Major General of the Horse was his fellow Thirty Years War veteran, David Leslie, to whom you have been introduced some time ago. Sadly, despite the success of the recruitment, the army they found waiting for them outside Berwick was in a sorry state of food and arms. So the decision to advance into England, crossing the Tweed on 19th January 1644, was partly driven by desperation – a fear that the army would start disintegrating if they didn’t find supplies sharpish, and a desire to take those supplies from an English population rather than take them from a Scottish one.
It is a feature, by the way, of the Scottish army that they were very keen not to brutalise and steal from the local population because after all they were supposed to be coming as friends and liberators. So stringent rules were put in place, and on occasion looters executed. But you know what? Soldiers will be soldiers, and besides there simply was not sufficient supply – so hate or it loathe it, the locals paid – in kind, in financial levies, and in pain. It did not endear the people of the north to the Scots, and they didn’t start from a situation of peace love and justice it must be said. These are the borders after all, and the Reivers were not long disbanded and their memory strong.
And what then, you might ask, of the king’s supporters on the Scottish Council, whose policy of preventing Scottish intervention on the side of the English parliament had so spectacularly turned out to be so much custard pie, leaving egg on their faces? Well, custard. There is egg in custard though, isn’t there? Let’s agree they had egg custard on their faces. Anyway, onward, Hamilton refused once more to take the Covenant and fled Scotland before he could be prosecuted, to return to the side of his king at Oxford; it’s difficult to think that he expected a kiss on both cheeks, but he’d come with an excuse in his travel bag – that at least his actions managed to delay Scotland’s intervention by a year. This did him no good whatsoever, and no parsnips were buttered.
He also found another Scot in residence with the king – as bored as bored can be, it must be said, kicking his heels and spending his life doing sudokus and all – one James Graham Earl of Montrose. Montrose, a hot-headed, passionate youth of course, accused Hamilton furiously of treason. Charles was inclined to agree, and Hamilton was immediately imprisoned, and in January carted off to Pendennis Castle, a Henry VIII monster in Falmouth. There he was to stay until, ironically, he was released by Parliamentary soldiers. How he must have laughed at that irony.
Now you might have a deal of sympathy for Charles and his attitude towards Hamilton, after all he’d ended up with Nul point in the Eurovision civil wars. But Charles once again displayed his rather uncanny skill of not quite knowing when to put pedal to the metal, and when to back off. Unsuccessful he might have been; but Hamilton had demonstrably been the only game in town, and had constructed a party of moderates and royalists during 1643 that would probably had no expression and leadership without him – leadership that Charles had signally failed to provide. Charles’ treatment of his greatest supporter in Scotland caused enormous resentment among many of the royalists that remained there – and made them less interested in the idea of rallying to the royal standard, if and when it might be raised in Scotland once more.
Well, if the meat and potato pie hasn’t done the job, maybe the vegan wrap is the one to go for, and as luck would have it there was of course a vegan wrap available in the form of the very same James Graham Earl of Montrose. And Montrose was still a young man of 31 and full of beans, as is common with vegan wraps of course, and full of ideas. Now maybe this was the time for Antrim’s idea, the great hook up between the Irish McDonnells and the Scottish MacDonalds. Now you’ll understand why Charles had been chary and wary of Montrose; he was a convinced Covenanter by religion, he had led rebellious armies to defeat royalists at the Brig O Dee in 1639, and Charles had therefore resolutely preferred Hamilton’s advice to Montrose. But now the Hamilton flush was busted. And as the Carpenters reminded us, Solitaire was the only game in town, and Solitaire in this case was Montrose – and anyway what did Charles have to lose by dealing out the cards and seeing what Montrose could make of them? So in February 1644, Charles appointed Montrose Lieutenant General of Scotland, and pushed him up the peerage ladder to Marquis of Montrose. All James Graham had to do now – was deliver. It would all be over by Christmas.
