Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Wargaming Auldearn


Auldearn offers a twist on the classic encounter battle.  Although often claimed as Montrose’s greatest victory, its result changed little in the course of the campaign and was a closer run affair than most texts would lead you to believe.  When we started out, many years ago, to recreate this battle, little did we know that many of our assumptions would be challenged, as we dug deeper into the literature around the battle and the War of the Three Kingdoms in general. 

This article aims to describe the battle as we understand it.  From this we describe the order of battle and potential mechanisms to allow a game to be played in which both sides have the potential for victory.


The principal road through Auldearn ran north-south through the village.  Hurry had travelled along this route from Inverness but significantly had decided to leave the road and strike off across country to allow his army to descend on Auldearn from the open country in the west.  However, as his troops approached, they cleared their weapons of damp powder in preparation for the coming battle. 

 “…for want of which intelligence, if God had not prevented it beyond all expectation, all ther throats had bein cut.” Ruthven

As Hurry closed in, Montrose’s force was widely dispersed, most likely billeted in local crofts or foraging in the surrounding area.  In Auldearn, only MacCollas veteran lifeguard and Gordon of Monymores untested highland regulars were to hand.  The shots from the advancing Covenanters must have come as a shock to Montrose (who throughout his campaign, was repeatedly caught off-guard).  Hurry’s advance through the open country may have bypassed the scouts on the Inverness road, but it is also possible that Montrose neglected to deploy an effective picket line.

“….the major; who, for all his diligence, could hardly get two regiments drawn wpe, on of the Irishes, and on of Huntlie, when the enemie were com in sight….” Ruthven.

Hurrys force advanced from the west, across the broad whaleback ridge of Garlic Hill.  MacColla and Monymore deployed across their path, amongst turf walled farm encloses, fighting a delaying action to buy Montrose precious time to muster his ill-prepared forces.  The heavily outnumbered Royalists were forced back but the government forces were unable to bring their superior numbers to bear.  The marshy areas on either side of Garlic Hill appear to have forced the fighting into a narrow frontage and only Hurry’s leading elements were able to engage the Royalists.

“The enemie, coming up two regiments in a full body, flanked with horsemen, did charge the major in that difficult place…” Ruthven.

Campbell of Lawers veteran infantry regiment engaged in a brutal firefight with MacCollas Lifeguard, repeatedly slayed the ensigns holding aloft MacCollas yellow banner.  As the hard-pressed Royalists withdrew off Garlic Hill, Hurry held his men in check, preventing a pursuit into Auldearn.  Hurry’s reluctance to press home the advantage suggests he realized that he was not facing all of Montrose’s force.  By keeping the majority of his force on the hard won high-ground, Hurry may have been uncertain of where and when Montrose would commit his reserves, as well as the need to re-order his force prior to an assault on the village.  Hurry’s caution may reflect a professional respect for Montrose as an adversary, and coupled with a lack of good intelligence, led him to misjudge the Royalists somewhat desperate situation.

“So, efter a brave and long maintained resistance, (MacColla) is forced a reteir to som yeards of the town, and from thence to keipe them of with counteinuall shot, which a little quealed ther force…” Ruthven.

In the Balance

MacColla took up a defensive position within Auldearn and its surrounding enclosures.  As Lawers committed his men forward, the marshy ground separating Garlic Hill from Auldearn slowed their advance.  Within the village MacColla and Monymore were reinforced by the arrival of fresh elements of the Irish regiments.  As the leading covenanter regiments prepared to advance on the village, with Lawers again on the front line, Monymores took up position on the crest of Castle Hill.   The Covenanter advance stalled as they negotiated the boggy ground to emerge on the steep slopes and enclosures of Auldearn.  Here they encountered a galling fire from the Irish in the village and Gordons on their flank.

Seizing the initiative, MacColla counter-attacked with the Irish but soon became bogged down in the same marshy ground that had slowed the covenanter advance.  In fact, the ground beneath Castle Hill was so broken that Monymore could not advance at all.  After more fierce fighting, the Irish regained a foothold amongst the turf enclosures on Garlic Hill.  Lawers, forced to retire, reformed and supported by the Loudon’s Regiment, advanced once more on the Royalists.  The two regiments, flanked by supporting horse, and supported by indirect bow-fire from Seaforths Highlanders, once more succeeded in forcing MacColla back into the village, but this time were able to pursue the Irish into the lanes of Auldearn.

“…and altho (MacColla) was forced to quyt his ground, yet this brave and valorous gentleman keipt his second retreat still in a pouster of defence.” Ruthven.

Vicious hand to hand fighting raged in the houses and back-courts, whilst musket fire undoubtedly played along the flanks of the engagement. Highland tradition vividly describes the desperate struggle within the confines of the village as the two forces became intermingled.  Unable to bring his cavalry to bear, Hurry pushed forward additional infantry to support the battle, perhaps hoping to finally break Monymores obstinate defense on Castle Hill, and allowing his superior numbers to swamp MacColla and the Irish. However, the terrain once again prevented Hurry to capitalize his numerical advantage.

The Pivot

With the battle now grinding towards a Covenanter victory, Hurry became fixated on the force to his front and neglected the danger posed on his lengthy exposed flanks.  Perhaps, given the fighting had gone on all morning and into the early afternoon, Hurry believed that all Royalist forces were now engaged.  As Hurry’s leading regiment was engaged in house- to-house fighting in the village, the majority of his force sat idle on the slopes of Garlic Hill.  In the meantime, Montrose had been gathering the rest of his forces to the east of Auldearn, screened from Hurry by the hill upon which Auldearn Auldearn was built.  Rather than feed them into the confused fighting within the village, Montrose directed his reserves to the north and south, to fall upon the flanks of the Covenanter army on Garlic Hill.

First contact came from the south where Aboyne’s Horse attacked the Covenanter’s right flank.  Screened by the smoke of battle, Aboyne’s troopers surprised Drummond’s Horse placed on the right by Hurry to support his infantry. Whether through treachery, miscommunication or just incompetence, Drummond reacted by wheeling his troop into the flank of Seaforths Highlanders.  In the ensuing disorder, Aboyne drove the two regiments back into their supports with much slaughter.

