Alexander Leslie, Marchioness Hamilton, the Marquis of Hamilton
‘I expect not anything can reduce that people to obedience but force only’ Charles wrote to Hamilton in 1638, and the actions of the General Assembly of the Kirk had made probably made it inevitable. And sure the combined might of England, Ireland and Royalist Scots could do the job. Wentworth certainly thought so.
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In early 1638 while Charles was struggling and failing to stay on top of the situation in Scotland, he received a welcome shot in the arm when his Mother-in-law came to stay. I understand that mother in law jokes are the preserve now of history and Les Dawson. I think I have dimly heard that remarking that I haven’t spoken to the mother in law for 18 months, because I don’t like to interrupt, is now probably an unacceptable gag, so I will simply tell you about HM’s Mum, Marie de Medici, Queen Mother of France ousted from power by her son and Cardinal Richelieu. Presumably Charles and Henrietta had been fighting, Henrietta Maria had written to her mum with something along the lines of “He fought with me again, I am coming to stay with you”, to which the Mother in Law replied “No dear, he must pay for his mistake. I am coming to stay with you!”. Possbly another unacceptable gag.
And so she arrived and if you lived in London you would not have been able to miss it; there’s an engraving of her arrival, a vast procession through Cheapside, all tidied up with barriers arranged in front of boarding, decorated with cloths and pictures. Spectators thronged in the streets, ogling as they saw Marie grandly and flamboyantly demonstrate to the grubby English exactly what they were missing in terms of French civilisation. Marie’s vast entourage, maintain from Charles’s pocket, included six coaches, hundreds of horses, monks and confessors by the hod full, peers and princesses, dwarfs and dogs. She cut a dash – more than that, enough dash for a morse code SOS Charles must have wanted to send.
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, the visits of folks like Marie, and the goings-on at Somerset house from her daughter caused your good English Protestant palpitations about the religion of their king. Marie did not see her job as one of fostering careful diplomatic relations and smoothing out religious conflict, she came to pour scorn and to flout. She went around telling whomever would listen that she was hoping for Charles’ conversion to the one true church. Her daughter’s Catholic masses were well attended and not kept in the background.
The impact of occasions like this are incalculable, but in the air of England at this time, as news filtered from Scotland, were feelings not necessarily supportive of the King’s troubles. For many there was an uncomfortable feeling that their religious brothers and sisters were under attack; Marie’s very visible presence raised the heat just one more degree.
Charles at this point seems to have realised that it was not good enough to just shout at everyone in Scotland and expect them to slap their foreheads, realise what they’d done wrong, and get into line tugging forelocks furiously as they went. That this was a situation he needed to manage, and the Earl of Traqhuair was obviously a busted flush by this stage. There were a few people he might have selected to replace him; let me try three on you. First James Graham, the Earl of Montrose. I doubt Charles considered him for an instant; Montrose though, one day to be his greatest ally in Scotland and a man who could hardly think better of himself, I suspect would have thought himself a good choice. But as it happens, Charles had already hacked him off in 1636, when he’d come to court and Charles had done nothing but offer his hand to be kissed and turned away. Montrose in fact had been one of the first to sign up to the Covenant, and would soon be imposing it on the good citizens of Aberdeen, accompanied by a spot of bloodletting. So not him.
Then there was Archibald Campbell. He’s actually called Lord Lorne at this point, but all this name changing is too confusing so let’s just call him what he will be known as – the Earl of Argyll, Head of the Clan Campbell. He will be one of the most influential figures throughout the Scottish Revolution, it’s leading figure. Since the fall of the MacDonalds as Lords of the Isles in the 15th century, the Campbells had been agents of the crown in the southern highlands – and roundly hated they were by most clans who suffered at the hands of their Empire building. Even now, if you meet a MacDonald I think there’ll be a chance they’ll mutter ‘Never trust a Campbell’. Argyll was a firm Presbyterian Calvinist – but as yet had not signed the Covenant and was keeping his options open. But his Dad had converted to Catholicism, and Charles didn’t know him well. So not him then. There’d be a bill to pay for that decision.
He chose instead a good friend, James Hamilton, the Marquis of Hamilton. He was what I suppose you might call a London Scot; he lived mainly at the king’s court in Westminster. However, he did still have substantial lands in southern Scotland and so was not a bad choice; although he gets a thoroughly rotten press from historians the lad. Clearly, I am not as well informed an observer as they, but it seems to me he doesn’t really deserve that; despite a few mess ups, he’ll serve Charles loyally for a long time, despite at one stage some royally ungrateful treatment.