The impact of the Irish Cessation had caused a rumble at Charles’ court at Oxford – plenty of English royalists there were very disturbed at the implications of peace with the Irish. But at Westminster the impact had the force of an industrial sized cattle prod. Here, the various factions fighting it out were strongly affected by the news that Catholic Irish troops were soon to be seen on their shores; and for the moment it banished any fears and reluctance about the Scottish alliance. For although it sounds like a gimme for parliament, actually there were plenty in England for whom a Scottish alliance was like cutting off your head to cure gangrene of the neck; the Scots were traditional enemies, they came with a blare of trumpets about their blessed church and hatred of lovely old bishops, they were demanding a say in English politics and governance for crying aloud and anyway; relying on a Scottish army? How humiliating is that? It’d be like picking a Scottish Fly Half for the Lions. But the Cessation in Ireland cured all that, well for a short while, and the Scottish alliance was in. And as part of that, there clearly needed to be better co-ordination of joint activities – and so the Committee of Both Kingdoms was born.
A group of commissioners travelled down to Westminster, eager as they said to get involved in the ordering of church and state – though the priority was the co-ordinating of military affairs. For some of the English, including the pre-eminent military leader, the Earl of Essex, the arrival of the Scots was unwelcome, a reminder of their humiliating influence over English affairs, and Essex fought against the Committee having any sort of effective role, complaining more than testily at the Scots’ ‘Power over us’ as he termed it. But Sele-Saye and John Pym, leaders of the dominant parliamentary faction, overruled him, and the Committee was a go. Loudon, Maitland, Waristoun and Robert Barclay therefore started the work of organising the delivery of supplies and pay to Leven and his army in the north.
They were not the only commissioners working with the English; in the Autumn of 1643, 11 Scots had been asked to join the Westminster Assembly, a convention set up in England in June of 1643 to reform religion and church governance. Although they declined voting rights, the likes of Samuel Rutherford, George Gillespie, and Alexander Henderson were outspoken at the Assembly, presenting their conviction that there must be uniformity around the kirk model. They were disconcerted to find less enthusiasm for the Scottish model than they had expected after the Solemn League and Covenant; although many did favour Presbyterianism, many of the English did not like the idea of adopting the lock, stock and other components of the kirk, smoking or otherwise; there was much more multiplicity of opinion about religion amongst the English. One of them for example declared
That by this covenant we bound no more to conform to Scotland than Scotland is to us
Which doesn’t sound unreasonable, but to the Scots flew in the very face of the point of the league; and meanwhile there was a group called the Independents among the English determined to resist uniformity and who favoured toleration. I should make a point here; than we gaily use the term independents, but really even most of the independents rejected the term and called themselves congregationalists; they were not separatists, had accepted bishops and stayed within the church of England, but insisted on their right for each congregation to organise affairs of religion according to their own idiom. So despite much agreement around church governance, support for the church of England with royal involvement was strong in England unlike Scotland. This would acquire the slipperiness association, somewhat oddly in my view, with banana skins. I mean a banana skin is true enough, quite slippery, but compared to ice; or a slick of oil? I mean there’s no competition.
However, the Scots commissioners, at the Assembly and Committee reassured themselves that all would come good, once Leven and the Covenanter army had showed parliament how to win the war. And they were convinced that would happen; so when feelers for peace came from Oxford and Charles’ parliament there, this time unlike a year earlier, the Scots were having none of it, sorry not at home, talk to the hand. Clarendon, the great royalist historian of the war, recorded that all that arrived from Scots was a copy of the Covenant and several declarations,
Inspired with Scottish dialect and spirit
On that though, the Leven and his brave fighting men thing, they were acquitting themselves thoroughly honourably, and the KJV would sort of have it, ‘as chaff before the wind: with the angel of the LORD chasing them’. By April Leven’s army had penned up the Earl of Newcastle’s royalist forces in Newcastle and York and overrun most of Northumberland and County Durham.
