The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, by Walter Scott

The Battle of Philiphaugh.

This ballad is so immediately connected with the former, that the editor is enabled to continue his sketch of historical transactions, from the march of Lesly.

In the insurrection of 1680, all Scotland, south from the Grampians, was actively and zealously engaged. But, after the treaty of Rippon, the first fury of the revolutionary torrent may be said to have foamed off its force, and many of the nobility began to look round, with horror, upon the rocks and shelves amongst which it had hurried them. Numbers regarded the defence of Scotland as a just and necessary warfare, who did not see the same reason for interfering in the affairs of England. The visit of King Charles to the metropolis of his fathers, in all probability, produced its effect on his nobles. Some were allied to the house of Stuart by blood; all regarded it as the source of their honours, and venerated the ancient in obtaining the private objects of ambition, or selfish policy which had induced them to rise up against the crown. Amongst these late penitents, the well known marquis of Montrose was distinguished, as the first who endeavoured to recede from the paths of rude rebellion. Moved by the enthusiasm of patriotism, or perhaps of religion, but yet more by ambition, the sin of noble minds, Montrose had engaged, eagerly and deeply, upon the side of the covenanters He had been active in pressing the town of Aberdeen to take the covenant, and his success against the Gordons, at the bridge of Dee, left that royal burgh no other means of safety from pillage. At the head of his own battalion, he waded through the Tweed, in 1640, and totally routed the vanguard of the king’s cavalry. But, in 1643, moved with resentment against the covenanters who preferred, to his prompt and ardent character, the caution of the wily and politic earl of Argyle, or seeing, perhaps, that the final views of that party were inconsistent with the interests of monarchy, and of the constitution, Montrose espoused the falling cause of royalty and raised the Highland clans, whom he united to a small body of Irish, commanded by Alexander Macdonald, still renowned in the north, under the title of Colkitto. With these tumultuary and uncertain forces, he rushed forth, like a torrent from the mountains, and commenced a rapid and brilliant career of victory. At Tippermoor, where he first met the covenanters, their defeat was so effectual, as to appal the presbyterian courage, even after the lapse of eighty years.205 A second army was defeated under the walls of Aberdeen; and the pillage of the ill-fated town was doomed to expiate the principles, which Montrose himself had formerly imposed upon them. Argyleshire next experienced his arms; the domains of his rival were treated with more than military severity; and Argyle himself, advancing to Inverlochy for the defence of his country, was totally and disgracefully routed by Montrose. Pressed betwixt two armies, well appointed, and commanded by the most experienced generals of the Covenant, Mozitrose displayed more military skill in the astonishingly rapid marches, by which he avoided fighting to disadvantage, than even in the field of victory. By one of those hurried marches, from the banks of Loch Katrine to the heart of Inverness-shire, he was enabled to attack, and totally to defeat, the Covenanters, at Aulderne though he brought into the field hardly one half of their forces. Baillie, a veteran officer, was next routed by him, at the village of Alford, in Strathbogie. Encouraged by these repeated and splendid successes, Montrose now descended into the heart of Scotland, and fought a bloody and decisive battle, near Kilsyth, where four thousand covenanters fell under the Highland claymore.

205 Upon the breaking out of the insurrection, in the year 1715, the earl of Rothes, sheriff and lord-lieutenant of the county of Fife, issued out an order for “all the fencible men of the countie to meet him, at a place called Cashmoor. The gentlemen took no notice of his orders, nor did the commons, except those whom the ministers forced to goe to the place of rendezvouse, to the number of fifteen hundred men, being all that their utmost diligence could perform. But those of that countie, having been taught by their experience, that it is not good meddling with edge tools, especiallie in the hands of Highlandmen, were very averse from taking armes. No sooner they reflected on the name of the place of rendezvouse, Cashmoor, than Tippermoor was called to mind; a place not far from thence, where Montrose had routed them, when under the command of my great-grand-uncle the earl of Wemyss, then generall of God’s armie. In a word, the unlucky choice of a place, called Moo, appeared ominous; and that, with the flying report of the Highlandmen having made themselves masters of Perth, made them throw down their armes, and run, notwithstanding the trouble that Rothes and the ministers gave themselves to stop them.”— M.S. Memoirs of Lord St Clair.]

This victory opened the whole of Scotland to Montrose He occupied the capital, and marched forward to the border; not merely to complete the subjection of the southern provinces, but with the flattering hope of pouring his victorious army into England, and bringing to the support of Charles the sword of his paternal tribes.