Also – Charles doesn’t really give him a great hand to play, practically a yarborough in terms of bridge parlance. For those of you non lovers of the game, a Yaborough is a hand with no court cards at all, no points, and so called because a certain Earl of Yarborough used to bet money and give odds of 1,000 to 1 against the occurrence of such a hand. History does not relate if he ever drew one. Anyway – Hamilton held a bum hand basically.
The reason for that was that Charles was cross, and Charles was grumpy, and Charles had nothing but contempt for people he saw as simple rebels. In his hand he also had the advice of the fighty Wentworth – his view was that he should send a viceroy to Scotland and impose English law on the lot of them, and have done.
Hamilton, although not well versed in Scottish politics having been absent so long, did not take long once there to read the runes. One of his talents was that he was refreshingly brave in telling Charles how it really was – unlike Traqhair who avoided bad news as much as possible. He wrote to Charles and told him that there was no way he could get what he wanted – or at least not without force. Of which Charles was notably short.
Hamilton wrote a letter in June 1638 which it seems to me demonstrates a pretty fine judgement, that if Charles forced the issue, he would risk all his three kingdoms
The conquering totally of this kingdom will be a difficult work…there are so many malicious spirits among them that so sooner will your back be turned but they will be ready to do to you as we have done here, which I will never call by another name than rebellion. England wants not its own discontents and I fear much help they cannot give
But Charles’ view of all this was uncompromising.
So long as the Covenant is in force I have no more power in Scotland than as a Duke of Venice; which I will die rather than suffer
So there we have it; a man prepared for martyrdom before compromise that reduced his authority. You heard it hear first, in 1638. But when Hamilton went north again in August I am surprised to tell you that it appeared Hamilton’s silvery tongue with his master had done it’s work! Finally, finally, he had some concessions to give – he’d temporarily withdraw the Prayer book, the Canons and suspend the Five Articles of Perth; he’d even refer the question of whether Bishops should exist to a General Assembly of the Kirk, which he agreed should be held in November. And, to get round the Covenant he offered up his own Confession of faith or Covenant, which he could live with but hopefully would be enough of a compromise for the Scots to live with too.
Well…would you Adam and Eve it!? My gob is well and truly smacked, and I expect yours is too. So much for Charles not being able to compromise then, Hail Charles the Martyr, lover of peace!
Well, you can pick yourself up from the floor. Here are the instructions that Charles also wrote to Hamilton at the time in private, telling him
‘I expect not anything can reduce that people to obedience but force only….In the meantime your care must be to dissolve the multitude and to that end I give you leave to flatter them with what hopes [you] please, so you engage me not against my grounds and in particular that you consent neither to the calling of parliament nor General Assembly until the Covenant be disavowed and given up
There’s an expression I think – hope for peace but prepare for war, or maybe I have just misquoted. Anyway, let me offer up a new expression to cover what Charles was doing here; promise them peace, until you’re prepared to give them war. From here, Charles was preparing for war, but knew full well that he would not be able to gather an army until the next year 1639. This incident in Scotland is instructive for the future, which is why I’m going into it a bit. Number one, although it’s argued that sure, Charles can compromise, and actually that’s true he does at times, and at times genuinely. But it tends to be too little too late, when the agenda had moved on. Maybe a year ago something emollient would have worked; the King’s Covenant for example has been dismissed as a feeble ruse, but even then it gathered 28,000 signatures; 12,000 of those were around Aberdeen, and it’s a reminder that there was more than one opinion in Scotland. But it was too late to deflect the Covenanters now, too much water had flowed.
Number 2, Charles would never compromise on the matters of principle upon which he firmly believed his honour and soul depended. To others it would seem he was untrustworthy – Charles didn’t believe that, these people were rebels, he was God’s anointed, his honour and the well being of his subjects depended on not betraying the basis of his election by God. So, it was in his mind acceptable to dissemble; and he was prepared to listen to advice about tactics and vary them – but never the principle.
the prudential part of any consideration will never be found in opposite to the conscientious
he once said. He is not a stupid man, it’s no good dismissing him as a fool; so he understand the factions in Scotland surprisingly well, despite his lack understanding that they were acting from conviction, rather than simple malice. So for example he explained to Hamilton that to give way too easily would be dangerous, because if he did he would not be able to build his own party, his supporters would be disheartened. Charles would prove an excellent party leader when that stage comes.
