In his efforts to secure Oxford’s safety,Charles was faced at Newbury by a far larger army. Find out what happens – and then we go north, where Montrose and Macolla give the Covenanters a nasty shock.
Download Podcast - 395 Forever Newbury (Right Click and select Save Link As)
The Somerset Wassail is played and sung by Magpie Lane
, so 1644 really seems to be a game of two halves. Disaster in the North for Charles – then, quick as a flash just when they thought it was all over – it wasn’t. Essex on a boat, 10,000 lost with it all at Lostwithial.
But 1644 was not in fact a game of two but of three halves. Charles comes out of the west like another angry wind, so this week we’ll hear about a third showdown, when the increasingly irritated town of Newbury, will cry ‘seriously, again?’ So far 1644 is looking like a score draw – how will it look in December? Well, stick around gentle listener, stick around.
To be honest I say angry wind…warm breeze is more like it, but by early October Charles was advancing towards Oxford, his HQ, threatened and under siege, but threatened now by weakened Parliamentarian forces. Is aim was to secure Oxford once more, he must raise the siege of royalist Donnington Castle west of Oxford at Newbury, and of Basing House, south of Oxford. Beyond that who knows – he and Rupert thought maybe London.
As it became clear to the CBK that Charles’s objective was now marching towards Oxford and beyond Oxford was London, and beyond London was their destruction. Manchester and the eastern Association Army was their only game in town, and Manchester was resolutely stationary all the way over north east at Lincoln. Fairfax was busy directing operations as Governor of York. Leven and the Scottish army were struggling to finish off Newcastle, and in the process sucking up all the resources allocated to the North. 10,000 soldiers cannot be billeted on the countryside without causing waves of fury from the locals. And by November 1644 even Fairfax was complaining that of the £220,000 taxation allocated to the north, the Scots received £200,000, leaving Parliamentarian soldiers unpaid. This will yield an increasingly bitter fruit; it would mean that the northern armies became resolutely supportive of the independents, as forming the political opposition to the Scottish cause of Presbyterianism.
So Manchester it must be. For weeks now he had ignored pleas to move from Lincoln horrified with the violence at Marston, and gone torpid. Finally, the increasing hysterical cries of the CBK works its magic, and Manchester moved in September. But then starts winding the CBK up again. Because instead of marching resolutely with banners flying into the breach and filling it with royalist dead he refuses to attack Oxford and sits closer to London at Reading. The CBK start doing their Rumplestiltskin hopping around with fury thing again. Manchester patiently explains this is not a good time he doesn’t have the forces to take on the king. Waller, waiting for help near Oxford, fumes with impatience. Cromwell, chafing under the command of his boss and wanting to have at them and get this thing sorted, fumes. Essex, doesn’t fume really – he’s just relieved that he hasn’t been publicly eviscerated for his miserable failure at Lostwithial – and it is rather extraordinary actually. But he’s busy regathering the men who had managed to make it back with Skippon and trying to stick a little army back to together again, at Reading.
So, Charles advances from the west, and this is the walled garden of war in which we are going to play in this episode, the sandbox of blood. So – Oxford in the middle of the sandbox, Reading to the East, Donnington and Newbury to the west of Oxford, Basing house to the south.
Donnington Castle of course is not to be confused with the much more famous home of the 1980 inaugural Monsters of Rock concert headlined by Rainbow, Saxon and Judas priest at Castle Donnington. Completely different place. This was a medieval rectangular pile of a castle, fortified and held for the king by Sir John Boys, earthworks and artillery all over the place. He would hold it for 18 months against all comers.
Basing House meanwhile would be even more of a royalist symbol, Loyalty House it become known as, going through a series of sieges. It was the home of the Marquis of Winchester, and included the London royalist, merchant and Artillery company man Marmaduke Rawden. As it happens, Inigo Jones the architect, ancient now and without family, ends up trapped there. It’s besieged by Waller in 1643 but survives; was then almost betrayed by the Marquis’ brother, but in June 1644 was once more invested by a parliamentary Colonel Richard Norton. Idle Dick Cromwell later called him, affectionately and ironically, because he wanted Norton to take a central role in government, and Norton preferred life in his country. There was nothing idle about Dick and he surrounded Basing house and squeezed and made life miserable for it.