Half a century before Montrose’s career, the state of the borders was such as might have enabled him easily to have accomplished his daring plan. The marquis of Douglas, the earls of Hume, Roxburgh, Traquair, and Annandale, were all descended of mighty border chiefs, whose ancestors could, each of them, have led into the field a body of their own vassals, equal in numbers, and superior in discipline, to the army of Montrose. But the military spirit of the borderers, and their attachment to their chiefs, had been much broken since the union of the crowns. The disarming acts of James had been carried rigorously into execution, and the smaller proprietors, no longer feeling the necessity of protection from their chiefs in war, had aspired to independence, and embraced the tenets of the covenant. Without imputing, with Wishart, absolute treachery to the border nobles, it may be allowed, that they looked with envy upon Montrose, and with dread and aversion upon his rapacious and disorderly forces. Hence, had it been in their power, it might not have altogether suited their inclinations, to have brought the strength of the border lances to the support of the northern clans. The once formidable name of Douglas still sufficed to raise some bands, by whom Montrose was joined, in his march down the Gala. With these reinforcements, and with the remnant of his Highlanders (for a great number had returned home with Colkitto, to deposit their plunder, and provide for their families), Montrose after traversing the border, finally encamped upon the field of Philiphaugh.

The river Ettrick, immediately after its junction with the Yarrow, and previous to its falling into the Tweed, makes a large sweep to the southward, and winds almost beneath the lofty bank, on which the town of Selkirk stands; leaving, upon the northern side, a large and level plain, extending in an easterly direction, from a hill, covered with natural copse-wood, called the Harehead-wood, to the high ground which forms the banks of the Tweed, near Sunderland-hall. This plain is called Philliphaugh:206 it is about a mile and a half in length, and a quarter of a mile broad; and, being defended, to the northward, by the high hills which separate Tweed from Yarrow, by the river in front, and by the high grounds, already mentioned on each flank, it forms, at once, a convenient and a secure field of encampment. On each flank Montrose threw up some trenches, which are still visible; and here he posted his infantry, amounting to about twelve or fifteen hundred men. He himself took up his quarters in the burgh of Selkirk, and, with him, the cavalry, in number hardly one thousand, but respectable, as being chiefly composed of gentlemen, and their immediate retainers. In this manner, by a fatal and unaccountable error, the river Ettrick was thrown betwixt the cavalry and infantry, which were to depend upon each other for intelligence and mutual support. But this might be overlooked by Montrose, in the conviction, that there was no armed enemy of Charles in the realm of Scotland; for he is said to have employed the night in writing and dispatching this agreeable intelligence to the king. Such an enemy was already within four miles of his camp.

206 The Scottish language is rich in words, expressive of local situation The single word haugh, conveys, to a Scotsman, almost all that I have endeavoured to explain in the text, by circumlocutory description.]

Recalled by the danger of the cause of the Covenant, General David Lesly came down from England, at the head of those iron squadrons, whose force had been proved in the fatal battle of Long Marston Moor. His array consisted of from five to six thousand men, chiefly cavalry. Lesly’s first plan seems to have been, to occupy the mid-land counties, so as to intercept the return of Montrose’s Highlanders, and to force him to an unequal combat Accordingly, he marched along the eastern coast, from Berwick to Tranent; but there he suddenly altered his direction, and, crossing through Mid–Lothian, turned again to the southward, and, following the course of Gala water, arrived at Melrose, the evening before the engagement How it is possible that Montrose should have received no notice whatever of the march of so considerable an army, seems almost inconceivable, and proves, that the country was strongly disaffected to his cause, or person. Still more extraordinary does it appear, that, even with the advantage of a thick mist, Lesly should have, the next morning, advanced towards Montrose’s encampment without being descried by a single scout. Such, however, was the case, and it was attended with all the consequences of the most complete surprisal. The first intimation that Montrose received of the march of Lesly, was the noise of the conflict, or, rather, that which attended the unresisted slaughter of his infantry, who never formed a line of battle: the right wing alone, supported by the thickets of Harehead-wood, and by the entrenchments which are there still visible, stood firm for some time. But Lesly had detached two thousand men, who, crossing the Ettrick still higher up than his main body, assaulted the rear of Montrose’s right wing. At this moment, the marquis himself arrived, and beheld his army dispersed, for the first time, in irretrievable route. He had thrown himself upon a horse the instant he heard the firing, and, followed by such of his disorderly cavalry as had gathered upon the alarm, he galloped from Selkirk, crossed the Ettrick, and made a bold and desperate attempt to retrieve the fortune of the day. But all was in vain; and, after cutting his way, almost singly, through a body of Lesly’s troopers, the gallant Montrose graced by his example the retreat of the fugitives. That retreat he continued up Yarrow, and over Minch-moor; nor did he stop till he arrived at Traquair, sixteen miles from the field of battle. Upon Philiphaugh he lost, in one defeat, the fruit of six splendid victories: nor was he again able effectually to make head, in Scotland, against the covenanted cause. The number slain in the field did not exceed three or four hundred; for the fugitives found refuge in the mountains, which had often been the retreat of vanquished armies, and were impervious to the pursuer’s cavalry. Lesly abused his victory, and dishonoured his arms, by slaughtering, in cold blood, many of the prisoners whom he had taken; and the court-yard of Newark castle is said to have been the spot, upon which they were shot by his command. Many others are said, by Wishart, to have been precipitated from a high bridge over the Tweed. This, as Mr Laing remarks, is impossible; because there was not a bridge over the Tweed betwixt Peebles and Berwick. But there is an old bridge, over the Ettrick, only four miles from Philiphaugh, and another over the Yarrow, both of which lay in the very line of flight and pursuit; and either might have been the scene of the massacre. But if this is doubtful, it is too certain, that several of the royalists were executed by the Covenanters, as traitors to the king and parliament.207