The English will be fooled over and over again until they realise this. The Scots were sharper, much sharper. They looked at the format of the King’s Covenant, looked at the small print and saw it was to be sworn
For the maintenance of religion as it is already or presently avowed
Oh..right…so Bishops have to stay, the BCP and Canons have to stay, the Five articles of Perth too. It was a trap, and they were not fooled.
And so to revolution. The General Assembly went ahead – without the Covenant being disavowed. As progress went from bad to worse, and King’s Commissioner Hamilton tried to control it, but eventually had to admit that he could not. So he tried to dissolve the Assembly. With enormous dignity, he stood in the Assembly and commanded everyone’s attention
Nothing done here in this assembly should be of any force to bind his majesty’s subjects; and I in his majestie’s name, discharge this court to sit any longer
He then drew himself up, and withdrew in all his majesty, strode authoritatively to the door to leave. And found it had been locked. I mean I’m sorry I have some sympathy here with Hamilton; think of him trying desperately to the open the door, while the delegates sniggered behind him. While he did this, you might expect Argyll, as a member of the Scottish Privy Council to follow him. But he sat on his hands and stayed. None the less he would continue to attend PC meetings until March 1639 – but his loyalty now was suspect as well as his father’s.
When Hamilton finally managed to fight his way out, the assembly ignored the dissolution and visited a revolution on the King’s head. You might be interested to know, incidentally, that while an Assembly of the Kirk sounds very much a religious thing, and it is, yet of the 240 members, 140 were laymen, lairds and so on. Anyway, it declared all Assemblies held since 1606 unlawful because they had included the king who should not be involved in ecclesiastical matters in their view, the BCP and Canons were also declared unlawful. Bishops were removed from the church and excommunicated and it was decided the Assembly could meet when it chose, and did not have to be called by the king. This was Rebellion, pure and simple. It must now be war.
Now, I have held Charles to task for not being honest in his dealings, and fully expecting to put things right by using the might of England to reverse any concessions wrung from him. But is should also be noted that while he was preparing for war, the Covenanters were doing exactly the same. They had a couple of advantages. The first was in the person of Alexander Leslie, who had completed a very distinguished career fighting for the Swedes in the 30YW, rising to the level of Field Marshal, and he had their gratitude; it helped the Scots buy up quantities of arms and ammunition from Protestant Europe, the Danes and Swedes in particular. The Second advantage lay in the very effective organisation the Covenanters put together which harnessed the full resources of the kingdom; they established County Commissions which brought together the Elders of each community, working with each Presbytery. Although Scotland was a relatively poor country, they maximised their resources extraordinarily well, and because of that they would punch above their weight. The very poverty of Scotland helped them as well; maybe as many as 25,000 men had travelled abroad to give them a better income and fight for the Protestant cause; as fighters they were very highly valued in Continental service. So, there was a body of trained men available to the Covenanters.
In January 1639, Charles announced he would put together any army to impose his will. He was furious, and in his fury could see nothing but vengeance. He issued a proclamation condemning the Covenanters as Traitors, had a propaganda leaflet from them publicly burned by a Hangman, and swore the Covenanters aimed to set up a republic – the worst possible insult in Charles’ lexicon, but very much not the case it must be pointed out – the Covenanters wanted no such thing and would remain resolutely loyal to the idea of monarchy.
Charles had a plan. To be honest it could be considered as somewhat over complicated, but it was the sort of plan likely to make an armchair general feel confident. The Trident of Vengeance and righteousness to be wielded by Charles was to have three tines. The first tine stood in Ireland – not Wentworth, which would be a reasonable guess; Wentworth in fact said his forces were so split he could not afford to bring them to England at this point. Nope, it was instead one Randal MacDonnell, and I love this character because his actions in the Revolutions shows a corner of the complexity of the eddies and currents that ran beneath the surface of British politics.
