The Engagement, 1647-8

In the aftermath of the English Civil War, the defeated King Charles I was held in semi-captivity by the Scottish army to which he had surrendered in May 1646. Charles' intention was to provoke divisions between the English Parliamentarians and their Scottish allies while he secretly negotiated for military help from abroad to continue the wars. However, his plans miscarried when the Scots handed him over to Parliament in January 1647 on the promise of a £400,000 indemnity. Negotiations for a final peace settlement were further complicated by the subsequent seizure of the King by the New Model Army during the summer of 1647. Alarmed that Charles had fallen into the hands of the Independents of the English army, many Covenanters in Scotland urged military intervention to rescue him and to safeguard Presbyterianism.

By December 1647, the King was a prisoner of the army at Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight. He rejected the proposals offered by Parliament and, in secret communications with Scottish commissioners, indicated that he would be willing to make concessions regarding a religious settlement in exchange for military help from Scotland. The Earls of Lauderdale, Loudoun and Lanark attended the King at Carisbrooke and completed negotiations for a new alliance, known as The Engagement.

Under the terms of the Engagement, the King agreed that he would confirm the Solemn League and Covenant in the English Parliament but, crucially, neither he nor any of his subjects would be compelled to take the Covenant against their consciences. Charles promised to impose Presbyterian church government in England for a three-year period subject to a final settlement by the Assembly of Divines; he also promised to suppress the Independent sects. All acts passed by the Scottish Parliament since 1644 would be ratified and Scotsmen would be guaranteed greater influence in the government of England, with a view to eventual union of the two kingdoms. In return, the Scots would undertake to bring the King to London to negotiate a personal treaty with the Westminster Parliament. If Parliament refused to co-operate, the Scots would send an army into England to enforce the King's authority. The Engagement was signed by the King on 26 December 1647 and by the three Scottish commissioners the following day.

The King's refusal to compel his subjects to take the Covenant or to take it himself compromised the Engagement and split the Covenanter movement. The Kirk's rejection of the treaty was supported by the powerful Marquis of Argyll and several senior army officers, including Lord Leven and David Leslie, but the army as a whole was divided. John Middleton and Sir Alexander Hamilton supported the Engagement, and a number of officers who opposed it in principle nevertheless stated that they would obey the directives of the Scottish Parliament, which met in March 1648. Led by Argyll's rival the Duke of Hamilton, a substantial majority in Parliament declared its support for the Engagement.

In May 1648, the Westminster Parliament offered concessions by proposing to re-open negotiations with the King jointly with the Scots on the basis of the Newcastle Propositions and by re-affirming its commitment to the Solemn League and Covenant. However, these overtures were rejected on a technicality by the Scots and preparations for war continued. Opposition to the levying of the Engager army was widespread in Scotland but largely passive. Argyll was prepared to bide his time and made no move to oppose Hamilton.

The Engager Army

The Engager army was led by the James, Duke of Hamilton with the Earl of Callendar as his second-in-command. Callendar had more military experience than Hamilton but was on bad terms with him. Having wanted to command the army himself, Callendar habitually disputed nearly every decision of Hamilton's, who easily gave way to him. Two veterans of Covenanter campaigns against the Marquis of Montrose, John Middleton and William Baillie, commanded the cavalry and infantry respectively.

After the ending of the English Civil War, the Army of the Covenant that had fought at Marston Moor and against Montrose was reduced to five regiments of foot, two Highland regiments and a number of independent cavalry troops. This force was sufficient for Scotland's internal security, but inadequate for an invasion of England. Only four of the veteran regiments could be spared for the proposed invasion, so a new levy for the Engager army began in May 1648. However, recruitment was hampered by the opposition of senior Covenanters and the Kirk. Clergymen denounced the alliance with non-Covenanter English Royalists from their pulpits, which adversely affected the speed of recruitment and the quality of the recruits.

Hundreds of men fled from Lanarkshire into neighbouring Ayrshire either to avoid conscription or as deserters from the levy. They joined Covenanter opponents to the Engagement on Mauchline Moor near Ayr to muster a rebel force of around 2,000 men. On 12 June, Lieutenant-General Middleton rode with ten troops of horse to confront the rebels and attacked them when they refused to disperse. Middleton's heavily-outnumbered forces were thrown back, but were saved from defeat by the timely arrival of the Earl of Callendar with a further 1,000 horse who charged in and quickly routed the insurgents.

By July 1648, Hamilton had raised 6,000 foot and 3,000 horse — less than one-third of the projected strength of the army to take on the New Model. His troops were ill-disciplined and given to violent plundering. Scottish civilians were glad to see the back of them when they crossed the border into England on 8 July. Badly-led, poorly-equipped and mostly untrained, the Engager army was decisively defeated by Oliver Cromwell at the battle of Preston in August 1648.

The Whiggamores

The defeat at Preston was followed by a Covenanter uprising against the Engagers in south-western Scotland known as the Whiggamore Raid. Towards the end of August 1648, several thousand Whiggamores ("Whigs") marched from Ayrshire, Kirkcudbright and Wigtownshire towards Edinburgh on a wave of popular support. Noblemen who had opposed the Engagement, including Lords Loudoun, Eglinton and Cassillis, put themselves at the head of the uprising; Argyll, Leven and David Leslie declared their support for the movement.

Engagers on the Committee of Estates ordered Major-General Monro to gather his forces at Berwick to resist the Whigs while the Earl of Lanark mustered the Scottish home army at Jedburgh. The Committee sent representatives to negotiate with them, but when they refused to halt their advance, the Committee fled from Edinburgh to join Lanark and Monro on the Borders. The Whigs occupied Edinburgh on 5 September. Lanark and Monro were in favour of fighting and when terms for a treaty were rejected, Engager forces marched around Edinburgh to capture Linlithgow on 10 September. Two days later, the Engagers routed the Marquis of Argyll's Campbell clansmen and occupied Stirling. By mid-September 1648, however, Cromwell and the New Model Army, fresh from the victory at Preston, had advanced to the Borders. Cromwell demanded that the Engagers hand back Berwick and Carlisle to the English Parliament or be prepared to suffer the consequences. The Whigs sent representatives to assure Cromwell that no treaty would be made with the Engagers unless they agreed to disband their forces and relinquish power but this did not prevent Cromwell from marching into Scotland on 21 September.

Supported by Cromwell and the English army, the Marquis of Argyll and the Whig leaders in Edinburgh demanded the disbandment of Engager forces. Despite the unpopularity of the English occupation, the Engagers gave way and signed the Treaty of Stirling on 27 September 1648, which brought Engager dominance in Scotland to an end. When the Scottish Parliament met In January 1649, the Act of Classes was passed which excluded supporters of Hamilton and the Engagers from public office in Scotland and ensured the supremacy of the covenanting Kirk Party.

"Whiggamore" is said to be derived from "whiggam", the cry used by the insurgents to encourage their horses. At first only fundamentalist Covenanters were called Whigs but by 1689, the name was applied to the political party that supported the exclusion of the Catholic James, Duke of York, from the succession to the throne, as distinct from the Tories who supported him.


S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War vol. iv (London 1894)

Stuart Reid, All the King's Armies: a military history of the English Civil War 1642-1651 (Staplehurst 1998)

David Stevenson, Revolution & Counter-Revolution in Scotland 1644-51 (Newton Abbott 1977)


Text of the Engagement