While the royalist General the Earl of Newcastle was focussed on dealing with Leven, Thomas Fairfax had managed to slip into Cheshire and defeat a royalist army at Nantwich, and the army of the Eastern Association had swept Lincolnshire, and joined Fairfax and Leven besieging York. So, it’s not that the war wasn’t beginning to go Parliament’s way in the north at last, at long last, but it’s just that it wasn’t simply Leven that had achieved it; it had been hard going, and the blessed English had got in on the act. Life is complicated essentially, and the future of this particular debate will be the Scots complaining the English don’t give them due credit, and the English saying look it was a team effort there’s no I in team mate, at which the Scots might well have remarked that there is a U in butthead and things would go from there.
But for the moment, with their wildly inflated expectations, the Scottish commissioners were disillusioned and a bit flat. It is essential to the later history of 17th century Scottish history that we understand just how high expectations were, and how this played into the Scottish national psyche – and more immediately, how it would affect the security of the Covenanter government. Argyll was well aware that sending an army into England left them a bit threadbare at home. But it was confidently expected that Leven would win the war for the English parliament in a matter of weeks or months, and soon be back home. So as this didn’t happen Robert Bailie complained that
We are exceeding sad and ashamed that our army, so much talked of has done as yet nothing at all. What can be the reason of it we cannot guess, only we think, that God, to humble our pride…had not yet been pleased to assist them
The reason this caused such turmoil was that the idea of military prowess, of never having been conquered was a great source of national pride, next to the perfection of its church. They drew disparaging parallels with the English; even after an inconvenient fact that we’ll get to in the 1650s, at the start of the 18th Century James Hodges would proudly declare that the Scots had defended their ‘natural rights, liberties and sovereign independency’ whereas the English had been beaten no less than four times – by the Romans, Saxons, Danes and Normans. So – what was Leven messing about for then? Get on with it man.
None the less, in the spring, the Scots still decided the King ‘s cause was struggling enough to try and negotiate a new treaty with him – maybe he’d panic this time and give way. So they advanced their proposal to the Committee of Both kingdoms; a proposal to be made to the king which to them made complete sense in the light of the promises and commitments of the Solemn League and Covenant. Under the proposals there would be covenanted uniformity between the two kingdoms and a permanent role for the Scots in the government of England and Ireland. Initially Sele Saye’s parliamentary faction supported the proposals – but, and this is important, there was an essential evasion here; they largely supported them because they knew fine well the king would rather eat his liver than accept them. In reality, they had their doubts about whether that was what they wanted, but preferred to let the king do their dirty work for them than create a rift with the Scots. This essential lack of openness would engender much sense of betrayal on the part of the Scots later. The real matter of debate was that parliament could not accept the Scottish kirk’s claim to a coercive power over the laity in matters of religion – and they failed to understand the subtlety of just how far, in fact, the laity actually were part of kirk governance despite all the verbiage about two kingdoms and lack of royal governance. They could not see how it actually worked on the ground in practice, with lay elders dominating the church sessions and governance; all they saw was the Scots straitjacketing religious conscience. Meanwhile the Scots thought the congregational system of the independents as a route to religious anarchy and insisted on uniformity, which of course was still the universally accepted concept. After all why would God have devised more than one true religion?
Anyway, while Leven’s army was still the lynchpin of military power, and the Scots secure and seemingly unassailable militarily, the English were reluctant to challenge their religious views too far. But then two things came to pass which would change the picture radically.
In May 1644, Charles allowed Prince Rupert to leave Oxford and strike north to relieve York and turn the situation around. By July outside York at Marston Moor Rupert, Newcastle and 20,000 men took on the Manchester, Leven and Fairfax and their 28,000. And through a hard fought battle, were in receipt of a kicking. It start well for Rupert; parliament’s right wing of cavalry commanded by Fairfax and Leven was routed, and legged it; so hard and far did Leven so leg that he made it all the way to Leeds, where he announced his own defeat to the world in most dramatic terms.
