Montrose was aware that there was a covenant force being assembled at Perth under Lord Elcho and he decided to move swiftly to confront it.
Rather than take the direct route down Strathtay to attack Perth from the north, Montrose opted to go westward to Aberfeldy to try to enlist the support of Menzies of Weems (Menzies refused) and onward, it is suggested, to a secretly arranged rendevous with lowland levies led by Lord Kilpont. That the meeting with Kilpont was pre-arranged is unlikely.
Fearing discovery or betrayal Montrose did not even dare to send word to his wife and family of his return to Scotland and the meeting with Kilpont is therefore open to a different interpretation. Knowing the route of the advance, the Covenant forces in Perth would have ordered the exit from the Sma' Glen to be blocked. Lord Kilpont's force of around 500 men was raised in the lowlands west of Perth and was ideally positioned to take on this role. It is therefore more than likely that they did indeed meet Montrose by chance. It is also likely therefore that the Covenant forces mustering on the plain at Tippermuir were unaware of Montrose's presence until shortly before the time of battle. Following the meeting of Montrose and Kilpont the latter brought his entire force under the banner of Montrose.
The Battle Site
The battle site is recorded on the Ordnance Survey map, reference No. 068232. Today the western end of the Perth bypass is only half a mile from the site of the battle.
Tippermuir is unusual in that the exact dispositions of the forces prior to the battle are still the subject of debate today.
Napier describes the battle site as being on “the wide plains of Tippermuir and Cultmalindy”, north of the Parish of Aberdalgie. The Old Statistical Account of 1796 for the Parish of Tibbermuir records “the field of battle is perhaps as much, if not more, within the parish of Aberdalgy, which at this place approaches very near to the church of Tibbermuir ”.
The New Statistical Account for 1843, however, places the battle site in front of Huntingtower Castle and records that the Covenant army was encamped in the south of the Parish of Tibbermuir on the night before the battle and that “traces of this encampment are still in some places distinctly visible”. The account also notes that, “there were indeed within these few years, men alive in the Parish, who well remember that it was in their youth no uncommon thing for those engaged in trenching (draining) the ground in the neighbourhood to find gun bullets and many other memorials of this disastrous battle”.
The Third Statistical Account is in broad agreement with both Napier and the Old Statistical Account and suggests that the battle was fought between Tibbermore Church and what is now called Cherrybank.
Nigel Tranter also supported this view. In his book ‘Montrose – The Captain General', he describes the Covenant army leaving Perth and marching west by Burgh Muir to occupy the low ridge of Lamberkine. Montrose's line, he suggests, was drawn up between the Cowgask Burn on the east and Tippermallo Myre on the west. Cowgask Burn can be seen on the map above the battlesite cross swords.
Whilst most biographers favour the view for the battle being fought close to the position on the map and suggests the Covenant line ran in an east / west direction along the slope of Lamberkine Brae, considerable research by our own society, under the guidance of our current chairman Lt. Col. Malcolm McVittie, would suggest that it is certainly a possibility that the covenanters lined up in a north / south direction, across the main road west from Perth, and therefore blocking the route to Perth completely. For the purpose of this account we will continue with the former proposal but the ‘alternative’ view will be further considered later in the paper.
The photograph taken from Lamberkine Brae looks north from the Covenant position towards the Royalist line which probably would have been drawn up close to the trees which presently stand at the north end of the field. The Covenant forces were drawn up with the infantry, made up of levies from Forfarshire, Fife and the Perth Militia in the centre under the Earl of Tulliebardine and supported by cavalry on either wing. The left was commanded by Sir James Scott of Rossie or Rosyth and the right by the overall army commander Lord Elcho. The Covenant army was said to muster around 6000 with some 800 horse and seven small cannon. As can be seen from the photograph of the battlesite the ground here would have been ideal for cavalry.
Although the actual site of the battle is open to conjecture we do know that Montrose approached the battlefield from the west as it is recorded that he stopped at Tibbermore Parish Church Manse on the morning of the battle to ask for a drink of water. In the weeks following the battle however the Minister, Mr Alexander Balneaves, was instructed to appear before the Perth Presbytery, where he was subsequently defrocked. In his defence Balneaves defiantly told his colleagues that “There was not one of them who would not have kissed Montrose's backside on the day of the battle”.
Tippermuir church is now disused but is in the care of The Scottish Redundant Churches Trust. The Church yard is said to contain the unmarked graves of some 300 Covenanters slain in the battle but, whilst this is documented in Parish records, no trace of the graves has ever been found.
Battle is Joined
The Royalist army numbered no more that 2500 and was deployed with the Irish under Alasdair MacColla in the centre, Lord Kilpont's men on the left and Montrose himself on the right in command of the Robertson's and the men of Atholl. The Royalist line was only three deep, having had to spread out to match the length of the more numerous Covenant army.