“Wherefor (Aboyne) fales in vpon the right wing, and they receive his charge with such a conteinuall giving of fyre, as he semed, by the thick smok throw which he went, to asalt a terrible cloud of thunder and lightening. “ Ruthven.

As panic spreads, the veteran Covenanter regiments in the village disengaged and withrew back to Garlic Hill as Hurry tried to restore order. However, Lord Gordon’s horse now emerged from behind Castle Hill and moving at the charge, made short shrift of the flanking Covenanter cavalry and fell upon Lawers retiring infantry.

“My Lord Gordon by this time charges the left winge, and that with a new for a fight, for he discharges with all shooting of pistols and carrabines, only with ther swords to charge quyt throwgh ther enemies, who wer so many in Number…” Ruthven.

With their leading regiments now hard-pressed, the Covenanters watched in horror as Strathbogie’s fresh regiment of foot emerged from the southern end of Auldearn, and the remains of MacColla’s command debouched from Auldearn. Hurry tried to stem this advance with the Lord Chancellors and Lothians Foote.  However, these veterans of Ireland, perhaps singled out for their history of campaigning in Ulster, died hard around their standards, there retreat cut off by the marauding royalist cavalry to their rear.

“Lovdonis regiment, the Lavthean regiment, Laeris regiment, and Bucannanis regiment ar for the most pairt cut af, fighting to the death most vaiantlie.” Spalding.

With his best regiments fighting on despite being surrounded, Hurry realized the battle was lost and , fled southwards intending to retire on Inverness.  However, the road was covered by royalist troopers (who in the confusion had actually set about one another) who offered little quarter to the fleeing Covenanters. Seeing this danger, Hurry turned to the west, retreating across the River Nairn at Howford.

“Thair wes reknet to be slayne heir at this bloodie battle aboue 2000 men to Hurry.” Spalding.


To all intents and purpose Hurry’s army was destroyed.  His less experienced regiments had scattered and his veterans were savaged.  However, the toll was high on the royalist side with over 200 slain, including 24 officers and likely a greater number of wounded.  The following day Montrose retired rather than pursuing Hurry, marching the remains of his army towards the Gordon fiefdoms in the east.  Along the way, Montrose’s men harried the lands of the local Earls who had raised the regiments in support of Hurry.

“It is to be considderit, that Montrose, his capitans, and soldiouris, wan this victorie with gryt gloir of armis”. Spalding.

The Game

There are many appropriate rule systems for the War of the Three Kingdoms.  We have chosen to use Warlord’s Black Powder, as described in the “Pike & Shotte” supplement.   At first Auldearn seemed like a reasonable proposition for a wargame. However, looking at other descriptions of tabletop refights, it became apparent that three factors are often overlooked; the influence of terrain, the timing of action and finally the quality of the troops.   In games the table is often too open, the troop quality is skewed with royalist supermen, and the cavalry always come to the rescue.  This raises the question of how to build a balanced game where both sides are capable of gaining something from the conflict. In reality, the outcome of this battle was not a foregone conclusion and for a critical period in the village, shortly after noon, the Royalists were effectively beaten.

The Table

The terrain in this part of Nairnshire is a series of sandy, rolling hills, which decrease in elevation from the Grampian Plateau in the south, to the coast in the north.  The battle field is dominated by ridge of Garlic Hill, which points east towards the heart of Auldearn.  The village sits on high ground with two prominent heights; the western most being the old motte of Erin’s castle (Auld-Erin), the second being crowned by the kirk.  The 17th century town did not extend to the south and east as far as it does today but the ground had enough elevation to block line-of-sight for any great distance to the east, even from the summit of Garlic Hill. Thus the topography was generally T-shaped, with Garlic Hill forming the trunk beneath the cross-bar of the Auldearn dominated ridge.  With regards table lay-out: at its simplest the terrain should have two large hills arranged in a T, with Garlic Hill forming the trunk and separated from the Auldearn ridge by a narrow, boggy valley.  Auldearn village should be set up towards the northern part of the T’s cross. 

Garlic Hill was not as open in the 17th century as it is today.  Much of it was covered by small enclosures, utilized by the royalists to mount their defense.  Other parts of the hill we undeveloped with patches of thick gorse.

These days the terrain is well-drained, yet in the 17th century, the local streams were poorly confined and associated with broad areas of boggy marsh.  Two streams flowed around Garlic Hill, coming together at the base of Castle Hill.  As such, Garlic Hill was almost completely surrounded marsh ground.  The narrow area of boggy ground and steep slopes of Auldearn, combined to provide MacCollas Thermopylae, is was likely a critical factor in the covenanters being unable to maximize their strength in numbers.  As well as the marsh areas, the streams themselves must have locally provided significant obstacles.  The present day Covenanters Inn is partially constructed from the old water mill, indicating that the stream here must have been deep and fast enough to drive this.
Auldearn village was characterized by multiple small enclosures (“yeards”), so numerous fence lines should also be added.  The two high points of Auldearn hill should be crowned by the Doocoot and Kirk respectively.  In the case of the former, enough open space should be provided to allow for (Monymores) shotte units to deploy.

Multiple tracks can be modelled, but the only known main road was the one from Inverness, which skirted around the south of Garlic Hill, entering Auldearn from the South.  The current road from Nairn cuts through the northern marsh area and was probably not a major artery before drainage.  Outside of the village, on well-drained ground, small copses of trees can be added but the hills were generally open with the exception of occasional patches of gorse and local, turf-walled, enclosures.
Under Pike and Shotte, terrain is thus classified as follows; streams, fences and turf-walled enclosures are linear obstacles, marsh and gorse patches are rough-ground; tracks and fords through streams/marsh are open with no movement penalties to troops deployed in column formation.  Hills, buildings and woods will all obscure line-of-sight.


