Escapes, by John Buchan


The Great Montrose

THE story of the paladin of Scottish history, the man whom Cardinal de Retz thought equal to any of the heroes of antiquity, is scarcely to be equalled for swift drama in the records of any land. James Graham, the first Marquis of Montrose, began his marvellous career at the age of thirty-two, and crowded into two years the campaigns which made him master of Scotland. He died on the scaffold when he was only thirty-eight, leaving behind bin) the reputation of perhaps the greatest soldier ever born north of the Tweed, and certainly one of the purest and most chivalrous figures in his country’s annals. Few men have ever covered country with his lightning speed, and the whole tale of his exploits is a tale of escapes and hurried journeys, I propose to tell of two episodes in his short career, but I would add that they are no more stirring than a dozen others.

In 1643 the English Civil War began. Sir John Hotham shut the gates of Hull in the King’s face. On the 22nd of August Charles raised the Royal Standard at Nottingham, and on 22nd October was fought the Battle of Edgehill. Montrose had originally been a Covenanter that is, he had signed the National Covenant which protested against the imposition of a foreign church system on Scotland. He commanded an army in the first Covenant War, but as time went on he began to see that more was involved in the struggle than the question of liturgies. He realized that the Church in Scotland was beginning to make claims which meant the complete abolition of civil government. He therefore drew towards the King’s side, and there began that antagonism with the Marquis of Argyle which was inevitable between two men with such different temperaments and creeds.

In the early winter of 1643 he joined the King’s court at Oxford, and proposed to Charles “to raise Scotland “ on his behalf. It looked a crazy proposal, for even then the Scottish army was over the Border in arms against the King, and the Covenant held every city north of Tweed. The few loyalists who still stood out were mostly vain nobles who had some personal quarrel with the other side. But such was the ardour of the young Montrose that he Impressed the King and his graver councillors lite Hyde and Endymion Porter. He asked for little help. Lord Antrim was to raise troops in Ireland and land in the west of Scotland to keep Argyll occupied in his own country. Montrose himself hoped to borrow a body of horse from Newcastle’s army in the north to help him to cut his way through the Lowlands to the Highland line. Charles consented, and Antrim was sent to Ulster, with instructions to land 2,000 troops in Argyll by April 1, 1644. Montrose was made lieutenant-general of the King’s forces in Scotland, and on a March morning in 1644 he left Oxford by the north road to win a kingdom for his master.

When St. Theresa, as a child, set out to convert the Moors, she was engaged in an adventure scarcely less hopeful than that which Montrose had now set himself. Where was he to find troops? The best of the old professional soldiers were with Leven. He could get nothing in the Scottish Lowlands, for on them the Kirk had laid an iron hand. The nobles and the gentry were jealous and self-centred. Antrim’s Ulstermen would do more harm than good; for though most of them were Scots and Macdonalds, they were Catholics and would drive every Presbyterian to the other side. There was no solid hope anywhere save in the soul of the adventurer. He flung himself into a hostile country without a base, without troops, without munitions, in the hope that his fiery spirit would create armies out of nothing.

He reached Newcastle’s camp safely and found that things there were going badly. Newcastle could only offer him 100 ill-mounted troopers and two brass cannon a poor outfit for the conquest of Scotland. He managed to raise some of the northern militia and a band of local gentlemen, and with 1,300 men he crossed the Border in April and took Dumfries. There, however, he could not stay. The gentry of Nithsdale and Annandale would not stir, and he was compelled to return to England, where he found that Newcastle had flung himself into York and was closely beset by Leven, Fairfax, and Manchester. With a handful of men he captured Morpeth, and presently he received a summons from Prince Rupert, who was then marching through Lancashire to the relief of York. He set off to join him, but before they met the King’s cause had suffered its first disaster. Rupert indeed relieved York, but on the 2nd July about five in the afternoon lie met the Parliamentary forces on Marston Moor and discovered that new thing in England the shock of Cromwell’s horse. His army was scattered; Newcastle fled overseas; and he himself, with some 6,000 troops, rode westward into Wales. Two days after the battle Montrose found him in an inn at Richmond, in Yorkshire; but Rupert had nothing to give. On the contrary, he stood much in need of Montrose’s scanty recruits. So with a sad heart Montrose rode by Brough and Appleby to Carlisle, to write his report of failure to the King.

