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James Graham, 1st Marquis of Montrose


He was born James Graham in the later part of the year 1612. Both the exact date and the place of his birth are still matters for conjecture but it was most probably mid-October and in the town of Montrose itself. His father, John, who was the 4th Earl of Montrose, was well glad that out of a litter of six children one should be a boy, a son and heir.

The Graham family had a very illustrious and adventurous history attached to it, leading back to Roman times but more notably in the year 1451 when the family finally attained the peerage. The 3rd Lord Graham was made Earl of Montrose after the Dukedom of Lindsay lapsed, but he was to fall in the ring of steel formed around the king at the Battle of Flodden, another at the Battle of Pinkie in 1547.

Our Montrose’s grandfather was Chancellor and later Viceroy of Scotland, an honour to which Montrose himself would attain later. His father John, 4th Earl of Montrose was Chancellor for a period but he led an uneventful life in comparison to his ancestors and turned his skills to managing the great Graham lands of Mugdock castle in Strathblane, of Kincardine Castle in Perthshire, and Old Montrose, land given by The Bruce for favours done.

By the time he died he left his lands well tended and the family coffers full.

James Graham attained the title of 5th Earl of Montrose in 1626 at 14 years of age. As he was a minor his family and kinsmen were entrusted to care for him and his lands until he came of age. Meanwhile the young Montrose began attending school under Master William Forrett at Glasgow and he thence went up to St. Andrew’s University to St. Salvator’s College. He studied the classics mainly, Caesar, Seneca for instance, but he loved the outdoor life, golfing, hawking, hunting, archery, and he was a very able horseman. In 1629 Montrose married Magdalen Carnegie, daughter of the future Earl of Southesk and as they were minors were forced to live with Carnegie at Kinnaird Castle. There is the famous Jameson portrait to testify to his youthful good looks, a wedding present from Graham of Morphie, its present whereabouts are unknown to me. 

In 1633 Montrose began his 3 year long “Grand Tour”, when he travelled to Italy and France amongst other places. In France he picked up his famous bible which was to never leave his side and is now at Innerpeffray Library. He studied the art of warfare but never served abroad. Upon his return in 1636 Scotland was in great strife as King Charles the 1st attempted to impose Episcopalian worship upon a strongly Calvinist Presbyterian Scotland. This was going down very badly and there were riots in the streets of all major towns and cities, but Charles under the evil influence of James, 3rd Marquis of Hamilton and the less evil but divinely misguided Bishop Laud pressed on with his wishes. He had also invoked his Act of Revocation which alienated most of the nobility of Scotland upon whom a King depends for counsel. So Montrose, having been slighted by the King at Court due to the machinations of Hamilton, returned to Scotland. He was upset but it was not this that led him upon the course he was to take. There were many factors, too many to go into here but he was no Hot Head as has been said by some.

By 1638 all had chosen sides and the National Covenant signed. Contrary to popular opinion Montrose was not the first to sign! After 2 equally disastrous General Assemblies, in 1638+9, and the passing of what are known as The Bishop’s Wars, owing to the fact that it was the deposition of Bishops amongst other things that caused the most upset. First blood was shed at the “Trot of Turriff”, a small engagement and more importantly at the “Brig’O Dee” under the generalship of Montrose himself for the Covenanters. At this time though Charles gave in and signed The Pacification of Berwick, which should have solved everything but no body trusted anyone by then least of all the King, so armies were kept in commission on both sides.

By 1641 Montrose had become aware that the National Covenant was being used by certain parties, namely The Earl of Argyll to obtain power in Scotland that belonged only to the King himself, a clear and outright abuse of a document which at best could be called “Crafty”! Argyll was using the power of the Covenant and religion to usurp the power of the King something no man of honour could stand by to watch, certainly not Montrose. He formed the Cumbernauld Band against Argyll’s treachery which sadly the latter discovered and imprisoned Montrose in Edinburgh Castle along with his closest friends for over 6 months without a trial. He was only released after Charles had come north and showered honours and titles to nearly all who professed loyalty to the King, for instance Argyll was created 1st Marquis of Argyll.

Montrose’s mind was set, as soon as he was released he began trying to find ways of foiling Argyll, all to no avail. The Civil War in England had begun in 1642 but in 1643 the Scots and English signed “The Solemn League and Covenant” in St. Margaret’s Chapel in Westminster. This was a very different document to the National Covenant of 1638. This was the price of a Scottish army. If the English adopted Presbyterianism then the Scots army would fight for the Parliamentarians against the King, a disgraceful and contemptible piece of double-dealing and for Montrose absolutely the final straw.

In late 1643 he went to Oxford where the King was at Court. He finally got to meet Charles and put to him his plan for regaining Scotland for the King. Not only would this deed itself be of great measure but it would prove a constant and serious distraction to General David Leslie who was leading the Scots in England. This aspect of Montrose’s mission is often overlooked and not enough credit given to him for all the nuisance he caused Leslie thereby crippling the latter’s fighting ability against the King. Initially Charles was sceptical but eventually he accepted Montrose’s proposition. Montrose rejected the title of Captain General but accepted that of King’s Lieutenant under command of Prince Maurice. The Earl of Antrim promised troops also and the loyal northern nobility were ordered to assist Montrose where possible. Thus Montrose left Oxford for his first attempt to win Scotland for the King.

