ROBERT MONRO

By

MAGNUS BENGTSSON

            SOME time in the 1630's the Scottish mercenary Colonel, Robert Monro, sat down to compose a narrative—"to the use of all worthie Cavaliers favouring the laudable profession of Armes"—of the services in Germany of himself and his regiment, "the honourable Scotch regiment, call'd McKeyes"—"first under the magnanimous King of Denmark, during his warres against the Emperour; afterward, under the Invincible King of Sweden, during his Majesties life time; and since, under the Directour Generall, the Rex-chancellor Oxensterne and his Generalls." Monro had returned to his fatherland in 1633, with Oxenstierna's commission to levy troops in order to bring his depleted regiment up to full strength. It was presumably the disaster at Nördlingen that intervened to prevent his return: Swedish shares, we may suppose, no longer stood very high on the mercenary market in the months that followed, and in that fatal battle his regiment had been as good as wiped out. For lack of any better occupation this unemployed Colonel now took to the pen, and proceeded, in a narrative whose particularity does not make it the less moving, to reduce to words the epic experiences of seven years, adding by way of adornment such quotations, applications of military lore, pious reflections and tangled pedantries of style as might reasonably be expected of a right-thinking cavalier with some pretensions to education, some hazy recollection of his youthful studies in the Latin tongue, and a clear eye for the inherent majesty of his subject. His book appeared in London in 1637; its title, long as a preface, is well-known to readers of A Legend of Montrose, where Scott inserts it into his Introduction. It is usually referred to simply as Monro his Expedition.

            Colonel Monro himself is not wholly unknown to those who remember their Scott; for it was he who provided a good deal of the material for the immortal Dugald Dalgetty—"Rittmaster Dugald Dalgetty of Drumthwacket", the valorous soldier of fortune and military theorist, who returned to Scotland just in time to take part in Montrose's campaigns, and to edify his brothers-in-arms with endless reminiscences of the time when he followed "the invincible Gustavus Adolphus, the Lion of the North, and the Bulwark of the Protestant Faith". Dalgetty is of course by no means a mere copy of our Colonel: Scott has in great measure stylised him. As a rhetorician he has been made better than his model, and can at any moment produce well-turned periods of preposterous phraseology, to the frequent imperilment of the gravity of his audience; while Monro keeps to a more modest level and achieves the sublimely comic only by way of exception. On the other hand Scott's hero, for artistic reasons, has been made of coarser moral fibre than his original. Dalgetty is a pure mercenary without ideals of any sort, pushing, valiant, and jealous of his honour; proud of his profession, and imbued with the most minute interest for its etiquette and technique, but completely devoid of any idea that the trade of war may have a more ideal side. He fights as cheerfully for Papists, Arminians and Anabaptists as for Protestants—provided only that his wages be honestly paid, or at least that he be given now and then a decent chance of plunder; for a moment he has even contemplated entering the Turkish service; the religious element in him is limited to the Biblical phraseology of his descriptions of Gustavus Adolphus. Monro, on the other hand, takes a personal interest in the success of the Protestant Cause, and is in general very ready to speak of religion; he could never have reconciled himself to serving with Tilly or Wallenstein; he notes with satisfaction that English and Scottish soldiers of fortune prefer to follow the Swedish standard. On the battlefield of Breitenfeld, where Monro had intervened effectively in the hand-to-hand struggle which brought Tilly's great infantry attack to a standstill, he applied to the King after the victory was won for permission to reinforce his depleted regiment by incorporating all prisoners of British nationality. He obtained leave to do so, and applied to Banér, who had charge of the sorting-out of the prisoners. And when, among all the thousands of prisoners available, the two of them succeeded in dredging up only three Irishmen—then Monro was indeed somewhat downcast at a recruitment so poor from the point of view of the service, but derived none the less a certain moral satisfaction from telling the King of his ill-success, as being proof that the British Isles produced in the main men who fought for the cause of righteousness.