Like most sieges, those of Donnington and Basing were for the most part local affairs, though write large in the public imagination by newsheets battles. The Royalist Mercurius Aulicus published heroic stories of the gentlemen and the troopers working side by side over musket and spade; while at Mercurius Britannicus Marchamont Needham really got his teeth stuck into making fun of the Marquis of Winchester, whom he despised, and who had apparently been disturbed by a cannon ball at his ablutions with his trousers down. For Needham that meant the sun was shining, and so he made hay, and called him the
Untrussed marquess…and at every siege I hear though there be no storming , yet there is a tempest ever in his breeches
You understand then, the courage and disgrace of his dreadful piggwigggin, this scarecrow of honour
Which is interesting, since my mother used the word pigwiggin constantly and I thought she was talking small pigs, but I now learn at the age of 59 that it is in fact also the word pigwidgeon, a word recorded first in 1594, so a pigwiggin means a sprite, a small insignificant person. Well I never did, the things you learn podcasting. Let’s revive Pigwiggin, you and I, great word.
Anyway, Newsheets wars, Basing House and Donnington captured the public imagination just as Lathom House and Brampton Brayan had before. But now they acquired strategic significance. The CBKs pleas to Manchester to move his bottom into gear still fell on deaf ears. Manchester’s men were unpaid, poorly supplied, he needed reinforcing before he would shift. Almost as though he didn’t want to fight at all any more.
His hand was to be forced. It was time for a bit more angry winding. This time an experienced English soldier from Flanders newly arrived on the king’s forces called Henry Gage. He’d brought munitions and arms from Spain, and now made a cameo appearance. He decided to take control of 250 horse ad 400 foot from the garrison at Oxford and he fell on Norton at Basing house like the proverbial wolf on the woolly enclosure, drove him off and returned to Oxford after raiding the town of Basingstoke and completely replenishing all Oxford’s stores. Apparently Basingstoke had a market that day. A lot of cheese apparently. When he returned to Oxford where everyone went potty with enthusiasm. By January Gage was dead, and buried in Christchurch cathedral, where he lies to this day, still roundly pursued by the cheesemakers of Baz.
Full of confidence now, Charles advanced suddenly on 15th October towards the other guardian of Oxford, Donnington Castle, and at last realisation dawned in the Mancunian breast. Finally Manchester moved, towards an agreed rendez vous at Basingstoke. Waller brought the remnants of his force from Abingdon, Essex took the field again with Philip Skippon with their remnants of Lostwithial. I did say Charles was going to regret that decision to let them go. Because man, they were cross, and looking to return the insults of the Cornish royalists, with compound interest. When Manchester arrived at Basingstoke, the situation was finally transformed in parliaments favour. Now their combined armies totalled 19,000. Once more, Charles was heavily outnumbered.
Charles though wasn’t worried as he headed to Donnington – he gambled that he’d be joined by a force of 5,000 of Rupert’s reconstituted army, called the Northern Horse, and anyway he reckoned he had time – it would take ages for the parliamentarian commanders to get it together before he relieved Donnington and was sitting pretty, reinforced with Rupert and his Northern Horse. And when that happened well – he’d be the hunter again rather than the hunted
He had a point about the parliamentarian boys because boy had those lot fallen out. We know Essex and Waller already couldn’t stand each other. Now both Waller and Cromwell were livid with Manchester’s hanging about. Meanwhile Manchester had taken just as much as he could bear from his Bolshy Lieutenant of Horse. Cromwell and Crawford had just not patched things up
Oliver objected strenuously to Crawford’s attempt to purge the army soldiery of Independents, on the basis of insufficient religious conformity, whatever their fighting skills or passion for parliament’s cause. In Cromwell’s view their loyalty was the thing, and the Scot’s demand for religious orthodoxy offended in his mind against practical common sense, getting the job done – and against conscience. So infuriated was he, that he had gone so far as to ask Manchester to have Crawford removed from his command.
Honestly Manchester rather agreed with Crawford’s fear of Cromwell’s horribly egalitarian recruitment methods. And Cromwell’s popularity with the London press didn’t make things any easier. So there was trouble brewing, and the CBK knew it. To try to keep things going, they sent orders that the combined armies be ruled by a sort of Army Council – by a camel committee basically. No way to run an army.