207 A covenanted minister, present at the execution of these gentlemen observed, “This wark gaes bonnilie on!” an amiable exclamation equivalent to the modern ça ira, so often used on similar occasions. —Wishart’s Memoirs of Montrose.]

I have reviewed, at some length, the details of this memorable engagement, which, at the same time, terminated the career of a hero, likened, by no mean judge of mankind208 to those of antiquity, and decided the fate of his country. It is further remarkable, as the last field which was fought in Ettrick forest, the scene of so many bloody actions. The unaccountable neglect of patroles, and the imprudent separation betwixt the horse and foot, seem to have been the immediate causes of Montrose’s defeat. But the ardent and impetuous character of this great warrior, corresponding with that of the troops which he commanded was better calculated for attack than defence; for surprising others, rather than for providing against surprise himself. Thus, he suffered loss by a sudden attack upon part of his forces, stationed at Aberdeen;209 and, had he not extricated himself with the most singular ability, he must have lost his whole army, when surprised by Baillie, during the plunder of Dundee. Nor has it escaped an ingenious modern historian, that his final defeat at Dunbeath, so nearly resembles in its circumstances the surprise at Philiphaugh, as to throw some shade on his military talents. — LAING’S History.

208 Cardinal du Retz.]

209 Colonel Hurry, with a party of horse, surprised the town, while Montrose’s Highlanders and cavaliers were “dispersed through the town, drinking carelessly in their lodgings; and, hearing the horse’s feet, and great noise, were astonished, never dreaming of their enemy. However, Donald Farquharson happened to come to the causey, where he was cruelly slain, anent the Court de Guard; a brave gentleman, and one of the noblest captains amongst all the Highlanders of Scotland. Two or three others were killed, and some (taken prisoners) had to Edinburgh, and cast into irons in the tolbooth. Great lamentation was made for this gallant, being still the king’s man for life and death.”— SPALDING Vol. II. p. 281. The journalist, to whom all matters were of equal importance, proceeds to inform us, that Hurry took the marquis of Huntly’s best horse, and, in his retreat through Montrose seized upon the marquis’s second son. He also expresses his regret, that “the said Donald Farquharson’s body was found in the street, stripped naked: for they tirr’d from off his body a rich stand of apparel, but put on the same day.”—Ibid.]

The following ballad, which is preserved by tradition in Selkirkshire, coincides accurately with historical fact. This, indeed, constitutes its sole merit. The Covenanters were not, I dare say, addicted, more than their successors “to the profane and unprofitable art of poem-making.”210 Still, however, they could not refrain from some strains of exultation, over the defeat of the truculent tyrant, James Grahame. For, gentle reader, Montrose, who, with resources which seemed as none, gained six victories, and reconquered a kingdom; who, a poet, a scholar, a cavalier, and a general, could have graced alike a court, and governed a camp; this Montrose was numbered, by his covenanted countrymen, among “the troublers of Israel, the fire-brands of hell, the Corahs, the Balaams, the Doegs, the Rabshakahs, the Hamans, the Tobiahs, and Sanballats of the time.”

210 So little was the spirit of illiberal fanaticism decayed in some parts of Scotland, that only thirty years ago, when Wilson, the ingenious author of a poem, called “Clyde,” now republished, was inducted into the office of schoolmaster at Greenock, he was obliged formally, and in writing, to abjure “the profane and unprofitable art of poem-making.“ It is proper to add, that such an incident is now as unlikely to happen in Greenock as in London.]

The Battle of Philiphaugh.

On Philiphaugh a fray began,

At Hairhead wood it ended;

The Scots out o’er the Graemes they ran,

Sae merrily they bended.

Sir David frae the border came,

Wi’ heart an’ hand came he;

Wi’ him three thousand bonny Scotts,

To bear him company.