            The sword and the half-pike were instruments whose use Monro understood down to the smallest particular; with the pen he felt himself less at ease, and his manoeuvres to get to grips with what he wishes to say can often become somewhat tedious. His subject is akin to Xenophon's, his enthusiasm for Gustavus Adolphus is reminiscent of Joinville's for St Louis; but while the lucidity of the Athenian and the easy conversational style of the Sénéschal of Champagne have put their military memoirs among the fixed stars in the literary firmament, Monro has not succeeded in making his narrative of the campaigns in which he took part much more than a forgotten curiosity of literature. No subject is great enough and interesting enough in itself to make a book readable. It may be treated as seriously and conscientiously as you please; but a certain literary instinct—often almost impossible to detect, but still decisive for the reader—must have been operative at the moment when events were clothed in words, if any such narrative is to escape the fate of becoming no more than a source for the historian. Few men have been less affected with literary arrière-pensée than a man such as Joinville when he dictated his book on King Louis; in so far as he troubled himself about the arrangement of his material at all, he usually succeeded in putting the cart before the horse, and in his narrative he chattered away, just as things occurred to him, with supreme disregard of other considerations. Nevertheless his book emerged as great literature, partly perhaps because he had in comparison with a writer such as Monro one great advantage: as became a gentilhomme in his day, he could neither read nor write. He spoke to his secretary in the tone of a man of the world, easily and with a charming lightness, entirely fascinated by his subject, and the result was readable from start to finish. But Monro, full of Latin quotations, and with Frontinus and Quintus Curtius at his finger-ends, saw (thanks to his studies) the portals of the land of pedantry open wide before him; and with much painful care he has succeeded in rendering his book largely unreadable, unless the reader bring considerable patience to the task. Parallel to every narrative chapter in his book runs a chapter of Observations, highly repetitious and packed with didactic verbiage; but containing nevertheless matter which makes it impossible simply to skip them in the reading. Thus Monro spreads over the events he describes a veil of heaviest baroque ornamentation, obscuring them from the eye of the reader; and it is only rarely that he permits a more or less clear image to slip through.

            Nevertheless Monro is a writer worthy of all respect—a barbarized Xenophon from an age when literary products blossomed only with extreme rarity in the tented field. In bibliographies of the Thirty Years' War his book occupies an almost unique place: memoir-writing by active participants—whether in war or politics—seems to have been almost exclusively confined to France. He stands therefore as a virtually unique spokesman for a great confraternity: many inarticulate spirits, many simple-minded men of the sword in him find a voice, and the uncomplicated philosophy and ethics of the honourable craft of arms is given clear expression in his reflections and commentaries.

            The regiment whose fortunes Monro relates (he commanded one half of it throughout the period of its Swedish service) was levied by Lord Reay, and was originally intended to be used as reinforcement for Count Mansfeld, at that time Protestantism's one remaining champion in Germany. But by the time it was brought up to full strength and embarked at Cromarty—in the autumn of 1626—Mansfeld's restless life had already closed, and instead they steered their course to Christian IV of Denmark, then busily engaged in raising men for his German war. Monro began his career as Lieutenant under "the worthie and well-born Captaine, Thomas McKenzie of Kildon"; but his own merits—assisted by sword and pestilence—brought him quick promotion, and after little more than a year he became Lieutenant-Colonel, and commanded the regiment in Lord Reay's absence. Lord Rcay tended to be mainly absent. Men of rank such as himself raised regiments and lent them the lustre of their name, and arranged the details of high finance with any Kings who might be interested; but for routine service on the battlefield or at the head of the storming-columns they rarely had the time to spare: such things fell to the lot of simpler folk such as Monro. The clan of Monro was numerously represented in the regiment: the subalterns, N.C.O.'s and privates of that name, whom the conscientious Colonel notes down in the course of his narrative as dead, are as the sands of the sea in number. The regiment included no less than three members of the family who afterwards became Colonels under Gustavus Adolphus: Robert Monro the Lord of Fowles, head of the house, called "the Black Baron", who had been compelled by financial difficulties to mortgage his estate and enlist as a soldier, and who died of wounds at Ulm; John Monro of Obstell, who fell at Wetterau on the Rhine; and the author himself, longer-lived than most of the others—though he was rarely out of the way when an important action was to be fought.

            During the Danish period of the war the regiment's experiences in the field were certainly extremely arduous, but on the whole they were satisfactory to Monro, who looked at them wholly from the regiment's point of view. The campaign itself was as unfortunate as possible; but the regiment covered itself with glory at the storm of sundry places and in a number of rearguard actions. The Scots soon won the reputation of a picked regiment; and the Danish command relied largely upon them in moments of difficulty, gave them the posts of danger, and allowed them to bear the brunt of the fighting without reinforcement for much longer periods than in the case of other troops. All of which is no doubt very honourable for a regiment, and redounds to the glory of Scotland too; but even Scots have limits to their endurance and their taste for fighting, and once or twice in Oldenburg Monro seems to have felt that here was too much of a good thing. When Tilly advanced into Holstein the regiment sustained a serious disaster. Three of its companies were defending Bredenberg, a fortified castle in those parts; after a summons to capitulate had been rejected, the Imperialists stormed the castle and put to death every man, woman and child inside it; only one ensign escaped to carry a report to the regiment. What particularly irritated the Scots about this was that their regimental chaplain had been slain with the rest, although he had been found on his knees, praying for his life with uplifted hands. Shortly after this Monro in his turn stormed a place in Holstein garrisoned by the Imperialists (disguised in his narrative under the name of Aickilfourd); the Scots now, by way of quid pro quo, refused to give quarter; the Imperialists at last barricaded themselves in a church; and Monro, after a short struggle with his conscience, caused the door to be broken open with battering-rams: no place, he felt, could be sufficiently sacred to afford sanctuary to people who killed regimental chaplains. These two episodes provided a sort of prelude in miniature to the similar incidents at Neu-Brandenburg and Frankfurt on the Oder in which the regiment was to play a part a few years later.