So, Charles went to Donnington, the besieging parliamentarians ran away and just south of the guns of Donnington Castle he sat down to wait for the Northern horse in a nice comfy well defended spot outside Newbury. He was safely sat in a wedge of land boarded by the rivers Lambourn and Kennet. Speen Hill to his west, Clay Hill to his east, with the added bonus of a large mansion house, Shaw House. He might have even felt smug. He would not stay that way.
Because Charles’ spot between the two rivers might well act as a great defensive position. But if it just so happened that an army of 19,000 to Charles’ 9,000 happened by and noticed them – it could turn into a trap. On 22nd October, despite the heroic efforts of rain and mud and cold that was exactly what happened. So that’s bad news for Charles, but on 26th, the parliamentary army council all gathered because they didn’t like what they saw of Charle’s position. It looked strong, difficult to get at.
Now Newbury is a busy little battle as it happens – because there is a battle coming up had you but realised it. The Army Council, through gritted teeth, came up with a rather ambitious attack plan. They drew up initially in the east, on Clay Hill facing the king sat behind the Lambourn river with his artillery. Manchester stayed there with his lot, looking threatening and butch. That night though a big contingent set out under Waller and Cromwell, in a massive wide arc westwards, carefully north of Donnington Castle to avoid detection, sneakily. They’d appear with surprise on their side on Charles’ western side, at Speen Hill. The plan was basically to hit Charles from two sides and squish. Imagine two wafers, bloc of ice cream in the middle. Squish – a mush of cream and ice. That was the plan for Charles’s future.
It’s a parlous situation and make no mistake. Charles and 9,000 men with one army equal his size to the East, another due to appear from the wet. Northern Horse nowhere to be seen. I’d have been in a right old panic. But come morning of 27th October that’s the situation he faced when Manchester’s contingent attacked from Clay Hill bright and early at 7 am, their job to keep the king’s attention eastwards until Waller and his western wafer arrived to start the squishing. It all went swimmingly pushing the royalist foot back, though in their enthusiasm they crossed the Lambourn river, which was a mistake and not in the plan. Over extended, Charles counter attacked, the guns of Donnington enfiladed them from the north – enfiladed I think that’s the word. Particularly nasty, ‘cos the cannon balls travel all the way along the length of the line. That dampened the enthusiasm a tad, so they legged it back to the safety of Clay Hill, and an artillery battle then ensued from 9 O’clock.
At 2 o’clock in the afternoon, finally the western wafer arrived, drew up their artillery on Speen hill, and started firing. Sadly, the sneaky thing hadn’t worked, the folks in Donnington castle had heard them, and sent word to Charles. So they found themselves looking at barricades and hedges fortified against them by Prince Maurice. Nonetheless – they charged.
Down went Skippon’s foot. They had a point to prove, and to their delight they saw opposite them the Cornish boys. So they proved that point, ferociously attacking the barricades. The Corns fought back but after an hour broke and fled. Looking good for Skippon.
The cavalry on the right wing were also met with success, and almost captured the king and the Prince of Wales with the reserve so close did they come.
On the left, Arthur Haselrig was the senior commander, he of the lobsters and the impeachment of Strafford and all. He and Cromwell found the going tough. There were hedges, ditches, and the guns of Donnington doing that enfilading thing on them now. And then George Goring counterattacked with the royalist horse and that was it, Haselrig and Cromwell sent packing. Now, I think supporters of the Cromwell-ain’t-ever-beaten brigade claim Haselrig was in command, so this doesn’t count, but whatever, Newbury Two was not Oliver’s finest military moment. Beaten by a drunken libertine like George Goring. Tsk.
Now firing the artillery from Speen Hill had been the sign for Manchester to start a new attack from the east, Clay Hill, as part of the squishing process. That didn’t seem to have happened. And it was getting dark before he finally set off down the hill got nowhere, and was driven back. In the gloom parliament’s soldiers started firing at each other by mistake, so although some claimed the cavaliers were in a right old panic by this stage, there was no going on. So they drew back to Speen and Clay hills, to have a bit and a good night’s kip, and then tomorrow – get back to it, and mush Chrles.
In the morning when they got up bright and early they looked down on the field of the coming battle, they saw that the wedge of land between Kennet and Lambourn was empty. Would you Adam and Eve it – Charles had gone. Disappeared. Evaporated. At midnight, cool as a cucumber, he had placed his army into stealth mode and they had gone north and east as fast as the angriest of winds could carry them. No one heard nuffink. Realising what had happened, Cromwell was sent after them but he was way too late – by the time he set off, Charles was snuggly settled under the walls of the Royalist garrison at Wallingford. He had outdone Houdini.