I have mentioned the antagonism between the MacDonalds and other western Highland clans and the Campbell clan of Argyll and the south west highlands. The MacDonalds shared close links and ancestry with the MacDonnell clan in Ireland, who were effectively an offshoot who had invaded and colonised territory in Ulster about a hundred years before. Their leader was Randal McDonnel, the Earl of Antrim, and it’s complicated. Antrim’s father had taken part in Tyronne’s rebellion against Elizabeth, but then rather than fleeing with the Earls in 1609, he had stayed, made his peace, and been granted the Earldom of Antrim with royal title to land. Under his and his son’s hands, the clan and family had done well, by keeping a foot in both camps. Randal was educated in France but spent 10 years at Charles’ court, and in 1635 married Buckingham’s widow. He participated in James’ plantation of Ireland, and leased a lot of land to protestant Scottish lowland settlers. However, he remained Catholic, supported the Gaelic language and values, and brought his son up in them; one of the stories he told him was the family memory that their lands in the Scottish Highlands had been stolen from them by the Campbells. He was also enormously rich – although like Buckingham, having a big income didn’t mean he had a lot of money – because of course he spent it and then some, building and gambling. These aristocrats really, tsk. Still, I suppose you can’t take it with you and all that. He also had a reputation for being vain, untrustworthy and a bit of a thickie, but also a bit of a looker.
So why am I telling you this? Well firstly, because he proposed to raise an army, and take it to invade the Highlands. Charles was delighted, and promised him whatever of Argyll’s lands he could recover. This was encouraging to Antrim for sure. It seems likely that it encouraged him less because it would be helping his rightful king – although that might have been part of it – but more because here was a way to recover the stolen MacDonald inheritance from the hated Campbells. It is a thing to remember about Highland politics – the local politics between chiefs and clans in the Highlands mattered a lot more than the fortunes of Scotland and England as a whole. That has a lot of history, in clans fighting for Edward I and allying with Henry VIII, for example.
Anyway, unfortunately the news also reached Archibald Campbell, the Earl of Argyll, that his king was happily prepared to see him lose his lands and fortune – that the ends of royal power justified the means of knifing the Campbells. Argyll signed the Covenant, withdrew from Privy Council meetings in Scotland, and was lost to Charles’ cause. Wentworth, it should be noted, thought the plan and Antrim himself, to be a complete waste of space and would have nothing to do with it. He was right. Antrim failed completely to deliver anything at all for Charles in 1639.
The second tine was to be Hamilton. Charles was convinced that Scotland held many still loyal to the historic house of Stuart; and he wasn’t wrong. In the north, the Gordons, the Catholic Earls of Huntly, were less than keen on the Covenant. So, Hamilton was to lead an amphibious force with 5,000 men, to land at Aberdeen, hook up with Huntly who would have similar numbers, and march south on Edinburgh. This plan also unravelled, or at least partially. The Covenanters were well aware of Huntly; in early March, Montrose arrived in Aberdeen, Huntly and the town submitted and Huntly was taken to Edinburgh practically a prisoner. Hearing of this in his fleet on the way, Hamilton changed his plan mid journey, and decided to try and land south of Edinburgh at Leith. There, apparently, he met his Mum, Lady Anne Cunningham. The Marchioness of Hamilton was a fervent Covenanter, and was appalled at her son’s actions. She served as a colonel in the Covenanter army, with responsibility to organise the defence of Scotland’s east coast, and led her regiment under the banner ‘For God, the King, Religion and the Covenant’. Let Anne’s banner serve as a reminder that the Covenanters fervently believed in the importance of the king – so long as they swore to the Covenant and lived by its terms. Anyway, when her lad Hamilton appeared and tried to land, a contemporary described her response.
“She goeth in armour and with a pistoll by her side readie charged, and wishes him there, saying shee would burie the bullets in his bowells
Being told publicly by Mum that you’re not the Messiah just a very naughty boy is not a good look for a warrior. Also there were too many Scottish soldiers there, under the command of Alexander Leslie. So Hamilton beat a hasty retreat. However his mission was not entirely thwarted; his ships remained in the Firth of Forth, cruising and blockading to prevent supplies reaching the Covenanter army. Suppling an early Modern Army was not trivial, so also this was not trivial.