            With the King of Denmark Monro was well-pleased; he was not, perhaps, much of a commander, but wages were punctually paid, and he took pains to arrange for good quartering. His standing epithet with Monro is "the Magnanimous"; his appearance was truly regal; his wisdom, carefulness and tenacity win Monro's commendation. He was, besides, in his dealings with honourable cavaliers an amiable and loquacious gentleman; Monro ate at his table, and even on one occasion, when they were quartered on Laaland, had the honour of a visit from the King which lasted until 3 o'clock in the morning; upon which Monro's only comment is that the King departed without saying farewell—a piece of absent-mindedness which is not perhaps entirely incapable of explanation, in view of the hour and His Danish Majesty's prowess with the bottle. Monro, it is clear, never had better quarters than those he enjoyed in Denmark—at least until the march through the Rhineland in the autumn of 1631. Minor clashes with their Danish hosts and with other regiments did indeed occur from time to time, but they appeared almost as an agreeable break in an existence which might otherwise have declined into torpid luxuriousness. Upon his return from Holstein, Monro (he had just got his majority) was sent with a portion of the regiment to Assens, on the island of Fyn, where he found another Major with some squadrons of the Rhinegrave's cavalry. The question as to which of them had the right to command the garrison soon produced a coolness between the two Majors, a coolness which communicated itself to their devoted troops; so that the ensuing street-fights soon showed a daily casualty-return of from four to five killed per regiment. Major-General Slammersdorff was forced to quit his headquarters at Odense, to hold a court-martial, and to pronounce a verdict in Monro's favour, before this civil war could be brought to a conclusion. When next these two regiments encountered one another—both were by that time in Swedish service—these little irritations seem to have been forgotten; or perhaps Gustavus Adolphus and his order-loving Field-Marshal Horn had effective prophylactics against private diversions of this sort.

            When from time to time Danish burghers and peasants grew exasperated at the Scots billetted upon them, they had at first recourse to the obvious remedy of thrashing such of them as they encountered alone; but when this proved in the long run not to be a very paying proposition, they hit upon a better method, and brought accusations of rape. In one case Monro lost three men at a stroke, on account of a single peasant girl; the court-martial in Copenhagen, which had called in Monro as assessor, allowed itself to be persuaded to defer sentence on grounds of insufficient evidence. However, when this had been agreed on, and Monro had left Copenhagen, the court nevertheless caused the accused to be summarily hanged. Monro shook his head at this way of doing business, partly because he considered the accusations to be false, but mainly because he felt that the court-martial had acted in an ungentlemanly fashion towards him by arranging for the hanging privily and in his absence.

            Monro in this connection is concerned to point out that the machinery for the administration of justice was by no means lacking in such a regiment as his; and his account of how it was organized is of its kind a good picture of his age:

            To conclude this observation, there are lawes and justice observed as well among souldiers, as in other governments, and the strictest justice that is, with least partiality: our lawes are the Kings Articles, we are sworne to obey our President or Judge, he amongst us present having the command, to whom his Majesty joynes, as assessor to the Iudge, an Auditor for doing of justice, our Assisers or Iury we have not to seeke (viz.) a competent number or thirteene of our owne Regiment, Officers, Captaines, Lievetenants, Antients, Sergeants and Corporalls, till our number be full: our Proforce or Gavilliger brings in the complaints, and desires justice, in his Majesties name, to the party offended, and to his Master the Kings Majesty or Generall, that fuers or leads the warre; and every Regiment is bound to have an executioner of their owne, which if the Regiment wants, the Colonell is obliged to hire another to doe the execution for paiment, and sometimes as the crime and the person is respected, that is to suffer, he is honoured to be shot by his camerades, or beheaded, not suffering an executioner to come neare him. Other slight punishments we enjoyne for slight faults, put in execution by their Camerades; as the Loupegarthe, when a Souldier is stripped naked above the waste, and is made to runne a furlong betwixt two hundred Souldiers, ranged alike opposite to others, leaving a space in the midst for the Souldier to runne through, where his Camerades whip him with small rods, ordained and cut for the purpose by the Gavilliger, and all to keepe good order and discipline; for other lesser faults, there is ordained slighter punishments, as Irons, standing at a poast, his hands bound up above his head; likewise sitting on a Treen or woodden Mare, in some publicke place, to make him ashamed of his fault: As also sometimes to stand six or seaven houres longer than ordinary at the centric posture; as I was once made to stand in my younger yeares at the Louver gate in Paris, being then in the Kings Regiment of the Guards, passing my prenticeship, for sleeping in the morning, when I ought to have Beene at my excercise, for punishment I was made stand from eleven before none, to eight of the Clocke in the night Centry, Armed with Corslet, Head-piece, Bracelets, being Iron to the teeth, in a hot summers day, till I was weary of my life, which ever after made me the more strict in punishing those under my Command.