Well Manchester and Waller did what you would do of course and declared a massive victory, which was all over the press. Obviously this would be the perfect time to take Donnington Castle – they’d just defeated the king so he was nothing to worry about and they knew that because now all the London Newsheets were full of celebrations so it must be true. So they left a small team to take Donnington, and sent another down to Basing and returned London-wards there to set up winter quarters.
Charles wasn’t finished though whatever the newsheets might say. He hooked up with Rupert at Oxford. He now had 15,000 men. And went back to the party again, unfashionably late, November now, expecting to find parliament’s army doing the necessary at Donnington. Amd planning to do his own bit of smushing. Sadly he found the enemy gone, with only a feeble contingent outside Donnington. So he drove them off. It is interesting what a Newbury Three would have brought. You’ve got to feel the initiative and mot mentum was with Charles, now with his talisman Rupert, the Parliamentarian command were at each other’s throats. I think it’d have been interesting. Instead, the parliamentarian commanders were all now intent not on beating up the king – but on beating up each other. Things were not going as they should, and it was time to work out why.
We’ll hear about that in the next episode. Charles had achieved his objective – raised the sieges of Donnington and Basing, and thereby secured Oxford. He could take up winter quarters with some justified that the year had ended on a high. We however, are not done with the year’s campaigning – we are going north to Scotland. With Montrose and friends.
MacColla was a highland Scot, more specifically a Macdonald. Alasdair was the son of a man with a claim to be chieftan of the Ian Mor, a splinter of the old MacDonald Lords of the Isles. His Dad been involved in a fierce succession dispute, and as a result wide MacDonald lands in Kintyre, Jura and Islay were lost to the hated Campbells in the early 17th century. So Alasdair was brought up on the island of Colonsay in the Western Isles – burning with injustice, and nursing a deep fiery hatred of the Campbells.
In 1638 MacColla became involved with the Earl of Antrim’s plans to invade the Highlands from Ireland. That didn’t go well; that chief of the Covenanters, Argyll had raided and imprisoned many of MacColla’s family. Though sadly for Argyll and his future happiness, did not include Alasdair himself, or his brother Ranald. They fled to Ireland and started getting involved in the fighting there, getting involved in the Irish revolt, and generally carrying out his role as highland warrior. But what you need to remember about MacColla is that what motivated hm and his family was not the king, or even Antrim, or the rebellion; that motivated him was to
- A) Get his lands back and
- B) Restore the fortunes of the MacDonalds
- C) Take vengeance on the Campbells and
- D) No, seriously, take vengeance on the Campbells.
Between 1641 and 1644 then, MacColla changes sides three times, even spending a while fighting in Ireland for Munro – didn’t last, obviously. But in 1643 he got a taste of what he was looking for when he raided Islay and Colonsay, and before he was driven back to Ireland managed to acquire a fearsome reputation in the minds of the God Fearing inhabitants. Or should I say Campbell fearing inhabitants.
Mac Colla fights in Ireland with a chequered history – actually makes a couple of deals with the Ulster Scots, but his heart wasn’t in it, he always ends up back with the Irish rebels. He has a fearsome reputation as a warrior and it is MacColla who invents something very famous – no I mean, so famous you’ll have almost certainly heard of it. He invents it, according to the historian David Stephenson, at a battle against the Ulster settlers in February 1642.
OK, so, back to Montrose because that’s where we are going here. We’ve heard that Montrose had tried and failed in early 1644 to invade Scotland for his king, and been beaten back, and all his Carlisle men had gone home. Meanwhile. Worth knowing, the Gordon’s in the North East, Catholics and king people, had actually risen in anticipation of Montrose tipping up at the head of a massive all conquering army. Which was poor timing, given the absence of said all conquering army. As a result Argyll had visited the at the head of a Covenanter army and they had been crushed and imprisoned. In the words of the Who, they won’t get fooled again. It will be important.
So that’s the scene – Montrose kicking his heel desperate to raise the standard of his beloved king on Scotland but not sure how to do it. MacCaolla desperate to regain his inheritance from Argyll and his clan of hated Campbells. And Antrim desperate also to regain his Macdonald inheritance from…you guessed it, Argyll and his Campbells.
