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James Graham Marquess of Montrose

James Graham, Earl of Montrose / Famous Historical Figures

  • Name  : Graham, Earl of Montrose
  • Born  : 1612
  • Died  : 1650
  • Category  : Famous Historical Figures
  • Finest Moment : Drawing up of the National Covenant in 1638

'Betrayed by a MacLeod and hanged in Edinburgh, enemies marvelled at his courage'.

Graham was the 5th Earl and 1st Marquess of Montrose, and was brought up in Kincardine Castle. Education was at St Andrews University. He was one of four noblemen who drew up the National Covenant at Greyfriars' Kirkyard in Edinburgh in 1638.

This Covenant renewed and expanded that of the one drawn up in 1581 into a public petition which presumed a direct Scottish relationship with God, without the interference of a king (in this case Charles I of course) and without 'all kinds of Papistry'. It was emotive and drew from upwards of 60 Scottish Acts of Parliament and many theological statements. In the end, over 300,000 signatures were appended in churches throughout Scotland.

Montrose was a moderate Presbyterian, and though fighting initially for the Covenant in the Bishops' War, he later distanced himself from the more extreme Presbyterians. After he refused to support the union of the Scottish Parliament with the English Roundheads, in effect bonded by the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643, he was imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle for five months. Made a change from the Tower of London.

The following year he was appointed King's Lieutenant in Scotland. He showed a great flair for military strategy and leadership, winning six battles in one year, despite leading an undisciplined Scottish-Irish force. With depleted forces however he was defeated by David Leslie at Philiphaugh near Selkirk, in 1645.

He escaped to Norway, having been ordered to disband by the captured King, but returned to Scotland to avenge the death by execution of Charles I. His return was fated; shipwrecked in Orkney he survived with only 200 men. This small force was defeated at Carbisdale on 27 April 1650 and Montrose was betrayed by MacLeod of Assynt for a sum of £25,000, a huge sum in those days.

In Edinburgh, the Scottish Parliament were obviously in no mood for clemency or even justice; without a trial they sentenced him to death and he was hanged and disembowelled on 21 May. His remains were given a proper tomb and monument in St Giles, Edinburgh, in 1888. Along with high standards of honesty, generosity and decent dealing (all conspicuously absent otherwise in 17th century Scottish politics), he has a claim to be a fair poet, with the publication of his collected works in 1990.

'Scotland's glory, Britain's pride, As brave a subject as ere for monarch dy'd Kingdoms in Ruins often lye But great Montrose's Acts will never dye'.

(Verses under his engraving by William Faithorne.)

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