Did the death and slaughter of the Civil War years achieve anything positive?
THE SCOTS AND IRISH IN THE ENGLISH CIVIL WAR THE LEGACY OF HINDSIGHT.
Montrose had lost; dying a decade before the second King Charles regained the English-Scottish throne. It must be asked whether or not it was worth the sacrifices of the Scots-Irish Brigade, and the European mercenaries who took their place at Carbisdale.
Few of Montrose’s allies or for that matter, his opponents got to live happily ever after. One by one, the players in the tragedy met their fate. Hurry and Spottiswoode were executed about a week after Montrose, in their cases on the Maiden. Sibbald and Hay of Dalgetty went to their deaths on June 4th 1650.
After Montrose died, King Charles 2nd, now back at Breda, realized that he had no option but to depend directly on the Covenant hardliners. He no longer had a second force of men able or willing to police them. Scotland was his only hope of reconquering the English Throne. Cromwell’s navy dominated the Channel routes from France.
Ireland still had her own problems, and Charles could not have risked moving his forces to Ireland first as that would have given Cromwell plenty of time to prepare for any invasion launched from there. It had to be Scotland. Charles was in danger of becoming a puppet King. He was faced with a demand that he signs the Covenant, and introduces Presbyterianism to the English.
For Argyll too, publicly embracing Royalty was a major step. Direct support for Charles meant that his Covenanters would be in direct conflict with Cromwell’s forces. Argyll no longer had anyone to distance himself from. The Second Civil War could be blamed on the Moderate Party Engagers. This time, The King could only invade England with the full backing of Argyll and the Committee Of Estates. With Charles very much at their mercy, and with little effort to inform him of their own political and military activities, the Presbyterian Covenanters reluctantly stepped directly into war against the Protestant English.
The Irish Rebellion came to a savage end at the hands of the Republican English. With the arrival of Cromwell and the New Model Army in September 1649, the garrison town of Drogheda, on the mouth of the River Boyne, under command of the despised Sir Arthur Aston, was invited to surrender, and warned that if they fought on, and lost, all of the men, women and children there would die.
Aston, despite the odds being hugely stacked against him, insisted that he town should fight. Cromwell’s forces won, and in keeping with their understanding of the rules of Engagement, the people of the town were put to their deaths, with Cromwell’s blessings. Aston was beaten to death by his own men, with is own wooden leg.
More than 3,000 died in a massacre that would stain Cromwell’s reputation forever. Many Northern Ireland citizens still cannot forgive the English. A similar slaughter followed in October of the same year in Wexford, leaving 2,000 people dead. The New Model Army would continue its uncompromising campaign until Ireland was subdued in 1653, but those 1649 slaughters had done the main job, and what followed was mostly a tidying up of loose ends. The Rebellion that had raged for thirteen years had been totally crushed.
Cromwell left the New Model Army expeditionary force under control of General Ireton, and set off to England, arriving back in London on the 1st of June 1650, a few weeks after Montrose’s execution. He had no time to rest and put his feet up. He had come home only one day before King Charles The Second sailed for Scotland. Cromwell quickly raised the New Model Army Soldiers who were not in Ireland. He ran into some conflict with those who objected to a war against a new King, and they also objected to war against the Scots who had served their own cause a few years before. Thomas Fairfax, Cromwell’s most loyal ally, was among those offended. He resigned his commission and refused to have anything further to do with Cromwell. Fairfax, who had raised loud objections to the trial and execution of Charles The First, now went home.
When Charles landed in his own Kingdom, Argyll personally placed the Scottish crown on the King’s head at the Coronation ceremony.
Cromwell moved against Scotland. Crossing the border on the 22nd of July. He faced skirmishing from David Leslie’s forces every step of the way. For once, Cromwell faced the risk of being totally routed. His exhausted men were cornered at Dunbar on the 3rd September 1650, when Leslie’s forces trapped the entire New Model Army against coastal cliffs. Leslie failed to press forward his advantage, and under cover of night, Cromwell broke through their lines in what many take to be Cromwell’s finest hour. Cromwell had identified the men likeliest to be Leslie’s least experienced, and focused the brunt of his attack on them. Leslie’s forces were crushed, and Cromwell had control of Edinburgh’s approach routes. The Covenant leadership disintegrated in mutual blame and recrimination.
King Charles now tried to rally the army to his own command for an ill-prepared and badly planned march upon London. He found many clansmen willing to serve his needs on Scottish soil, but few were prepared to march with him South of the Border. It was precisely the same problem that Montrose had faced. The army wanted war only within close enough proximity to be able to convey their spoils back home. Steadily however, the army was growing, and there were signs of increasing support in England, which would make matters easier for Charles once he had crossed the Border.