It did not go well needless to say, Montrose got to Dumfries where he raised the standard but quickly had to retreat to Carlisle. This was no defeat though, Montrose used the time to do serious damage to Leslie’s supply lines in the North. In 1644 though Montrose entered Scotland again this time in disguise and made it all the way to the house of Patrick Graham Younger of Inchbrakie at Tullibelton, near Dunkeld. This was Montrose’s greatest friend, “Black Pate” as he was known. All Montrose could do was sit in Methven wood and await intelligence reports from his friends. He was unaware that Alastair Macdonald, (Colkitto), had landed and was creating havoc in the North.

It was by chance only that a messenger from Alastair was intercepted and Montrose thus able to make contact and order him to meet at Blair Atholl. This meeting took place very soon after, Montrose arriving with Black Pate just in time to avert a war between the Irish under Alastair and the Stewarts and Robertsons of Atholl. He bade them all come together in the one cause and united them as best he could. He created Alastair his Major General and under Alastair were many brave officers and men such as Magnus O’ Cahan.

It was now the end of August 1644 and Montrose’s year of miracles was about to commence. Would it were possible to describe all his battles in detail here but alas space dictates otherwise. What I shall do is list all Montrose’s battles in the order in which they were fought. At a later date as I mentioned earlier we may increase the size of this site, perhaps introducing sub-pages that describe all his battles in detail, we shall see. But for now this is the chronology of Montrose’s year of miracles from Sunday 1st September 1644:

  • Battle of Tippermuir; 1st September 1644.
  • Battle of Aberdeen, (Justice Mills); 13th September 1644.
  • Battle of Inverlochy; 2nd of February 1645.
  • Battle of Auldearn; 9th of May 1645.
  • Battle of Alford; 2nd of July 1645.
  • Battle of Kilsyth; 15th of August 1645

I have not included in this list the skirmishes at Fyvie Castle nor the retreat from Dundee but I do not rank them any less important.

Montrose was of course savagely defeated at Philiphaugh on 13th September 1645, it was less a battle more a massacre more after the battle than during it. Indeed these were times of horrors but not once did Montrose retaliate against his Covenant prisoners. Sadly though Montrose was defeated in Scotland although he had just defeated all the armies of the Covenant. But Montrose was not a politician and this was a time for statecraft not war and Montrose was lost. 

Thence began a year of guerrilla warfare which was relatively ineffective but it kept his army in action which was vital to Montrose. This year was to end in September 1646 when Charles, himself a prisoner ordered Montrose to lay down his arms and disband his army. This he did, reluctantly at Blairgowrie in Perthshire, and he left the country on the 3rd of September in disguise just as he had entered it just 2 years earlier. James Graham, the 1st Marquis of Montrose was 34 years of age.

Montrose was in exile for just over 3 years until March 1650. By this time King Charles the 1st had been executed, (30th January 1649), and Montrose pledged his allegiance to the new King Charles the 2nd. Charles was negotiating with the creatures of the Covenant at Breda at this time but at the same time he was encouraging Montrose to undertake a new campaign, he was in fact sending Montrose to his death and he knew it.

There are letters extant bought over by the king’s messenger Sir William Fleming which dictate that if Montrose has been successful he, (Fleming), was to deliver a message condemning Argyll and his minions, if however Montrose had been defeated he was to pass a letter to the Parliament disowning Montrose completely and avowing that he, the King knew nothing of Montrose’s designs. Such were the times.

Montrose was finally defeated at the battle of Carbisdale on April the 27th 1650. It was the start of one of the most tragic passages of Scottish history. Having stumbled upon Ardvreck Castle 2 days after the battle then owned by Neil Mcleod of Assynt, and assuming he was relatively safe where he was, he rested.

When he awoke he was taken up stairs and immediately arrested by Major General Holbourn. All Montrose said when taken away was “Sir, I do as you bid”, and he knew what fate awaited him. This is real courage.

The rest of this sad tale is known by many and another time I should like to go into it in greater detail. Alas Montrose was passed saving even by the King, and at 3.00p.m he was taken to the Mercat Cross between the Tron Kirk and the Castle where a gibbet 30 feet in height was mounted on a 6 foot high platform completely covered in black, it must have been utterly terrifying yet all Montrose asked was “How long shall I hang here?” The second before he was “turned” off the ladder by the hangman his last words were “God have mercy on this afflicted land”.

After he was dead his head, his arms and his legs were cut off, the head placed on a spike on the Tolbooth where he had spent his last hours, his other limbs were placed in the 4 major cities of Scotland in places of prominence; indeed, the view that greeted King Charles the 2nd from his lodges in Aberdeen later that year was the rotting right arm of our hero Montrose. Argyll could not even get this right, as Aberdeen was supposed to receive a leg!

Montrose’s remains stayed exposed for 11 years until he was finally properly embalmed and laid to rest in St. Giles’s Kirk with great ceremony, all this whilst Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquis of Argyll, the man who murdered Montrose, lay in the condemned cell in Edinburgh Castle, his head was to replace that of Montrose. Whatever Montrose may have done he didn’t deserve his fate.

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