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People of Angus

The Marquis of Montrose

James Graham 1st Marquis of Montrose

James Graham, 5th Earl and 1st Marquis of Montrose, was born in October 1612, a long-awaited son and heir for the wealthy Graham family. Sources disagree over the place of his birth, but it is likely to have been at either the family mansion at Old Montrose, or their town house at Castlestead, Montrose. James must have spent much of his childhood at both these homes, as well as at the main family residence of Kincardine Castle in Perthshire. Shortly before his death, however, his father sold Castlestead. James succeeded him as Earl at the tender age of fourteen.

The young James was handsome and talented: accomplished in mathematics, archery, golf and fencing. He was elegant, fastidious and rather vain, but despite his indulged upbringing, unspoilt in temperament, and his qualities of generosity, loyalty and good temper made him popular. On his visits to the family house at Old Montrose, he met and won the affection of Magdalene, youngest daughter of Lord Carnegie of neighbouring Kinnaird Castle. They were married in 1629, when Montrose was only 17 years old; he is said to have spent the eve of the wedding at golf on the Mid-Links at Montrose, and to have spent the honeymoon golfing and practising archery at nearby Bow Butts. The young couple set up home at Kinnaird, moving to their own establishments only in 1636, when Montrose returned from the Grand Tour of Europe. The long-suffering Magdalene enjoyed only a few short years of peaceful family life with her husband before political events overtook them.

Marquis of Montrose wedding portrait by George Jamieson 1629

In Scotland, trouble was brewing: Charles I’s attempt to impose a new Prayer book in 1637 met with strong opposition. Montrose, a sincere Calvinist, joined the leaders of the National Covenant. In 1639, he led an army to Aberdeen, forcing the city to accept the Covenant. The following year, he occupied Newcastle upon Tyne and cut off London’s coal supply so that Charles had to make a truce. He was a natural military genius. However, at this point, divisions began to appear among the Covenanting leaders. Montrose realised that the devious Archibald Campbell, 8th Earl of Argyll, in his eagerness to extend his own power, was prepared even to depose the King. This Montrose could not stomach; he switched sides to support Charles.

In 1644, Charles made Montrose a Marquis, and appointed him King’s Lieutenant in Scotland. Montrose raised an army and swept across the Highlands in a brilliant campaign, using speed and surprise to compensate for the small size of his force. In the course of the campaign, in 1645, Montrose’s troops visited Brechin, where ‘the town’s people.....hid their goods in the castle.....and kirk steeples, and fled themselves, which flight enraged the soldiers; they herried their goods, plundered the castle and haill town, and burned about sixty houses’.

However, this series of victories came to an end in 1645, when, with a depleted force, Montrose was surprised and defeated at Philiphaugh near Selkirk. He escaped, returning to the town of Montrose with a month’s grace to wind up his affairs before going into exile. He left a letter for the Town Council ‘anent his quartering in Provost Gardyne’s house’, for which the Council agreed to meet the cost. Then, disguised as a servant, he boarded a Norwegian ship bound for Bergen. He was still abroad when, to his horror, Charles I was executed on 30th January 1649.

detail of Marquis of Montrose's Sword

In the Spring of 1650, Montrose returned to northern Scotland with a few hundred mercenaries, in support of Charles II. However, he found little support, and was quickly defeated at Carbisdale on the river Oykell. After the battle, he escaped and threw himself on the mercy of a local impoverished laird, McLeod of Assynt at Ardvreck Castle, only to be betrayed: McLeod sold him to his enemies for 25,000.

His captors mounted Montrose ignominiously on a Highland shelty for the march through towns and villages to Edinburgh; his feet were tied together and a bundle of rags and straw served for a saddle. Despite these humiliations, he retained his dignity. The escort stopped at Kinnaird Castle to allow him to see his children for the last time. At Monifieth there was an attempt to rescue him at his overnight lodging at Grange House. Jean Leslie, Lady Grange, plied the soldiers and officers of the guard with drink, and almost succeeded in whisking Montrose away, disguised in women’s clothing. Unfortunately, the attempt was foiled at the last moment.

Montrose was marched into Edinburgh, where the mob was baying for his blood. He was paraded through the streets on an open cart, but his dignified and serene bearing won the respect and silence of the crowd rather than the humiliation intended. Sentence had already been passed - there was no proper trial. Montrose was to be hung and quartered, his head and limbs to be separately displayed: the fate not of a nobleman, but a common criminal.

James Graham, first Marquis of Montrose, was executed on 21st May 1650 at the Market Cross of Edinburgh. Eyewitnesses recorded the dignity and grace of his bearing, and the generosity of his last words: ‘I leave my soul to God, my service to my prince, my goodwill to my friends, my love and charity to you all’.

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