Charles I.—How the Soldier Poet Helped the King
Charles promised the Covenanters freedom, but he never meant to keep his word. Soon war broke out again. The Scots marched into England, and there, instead of being feared, as they used to be, they were greeted as friends. For many of the English hated the Prayer Book. These Puritans, as they were called, sided with the Scots. Charles was also quarrelling with his English Parliament. His army fought in a half-hearted way, and soon it fled before the Covenanters. So the King was obliged to make peace, and the Covenanters went home triumphant.
The quarrels between Charles and his English Parliament now grew worse and worse. James vi. had tried to be an autocratic king, that is, he had tried to do exactly as he liked. The King can do no wrong, he said, and he had taught his son Charles to think and to say the same. At last the whole country rose in rebellion. This is called the Great Rebellion, and in it English, Scots, and Irish, all took part.
It was a war for freedom and a war for religion that now began. On one side were the King and many of the lords and gentlemen who were Roman Catholics and Episcopalians, on the other side were the members of Parliament, the Presbyterians and Puritans, and most of the common people. In Scotland, many of the nobles too, fought against their King, but some fought for him. Chief among these was James Graham, Marquis of Montrose. Montrose was handsome and brave, a soldier and a poet. He was so noble and so fearless, that he seemed more like a knight of ancient days, than a man of his own time. He had been a Covenanter, and had fought for the Covenant. Now he fought for the King. Traitors change from side to side, yet no one has ever called Montrose a traitor, because, although he was a Covenanter and a Presbyterian, he had never wished to overthrow the King, and although he now fought for the King, he remained a Presbyterian to the day of his death.
When all the country rose in war, a great Scottish army marched into England to help the Parliamentarians. Montrose had been with the King's army in England, but seeing that he could do no good there, he made up his mind to return to Scotland. He knew that in the Highlands there were many loyal men who would fight for the King, if they had a leader. But how to get there was the difficulty. Between him and the Highlands stretched half the length of England, and all the Lowlands of Scotland, filled with the King's enemies. The King's enemies were Montrose's enemies, and he knew that if he were caught, he would certainly be killed. But no danger ever made Montrose afraid.
So he sang. Dressed like a groom, mounted upon a poor old horse, and leading another by the bridle, he rode behind two of his friends, as if he were their servant. In this way they passed safely through England.
When they came to the Border, they were told that the traitor Montrose was somewhere near, and that soldiers were searching for him everywhere. But in spite of that, they passed on. They had gone a little farther, when a soldier came up to them. This man had fought under Montrose, and in spite of his disguise, he knew him quite well.
"My lord Montrose," he said.
But the Marquis calmly went on with what he was doing, pretending not to know that he was being spoken to.
"My lord," said the man again.
"What folly is this?" said one of the gentlemen, hoping still to deceive the man, "this is my servant."
But the man laughed scornfully. "What," he said, "do I not know my lord Montrose well enough? But," he added, humbly and respectfully, "go your way, and God be with you whithersoever you go."
When the Marquis saw that it was useless to try to deceive the man, he gave him some money, and sent him away. Then, knowing from this adventure how dangerous it was to delay, he and his friends rode as fast as they could, sparing neither their horses nor themselves, till they reached the Highlands.
There, for some days, Montrose lay hidden, sleeping among the hills by night, hiding in a peasant's hut by day. At first, things seemed quite hopeless. But soon he heard that another of the King's friends had landed from Ireland, bringing with him about a thousand men. Montrose at once joined them, and was received with joy as their leader. Then with this little army, he began his battles for the King.
The men were badly clothed, and scarcely armed at all. Their weapons were sticks and stones, axes, and heavy Highland swords, called claymores. A few had rusty old guns, but they had no cannon, and only three horses. But the men were fiercely and recklessly brave. Their leader had the courage of a King. Day by day the army grew. Montrose swept all Scotland, winning victory after victory, till all Scotland seemed to be at his feet, and he even hoped to march victoriously into England.
But the soldiers he had had to fight against were untrained, and when the Scottish commander in England heard of what was happening in Scotland, he sent an army back from England to fight Montrose. Montrose marched southward to meet this army. But as he marched, many of his Highlanders left him, and so, when he reached a place called Philiphaugh, he had hardly more soldiers than when he had begun his victorious campaign. There, whilst Montrose himself was in the neighbouring town of Selkirk, his camp was surprised in the early morning by the Parliamentarians under Leslie.
For the first time, Montrose with his rough Highlanders had to face tried soldiers. For the first time he was defeated. So complete was his defeat, that he fled back to the Highlands. There, for some months, he tried hopelessly to raise another army.
In England, meanwhile, many battles were being fought, sometimes one side winning, sometimes the other. But at last the Parliamentarians got the best of it. Then Charles, seeing that his cause was lost, gave himself up to the Scots. Even then, the Scots would have fought for their King again, if he would have allowed both England and Scotland freedom in matters of religion. But this, Charles would not promise, so the Scots gave him back to the English, and went home to Scotland.
When Montrose knew that the King was a prisoner, and his cause hopeless, he fled away across the sea to a country called Holland. He went as he had come little more than a year before, disguised as a servant.