Battle of Auldearn
The Royalist rebels were outnumbered in Scotland, but under the banner of King Charles I , they fought a spirited resistance against the Covenanter government.
In war pockmarked by atrocity, the Royalists built a fearsome reputation. They were led by James Graham, Marquis Of Montrose . A fiercely combative alliance of Irish and Highland troops, 2,000 strong, their victory at Tippermuir was followed by an emphatic victory at Aberdeen . Montrose’s charges sacked the city, showing no mercy. Their ruthless slaughter won them territory – but few followers. Relentless pillaging and their indulgence with the sword would entrench Covenanter sympathies.
Scotland’s north-east was a Covenanter stronghold. Montrose’s sympathisers in Gordon country, would be placed in peril as the Covenanters, under General William Baillie, were gathering strength, absorbing Montrose’s guerilla offensives and wasting royalist strongholds. The Covenanter’s sent men north: Colonel John Hurry would lead government forces into Gordon country, and Strathbogie would be put to the sword. Montrose had to reverse the Covenanter assault. Hurry was waiting, drawing Montrose further north, and bolstering his ranks with anti-Royalist militia – Sir Mungo Campbell Of Lawers, Buchanan and Lothian, and the Earl Of Loudoun would lend support. Again, the Covenanters would enjoy a numerical advantage.
Montrose’s men set up camp at Auldearn, two miles east of Nairn. It was far from ideal. The weather would deprive them of shelter, and the locals, sympathetic to the Covenanters, would offer them no military intelligence. It was not long before Hurry would learn of the Royalist’ position. Through the night and heavy rain, Hurry’s men made for Auldearn. With a larger army, and the element of surprise, Hurry could afford to be confident. No-one could have foreseen the routing Hurry’s men would receive.
With the battle imminent, the Covenanters were eager to test their muskets, firing towards the North Sea. It was a crucial error; foregoing the element of surprise, the Royalist were quick to rouse, battle-hardened and ready to fight. Alasdair MacColla of the clan Macdonald lead a fearless charge and spearheaded the Royalist attack, repelling Hurry’s fragmented frontline. Countering Campbell’s cavalry, MacColla’s men hugged the marshland. It was a defensive position, affording them some protection it also bought them time. If Montrose erred when dividing is forces into two, the Covenanters would again stall, their lack of cohesion turned their offensive position to one of a chaotic, desperate retreat.
Gordon’s cavalry charged in support of the Royalists, heralding the battle’s denouement. Moray’s Horse, under the charge of Captain Drummond would make a dreadful error, buckling and wheeling into their men, stratifying the Covenanter front. Either Hurry or Drummond made the command – or indeed the cavalry charge from the Gordons could have forced their hand. From then on, the Covenanters had no chance.
Their losses were huge – estimates varied from 3,000, to the more realistic total of 1,500. The Royalist would suffer insignificant losses; this was their finest hour. Hurry was aptly named – his urgency to engage the Royalist courted the defeat. Baillie was crossing the Grampian range in pursuit of the Royalists, Montrose would have been overrun for sure. Again, the Royalists would feast on a disorganised foe, sparing few, and looting with abandon. And as the blood dried at Auldearn, the Royalist rebellion could draw breath once more.
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