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The Battle of Worcester in 1651

Was there a Clan Gregor regiment at the Battle of Worcester in 1651?

By Peter Lawrie, ©2017
There is no mention of the Clan’s involvement at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 in Amelia nor in any other Clan History. According to Malcolm Atkins Cromwell’s crowning mercy - The battle of Worcester, 1651, (Sutton Publishing 1998) ‘the Scottish army comprised of regular lowland regiments and some highland regiments. Other highland clans fought as independent units (the MacGregors having made a point of asking to serve as a united clan)’ Atkins names John and Alexander MacGregor among the first of the prisoners to be transported to Virginia via Barbados. Alexander apparently was able to buy his freedom and settled in Maryland in 1652.

Worcester was the last major battle of the Cromwellian wars. Out of Charles army of 15,000, at least 13,000 were Scots; around 3000 were killed and most of the survivors were captured and subsequently transported to the American colonies so this issue is of considerable relevance to our North American membership. Dobson’s study of emigration records for the period should include identifiable MacGregors among those transported although some may have used aliases. I have not had time to look at this myself, but I have been told that there do not appear to be any!

I have attempted to summarise the relevant events of the Civil Wars in England and Scotland. Of necessity this is a very brief account of complex events.

Although proscription had been imposed by James VI and the Stewart dynasty had given few favours to Clan Gregor they were staunchly Royalist and Jacobite during the century 1644 to 1745. As Hopkins states in Glencoe and the End of the Highland War p21, the MacGregors (among others) ‘were royalists largely because Argyll was not’. It seems unlikely that significant numbers of Clan Gregor manpower would be prepared to go far from their homes, leaving the Campbells and their allies to have their way with those left behind, unless there had been substantial guarantees given.

According to David Stevenson, Alasdair MacColla and the Highland problem in the Seventeenth Century, (John Donald, 1980), Patrick Roy MacGregor, the chief, signed ‘a bond of union and mutual defence’ with Montrose at Kilcumin in 1644. In December 1644, Clan Gregor formed part of MacColla’s army which ravaged Argyll. On June 7 1645, before the Battle of Kilsyth, Montrose, on behalf of Charles I, promised to Patrick Roy that he and his friends would be restored to all their former lands in Glenlyon, Rannoch and Glenorchy. Montrose’s campaign and the Clan Gregor role in them is described on page 87-105 of Amelia. Montrose’s battles on behalf of Charles I, (all of which he won except Philiphaugh where he did not have MacColla to help him), were fought in Scotland against the Scots Covenanting armies, not the English. The Highlanders and Irish who fought against the Covenant were regarded by the Kirk party as malignants beyond all hope of salvation, which is why I was so surprised to hear that there were Highland contingents in General Leslie’s army at Worcester. Although the Scots Covenanting army had sided with the English Parliamentarians against Charles I, the King’s execution was too much for the Scots and immediately the news reached Edinburgh in February 1649, his son had been proclaimed Charles II by the Chancellor and commissioners sent to the Netherlands to meet with him. Charles finally came to Scotland for his coronation in June 1650.

Following the defeat of the Covenanter’s army at Dunbar by Cromwell in September 1650 and with English army occupying Edinburgh, the Kirk party lost influence and Charles was able to marginalise the extremists and draw in Highland support. In March 1651, as quoted in Amelia, Calum McCondachie VicEwen with his brother Ewen McCondachie petitioned Charles II stating on behalf of the whole name of MacGregor that they having been appointed by the Marquis of Argyll and General David Leslie to defend the passes at the Heads of Forth had, contrary to the Act of Levy, which ordained that ‘all clans should come out under their respective chieftains’, been daily troubled by the Earl of Atholl and the Laird of Buchanan, for additional men, drafted from them, and praying that their men might be restored, and the clan have a quarter assigned them for their entertainment, which petition was remitted to the Committee of Estates. According to E M Fergol, A Regimental History of the Covenanting Armies, 1639-1651’, (Edinburgh 1990), On 11th June 1651, the King and Committee of Estates ordered Calum and Ewan MacGregor to bring their servants and followers to Stirling on the 17th. Fergol states ‘they appear to have complied with alacrity and fought as a clan regiment at Worcester from which few if any returned home’. It is possible that the Tutor’s petition may be the source for Fergol’s claim that the MacGregors had asked to serve as a united clan and that he assumed that the clan regiment must have gone into England with the army.