The situation in Ireland makes England and Wales look as straight as a die. The Cessation had split the Protestant forces. For parliament, the decision had been made to give command of all British forces to the New scots in Ulster under Munro. Probably a good decision – but the parliamentarian English hated it. Meanwhile many royal protestants in the Pale under Ormond hated this deal with the Confederate Irish; some of them defection to parliamentarian supporters. Meanwhile the Confederate themselves were divided and squabbling. Charles felt he couldn’t be seen to be negotiating a proper long term peace with the Confederates so he handed it to Ormond – and it was a hospital ball. Poor Ormond. I really feel for Ormond, more than anyway in the entire jolly wars.
Really from a Confederate Irish point the only really positive thing from the Cessation, was that it gave Antrim the space he needed. And in July, after all those failed promises to HM and Charles, all the wreckage to royal hopes in Scotland – well, the lad finally came through. And Mac Colla sailed with 2,000 warriors for the glory of the king’s cause. Well, for the glory of the MacDonald to be honest but if the cap fits.
They landed in Kintyre, but things didn’t start well – he had great trouble recruiting – many Highlanders saw just one more invader. So down in the mouth was the warrior MacColla that he turned to leave – only to find that the ships on which he’d been brought from Ireland had been destroyed by English parliamentary ships. There is a deep irony there, and I know how you do love a deep irony, that MacColla and Montrose’s campaign might never have been if the English had let MacColla retreat.
Deprived of an escape route, MacColla and his band struck into the Highlands trying to raise support, along and then crossing the Great Glen, into Badenoch only to find that the royalist support even in the North East had crushed by the disappointments earlier in the year – I told you that would be relevant. The Gordon had decided that they ‘going gentle into the good night’ was in fact not a bad idea after all, and were quite content for the moment to ‘embrace the dying of the light’. Dylan would have been most disappointed. But there we are.
Montrose probably heard about MacColla’s invasion around 18th August, and resolved to sneak into Scotland to join them. Sending instructions to MacColla to meet him in Athol in the central highlands. He travelled with just two companions, incognito, and in the Montrose idiom there had to be some romance, so of course he pretended to be the Groom of his two companions – surely no one would suspect the king’s Lieutenant General to be dressed as a groom? North they went incognito’ing all the way for king and country until they came to the house of Montrose’s kinsman Patrick Graham, the romantically so-called Black Pate of Inchbrakie, black pate due to a gunpowder accident that had disfigured him. Off they set across the highland mountains towards Athol and MacColla.
Meanwhile, MacColla had finally managed to raise the clans, the clans of Athol – hurrah! Cry Andy and all that. Unfortunately small flaw in the plan – he’d managed to raise them not for him, but against him; the Robertsons and Stewarts had taken up arms to repel what they saw as the wild, Gaelic Irish invaders. Things were looking – unpromising. Into this situation then came Montrose, and the presence of his curly locks transformed the situation. He called the Stewarts and Robertsons to talk, and they came; after all Montrose was certifiably not a foreigner, he was one of them, a Scottish noble bearing all the power and expectations for loyalty of his peers, a Lowlander. He also came bearing the King’s commission – so here was the very embodiment of legitimacy. The combination of MacColla with his MacDonald roots and contacts, and Montrose and his Lowland and Noble legitimacy, transformed this rebellion. Suspicion of the Highlander ran deep in Scottish Lowland society. But Montrose gave MacColla legitimacy.
The result was that the Stewarts and Robertsons agreed to fight instead for king and Montrose. The blue touch paper had been lit. Montrose raised the royal standard, and if C V Wedgewood is to be believed had put on highland dress and stuck a sprig of yellow oats in his Bonnet. Hopefully I’m not getting carried away with the sheer…well…Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter Scot ness of it all.
Now Montrose’s opponents, the Scottish Committee Of Estates would prove consistently to underestimate Montrose. Or at least that is one interpretation; the other is that they firmly kept their eyes on the main prize; which as far as they were concerned lay in winning the war in England and defeating the king. They get some stick for repeatedly and consistently doing the underestimating thing – but truth be told, and it must, ladies and gentlemen, because as the Bard tells us, the Truth will out – they had at least a stronger grasp of the big S, strategy’ than one of their opponents, MacColla; for he would constantly be proritising the needs of the MacDonald clan and the damnation of the Campbells – without understanding that the only way this could be achieved permanently – was to defeat the Covenanters. Montrose knew this – but could not beat it into the heads of his Highland allies.