            In May 1628 the regiment received orders to march with all speed to Elsinore, whence it was shipped to serve as garrison in Stralsund, which at that time was menaced by the attacks of Wallenstein, and had been taken under the protection of Christian IV. Here Monro and his men were to experience their severest trials in the Danish service. Wallenstein, who had sworn to take the town "were it grappled to Heaven with iron chains", pushed the siege with great fury. Three attempts at storm were made upon the positions held by Monro; outworks were taken and retaken in desperate nocturnal encounters with pike, club and partisan; the regiment in a few weeks lost more than half its strength. But Scottish blood did not flow in vain: the town was held, despite Wallenstein's efforts, and the Imperialists, as Monro points out with satisfaction, lost in their attacks at least thrice as many men as he. When the crisis was at its worst, he was cheered by the arrival of a famous fellow-countryman, Alexander Leslie, Major-General in the Swedish service, who had been sent with sufficient aid by Gustavus Adolphus; and Monro in reporting this unexpected deliverance compares Stralsund with Sara the wife of Abraham, who was made fruitful when she least expected it. The Danish troops were now withdrawn; and with such of his men as survived—and, for his own part, with a musket-ball in one knee—Monro returned to Copenhagen. Here Lord Reay now appeared with a large number of new levies which he had raised on a recruiting tour in Scotland, and the regiment was again brought up to its full strength of twelve companies. In the winter of 1628-1629 Monro lay in quarters in "Malline [Malmo] in Skonland", with a couple of companies in "Alzenburg" [Hälsingborg] and one in "London" [Lund] in the same kingdom. Malmö makes a favourable impression on the observant Lieutenant-Colonel: the food in burgher homes he finds excellent without being extravagant; silver articles were plentiful and servants numerous; while the better class of people made laudable efforts to imitate the King, as far as possible, in dress, manners and appearance.

            In June 1629, when peace with the Emperor was imminent, the regiment was paid off from the Danish Service; since the Colonel was as usual absent on a visit to England Monro on his own initiative sent an envoy to enquire into the possibilities of employment with the King of Sweden. Gustavus Adolphus sent by return an affirmative answer, journey-money, and orders; and thereupon half the regiment sailed to East Prussia and was installed as garrison in Braunsberg, while the other half was sent to Stockholm, whither Monro followed it soon after in company with his Colonel, who had by this time returned. Here His Majesty showed off his infantry, and demonstrated for their benefit

            his new order of Discipline of Briggades, then first brought in use, at which time his Majesty having showen unto my Colonell and his Officers, the Order of his Majesties discipline, in which Order, his Majesty commanded to put my Colonels Regiment, which was presently obeyed, insomuch, that his Majesty was so well pleased with the capacity of my Colonels Souldiers going so orderly and readily to their Duties, that his Majestic did wish in open presence of the Army, that all his Foot were so well disciplined as my Colonels Regiment: for which, his Majesty would bee content to be indebted of a huge great summe of money, and having caused the Regiment march by towards their Quarters his Maiesty did mightily and much praise the Regiment for their good Order; saying, hee hoped one day, to get good service of those men for his monies . . .

            The King went over to Germany soon after; Lord Reay accompanied him with the available half of the regiment; Monro was sent to East Prussia to take over the independent command of his six companies there, with orders to rejoin the King with them as soon as possible. He presented himself to the "Rex-Chancellor", who was installed as Governor of that province, and a few months after the opening of the campaign was ready to embark his men at Pillau, whence they steered for Wolgast in Pomerania.

            He reached the Pomeranian coast in a heavy storm, which caused the ship to spring a leak, and finally piled it up on a sandbank, whence Monro with great difficulty made his way ashore; his arms and men were indeed retrieved, but all his baggage and ammunition was lost, and in this condition he found himself isolated on the coast, twenty German miles east of Stettin (where the King was) and with enemies ensconced everywhere in the surrounding country. He succeeded, nevertheless, in extricating himself adroitly from his precarious position, and made contact with the main army; and despite the crossness of fate he essays on this occasion a short lyrical flight:

            Having thus by the providence of God happily landed againe on the faire, fertill, and spacious Continent of Dutchland, with a hand-full of old experimented Soldiers, able to endure all misery, toile, or travell, being valourous to undertake any perill or danger, they were to be commanded upon, being led by such a Generall as GUSTAVUS the Invincible, their new Master was: (under whose command and conduct, as their supreame Leader, and me, as his Majesties and my Colonels inferiour Officer, they marched from the Coast of Pomerne, out of Rougenvalde, through Dutchland, unto the foot of the Alpes in Schwabland).