After Dunbar, Cromwell’s army occupied much of Southern Scotland, while Charles’ Scots army mustered at Perth and Stirling. According to R C Paterson in A Land Afflicted (Edinburgh 1998), after the Battle of Inverkeithing, (where all but 40 out of 500 MacLeans died around their Chief) Cromwell was able to occupy Fife and outflanked the Scots army. Leslie declined battle when it was offered by Cromwell at the historic site of Bannockburn. However, Cromwell now shifted much of his forces into Fife and prepared to take Perth, leaving no substantial English forces to the South of Stirling. Charles leapt for the opportunity presented by Cromwell’s apparent negligence. The Scots army moved South on 31st July leaving Perth to fall on the 2nd of August. By the 6th, Charles was over the border and proclaimed King of England at Carlisle. Cromwell, however, was fully prepared. He wrote to the Council of State in London, “I do appreciate that if he (Charles) goes for England it may occasion some inconveniences ... we might have kept the enemy from this, by interposing between him and England ... but how to remove him out of this place without doing what we have now done ... is not clear to us.” Apart from the Earl of Derby, Charles raised few recruits on the march south and on the 22nd August he allowed his exhausted army of 15,000, which had marched 350 miles in a little over three weeks, to rest at Worcester. Realising that the hoped-for English rising would not happen and that he could go no further, Charles fortified his positions at Worcester as Cromwell’s army of more than 30,000 gathered. By the 1st September it was all over; 3,000 were dead; a few, including Charles, were fugitives, but Cromwell had 10,000 prisoners. On the same day General Monk captured Dundee, slaughtered 800 civilians, many in cold blood and burned the town. Within a few days all resistance in Scotland appeared to have ended.

However, by December 1651, Clan Gregor with MacDuggan, MacKinnon and MacFarlane were reported to have 800 men under arms in the Royalist cause in the central Highlands and Clan Gregor contributed around 300 men to the Earl of Glencairn’s Royalist forces in 1653. A letter, signed Charles R, in 1653 was addressed to ‘our Trusty and well-beloved the Tutor of McGregor’, Amelia identifies him as Malcom (Calum) McCondochie vic Ewen, so he appears to have survived the disaster at Worcester, if, indeed, he and the clan regiment had been there. Amelia has nothing at all about the campaign which ended at Worcester and the consequences in terms of killed and transported. A reference in 1662 gives “Malcolm McGregor, Tutor to the Laird of McGregor, Calum and Ewen McGregor and several others under their command cited to appear before the council.” The chief of the Clan at this time was James, only son of Patrick Roy MacGregor who died in 1649. As Malcolm was still tutor in 1662, James must have been very young at the time of his father’s death. The proscriptive laws against the clan were lifted after the Restoration, although none of the other promises were kept. However, proscription was re-imposed after 1689 and only after 1774 did it became legal to use the name MacGregor.

If the Clan Gregor force at Worcester had been substantial and they were all killed or transported then there should have been a least a mention of it in Amelia and there should be MacGregors among Dobson’s emigrant lists. I would have expected that the tutor or his brother would have led a clan regiment in person, but as shown above, the Tutor and his brother, acting for the chief in his minority clearly survived and were able to bring out substantial numbers for the later Royalist risings of the Earl of Glencairn and General Middleton. It can be speculated that the basis of Fergol’s assertion that Clan Gregor served as a discrete clan at Worcester was the King’s command for the tutor to bring his servants and followers to Stirling and the subsequent petition by the Tutor that all of his clan should serve under him. Lacking any other evidence Fergol and Atkins may have assumed that the Tutor and the clan did became part of Charles’s ill-fated army. The evidence of a substantial body of Clan Gregor in arms and led by the tutor in December 1651 suggests that this assumption may not be correct. I hope that anyone who can add to the above account will write to the Secretary for inclusion in subsequent editions of the Newsletter.