Perthshire lies in the very heart of Scotland. Only where the long arm of the Firth of Tay runs inland does it touch the sea. It is one of the largest and most beautiful of Scottish counties. The north-western part belongs to the Highlands, and there, is some of the grandest loch and mountain scenery in the whole country. Here rugged, heather-clad hills rise one behind another till they are lost in blue distance. Here deer roam upon the mountain sides, pheasants and grouse brood among the heather, and eagles nest in the craggy peaks. But of towns there are none, and of villages only a few, with, here and there, a lonely farm-house or shooting lodge. More than half of Perthshire indeed is deer forest and heath.
But in the valleys such as Strathmore and Strathearn are fertile fields. Here upon the gentle slopes strawberries and other fruits grow well, and corn and wheat ripen in the sunshine, while along the shores of the Tay stretches the Carse of Gowrie, famous as a farming district.
Perth itself is the only town of any size in the whole county. It is now chiefly famous for its dye works. But it used to be a town of great importance. The kings of Scotland often lived here, and at the Abbey of Scone, near, they were crowned. And here, but six months before Cromwell arrived at the gates of Perth, the Scots had crowned Charles II.
Beyond Stirling, Perth holds the chief passes of the north, and Cromwell knew that if he could take it, he would cut off Stirling from the supplies of food, which were brought to it from the north. When that was done Stirling would be forced to yield.
Oliver's task was easy. The men of Perth showed no fight. He had lain before the town only one day when they yielded to him. But scarcely had Cromwell entered the town, when the news arrived that Charles and his army had left Stirling, and were marching for England. Cromwell had needed nearly all his men to overrun Fife and take Perth, so that the way south had been left open for Charles, did he choose to take it.
As soon as Cromwell heard the news, he left a few thousand men under General Monk to guard Perth and take Stirling, and dashed after Charles.
Charles went by the west, crossing into England at one end of the Cheviots by the Solway Firth; Cromwell went by the east, as he had come.
For nearly a month they chased each other, as it were, Charles marching through the sheep-farming counties of Peebles and Dumfries, with their busy woollen manufacturing towns. He crossed into England near Carlisle, famous for its castle and cathedral, and so often the scene of Border fights. Day after day he marched on, among the beautiful hills and lakes of Cumberland and Westmorland. Then came a change of scene as he passed through busy, smoky Lancashire to the pasture lands of Cheshire Plain and Shropshire. He kept by the borders of Wales, for he hoped that there many Cavaliers would join his army. But he was disappointed, and striking south-west again he made for the Royalist town of Worcester.
Worcester was among the first towns to declare for Charles I. It was among the last to yield to the Parliament. And now it gladly opened its gates to Charles II.
Worcestershire is part of a valley lying between the mountains of Wales and the Northamptonshire Upland. For hundreds of years it has been famous for its hop and fruit gardens. Plums, pears, and apples are chiefly grown, and a great deal of cider is made.
Worcester itself is also famous for its china factory, its potted lampreys, its sauce, and many other things.
The Royalists of England had not risen to join Charles as he had hoped, and his army now hardly numbered sixteen thousand. So here in this city of the fruitful plain he rested his weary men. And here Oliver with about thirty thousand men closed round him.
It was the 28th of August when Cromwell appeared before Worcester, but not until the 3rd of September—his lucky day—was the great battle fought, which was to be the ruin of the Royalist cause.
In the early morning of the 3rd, Cromwell, with the skill of a great commander, began to post his men. But not until the afternoon did the grand struggle come. Then for hours the battle raged, first without the wall of Worcester, then within. Oliver himself rode with his men; "My lord-general did exceedingly hazard himself, riding up and down in the midst of the fire," says one who saw.
It was a fierce contest, but when at last, far into the night, the noise of battle died away, the cause of Charles was utterly lost, the Scots army utterly shattered. Three thousand lay dead upon the field. Ten thousand more were prisoners, among them nearly half the nobles of Scotland.
That night, Charles fled away a homeless wanderer and after many dangers he escaped to France. That night, Cromwell, his great enemy, sheathed his sword, never to draw it again. He had fought his last battle and won his last victory, his "Crowning Mercy" he called it. For nine years Oliver had been a soldier. In those nine years he had created an army, and with it had conquered three kingdoms and a principality. In those nine years he had risen from being a simple unknown farmer to be the chief man in the land. In those nine years he had made for himself a name which will never be forgotten as long as history is read.