            Alas!, he sighs upon a later occasion, had but our master not been taken from us, "the King of Captaines and the Captain of Kings", we should have crossed the Alps at that time, and paid Rome a visit.

            From the moment when Monro enters upon his long march through Germany in company with the King's army—to which he and his regiment continued to be attached almost until the battle of Lützen—his tone is pitched higher than before, and his attitude to the trade of war undergoes a certain transformation. During the Danish campaigns it is his regiment, its weal or woe, its battle honours, which is all in all to him: the army as a whole scarcely exists for him, so little does he feel himself to be a part of it; and in enterprises common to them all he takes but little interest. When he writes "we", he invariably means simply "the regiment". But under Gustavus Adolphus he at once sees the operations as a whole, feels a strong esprit de corps: when now he writes "we", he means the whole army. Naturally he continues to use every suitable opportunity to vent his purely Scottish sentiments; but they do not now stand in the way of his corporate loyalty: the King may certainly be proud to possess such a regiment as Monro's, but on the other hand Monro takes unbounded pride in serving such a King—of never dying memory . . . Illustrissimus among Generals . . . the Phoenix of his time. The exploits of the Scots of course claim the greater part of his space, for he narrates only what he personally has witnessed; but he freely admits that others than the Scots can distinguish themselves: the German foot, particularly those of the blue and yellow brigade, are not the men to be daunted by bagatelles; the Swedes too bear themselves worthily in the open field and in attacks on fortified positions; and the Finns, whom he calls Haggapells, are useful men on horseback, valuable in dangerous enterprises, and well able to meet the cuirassiers of Holck and Montecucculi on level terms.

            Within his own branch of the military art Monro has very definite views on the differing value of musketeers and pike-men, which together composed, in almost equal proportions, the infantry of that age. Musketeers, he considers, are no doubt serviceable in many ways, especially to send forward ahead of the army as skirmishers; the new Swedish system of interspersing the cavalry with musketeer platoons is also highly to be recommended. But when there is really serious work to be done, the musketeers reveal their limitations: in large-scale frontal attacks on fortified towns, in particular, they show a lack of sense of duty and a certain insecurity in morale, which sometimes it is impossible wholly to counteract; they have an ingrained tendency to scatter in search of plunder as soon as they have got inside the ramparts, leaving standards and officers to take care of themselves; while pikemen have better self-control. And in general Monro holds the view that the pike is a far nobler weapon than the musket:

            Pike-men being resolute men, shall be ever my choyce in going on execution, as also in retiring honourably with disadvantage from an enemy, especially against horsemen: and we see offtimes, . . . that when musketiers doe disbandon, of greedinesse to make booty, the worthy pike-men remaine standing firme with their Officers, guarding them and their Colours, as being worthy the glorious name of brave Souldiers, preferring vertue before the love of gold, that vanisheth while vertue remaineth . . . The Pike [is] the most honourable of all weapons, and my chaise in day of battell, and leaping a storme or entering a breach with a light brest-plate and a good head-piece, being seconded with good fellows, I would choose a good halfe-Pike to enter with.

            In mid-winter the King broke up from Stettin with a portion of his army, and moved forward in snow-storms and severe cold to Neu-Brandenburg, which was easily taken. According to Monro, the officers and men who composed its garrison were, in a military point of view, the most wretched collection he had ever set eyes on; but (he adds) that was no more than was to be expected, since they consisted exclusively of poor simple Italians, who could hardly be expected to have much idea of warfare. Nevertheless the garrison duties of this battered troop had left ample leisure for plundering the surrounding country; and hence the leading elements of the King's troops came upon considerable quantities of money and gold chains. Despite the feeble resistance Monro had been profoundly impressed by the whole operation, and here breaks into a long dithyramb on the King's unique endowments as a commander. "Such a Master would I gladlie serve; but such a Master," he adds sadly, "I shall hardly see againe." Knyphausen was now put in command of the place; he was in Monro's view a man well experienced in the science of war, and in his company a cavalier with his wits about him could pick up many a useful lesson, for all that he did not love Scots. It was Knyphausen who formulated the dictum that in war an ounce of luck is worth a pound of calculation; but he was himself invariably unlucky, and not least at Neu-Brandenburg. That half of Lord Reay's regiment which had come over from Sweden was installed as garrison, after which the King turned his attention elsewhere. Shortly afterwards Tilly appeared before the town and took steps to make himself master of it; Knyphausen delayed too long in treating, and in the final storm almost the entire garrison was put to the sword: only the commandant himself and a number of officers were spared. This was a hard blow for Monro, who here lost many old comrades-in-arms; but he had not long to wait before taking his share in the great revenge at Frankfurt.

