Battle of Philiphaugh
James Graham, Marquis of Montrose , had a right to be confident in the autumn of 1645. The Wars Of The Three Kingdoms threw forth fierce battles between the Parliamentarian Covenanters and the Royalists but this was a theatre Montrose enjoyed performing in, revelling in giving the Covenanter cause in Scotland an honest savaging. Victories at Kilsyth , Tippermuir , Dundee and Aberdeen put Parliamentarianism, albeit temporarily, on its backside – and Montrose’s ego into over-drive.
And to think Montrose was once a leading Covenanter. As the ink dried on the Solemn League And Covenant in 1623, King Charles I was swept away in the stiff breeze of religious and political reform. The Covenanters were sufficiently incensed at Charles I’s Book Of Canons being forced on the Scottish populace, that they entered the English Civil War in support of the Parliamentarians. Charles I would see his kingdom pull itself apart. Like many revolutionary movements the Covenanters had their fair share of difficulties: the growing antipathy between Montrose and Lord Lorn Of Argyll would see Montrose seduced by the Royalists.
Sent to Scotland in a bellicose effort to restore Charles I, Montrose and his band of 2,000 or so soldiers, accrued from the Scottish Highlands, with some support from the Irish Guards, were well rehearsed in combat. But really, that the exiled King invested his faith in this underdog insurgence was proof that he had taken permanent residence in cloud cuckoo land. He was truly out of touch. But still, with the engagement of civil war enthusing all in the kingdom; at least he had one of the more stolid generals to count upon. Which is why Philiphaugh came as such a surprise.
Montrose had been dining out on the Committee Of Estates’ woolly-headed leadership; at Philiphaugh it would be he who would err. His bold ambitions to storm the north of England was foolish in the extreme: for the famine of new recruits to the Royalist cause was a chronic complaint. The Scottish Borders had never been a Royalist stronghold and Scotland had grown weary of his armies’ excesses in victory. The Scottish Highlanders in particular had a reputation for fondness of the pillage. Moreover, potential volunteers in the Lowlands of Scotland would be inclined to baulk at the thought of an alliance with the Highlanders – mistrust was mutual.
Fatigued and disenchanted with the protracted conflict, Royalist morale was sinking. All in spite of their victories. Triumph alone could not rouse the troops in the way that it would delight Montrose; underfunded and undersubscribed, fighting under Montrose had become a real chore for his men. He even had the temerity to rein them in when there was a sacking to be had. As he billeted his men by Philiphaugh, Montrose stayed nearby at Selkirk in the company of his cavalry.
The Covenanters – missing, presumed dead – had regrouped. Royalist victories amounted to superficial damage in the long run. David Leslie was leading a huge army towards Montrose’s positions, reaching nearby Melrose without arousing suspicion. Montrose had become sloppy; there were no sentries, no warning. Leslie had the Royalists surrounded, and by the evening he had them defeated, with up to 500 Royalists slain.
Montrose fled the scene, and though he maintained a desultory guerilla campaign, Leslie had marginalised him and the Covenanters duly consolidated their control of the country.
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