Four months had passed and nothing had been achieved. The news from Scotland was the worst conceivable. The land lay quiet under the Covenant, and Antrim’s levies seemed to have vanished into the air. The nobles were tumbling over each other in their anxiety to swear fealty to Argyll. There seemed nothing to be done except to surrender the royal commission and go abroad to wait for happier times. So his friends advised, and Montrose made a pretence of acquiescing. He set out for the south with his friends, but a mile out of Carlisle he slipped behind, and, as his servants and baggage went on, it was presumed that lie was following. It was as well that he stopped, for the rest of the party were captured by Fairfax at Ribble Bridge.

He had resolved on the craziest of adventures. He would break through the Covenanting cordon in the Lowlands and win to his own country of Perthshire, where lived his kinsmen. There, at any rate, were loyal hearts, and something might be devised to turn the tide. He chose as his companions Sir William Rollo, who was lame, and Colonel Sibbald, who had served under him before. These two wore the dress of Leven’s troopers, while Montrose followed behind as their groom, riding one ill-conditioned horse and leading another.

It was a dangerous road to travel. The country was strewn with broken men and patrolled by Covenanting dragoons, and a gentleman in those days was not so easily disguised. At first all went smoothly. The disreputable clan of the Grahams held the lower Esk, and as the three rode through the woods of Netherby they learned that its chief. Sir Richard Graham, had joined the Covenant and appointed himself Warden of the Marches. This they had from one of his servants, who spoke freely to them as to Leven’s troopers. A little farther on they fell in with a Scot, one of Newcastle’s soldiers, who, to their consternation, disregarded Rollo and Sibbald, but paid great attention to the groom and hailed him by Ms proper title. Montrose tried to deny it; but the man exclaimed, “ What! do I not know my Lord Marquis of Montrose well enough? Go your way and God be with you.” A gold piece rewarded the untimely well-wisher.

The journey grew daily more anxious till the Forth was passed. “ It may be thought,” says Patrick Gordon, a Royalist historian, “ that God Almighty sent His good angel to lead the way, for he went, as if a cloud had environed him, through all his enemies.” We do not know the exact route they travelled, whether by Annandale and then by Tweed or Clyde, or up Eskdale and thence over the Tweedside range to the Lothians. Probably they went by the former and followed the belt of moorland which runs north, by Carnwath almost to the Highland hills. From Carlisle to Perth is a hundred miles, and the party rode by day and night, keeping, we may suppose, away from towns and villages and frequented parts of the highway.

On the fourth day they came to the Montrose lands in Stirling and Strathearn, but they did not draw rein till they reached the house of Tullibelton between Perth and Dunkeld. Here lived Patrick Graham of Inchbrakie, one of the best loved of all Montrose’s kin, and here at any rate was safe shelter for the traveller while he spied out the land and looked about for an army.

So the curtain rises, and the first act of the great drama reveals a forlorn little party late on an August evening knocking at the door of a woodland tower about the shining reaches of Tay. The Bong’s lieutenant-general makes a very modest entry on the scene. Two followers, four sorry screws, little money, and no baggage, seem a slender outfit for the conquest of a kingdom; but in six months he was to see Scotland at his feet.

For six days the royal lieutenant lay in close hiding, spending most of his time in the woods and hollows, sleeping at night in hunters’ bothies. The scouts he had sent out returned with a melancholy tale. Huntly in the north had made a mess of it, and the Gordons were leaderless and divided. Even some of the Graham and Drummond kinsmen were in arms against the King. There were rumours of a Covenant army in Aberdeenshire, and Argyll in the west had his clan in arms. Montrose wondered at this strange activity. The battleground now was England, and, with. Scotland in so iron a grip, these elaborate military precautions seemed needless.

