On Philiphaugh a fray began
At Hairhead wood it ended;
The Scots out o’er the Graemes, they ran,
See merrily they bended.
Sir David frae the Border came,
Wi’ heart an’ hand came he;
Wi’ him three thousand bonny Scots,
To bear him company.
Traditional Border Ballad
The Marquis of Montrose had contributed to the 1638 Covenant and had served with his opponent of this day General sir David Leslie in the Covenanter’s army. However sickened by some of the extremist actions of the Covenanters he had switched to the Royalists. This was to their great advantage as he waged an incredibly successful campaign across Scotland.
This was all to come undone at Philiphaugh.
Montrose camped his troops on the nearby moor while his he and his cavalry found more comfortable lodgings across the river in Selkirk. This proved to be a costly mistake as Leslie advanced undetected through Melrose. Leslie’s army was undetected also thanks to a thick must which had descended over the area, also by the fact that Montrose, either through arrogance or simply thinking that the Royalist cause was already won had failed to post any lookouts.
Leslie fell on Montrose’s sleeping army without warning. Montrose himself only realised the attack was underway when he heard the sound of gunfire and shouting from across the river. He gathered his cavalry and sped to the scene. He desperately tried to recover the situation, cutting his way single handedly through the body of Leslie’s troops but the cause was already lost. He was forced to retreat over Minchmore toward Traquair, with him went the fortunes of the Royalist cause in Scotland.
As Montrose fled his worst fears of the zealous extremes of the covenanters were being realised. 400 Irish who had hidden at Philiphaugh farm were massacred. Their families, women and children numbering around 300 were driven into Newark castle and wiped out.
In 1810, excavation work at a school near Newark uncovered large quantities of bones and skulls. The field is known as Slain Men’s Lea.