The Battle of Tippermuir took place on the 1st of September, 1644.
The Battle of Tippermuir could also be called ‘The Battle of the Stones’ or the ‘Battle of Tibbermore’ or the ‘Battle of Lamberkin Moor’ or the ‘Battle of Mary’s Well’ or ‘the first battle the Marquess of Montrose fought for Charles I in Scotland’. Whatever else it may have been described as, it was definitely a victory for the outnumbered against the outmanoeuvred; for the experienced against the inexperienced; and for the Royalists against the Covenanters.
James, Lord Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose, 5th Earl of Kincardine, Baron of Montdieu and all round good egg commanded the Royalist forces at the Battle of Tippermuir, despite having previously been in opposition to King Charles I. In fact, the Earl of Kincardine as he then was, was one of the first to sign the National Covenant and, when the Civil War broke out in 1639, was also one of the first to cross the Tweed during the attack against the English Parliamentarians in the First Bishops’ War. The man who was made Marquess of Montrose by his King appears as a man of contradiction in his early career, but after declaring himself for the Royalist cause, he was steadfast ever unto death in his support of Charles I. Despite his strong Presbyterianism, Montrose became convinced that his position and the Scotland he desired required a constitutional monarchy and religious freedom. His decision was based on pragmatic politics rather than religious fanaticism, which he forswore.
Montrose, the Lieutenant Governor of Scotland, who was also Lieutenant General of the Royalist Army, arrived in Scotland disguised as a groom and accompanied by Lord William Rollo and Lieutenant Colonel William Sibbald, with the aim of extending the Civil War onto Scottish soil. The first significant thing Montrose did was meet up with Lieutenant Colonel Alasdair MacColla McDonnell, famously known as Colkitto (Coll Ciotach, which means a bonnie left-handed fechter from Colonsay). It is often suggested that McDonnell was Irish, but that’s not true. He was an experienced military officer who had fought for both sides during the Irish rebellion, but he was a Scottish exile from the Hebrides. However, when he returned to Scotland, it was at the head of an Irish mercenary army. Although it was a disappointing army in terms of numbers as far as Montrose was concerned, it most certainly did not disappoint in terms of quality and results.
McDonnell is also often credited with the development of the ‘Highland Charge’ as was used to devastating effect at Tippermuir and thereafter at battles such as Killiecrankie, Prestonpans, and Falkirk (1746), although it failed at Culloden. It is debatable if that credit is truly warranted as similar descriptions had been given to the actions of Highlanders in several Clan battles of previous centuries; Red Harlaw being one example. However, McDonnell had used the tactic very effectively at the Battle of Laney, on the 11th of February, 1644, and was expert in its deployment. Also, by 1644, the advent of infantry with muskets had significantly changed the nature of warfare. Interestingly, the ‘Charge’ worked despite what you might call the apparent superiority of firearms. The reason it worked was due to the inherent limitations of volley fire, which it evolved to exploit. Once the first fire had been given, the Highlanders were so quick across the ground that they would be upon the enemy before they had time to load a second cartridge. McDonnell’s ‘Redshanks’ as they were known, relied on the sword (broadsword or claymore) and the targe (a shield, target or buckler) and if they had muskets, they fired a single volley at a distance of about a hundred yards, then dropped the muskets and charged. Often, the charge was devastating, because the infantry of the day had no means of self-defense in the days before the bayonet. The ‘Redshanks’ were also far better disciplined than the inexperienced Covenanters remaining in Scotland at that time, because most of the more experienced soldiers were fighting in England.
The battle was won by Montrose and McDonnell and heralded a series of amazing victories for the Royalists throughout Scotland in the campaign spanning 1644-45. A lot of men got killed during and in the rout immediately after the battle, but probably not as many as Royalist propaganda would have us believe. An interesting prelude to the battle is found in the speech Montrose reputedly made to his men and which is why it might be called the ‘Battle of the Stones’. “Gentlemen,” he said, “it is true you have no arms; your enemy, however, to all appearance, have plenty. My advice to you therefore is that as there happens to be a great abundance of stones upon this moor, every man should provide himself, in the first place, with as stout a one as he can manage, rush up to the first Covenanter he meets, beat out his brains, take his sword, and then I believe he will be at no loss how to proceed!”
As for the name, Tippermuir comes from the Gaelic ‘tobair mhuire’, meaning ‘Mary’s Well’ and ‘Tibbermore’ was used in the Charter to the Land granted by William the Lion. Other sources suggest the site of the battle as Lamberkin Moor and Nigel Tranter, in his excellent two-part novel based on the life of Montrose, describes the battle taking place westward of the Burgh Muir below the long low ridge of Lamberkine. Montrose’s line, Tranter suggests, was drawn up between the Cowgask Burn on the west and Tippermallo Myre on the east. The Covenant line ran in an east west direction along the slope of Lamberkine Brae.