He was soon to learn the reason. As he was one day in the wood of Methven, sleeping the night there, he fell into a great despondency of spirit. While he reflected upon the hopelessness of his case, he suddenly saw a man carrying a fiery cross and making for the town of Perth. He stopped him and inquired what the matter was. The messenger told him that Alastair MacDonald of Ulster, commonly called Colkitto (a corruption of the Gaelic word meaning “ Coll who can fight with either hand “), had come into Atholl with a great army of Irish. At last Antrim’s levies had come out of the mist. Presently Montrose had a letter from Alastair MacDonald himself, directed to him at Carlisle, announcing his arrival and asking for instructions.

If Montrose needed help, no less did the Irish commander. He had landed in July in Ardnamurchan, on the west coast, and proceeded to ravage the Campbell lands. His ships were all destroyed, so he resolved, being in a desperate situation, to march across Scotland and join the Gordons. But in Lochaber he heard that the Gordons had made their peace with the Covenant, and the other northern clans, like the Mackenzies, nad no love for Alastair’s tartan and would have nothing to do with him. Headed back on all sides, Alastair decided that the holdest course was the safest. He marched to the head-waters of the Spey and issued a summons calling on the clans to rise in the names of the King and Huntly. This brought him 500 recruits, most of them Gordons; but the other clans refused and blocked the road down the Spey.

He now seemed in a fair way to be exterminated. The Campbells intercepted his retreat to the sea, and Argyll was hot-foot on his track. The Mackenzies cut Mm off from the north and east, his new levies were mutinous and distrustful, and south lay the unfriendly Lowlands and clans like the Stewarts of Atholl, who would never serve under any leader of an alien name. He had proved that, whoever might band the Highlands into an army, it would not be a man of Highland blood. Hence his despairing letter to the lieutenant-general asking for instructions and help. He can scarcely have hoped for much from his appeal, for Carlisle was a long way from Badenoch and he had the enemy on every side.

Montrose sent an answer, bidding Alastair be of good heart and await him at Blair. The latter obeyed and marched into Atholl, but the local clans resented his appearance. The fiery cross was sent round, and there seemed every chance of a desperate conflict between two forces who alike detested the Covenant and followed the King.

The situation was saved by a hairbreadth. Montrose, accompanied by Patrick Graham the younger of Inchbrakie Black Pate, as the countryside called him set off on foot over the “Mils to keep the tryst. He had acquired from Inchbrakie a Highland dress the trews, a short coat, and a plaid round his shoulders. He wore, we are told, a blue bonnet with a bunch of oats as a badge, and he carried a broadsword and a Highland buckler. Thus accoutred he entered upoa the scene in the true manner of romance, unlooked-for and invincible.

Alastair and his ragged troops were waiting hourly on battle, when across the moor they saw two figures advancing. Black Pate was known to every Atholl man, and there were many who had seen Montrose. Loud shouts of welcome apprised the Ulsterman that here was no bonnet laird, but when he heard that it was indeed the “King’s lieutenant he could scarcely believe his ears. He had looked for cavalry, an imposing bodyguard, and a figure more like his own swashbuckling self than this slim young man with the quiet face and searching grey eyes.

In a moment all quarrels were forgotten. Montrose produced his commission and Alastair promptly took service under him, thankful to be out of a plight which for weeks had looked hopeless. The AthoU Highlanders were carried off their feet by the grace and fire of their new leader, and 800 of them brought to his side those broadswords which that morning had been dedicated to cutting Ulster throats. Next morning the Royal Standard was unfurled on a green knoll above the river Tilt. The King’s lieutenant had got him an army.

I pass over the next two months. On the 1st September, with his ill-assorted forces, he met the Covenant army under Lord Elcho at Tippermuir, near Perth, and scattered it to the winds. Then he marched to Aberdeen, and on the 13th of that month soundly defeated another army under Lord Balfour of Burleigh. Thereafter his difficulties increased. He found that Ms Lowland gentlemen began to slip away, for they had no love for a mid — winter campaign conducted at Montrose’s incredible pace. Moreover, Alastair went off on an expedition of Ms own to the west, and the rest of the Highlanders had private grievances, the avenging of which they thought of far greater moment than any royal necessities.

