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The Highland Dimension

Updated Sunday, 7th January 2001

Religion and taxes were nothing alongside clan loyalties, skewing the Highland Dimension

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The English Civil War was not only not English, it was not even a simple national battle between England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. The chaos of war opened up opportunities in Scotland to settle ancient rivalries and deep-seated clan conflicts. In Scotland, the war of the Three Kingdoms became as much a clan feud as a war between King and Parliament, Protestant and Catholic.

In the summer of 1644, Charles's loyal supporter in Ireland, the Earl of Antrim, sent a force of 2,000 Irish troops into the Highlands. Antrim was not only a fierce Royalist, he was also a leader of the MacDonald / MacDonnell clan - a lifelong enemy of the Campbells. He was also a great dreamer. His ambition was to rebuild the MacDonald clan and to make his name as one of the King's greatest warriors.

He hoped to do so by undermining the Covenanter movement in its own back-yard. The Highlands and Islands between Western Scotland and Northern Ireland had long provided the backdrop for the ancient Campbell - MacDonald clan feud.

And with the Duke of Argyll, chief of the Campbells and leader of the Covenanters, occupied with the invasion of England, Antrim took the opportunity to strike deep into Campbell country in the Scottish western highlands.

Antrim's loyal band of clan mercenaries joined forces with the leader of the anti-Covenanter resistance in Scotland, James Graham, Earl of Montrose. Montrose is one of the great soldiers of the War of the Three Kingdoms. An early supporter of the Scottish Covenant movement, he turned against Argyll as he saw the original aims of the Covenant become subverted by militant Presbyterians and anti-Royalists. Needless to say, he also had a deep hatred of Argyll and the Campbells.

With minimal forces and supplies, Montrose declared for the King and embarked on a crusade against the Covenanting establishment. He became an expert in guerrilla style manoeuvres using the rugged terrain of the Highlands to his advantage against far superior forces. It was a thankless labour of love driven by a combination of arrogance, ego, revenge and an instinctive royalism.

But Antrim's delivery of 2,000 troops was a godsend for Montrose. At last, he could begin his campaign proper against Argyll and the Covenanters. 1644 would be his 'Year of Miracles.'

 

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