Meanwhile however, the Scottish and English centre held firm, and on the left the Cavalry under David Leslie and one Oliver Cromwell dispatched their Royal cavalry, turned on the royalist centre, and said aforementioned kicking took place.
When he heard that news, Leven suffered a double humiliation; not only had the General announced his own defeat, but he’d done it from miles away while his minions were actually fighting it out and winning on his behalf. Leven declared ‘I would to God I had dyed upon the place’ so deep was his pain. His chaplain explained it all by saying that God had decided to send Leven’s cavalry forces away so that the victory of the rest would be even more glorious for the them, which is a nice way to try to save your bosses blushes.
In English reports of the battle, Fairfax and Cromwell’s actions were writ large, and those of Leven writ smaller, despite being without doubt an essential part of the win. But the impact of Marston Moor was a dreadful blow to Royalist hopes, the North was lost to them, and a new confidence was in the air that Oh – the English parliamentary armies could win. And therefore, parliamentary confidence grew, and their dependence on the Covenanters lessened. And then, the second thig that would reduce English feelings on dependence on the scots, at last with angels and trumpets, we come to the exploits of the Great Montrose.
Well, it didn’t start very gloriously, to be fair. But then look great things often don’t – look at my very first episode of the History of England. Well you can’t as it happens because I burned it. But Montrose started off by trying to invade from England, getting support from northern royalists. Sadly they were all busy at York with the main armies, so Montrose was sent off to recruit all by himself – which actually he proved rather good at in Cumberland and invaded with a small army into Galloway. At his side was one Lord Abyne, a son of the Gordons of Huntly. But from there, a certain amount of crashing and burning took place. For starters, Galloway was the home of the Radical Covenanters, so although Montrose wrote a petition with the obligatory words for the Covenant and true religion, the good burgers of Dumfries said ‘really’? Open brackets – raised eyebrows & sceptical side eye – close brackets. Meanwhile even Scottish royalists were reluctant to flock to the banner, remembering the treatment Charles had handed out to Hamilton. So when Argyll approached with a Covenanter army, Montrose tried to do what would become his signature, a little shimmy, slip by and march across the moors to Stirling. But the good English soldiers of Cumberland said ‘where?’ (open brackets you must be mad looks, close brackets) and said that instead of that idea, their plan was to – go home thank you very much, and Montrose found himself back around the snake’s bum.
That is not to say that nothing at all was happening in support of the king in Scotland however, and before I go on with Montrose’s story I ought to introduce you to a couple of characters.
The first is one George Gordon, the Marquess of Huntly and father of Lord Aboyne, Montrose’s companion. You may remember something of the Gordon clan, up there in the North East of Scotland; one of the two families identified by the Scottish crown to become regional satraps in the highlands when the MacDonalds, lords of the Isles, were brought low. But also, as you may remember, their advocacy of the Crown’s interests had been slightly compromised, by their continuing allegiance to Catholicism, and so around their nearest city, of Aberdeen, was an area of continuing Catholicism.
The current holder of the Huntly hot seat was George as I say, born in 1590, and George was a distinctly odd fish. George was brought up a Protestant, and James I and Vi insisted he spend a deal of time in his youth at the English court. Actually, his religion all his life was a bit of a mystery – at times thought of as catholic, others protestant other times atheist – and there was nothing worse than an atheist in the 17th century, good lord no. Interestingly, Gordon always showed a stunning and rather misplaced belief in his own judgement, and ability to read the future, despite the evidence. The answer might be that he was a big, big fan of Astrology, and that might square the religious circle thing. Anyway, he would go to the grave with these doubts about his beliefs hanging over him.
