Fyvie: The Historic Battle

The fighting occurred just to the east of Fyvie Castle with Argyll’s forces moving in from the west. The major area marked “Marshland” is the present location of Loch Fyvie (which is an 18th century construction). The River Ythan generally flows northwest to southeast but takes a decidedly westerly turn as it approaches Fyvie, swinging west of the castle. As it turns it is joined by Skeugh Burn flowing in from the east. In the present day a bridge crosses near this junction but I have no evidence that it was present in 1644:

Fyvie Battle Field

The hills rise sharply to the east of Fyvie and have been descrbed as steep and wooded. Directly east of the castle, however, the slopes were cut up with agricultural ditches and it is in this area that Montrose made his stand. Wishart notes that Montrose deployed on a “hill over-looking the castle” which I take to be Broom Hill. The other feature of note is the “deepe hollow bruick” mentioned by Ruthven, which Reid believes is the steep gully which runs out just to the south of Broom Hill. Looking at topo maps offers no other possibility.

It is worth noting, however, that the land east and south of the castle has been heavily reformed since the 17th century and I have conjectured another stream (draining a marshland) placed between Broom Hill and the steeper slope to the east. Conceivably there was additional marsh and drainage between the castle and Broom Hill.

Little is known of the deployment other than Ruthven’s statement that Montrose had the Ythan on his right, woods on his left, and a deep hollow brook to his front. Ried believes his original facing was south but he later pivoted west. I think Broom Hill is the original position since the meeting of the Skeugh and the Ythan are to its right and for Inchbrakie, at least, the hollow brook would be essentially to his front when he engaged.

A plauable deployment for the Royalists is shown below. I assume that Laghtnan’s foot is present (to make the numbers given for the Irish in multiple accounts work out correctly) and are placed farther up slope as the reserve.  Farquharson of Monaltrie commands the Gordon contingent on the right (Gordon horse, his own collection of men from Strathdee supplemented by Strathaven, and a portion of the Strathbogie foot in a forward forlorn). Montrose is in the center with O’Cahan’s Irish musketeers and Inchbrackie and his Atholl Highlanders extended into the woods to the left:

Fyvie View from Covenanter Lines

The Covenanter’s deploy on the downward slope from the castle  in the conventional formation of foot in the center and horse on both wings. The horse contingent is impressive having nearly 800 to oppose Montrose’s fifty or so. Of course with the field so broken and constricted to thier front, employing them to good effect would be problematic:

Fyvie view fom Royalist lines

Without evidence to the contrary, I have placed Dalhousie on the Covenanter left and on the opposite bank of the Ythan. This is a sizable veteran unit (have fought at Marston Moor earlier in the year – but with no great distinction). While two regular musket and pike units comprise the Covenanter frontline, the entire reserve line is made up of militia and levy.

the course of the battle is hard to chart but I shall use Ruthven’s account as a guide. Historic Scotland uses Ruthven also but assumes his statement about Montrose’s position remains fixed so that all of the Covenant attacks came up from the south:

Fyvie Deployment (southern view)

I will use the classical view (Reid, et. al.) that since Argyll’s approach was from the west, his various assaults would be from that quarter also.

Ruthven describes at least four distinct movements on the first day of battle. First was an assault on the forward position by Lothian’s foot which drove off the Royalist forlorn:

Fyvie Historic Battle 1
Ruthven, a Gordon loyalist, does not name the unit as the Strathbogie foot, but Wishart tells us that the Gordons left the field before the battle was well begun. Conventional wisdom therefore places the Strathbogie in the forward position.

The second movement is a Royalist counter attack (some say by O’Cahan, others Farquharson, but likely both, and supported by the Gordon horse). This counter stoke drives off the Covenanters and the forward position is re-occupied:Fyvie Historic Battle 2

On the Covenanter right, the third movement finds Ramsay launching a cavalry probe toward the hollow brook but it is ambushed by Inchbrakie who drives it back with substantial loss. Apparently Inchbrakie sprung the trap too soon and was unable to maximize enemy casualties, but no further attempts were made in that direction:

Fyvie Historic Battle 3

The forth and final movement was a Covenanter assult by an unknown foot regiment, supported by horse, against the Royalist center which was also repulsed:

Fyvie Historic Battle 4

Argyll, now down to the the milita and levies as his only fresh foot, decides to withdraw for the night.

There is some evidence that Argyll planned to make a general assult the second day (October 29th) but thought better of it when faced with giving the actual command. The day proceeded until nightfall with occasional shooting back and forth (presumably between skirmishers from both sides since the lines were not within musket range)

Eventually the entire affair essentially petered out. Montrose circled back around to Stathbogie (now Huntley) with Argyll trapsing behind in half-hearted pursuit. There was some additional light skirmishing which decided nothing.

Ultimately, Argyll recieved some defectors from Montrose’s forces – declared victory – and went home for the winter. Apparently he had decided that Montrose was so harried and dispirited that the Spring would bring his disappearance. Argyll, probably more than anyone, would be in for a nasty surprise!

The Scenario and Orders of Battle which I will use to wargame Fyvie can be found here.