The Misfortunes of War


The signing of the Covenant in greyfriars Kirkyard

The signing of the Covenant in greyfriars Kirkyard

In A Rip in the Veil Matthew Graham reveals to Alex Lind, following her tumble through time from 2002 to 1658, that he enlisted as a dragoon when only a young man to fight for the Covenanters but was left so sickened by events that he returned home. This post is to shed some light on what he may have seen and done that so upset him, mainly the events following the battle of Philiphaugh.

However before we can describe that we need to travel even further back in time to the events that first induced him to take up the sword. Luckily I have Anna here to offer additional background on Matthew himself.

When King Charles I sought to force Episcopacy onto Scotland he was sowing the seeds that would eventually lead to his downfall. The introduction of the Common Book of Prayer in 1637 led to violent riots in Scotland which held true to their Presbyterian faith which set no man above any other. For the Presbyterians there could be no head of the church other than God himself. It also led to the signing of the National Covenant which called for a return to the values of the church prior to 1580 and a rejection of everything which was seen as interference between man and God, this included having the king in London dictate how Protestant Scots could worship.

A General Assembly of the Church of Scotland held in Glasgow in 1638 decided that the Bishops would be deposed and the new prayer book abolished. This was a direct challenge to Charles I as the Covenanters gathered strength and formed an army under James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose and Archibald Campbell, 8th Earl of Argyll to protect, and enforce, their determinations.

King Charles felt he had no choice now but to face this challenge and in 1639 raised an army of his own in England to put down these rebellious Scots. Gathering a force of 20,000 men he marched them north to Berwick-upon-Tweed. The Covenanting army of only 12,000 men under the command of Alexander Leslie, a veteran of the 30 Years War in the service of the Swedish monarch King Gustavus Adolphus. While these opponents sat in a stalemate there were skirmishes between other smaller Covenanting and Royalist forces in the north-east of Scotland.

Back on the border it became clear that neither army really wanted to fight. To break the deadlock an agreement was reached known as the Pacification of Berwick, which called for another General Assembly of the Church of Scotland where all the disputed questions could be settled amicably. This saw the end of the so-called First Bishop’s War.

Foot soldiers armed with pikes.

Foot soldiers armed with pikes.

This General Assembly simply restated their earlier demands and settled nothing between the Covenanters and the king.  In 1640 following moves by Charles to encourage support for further action in England against the troublesome Scots. His moves failed. Meanwhile the Covenanters crossed over the border under Leslie and Graham and quickly occupied Northumberland and County Durham forcing Charles to agree to leave these English counties in Scottish hands until he could find the money to pay the Scots expenses for invading his country! His position was not an enviable one. He was forced to recall Parliament in order to ask for the funds to pay off the Scots. Parliament used the opportunity to impeach and execute his chief supporters including Arch-Bishop Laud. The end of this second Bishop’s War had long reaching repercussions for Britain as a whole and paved the way for what would become the War of the Three Kingdoms (or the English Civil War as it used to be referred to)

Over the course of the next few years the Covenanters were busy between their forays into Ulster to protect Protestant settlers there from Irish rebels, and with keeping a wary eye on the growing warfare now raging between Royalists and Parliamentarians in England.

By 1643 with the Parliamentary forces having suffered a series of setbacks they turned to Scotland for support and signed a covenant with the Covenanters which the Scots hoped would see Presbyterianism replace Episcopacy in their southern neighbour. The involvement of the Scottish army was instrumental in restoring the fortunes of Parliaments’ army but had dire consequences back home in Scotland, and it here that Matthew Graham truly enters the story. So, Anna, what did Matthew think about all this?

Anna: First of all, we must remember that Matthew was a boy – born in 1630, he was young enough to believe there was glory in fighting for God, not quite realising that with fighting came death and blood, and troops running amok. Raised in a Presbyterian home by a father who’d proudly signed the Covenant and who most certainly was not about to have a king or a bishop as an intermediary between him and the Good Lord, Matthew grew up convinced that the Scottish Kirk was right, and he was far too young to comprehend the political aspects of the conflict. For Matthew, it was simple: his Kirk needed defending.

Armour worn by a Dragoon on display at Huntly House

Armour worn by a Dragoon on display at Huntly House

The Scottish Civil War 1644-45

A vicious civil war broke out across Scotland with former allies now become bitter enemies. James Graham, Marquess of Montrose found that he could not now bear arms against his king and raised an army to fight for Charles I. This force was composed of Irish Catholics and some Catholic clans from the Highlands. His use of Irish troops was an anathema to his former friends in the Solemn League of the Covenant, the fact that he won six battles between 1644 and 1645 did nothing to raise his esteem in their eyes.

Montrose’s victory at the Battle of Aberdeen on September 12th 1644 became notorious for the sacking of the city by the Irish troops who murdered over a hundred civilians including women and children during three days of looting, raping and slaughter.

The Covenanters were determined to have their vengeance for this outrage but suffered further defeats as Montrose rode south through Scotland leaving Montrose largely in control of Scotland. The majority of Covenanting forces were busy in England defeating the Royalist forces there. Montrose now determined to hurry to his King’s assistance.

