CROMWELLHOW THE SOLDIER POET DIED
When King Charles had been a prisoner for about two
years, the English condemned him to death, and cut off his
head. Then they said they would have no more kings,
and they made a soldier called Cromwell, ruler, giving
him the title of Lord Protector. When Montrose heard
that his King was dead, he was filled with grief and anger.
Being a poet as well as a soldier, he drew his sword, and
with the point of it he wrote a poem full of sorrow and
‘ I’ll sing thine obsequies with trumpet sounds,
And write thine epitaph in blood and wounds.’
Not only Montrose, but every loyal Scot, was filled
with grief and anger. Even the Covenanters, who had
fought against the King, had never meant that he should
be killed ; they had hoped to force him to rule better.
So now they proclaimed as King his son Charles, and
messengers were sent to Holland, where he had taken
refuge, to ask him to come to Scotland to be crowned.
These messengers made it plain to Charles, however, that
they would only accept him as King if he promised to
rule according to the law, and if he promised to sign the
Covenant, and to leave them free in matters of religion.
These conditions did not please Charles. He wanted
to be a despot, like his father, and to do exactly as he
HOW THE SOLDIER POET DIED 345
pleased. He thought that if he could conquer the land,
there would be no need to yield to these conditions. So
he said neither ‘ yes ’ nor ‘ no ’ to the messengers of the
Covenant, but hesitated and delayed.
He hesitated and delayed, because gallant Montrose,
with his poet‘s sword in his hand, was sailing back to
Scotland. He was going to write his King’s epitaph, as
he had said, in blood and wounds, and to set his son upon
Montrose landed in Orkney, and then crossed to the
mainland. But the people did not flock to his standard
as they had done before. A few men of Orkney, a few
foreign soldiers whom he had brought with him, one
or two loyalist gentlemen, that was his whole army. It
was not enough with which to reconquer a kingdom,
and when this little company met the Covenanting army,
the Orkney fishermen fled without striking a blow ; the
foreign soldiers fought for a while, but they too gave in,
leaving Montrose and his few friends to fight alone.
Many were killed, others taken prisoners, but Montrose
himself escaped. Changing clothes with a peasant, he
wandered about for several days, suffering much from
hunger, cold, and weariness. At last, utterly worn out,
he was discovered by his enemies and betrayed, it has
been said, to the Covenanters by a false friend, for the
price of a few bags of meal.
The Covenanters hated Montrose, and now that they
had him in their power, they were very cruel to him.
They mounted him upon a rough Highland pony, with
straw for a saddle, and a rope for a bridle, and with his
legs tied together, led him from town to town, dressed
still in the ragged, dirty clothes in which he had been
captured. Insults were heaped upon him. In every
town and village the women and children came out to
hoot and yell, and to curse at him as he passed. But
through it all, the Marquis rode with calm dignity, show
ing neither shame nor anger.
At last they came to Edinburgh. The whole city
was ablaze with excitement because this great enemy of
the Covenant had been taken. Bells were rung, bonfires
were lit, and the streets were crowded from end to end
as Montrose passed through them. Tied to a cart, which
was driven by the common hangman, he was led to prison.
But so splendid and noble did he look, that those who
had come to jeer and laugh were silent ; many were so
touched with pity that they sobbed aloud.
There was not even the mockery of a trial Montrose
had been condemned before he reached Edinburgh, but
he was taken before the Parliament in order to hear his
sentence. There he defended himself nobly. ‘ I did
engage in the Covenant, and was faithful to it,’ he said.
‘ When I saw some, under pretence of religion, intended
to take the authority from the King, and seize on it for
themselves, I judged it my duty to oppose it to the utter
most. As to my coming at this time, it was by his
Majesty’s just commands. Be not too rash, let me be
judged by the laws of God, and the laws of this land.’
But nothing that Montrose could plead was of any
use. He was condemned to die.
Next morning the Marquis was awakened by the
sound of drums and trumpets. It was the soldiers being
marshalled to guard the streets, in case any one should try
to rescue him on his way to death. ‘ What,’ he said, ‘ is
it possible that I, who was such a terror to these good
men when alive and prosperous, continue still to frighten
them when I am bound for death ? ‘
He rose, and dressed himself carefully, combing out
his long hair. As he was doing this, one of the men who
HOW THE SOLDIER POET DIED 347
hated him most came into his prison cell. ‘Why is
James Graham so careful of his locks ? ’ he sneered.
‘My head is yet mine own,’ replied the Marquis
calmly. ‘ I will arrange it as I please. To-night, when it
will be yours, you may do with it what you like.’
Once again, for the last time, he marched through the
crowded streets. He was no longer dressed in his shabby
old clothes, but in a beautiful suit of velvet, which his
friends had been allowed to give him. Every window,
every balcony, from the Tolbooth to the Grassmarket,
where he was to die, was thronged with people. Many had
come to scoff, yet none scoffed. He stepped along the
street with so great state, he looked so handsome, grand,
and grave, that every one was full of sad astonishment.
Once only, the silence was broken by the shrill laughter
of a woman‘s voice. Even his enemies shed tears, and
owned him to be the bravest subject in the world. He
looked more like a king than a felon condemned to shame
The Marquis was not allowed to speak to the people,
lest even at the last they should rise and rescue him. But
to those around him he spoke, ending with the words, ‘ I
leave my soul to God, my service to my Prince, my good
will to my friends, my love and charity to you all.’
When the last moment came, the hangman burst into
tears, and a quivering sob broke from the crowd.
Montrose was only thirty-eight when he died. To the
last he was a poet, and the night before he died he wrote
his own epitaph :—
‘ Scatter my ashes, strew them in the air.
Lord ! since Thou knowest where all these atoms are,
I’m hopeful Thou ’lt recover once my dust,
And confident Thou ’lt raise me with the just.’
But first, if you want to come back to Scotland's History and Legends again, just add www.historyandlegends.com to your bookmarks or favorites now! Then you'll find it easy!
Also, please consider sharing our Scottish History and Legends website with your online friends.
Copyright © 2000-present Donald Urquhart. All Rights Reserved. Designated trademarks and brands are the property of their respective owners. Use of this Web site constitutes acceptance of our legal disclaimer.