That left Charles with the central tine of the trident of Vengeance and Righteousness, the army of England. And really you can forget the other two tines; England had 6 or 7 times the population of Scotland and even more than that in wealth; the wealth of a Scottish magnate was estimated to be similar to a successful member of the Yorkshire gentry. So really, Charles had a good right to expect that this was something of a gimme – surely the might of England would crush the Scots. He planned to raise an army of 20,000 – 14,000 foot and 6,000 horse
Well, that seems true, though it is worth noting there were a few problems he had to overcome to boot. One is very unmeasurable but surely important and who knows maybe most important, which is heart, and stomach. Scottish Covenanter hearts were fully in the game. English hearts – not so much. The idea of recruiting Catholics in Ireland and Scotland did not sit comfortably with most of the English. They worried that far too many of the King’s army officers were in fact Catholics. Plus for many it seems that the Scots were simply doing what they deeply desired to do – roll back the Laudian reforms.
‘We must needs go against the Scots for not being idolatrous and will have no mass among them’
Complained a newssheet. In Herefordshire Brilliana Harley wrote to her son
This year 1639 is the year in which many are of the opinion that the antichrist will begin to fall. The Lord say Amen to that’
Punishing the Scots then – that must have felt a bit like turkeys voting for Christmas, though of course that’s an inappropriate metaphor for this time for all sorts of reasons. So there was reluctance which coloured everything – in raising money, in signing up to fight, to leading armies.
For the Warwick House group we’ve mentioned – the likes of Warwick, Saye and Sele, Pym and so on this was a major tear; and there are signs that some of them went further than reluctance. One of the most fervently radical of them in religious terms was one Robert Greville, lord Brooke; a puritan yes, but also a believer in complete toleration for all Protestants to worship as they wished. There’s some evidence that he, Saye and Sele, Warwick, Pym were in correspondence with leaders of the Covenanters. The direct influence of this reluctance is unknowable, but must be relevant. It seems to have been known around the place that the Scots had influential supporters; the Countess of Westmoreland had her ear to the ground, and wrote to a Privy Councillor with a warning that Scots
Know our divisions and the strength of our own combinations, and they have a party among us, and we have none among them.
The next problem of course was money; Charles had done surprisingly well, but the personal rule had depended not only on Weston’s clever financial management, but also on peace. Obviously calling a parliament was out of the question. And meanwhile, at last John Hampden’s refusal to pay and the Ship Money judgement was having an impact; takings in 1639 had fallen dramatically and collection was sucking up the PC’s time. There was a traditional levy called Coat and Conduct payable when the king raised an army, to provide clothes and expenses for soldiers – the response to the tax was feeble; few were prepared to pay another dodgy feudal tax. The City of London was of course a sure-fire cash cow for the monarchy – a you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ relationship, loans for trade concessions. But not this time; Charles’ treatment of the Corporation over Ireland came home to roost as London’s Common Council point bank refused to give any money,
In regard of the many taxes imposed on them and the loss of their lands in Londonderry
None the less, Charles did his best by targeting his traditional feudal rights and loyalties; he called for voluntary loans, sold lands, created monopolies, use treasury funds; he called for a feudal levy of lords tenants, and allowed nobles to pay scutage. Scutage eh? Does that ring any bells from medieval episodes? Makes me feels nostalgically weepy. It was of course the right for a noble to pay money in place of providing his quota of men and armour. Happy Memories. In the end, Charles and the PC did manage to raise a significant army, of around 18,000 men, so not the full aim, but a pretty good number, and, crucially, to pay and feed them.
There is much doubt about their quality though. The backbone was to have been provided by the County militias of the 13 northernmost English counties; the Trained bands, as they were called, were at least trained and mustered regularly, and supposed to provide their own arms. The Lords Lieutenant and Deputy Lords Lieutenants of the Counties were pretty keen on rolling out their men and drilling them hard. But just like, I don’t know, the fyrd of Anglo Saxon England, these men didn’t sign up to fight wars far from home; no, they signed up to defend hearth and home and their communities, their own Countries. So leaving the borders of the Shire was not in any way attractive. This led to a work around called substitution; once again, you organised for another person to go in your place. Fair enough; except, where would you find such people? And the answer very often was impressment – the prisons and poorer quarters were cleaned out. These men were generally neither physically fit, nor committed to the cause. They would desert for two pins. Or indeed for the promise of a single pin. Something like half the army was composed of such men.