The end of November came; the heavy rains in the glens told of the beginning of winter, and the hills were whitened with snow. Argyll was at Dunkeld, and for a moment the campaign languished. Then one morning at Blair, Alastair’s pipes announced Ms return, bringing with him the rest of Ms Ulstermen and a considerable levy of the western clans MacDonalds of Glengarry, Keppoch, and Ganranald, Macleans from Morvern and Mull, Stewarts from Appin, and Camerons from Lochaber. The clans had only one object, to take order with Argyll, for they hated the house of Diarmaid far more than the Covenant. Now was the time to avenge ancient wrongs and to break the pride of a cMef who had boasted that no mortal enemy could enter his country. The hour had come when the fray must be carried to Lorn.

Montrose had that supreme virtue in a commander wMch recognizes facts. He could not maintain his army without wtx, and Lowland war they would not as yet listen to. If he looked to their help in the future he must whet their valour and rivet their loyalty by fresh successes. In return for their assistance in the King’s quarrel they must have the help of the King’s lieutenant in their own. Besides, the plan could be justified on other grounds of strategy and politics. A blow at the Campbells in their own country would shatter Argyll’s not too robust nerve, and put fear into the heart of the Covenant.

But it was the wildest of wild adventures. Clan Campbell was the largest, most prosperous, and most civilized of all the Highland peoples. Indeed, they formed almost a separate state, and it was not without reason that Argyll had boasted that his land was impregnable. Strategically it had every advantage. On the eastern side, where it looked to the Lowlands, there were the castles of Eoseneath and Duhoon to keep watch, and deep sea lochs to hinder the invader. South and west lay the sea, and the Campbells had what little navy existed in Scotland at the time. North lay a land of high mountains and difficult passes, where no man could travel save by permission of the sovereign lord. Moreover, the Campbells of Lochow and Glenorchy had flung their tentacles over Breadalbane and held the glens around the head waters of Tay. There might be a raid of Macgregors or Maclarens on the east, or a foray from Appin on Loch Etiye side but it seemed that not even the King and his am could get much beyond the gates. “ It is a fai cr, to Lochow,” so ran the Campbell watchword, and it> was a farther cry to Inveraray.

When Montrose assented to Alastair’s wishes he resolved to strike straight at the enemy’s heart. He would wage war not on the outskirts but in the citadel. Through Breadalbane ran a possible route among wild glens and trackless bogs, which at this winter season would be deep in snow. This was the old raiding road out of Lorn, and Argyll flattered himself that his clan alone had the keys of it. But with Montrose were men who had made many a midnight foray into the Campbell country, and who knew every corrie and scaur as well as any son of Diarmaid. A Glencoe man, Angus MacAlain Dubh, is named by tradition as the chief guide, and he promised Montrose that his army could live well on the country, “ if tight houses, fat cattle, and clear water will suffice.”

From Blair, past the shores of Loch Tay swept the advance till the confines of Breadalbane were reached and a country that owned Campbell sway. Up Glen Dochart they went, following much the same road as the present railway line to Oban, past Crianlarich and Tyndrum, and into the glens of Orchy. It was a raid of vengeance, and behind them rose the flames of burning roof-trees. Presently Loch Awe lay before them under a leaden winter sky, and soon the little peels of the lochside lairds smoked to heaven. It was a cruel business, save that the women and children were spared. All fighting men were slain or driven to the high hills, every cot and clachan was set alight, and rows of maddened cattle attested the richness of the land and the profit of the invaders. It was Highland warfare of the old barbarous type, no worse and no better than that which Argyll had already carried to Lochaber and Badenoch and the Braes of Angus.

Argyll was well served by Ms scouts, and to him at Edinburgh word was soon brought of Montrose’s march to Breadalbane. He must have thought it a crazy venture; now at last was his enemy delivered into his hands. No human army could cross the winter passes even if it had the key; and the men of Glenorchy would wipe out the starving remnants at their leisure. Full of confidence he posted across Scotland to Inveraray. There he found that all was quiet. Eumours of a foray in Lorn were indeed rife, but the burghers of Inveraray, strong in their generations of peace, had no fear for themselves. Argyll saw to the defences of the castle, and called a great gathering of the neighbouring clansmen to provide reinforcements, if such should be needed, for the Glenorchy and Breadalbane men, who by this time had assuredly made an end of Montrose.

