This was certain, for, on February 5, on the news of the deed done at Whitehall, the Estates proclaimed Charles II. as Scottish King—if he took the Covenant. By an ingenious intrigue Argyll allowed Lauderdale and Lanark, whom the Estates had intended to arrest, to escape to Holland, where Charles was residing, and their business was to bring that uncovenanted prince to sign the Covenant, and to overcome the influence of Montrose, who, with Clarendon, of course resisted such a trebly dishonourable act of perjured hypocrisy. During the whole struggle, since Montrose took the king’s side, he had been thwarted by the Hamiltons. They invariably wavered: now they were for a futile policy of dishonour, in which they involved their young king, Argyll, and Scotland. Montrose stood for honour and no Covenant; Argyll, the Hamiltons, Lauderdale, and the majority of the preachers stood for the Covenant with dishonour and perjury; the left wing of the preachers stood for the Covenant, but not for its dishonourable and foresworn acceptance by Charles.
As a Covenanter, Charles II. would be the official foe of the English Independents and army; Scotland would need every sword in the kingdom, and the kingdom’s best general, Montrose, yet the Act of Classes, under the dictation of the preachers, rejected every man tainted with participation in or approval of the Engagement—or of neglecting family prayers!
Charles, in fact, began (February 22) by appointing Montrose his Lieutenant-Governor and Captain-General in Scotland, though Lauderdale and Lanark “abate not an ace of their damned Covenant in all their discourses,” wrote Hyde. The dispute between Montrose, on the side of honour, and that of Lanark, Lauderdale, and other Scottish envoys, ended as—given the character of Charles II. and his destitution—it must end. Charles (January 22, 1650) despatched Montrose to fight for him in Scotland, and sent him the Garter. Montrose knew his doom: he replied, “With the more alacrity shall I abandon still my life to search my death for the interests of your Majesty’s honour and service.” He searched his death, and soon he found it.
On May 1, Charles, by the Treaty of Breda, vowed to sign the Covenant; a week earlier Montrose, not joined by the Mackenzies, had been defeated by Strachan at Carbisdale, on the south of the Kyle, opposite Invershin, in Sutherlandshire. He was presently captured, and crowned a glorious life of honour by a more glorious death on the gibbet (May 21). He had kept his promise; he had searched his death; he had loyally defended, like Jeanne d’Arc, a disloyal king; he had “carried fidelity and honour with him to the grave.” His body was mutilated, his limbs were exposed,—they now lie in St Giles’ Church, Edinburgh, where is his beautiful monument.
Montrose’s last words to Charles (March 26, from Kirkwall) implored that Prince “to be just to himself,”—not to perjure himself by signing the Covenant. The voice of honour is not always that of worldly wisdom, but events proved that Charles and Scotland could have lost nothing and must have gained much had the king listened to Montrose. He submitted, we saw, to commissioners sent to him from Scotland. Says one of these gentlemen, “He . . . sinfully complied with what we most sinfully pressed upon him, . . . our sin was more than his.”
While his subjects in Scotland were executing his loyal servants taken prisoners in Montrose’s last defeat, Charles crossed the sea, signing the Covenants on board ship, and landed at the mouth of Spey. What he gained by his dishonour was the guilt of perjury; and the consequent distrust of the wilder but more honest Covenanters, who knew that he had perjured himself, and deemed his reception a cause of divine wrath and disastrous judgments. Next he was separated from most of his false friends, who had urged him to his guilt, and from all Royalists; and he was not allowed to be with his army, which the preachers kept “purging” of all who did not come up to their standard of sanctity.
Their hopeful scheme was to propitiate the Deity and avert wrath by purging out officers of experience, while filling up their places with godly but incompetent novices in war, “ministers’ sons, clerks, and such other sanctified creatures.” This final and fatal absurdity was the result of playing at being the Israel described in the early historic books of the Old Testament, a policy initiated by Knox in spite of the humorous protests of Lethington.
For the surer purging of that Achan, Charles, and to conciliate the party who deemed him the greatest cause of wrath of all, the king had to sign a false and disgraceful declaration that he was “afflicted in spirit before God because of the impieties of his father and mother”! He was helpless in the hands of Argyll, David Leslie, and the rest: he knew they would desert him if he did not sign, and he yielded (August 16). Meanwhile Cromwell, with Lambert, Monk, 16,000 foot and horse, and a victualling fleet, had reached Musselburgh, near Edinburgh, by July 28.
