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The Events Which Led to War – Montrose’s Year of Miracles


James Graham was born in 1612 and he succeeded to the title of 5th Earl of Montrose in 1626. He was admitted to St. Andrews University and at the age of 17 married Magdalen Carnegie, daughter of the Earl of Southesk. On reaching his majority Montrose set out on the grand tour of the continent. It was during these travels that he acquired his little French Bible which still survives today, along with other of his personal books, at Innerpeffray Library near Crieff.

In 1636 he returned to Scotland to attend to his personal affairs. However, relations between Charles 1st and his subjects in Scotland were far from cordial. On his accession in 1625, Charles passed an Act of Revocation recalling all grants of land since 1540; these included much of the church land which passed into lay hands before and after the Reformation. Montrose, whose estates at Braco had been carved out of the Bishopric of Dunblane, was no less threatened by the Act. Equally threatening to the Scottish Reformed Church was the interference in its worship, including a prayer book which, to many, looked Anglican or even Roman Catholic.

The National Covenant

In an attempt to moderate the perceived abuse of the Monarch, the National Covenant was drawn up in 1638 and it must rank as one of the most important documents in Scottish History, on a par with the Magna Carta in its liberalising objectives. Montrose, now active in affairs of State, was one of the early signatories.

The text of the Covenant fell into three parts. Although it claimed to support both the Kirk and King it was the last part, which bound the signatories to mutual defence ‘against all sorts of persons whatsoever’ which threatened to escalate the issues at stake and which would split its adherents. Montrose would soon have to choose between church and monarch.

With Scotland facing a possible invasion by the King from the south and the stirring of Royalist support by the Gordon’s in the north-east, war between King and Covenant now seemed inevitable. Montrose led a Covenant army north in what became known as the Bishop’s Wars. With him on this expedition was Alexander Leslie, a soldier who had held Field Marshall rank in the Swedish Army. The alliance between the two would not last for long.

The wars in the north east ended with the restoration of Covenant control in the area but events elsewhere were now to involve Scotland in a wider area of conflict. Ten regiments of foot were sent from Scotland in 1642 by the Committee of Estates to quell a Catholic uprising in Ireland. In the same year the English Civil War began.

Montrose Leaves the Covenanters

By 1643 the Parliamentary cause in England had suffered serious military setbacks and assistance was sought from the Scots. The terms agreed in the Solemn League and Covenant required the adoption of the Presbyterian form of worship in England in exchange for a Scottish invasion of England. But by now Montrose was in trouble, facing the irreconcilable pressures of supporting both Kirk and King. He had contacted Charles in 1640 offering his support, and earlier at Cumbernauld House had drawn up a band aimed at organising moderate opinion in support of the King. The two events were sufficient to have him incarcerated in Edinburgh Castle.

During Montrose’s imprisonment, Argyll and the Covenant leaders sent Lord Sinclair to demolish his ‘staitly house of Mugdock’. Although later released and offered a command in the army being raised under the terms of the Solemn League and Covenant, Montrose opted to join his King and rode south to Oxford in 1643.

The Royalists in England desperately sought a means of diverting the attention of the Scots by organising a counter invasion of Scotland involving Catholic troops from Ireland combined with another rising of the Gordon’s in the north-east. Montrose was appointed Kings Lieutenant in Scotland and created a Marquis. The advanced guard from Ulster under the command of Alasdair MacColla arrived in Scotland in early June 1644 but the promised follow up army was never to appear.

Having narrowly missed the catastrophic defeat of the Royalist forces at Marston Moor (he had hurried to be there but arrived the day after the battle), Montrose now realised that he was achieving little in England and he decided to return to Scotland to try to win Scotland for the King.

Crossing the border in disguise, with only two companions, Montrose took refuge with his loyal friend and companion ‘Black Pate’ Graham of Inchbrakie. As the story goes, Montrose was skulking in the woods near Tullybelton when he noticed a ghillie running through the glen with a ‘fiery cross’. This was the ancient method of rallying the men of the clan in times of trouble. Montrose stopped the ghillie and asked him what was to do, whereupon the ghillie told him than there was an army of invading Irish near Blair Atholl and the local clans were being summoned to oppose it.

Montrose knew at once that this army was not a random army of ‘Irish invaders’; they were the army promised to him to allow him to open up a new royalist front in Scotland. He sent a message to the leader of the Irish host, Alasdair MacDonald ‘MacColla’, instructing him to meet on the Braes of Atholl. Montrose and Inchbrakie then hurried to the rendezvous and arrived just in time to prevent a pitched battle between the Irish and the local clansmen, Robertson’s and Stewart’s, who had gathered to protect their land against what they thought was the invading Irish force. With disaster thankfully averted, the two forces then came together under the command of Montrose.

The King’s Standard Raised

The King’s standard was raised at a spot described by Napier in his ‘Memorials of Montrose’ as “a conspicuous elevation called the Truidh, near the Castle of Blair, and about three quarters of a mile behind the modern House of Lude” (a cairn was erected in 2003 by the 1st Marquis of Montrose Society at the roadside close to where this historic event took place).

Now with a force of around 2000 men, Montrose chose to go on the offensive and he decided to make for Perth to confront a Covenant army which was being assembled under the command of Lord Elcho. The stage was now set for an astonishing series of victories for the royalists in what was to become known as ‘The Year of Miracles’.

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