The game begins with MacColla’s Lifeguard and Monymores Regiment on Garlic Hill, facing the might of the advancing Covenanter army arriving on the western board edge. Unless engaged in melee, the royalist can retire towards Auldearn whenever they choose, using the Fall-Back rule.
In the early stages of the battle the Covenanters will be better placed to bring their numbers to bear on the central section of Garlic Hill, with only low turf-dykes providing defensive positions for the hard pressed Royalists.  As the battle progressed, and MacColla retreated, the available deployment width on Garlic Hill, into Auldearn will be reduced to a narrow frontage, such that only a single regiment can directly assault the Village.  This reflects the fact that onlyLawers Regiment could enter Auldearn and their support was from the Seaforths firing arrows indirectly.

Montrose was able assemble his scattered regiments behind Auldearn and then choose when and where he was going to deploy them.  If Hurry had cleared the village Montrose would not have had this critical advantage.  All troop deployment behind the Auldearn ridge should be hidden. 
Scattered Royalist units joining the fighting from outlying billets will be treated as reserves. Royalist reserves arrive from the start of turn 4, in the following order at approximately one regiment per-turn;

Turn 4. The Irish Regiments

Turn 6. Aboynes Horse

Turn 7. Gordon Horse

Turn 8. The Strathbogie Regiment

However, to reflect Montrose’s tactical counter stroke, the regiments need not be deployed until they are ready to advance, reflecting Montrose nursing his reserves for his counter stroke. Additionally, if the regiment is “held” for at least one turn, the royalist player can deploy them on either flank.
To prevent the Covenanter player being overly prepared for their arrival, the closest two units to the flanking reserves must take an immediate break test.  This should only occur once per flank, encouraging the royalist to commit his reserve at a time of maximum disruption in the government lines.  Flanking units are deployed at the start of the move and can participate in the turn.
If the Covenanters, seize the high-ground in Auldearn village, or clear the village itself, all Royalist reserves must arrive on the eastern table edge and cannot move that turn. 


By most accounts Auldearn lasted all day.  The distinct phases of the battle, described above, were separated by pauses, as both sides took stock and redressed their formations.  For the majority of the day, only a small percentage of Hurry’s force was engaged.  Additionally, it was only late in the day that Montrose had assembled all his force for his counterstroke. 

If Hurry had captured Auldearn, Montrose could never have launched his surprise attack.  If MacColla had held up Hurry longer on Garlic Hill, or Montrose assembled his troops earlier, the battle may have occurred on the hill.

To reflect the protracted nature of the struggle, and the hiatuses between the various episodes of the battle, each side is allowed to call a tactical pause for one turn.  During this pause, no shooting or melee is allowed, rallying can be resolved and movement/redeployment can occur.  This will encourage Hurry to push forward but give Montrose some respite from the overwhelming odds.

Order of Battle for Auldearn

Given the relatively small numbers involved at Auldearn it is possible to achieve a roughly 1:10 ratio for figures, which can work well for 28mm figures on a 6’ x 8’ table.  Unit size is an important parameter in Pike & Shotte, where units are classified as tiny, small, standard or large.  This not only reflects the physical size (frontage and number of models) but also the fighting ability with size modifying the basic unit stat line.

In terms of troop quality and unit stat line it is relatively easy to construct the forces at Auldearn from the list included in the book.  However, as with many rule systems, Montrose’s forces are represented as Gaelic supermen, whilst those of the government are relatively bland. 

For the Royalist army, the Irish regiments and MacColla’s Lifeguard can be used as listed in the Pike & Shotte rule book.  Here they have a strong stat-line which makes them more than a match for any single standard Covenanter unit.  The regiments of Strathbogie and Monymore are regular highland regiments and can be fielded as basic Scots infantry.  As Monymore’s regiment was newly raised it should be given the Freshly Raised special rule.

The Covenanter regiments were a little more diverse in quality than the lists provided in Pike & Shotte.  Hurry’s experienced regiments (Lawers, Lothians & the Lord Chancellors) gave a good account of themselves on the day and should be rated accordingly.  Therefore, rating them as veterans, and giving them the Valiant, Stubborn and Elite 4+ special rules should give them some staying power.  Conversely, Hurry additionally had some untested regiments (Seaforths, Sutherlands and the Northern Levies) which should be given the Freshly Raised special rule.  

Scottish Horse, in most rules of for the period, commonly gets unfairly downgraded, as these were not commoner’s mounted on ponies.  Neither is their evidence to distinguish the Royalist Horse from their Covenanter counterparts.  At Auldearn and Kilsyth, the Royalists benefitted from surprise and terrain whilst at Alford, in an open fight, they performed no better or worse.  We suggest that the basic Covenanter Horse stat-line be applied to both forces cavalry, but that the Royalist Horse is given the Marauders special rule, allowing them more tactical independence.  Numeric superiority and surprise should see the Royalist Cavalry perform well on the table. Drummond’s blunder may have been the catalyst for the Covenanter collapse and as such this unit can be burdened with a -1 on all motivational tests, reflecting the incompetence, cowardice or collusion of its commander.

Brigade commanders, at a minimum, should consist of Montrose and MacColla for the Royalists and Hurry and Mackenzie for the Covenanters.  One additional brigade commander may be added to free Hurry and Montrose for a broader battlefield role as general, if felt appropriate.  Both Montrose and MacColla need little introduction and should be rated 10 and 9 respectively.  Hurry was an experienced mercenary soldier of dubious loyalty but should be rated 9 as he showed unwavering loyalty to his paymasters at Auldearn.  George Mackenzie, Earl of Seaforth, was a fair-weather supporter of the Covenant and of uncertain loyalty.  A rating of 6 should ensure that he has a dragging effect on the Government force, perhaps creating a few “blunders” along the way.

Montrose’s Campaign in Scotland – 1644-46

John Graham, Marquis of Montrose cuts a dramatic if doomed figure across the pages of the history of the War of the Three Kingdoms. Regarded by many as one of the finest generals of the war, if not the period, for a year he ran the forces of the Scottish government ragged at the behest of his master and King, Charles I.  His string of victories through 1644-45, across the breadth of Scotland, offers great potential for gaming, with forces typically on the order of a few thousand troops per side.

