James Graham, first Marquess of Montrose
Someone mentioned to me recently that he occasionally finds himself half-way up the stairs, unable to remember where he was going or why. At the time, we laughingly agreed that it was probably a gradual reduction in his ability to multitask rather than full-blown dementia.
Whatever, it rings a not-entirely-comfortable bell with me. Two contexts in which this happens a lot to me these days are
(1) online – trying to remember what it was I set out to do when I’m suddenly surprised to find myself reading a Wikipedia entry for Oswald Mosley (for example)
(2) my reading habits – trying to remember just why this particular book I have in my hand has managed to leapfrog the current reading pile
Over the last couple of days, I have read – and greatly enjoyed – CV Wedgwood’s Montrose, which certainly is a surprise to me, and I am trying to reconstruct just how this happened.
It’s at least partly Old John’s fault. He very kindly sent me some 20mm highlanders a while ago – nice little figures, but not entirely relevant to what I’m working on at the moment. He said something to the effect that, one day, maybe I might like to extend my interest in the ECW as far as the campaigns of the Marquess of Montrose. I filed that away, alongside similar comments I’d heard from someone else.
In the last few weeks, I’ve been doing a bit of a stock-take on the ECW lead mountain. I’ve pretty much completed what I originally sketched out as my “Phase One” ECW armies – I’ve even gone so far as to add some units of town militia and some firelocks, and there’s some siege artillery starting to collect, so a bit of an extension to the original plan is probably overdue. The ECW spares boxes now contain more Tumbling Dice figures than I thought I had (has anyone else noticed how accumulation of TD figures generates a parallel collection of human heads?), and I have enough to make up some more pike-&-shot units of foot, at least two of which are Covenanters.
Interesting. I hadn’t really thought about Covenanters just yet, though I have always known I would get there. My forthcoming early efforts in the ECW are to be based around Lancashire, Cheshire and North Wales in the 1642-45 period, and I have developed (or dreamed up) OOBs for this region at these dates. Covenanters – hmmm – what relevance have Covenanters in Lancashire? I am aware that these chaps were at the Siege of York, and provided a good whack of the troops opposed to Newcastle and at Marston Moor. It is maybe less well known that the Parliamentarian garrison of Liverpool in June 1644 included some 400 to 500 men of Sir John Meldrum’s regiment, who were Scottish, or that Sir William Brereton tried (unsuccessfully) in February 1645 to get some of the Scottish foot seconded from Yorkshire to help with his attempt to capture Chester. Also, of course, given even as tenuous a link as that, my own fake history of the war in Lancashire can easily be fudged to include any number of the fellows.
So, belatedly, I dug Start Reid’s Osprey title on Scottish ECW soldiers out of the bookcase, and I had a squint at the very useful army generation lists in the back of the Forlorn Hope rules, and Old John’s words echoed from somewhere, and Montrose was mentioned, and suddenly I decided I had better find out more about this, so I also dug out CV Wedgwood’s book on the ill-fated hero (that’s Montrose, not Old John) and got started.
A great read. Classic, story-telling, popular history, free of densely interwoven references. It isn’t a very big book, it has some nice pictures, it may even (whisper it) have quite large print, but I romped through it, and I learned a lot about Montrose – though I have to say I knew hardly anything about him before.
Archibald Campbell, first Marquess of Argyll
He even has a black hat, for goodness sake...
This is kind of ironic, since I frequently sound off here about my enthusiasm for old-fashioned historical writing, but I did get a bit worried about the fact that the reading was so pain-free. I checked – a couple of times – to see if it was a book for children. Having spent a fair amount of time lately reading (and enjoying) Esdaile, and Rothenburg and suchlike, I was reminded that Ms Wedgwood is a breath of fresh air, but somehow this book was strangely unconvincing. I didn’t expect to find anything as dull (or useful) as OOBs, but I was surprised how partial this biography is. Montrose is a hero – he’s handsome, gifted, brave, noble and tragic all at once. His soldiers are always outnumbered, yet (for a while at least) claim crushing victories against all the odds. His opponents are mean-minded, ugly, cowardly and cruel, and generally perform like a nasty version of the Keystone Cops. I am not used to history being quite so clear cut, to be honest…
OK – what I have to do next is capitalize on my new enthusiasm and find some rather more detailed (I came close to writing “factual”) work on Montrose. It would be remarkably silly – even by my standards – if I finished up building up little armies for Montrose’s campaigns just so that I can utilize Old John’s highlanders, but stranger things have happened. It would also be silly if I did it just because Veronica Wedgwood had a bit of a thing about James Graham. I need to have a look at some rather more dense writing on the period, and think what to do next.
One big attraction is that the forces involved are small (if I only knew what they were…), so it would not be a very big digression, as these things go.
Hmmm. But why Oswald Mosley?