Montrose at Kilsyth 15 August

Kilsyth was the last of the
string of successes enjoyed by the Marquis of Montrose in

campaign of 1644-5.  It was also an important 
event politically as the Scottish army under Alexander
Leslie (Earl of Leven) was at that time allied with the
New Model Army in England, having been successful at the
fall of Carlisle in June. In July Leven had moved even
further afield to Hereford leaving Montrose to ravage
Scotland more or less at will.  Montrose meanwhile
had assembled his forces at Kilsyth, near Stirling, and on
15 August fought the army of the Covenant under Lieutenant
General Baillie to gain another decisive victory. Montrose was now close
to being in control of Scotland with but a few pockets of serious
resistance left – at least while Leslie was out of Scotland. It was a win
win situation for his royal master as if Leslie returned to Scotland he
weakened the English Parliamentarians forces against King Charles.

After the battle at Alford on
2 July 1645, Montrose and his victorious troops had taken
a few days rest then swept through the Campbell lands,
across the Ochill Hills and crossed the Forth at the Ford
of Frew above Stirling. He was soon in Kilsyth and
encamped at Colzium House on 14 August, where the Royal
standard fluttered above Riskend Farm.  The chosen
battlefield  suited the nimble Highlanders in his
3,500  infantry, and his 600 or so horse. The
battlefield was a plateau extending about a mile eastwards
from Colzium Burn  and it was moss to the Banton
Burn. To the west was a hill known as the Baggage Knowe
which was a good position for any rearguard action. The
northern boundary was the Drum Burn which flowed along the
foot of the moorland slope which protected Montrose`s left
flank. The southern front was on a steep slope leading
down into a meadow while rough ground, tussock grass and
bog protected the right wing from any cavalry charge.

Lt General Baillie, meanwhile
had settled on an impregnable encampment at Holland Bush,
about three miles away. But he was not allowed to make use
of his position as the Covenanter Council of War insisted
that he move against Montrose. Very reluctantly Baillie
had to approach Colzium across the cornfields of
Auchencloch and expose his eight regiments to the enemy.
Having completed the dangerous manoeuvre the musketeers
and horse soon engaged Montrose forces in amongst the
farms and inclosures of  Auchinrivoch and Auchinvally.
Here they were faced by  the Macleans and the
Macdonalds in fierce fighting. Despite orders not to get
involved in close quarter fighting within the confines of
the inclosures, Baillie`s troops mixed with the van of
Montrose`s forces. This provided the opportunity for
Montrose to order in the rest of his Highlanders. Clad
only in their shirts, knotted between their legs, the
shoeless redshanks nimbly joined battle. Armed with dirk
and targe on their left hand and broadsword in the right
hand, the Highlanders cut a swathe through Baillie`s
forces and created an instant rout.  Elsewhere the
battle was not going so well for Montrose – troops of
Airlie and Aboyne were being hard pressed until Nathaniel
Gordon with the main cavalry reinforced them and made a
wild charge through Baillie`s  cavalry , through the
foot regiment of Crawford  and engaged the second
line reserves. This almost suicidal charge sounded the
death knell for Baillie who was unable to get reserves of
his rustic militia up from Fife. When they saw the half
naked Highlanders in full flow  the raw recruits 
turned tail and fled.

The battle ended in a
slaughter with most of the Covenanters` foot soldiers
killed on the spot. There then followed a chase for some
fourteen miles in which most of the remainder of the army
was either drowned escaping through the bogs or hacked
down. The Scots Worthies tells us that Captain
Paton was caught in a bog, but struggling free went to the
aid of Colonels Hacket and Strachan – all three riding off
pursued by the enemy. The story continues that they had
not gone far when they met fifteen of the enemy of whom
they killed thirteen and two escaped. A little further on
they were assailed by thirteen more and killed ten. They
were then attacked by eleven Highlanders – they killed
nine and put the rest to flight. Four thousand Covenanters
were killed and two thousand were captured that day which
was rounded off by the Covenanters War Council riding off
as fast they could go. Lt General Baillie and his chief
officers followed suit, leaving their men to be butchered.
Montrose lost a mere handful of men.

In the absence of thousands of
Scots troops engaged in the siege of Hereford, Montrose`s
victory at Kilsyth effectively destroyed the Scottish home
army, and placed the country at his mercy. Indeed, it was
only the outbreak of a serious bout of plague in the city
that prevented Edinburgh being taken. In England David
Leslie was despatched with the cavalry to go to Scotland`s
aid (recalled by the Estates with 4000 foot and 1000
dragoons). Leven hurriedly abandoned the siege of
Hereford, making for the North of England to be ready to
help if needed.

 Leven had been very concerned
at being so far from Scotland while Montrose was being so
successful behind his lines. Coupled with this was a
growing disillusionment with the alliance. The army was
ill paid, having had one months pay in seven months, and
was badly supplied, while the aim of religious uniformity
was fading. Moreover, commitment to the alliance was
keeping him from the defence of Scotland. The accumulation
of these pressures was too much for Leven and he expressed
a desire to surrender his commission. The English
Parliamentarians on the other hand viewed Leven`s turn
round and heading North with suspicion, having in mind the
possibility of the Scots coming to terms with King Charles

  A change of fortune for the
Scots came with David Leslie`s defeat of Montrose at
Philiphaugh on 13 September
1645. This eased the pressures on Leven who agreed to lay
siege to Newark, appearing there in November 1645. The
siege was still in progress when King Charles surrendered
to the Scots on 5 May 1646. The next day Newark
surrendered and Leven and his Army of the Covenant
withdrew with its royal prize to the North.