The National Covenant had been signed in 1638 across Scotland in response to Charles attempts to impose Anglican Church structures and procedures upon the Presbyterian Scottish Church.  Signed by both the great and common of the country, it was widely supported and provided the foundation upon which the Scottish Government fought and won the “Bishop’s” Wars in 1639-40.

With the outbreak of hostilities in England in 1643, both King and Parliament courted the Scottish government.  Parliament ultimately prevailed, and under the terms of the Solemn League and Covenant, 20,000 Scottish troops where committed to invade northern England. As had been shown in the Bishops Wars, the Scots, many of who had served as mercenaries during the Thirty Years War, would prove a dangerous foe and a serious hindrance for the Royalist cause.

Originally a signatory and supporter of the National Covenant, Montrose had become disenfranchised from it, in the main due to political infighting within the Presbyterian cause.  Although a veneer of Protestant idealism covered the Covenanters, long established rivalries lay beneath.  In particular, Montrose was at odds with Archibald Campbell, the Earl of Argyll.  Clan Campbell, and its supporting sub-clans, was the strongest in the Western Highlands (the Earl could personally raise 20,000 men).  Argyll, along with other major Scottish Lords had made themselves Lords of the Articles, a position previously nominated by the King.  This change in the constitution of Scotland had secured more power for the wealthiest landowners at the expense of the minor Lords (like Montrose).

With the outbreak of hostilities, Montrose joined Charles in England.  The King had recognized that the Covenanter field army would swing the balance of power significantly towards Parliament.  Montrose, commissioned by the King as Captain-General, was tasked to take the war to Scotland primarily, to re-direct the Covenanter field army and to raise troops and take the country for the King.  Initially Montrose entered Scotland from the Southwest, and although successful in taking Dumfries, his small force of Scots and English Royalists were soon hastily bundled back across the border by the more numerous local Covenanter regiments.

However, the cause of the King was not extinguished, the flames of opposition to the Covenant smoldered on.  In the northeast, the Gordons, led by Marquis of Huntly had already rebelled and stormed Aberdeen.  Perhaps more significantly, in the west, the Earl of Antrim had dispatched three regiments from Ireland, to form a core around which the royalist western clans could rally.  Led by Alasdair MacColla of Clan MacDonald, many of the western clans had old scores to settle with their local rivals, the Campbells.

Montrose met with MacColla outside Blair in the central Highlands, and raised the royal standard in August of 1644. Montrose’s army began with three regiments of Irish mercenaries and locally raised Highlanders, many of whom had been “pressed” into service and were poorly armed.  Montrose now displayed the bold audacity (and perhaps, reckless bravery) that was to typify the next year, and advanced south towards Perth.

On September 1st, outside of the city, Montrose met the less numerous Covenanter forces. Lord Elcho’s troops where purely local regiments, only a few of which had limited experience from dealing with Huntly’s rebellion earlier in the year.  This had made them over confident and they also under-rated their opponents as an ill disciplined highland rabble. As a result, the Covenanter commanders felt sure they would make short work of Montrose.  Indeed, many of the local populace came to view the fight, thinking it would be over in minutes.

Unfortunately, they were right, but they witnessed the cataclysmic collapse and rout of the government army.  Tibbermore was fought across open ground, where the Covenanters expected a prolonged firefight, giving their horse time to maneuver and roll up the flanks of the Royalists.   It had been a long time since Lowlander fought Highlander, so the local troops did not know that the clans would not be standing still.  Montrose led his troops forward, overcoming the forlorn hope.  The experienced Irish regiments offered a quick but devastating series of volleys before launching a wild “Highland” charge. In moments, they were amongst the shocked Covenanters.

As the government army disintegrated, they were harried back and through Perth, which was sacked.  With its fall Montrose was able to replenish his supplies, but in a trend that characterized his campaign, many of the clansmen melted away into the hills with their booty.  With more government regiments forming an army near Stirling, it was imperative that Montrose gathered more men, to which end he moved northeast to link with Huntly.

Before he could reach the lands of the Gordons, Montrose encountered the local regiments from around Aberdeen led by Lord Balfour.  On September 13th, the forces met on the outskirts of the city at the Justice Mills.  With the exception of a company of McDonald archers, most of Montrose’s Highlanders had left the army. Only a few local companies of horse had joined, so the rump of his force remained the Irish Brigade.  The Covenanters had two recently raised regiments, the city militia and a regiment from Fife acting as city garrison, alongside a series of local lairds and their personal mounted retinues.

Initially, Montrose chose to negotiate, as Balfour’s position was strong.   At first cordial, the negotiations were shattered when an Irish drummer in the Royalist party was shot out of hand.  Montrose now resolved to fight the battle and storm the town. The order of “no-quarter” was to given to the army.  On both flanks, the Irish Regiments were held up by the skirmishing tactics of the more numerous royalist horse, which although successful, masked their own infantry from engagement.  The central Irish regiment, Laghtans, charged uphill against the Covenanter centre, where the part-time Aberdeen militia awaited.  Although the ground was against them, the experience of the Irish prevailed and again after a short but violent firefight they charged home. 

With the collapse of the Covenanters centre, the retreat became a rout, which flooded into the city precipitating four days of rape and pillage.  This did not endear the local population to Montrose and with Argyll’s army fast approaching; the royalist army retreated into the Highlands.

Support from Gordon, Marquis of Huntly, was muted. Not only was he aware of Montrose’s retreat and the advance of Argyll, he had little reason to like Montrose. In the Bishops Wars, Huntly had raised his standard for the king, only to be defeated at Brig of Dee by the Covenanters led by Montrose.

Argyll’s force contained not only his own Campbell levy but also two additional experienced foot regiments and a strong body of horse recalled from England.  Montrose initially had the better of them, initially leading them around the edges of the Grampians, on a fruitless pursuit.  This did allow Montrose to raise additional troops from the area to supplement the Irish Brigade.

