The Battle of Kilsyth
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Introduction

The Battle of Kilsyth was one part of an ongoing conflict between the Royalists and the Covenanters which affected 17th century Scotland.

It was not the final battle of a series, nor was its victors to continue to thrive, but it was important. It was fought just outside Kilsyth to the north west of the town and it is thought about 6000 of the participants died either on the field or in the following days.

The two generals who opposed each other on behalf of their causes were James Graham, 5th Earl and 1st Marquess of Montrose for the Royalists and General William Ballie.

The Background

The roots of the Battle of Kilsyth lie back in 1638 when James Graham, 5th Earl of Montrose, had signed the Scottish National Covenant. This was not just a personal decision but he had been one of many. These Covenanters, as they were known, had drawn up and subscribed to the Covenant in order to defend the religious life and the church in Scotland against the attempts of King Charles and Archbishop Laud to impose the Anglican Prayer Book of 1637 upon Scotland. This stance had already led him into conflicts in 1639 & 1640 with the king, Charles I. By these actions the aims of the Covenant had been largely achieved. But some like the Earl of Montrose and his friends thought that the Covenanting hierarchy in Scotland would not be satisfied with just their local issue but sought greater power and the overthrowing of the king. What the underlying intentions and aspirations of the Covenanters leaders such as  the Marquis of Argyll, chief of the powerful Clan Campbell, is, of course, a matter of debate as much is the real motives of the Earl of Montrose.

Montrose spoke of his concerns to King Charles but initially he was not listened to. The next salient event was what is known as The Solemn League and Covenant where the English Parliament, (both houses) formed an alliance with the Scottish Covenanters on 25 September 1643. Its purpose was to form a united front against the King's supporters, the Royalists, who in 1643 were in a strong position to win the First Civil War which had started in 1640. It is said that the word "League" was added to emphasise that it was no only had a religious aspect but also political.

Events progressed and the Scots assembled a large army under General Alexander Leslie (later the Earl of Leven) and sent it south in England. These were to join the parliamentary forces and operate against the King in Northern England. This affected the balance of power and contributed to the defeat of the King's forces at the Battle of Marston Moor, on 2nd July, 1644.

By 1645, Charles' position was weak and he gratefully accepted the offer of help form the Earl of Montrose. A rapid reward followed as he was created Marquis of Montrose, and appointed commander-in-chief in Scotland.

It is claimed that Montrose and two others sneaked across the border in disguise and headed for Blair in Perthshire. Here he met with about 1,500 exiled MacDonalds with their leader Alistair (sometimes called Alexander) who was the son of a chieftain from Kintyre from Ireland. He had been sent by the Earl of Antrim. These MacDonalds were not particularly welcomed in the area by the local Stewarts and Robertsons, but they became united in their support of Montrose. Among the names mentioned were John Muidartach, his son, Donald, and members of the clan MacLean from Mull, the clan Gregor, and the Stewarts of Appin. Montrose, thus gathered together the basis of his army.

To be continued

Material Copyright © 2000 - 2005 DGR

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