            The storming of Frankfurt on the Oder, on 3 April 1631, is the most successful piece of narrative in the whole book: it was an event in which Monro personally played an important part. His regiment, or half-regiment, formed—now that the King had finally settled the composition of his tactical unit—together with three other regiments, "the Scotch Brigade", under the command of John Hepburn, a chivalrous and valiant gentleman, and a boyhood friend of Monro. Besides the Scotch Brigade, there were present in this action the Blue and Yellow Brigades; and with the cavalry the King had 10,000 men outside the walls; while inside them Field-Marshal Tiefenbach with 9,000 men awaited the onslaught with the utmost composure. Monro here inserts a long strategical discussion on the extreme daring of the enterprise, with Tilly encamped at no great distance, strong in numbers and no less so in the terror inspired by his success at Neu-Brandenburg; and expatiates on the extraordinary nicety of the King's calculations and general dispositions. Since there was no time for a regular siege, either Tiefenbach must be lured into the open, or the town must be stormed without delay; but neither of these possibilities appeared immediately practicable. After the advancing Swedish army had approached within one German mile of the town, it was drawn up in battle-order by the King in person, and then in all its splendour—the memory of which seems to have been particularly vivid when Monro wrote his book—advanced to offer battle with martial pomp and ceremony. But Tiefenbach was not to be drawn, and the infantry was therefore sent forward to take up suitable positions for a storm. The Scotch Brigade was to attack one of the main gates of the town. It was required to cross a moat, climb an earth rampart furnished with palisades, traverse the space between this and the town wall, and then, if all went well, force its way into the town itself on the heels of the retreating foe. The operation was under the command of Banér. When after a day or two all preparations were complete, the artillery gave the signal for the assault by firing a general salvo, and the Brigades, veiled in smoke, began to advance upon their objectives. The Blue and Yellow Brigade, "being esteemed of all the Army both resolute and couragious in all their exploits", came up against Walter Butler's Irish, and were twice beaten back with great fury and severe losses; it was not until the greater part of Butler's men had been hewn down and he himself taken prisoner, with a pike wound through the body, that they succeeded in mastering the resistance of these energetic sons of Erin; "and truely," declares Monro, "had all the rest stood so well to it, as the Irish did, we had returned with great losse, and without victory." On his own section of the front they made shorter work of a less heroic resistance, and the Scots quickly found themselves immediately before the gates; but here the enemy resolutely barred the way, supported by a couple of small cannon placed there, and by "a flake of small shot, that shot a dozen of shot at once"—clearly some sort of contemporary machine-gun or multiple-barrelled weapon. Monro was the first to enter this somewhat uninviting thoroughfare:

            . . . the valorous Hepburne, leading on the battaile of pikes, of his owne Briggad, being advanced within halfe a pikes length to the doore, at the entry he was shot above the knee, that he was lame of before, which dazling his senses with great Paine forced him to retire, who said to me, bully Monro, I am shot, whereat I was wondrous sorry, his Major then, a resolute Cavalier, advancing to enter was shot dead before the doore, whereupon the Pikes falling backe and standing still, Generall Banier being by, and exhorting all Cavaliers to enter, Colonell Lumsdell and I, being both alike on the head of our owne Colours, he having a Partizan in his hand, and I a halfe Pike, with a head-piece, that covered my head, commanding our Pikes to advance we lead on shoulder to shoulder, Colonell Lumsdell and I fortunately without hurt, enter the Port, where at our entry some I know received their rest, and the enemy forced to retire in confusion, being astonished at our entry, they had neither wit nor courage, as to let downe the Portecullis of the great Port behinde them, so that we entering the streets at their heeles, we made a stand till the body of our Pikes were drawne up orderly, and flancked with Musketiers, and then wee advanced our Pikes charged, and our Musketiers giving fire on the flancks, till the enemy was put in disorder. After us entered Generall Banier, with a fresh body of Musketiers, he followed the enemy in one street, and Lumsdell and I in another, having rancountred the enemy againe, they being well beaten, our Officers tooke nine colours of theirs, which were to be presented to his Majestie, and the most part of the Souldiers were cut off, in revenge of their crueltie used at New Brandenburg, but some of their Officers got quarters, such as they had given to ours.

            However, even this glorious day proved no unmixed pleasure for Monro; for the streets were choked, not only with corpses, but with the baggage of the Imperialists—lines of carts and supply-waggons, where a man might pick up "silver services, jewels, gold, money and clothing". It was too much for the soldiery to resist, especially as they had had the King's own word for it that a good time was coming. The ranks around Monro quickly thinned, as men slipped off upon their own private concerns; officers were no longer obeyed; by way of increasing the festive spirit, or in order to obtain more light for ransacking the darker recesses, the excited troops set the town alight in various places; some of their own standards were lost in the confusion, and could not be found until next morning, and in some regiments not a man remained with the colours—all of which is gravely deplored by Monro, who frankly admits that on that evening his men were utterly out of hand.