David Leslie very artfully evaded every attempt to force a fight, but hung about him in all his movements. Cromwell was obliged to retreat for lack of supplies in a devastated country, and on September 1 reached Dunbar by the coast road. Leslie, marching parallel along the hill-ridges, occupied Doonhill and secured a long, deep, and steep ravine, “the Peaths,” near Cockburnspath, barring Cromwell’s line of march. On September 2 the controlling clerical Committee was still busily purging and depleting the Scottish army. The night of September 2-3 was very wet, the officers deserted their regiments to take shelter. Says Leslie himself, “We might as easily have beaten them as we did James Graham at Philiphaugh, if the officers had stayed by their own troops and regiments.” Several witnesses, and Cromwell himself, asserted that, owing to the insistence of the preachers, Leslie moved his men to the lower slopes on the afternoon of September 2. “The Lord hath delivered them into our hands,” Cromwell is reported to have said. They now occupied a position where the banks of the lower Broxburn were flat and assailable, not steep and forming a strong natural moat, as on the higher level. All night Cromwell rode along and among his regiments of horse, biting his lip till the blood ran down his chin. Leslie thought to surprise Cromwell; Cromwell surprised Leslie, crossed the Broxburn on the low level, before dawn, and drove into the Scots who were all unready, the matches of their muskets being wet and unlighted. The centre made a good stand, but a flank charge by English cavalry cut up the Scots foot, and Leslie fled with the nobles, gentry, and mounted men. In killed, wounded, and prisoners the Scots are said to have lost 14,000 men, a manifest exaggeration. It was an utter defeat.
“Surely,” wrote Cromwell, “it is probable the Kirk has done her do.” The Kirk thought not; purging must go on, “nobody must blame the Covenant.” Neglect of family prayers was selected as one cause of the defeat! Strachan and Ker, two extreme whigamores of the left wing of the godly, went to raise a western force that would neither acknowledge Charles nor join Cromwell, who now took Edinburgh Castle. Charles was reduced by Argyll to make to him the most slavish promises, including the payment of £40,000, the part of the price of Charles I. which Argyll had not yet touched.
On October 4 Charles made “the Start”; he fled to the Royalists of Angus,—Ogilvy and Airlie: he was caught, brought back, and preached at. Then came fighting between the Royalists and the Estates. Middleton, a good soldier, Atholl, and others, declared that they must and would fight for Scotland, though they were purged out by the preachers. The Estates (November 4) gave them an indemnity. On this point the Kirk split into twain: the wilder men, led by the Rev. James Guthrie, refused reconciliation (the Remonstrants); the less fanatical would consent to it, on terms (the Resolutioners). The Committee of Estates dared to resist the Remonstrants: even the Commissioners of the General Assembly “cannot be against the raising of all fencible persons,”—and at last adopted the attitude of all sensible persons. By May 21, 1651, the Estates rescinded the insane Act of Classes, but the strife between clerical Remonstrants and Resolutioners persisted till after the Restoration, the Remonstrants being later named Protesters.
Charles had been crowned at Scone on January 1, again signing the Covenants. Leslie now occupied Stirling, avoiding an engagement. In July, while a General Assembly saw the strife of the two sects, came news that Lambert had crossed the Forth at Queensferry, and defeated a Scots force at Inverkeithing, where the Macleans fell almost to a man; Monk captured a number of the General Assembly, and, as Cromwell, moving to Perth, could now assail Leslie and the main Scottish force at Stirling, they, by a desperate resolution, with 4000 horse and 9000 foot, invaded England by the west marches, “laughing,” says one of them, “at the ridiculousness of our own condition.” On September 1 Monk stormed and sacked Dundee as Montrose sacked Aberdeen, but if he made a massacre like that by Edward I. at Berwick, history is lenient to the crime.
On August 22 Charles, with his army, reached Worcester, whither Cromwell marched with a force twice as great as that of the king. Worcester was a Sedan: Charles could neither hold it nor, though he charged gallantly, could he break through Cromwell’s lines. Before nightfall on September 3 Charles was a fugitive: he had no army; Hamilton was slain, Middleton and David Leslie with thousands more were prisoners. Monk had already captured, at Alyth (August 28), the whole of the Government, the Committee of Estates, and had also caught some preachers, including James Sharp, later Archbishop of St Andrews. England had conquered Scotland at last, after twelve years of government by preachers acting as interpreters of the Covenant between Scotland and Jehovah.