A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Montrose – History of a Different Feather

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?


  1. Hmmm...Old John talking a chap into expanding a project. That doesn't sound like him at all.

    I didn't know CV Wedgewood wrote a book on Montrose. I'll have to check that one out, yet another volume to add to the "to-be-read" pile. I have a John Buchan biography of Montrose giving me guilty looks from the top of the book shelf. So many books, so little time.

    Best of luck with your new Scottish armies.

  2. As if I'd talk a chap into expanding a project, perish the thought :-)), C V Wedgewood an excellent historian, easy to read and understand, I have most of her books, recommend her History & Hope, Collected Essays

    Stuart Reid has done several booklets on Scots armies and battles inc Battle for Justice Mills, Aberdeen 1644, and John Barrat has done Siege of Liverpool and Lancashire campaign 1644

    Ronald Williams' the Heather & The Gale, Clans Donald & Campbell during Wars of Montrose, interesting

    cheers Old John

  3. The Campaigns of Montrose by Stuart Reid - a sure antidote for Montrose worship. He includes pretty detailed information on numbers and even measures the battlefields to see if the units fit in the traditional places! Recommended.

    But I'm a Covenanter fan. I like painting things grey.

  4. Slightly tangenital, but try David Stevenson's book on Alaidair MacColla - it does cover parts of Montrose's campaigns. Unhelpfully though, I think it's out of print!

  5. The 'why' might be connected to who Oswald Mosley was but I'm not going to take the bait and look the fellow up. Sounds like a very accurate rendition of Montrose to me but then my main source on him were Nigel Tranter novels when I was but a lad.

    There were some stray highlanders whose allegiances led them to fight against the King if that thought helps. Don't know off hand if they ever crossed the border or just went chasing after Montrose and friends.

  6. Thanks for the suggestions - appreciated. I've previously read CV Wedgwood's trilogy on the ECW - I thought The King's War was the best. I have her book on Cromwell, but haven't read it.

    I've ordered Stuart Reid's booklets on Justice Mills and Kilsyth (Partizan) and Auldearn (Osprey) - the Osprey one gets a poorish customer reception on Amazon because it is not sufficiently adulatory for popular taste. I found some used copies of his Campaigns of Montrose on Abe Books, but they are pricey, and I'm not sure how much of this is reproduced in the Osprey title, so I've held off on that one. There is also the possibility that i lose interest in the campaign before I've read all of these…

    I also got a very cheap copy of the John Buchan book on eBay - that should keep me going. It will be earnest, i know this.

    Tranter - I considered a paperback omnibus of the two Tranter novels - again, very cheap. I am very fond of Tranter, but am aware that you get about as much balance as you might from, say, a Disney movie, so have left that for the present as well.

    I have to watch this. I once had a brother-in-law (in a former life) who was a schoolteacher, and suffered badly with depression. Because he was a teacher he had a special library ticket which enabled him to take home a dozen books from the library at one time - then he would sit and glower at the big pile of books, even more depressed because he wasn't going to have time to read them all.

    A symptom to watch out for...

  7. Follow-up comment - I've now started on a bit of further reading. I've no wish to criticise Ms Wedgwood any further, but it does seem that she rather glossed over the sacking of Aberdeen and the slaughter of its citizens by Montrose's rebels in 1644 - a sad event which Montrose (annoyed because the messenger he sent with surrender terms was attacked) did nothing to check, and which did a great deal to undermine his popularity. CVW mentions only that "citizens fell with soldiers in desperate disordered street fighting and the plunder which ensued" - quite routine, really. Copy writers and publicists will recognise the approach - omit any facts which do not fit the official message.