A Forgotten Hero: James Graham, Marquess of Montrose

 Above: James Graham (left) and Thomas Jackson (right).  Both men are famous for that which they accomplished during just one year of their lives (1644-1645 and 1862-1863 respectively).

This is a short summary of the life and times of James Graham, one of the most interesting and admirable figures in British history (in my humble opinion).  His story caught my eye some time ago, but I have only recently begun looking into it.  Join me, dear reader, as we explore the life of James Graham, “The Great Montrose.”

Born in 1612, he first appears in our histories as a major supporter of the Covenanter Rebellion against King Charles I.  This rebellion, which began in 1637 occurred in response to a royal decision to enforce the Common Book of Prayer in Presbyterian Scotland.  In an incident often recounted by Identity Dixie’s own Musonius Rufus, an elderly woman hurled a stool at a preacher in St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh who had been reading from the Book of Common Prayer.  This sparked a riot in the city, which boiled over into a full-on rebellion.  During the English Civil War, the Scottish Covenanters united with the Parliamentarians against their common enemy, the Crown, in 1644.  Not all of the Covenanters, however, were so quick to throw away the King to whom they owed allegiance.  Among them was Montrose, who though in opposition to the King’s enforcement of the Book of Common Prayer, remained a loyal subject.

Over the next year, Montrose, now the King’s Captain General in Scotland, would range across the country, smashing much larger rebel armies.  To defeat these formidable forces, he conducted ambushes, ruses, and shock attacks.  Throughout his campaign from 1644-1645, he commanded only 600 – 3,500 troops at any one time.  With this paltry force, composed of Highlanders and Ulstermen, he inflicted about 11,000 casualties on the Covenanters during that brief period of time.

Perhaps his most brilliant feat was the capture of Dundee in April 1645.  Montrose arrived at the town’s walls, and postured with his tiny force of 600 men directly in front of the defenders.  The defenders shifted their many cannon toward the threat.  Meanwhile, at another section of the wall (a blind spot from the perspective of the garrison artillery) Montrose had two cannon, the only in his army, wheeled directly up to the battlements disguised as hay-carts.  The gunners, at point blank range, unlimbered and blasted the wall to smithereens.  The Royalist troops poured in, and Dundee surrendered with hardly another shot fired.

In August 1645, having won the greatest victory of his career at Kilsyth, Montrose all but placed Charles back on the throne of Scotland.  But here, the fickle loyalty and clannish nature of his Highland troops was his undoing.  The Gordons, whose clansmen made up a large portion of his infantry and cavalry, abandoned the Captain General and went north to settle old scores with the powerful Clan Campbell. Montrose could do nothing to stop them – their loyalty was to clan rather than king.

At the Battle of Philiphaugh, Montrose, with around 700 men, faced the Covenanter general David Leslie, whose host consisted of nearly 4,500 cavalry and 3,000 infantry.  None of the Montrose’s military genius could win the day; he was defeated and his army scattered.  Shortly afterwards, Montrose, having escaped the field with a small portion of his force, received a letter from King Charles, instructing him to leave Scotland and go into exile.  The Royalist armies had been defeated soundly at Naseby, and the first phase of the English Civil War was all but lost.

Montrose left Scotland for the continent in September 1646.  There he was offered the rank of Marshal in the French army by Cardinal Mazarin, the de-facto ruler of France.  He was likewise offered command of the forces of the Holy Roman Empire, the chief rival of France in the Thirty Years War (which was still being fought).  A testament to his loyalty, Montrose declined both offers.  After the execution of King Charles I in 1649, he returned to Scotland with a small army to avenge his king and place his son, Charles II, on the throne.

But Charles II, ever the wily politician, had struck a bargain with the Covenanters. In order to gain their support, and that of the powerful Duke of Argyll, he denounced that most loyal servant of his, the Marquess of Montrose.  The Graham, having been betrayed by his King, was defeated at the Battle of Carbisdale and eventually captured.  Afterwards, he was dragged to Edinburgh in chains, where he was hanged in 1650.  

The King had traded his greatest asset for the support of Argyll and the Covenanters, who were easily defeated at the Battle of Dunbar by Cromwell and the Parliamentarians.  It would be another decade before King Charles II could ascend the English throne.

In schools across America, children are taught the life of Martin Luther King Jr., a sexually demented communist.  The “heroism” of feminist harpies like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton is likewise drummed into their heads.  Meanwhile, not one of America’s schoolchildren can tell you of Montrose, whose sense of loyalty and duty should serve as an example to all of us.

That’s something we need to work on.

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