Anyway, back to the Covenanters faults; they took a while to respond at all to the Royalists, and when they did, refused to withdraw any hardened experienced soldiers from England. Instead finally they got round to ordering levies from Lothian and central Scotland to assemble at Perth. Montrose though, did not wait for the levies to get their act together – he moved fast towards Perth and there 4 miles west of of the town at the village of Tippermuir on 1st September 1644 the Covenanter Levies of 6,000 faced a mere 2-3000 Gaels and Highlanders, commanded by a giant of a Macdonald and a bloke who seemed to have yellow oats stuck in his hat, but whose army sadly had only enough gunpowder for one shot each. So, a well-equipped army twice the size with banners declaring ‘Jesus and No Quarter’ – presumably there’s only one way this can go. I’m really not sure that Jesus would have approved of No Quarter would he? Anyway, minor point.
Which brings us to MacColla and his highland charge. Because that is the great invention MacColla made, that is the great reveal. It’s MacColla that invented the famous Highland Charge, and it I not just a matter of madly brave people running very fast with sharp pointy things, it is a well-constructed, well thought through and highly effective military strategy. Here is what MacColla constructed.
A bit of context is important; there had been a specialist warrior class for a while, professionals of high status and rights, the Gallowglasses. But they had fought with a two handed sword by and large, and armour. So this is an innovation. So what is it, apart from 15 stone of hairy highlander running at you very quickly yelling at the top of their voice that they are not feeling friendly today?
There was a process. Firstly, highlanders would approach their enemy, bearing loaded muskets – and that was an eye opener for me, muskets. They line up, and they would let lose their volley, and the enemy would also let loose their first volley in reply. All very civilised. The enemy would then presumably then concentrate on reloading a musket, and that is a job that requires, concentration, diligence and most importantly time, especially in the 17th century. While they were doing that if they cared to look up, or listen, they would notice that the highlanders were not so engaged; instead they had immediately dropped their muskets, drawn a one handed basket hilted sword, and were legging it towards their enemies including the requisite yelling about their personal feelings and immediate intentions. Now, having 15 stone hairy highlanders running at you in an unfriendly manner, in fact even the ones who had taken the trouble to shave their legs the night before, was not the best environment for the fiddly job of loading a musket. So if done correctly the highlanders would be on you before the loading process was done; the receiving enemy would therefore be armed with unloaded muskets, which did not have bayonets, and so were effectively armed with very unwieldy clubs.
Now there was a problem; armies had gone to the trouble of trying to deal with this, and so had provided pikemen supposed to protect the musket men while they reloaded. Which brings us to the third element of the highlander’s arms, the small, shield, the target, a wooden shield covered in leather. With this, the charging highlander would catch the point of the pike, and then hack off the pike’s metal point leaving the enemy holding a big stick, more suitable for the cultivation of runner beans than beating off even a smooth legged highlander with a bad attitude.
It took time in the early 17th century to adopt these tactics, and afterall the highlanders had been used to wielding heavy, two handed swords; so they had to be re-equipped with musket, single handed sword and target, and retrained. It had been assumed that probably it was Montrose who invented the tactic, but Stevenson has instead identified the battle of Larney in Ireland.
Just in case this is useful for you, here is a piece of advice about how to beat the Highland Charge, from a man who had survived one:
If . . . your fire is given at a distance, you probably will be broke, for you never get time to load a second cartridge, and if you give way you may give your [infantry] for dead, for [the Highlanders] being without a firelock or any load, no man, with his arms, accoutrements, etc., can escape them, and they give no quarter.
Essential – follow the advice of Prince Charles of Prussia at the battle of Jägendorf in 1757. “don’t fire until you can see the whites of their eyes. Or alternatively, follow the advice of Corporal Jones and don’t panic because they don’t like it up ‘em. But look this is an instruction which requires experience, confidence, organisation, and superb drill to carry out. We are talking here of a bunch of recent recruits with none of that and by the time the Highlanders reached them they were ready to run anyway, and so they did. They did, and they died. Which is another less romantic, floppy haired and glorious theme of Montrose’s campaigns – the numbers killed in the fighting itself were relatively low, but the numbers killed during the running away stage were horrific. To be fair to the Highlanders they did after all face an army whose banners had promised no quarter, so you know goose and gander, sauce and all that but still, mercy was at a premium.
