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Down Memory Lane: Leader was hailed a hero after being led through Inverness in chains


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Crown Church, Inverness.
Crown Church, Inverness.

Exactly 175 years ago last week, he ordered his cannon to be positioned beneath a hawthorn tree near what is now Crown Church and rained artillery fire down on Inverness Castle, writes Bill McAllister.

Thus began the Siege of Inverness on April 29, 1646, with James Graham, Marquis of Montrose, at the head of a House of Stuart army trying to oust the Covenanter forces committed to adhering to the religion of the Reformation.

The chief of the Clan Graham, he had studied at the French Military Academy and King Charles I appointed him to head the Royalist force in Scotland, a role he performed impressively by defeating larger armies, beginning at Tibbermore, near Perth, then near Aberdeen in 1644, using the element of surprise.

He enticed Highland clans to unite in their common hatred of the Campbells, whose chief, the Duke of Argyll, led the Scottish Government.

The grateful monarch made him Marquis of Montrose but Covenanters saw him as a traitor who had signed the National Covenant six years earlier, then opted to place king before kirk on hearing leading Covenanters urging for a British republic.

In February 1645, a pursuing Campbell-led Covenanter force of 5000 men faced Montrose’s 1500-strong army at Inverlochy – later to be Fort William – but despite the odds, the Marquis’s military genius helped the Stuarts to a sweeping victory.

This created alarm in Inverness, where two porpoises spotted swimming up the Ness were interpreted as an omen of king and parliament pursuing one another. Montrose, however, chose to bypass Inverness to seize Aberdeen, win the battle of Alford and then sack Dundee.

On May 9, 1645, Montrose pulled off a spectacular success in the Battle of Auldearn when his force of mainly Macdonalds, Macphersons, Gordons and Mackintoshes, supplemented by 2000 Irish volunteers, routed a much larger Covenanter army.

General Hurry, commander of the latter, retreated to Inverness with his combination of Frasers, Mackenzies, Sutherlands, Rosses and Brodies. A Captain Drummond was court martialled by Hurry for disobeying a battlefield order and was shot by firing squad at Tomnahurich.

For a second time, the victorious Montrose chose not to attack Inverness and headed south where he scored another stirring victory at Kilsyth.

As he neared the border, many Highlanders returned north. At Philiphaugh, near Selkirk, the reduced Royalist army finally suffered defeat to superior numbers, forcing Montrose to head back to the Highlands to recruit anew.

Inverness was occupied by Covenanter troops who threw an earthen defensive wall around the town. Houses west of the river, including the area of what is now the Columba Hotel, were burnt so as not to offer shelter to the Royalists.

On May 8, Major General James Middleton approached Inverness with 800 infantry and 600 cavalry to lift the siege in its ninth day. When his trumpets sounded near Stratton, Montrose’s men hurriedly retreated over the hills to Belladrum and further westwards.

The siege was over and when the captured King Charles ordered him to disband his army, Montrose escaped to Norway.

Three years later, a Stuart force crossed the Kessock Ferry and occupied Inverness for two months before being defeated at Dufftown, losing 400 men.

In 1650, Montrose sailed from Norway to Orkney and raised 1000 men who crossed to the mainland with the aim of taking Inverness. But his force was routed at Carbisdale, near Bonar Bridge. Captured, Montrose was led in chains through Inverness, having stopped to drink at the holy well at Clachnaharry, and was cheered by many.

He was hanged, drawn and quartered in Edinburgh although, ironically, Argyll’s Scottish Government then switched sides to support Charles II’s bid to regain the throne – which led to Oliver Cromwell occupying Scotland and building his fort at the Longman.

Later, Montrose was acclaimed a hero again, his body parts were retrieved for a splendid burial at St Giles, Edinburgh, on May 11, 1661.

He would be approvingly mentioned in books by Sir Walter Scott and John Buchan, while in 1944 General Montgomery rallied his troops before the Normandy Landings, by quoting a verse from the poet soldier Montrose.

It read: He either fears his fate too much,

Or his Deserts are small,

That puts it not unto the Touch,

To win, or lose, it all.

Column sponsored by Ness Castle Lodges.

Related column: Washing away the pain at ancient clootie well


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