On October 28th, Argyll surprised Montrose after catching him encamped at Fyvie castle.  Argyll mounted several attacks against Montrose’s strong defensive position but the steep and enclosed wooded terrain ultimately prevented the forces closing completely with one another.  After a few more days of desultory skirmishing and growing supply problems, Argyll disengaged, leaving Montrose to slip away into the hills.

At this point Argyll presumed that Montrose was beaten and that oncoming winter would devastate what remained of his force.  His troops dispersed into winter quarters and Argyll returned south, first to Edinburgh, then to his lands in the west.

Montrose reunited with MacColla, who had brought recruits from the western clans, conspired to campaign through the winter and take the fight to the enemy.  However, rather than invade the lowlands, MacColla’s desire to re-establish Macdonald hegemony in the west prevailed, taking Montrose into the heart of the territory of the Campbells.

In December, the Royalists cut a bloody swathe through the Campbell lands, sacking Argyll’s seat of Inverary.  The Earl was incensed and wanted to pursue Montrose into the fastness of the Highlands, but the recently arrived General Baillie decided it was better to bottle up Montrose in the mountains where the vagaries of the climate would soon reduce his force.  With his highlanders deserting, supplies running low and disease reducing the core of the Irish Brigade, Montrose had to act. 

With Baillie’s army to the north and Argyll’s larger force to the south, Montrose was effectively trapped in the Great Glen. Rather than forcing the main exits of the Highlands, Montrose chose to march his army overnight, through Glen Roy, surprising Argyll near modern day Fort William.  Of all Montrose’s exploits it is perhaps this that shows his greatness as a leader for moving a large body of troops with great haste, across such rugged terrain in the middle of winter required great skill and tenacity.  On Candlemass Day, February 2nd, Argyll was shocked to see Montrose’s troops materialize out of the mountains outside his base at Inverlochy, and form a battle line on the slopes above the castle.

Although more numerous, Argyll’s force was mainly his personal levies backed by a few inexperienced government regiments.    Montrose still had his Irish regiments, a few regulars from the east and some of the more opportunistic western clans.  His exhausted men would have been in desperate need of rest and supply, perhaps giving them a steely resolve, which the surprised Campbell forces would not have been able to match.

The battle was over quickly. With a single volley the desperate Irish men closed and routed Argyll’s regular regiments, which were soon followed by the Campbell levies.  With their backs to the loch, there was nowhere to run, the battle turning into a massacre as traditional scores were settled. As his men died on the shore or drowned in the loch, Argyll made good his escape on his waiting galley.

With this victory, the initiative swung to Montrose and his replenished force was bolstered by defections and stronger support from Huntly and his Gordons.  Not only did infantry arrive, Huntly’s son, Lord Gordon, brought in him his horse regiment, allowing Montrose to field his first effective cavalry wing.

After some skirmishing in the east, Montrose’s field army erupted from the Highlands via Dunkeld to fall on Dundee. The town was stormed but just as Montrose’s troops were settling in to the rape and pillage news arrived that the government army was fast approaching.  Led by Baillie, the Covenanters had advanced from their base at Perth when they heard of Montrose’s exit from the mountains.  Luckily for Montrose, Baillie's men were exhausted and his infantry strung out along the road so the Royalists were able to gather up their force and beat a hasty retreat from Dundee, narrowly avoiding being trapped in the city. 

Over the next few days, Montrose struggled to disengage himself from his pursuers, but Baillie also failed to bring him to battle.  Baillie then split his force, giving Sir John Hurry command of the northern forces whilst retiring to Perth.  Baillie then struck north and almost caught Montrose at Crieff, forcing the Royalists to retreat once more into the Highlands.

As Montrose pulled his forces together on Deeside, Hurry ravaged the Gordon lands in the north. He raised additional forces from local regiments, militias (fencibles) and clan levies, many of whom had seen their lands subjected to the ravages of the marauding Royalists.  Montrose knew he had to deal with Hurry, as his harrowing of the Gordon territory (a major source of Royalist recruits and provisions) prevented him from taking the war south.  Hurry also wanted to force Montrose to join with him in open battle, but only when the government forces were concentrated in sufficient strength.

On May 9th, Hurry startled Montrose’s scattered forces at Auldearn (see accompanying article).  Hurry began the attack with the advantage of surprise and numerical superiority. However, the battlefield terrain and the Royalists stubborn resistance conspired to prevent Hurry from capitalizing his initial advantage.  Eventually, as Montrose gathered and organized his forces, he was able to commit them against to Covenanters flanks winning the day and tumbling Hurry’s army back to Inverness.

With Hurry defeated, Baillie moved his Covenanter army north, but through most of May he could not locate Montrose who consequently had freedom of movement across the Grampians and surrounding lowlands, with no credible opposition to challenge him.  As Baillie moved north, Hurry left Inverness with the remnants of his cavalry and soon the two government forces were in pursuit of Montrose.  A cat and mouse chase ensued through June, as Montrose sought to shake off Ballie or bring him to battle under favorable conditions.  Eventually, Baillie caught up with the Royalist force at Alford on July 2nd.

Of the battles in Montrose’s campaign, Alford was probably the one most resembling an organized set piece.  As Baillie had been in pursuit, Montrose had chosen his ground.  His army was deployed on the high ground overlooking the River Don, with elements of his force deployed behind the ridge crest.  Having crossed the Don, and unaware he was facing the full strength of the Royalist army, Baillie would have to fight uphill with the river to his rear. Understandably, Baillie understood the weakness of his position, but his commanders argued for an attack.

Unlike previous encounters, the battle of Alford was decided by the cavalry actions on the flanks.  Initially the Gordon Horse on the Royalist right held the advantage, but as the Covenanters played reserve squadrons into the push, they soon had the advantage.  Unfortunately, additional Covenanter reinforcements where introduced into the rear rather than the flank of the melee, offering little tactical advantage.  Seeing this the Irish infantry (now much depleted) charged into the melee, breaking the Government horse.  With an open flank and mounted enemy to their rear, the Covenanter centre collapsed into headlong flight, but with the river to their back many were caught before they could cross.