Suddenly came a thunderbolt. Wild-eyed shepherds rushed into the streets with the cry that the MacDonalds were upon them. Quickly the tale flew. Montrose was not in Breadalbane or on the fringes of Lorn. He was at Loch Awe nay, he was in the heart of Argyll itself. The chief waited no longer. He found a fishing boat, and, the wind being right, fled down Loch Fyne to the shelter of his castle at Roseneath. The same breeze that filled his sails brought the sound of Alastair’s pipes, and he was scarcely under weigh ere the van of the invaders came down Glen Shira.

Then began the harrying of Clan Campbell. Leaderless and unprepared, they made no resistance to Montrose’s army of flushed and battle-worn warriors. Macleans and MacDonalds, Stewarts and Camerons, satiated their ancient grudges with the plunder of Inveraray. The kerns thawed their half — frozen limbs at the warmth of blazing steadings, and appeased their ravenous hunger at the expense of the bakers and vintners and fleshers of the burgh. Never had the broken men of Lochaber and the Isles fared sc nobly. For some happy weeks they ran riot in what for them was a land of milk and honey, while the townsmen, crouching in cellars and thicket s, or safe behind the castle gates, wondered how long it would be before their chief returned to avenge them. There seems to have been no special barbarity about the business. Here and there a refractory Campbell was dirked, but Alastair’s men preferred victual and cattle to human blood.

Meantime word had gone from the exile at Boseneath to the Government in Edinburgh. It was for Argyll to avenge the shame of his clan, and he presently received 1,100 of the flower of the Scottish militia. His kinsman, Sir Duncan Campbell of Auchinbreck, was summoned back from Ireland. Seaforth wa waiting with a northern army at Inverness, and the Scottish commander-in-chief, William Baillie of Letham, was at Perth. It looked as if Montrose had walked into a certain trap. He would be caught between Argyll and Seaforth, and if he tried to escape to the right Baillie would await him. It seemed the certainty on which Argyll loved to gamble.

Mid-winter that year was open and mild. Had it been otherwise Clan Campbell must have been annihilated and Montrose could never have led his men safely out of Argyll. About the middle of January 1645 he gave orders for the march. He had as yet no news of Argyll’s preparations, but he must have realized that the avenger would not be slow on his track. His immediate intention was to come to an account with Seaforth, who not only barred him from the Gordon country but was responsible for the opposition of the powerful clan of Mackenzie. He had guides who promised to show him an easy way out of Lorn into Lochaber. After that his road ran straight up the Great Glen to Inverness.

Laden with miscellaneous plunder and cumbered no doubt with spreaghs of cattle, the Highlanders crossed from Loch Awe to the shore of Loch Etive. Since they had nothing to fear in front of them, they continued up the steep brink of that loch to the site of the present house of Glen Etive. Crossing the beattach by the old drove-road they marched through Appin and up Glencoe to the neighbourhood of Corrour, for the shorter road by Kingshouse and the Moor of Rannoch was no place for a heavily laden force in mid — winter. From Corrour the road was that now taken by the West Highland Railway. Passing Loch Treig they descended the valley of the Spean to the shores of Loch Lochy and the opening of the Great Glen. By the evening of Thursday, the 30th January, Montrose was at Kilcumin at the head of Loch Ness. Most of the Atholl men and the bulk of Clanranald had left him, after their custom, to deposit their booty. No more than 1,500 remained Alastair’s Irish, a handful of Stewarts, MacDonalds, Macleans, and Camerons, and sufficient cavalry to mount the Lowland gentry and provide an escort for the Standard.

At Kilcumin Montrose had definite news of Seaf orth. He was thirty miles off at Inverness with 5,000 men Erasers, Mackenzies, and regulars from the Inverness garrison. Montrose was preparing to make short work of Seaforth when he received graver tidings. Ian Lorn MacDonald, the bard of Keppoch, arrived to tell of Argyll at his heels. The Campbells were only thirty miles behind at Inverlochy, 3,000 men-at-arms eager to avenge the wrongs of Lorn. They were burning and harrying Glen Spean and Glen Roy and the Lochaber braes, and their object was to take Montrose in the rear what time Seaforth should hold him in the front.