 However his Highland clans refused to march south into England to fight there, instead they returned home to protect their homes and land from the Campbell’s. This left Montrose with a much reduced army of only some 500 Irish infantry and a small number of horse, who marched towards the border where they made camp near the town of Selkirk.

Heading north to meet them was a covenanting force of 5000 horse and dragoons (Matthew Graham would likely have been among them) and 1000 infantry. This army was commanded by David Leslie, General of Horse.

Anna: Matthew was shocked by what he perceives as his namesake’s betrayal. He was also more than dazzled by David Leslie, and was quite convinced he was big enough and strong enough to play a part in the events that would once and for all set the king in his place. Malcolm Graham, his father, had no intention of allowing his fool of a son to join up – Malcolm knew full well that when armies clash people die, and while he was proud of his son’s convictions, he also recognised them for being what they were: youthful dreams in which those who are right ultimately win, without soiling themselves in the process. Malcolm’s attempts to talk some sense into his lad fell on deaf ears, and one night Matthew just sneaked off…

On the 13th of September 1645, exactly one year on from the dark events at Aberdeen, Montrose and his men would suffer the cost of that victory.

The Battle of Philiphaugh

The Battle of Philiphaugh

Leslie advanced up the valley of the Tweed knowing his enemy was somewhere ahead but their location was unknown due to a thick mist that morning. He divided his force into two wings which advanced until the Royalists were spotted only half a mile ahead. One force was thrown headlong into attack while the other wind made a flanking manoeuvre. Despite the overwhelming numbers Leslie had on his side it proved to be a hard fight. Montrose’s Irish infantry were placed behind defensive dykes and hedges which held back at least two charges before the flanking attack proved decisive.

Montrose was unable to rally his now shattered troops despite bravely leading a cavalry charge against the Covenanting Dragoons. He was forced to flee the field with a small force of 30 mounted men who cut their way through the surrounding forces and rode for their lives.

For the infantry there would be no escape. Surrounded, vastly outnumbered and now leaderless they had no choice but to surrender. 100 Irish troops survived the initial fighting and they, along with their wives and children, were herded together in a field under the swords and guns of their captors.

Leslie had promised them quarter but some Presbyterian ministers who were with him forced him to remember the massacre at Aberdeen and the innocent blood spilled there. They persuaded him that his mercy was misplaced and an affront to God.

The death of the innocents

The death of the innocents

What followed was what drove Matthew Graham from the army and back to his family farm. The 100 men, and as many as 300 Irish women and children, were butchered in the field without mercy. The site of the battle, and slaughter, is marked by a simple stone monument.

It is no wonder that Matthew turned his back on this slaughter – but what happened then?

Anna: Around the 20th of September, a shocked Matthew finally crested the lane that led to his home. His father was in the yard, and at the sight of his son, Malcolm Graham did not berate or yell, he just opened his arms. Matthew fell into them, attempting to explain what he’d seen, and how he’d hidden under a bramble, hands clapped over his ears to stop himself from hearing, eyes squished shut not to see. It hadn’t helped much. Never again, Matthew told his Da – just as a troop of Horse came riding down the lane.

It didn’t help that Malcolm begged and wheedled, it didn’t help that Matthew’s mother cried, or that Matthew himself looked about to faint. He had joined up and was expected to ride with his troop. Their brethren in England needed help to once and for all squash this king and his Episcopalian ideas, and Matthew Graham, no matter that he was yet downy cheeked, had pledged himself to the cause. A weeping Matthew was dragged off, astride his horse. It would be close to four years before he saw his home again.

 From the idyllic young man who joined the Covenanters in a fit of youthful enthusiasm, to the battle hardened man who witnessed unimaginable horror – both at Philiphaugh and elsewhere – his was a heavy cross to bear. How much did this shape the man he became?

Anna: Matthew lost all illusions as to war. When he met Alex, he was still firmly convinced he had fought for the right cause, but what he’d seen done in the name of the cause sickened him. So instead of trusting blindly in his officers, Matthew quickly learnt to trust his own conscience, his own sense of morality – which is why he looked the other way when desperate royalists slipped away from the siege in Colchester – or why he risked dire punishment by smuggling precious water into the besieged town, knowing full well there were women and bairns in there.  No young man should spend his formative years in an army, but many did back then. Some lost touch with their humanity. Some, like Matthew, grew into men of convictions.

The betrayals he suffered later at the hands of his brother could only have added to the weight he bore on his shoulders.

Anna: Absolutely. Even worse, the men he had fought for turned their backs on him, more than happy to believe the concocted story Luke fed them. That hurt.

Thankfully his future lies with a beguiling young woman from the far distant future, and the hope that things can only get better.

Anna: And for now, let’s leave him with that hope, shall we?

To discover the wonders of The Graham Sage for yourself please visit Anna’s page on Amazon.

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3 Responses to The Misfortunes of War

  1. Thank you so much Stuart for being a part of the indieBRAG Book Blitz – this was amazing. Brilliantly told. !

  2. Pingback: A Lost People, A Lost Voice – A Guest Post by Anna Belfrage | The Many Worlds of Char….

  3. Pingback: Indiebrag bookblitz Sept 2015 - Anna Belfrage

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