The Battle of Philiphaugh, 1645

When the triumphant Marquis of Montrose occupied Glasgow in August 1645 after his string of spectacular victories against the Covenanters, it seemed that he had reclaimed Scotland for the King's cause. The Covenanter leaders fled into England. A meeting of the Scottish Parliament was called for October and members of the Scottish nobility declared their support for Montrose. However, his power in Scotland proved to be illusory. He was distrusted in the Lowlands for his reliance on wild Highlanders and Catholic Irishmen; the atrocities perpetrated on Aberdeen the previous year had not been forgotten. Montrose tried to impose military discipline on the Highlanders. He forbade them from sacking Glasgow and moved them to a camp at Bothwell. Some took to marauding, many deserted. When Alasdair MacColla left to continue the inter-clan war against the Campbells in the west of Scotland, the last of the Highlanders marched away with him. Lord Aboyne departed with his cavalry when Montrose appointed the Earl of Crawford his general of horse.

Although deserted by many of his former comrades, Montrose was still determined to march into England to join forces with King Charles. Early in September 1645, he advanced to Jedburgh near the English border accompanied by around 500 Irish infantry and 120 horse of Nathaniel Gordon's and Lord Airlie's regiments. He hoped to recruit another army in the borders. He was was joined by the Marquis of Douglas with 1,000 horse, but they were untrained and inexperienced. Troops promised by the Earls of Roxburgh, Home and Traquair did not materialise.

At Jedburgh, Montrose received the alarming news that Lieutenant-General David Leslie had crossed the border at Berwick on 6 September with at least four regiments of foot and six regiments of horse and dragoons from Lord Leven's army in England. With a Covenanter force now threatening his rear, Montrose abandoned his march towards England and turned north-west, intending to escape into the hills and bring Leslie to battle on his own terms. Meanwhile, Leslie advanced towards Edinburgh with the intention of securing the city. At Gladsmuir on 11 September, he learned that Montrose was in the vicinity of Jedburgh and turned south to intercept him, leaving most of his infantry behind in order to advance as quickly as possible. Leslie's force comprised around 3,000 cavalry, 400 dragoons and 700 mounted infantrymen.

Campaign map: battle of Philiphaugh
The Philiphaugh campaign, 1646

Unaware of Leslie's swift approach, Montrose and most of his officers were quartered at Selkirk on the night of 12 September. His cavalry camped to the west of the burgh on the flat meadow of Philiphaugh, while the Irish infantry occupied a nearby wood. The Covenanters attacked out of a dense autumn mist on the morning of 13 September, taking the Royalists completely by surprise. According to legend, Montrose was at breakfast at Selkirk when his scoutmaster burst in to warn him that an attack was imminent. Montrose hurried across to Philiphaugh, where he found his untrained cavalry in disarray, with most of their officers still at Selkirk. Despite the confusion, Colonels Laghtnan and O'Cahan managed to deploy most of the Irish infantry in defensive positions among the hedges and ditches, with the Philhope Burn on their left flank and Nathaniel Gordon's veteran cavalry covering the right.

With a large superiority in numbers, Lieutenant-General Leslie could afford to divide his forces. A detachment under Lieutenant-Colonel Agnew of Lord Kirkcudbright's regiment was sent to secure Selkirk, where the Royalist officers who had not yet left the burgh were taken prisoner. Leslie led the rest of his men around Linglie Hill in a direct assault on the Royalist position.

As the Covenanters approached, Nathaniel Gordon advanced with his cavalry to engage Leslie's skirmishers, but was quickly driven back. The constraints of the ground meant that Leslie could only send one regiment forward at a time, and the first Covenanter attack was repulsed. However, a Royalist counter-attack was also thrown back. Although Montrose and the Earl of Crawford had succeeded in forming a second line with the disorganised levies, Leslie concentrated his attack on the Irish infantry, leading a desperate charge at the head of his own regiment. The Covenanter horse broke through the Irish line just as Lieutenant-Colonel Agnew's detachment arrived from Selkirk and joined the battle with an attack on the remaining Royalist cavalry. Attacked from all sides by overwhelming numbers, the Royalist position collapsed. While the cavalry fled, about 100 of the Irish rallied and made a stand at Philiphaugh Farm. After a fierce firefight, they surrendered on promise of quarter. When the fighting was over, however, Leslie announced that quarter had only been granted to the officers. The rest of the prisoners were shot in cold blood, and all camp followers that could be found were murdered. The colonels Thomas Laghtnan and Manus O'Cahan were later hanged at Edinburgh.

Montrose escaped from the battlefield and rallied the survivors at Peebles the following day. Most of his cavalry and around 250 of the Irish infantry had got away. Montrose remained at large in Scotland for another year. Although he hoped to raise further support in the Highlands, his first major defeat proved decisive. He was unable to pose a serious threat to the Covenanters again. The powerful Marquis of Huntly belatedly raised the Gordon clan against the Covenanters yet refused to co-operate with Montrose so that his intervention was ineffective. Montrose threatened Inverness during the spring of 1646, but he was driven back into the mountains by the approach of Covenanter forces under Major-General John Middleton. After the surrender of King Charles in England, Montrose received orders to disband his remaining forces. He negotiated terms for surrender with Middleton in July 1646 and sailed away into exile in Norway on 3 September.


S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War vol. ii (London 1889)

Peter Gaunt, The Cromwellian Gazetteer (Stroud 1987)

Stuart Reid, Auldearn 1645: the Marquis of Montrose's Scottish campaign (Osprey 2003)

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

Trevor Royle: Civil War: the wars of the Three Kingdoms 1638-60 (London 2004)


Philiphaugh UK Battlefields Resource Centre