History records the joy of the 4th Earl of Montrose and his wife Margaret Ruthven at having a new son amongst five daughters. That son was James Graham, born during the latter half of 1612, a time of great change in Scotland.
Memorial to Marquis of Montrose, St Giles’ Cathedral
Sir Walter Scott in his biography “Montrose” said of the Graham family: “The ancient nobility of Scotland does not show well on the pages of history. The record of the great earldoms — Angus, Mar, Moray and Buchan tell too often an unedifying tale of blood and treason… But the family of Graham kept tolerably clean hands and played an honourable part in the national history.”
It must be assumed the young Lord Graham was sheltered from much of the unpleasantness that those less privileged lived with, spending much of his comfortable childhood at the family home in Montrose near Dundee.
Education in Glasgow
At the tender age of 12, he was dispatched to Glasgow to begin his education with one William Forrett, Master of Arts, to prepare for entry to the College of Glasgow. James Graham had been in Glasgow for two years when he received word that his father was dying.
Hurrying home, he arrived two days before the end.
The funeral ceremonies were an extended affair, lasting nearly three weeks. Scott noted that: “Prodigious quantities of meat and drink were consumed, partridges and plovers from Lord Stormont, moorfowl from Lawers, a great hind from Glenorchy.”
James who inherited the Earldom on his father’s death, never returned to Glasgow but had obviously developed a fondness for the city when some years later he made a donation to the building of a new college library.
Education at St Andrews University
His education continued at St Andrews University, the oldest in Scotland where records paint a vivid picture of his time there. At St Salvator’s College he studied classics — Caesar and Seneca – but he was happiest when involved in outdoor pursuits, golf, archery, riding, hawking and hunting among his many activities.
Marriage followed university, in 1629 at only 17 he married Magdalene the youngest daughter of Lord Carnegie a near neighbour from Kinnaird Castle. It was there the newly weds set up home.
Montrose at the age of twenty- four, left for London to offer his services to King Charles I who had come to the throne in 1625. Appearing at the royal court he asked the Marquis of Hamilton, said to have the ‘ear’ of the king on Scottish matters, to be his sponsor.
Audience with the king
Hamilton tried to persuade Montrose not go ahead with the audience, portraying the king as anti-Scottish. Noting Montrose’s wish to carry on Hamilton promptly told the king that Montrose was a danger to royal interests.
It’s little wonder that the meeting with the king was a decidedly short and chilly affair; it was enough to discourage the most fervent royalist.
The Scottish Reformation of four decades before had swept across the country turning its people away from many years of strict adherence to Catholicism to a new Protestant Scottish Kirk.
The king was now threatening the status quo by trying to introduce the English Episcopalian prayer book into a staunchly Calvinist Presbyterian Scotland.
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The vast majority of Scots were having none of it and mobs rioted in towns across the country. There could be no doubt in the king’s mind of the strength of feeling north of the border.
By early 1638 the juggernaut that was the Presbyterian unrest could not be stopped. Two leading Presbyterians, Moderator of the General Assembly Alexander Henderson and his clerk Archibald Johnston (Lord Warriston) drew up the National Covenant, a document of protest against the actions of the king.
On 28 of February, Scottish nobles, including Montrose, gathered at Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh to sign the document. The following day many thousands lined up to add their signature. Other copies of the Covenant were dispatched around Scotland to be signed by hundreds of thousands of other Scots.
In 1639, following instructions from Covenanter leaders for Scottish shires to prepare for war, Montrose, in his first military experience, led an army against the Royalist Marquis of Huntly in Aberdeen, forcing the citizens to sign the Covenant.
Marquis of Argyll
In Scotland the authority of its Parliament continued to grow, its driving force Moderator Henderson and Archibald Campbell, Marquis of Argyll. By this point Montrose, suspecting that Argyll was trying to seize power in Scotland for himself, enlisted fellow trusted Covenanters in an attempt to put a stop to his scheming.
When word of this got out he was arrested on charges of conspiracy against the Committee of Estates (Scottish Parliament) and jailed in June 1641 in Edinburgh Castle. He was subsequently released in the November of the same year.
The start of the English Civil War, dated to August 1642, was in reality a series of campaigns which in turn became part of a wider conflict, involving Scotland, Wales and Ireland as well as England.