Cromwell was severely fevered at this time, and unable to take personal lead in any attack on the growing Royalist forces. He was exhausted after moving through Ireland. He may even have contracted Malaria there, from the mosquitoes that infested the boglands. It was a major medical problem in Ireland in the 17th century.
Charles, though he had fought at Edgehill, and other battles on behalf of his father, was an inexperienced military commander, and his generals, eager to gain his favour, squabbled over the best way to proceed against the Roundheads. By the time Charles moved, Cromwell was finally sufficiently well to strike against him. Leslie advised Charles to take on Cromwell before marching south, but Charles was impatient to move on England, and set off with Cromwell’s forces behind him. If he now faced any Roundheads from ahead, he was effectively surrounded, as Cromwell could catch him up and attack from the rear with any other opposition to the fore.
Cromwell’s men harried his army almost daily as Charles marched down through Western England, and reached Worcester.
Cromwell’s forces were bigger and stronger by far. He chipped away at the Royalists but didn’t choose to strike hard until September 3rd. The delay was quite deliberate, and for mostly sentimental propaganda reasons. It was a date of some significance for Cromwell. It was the first anniversary of his glorious victory at Dunbar. Now, to celebrate that day, the New Model Army swept in, and destroyed the Royalist forces completely. Charles fled, and hid in various places throughout England, including famously, in an Oak Tree. This is why about 750 English pubs have the name ‘Royal Oak’. On the 19th October 1651, Charles was able to escape back to Europe. His hopes of taking his throne by force had been crushed. The third and last ‘English Civil war’ was over.
Argyll and the survivors among the leading Covenanters were now in serious trouble. By supporting Charles in his campaigns between Coronation and Worcester, they had received a great deal of contempt from the anti-Royalist Scots for an action regarded as hypocritical, and treacherous. Argyll retired to his estates a broken, nearly forgotten man, with little money and precious little power. He was virtually a recluse, and an exile on his own estates.
General Monck had swept through the Council of Estates on Cromwell’s behalf, and all but Loudon and Argyll, who had both already left offices, found themselves taken as prisoners.
When the Royalists rose up in arms again in 1652, led by Argyll’s son, Lord Lorne, Argyll, desperate for financial reward to alleviate his debts, personally betrayed their activity to the English who quickly crushed the hopelessly ill-timed rising.
When Cromwell was officially recognized as Lord Protector in Scotland at the Mercat cross in Edinburgh, Argyll loudly promised him the support of the Campbell clan, and then started to help bring about the destruction of all suspected rebels.
There were still many Royalists active in the Three Kingdoms, but they were too scattered to unite into a fighting force capable of tackling Cromwell’s increasingly powerful Army.
In April 1653, sickened by its interminable petty squabbles, Cromwell dissolved the Rump Parliament. The army had kicked out most of the MP’s in 1648. Now the rest went too. Like Charles, Cromwell was now ruling without Parliamentary support.
Under Cromwell, Argyll regained some of his power and even made some money. When Cromwell died in 1658, on the anniversary of his victories at Dunbar and Worcester, Argyll served as an MP in Richard Cromwell’s short-lived Parliament. Here many of the MP’s kicked out in the purges of 1648 and 1653 returned to office. With them returned the very bickering and indecisiveness that had led Cromwell to lose patience with them. Richard found himself increasingly unsure how to proceed with running the country. . He called on his old friend General Monck for advice. Monck knew exactly what was needed. A King.
As it became clear that General Monck, defecting to the Royalists, was going to bring Charles back to England as a King with Parliament’s blessing, and without a war, Argyll knew that his new position of power was tenuous. His friends advised him to leave the country. Instead, in 1660, he rushed to London to greet the King and offer his services at the height of the Restoration celebrations. He was immediately clapped in irons and sent back to Scotland, and cast into the tollbooth. He was executed on the Maiden on the 27th May 1661, meeting his end with quiet dignity for a man with a considerable and notorious reputation for cowardice. His head took its place on the spike on top of the Edinburgh Tollbooth. To make room for him, the skull of a previous occupant had to be removed. Fittingly, the skull taken down was that of James Graham, 5th Earl, and 1st Marquis Of Montrose.