Prior to the battle, Montrose sent a herald to Lord Elcho imploring him not to take the field against the standard of his King. Should Elcho still choose to do so however Montrose then offered to postpone the battle to the next day to avoid bloodshed on the Lord's day. Elcho replied that it was fitting to do the Lord's work on the Lord's day, and he declined to postpone the battle. The herald, in breach of the terms of the flag of truce, was then thrown in Perth jail to be hanged after the battle. In confident mood the Covenanter's then adopted the cry of “Jesus and no quarter”. It was one they were very shortly to regret.
The battle itself was short; accounts vary from 10 to 30 minutes. The Covenanters took the initiative by sending out a ‘forlorn of horse'; a small body of cavalry intended to draw the enemy's fire. This may have succeeded were it not for the fact that the Royalists were poorly armed and those who did have firearms had barely enough ammunition for one volley. It is said that many of the Royalists were forced to pick up stones from the ground on which they stood to use in their defence.
The approach of the opposing cavalry however did prompt the Royalists into a general charge and, following a single volley from the Irish, the Royalists sprang forward. This highland charge broke both the military convention of the day and the ranks of the Covenant infantry. Sir James Scott, in command of the covenant left, attempted to get his force ‘to high ground’ but Montrose, anticipating Scott’s move, beat him to it.
The Covenant line reeled under the ferocity of the attack and within minutes began to fragment as whole companies started to throw away their weapons and flee. Only the cavalry under Sir James Scott offered any resistance, until they were overwhelmed by the highlanders on Montrose's right wing and driven into the fleeing infantry. What followed was not so much a battle as a rout.
One Irish officer boasted after the battle that a man could walk from Tippermuir to Perth on the bodies of the slain. Whilst not literally true the boast does however conjure up the macabre image of a vast number of bodies strewn across the fields outside Perth on that Sunday in September 1644.
Many of the Perth burghers, who had made their way out of the city to witness the expected slaughter of the ‘Irish savages’, were caught up in the killing. The Irish and highlanders pursued all those in flight back to the gates of Perth and all those whom they overtook were slain.
An inscription on a stone near Huntingtower reads:-
A TOMBSTONE WHICH STOOD
ONE TIME IN THE FIELD TO THE
NORTH OF NEEDLESS ROAD, MARKING
THE SPOT WHERE MANY COVENANTERS
FROM FIFE WERE SLAIN IN FLIGHT
AFTER THE BATTLE OF TIBBERMUIR
ON THE 1 ST OF SEPTEMBER 1644
An Alternative View of the Battle
Returning to the previously mentioned alternative view on the deployment of the opposing forces our own chairman, Lt Col Malcolm McVittie, following extensive study of the site as well as what contemporary sources which are available, has suggested that it is equally possible that the two forces lined up against each other in a north / south deployment. There are some clues which support this theory.
First of all, the main road west from Perth at the time of the battle would have been the Gallows Road which is now little more than a country pathway. Access to this can be had from the present ‘Noah’s Ark’ development on the west side of the city. This is the road which Lord Elcho would have used when he marched his forces west out of the town on the morning of the battle. It would have made imminent sense therefore to simply deploy his army across the road, lining up in a north/south manner, as this would have blocked access to Perth completely from the royalist force approaching from the west.
Secondly, the covenanting army was said to have lined up with Huntingtower Castle ‘as a looming bulk behind the covenant force’. Such an observation would not have been possible if the covenant force was lined up facing north on the Lamberkine ridge.
Thirdly, once the battle was underway Sir James Scott on the covenant left was said to have attempted to get his cavalry to a better defensive position ‘on high ground’. Lamberkine Ridge is the only high ground in the area of the battle and this would therefore seem to support the view that the covenanters were not lined up on Lamberkine Ridge at the start of the battle.
The estimate of the Covenanters buried near the battlesite may not be exhaustive or completely accurate but opens to question the 1300 to 2000 claimed by Royalist writers of the day. Equally, the figure of 800 prisoners captured after the battle can also be challenged. Andrew Laing in his ‘History of Scotland' quotes the deposition of the Provost of Perth (Jan 1645) putting the number of prisoners at only 300-400.
In the Perth book of the Glovers Incorporation are the names of 13 members who took part in the battle, including a Lieutenant Alexander Drummond and Ensign Andrew Anderson, part of a company of musketeers from the town commanded by a Captain Grant. Among the known casualties were Captain Grant and the Ensign.
Tippermuir was the first major battle of the Scottish Civil War. It was the first time for more than two centuries that Gael and Lowlander had faced each other in a large scale engagement. Tactically it was the first time the Highland Charge, used previously in Ulster by MacColla, was seen in Scotland . For the historian Alan MacInnes the battle and the subsequent campaigning ‘can be considered the signal contemporary influence which widened the cultural rift between Gall (Lowlander) and the Gael (‘Clanship, Commerce and the House of Stuart, 1603-1788').
Thus at Perth the royalists under Montrose and MacColla won the first in what was to become a series of remarkable victories. Other covenant forces were being assembled elsewhere in Scotland however. Montrose and the royalists, whilst welcoming their astonishing victory at Perth, would have known that this was only the beginning of the campaign and that much more conflict lay ahead.