In 1643, Scottish Covenanters, led by the Marquis of Argyll, joined English Parliamentarians to sign the Solemn League and Covenant in St Margaret’s Chapel in Westminster London.
In essence it was an agreement by the Scots to fight on the parliamentary side if the English embraced Presbyterianism. It was possibly the last straw for Montrose.
Charles was now desperate, with civil war consuming parts of England and Covenanting forces in Scotland holding the upper hand he needed a miracle.
Montrose and MacColla
By this stage Montrose had a change of heart and was now determined to keep Charles on the throne. He joined forces with Alisdair MacColla who landed on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula with 1600 troops to support the Royalist cause.
MacColla and Montrose formed a spectacular military partnership and throughout 1644 and 1645 inflicted six crushing defeats on Covenanting armies from Aberdeen to Kilsyth.
After Kilsyth, MacColla and his Irish followers left Montrose’s army and returned home. Many of Montrose’s Highland troops also packed up and returned to their families. With his army severely depleted the young Royalist, by now the 1st Marquis of Montrose, turned south and headed for the Borders after promises of support from Lords Hume and Roxburgh.
The South of Scotland was an unlikely place to find supporters, being in the main staunch Covenanters but none the less he pressed on. Unknown to Montrose, as he marched south, a Covenanters army was heading north from England under the leadership of General David Leslie.
Increasingly worried, Montrose continued his search for new recruits and somewhere on the Gala Water he was joined by Lord Linton and his troop of Peeblesshire Horse.
Marching slowly down the River Tweed he reached Kelso on the 8th or 9th of September. The news that both Hume and Roxburgh had been taken prisoner by Leslie and sent to Berwick reached Montrose at Kelso.
On the 11th, Leslie camped at Gladsmuir in East Lothian where he received a letter detailing the whereabouts and weaknesses of the Royalist army Many believe the letter came from the Earl of Traquair, the father of Lord Linton, so the subsequent disappearance of Linton and his Horse from Montrose’s camp wasn’t surprising
Battle of Philiphaugh
History has subsequently recorded, in some detail, Montrose’s overwhelming defeat at the hands of Leslie at Philiphaugh and the terrible massacre of prisoners along with the women and children who followed the army. After the defeat at Philiphaugh he spent another year in Scotland before making his escape to the continent where he spent three years trying to muster support.
In his absence Charles, accused of making war against his own subjects was brought to London and charged with treason. He was executed on the 30th January 1649.
Within a few weeks the English parliament had abolished the monarchy. Scotland, still an independent nation, now recognised Charles II, in exile in Holland, as king, the true successor to his father.
Rise of Oliver Cromwell
The death of Charles I saw the rise of Oliver Cromwell and the English Commonwealth, at that time a unique constitutional experiment, which, with no royal figurehead gave real authority, for the first time, to the English Parliament.
Montrose was dismayed at the news from Holland that Scotland’s king was in talks with the Covenanters.
However, despite this dialogue Charles urged Montrose to enlist support for an invasion of Scotland. He fought a final battle at Carbisdale, near Bonar Bridge in April 1650 but he was again defeated by a Covenanting army, resulting in the death or capture of nearly 1000 of his men.
Forced to run he took refuge in Ardvreck Castle perched on the edge of Loch Assynt in the bleakest of Sutherland landscapes. His stay at Ardvreck was a brief one, quickly betrayed by Neil MacLeod, Laird of Assynt he was taken to Edinburgh to await his fate.
Battle of Worcester 1651
Meanwhile Charles, with little option, finally agreed to a number of harsh demands and signed an agreement with the Covenanters on the 1st of May. He was to return to Scotland for a brief period the following month before fleeing to France after defeat by Cromwell at the Battle of Worcester in 1651
Hanged at the Mercat Cross
Montrose was hanged at the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh on the 21st May 1650; ‘headed and quartered’ his head was fixed to a spike at the tollbooth; his arms and legs were fixed to the gates of Stirling, Glasgow, Perth and Aberdeen.
After the demise of Cromwell’s English Commonwealth, Charles II was restored to the English throne in May 1660. Montrose’s body was, then, after 11 long years, taken from public display, embalmed and buried with honours.