Battle of Aberdeen
As he led the Royalist forces to victory in the Battle Of Aberdeen, James Graham, First Marquis Of Montrose , shouldered the hopes of a king seeking to wrestle the country from the Covenanters’ grip.
The bellicose maelstrom of civil war in England, had dragged Scotland into the tumult. Many of the parliamentary principals that fuelled quarrel in England were shared north of the border. Scotland’s invitation to the English Civil War arrived with the signatures on the Solemn League And Covenant, 1643. The Covenanters opposed the Stuart Kings’ dynasty, viewing the Divine Right of a monarch to be null and void – for them, no king could assume the role as a spiritual leader of the church.
When King Charles I's forced an Anglicised liturgy on Scotland unrest became a movement. Charles I would charge those who opposed the Anglican liturgy with treason. Scotland sought reform; already there was a political assembly waiting for revolution. In the 17th Century, political reform was always accompanied by bloodshed; executions and brutal torture were de rigueur. Nothing, it seemed, would be achieved without a fair few atrocities. One Covenanter, James Gavin, would have his ears cut off for his beliefs. Such was life.
It is one of the ironies of the period, that the man King Charles I would trust to lead his military campaign was a one-time Covenanter. Montrose was a prominent member in their movement, but he would fall out of favour. Personal rivalry with Lord Lorn, 8th Earl Of Argyll , would most certainly have influenced him to join the Royalists. He gathered an army; men were harvested from Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland. The latter had an acrid distaste for the Presbyterian Covenanters. It was an age-old division; mistrust and hatred between Highlanders and lowlanders.
Montrose’s army was 2,000 strong, and throughout his campaign he would be outnumbered by the Covenanters. His adroit military leadership would account for this disparity – Montrose’s men would come accustomed to victory. His army were not natural allies; clan rivalry and bickering between the Irish and Scots required careful handling from Montrose. Again, it is a testament to his leadership that they would form such a fearsome, united front.
On the 1st September, 1644, the Royalist army gored a victory at Tippermuir . They marched onwards to Dundee , the city stood firm, Montrose’s army would march steadily northwards. Aberdeen would be the next city that Montrose would endeavour to wrench from the Covenanters.
The Battle Of Aberdeen took a familiar pattern. In preparation, the government forces enlisted over a thousand levies. Again, the Royalists would be fighting an army of greater number, but their cohesion would see them plunder the city. The Covenanters cavalry would fall, Royalists routing their shambolic charges. The battle-hardened Royalists under Montrose were a ruthless unit. In just under two hours, the Covenanters were reduced to blood, bone and surrender.
Accounts of atrocity within the fallen city circulated; Montrose’s men would indulge their bloodlust in the aftermath of the battle. Though it was an emphatic victory, it failed to rouse more support for the Royalists. Their lack of mercy in victory did nothing for the Royalist cause. Their post-war barbarian slaughter would ensure that Montrose would be forever outnumbered.
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