In the first serious clash of the Civil War period some 2,500 Royalists encountered 1,500 Covenanters under William Keith, the Earl Marischal. at Megray Hill outside Stonehaven on 15 June 1639. The Royalist forces, commanded by Viscount Aboyne, were surprisingly well equipped. On 9 March a large consignment of arms which had been landed for their use at Aberdeen included: '2000 muscatis, bandilieris, and muscat staves, 1000 pikis with harness and armour, both of foot men and horss men, cairabins, horss peces...' Some of these arms were subsequently seized by the Earl of Montrose, at that time a prominent leader of the Covenanters. Nevertheless, sufficient remained to equip a troop of 'volunteer gentleman cuirassiers who for the colouris carryed ane handkerchief upon a launce'. (This may have been a popular expedient at the time - Dumas' Three Musketeers famously did the same in the bastion at La Rochelle). Unfortunately the actual performance of the troop was less than impressive: 'Many pistoll shott were exchanged, but at too great distaunce on both sydes most shottes; otherwayes the continual! motione of ther horses preveened all hurt. Some, by the restivenesse of ther owne horses wnused to service, wer throwne to the grounde.' Plate A1 represents one of these volunteer gentlemen. His arms and equipment are primarily based on a near-contem-porary portrait of Colonel Nathaniel Fiennes, although the 'reid flesh'-coloured sash is mentioned in contemporary descriptions of Scots Royalists. Most reconstructions of Civil War cuirassiers follow illustrations in J.J.Wallhausen's Kriegkunst zu Pferde of 1616. These show the armour worn directly over the trooper's ordinary clothing, but by this period there is considerable literary and artistic evidence that the armour was increasingly being worn in conjunction with a buff coat, as depicted in the Fiennes portrait. Note how the articulated leg armour or cuishes have been detached from the tassets and are worn underneath the buff coat skirts. The open-fronted helmet, made in Greenwich, is normally associated with light cavalry or harquebusier armour, but once again contemporary illustrations show it increasingly used by cuirassiers in preference to the more traditional close helmet. The munition-quality broadsword is a typical trooper's weapon of the period, while the wheellock pistol is of Dutch manufacture.
Plates A2 and A3 represent typical Royalist (and Covenanting) infantrymen at the outset of the war. Like their opponents, none wear uniforms of any kind beyond the scarves and ribbons described by the ever-observant John Spalding: '...the Lord Gordon, and sum utheris... (had a ribbon) of ane reid flesche cullour, which thay weir in thair hatis, and call it the royall ribbin, as a signe of thair love and loyaltie to the King.'
LEFT Cuirassier equipment as copied by John Cruso from an earlier work by J.J.von Wallhausen. Although incomplete in not depicting the buff coat worn underneath by the 1640s, this provides a good picture of the kit worn by some Royalist cavalrymen at Megray Hill in 1639 - see Plate A. There is also a useful depiction of the heavy military saddle, and on the right the style of light lance carried by something like half of the Scots cavalry.
For their part the Covenanters, then led by the Earl of Montrose, adopted blue, and '...few or none of this haill army wantit ane blew ribbin hung about his crag (neck) doun under his lefte arme, quhilk thay callit the covenanteris ribbin ...'. The good citizens of Aberdeen promptly showed what they thought of these 'Covenanters' ribbons' by tying them round their dogs' necks. The Covenanters then retaliated by killing every dog they could catch, but although blue ribbons are still popularly associated with the Covenanters there is no evidence of them being used as a badge after this unfortunate incident.
Oddly enough, although they were more or less coerced by the Marquis of Huntly into leasing both pikes and muskets, the Aberdeen Militia fielded only musketeers. Four companies totalling some 500 men served at Megray Hill.
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