The plight of the little army seemed hopeless; 1,500 very weary men were caught between two forces of 3,000 and 5,000. There was no way of escape to west or east, for the one would lead them to a bare sea-coast and the other into the arms of Baillie’s foot. Of the two hostile forces the Campbells were the more formidable. Montrose knew very well that the fighting spirit of Clan Diarmaid was equal to any in the Highlands, and now that they were commanded by a skilled soldier and infuriated by the burning of their homes, he could scarcely hope to fight them at long odds. But it is the duty of a good general when he is confronted by two immediate perils to meet the greater first. Montrose resolved to fight the Campbells, but to fight them in his own way.

Early on the morning of Friday, 31st January, began that flank march which remains one of the great exploits in the history of British arms. The little river Tarff flows from the Monadliadh Mountains to Loch Ness. Up its rocky course went Montrose, and the royal army disappeared into the hills. Scouts of Argyll or Seaforth who traversed the Great Glen on that day must have reported no enemy. From Tarff Montrose crossed the pass to Glen Turritt, and, following it downwards, reached Glen Roy. Pushing on through the night he came to the Bridge of Roy, where that stream enters the Spean, on the morning of Saturday, 1st February. The weather had been bitterly cold, the upper glens were choked with snow-drifts, and the army had neither food nor fire. The road led through places where great avalanches yawned above the adventurers, and over passes so steep and narrow that a hundred men could have held an army at bay. As they struggled along at the pace of a deerstalker, Montrose walked by his men, shaming them to endurance by the spectacle of his own courage. If the reader wishes for a picture of that miraculous march he will find it in the words of young Elrigmore in Mr. Neil Munro’s John Splendid:

“It was like some hyperborean hell, and we the doomed wretches sentenced to our eternity of toil. We had to climb up the shoulder of the hill, now among tremendous rocks, now through water unfrozen, now upon wind-swept ice, but the snow the snow the heartless snow was our constant companion. It stood in walls before, it lay in ramparts round us, it wearied the eye to a most numbing pain. Unlucky were they who wore trews, for the same clung damply to knee and haunch and froze, while the stinging sleet might flay the naked limb till the blood rose among the pelt of the kilted, but the suppleness of the joint was unmarred. . . . At the head of Glen Roy the MacDonalds, who had lost their bauchles of brogues in the pass, started to a trot, and as the necessity was we had to take up the pace too. Long lank hounds, they took the road like deer, their limbs purple with the cold, their faces pinched to the aspect of the wolf, their targets and muskets clattering about them. c There are Campbells to slay, and suppers to eat,’ the major-general had said; and it would have given the most spiritless followers the pith to run till morning across a strand of rock and pebble. They knew no tiring, they seemingly felt no pain in their torn and bleeding feet, but put mile after mile below them.”

From Roy bridge to Inverlochy is some thirteen miles, but to take Argyll in the flank a circuit was necessary, and Montrose followed the northern slopes of the wild tangle of mountains, the highest in Britain, that surround Ben Nevis. In the ruddy gloaming of the February day the vanguard saw beneath and before them the towers of Inverlochy, “ like a scowl on the fringe of the wave,” and not a mile off the men of Clan Diarmaid making ready their evening meal.

Shots were exchanged with the pickets, but no efiort was made to advance. Montrose waited quietly in the gathering dusk till by eight o’clock the rest of Ms famished column had arrived. There, supperless and cold, they passed the night, keeping up a desultory skirmishing with the Campbell outposts, for Montrose was in dread lest Argyll should try to escape. It was a full moon and the dark masses of both armies were visible to each other. Argyll thought the forces he saw were only a contingent of Highland raiders under Keppoch or some petty chief. But after his fashion he ran no personal risks; so, with Ms favourite minister and one or two Edinburgh bailies, he withdrew to a boat on Loch Eil.

At dawn on Candlemas day his ears were greeted by an. unwelcome note. It was no bagpipe such as Keppoch might use, but trumpets of war, and the salute they sounded was that reserved for the Royal Standard. The King’s lieutenant, who two days ago was for certain at Loch Ness, had by some craft of darkness taken wings and flown his army over the winter hills. There was no alternative but to fight. Till Montrose was beaten the Campbells could neither march forward to join Seaforth nor backward to their own land.