            When towards evening the King rode into the town with the Rhinegrave's cavalry, he appears to have felt no more than modified rapture at what he saw there; he issued a number of stringent orders, but since there were relatively few men within earshot, it took some time before they produced any perceptible effect. A few days later, after the taking of Landsberg, which had proceeded in a more orderly fashion, he had recovered his good humour, and

            on the Sabbath day in the afternoone suffered the principall Officers of his Armie (such as Generall Banier, and Lievetenant Generall Bawtis, and divers others) to make merry, though his Majestie did drinke none himselfe; for his custome was never to drinke much, but very seldome, and upon very rare considerations, where he had some other plot to effectuate, that concerned his advancement, and the weale of his State.

            It is of course no accident that Bailér and Baudissin are mentioned in connection with this carouse: they were both mighty men with the bottle. The Scots too had famous performers in this way: Major-General Patrick Ruthwen, called Pater Rotwein, who in spite of the sternest competition quickly secured for himself an acknowledged pre-eminence as a tippler: he had a head of iron, and could take incredible quantities. He and Baudissin (who was pretty near on the same level) often drank together; but after the King's death Baudissin took his discharge and entered the Saxon service, presumably attracted by the reputation of the electoral cellars. The two boon-companions were to meet once again: during one of Baner's earlier campaigns, when each was in command of an independent corps, (though now on opposite sides), they met early one morning in a very odd battle near Dömitz; and here Ruthwen, being a shade the soberer of the two, seized the opportunity to add one last brilliant victory—though this time of a rather different sort—to his earlier triumphs over Baudissin. Monro, for his part, lingers with pleasure over the companionable carouses he enjoyed when he lay quartered next to Axel Lillie, at Treptow in the Mark of Brandenburg:

            a Towne . . . renowned of old, for brewing of good beere, which during our residence there with the Swedes, we did merrily try, till that we had both quarrelling and swaggering amongst our selves, who before our departure again were made good friends, reserving our enmity, till we saw our common enemy.

            Axel Lillie's friendship with Monro seems to have stood the test; for six months later, before Mainz, he was sitting in Monro's redoubt—he had dropped in for a pipe and a chat—when a cannon-ball came and took off his leg.

            Immediately after the capture of Frankfurt Monro was given a taste of the King's hot temper, when he was detailed to put in order a redoubt outside Landsberg, and despite unremitting labour throughout the night did not succeed in having it ready for the King's early morning inspection. The King took him severely to task, and would hear of no explanations or excuses; but when later on he understood all the circumstances, he was sorry for his hard words. Monro shows no resentment; on the contrary, he thinks all the better of the King for his impatience, which, he says, always caused him to press on the work on field-fortifications to the utmost of his power. And at the same time he concedes that in the matter of digging the German soldiers are handier than the Scots: this is the only instance in which he concedes a superiority to any other nation. And indeed it is one of the King's most notable qualities as a commander, that he can induce his men—even the mercenaries—to wield the spade without wages:

            Likewise his Majestie was to be commended for his diligence by night and by day, in setting forwards his workes; for he was ever out of patience, till once they were done, that he might see his Souldiers secured and guarded from their enemies; for when he was weakest, he digged most in the ground; for in one yeare what at Swede, Francford, Landsberg, Brandenburg, Verbum, Tanner-monde, Wittenberg, and Wirtzburg, he caused his Souldiers to workc more for nothing, than the States of Holland could get wrought in three yeares, though they should bestow every yeare a Tunne of gold: and this he did not onely to secure his Souldiers from the enemy, but also to keepe them from idlenesse.

            After sundry less colourful episodes from the campaign in Brandenburg and the march to Berlin, Monro's simple epic winds deviously on to the camp at Werben—a camp of a type which was invented by Gustavus Adolphus, and was considered by contemporaries as a miracle of field-fortification. Werben not only confirmed Monro in his enthusiasm for the King's military genius, but afforded him a proof of his singular good fortune in everything he undertook, so that he might indeed fitly be called Mars his Minion and Fortunes Favourite. For in Brandenburg the plague had raged so hot, that Monro lost thirty men of his regiment in a single week; while in Werben, only six days' march away, every trace of it vanished at once from the whole army, which could not be considered otherwise than as a miracle from God. Tilly showed himself before the camp, with a view to trying an assault; but he was much harassed by anxiety for his food-supply, since the King's cavalry had swept the country clear beforehand, and after considering the matter for a day or two he sullenly retired. The Swedes soon broke camp to follow him; and passing the Elbe at Wittenberg, there made their junction with the army of the Elector of Saxony. The Saxon army, when they first met it drawn up in parade-order, looked brand-new, and glittered amazingly, while the King's men looked worn and tattered; "nevertheless," says Monro, "we thought not the worse of ourselves." And now at last they were ready, as he puts it, to advance "conjunctis viribus" against the champion of the House of Austria and the Catholic League; and the united armies set themselves in motion towards Breitenfeld.