As the army assembled north of Newcastle to face the Scottish army across the border, Charles called all his peers to York, a sort of feudal levy, and shot north to join. How much he perceived is not clear, but he at least began to understood that he joined an army that left a lot to be desired. There was a wide variety; at one end of the scale he’d have taken heart at Sir John Suckling, who had joined the army with some enthusiasm; he’d recruited a regiment of 100 young gentlemen, and dressed them out in white doublets, scarlet breeches and coat, brave white feathers in their hats, and well armed. But they were not typical. The majority were badly trained and surly. The contingent from East Anglia was a case in point; when they arrived at Berwick they were so notoriously ill disciplined their officers were terrified of them, and they had good cause – every so often the men would take potshots at their officers, presumably claiming they were just getting in some useful practice. There was even a bullet hole in the King’s tent.
One of knights in the army, Edmund Verney carried out a long correspondence to his son, which has survived. He was not optimistic, not looking forward to the coming fight:
I dare say there was never so raw, so unskilful and so unwilling an army brought to fight…they are as like to kill their fellows as the enemy
Our army is but weak. Our purse is weaker and if we fight with these forces…we shall have our throats cut, and to delay fighting long we cannot for want of money to keep our army together
It seems certain that Charles picked up some of this negativity and lack of enthusiasm. He’d already had a surprisingly frank exchange with one Thomas Wilsford, commanding a horse contingent from Kent, and a former MP for Dover. Wilsford had told Charles
If you think to make war with your own purse you deceive yourself. The only way to prosper is to go back and call a parliament so you shall have money enough and do your business handsomely
Charles played it cool – I can see Alec Guinness as we speak – he smiled and remarked
There were fools in the last parliament
Wilsford did not let it drop.
True, but there were wise men too, and if you let them alone the wise men would have been too hard for the fools
Some will have feared what success in this war for the king would mean for their future. Edmund Ludlow was the son of Wiltshire knight, and a future roundhead army commander, regicide, and a man who would be pursued relentlessly by Charles II’s agents after the Restoration. He wrote that the gentry in the army were aware of
How dangerous to the people of England a thorough success against the Scots might prove
In the face of all this, Charles at York decided that an oath of loyalty would be the thing to bond his leaders together and raise the spirits. Maybe for some it did; but for two in particular it was simply another opportunity to express dissent; Lords Brooke and Saye & Sele refused point blank to take the oath, claiming that a new oath could only be issued with the approval of parliament. Here was the agenda for the Warwick House group; excluded from council of the king, the only way they could achieve change was through parliament; so at every opportunity they would stress the necessity of calling a parliament. They were imprisoned for a while for their pains.
Charles pushed ahead, and chose his commander; it was an appointment typical of his attitudes toward the nature of his kingship – he appointed the hereditary Marshal of England, a post that once upon a time would have indeed been filled by the leading war lord England could provide. Once, a few centuries ago – but this is not that day. These days the post was held by Henry Howard, the Earl of Arundel, a man with absolutely zero military experience. In Charles’ defence, however, he wasn’t spoiled for choice; and did appoint as a deputy for Arundel the man who did have the most military experience there, the Earl of Essex – though to be fair his record wasn’t great.
Across the border, the Covenanters had managed to gather an army of 15,000 strong. The way the story of this showdown is normally told is very much the way I have been going – that the English army was a shambles of poorly led ne’er do wells, cold, hungry, ill-equipped and poorly led, facing a tight disciplined army of battle hardened religious zealots, veterans of the 30 year war armed with the latest in military technology, capable of shooting off a fly’s eyebrows at 400 yards. There is some truth in the characterisation – quite a lot actually – but it is also easy to overstate it. The Scottish army was also populated by its fair share of unwilling soldiers a long way from home, supply problems of food and pay were critical; the army was already suffering from desertions, and without a quick conclusion things might well go pear shaped. However, they were without doubt much better led by Alexander Leslie, a commander of considerable experience and quality.
This quality was to be proved early in what followed. The Earl of Holland was sent forward across the border with 3,000 horse to carry out a recce, and quickly met a force commanded by Leslie. Holland sent a message with a haughty demand to Leslie to explain why he was so close to the English border with such a large army. In return Leslie asked what he was doing across the Scottish border with a large army which it must be said is a thoroughly good question. Seriously dunked in the war of words, Holland decided to withdraw in the face of Leslie’s superior numbers and scurried back to camp. Leslie followed and deployed on the heights of Duns Law, apparently ready to attack, in full view of the English camp. He made sure he drew up in open order, with shallow lines, well spread out with banners flying – a bit like a bird fluffing up its feathers to look big and scary even though it is in fact a Linnet.