Auchinbreck drew up his forces with the fighting men of Clan Campbell in tlie centre and the Lowland regiments borrowed from Baillie on each wing. Montrose himself led the Royalist centre, with Alastair on the left and Alastair’s lieutenant, O’Kean, on the right. Sir Thomas Ogilvy commanded the little troop of horse which had managed to make its way with the infantry over the terrible hills. This was the one advantage Montrose possessed. Otherwise, his men were on the point of starvation, having had scarcely a mouthful for forty-eight hours. He himself and Lord Airlie breakfasted on a little raw, meal mixed with cold water, which they ate with their dirks.

The battle began with a movement by Ogilvy’s horse, which gravely disquieted the Lowland wings. Then the Campbell centre fired a volley, and immediately the whole Royalist front responded and charged. We may well believe that the firing of famished men was wild, but it mattered little, for soon they were come, as Montrose wrote, “ to push of pike and dint of sword.” Alastair and O’Kean had little difficulty with the Lowland levies. In spite of the experience of many of them with Leven, a Highland charge was a new and awful thing to them, and they speedily broke and fled. Inverlochy was won by strategy, for of tactics there was little, and that little was elementary, The gallant Campbell centre, indeed, made a determined stand. They knew that they could hope for no mercy from their ancestral foes, and they were not forgetful of the honourable traditions of their race. But in time they also broke. Some rushed into the loch and tried in vain to reach the galley of their chief, now fleeing to safety; some fled to the tower of Inverlochy. Most scattered along the shore, and on that blue February noon there was a fierce slaughter from the mouth of Nevis down ta the mouth of Loch Leven. The Lowlanders were given quarter, but, in spite of all his efforts, Montrose could win no mercy for the luckless Campbells. The green Diarmaid tartan was a badge of death that day. On the Royalist side only four perished; on the Covenant side the slain outnumbered the whole of Montrose’s army. At least 1,500 fell in the battle and pursuit, and among them were Auchinbreck himself and forty of the Campbell barons. Well might Keppoch’s bard exult fiercely over the issue:

“Through the land of my fathers the Campbells have come.

The flames of their foray enveloped my home;

Broad Keppoch in ruin is left to deplore,

And my country is waste from the hill to the shore--

Be it so! by St. Mary, there’s comfort in store.”

“ Though the braes of Lochaber a desert be made,

And Glen Roy may be lost to the plough and the spade;

Though the bones of my kindred, unhonoured, unurned,

Mark the desolate path where the Campbells have burned

Be it so! From that foray they never returned.”

So ended one of the sternest and swiftest marches in the history of war. Inverlochy was in one respect a decisive victory, for it destroyed the clan power of Argyll, and from its terrible toll the Campbells as a fighting force never recovered. Alastair’s policy was justified, and the MacDonalds were amply avenged; the heather, as the phrase went, was above the gale at last.* To Montrose at the moment it seemed even more. He thought that with the galley of Lorn fell also the blue flag of the Covenant. He wrote straightway to the King:

* The heather is the MacDonald badge, and the gale, or bog myrtle, the Campbell.

“Give me leave, in all humility, to assure Tour Majesty that, through God’s blessing, I am in the fairest hopes of reducing this kingdom to Your Majesty’s obedience. And, if the measures I have concerted with your other loyal subjects fail me not, which they hardly can, I doubt not before the end of this summer I shall be able to come to Your Majesty’s assistance with a brave army, which, backed with the justice of Your Majesty’s cause, will make the rebels in England, as well as in Scotland, feel the just rewards of rebellion. Only give me leave, after I have reduced this country to Your Majesty’s obedience, and conquered from Dan to Beersheba, to say to Your Majesty then, as David’s general did to his master, Come thou thyself, lest this country be called by my name! ”

It was not to be. He was to win other astonishing victories, but before the year closed Philiphaugh was to be fought and the great adventure was to end in exile. Five years later, on a May day in the High Street of Edinburgh, there closed on the gallows the career of the bravest of Scottish hearts.

Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05