The battle of Tippermuir, 1644

In response to the Covenanter invasion of England early in 1644, the Royalists prepared to incite uprisings in Scotland and an invasion from Ireland to distract the Covenanter army. In February 1644, James Graham, the Earl (later Marquis) of Montrose, was commissioned lieutenant-general of the King's forces in Scotland. He planned to raise a rebellion against the Covenanters in the south-west of Scotland while the Royalist George Gordon, Marquis of Huntly, led a similar rebellion in the north-east. Simultaneously with these uprisings, the Earl of Antrim was pledged to bring an army across from Ireland to invade Scotland from the west.

In March 1644, Huntly's Gordon Highlanders drove the Covenanters out of Aberdeen and occupied the burgh. Montrose and Sir Robert Clavering crossed the border near Carlisle with a small force of cavalry and dragoons from Yorkshire to occupy Dumfries on 14 April. The Convention of Estates responded by appointing the Earl of Callendar commander of Covenanter forces in the south of Scotland and ordering him to march against Montrose, while the Marquis of Argyll led an army to confront Huntly at Aberdeen.

On 20 April, Montrose abandoned Dumfries at Callendar's approach after which Clavering insisted on returning to England with his cavalry. Huntly was driven from Aberdeen on 1 May and fled for his life into the Highlands. He considered himself betrayed by Montrose and never trusted him again.

Montrose and MacColla

When Montrose and Clavering arrived back on Tyneside, they found that the main Covenanter army had by-passed the city of Newcastle and advanced to York. In early May, Montrose, now elevated to Marquis, attacked the Covenanter garrison at Morpeth, seizing the town around 10 May and ordering up artillery from Newcastle to besiege the castle, which surrendered on 29 May. Clavering and Sir Philip Musgrave meanwhile proceeded to harass Scottish garrisons south of the Tyne. However, the campaign in the north was eclipsed by the siege of York and the subsequent defeat of Prince Rupert and the northern Royalists at Marston Moor in July 1644. Montrose joined Rupert at Richmond in Yorkshire two days after the defeat. While Rupert withdrew to regroup his forces on the Welsh border, Montrose returned to Scotland. He crossed the border in mid-August 1644 with just a few companions. Montrose now accepted that the Covenanters in southern Scotland were too strong for local Royalists to risk an uprising and planned instead to raise the north-east Lowlands and the clans of the Highlands.

Meanwhile, the Earl of Antrim had succeeded in raising a force of 1,600 men as an advance guard for his projected army of invasion. Led by Alasdair MacColla, the Irish Brigade comprised three regiments. The three companies of MacColla's lifeguard were Hebridean Scots, the remainder were Irishmen from Ulster, Connacht and Dublin, with a number of veterans of the Spanish army of Flanders. MacColla landed at Ardnamurcham in the western Highlands on 8 July 1644. He first captured Mingary Castle to serve as a base then marched east towards Aberdeen with the intention of joining forces with the Marquis of Huntly. However, Huntly had already disbanded his forces and gone into hiding in the far north of Scotland. Surrounded by hostile forces, MacColla turned south into Atholl. Apparently by chance, MacColla met Montrose at Blair Atholl in Perthshire where, on 30 August 1644, Montrose raised his standard as the King's deputy in Scotland.

Tippermuir (Tibbermore), Perthshire, 1 September 1644

The Committee of Estates in Edinburgh was slow to recognise the seriousness of the threat posed by Montrose and MacColla. Taking advantage of their lack of preparation, Montrose marched south-west from Blair Atholl towards Perth. Montrose's army consisted of MacColla's 1,600 Irishmen and 800 Highlanders of the Stewart, Robertson and Graham clans who had been called out against MacColla but were persuaded to follow Montrose.

Tippermuir campaign map
Montrose and MacColla: first campaign

Perth was defended by a hastily-assembled force of Covenanter troops and local levies under the command of Lord Elcho and the Earl of Tullibardine. Although the Royalists later claimed to have faced up to 6,000 men, there were probably around 2,000 foot and 400 horse, many of whom were local levies, newly-recruited and untrained. The Covenanters confronted Montrose on open ground at Tippermuir on the plain of Strathearn to the west of Perth on 1 September 1644. Tullibardine commanded the infantry in the centre, Lord Elcho led the cavalry on the right, Sir James Scott of Rossie led the cavalry on the left. The Covenanters also had two small pieces of field artillery.

MacColla's Irish Brigade drew up in six ranks in the centre of the Royalist position. To avoid being outflanked by the Covenanter cavalry, Montrose deployed his Highland troops on the flanks in lines only three deep over a wider front than the Covenanters. Montrose himself commanded the right wing, Lord Kilpont commanded the left. While most of the Royalists were conventionally armed with pike and shot, a number of MacDonald archers are also said to have been present.

The battle opened with skirmishing between musketeers of the opposing armies in the centre. When the Covenanter advance guard fell back, Montrose ordered a general advance all along his line. As MacColla's Irishmen bore down upon them, most of Tullibarne's infantry in the centre turned and ran. On the Royalist right wing, Montrose led his Highlanders to occupy an area of relatively high ground before the Covenanter cavalry could reach them. After firing a single volley, the Highlanders charged, throwing stones and attacking with swords. Unnerved, the cavalry wheeled and fled, colliding with the infantry that had stayed on the field and causing a general rout. When the Royalists overran and captured the Covenanter artillery, the rout became complete.

The town of Perth surrendered immediately and a large quantity of weapons and supplies was captured. Details of casualties are not known for certain, though the Covenanters claimed that their soldiers were massacred by Montrose's followers and the town plundered.


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)


Wargaming the battle of Tippermuir detailed analysis on William Linhart's In Red-coat Rags Attired blog