Wariston, the creator of the first Scottish National Covenant, had faced the same difficult political choices as Argyll. He too had vigorously opposed the Engagers, though as Cromwell began to dominate Scotland, he declined initially from openly supporting English rule. However, he was broke with a large family to feed, and pro-Royalist Highlanders frequently raided his estates in revenge for his support for the Covenant. He was also pressed to billet many English Roundhead troops who came to occupy Scotland. On advise from Argyll, he joined the Parliament in the Republic under Richard Cromwell in 1658, and his troubles briefly melted away. His pension helped alleviate his debts and he was able to gain military support to protect his estates against marauders. The Restoration brought that comfort to an end, and unlike Argyll, he fled to Holland. It was a bad choice of hiding place, as Charles had many contacts there from his days in exile at The Hague. His spies soon traced Wariston, despite his numerous assumed identities and disguises. He was extradited and brought back to Scotland to face the executioner for his sins.
Charles The Second ordered Montrose’s body parts to be rounded up, and granted a proper state funeral, the best that could be afforded. The few survivors of the conflict followed the solemn procession, led by Sir Harry Graham. Lord Wigtown, Lord Marishal, Lord Southesk, Lord Drummond, Lord Rollo and even Sir John Middleton were present.
Charles turned his attention to the regicides that had tried his Father and signed his death warrant. Many went to the scaffold for their sins. Even Cromwell did not escape. His body, two years buried, was exhumed, subjected to a mock trial, found guilty, hanged, still in its coffin, and cast without ceremony onto a dung heap.
Queen Henrietta-Maria’s interference in politics estranged her from her son, the new King. Though she visited him a few times after his Restoration, she could not bear the life at the court in London. She quietly retired to the outskirts of Paris, dying in loneliness and despair in the year 1665
Now Charles settled into Kingship and became the Merry Monarch of note. For many, he was too merry, womanizing and living a life of debauchery. At least the Puritan ban on drama, Christmas and dancing was over. Charles had seen the decadence of Paris and introduced frivolity and colourful pageantry back into his kingdom. Now was the golden age of the often-bawdy Restoration Comedy and women were finally allowed to act alongside men on the English stage. The early years of his reign would be happy ones, marred in 1665 by the dreadful plague, and the following year by the great fire, which in itself paved the way for Christopher Wren’s magnificent rebuilding of London.
England was part of a new and happier world. The Stuart dynasty would face troubles later, with the Monmouth rising and the downfall of William and Mary, but for now, the wars were well and truly over. The King could smile again. It was a glory that Montrose, and his Scots-Irish allies had fought for, and died for. The squabbles in the Covenant leadership of what to do about Montrose had helped to sew the seeds of their own undoing.
Montrose was undoubtedly a great general, possibly on par with Cromwell and Prince Rupert. However, the over-veneration of Montrose has blinded many apologists to his many faults, and oversights. A list of the damming criticisms that can be raised regarding Montrose is truly staggering. That he changed sides should not be held against him. He did so only once, and genuinely struggled with the issue of where his loyalties lay. Others had also changed sides, including MacColla. Some made changing sides into a habit, as Inchiquin, Hurry and Seaforth did.
More damming was Montrose’s lack of ability to keep his word. His betrayal of Huntly at the Brig O’Dee when he offered safe quarter and then allowed the man to be arrested and imprisoned meant that many could not bring themselves to trust him. Montrose was often extremely negligent to his loyal long serving troops. New recruits were often given Montrose’s company and full attention while old friends were ignored and snubbed. Montrose was sometimes elitist, and he was not averse to leaving his friends in the fields while he and his entire officer core retired to some local house for the hospitality of one noble wealthy laird or another. His camping arrangements were often sloppy and insecure. He spread men too far apart, and positioned too few sentries. He sent out too few patrols to scout around for signs of enemy activity as well. He not only did this once, but frequently. Better security arrangements might have prevented Kilpont’s murder. Montrose rarely used tact and restraint at the right times. He failed to prevent the four-day massacre of civilians at Aberdeen, even when the predominantly Royalist town might have given him considerable support. From then on, many towns dreaded a similar attack, and many people went into hiding rather than offering their support to Montrose. He had little idea how to win hearts and minds to his cause. At times when aggressive plundering might have better suited his men and been good for their spirits, Montrose refused to allow them to commit plunder. At such times, many men left his services to be able to conduct their own campaigns. Montrose could be tactless, and frequently alienated the supporters he did have. Offered a reward for not sacking Glasgow, he took the money but chose not to share it with his men. Had they sacked the town, or had Montrose shared some of the reward with them, their morale might have improved.
Montrose had a passionate sense of his own destiny. He was vainglorious, and arrogant. His letters to Charles and other high-ranking officials virtually never gave credit to other exceptional commanders in his forces, such as MacColla. Montrose often took personal credit for their initiatives and activities. When they learned of this, many of his supporters quite rightly felt offended.