Wi’ him three thousand valiant men,

A noble sight to see!

A cloud o’ mist them weel concealed,

As close as e’er might be.

When they came to the Shaw burn,

Said he, “Sae weel we frame,

“I think it is convenient,

“That we should sing a psalm.”211

When they came to the Lingly burn,

As day-light did appear,

They spy’d an aged father,

And he did draw them near.

“Come hither, aged father!”

Sir David he did cry,

“And tell me where Montrose lies,

“With all his great army.”

“But, first, you must come tell to me,

“If friends or foes you be;

“I fear you are Montrose’s men,

“Come frae the north country.”

“No, we are nane o’ Montrose’s men,

“Nor e’er intend to be;

“I am sir David Lesly,

“That’s speaking unto thee.”

“If you’re sir David Lesly,

“As I think weel ye be,

“I’m sorry ye hae brought so few

“Into your company.

“There’s fifteen thousand armed men,

“Encamped on yon lee;

“Ye’ll never be a bite to them,

“For aught that I can see.

“But, halve your men in equal parts,

“Your purpose to fulfil;

“Let ae half keep the water side,

“The rest gae round the hill.

“Your nether party fire must,

“Then beat a flying drum;

“And then they’ll think the day’s their ain,

“And frae the trench they’ll come.

“Then, those that are behind them maun

“Gie shot, baith grit and sma’;

“And so, between your armies twa,

“Ye may make them to fa’.”

“O were ye ever a soldier?”

Sir David Lesly said;

“O yes; I was at Solway flow,

“Where we were all betray’d.

“Again I was at curst Dunbar,

“And was a pris’ner ta’en;

“And many weary night and day,

“In prison I hae lien.”

“If ye will lead these men aright,

“Rewarded shall ye be;

“But, if that ye a traitor prove,

“I’ll hang thee on a tree.”

“Sir, I will not a traitor prove;

“Montrose has plundered me;

“I’ll do my best to banish him

“Away frae this country.”

He halv’d his men in equal parts,

His purpose to fulfill;

The one part kept the water side,

The other gaed round the hill.

The nether party fired brisk,

Then turn’d and seem’d to rin;

And then they a’ came frae the trench,

And cry’d, “the day’s our ain!”

The rest then ran into the trench,

And loos’d their cannons a’:

And thus, between his armies twa,

He made them fast to fa’.

Now, let us a’ for Lesly pray,

And his brave company!

For they hae vanquish’d great Montrose,

Our cruel enemy.

211 Various reading; “That we should take a dram.”]

Notes on the Battle of Philiphaugh.

When they came to the Shaw burn.— P. 27. v. 1. A small stream, that joins the Ettrick, near Selkirk, on the south side of the river.

When they came to the Lingly burn.— P. 27. v. 2. A brook, which falls into the Ettrick, from the north, a little above the Shaw burn.

They spy’d an aged father.— P. 27. v. 2. The traditional commentary upon the ballad states this man’s name to have been Brydone, ancestor to several families in the parish of Ettrick, particularly those occupying the farms of Midgehope and Redford Green. It is a strange anachronism, to make this aged father state himself at the battle of Solway flow, which was fought a hundred years before Philiphaugh; and a still stranger, to mention that of Dunbar, which did not take place till five years after Montrose’s defeat.

A tradition, annexed to a copy of this ballad, transmitted to me by Mr James Hogg, bears, that the earl of Traquair, on the day of the battle, was advancing with a large sum of money, for the payment of Montrose’s forces, attended by a blacksmith, one of his retainers. As they crossed Minch-moor, they were alarmed by firing, which the earl conceived to be Montrose exercising his forces, but which his attendant, from the constancy and irregularity of the noise, affirmed to be the tumult of an engagement. As they came below Broadmeadows, upon Yarrow, they met their fugitive friends, hotly pursued by the parliamentary troopers. The earl, of course, turned, and fled also: but his horse, jaded with the weight of dollars which he carried, refused to take the hill; so that the earl was fain to exchange with his attendant, leaving him with the breathless horse, and bag of silver, to shift for himself; which he is supposed to have done very effectually. Some of the dragoons, attracted by the appearance of the horse and trappings, gave chase to the smith, who fled up the Yarrow; but finding himself as he said, encumbered with the treasure, and unwilling that it should be taken, he flung it into a well, or pond, near the Tinnies, above Hangingshaw. Many wells were afterwards searched in vain; but it is the general belief, that the smith, if he ever hid the money, knew too well how to anticipate the scrutiny. There is, however, a pond, which some peasants began to drain, not long ago, in hopes of finding the golden prize, but were prevented, as they pretended, by supernatural interference.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29