He spent a deal of his youth doing the things noble youths did – he was commissioned at one stage to repress Catholicism in the north as a sort of test, probably; he spent some time fighting off regional clan opponents, Camerons and MacDonalds in the north, and interestingly before he took over the position as head of the Clan from his dad in 1636, he spent some time fighting for the French king in the Thirty Years War. That Thirty Years war, eh, gets everywhere, like a rash.
Gordon was very loyal to the king, and during the revolution of 1638, had a run in with Montrose, who was sent north with a Covenanter army to bring Aberdeen into line, where there was widespread refusal to sign the Covenant. But despite continually refusing to sign said Covenant, and saying grandly ‘You may tacke my heade from my shoulders, but not my heart from my soveraigne’, Gordon was strangely passive in terms of actually fighting. So he was removed by Montrose and spent a while in prison in Edinburgh; then in 1643 he was declared an outlaw again when he refused to attend the convention of estates in Edinburgh.
So you would think Gordon to be a potential ally of Montrose, being a royalist, despite their personal history. And indeed in March 1644 while Montrose was crashing and burning in Galloway, there was indeed a royalist rebellion in the North East. But it seems not to have been initiated by the Marquess. Instead, many of his lairds and followers thought his inaction in the face of the Convention’s hostility to be a mistake. So they took matters into their own hands, and one John Gordon of Haddo led a raid on Aberdeen, and kidnapped leading Covenanters; maybe they hoped that they’d stir their leader into action. And what we get is a bit of classic dithering – at first they had the desired effect – Gordon justified the action and occupied Aberdeen. But he had no plan; so in April, when Argyll approached with a Covenanter army he simply legged it. John Gordon of Haddo was forced to surrender, although his cousin the Earl Marischal promised he’d be well treated. In fact, John would be executed at the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh by the Covenanters in July 1644 which I don’t think qualifies as good treatment, could be wrong.
The point of all this is that a potential source of support for Montrose in the North East had already been crushed before his campaign got going; another is that at several points Montrose will seek support from the Gordons, sometimes get it and then almost immediately lose it. George Gordon would be a most rubbish, vacillating and unreliable ally who carriec with him a flame of resentment about Montrose to the grave. The royalist cause needed all the help it could get, and bad blood between its leading exponents would prove poor news.
Before we go this week then, and just to prepare the room for the Great Montrose next time, the other person to whom I need to introduce you is another Scot, Alasdair MacColla, or Alistair MacDonald if you prefer, for MacColla will have not only the glory of being Montrose’s companion in arms, but is also credited with the invention of that most famous military manoeuvre, the Highland Charge.
Alasdair was the son of a man with a claim to be chieftan of the Ian Mor, a splinter of the old MacDonald Lords of the Isles. His Dad been involved in a fierce succession dispute, and as a result wide MacDonald lands in Kintyre, Jura and Islay were lost to the hated Campbells in the early 17th century. So Alasdair was brought up on the island of Colonsay in the Western Isles – burning with injustice, and nursing a deep firey hatred of the Campbells.
In 1638 MacColla became involved with the Earl of Antrim’s plans to invade the Highlands from Ireland, using the MacDonald – MacDonnell relationship; the Earl of Antrim was described by the historian CV Wedgewood as ‘handsome but brainless’ just for your information. MacColla had been involved before, and managed to get for himself a reputation. In 1638 as we have heard, Antrim proposed the first version of his invasion schemes, and in response Argyll had raided and imprisoned many of MacColla’s family.
Which, sadly for Argyll and his future happiness, did not include Alasdair himself, or his brother Ranald. They fled to Ireland and started getting involved in the fighting there, getting involved in the Irish revolt, and generally carrying out his role as highland warrior. But what you need to remember about MacColla is that what motivated hm and his family was not the king, or even Antrim, or the rebellion; that motivated him was to
- Get his lands back and
- Restore the fortunes of the MacDonalds
- Take vengeance on the Campbells and
- No, seriously, take vengeance on the Campbells.
