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

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Hooptedoodle #129 - ECW - MacGonagall on Montrose

The Execution of James Graham, Marquis of Montrose
A Historical Poem
‘Twas in the year of 1650, and on the twenty-first of May,

The city of Edinburgh was put into a state of dismay

By the noise of drums and trumpets, which on the air arose,

That the great sound attracted the notice of Montrose.
Who enquired at the Captain of the guard the cause of it,

Then the officer told him, as he thought most fit,

That the Parliament dreading an attempt might be made to rescue him,

The soldiers were called out to arms, and that had made the din.
Do I, said Montrose, continue such a terror still?

Now when these good men are about my blood to spill,

But let them look to themselves, for after I am dead,

Their wicked consciences will be in continual dread.
After partaking of a hearty breakfast, he commenced his toilet,

Which, in his greatest trouble, he seldom did forget.

And while in the act of combing his hair,

He was visited by the Clerk Register, who made him stare,
When he told him he shouldn’t be so particular with his head,

For in a few hours he would be dead;

But Montrose replied, While my head is my own I’ll dress it at my ease,

And to-morrow, when it becomes yours, treat it as you please.
He was waited upon by the Magistrates of the city,

But, alas! for him they had no pity.

He was habited in a superb cloak, ornamented with gold and silver lace;

And before the hour of execution an immense assemblage of people were round the place.
From the prison, bareheaded, in a cart, they conveyed him along the Watergate

To the place of execution on the High Street, where about thirty thousand people did wait,

Some crying and sighing, a most pitiful sight to see,

All waiting patiently to see the executioner hang Montrose, a man of high degree.
Around the place of execution, all of them were deeply affected,

But Montrose, the noble hero, seemed not the least dejected;

And when on the scaffold he had, says his biographer Wishart,

Such a grand air and majesty, which made the people start.
As the fatal hour was approaching when he had to bid the world adieu,

He told the executioner to make haste and get quickly through,

But the executioner smiled grimly, but spoke not a word,

Then he tied the Book of Montrose’s Wars round his neck with a cord.
Then he told the executioner his foes would remember him hereafter,

And he was as well pleased as if his Majesty had made him Knight of the Garter;

Then he asked to be allowed to cover his head,

But he was denied permission, yet he felt no dread.
He then asked leave to keep on his cloak,

But was also denied, which was a most grievous stroke;

Then he told the Magistrates, if they could invent any more tortures for him,

He would endure them all for the cause he suffered, and think it no sin.
On arriving at the top of the ladder with great firmness,

His heroic appearance greatly did the bystanders impress,

Then Montrose asked the executioner how long his body would be suspended,

Three hours was the answer, but Montrose was not the least offended.
Then he presented the executioner with three or four pieces of gold,

Whom he freely forgave, to his honour be it told,

And told him to throw him off as soon as he uplifted his hands,

While the executioner watched the fatal signal, and in amazement stands.
And on the noble patriot raising his hands, the executioner began to cry,

Then quickly he pulled the rope down from the gibbet on high,

And around Montrose’s neck he fixed the rope very gently,

And in an instant the great Montrose was launched into eternity.
Then the spectators expressed their disapprobation by general groan,

And they all dispersed quietly, and wended their way home

And his bitterest enemies that saw his death that day,

Their hearts were filled with sorrow and dismay.
Thus died, at the age of thirty-eight, James Graham, Marquis of Montrose,

Who was brought to a premature grave by his bitter foes;

A commander who had acquired great military glory

In a short space of time, which cannot be equalled in story.

Though you might feel that you have once again identified the distinctive style of Miss Bentham’s class at Beaconsfield Primary School, this is, of course, the work of William Topaz MacGonagall (1830-1902), variously regarded as Scotland’s worst ever poet or Dundee’s favourite son. Yes, of course it's rubbish, but personally I admire his bold disregard for accuracy of rhyme and meter, and his overriding, earnest enthusiasm. Spike Milligan was a huge fan.

Was MacGonagall, I sometimes wonder, taking the mickey? Was he an early version of the off-beat Scottish humorists of whom Chic Murray and Ivor Cutler are more recent examples?

I've attempted to include an embedded YouTube clip of suitably improving tone - I had some difficulty getting this to work, which may simply be a problem with the version of Flash I have on my iMac. Here it is anyway - if it doesn't run, try clicking here to link directly.


  1. I will say this about W.T. MacGonagall: his verse does nothing to obscure the story he wants to tell. I recall recently - it might have been in this blog spot - a contrast between two versions in verse of a battle in Afghanistan (I think it was from the 2nd Afghan War), one of which was MacGonagall's, the other a 'name' poet (don't recall who.

    I discovered then that reading MacGonagall's verse, I knew pretty much how the action went. This was way more than the flowing verses, accurate scansion and verbal tricks of the other told me. I know the value of alliteration, of cacophony, euphony and euphemism; of harmony and dissonance; of rhythm, rhyme and rodomontade; of simile, metaphor and metonym; of onomatopoeia, epithet and epigram. Mr MacGonagall's touch is that of a butcher. But he's easy to understand.

    That has, as Aristophanes observed in his political comedy 'The Frogs', got to be the highest poetic virtue of all.

  2. The Last of the Berkshire Eleven has been a particular favourite.

    "Then the Ghazis, with increased numbers, made another desperate charge
    On that red line of British bayonets, which wasn’t very large"

    One of our local boys was with the regiment and is remembered in the Cathedral. I would quote from McGonagall when giving tours. There was always some poor soul who tried to be polite about it.

  3. I was looking up the Maiwand battle and found this from Rudyard Kipling. Methinks he was selling the Berkshires short;

    "There was thirty dead an' wounded on the ground we wouldn't keep -
    No, there wasn't more than twenty when the front began to go;
    But, Christ! along the line o' flight they cut us up like sheep,
    An' that was all we gained by doing so.
    I 'eard the knives be'ind me, but I dursn't face my man,
    Nor I don't know where I went to, 'cause I didn't 'alt to see,
    Till I 'eard a beggar squealin' out for quarter as 'e ran,
    An' I thought I knew the voice an' - it was me!
    We was 'idin' under bedsteads more than 'arf a march away;
    We was lyin' up like rabbits all about the countryside;
    An' the major cursed 'is Maker 'cause 'e lived to see that day'
    An' the colonel broke 'is sword acrost, an' cried."

    As for the Afghan battle I mentioned in respect of Wm MacGonagall, I have an idea that it wasn't Maiwand...