So when the King and the English commanders looked at them through a telescope, they though they saw a big and scary army of about 30,000. Charles lost his nerve – and it must be said the people around him were hardly filling him with confidence either. He ordered the whole army to withdraw. Leslie’s bluff had worked. The next thing to arrive at the king’s tent was an offer from the Covenanters to negotiation; Leslie was as reluctant to cross the border to attack as the King’s nobility was to fight; in his other ear Charles had the Earl of Bristol telling him that many of the peers were secretly preparing a petition to demand that the king call a parliament; this might have recalled in Charles’ mind that exchange with Thomas Wilsford. So when the hand of truce was offered across the border, Charles snatched at it.
The following negotiation started at Berwick on 11th June. And Charles showed he had a talent for hard negotiation; he had a style of pursuing points in detail, relentlessly, and pushing them through with logic; though if negotiation is the art of reaching an agreement both parties can live with, it would be difficult to sustain the argument that he should be genuinely considered a good negotiator. But he does seem to be no pushover. He confronted them with the radicalism of their own actions, and defended his right to dissolve parliaments by forcing them to admit that the Covenant gave them no way to decide how to balance their allegiance to Christ, with their loyalty to their king. Which is indeed the core contradiction at the heart of the Covenant. Again, Charles was not stupid.
The treaty signed on 18th June, known as the Pacification of Berwick, brought to an end a series of events know to history as the First Bishop’s War. It’s a slightly confusing title, because there were no Bishops involved in the war, which I am sure would have deeply disappointed Bishop Odo of Bayeux with his club of war. Nor was there any fighting, unless you include the duel being fought between the Earls of Holland and Newcastle about the critically strategic matter of whose regimental colours should have precedence, an excellent example of the aristocracy’s ability to really focus on the big issues. I suppose the title is because the issue of the abolition of the episcopy was front and foremost, but maybe we could start a search for a more accurate title.
The glow of satisfaction after the signature of the Pacification did not last long. Under the terms, the king agreed to a General Assembly of the Kirk and a parliament, the former with the power to agree all matters ecclesiastical, and the latter all matters civil. In return, the Covenanters would disband their armies and hand back the royal castles they’d captured, such as Edinburgh – for which they would get some stick when they got home. But nothing was really agreed about any of the substantive issue, and Charles’ wording carefully gave him plenty of wriggle room – the Assembly and Parliament were to be ‘lawfully constituted’, and since for Charles that meant Bishops should be there, he could automatically reject any of it.
But maybe they could sort it out through the parliament and Assembly which Charles declared he would attend in person. For the moment, a draw had been achieved. Looking back on it, more than one historian, among them Conrad Russell and Richard Cust have concluded that while it would have been a long shot, this First war was Charles’ only chance to avoid an English parliament, and that with an army for the moment in full pay and larger than the adversary, these are dice he should have thrown. But he did not choose to do so, and it’s got to be as convincing an argument to say he was forced to back away at this point – while suggesting he should never have let the dispute get to this stage by introducing the hated BCP and Canons.
Before everyone headed for home, there was one more act; because he intended to go to the General Assembly and parliament, he summoned 14 leading Covenanters to come to see him in Berwick to have a bit of a wagging of chins to sort out what would happen there. It is a sign of how little everyone trusted each other that most of the Covenanters simply refused to come; they thought there was a better than evens chance that Charles was going to imprison them. So only 6 turned up in response to their king’s command. One of the 6 was the flamboyant James Graham, Earl of Montrose. Although the last time he and Charles had met it had been a disaster, this time it appears they got on like a house on fire – in a good way. The sort of house fire where you are fixing to claim on insurance. Not that I’m advocating that, you understand, just a figure of speech. Anyway, this is significant – mark this with a bit of sticky tape or a post it – Montrose was always an unlikely Covenanter. It seems likely that it was at this meeting that Montrose pledged his service to his king.
But anyway, for the moment, the talking and lack of fighting was done, the armies were dismissed, and everyone headed for home. Charles would need to circle the wagons, and decide fight or flight – negotiate or raise a new army. And one of those needed money.
 Woolrych, A: ‘Britain in Revolution’, p107
 Purkiss, D: ‘The English Civil War: A People’s History’, p84
 Healey, J: ‘The Blazing World’ p115
 Harris, T: ‘Rebellion ‘, p 377
 Hunt, T: ‘The English Civil War at First Hand’, p39
 Cust, R: ‘Charles I: A Political Life’, p247