Between 1641 and 1644 then, MacColla changes sides three times, even spending a while fighting in Ireland for Munro – didn’t last, obviously. But in 1643 he got a taste of what he was looking for when he raided Islay and Colonsay, and before he was driven back to Ireland managed to acquire a fearsome reputation in the minds of the God Fearing inhabitants. Or should I say Campbell fearing inhabitants.
In Ireland also he acquired a fearsome reputation, reputedly being involved in the Portna massacre of Protestant officers in 1642. However, his there is another thing I need to tell you about MacColla for which he may have been famous at the time, and for which a historian called David Stevenson argues he should be more famous now, and that was his fighting skills. Now MacColla is always described as a massive giant of a man, which might reflect the size of his warlike reputation, but there’s something more specific, known to history as the Highland Charge.
Now, you will heard about the Highland Charge I think? And maybe particularly in regards to its death on the battlefield of Culloden in 1745? A terrifying charge of highland warriors, that swept all before them, that turned the knees of disciplined soldiers to a jelly-like consistency and turned them into the aforesaid chaff before the wind? Well, I never really unpicked it, but I understand there is a technique to highland charging. Also, I suspect in my mind was that it had always been a thing; you know, you met a 12th century MacDonald in the halls of the Clan chief over an ale and you started the conversation might start with ‘done any good highland charges recently?’ But no; apparently, the famous charge starts only in the early 17th century, in the 1640s.
So what is it, apart from 15 stone of hairy highlander running at you very quickly yelling at the top of their voice that they are not feeling friendly today? There was a process. Firstly, highlanders would approach their enemy, bearing loaded muskets – and that was an eye opener for me, muskets. They line up, and they would let lose their volley, and the enemy would also let loose their first volley in reply. All very civilised. The enemy would then presumably then concentrate on reloading a musket, and that is a job that requires, concentration, diligence and most importantly time, especially in the 17th century. While they were doing that if they cared to look up, or listen, they would notice that the highlanders were not so engaged; instead they had immediately dropped their muskets, drawn a one handed basket hilted sword, and were legging it towards their enemies including the requisite yelling about their personal feelings and immediate intentions. Now, having 15 stone hairy highlanders running at you in an unfriendly manner, in fact even the ones who had taken the trouble to shave their legs the night before, was not the best environment for the fiddly job of loading a musket. So if done correctly the highlanders would be on you before the loading process was done; the receiving enemy would therefore be armed with unloaded muskets, which did not have bayonets, and so were effectively armed with very unwieldy clubs.
Now there was a problem; armies had gone to the trouble of trying to deal with this, and so had provided pikemen supposed to protect the musket men while they reloaded. Which brings us to the third element of the highlander’s arms, the small, shield, the target, a wooden shield covered in leather. With this, the charging highlander would catch the point of the pike, and then hack off the pike’s metal point leaving the enemy holding a big stick, more suitable for the cultivation of runner beans than beating off even a smooth legged highlander with a bad attitude.
It took time in the early 17th century to adopt these tactics, and afterall the highlanders had been used to wielding heavy, two handed swords; so they had to be re-equipped with musket, single handed sword and target, and retrained. It had been assumed that probably it was Montrose who invented the tactic, but Stevenson has instead identified the battle of Larney in Ireland.
On February 11th 1642 a strong band of armed Protestant settlers were ambushed by MaColla and his men. In the ensuing battle, it was recorded that MacColla
‘commanded his murderers to lay down all their fyre-arms
then the same writer recorded that they fell on the settlers with swords
in such a furious and irresistible manner that it was reported that not one of them escaped
This does indeed sound spookily like the highland charge previously discussed.
So, now that we have prepared the guest room for MacColla and Montrose, next time, we will hear whether or not this new approach to warfare would have any impact back in Scotland, when MacColla managed to finally get Antrim to send him back to the home country.
 The Highland Charge Stevenson, David History Today; Aug 1, 1982; 32, 8; ProQuest pg. 3