            "As the Larke begunne to peepe, the seventh of September 1631" the drums of the Swedish army beat to arms; and after the men had fortified their bodies with victuals, and their souls with meditation and the confession of their sins, they covered—not without some difficulty—the last piece of the way to Tilly's positions. By noon the armies were ranged front to front, and the exchange of cannonading could begin; this was sufficiently trying for the foot, who during a wait of some hours had nothing to do but to stand still and fill the gaps in their ranks; "the sound of such musick being scarce worth the hearing, though martiall I confesse, yet, if you can have so much patience, with farre lesse danger, to reade this dutie to an end, you shall finde the musicke well paide; but with such Coyne, that the players would not stay for a world to receive the last of it, being over-joyed in their flying."

            The Scotch Brigade was placed in the second line, but after the armies came to grips had the good luck to get a better chance to distinguish itself than the Brigades further forward, which were never engaged at all. For when Tilly, after crushing the Saxons, sent the mass of his infantry crashing into Horn's wing, it was the Scots, among others, whom the King himself sent forward to check them. And Monro has succeeded in capturing a sort of smoke-swept impression of the obscurity and confusion of a seventeenth-century battlefield, in his description of the moment when his men came to grips with Tilly's tercios:

            The enemies Battaile standing firme, looking on us at a neere distance, and seeing the other Briggads and ours wheeleing about, making front unto them, they were prepared with a firme resolution to receive us with a salve of Cannon and Muskets; but our small Ordinance being twice discharged amongst them, and before we stirred, we charged them with a salve of muskets, which was repaied, and incontinent our Briggad advancing unto them with push of pike, putting one of their battailes in disorder, fell on the execution, so that they were put to the route.

            I having commanded the right wing of our musketiers, being my Lord of Rhees and Lumsdells, we advanced on the other body of the enemies, which defended their Cannon, and beating them from their Cannon, we were masters of their Cannon, and consequently of the field, but the smoake being great, the dust being raised, we were as in a darke cloude, not seeing the halfe of our actions, much lesse discerning, either the way of our enemies, or yet the rest of our Brig-gads: whereupon, having a drummer by me, I caused him beate the Scots march, till it cleered up, which recollected our friends unto us, and dispersed our enemies being overcome; so that the Briggad coming together, such as were alive missed their dead and hurt Camerades.

            According to Monro the King attributed the victory (under God) to the Swedish and Finnish cavalry; but among the foot it was the Scotch Brigade which earned most thanks and commendation. In his general discussion of the battle Monro enumerates a long list of reasons for the victory, mixing impartially the religious with the military and technical; but the principal cause in his view is still the King himself, who in his own person was worth more than twenty thousand men:

            O would to GOD I had once such a Leader againe to fight such an other day in this old quarrel! And though I died standing, I should be perswaded, I died well; . . . he that would labour an Army as Gustavus did, he will finde fruite, yea even the best that groweth under the Empire, good Rhenish and Necker wine, not onely for himselfe, but for the meanest Souldier, and that unto excesse, which hath made me sometimes complaine more of the plenty our Souldiers had after this victory, through the abuse of it, then ever I did before for any penury.

            The long triumphal progress after the victory, through Thuringia, the Rhineland and Bavaria, brought Monro many experiences, often worth pursuing through his clotted text, but hardly on the same plane as Frankfurt and Breitenfeld. He commanded the palace-guard in Munich, when the King held his court there in company with the Winter King of Bohemia; and he was still with the royal army at Nuremberg. But he was not present at Lützen: it was the first major action in which the King had not had Scots to rely upon, as Monro points out in his explanation of why the battle turned out as it did. He was at that time in South Germany, serving under Horn, and among other places was plaguing the diocese of Dunklespiel on the Upper Rhine—the same diocese in which Ritt-master Dugald Dalgetty had so enjoyed himself with the episcopal property. After the King's death a shadow began to creep across an existence which hitherto had been uniformly sunny; and after Nördlingen the survivors of Monro's regiment numbered less than a company—a twelfth of the strength with which it had entered the Swedish service. If the King had lived, he must have conceded that the hope he had expressed when he mustered them in Stockholm had been abundantly fulfilled: from this regiment he had gotten good service for his money.

Translated by Michael Roberts

 

From A Walk to an Ant Hill and Other Essay, 1950