With this latest victory, the government in the north was finally cowed and Montrose could advance south.  Baillie moved south with the remnants of his army, but the Government and Kirk officials who had previously meddled with his decisions now effectively controlled the last Government field army. With the Covenanters held up by internal strife, Montrose bypassed Baillie, and crossed Stirling Bridge to bring the civil wars to Central Scotland for the first time.

Baillie having been given nominal command of the government army against his will, caught up with Montrose as he advanced towards Glasgow.  His scouts reported that the Royalists were camped at the foot of Kilsyth Hills, set to engage any pursuing force as they travelled the road to Glasgow. Rather than be trapped between the Royalists and the River Kelvin, Baillie left the road, climbing the slopes into the Kilsyth hills in an endeavor to outflank Montrose’s position. 

Initially his movement was hidden by the hills to the southeast of Royalist position.  However, as his force broke cover, his leading regiment, a composite “Forlorn-Hope” took it upon themselves to take the farmstead of Auchinvalley on Montrose’s immediate flank, rather than bypass it to gain the advantage of higher ground behind the Royalists.  The initial encounter rapidly escalated as both sides fed troops into the battle.  Unfortunately, the Covenanter attack now relied on the initiative of the regimental and company commanders, as Baillie had lost control. With echoes of Auldearn, the Covenanters were stacked up in a series of dense blocks, pinned by confining terrain and unable to make their numbers count.

Taking the cavalry wing, the Earl of Balcarres tried to swing around the Royalist flank, but was first checked and then repulsed by the Gordon cavalry.  As the Covenanters routed, the royalist cavalry swung into the now exposed flank of the engaged government infantry.  With his front line collapsing, Baillie tried to bring up his only remaining reserves, the newly raised levies of Fife, who decided that flight was the better part of valor.  Baillie tried to rally his broken force but to no avail. Although his regulars held together as they retreated, the Fife regiments disintegrated, and were slaughtered by the pursuing Royalists.

With Baillie licking his wounds in Stirling, and the remaining government forces demoralized and scattered in the lowlands, Glasgow was at the mercy of Montrose’s.  Trying to gain favor with the locals, Montrose prevented his highlanders from looting the town, but these troops, now disgruntled at being denied the spoils of war, soon started to drift away.  After some local plundering, MacColla took his highlanders and some Irish troops north, intent on continuing his personal feud against Clan Campbell. The Gordons also decided to return north, showing little interest in marching further from their homelands, after Montrose, with a clumsy lack of diplomacy, showed greater favor to his new found friends from the lowlands and borders.

Left with the rump of his Irish regiments, and a few loyal cavalry, Montrose decided to march south to join the King in England.  Although initially gaining some additional troops in the form of the rapacious but fickle Border moss troopers, news reached Montrose that David Leslie had left the main Scottish field army to march north and meet him.

The Royalists immediately changed plans, and veered west intent in retiring into the vastness of the Clydesdale Hills.  However, perhaps in arrogance, Montrose failed to anticipate the speed and aggression of Leslie’s advance and was surprised on the 13th of September 1645 at Philiphaugh, near Selkirk.  In shock, the border moss-troopers fled, taking most of the Irish with them.  Montrose could only rally a small force of 200 infantry to fight over 3000 approaching Covenanters, comprised predominantly of horse and mounted infantry.

What loyal cavalry that Montrose could muster advanced to try and gain time but Leslies superior force soon dispersed them.  The remains of Montrose’s force now found themselves with their backs to the River Ettrick, pinned within the walls and enclosures around Philiphaugh farm.  Initially, this prevented the weight of the government force being brought to bear, but unlike Auldearn and Kilsyth, there was no one to rescue the resolute defenders.  Slowly whittled down by fire, and outflanked, the remaining Irish surrendered.  In revenge for atrocities committed on the battlefield and in stormed towns, there was little sympathy for these catholic Irish mercenaries, who were summarily executed.

Montrose himself escaped, and fleeing north to link up with the Gordons, he raised some of his highland allies on the way. However, having previously upset the Gordons, the defeated Montrose now had few friends and little credibility in the north. The Gordons would no longer be driven by Montrose’s strategy, instead preferring to pursue more limited local goals. 

The King, defeated at Naseby in June 1645, subsequently surrendered to the Covenanters around Newark in the spring of 1646. As the campaign in England wound down, the main Scottish field army began to return north through the winter and spring of 1645/46.  Come spring 1645, the Royalists in Scotland were as divided as ever, each faction pursuing different objectives.  Huntly was content to prosecute his own agenda in Aberdeenshire and MacColla was harrowing Campbell lands in the west.  Meanwhile, Montrose besieged Inverness but again he was surprised by the Covenanter relief force and his small army was scattered.  With the King in captivity and the Royalist cause looking utterly hopeless, Montrose finally laid down arms on July 30th 1646 and promptly fled to the continent.  

History credits Montrose as one of the premier generals of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.  He led the Government by the nose for one glorious year, winning a remarkable string of victories but failed to deliver a knockout blow, and ultimately failed to save the beleaguered King.  In many battles, he was surprised but with even limited resources he could react to organize a fighting retreat, as at Fyvie, or steal a victory, as at Auldearn. He clearly had the ability to motivate his forces to feats of great endurance, as at Inverlochy, but could also alienate his allies, as his loss of the Gordons whilst on the cusp of victory showed.

Montrose ultimately failed to solidly unite the Royalist cause behind him and his fragile alliances failed to attract the more cautious Royalist sympathizers.  Perhaps with a larger, more unified force, he could have won Scotland for the King but his reliance on Catholic Irish and highland troops meant he would never develop popular support amongst the majority of Presbyterian Scots.

Wargaming the Campaign

Montrose’s 1644-45 campaign offers plenty of scope for the war-gamer. The numbers in the forces involved are fairly small, the battles varied in scope and the possibilities for linking into a campaign straightforward.  The following text offers suggestions into one our approach but these should be considered as an introductory guide.

Each battle had a distinct character which offer challenges to both players.  Often the games may appear uneven in terms of troop numbers, quality or type. The arrival (or lack thereof) of reinforcements will allow scope for uncertainty.  Terrain additionally, often played a critical role in the outcome.  All of these elements give some very challenging scenarios that can be played separately as one-off battles using historical orders-of-battle.