Montrose was a weak disciplinarian with his troops. Allowing their drunken binge at Dundee almost destroyed him.
Montrose failed to have good intelligence officers able to recognize any spies in his midst. The defection of Traquair’s son and his allies on the eve of the battle of Philipaugh suggests that Montrose was naïve for ever trusting them anyway.
Warnings that the enemy was approaching were often ignored. At Philipaugh, David Leslie’s troop movements were allegedly reported to Montrose and he chose to dismiss them as local isolated incidents of no consequence.
In his personal life, he neglected his wife and dragged his sons into battle, leading to imprisonment for one and death for another.
There is little doubt of Montrose’s overall bravery in the field, as he often led battle charges personally. Twice, however, Montrose fled the field to save himself. At Philipaugh, it is believed that he wanted to fight on, but had to be talked into escape by his cavalry allies. He would later escape as his men were slaughtered again at Carbisdale, though he was eventually captured in the course of this escape. Had he stayed with his men at either battle he might well have died with them, but the Royalists who venerate Montrose are just as quick to make a coward of Argyll and others who would take flight when the battle seemed lost.
What of Montrose’s other great leader? MacColla was undoubtedly a major player in Scottish and Irish events. Many of Montrose’s greatest victories were in fact MacColla’s achievement. In reality both men played a part, but they rarely worked fully as a team. MacColla was not averse to extreme violence and bloodshed. His reputation as ‘Destroyer of Houses’ was all too well deserved. Like Montrose, he had some degree of vanity, and an overpowering sense personal destiny. His main aim throughout his campaigning was principally to gain the release from prison of his father, Colkitto, and overthrow Argyll in order to secure back the Macdonald estates at Colonsay and Islay. When he had secured his Father’s release, MacColla left the pensioner in charge of the doomed defense of Islay. He had committed a similar blunder before, when he had left men to defend Ratlin Island against superior odds in early 1644. He never realistically considered the dangerous nature of the forces he was leaving men to face while he went on to other adventures.
MacColla had no real interest in Montrose’s plans to extend the war to Northern England. His reluctance to reunite with Montrose after Philipaugh meant that the two men were fighting a fragmented and independent campaign now. United they had been a force to be reckoned with, but divided they were weakening as the Covenant and Campbell forces they had almost crushed, re-strengthened and worked more systematically to their ends.
The Scottish Highlanders, such as the men of Atholl had little sense of Holism. They never saw the war in terms of a conflict of three kingdoms. Montrose saw the need to push his men South to aid the King, but many Highlanders fought only the immediate geographical enemies of their clan allies. They had little concern about the fortunes of the King at Edgehill, Marston Moor, or Naseby. Only when the King was in serious danger of total defeat, and more of the Scottish troops were free to head back North, did the importance of events in England become apparent to many of them, and by then, it was too late.
The use of Catholic Irish troops was a good and a bad thing for Montrose from the start. Their fighting prowess and loyalty to the cause was never in dispute, but many in Scotland remained deeply prejudiced towards the Irish. Their presence was too repugnant to many Scots who might have served with Montrose had they not been involved. It became all too easy for the Covenant propaganda machine to attribute every atrocity and killing to the bloodthirsty Irishry. They were promised no quarter from the beginning. ‘Jesus and no quarter’ was a Covenant catchphrase from Tippermuir onwards, and that promise would be kept in the end.
Another cause of the defeat of the Scots-Irish mission was King. Charles The First’s failure to fully recognize the need for a push North to unite with Montrose. If anything, his entire war strategy should have depended on it. Had that happened, he might well have saved his crown and his head.
That is why the Royalists lost, their war. King Charles, Montrose, MacColla, Colkitto, Manus O’Cahan, and many of their Scots-Irish Brigade allies perished in ways that could, in the benefit of hindsight, have been avoided. The Covenant did not win the war against Montrose and MacColla. The Royalists and rebels lost. Men do not learn too easily from their mistakes.
And yet, the Restoration showed that the Covenanters were unable to lead. They had fallen into schism, and disagreement, often overthrow to deal with Montrose. They too made mistakes that ultimately destroyed them. Montrose had set in motion a chain of events that helped to bring a King back to his throne, ten years after his most noble warriors and cavalier Knights had died fighting for just such a moment. Somehow, the sacrifice seems worth it.
With that, the story ends, or does it? Perhaps the spirit of the Scots-Irish Brigade, Montrose, MacColla, Manus O’Cahan, Thomas Lachlan, and their allies lives on yet.