The battle of Tippermuir, in September 1644, won against massive odds, was extraordinary. In quick order Montrose then routed another Covenanter army at Aberdeen. Then he allowed his little army to sack Aberdeen for 3 days, with probably about 150 civilians killed. This was a big mistake. The powerful royalist Gordons and potential allies kept their own counsel rather than joining in with his rebellion; and it confirmed every lowland prejudice against the Gaelic highlander. It did not attract supporters to the royal banner. The Covenant the people of Scotland had signed up to in their communities across the land seemed a better description of the values they held.
None the less Montrose’s campaign had electrified Scotland. Argyll and his Covenanting army were forced to start to draw resources from England. And despite numerical superiority they could never catch Montrose and MacColla, who always had better intelligence, who were quicker and nimbler, knew the land, always stayed a step ahead. But for now, Montrose was forced to head back into the highlands, to try again to convince the clans that now was the time to throw off the Campbell yoke and join him in the name of the king.
I the meantime, they descended to the Campbell lands and took their revenge for ancient wrongs. They torched them.
‘we left neither house nor hold unburned, nor corn nor cattle that belonged to the whole name of Campbell’
They boasted. A Clanranald historian claimed they had killed 895 men
Without battle or skirmish having taken place
They had wasted Argyll and left it like a desert
Grimly, Argyll deployed the full resources of the Covenanter state, and followed him. Into the Great Glen, towards Inverlochy. He laid out a plan, to trap his enemy in the Glen, and eradicate this rebel and distraction once and for always.
Well that’s the end of fighting for 1644; I mean it’s not, there’s a lot of wordy fighting to come but we’ll leave that to next time. You know me, I don’t like to leave on a downer, but I think I might just have to this week. Because I think we must say goodbye to a now oddly forgotten figure – William Laud.
The archbishop had been put on trial in March 1644, and it had dragged on and on, pursued with vindictive vicious venality by William Prynne. Pyrnne had been a hero of the early revolution, victimised by Laud and the Star Chamber and mutilated by them. That doesn’t make him any more of an attractive character. Unlike Strafford before him, Laud was no longer a threat. Prynne mounted an attack based on dodgy premises of treason and popery. And manipulated witnesses and evidence to prove the claims. And failed pretty much. Politically irrelevant and victimised Laud might be but broken he was not, and he marshalled his defence with courage and skill. And so the path was the same as his brother in arms, Strafford. The Commons realised no court in the land was going to convict him. And so passed a Bill of Attainder, and badgered the House of Lords to pass it too, which they finally and reluctantly did – just 19 of them turning up to do so.
On January 10th Laud therefore stood on Tower Hill in the cold to face his execution. Not even willing to let him die in peace and dignity, the Anglo Irish Presbyterian John Clotworthy harangued him on the Scaffold, so much so that Laud eventually turned to talk to his executioner as
‘the gentler and discreeter person’
A compliment I doubt many executioners have received. And who duly beheaded Laud with despatch.
Now look I know Laud’s reputation is very disputed, many these days like his vision of the church, and in the end I imagine it’s fair to say that he probably won in the long run looking at the current rite of the church of England. But he was a disaster for England, and Scotland, and I would contend that however pure his intentions he was as responsible as anyone for destroying the religious balance England had achieved after half a century of hard work, and he has blood on his hands. But unlike Strafford, there was not purpose to his execution, Strafford was a real threat to achieving peace, and everyone outside the most extreme royalists agreed he had to go. Laud was no longer a threat to anyone, and his trial, attainder and execution are a stain on the revolution, and unlike Strafford no longer served any higher purpose. And I cannot help but feel sorry for him. On the other hand I must say my slightly sanctimonious conclusion does rather assume parliament win. If Charles had won well, I imagine Laud would have been every bit of a danger. Still there you go.
Well, happy happy. Despite the tone I hope you all find again your positive thoughts and happy face, and have a week of unbridled good luck and pleasure with lots of great things to eradicate the memory of deaths and burnings and beheadings, and look during that time there were probably lots of people doing nice things for each other, and wassailing and things. I was writing this just before Christmas actually so maybe I’ll leave you with a wassail to lighten the tone – this is Magpie Lane by the way, wot Nicky and Davie took us to see, they were fun. Good luck everyone, and any pigwiggins out there too, and have a great week.