Playing a Linked Campaign

Another way to make the battles more challenging is to play a linked campaign. Here the Royalist player is forced to manage his limited forces and work with sporadic and often unreliable reinforcements.  The Covenanter player, on the other hand, gets to fight many of the battles with fresh forces, but their quality will be controlled by what the government had available within the theatre.

Our recommendation is to play with the historical order of battles, scaled at approximately 1:10.  This gives robust unit sizes in accordance with the unit sizes outlined in the Pike and Shotte ruleset.

Montrose’s Army and Recruits

In a linked campaign the Royalist player will start with Montrose’s army at Tippermuir (we recommend using the OOBs published by Stuart Reid in the Osprey Campaign book entitled “Auldearn 1645 – The Marquis of Montrose’s Scottish Campaign”).  As the campaign progresses, the Royalists will suffer losses through battlefield casualties, sickness and desertion, but will also gain recruits following victories.  To account for attrition within the royalist army, we suggest the following mechanisms should be employed.

Montrose’s Irish Brigade was extremely resilient and was repeatedly re-marshalled to fight again, despite suffering all manner of hardship and deprivation.   At the end of every battle any Irish unit broken and destroyed is reduced in size for the next game. For example, a large Irish foot regiment broken in combat becomes a standard Irish foot regiment in the next game. However, rather than field progressively smaller units, the royalist player can reconstitute his battalions by amalgamating regiments (a standard and a small unit can be combined to form a large unit).  That said, the lack of reinforcements combined with casualties (through action, disease and desertion) meant that the Irish could never be fully replaced and as such the number of available units should decrease as the campaign progresses (three pre-January 1645, two pre-September 1645 and one for Philiphaugh).

For every other non-Irish unit in the Royalist army role a D6 at the end of each game and consult the following table. If a unit was broken in the previous battle, then role a D3 and consult the table.

1-2         The unit deserts en masse, the unit disbands and all men return to their homes. The unit will not be present at the next battle.

3-4      The unit suffers from desertion and attrition and is much reduced in size by the next battle. The unit is reduced in size for the next battle. If the unit was already Tiny in the previous battle, then the unit is considered destroyed and will not be present in the next battle.
5-6      The unit is resilient and will take the field in the next battle at the same size.

At the end of every battle the Royalist army can attempt to recruit new units for the next battle. This represents the tireless efforts of Montrose, MacColla and other prominent Royalist nobles to gather Royalist sympathizers and their armed forces to the King’s cause.

The royalist player must first roll a D3 to determine how many units are recruited.

For each unit recruited, roll a D6 and consult the following table to determine what type of unit is recruited:-

1-2      Highland clansmen
2-4      Scots Infantry
5          Scots Cavalry/Dragoons
6          Gordon cavalry

Apply the following modifiers to the above roll:-

After Tippermuir –3 to dice roll
After Justice Mills -2 to dice roll
After Fyvie -3 to dice roll
After Inverlochy +2 to dice roll
After Auldearn –no modifier
After Alford –2 to dice roll
After Kilsyth +2 to dice roll (re-roll modified result of 6 or more)

To determine size of each unit roll a D6 and consult the following table:-

1          Tiny
2-3      Small
4-5      Standard
6          Large

Note: Scots and Gordon infantry were conventional armed with pike and shot. To determine the make up of conventional infantry regiments roll twice on this table. The first roll will determine the size of the pike block and the second roll the size of the two shot sleeves.

Government Armies

The Covenanters controlled the government and the established military forces as well as the regional conscription process. As such they were able to field what was effectively a new army for each battle. Covenanter armies will therefore begin each battle with a fresh new army using the published historical order of battle. We recommend using the OOBs published by Stuart Reid in the Osprey Campaign book entitled “Auldearn 1645 – The Marquis of Montrose’s Scottish Campaign”.

The Battles

There were 8 major battles fought during the short campaign:

·      Tippermuir (September 1st 1644)
·      Justice Mills (September 13th 1644)
·      Fyvie (October 28th 1644)
·      Inverlochy (February 2nd 1645)
·      Auldearn (May 9th 1645)
·      Alford (July 2nd 1645)
·      Kilsyth (August 15th 1645)
·      Philiphaugh (September 13th 1645)

What follows are some suggestions on how to refight these battles with some of the historical flavor.


On the morning of September 1st, as the royalists approached Perth, they found the Government army, led by Lord Elcho, deployed and waiting.  Tippermuir can be re-fought as a straight up pitched battle on open terrain. The Covenanters should fully deployed first, the Royalist army deploys second.

The Covenanter army had some artillery, which was captured during the battle and turned on them by Royalists. Defeated or captured artillery can be re-used by the new owners (for this battle only).  Highland clansmen start the battle with no muskets and improvised weapons.  If they break any Covenanter regiment they gain their equipment.

The objective for both sides is to hold the field at the end of the battle.

Justice Mills

With the Royalists still on the offensive at this stage, a modest Government army led by Lord Balfour of Burleigh blocks the Royalist advance on Aberdeen at Justice Mills on the outskirts of Aberdeen. Again, this battle can be re-fought as a pitched battle with the Covenanter army deploying first, and the politely providing the royalists time to deploy into battle line. The Covenanter army may place a single forlorn hope unit in the justice mills complex during deployment.

The Covenanters are in a strong position along the crest of a steep embankment (the Justice Mills Braes) which should be classed as Rough Terrain (for Pike & Shotte).

The objective of the covenanters is to hold the Royalists for 8 game turns and have >50% of the Covenanter army unbroken by the end of the turn eight. The royalist objective is to clear the field and completely rout/destroy the Covenanter army.

Revenge:- There are accounts of the Irish being enraged by the murder of an Irish drummer boy during a pre-battle attempt to parley with the Covenanters. The furious Irish subsequently fight like fiends offering no quarter to the defeated Covenanters and brutally sacking the town of Aberdeen (to the great detriment of the Royalist cause). To represent this incident, the Irish can be given the Eager and/or Ferocious Charge rules for this battle only.  However, if the Royalist player chooses to utilize this option, an additional -1 must be applied when rolling for recruits in the next battle (as the sacking of Aberdeen unsettles the Gordon clans).


