Near the end of August, 1644, the city of Perth is suddenly focused on preparing for a threat that seemed far-off and only a matter of idle gossip a few days before. With the news that the Marquis of Montrose is now not only attempting to raise the west but is actually leading the army of fiendish Irish invaders, the call-up of the levy militia has gone into high gear. With Montrose’s eye clearly on Perth, the home army is assembling to its defense.
The task, however, is not as simple as it seems on paper. Scotland’s first line army is in Northern England, having recently participated in the victory at Marston Moor. The government also has a substantial over-seas army in Ulster which is pulling resources away from the homeland. Between these two armies virtually all of the experienced officers and veteran soldiers are employed and anything approximating a battle-hardened force in Scotland does not exist.
The closest thing to regulars that are available is the Fife Foot, which was raised to deal with the recent rising of the Marquis of Huntley in the Northeast, but it has seen little actual service. Lord Elcho has arrived with a portion of that regiment and is actively bolstering it with additional levies from Fifeshire as they arrive. Similarly a regiment of foot drawn from Perthsire but with even less experience than Elcho’s is being raised and augmented by James Murry, Lord Tullibardine. With Montrose now within one or two days march of Perth, Elcho (who has become the local commander) hopes that an additional foot regiment may be on its way from Aberdeen and that Sir James Scott will bring up his newly raised regiment from West Fife.
With the exception of the city’s own militia which has some regular training in their weapons, every other force arriving is part of the general defensive levy with a minimum of training. These forces are, however, generally well equipped, a decided plus. A few of the combat pieces in the militia units are represented as weaker than standard musket and pike pieces to capture the improvised nature of Lord Elcho’s army. As with the Royalist Militia flags, those representing the government have no historic reality.
The two contemporary descriptions of the Covenant forces assembling at Perth are Royalist (Gordon and Wishnart, who weren’t actually present) and motivated to exaggerate the forces arrayed against them for propaganda purposes.
Historians have long accepted their number estimates to such a degree that the figure 7000 appears in almost every account of the soon to be fought battle. Stuart Reid argues for a much lower number and I believe it closer to the mark. If you look at a map of the Perth region, the known disposition of the two Scottish field armies, and the lateness of the muster call, it is difficult to see how a force of much over 3500 could have been raised. This is particularly true if you add in the fact that much of the land to the west of Perth was constrained to send aid (or had even gone over to Montrose!). Likewise Montrose’s army was AHEAD of Argyll’s western army which, arguably, represented the closest thing to a Covenant army in being north of the Forth.
Due either to great strategic planning (or more likely the path of least resistance) Montrose saw Perth as a target of opportunity – and a much needed victory.
I am puzzled, however, as to why Perth City didn’t simply “fort-up” (that’s what the city of Dundee did when faced with the same situation a few days later). Perth apparently had its medieval walls and towers completely intact and it seems the first and best response, particularly with the almost certain knowledge that Montrose had no siege guns. That Elcho did not do this may give credence to him having the larger force and the confidence that he could defeat Montrose in the field (or perhaps he thought Montrose’s army was more poorly trained than his!) . What ever the case, from Elcho’s standpoint, he can’t acquire trained troops fast enough!