by James E. Fargo, FSA Scot

In February 1638, James Graham, Earl of Montrose, signed the National Covenant which bound Scotland to the defense of the protestant religion. English Royalist military forces came north in 1639 and a series of back and forth engagements ended in August 1640 with the Covenanters capturing Newcastle and the 'Treaty of Ripon' in October when King Charles I capitulated.

The English Civil War began with the Parliamentary forces in the south and Royalists in northern England. The 'Solemn League and Covenant' between the English Parliamentary forces and the Covenanters was signed in September 1643. In the summer of 1643, Montrose turned down command of a Scots army being raised for another invasion of England in support of the Parliamentary army and instead rode south into England to offer his services to the King.

The Scottish Estates ordered a general muster in October and the Scottish lowland levies crossed the border in January 1644 to support the government forces. The Royalists countered by marching into Scotland and occupying Dumfries but had to retreat when a government force moved to counter this expedition. After he changed sides and was fighting for King Charles, Montrose had to change his battle tactics as he had few regular infantry and cavalry troops to rely on and instead relied mainly on the loyalty of irregular highland clan levies.

In the northeast, George Gordon, 2nd Marquis of Huntly, raised men from his estates and occupied Aberdeen for the Royalists while his eldest son, Lord Gordon, was busy raising men for the government. Huntly took up residence in the home of Alexander Reid in Aberdeen and sent a raiding force southward into the Braes of Angus. Attacking the town of Montrose on April 24th, the Royalists force of under the command of Irvine of Drum met with fierce resistance from the town militia. Donald Robertson, the 'Tutor of Struan', and his Athollmen armed with carbines helped capture the town. After plundering the town, the Royalists returned north after learning that the Earl of Argyle and his government forces were nearby. Argyle entered Aberdeen and Huntly's rising was over.

Donald Robertson was the uncle of Alexander, our 12th chief. As Alexander was a minor, Donald was his guardian and military leader of our clansmen. Alexander's father, Alexander (11th chief) had married Margaret, a daughter of Patrick 'Black Pate' Graham of Inchbrackie, a kinsman of Montrose.

In July 1644 Montrose met with Prince Rupert in Carlisle after the Royalist defeat at Marston Moor. He then slipped north accompanied by two companions and hid in Methven Wood near Perth until he received word that Irish reinforcements had landed on the west coast. They marched to Badenoch where upwards of 500 McPhersons were recruited and probably led by Ewan Og McPherson (Cluny's son) and then moved south into Atholl. Graham (now the Marquis of Montrose) rode with 'Black Pate' to meet them at Blair Atholl on August 29, 1644.

The Irish Brigade of 1,100 men was commanded by Alasdair "Colkitto" MacColla. Clan tradition states that the Athollmen had been raised to counter this unknown invasion force and were at the point of battle against MacColla when Montrose arrived to unite the two forces. The Tutor of Struan had returned earlier with his clansmen from Angus and had quickly raised our clansmen and Atholl Stewarts to defend Atholl. With Montrose's arrival they joined the Royalist cause. Leaving John Robertson of Inver to hold Blair Castle, Montrose then led the combined force of 2,000 toward Perth and was reinforced by 500 men led by David Drummond of Madderty (Montrose's brother-in-law).

The Covenanter force at Perth was led by Lord Elcho. Mustering his force of 3,000 foot and 800 horsemen, he moved westward from Perth and blocked the passage just short of the village of Tippermuir. After assembling in order of battle Montrose ordered a general advance with the Irish firing a single volley at point blank range and then charging with pikes leveled and muskets clubbed. A cavalry charge at the poorly armed Athollmen was met with a volley of stones, which broke the charge and the Covenanter infantry began falling back then collapsed. There was no restraining Montrose's highlanders and Irish and the government forces were pursued all the way back to Perth.

Perth surrendered to Montrose that same evening. Another of the chief's uncles, Duncan 'Mor' Robertson of Drumachuine was said to have used his influence with Montrose to save Perth from sack after the town surrendered. The Royalist army was able to replenish their ammunition, gain swords, muskets, pikes and other weapons from the dead and their prisoners, and gather other supplies necessary to support an army.

Thus began what is known as Montrose's "Year of Miracles" during which Montrose won a five additional victories over the government forces until his only defeat at the Philiphaugh on September 13, 1645. Unfortunately for Montrose that was the only battle where the Athollmen were not present.

Brotchie, T.C.F., "Battlefields of Scotland", Edinburgh, 1913, pp. 153.
Reid, Stuart, "The Campaigns of Montrose", Edinburgh, 1990, pp. 48-59.
Robertson, James, "Chiefs of Clan Donnachaidh 1275-1749", 1929, pp. 52-53.
Robertson, James Irvine, "The Robertsons, Clan Donnachaidh in Atholl", 2005, pp. 47-48.
Sadler, John, "Scottish Battles", Edinburgh, 1996, pp. 111-114.