With a third and much larger Covenanter army, led by Argyll, pursuing the Royalists following the sack of Aberdeen, Montrose retreated northwest towards the highlands. However, they are caught while encamped at Fyvie Castle in Aberdeenshire. With MacColla heading west to recruit amongst the clans, and the Gordon’s failing to turn out in strength, the Royalist army is weakened and in a desperate situation. In this battle the Royalists use the enclosed, hilly terrain and woods at the back of Fyvie Castle as a strong defensive position, and are able to hold off the Covenanters for three days of skirmishing before retreating during the night into the Highlands.

This battle could be fought as a series of three mini-battles of 5 turns. The Royalists are well dug-in in defensive positions, with a stronger Covenanter force repeatedly attempting to attack and displace the rebels.

The objective of the Covenanters is to rout/destroy the Royalist army over the course of the three skirmishes and to capture Montrose and the Royal Standard. The objective of the Royalist army is to hold on and minimize losses until the end of the 3 skirmishes.

Hold until nightfall:- Terrain will limit the size of force Argyll can commit, but to further represent Argyll’s non-committal tactics, this game may be fought as a series of three large skirmishes, with the breaks representing night-fall. For each new skirmish, both forces begin fresh without disorder, shaken or casualty markers, although destroyed units will stay destroyed.

Deserters:- The Royalists have an additional problem with desertion and must roll a D6 for each non-Irish unit in the army, and on a 1 or 2, those units have deserted during the night. If any of the units in the Royalist army are Gordon units, there is a -1 to the roll.


At Inverlochy the Royalists go on the offensive to devastating effect. After a grueling long distance night march through the highlands, Montrose descends on Argyll’s Covenanter army at Inverlochy. This battle is again a pitched battle but with the Royalists having the element of surprise.

Surprise Attack:- To represent the Royalists stealing the initiative, after deployment up to half of the royalist units may make a free move of up to 8”.

Exhaustion:- To represent the fatigue and lack of sleep after their grueling night march, all units in the Royalist army begin the battle with one casualty marker (This could also be -1 to Stamina).

Gerintaethem:- The exhausted, sleepless Royalist army was in no mood for hanging about after the night march, and were eager to close on Argyll and finish the fight quickly. To represent this all units in the royalist army have the Eager special rule for this battle only.

Escape:- Whether Argyll got some bad press or not after this battle, most accounts agree that he was very quick to leave the field to his waiting galley. To reflect this, once 50% of the army is either destroyed or in flight, Argyll will leave the field.  The remaining Covenanter Brigade commander will take command of the army if it is still able to fight on.


Hurry’s surprise attack on the scattered Royalist forces is often thought of as Montrose’s greatest victory.  The initial weight of superior government forces must be held off by MacColla, until Montrose is capable of concentrating his forces and launching a telling counter-attack.

Terrain plays a big part in controlling the Covenanter advance, with marshes either side of Garlic Hill preventing their superior numbers from consuming the MacColla’s outnumbered forces.  The objective for the Covenanters is to brush the defenders aside and capture Auldearn village before Montrose can bring his reserves to bear.  The Royalists win if they hold Auldearn.

At the start of the game, MacColla’s body guard and one other unit are deployed west of the village, with one other unit in the village.  Royalist reserves begin to appear at turn 4 at a rate of one unit per turn.  These are deployed on a D3 dice roll of;

1      - north of Auldearn
2      - east of Auldearn
3      – south of Auldearn

However, the Royalist player can choose to withhold their arrival, enabling them to be deployed the following turn at a point of his choosing.  This allows the Royalist to maximize the effect of their counterblow.


Following up on his victory over Hurry’s Covenanter army at Auldearn, Montrose marched south to meet a fifth Covenanter army led by Baillie. Montrose chooses his ground high on a ridge on the south side of the river Don near Alford. Baillie crosses the river at a ford and deploys for a fight. This battle can be fought as a simple pitched battle, with the Royalists deployed first, waiting while the Covenanters deploy.

The objective for both sides is to hold the field at the end of the battle.


With Baillie defeated and the Lowlands open for conquest, the Covenanters manage to pull together one last home defense army The reluctant Baillie is in nominal command but with his leadership ability now encumbered by his appointed kirk advisors.  Montrose is waiting for the advancing Covenanters in the hills at Kilsyth, and Baillie attempts a brilliant flanking maneuver that could have ended the campaign. Unfortunately for the Government, an element of the Covenant army attacks too early, against Baillie’s orders, alerting the Royalists to the flanking movement. The battle descends into a meeting engagement as commander’s loose control and units from both sides join the fighting in a piecemeal manner.

The Royalist army should deploy first along the rightmost 2/3 of their chosen long table edge within 12” of the table edge. The Covenanter army deploy up to half the units in the rightmost 1/3 of the opposite table edge, but can deploy up to half way across the table.

At the beginning of the second and third turns the Covenanter player can deploy a further 25% of the units, such that the army is fully deployed by turn 3. These units are deployed on the same 1/3 table edge as the original deployment, but can take a full turn as normal. This represents the arrival of the remainder of Baillie’s army.

The objective of both sides is to engage and defeat the enemy. The covenanter army should try hard to obtain victory by rolling up the royalist flank.

Loss of Control:- To represent Baillie’s inability to control the advancing Covenanter army, the 50% of units deployed initially have the Eager special rule.


At Philiphaugh, Montrose was outmaneuvered, outnumbered and outclassed by David Leslie and had little chance of achieving a victory. The Royalists should deploy first and infantry can begin the game in cover, behind a hedgerow and/or field boundary ditch.

The Royalist objective is to hold without breaking for eight turns, at the end of which Montrose is considered to have repeated the disappearing act similar to that used at Fyvie. The Covenanter objective is to break the Royalist army before turn eight. If the Royalist army breaks it is considered effectively destroyed.