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James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose

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James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose
James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose

James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose (1612 - 21 May 1650), was a Scottish nobleman and soldier, who initially joined the Covenanters in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, but subsequently supported King Charles I as the English Civil War developed. From 1644 to 1650 he fought a Scottish Civil War on behalf of the King.

James Graham became 5th Earl of Montrose by his father's death in 1626. He was educated at St Andrews, and at the age of seventeen married Magdalene Carnegie, daughter of Lord Carnegie (afterwards Earl of Southesk).

In 1638, after King Charles had attempted to impose an Anglican-oriented prayer book on the largely Presbyterian Scots, widespread resistance spread throughout the country, eventually leading to the Bishops' Wars. Montrose joined the party of resistance, and was for some time one of its most energetic champions. He had nothing puritanical in his nature, but he shared in the ill-feeling aroused by the political authority King Charles had given to the bishops. He signed the National Covenant, and was sent to suppress the opposition which arose around Aberdeen and in the country of the Gordons. Three times Montrose entered Aberdeen, where he succeeded in his object, on the second occasion carrying off the head of the Gordons, the Marquess of Huntly, as a prisoner to Edinburgh (though in so doing, for the first and last time in his life, he violated a safe-conduct).

In July 1639, after the signature of the Treaty of Berwick, Montrose was one of the Covenanting leaders who visited the defeated Charles. The change of policy on his part, eventually leading to his support for the king, arose from his wish to get rid of the bishops without making presbyters masters of the state. His was essentially a layman's view of the situation. Taking no account of the real forces of the time, he aimed at an ideal form of society in which the clergy should confine themselves to their spiritual duties, and the king should maintain law and order. In the Scottish parliament which met in September, Montrose found himself in opposition to Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquess of Argyll, who had made himself the representative of the Presbyterian and national party, and of the middle classes. Montrose, on the other hand, wished to bring the king's authority to bear upon parliament to defeat Argyll, and offered the king the support of a great number of nobles. He failed, because Charles could not even then consent to abandon the bishops, and because no Scottish party of any weight could be formed unless Presbyterianism were established ecclesiastically.

Rather than give way, Charles prepared in 1640 to invade Scotland. Montrose was of necessity driven to play something of a double part. In August 1640 he signed the Bond of Cumbernauld as a protest against the particular and direct practicing of a few, in other words, against the ambition of Argyll. But he took his place amongst the defenders of his country, and in the same month he displayed his gallantry in action at the forcing of the Tyne at Newburn. After the invasion had been crowned with success, Montrose still continued to cherish his now hopeless policy. On 27 May 1641 he was summoned before the Committee of Estates and charged with intrigues against Argyll, and on the 11th of June he was imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle. Charles visited Scotland to give his formal assent to the abolition of Episcopacy, and upon the king's return to England Montrose shared in the amnesty which was tacitly accorded to all Charles's partisans.

The English Civil War and Scottish Civil War

For a time Montrose retired from public life. After the Civil War began in England he constantly pressed Charles to allow him to make a diversion in Scotland. Scotland's neutrality stood in the way of Charles's consent until 1644, when a Scottish army entered England to take part against the king. Montrose, now created a marquis, was at last allowed to try what he could do. He set out to invade his homeland with about 1000 men. But his followers deserted, and his condition appeared hopeless. Disguised as a groom, on 18 August he started with only two gentlemen to make his way to the Highlands.

Highlanders had never before been known to combine together, but Montrose knew that most of the clans, who were largely Catholic, detested Argyll and his Campbell clansmen, none more so than the MacDonalds who with many of the other clans rallied to his summons. The Royalist allied Irish Confederates sent 2000 disciplined Irish soldiers led by Alasdair MacColla across the sea to assist him. In two campaigns, distinguished by rapidity of movement, he met and defeated his opponents in six battles. At Tippermuir and Aberdeen he routed Covenanting levies; at Inverlochy he crushed the Campbells, at Auldearn, Alford and Kilsyth his victories were obtained over well-led and disciplined armies. At Dundee he extricated his army from the greatest peril, and actually called his men off from the sack that had begun -- a feat beyond the power of any other general in Europe.

The fiery enthusiasm of the Gordons and other clans often carried the day, but Montrose relied more upon the disciplined infantry from Ireland. His strategy at Dundee and Inverlochy, his tactics at Aberdeen, Auldearn and Kilsyth furnished models of the military art, but above all his daring and constancy marked him out as the greatest soldier of the war, Cromwell alone excepted. His career of victory was crowned by the great Battle of Kilsyth on 15 August 1645.

Now Montrose found himself apparently master of Scotland. In the name of the king, who now appointed him lord-lieutenant and captain-general of Scotland, he summoned a parliament to meet at Glasgow on 20 October, in which he no doubt hoped to reconcile loyal obedience to the king with the establishment of a non-political Presbyterian clergy. That parliament never met. Charles had been defeated at the Battle of Naseby on 14 June, and Montrose must come to his help if there was to be still a king to proclaim. David Leslie, the best of the Scottish generals, was promptly dispatched against Montrose to anticipate the invasion. On 12 September he came upon Montrose, deserted by his Highlanders and guarded only by a little group of followers, at Philiphaugh. He won an easy victory. Montrose cut his way through to the Highlands; but he failed to organize an army. In September 1646 he embarked for Norway.

Montrose was to appear once more on the stage of Scottish history. In June 1649, burning to revenge the death of the king, he was restored by the exiled Charles II to the now nominal lieutenancy of Scotland. Charles however did not scruple shortly afterwards to disavow his noblest supporter in order to become a king on terms dictated by Argyll and Argyll's adherents. In March 1650 Montrose landed in the Orkneys to take the command of a small force which he had sent on before him. Crossing to the mainland, he tried in vain to raise the clans, and on 27 April he was surprised and routed at Carbiesdale in Ross-shire. After wandering for some time he was surrendered by Macleod of Assynt, to whose protection, in ignorance of Macleod's political enmity, he had entrusted himself. He was brought a prisoner to Edinburgh, and on 20 May sentenced to death by the parliament. He was hanged on the 21st, with Wishart's laudatory biography of him put round his neck. To the last he protested that he was a real Covenanter and a loyal subject.


The principal authorities for Montrose's career are Wishart's Res gestae, etc. (Amsterdam, 1647); Patrick Gordon's Short Abridgment of Britanes Distemper (Spalding Club); and the comprehensive work of Napier, Memorials of Montrose, is abundantly documented, containing Montrose's poetry, in which is included his celebrated lyric "My dear and only love."

Preceded by:
New Creation
Marquess of Montrose Followed by:
James Graham
Preceded by:
John Graham
Earl of Montrose Followed by:
James Graham

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