Royalist rising of 1651 to 1654

The Royalist Rising of 1651 to 1654 took place in Scotland between Scots loyal to King Charles II against English parliamentary forces loyal to Oliver Cromwell who occupied Scotland. This was part of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

1651: Defeat of the Royalists in England and Cromwell’s Occupation of Scotland

After the defeat of the Royalist army in Scotland, under James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose, Charles II signed a draft agreement of the Covenant on 1 May 1650. The new King was also forced to agree to a number of humiliating concessions both before and after his return to Scotland. He not only signed both Covenants but was forced into dismissing many members of his household but, against his own beliefs and conscience and agreed to impose Presbyterianism throughout the three kingdoms. The Scottish Royalist army marched into England made up of many who had previously solely supported the Covenant but now supported the King after his signing of the Covenant.

After the Roylist defeat in England at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 the English parlimentry forces of Oliver Cromwell came to occupy Scotland. The Scottish Lowlands were easily controlled. The most powerful man in Scotland, the Duke of Argyll maintained an equivocal position but the majority of Highlanders showed no sign of accepting Oliver Cromwell's English domination. A number of royalist strongholds in Scotland continued to display the standard of Charles II, namely the Bass Rock, Dumbarton Castle, Dunnottar Castle and Brodick Castle.

During the Civil War the Duke of Argyle, chief of Clan Campbell was a Covenanter and opposed King Charles I. He had supported the Solemn League and Covenant, acting as Commander-in-Chief in Scotland and helping to suppress a Royalist uprising under the Marquess of Huntly, chief of Clan Gordon, who also happened to be his brother in-law. Argyll suffered greatly as a result of James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose’s royalist victories, resigning his commission as commander-in-chief and witnessing the repeated ransacking of his property. After the brief reinstatement of Charles II to the Scottish throne, Argyll refused to take part in the desperate plan to invade England in 1651.

During the siege of Dundee the English command had receivedreports that Argyll was attempting to organise a force of 4000 men in support of the royalist resisters. However, on 9 November 1651 William Clark repeated the Earl of Wemyss’s assertion that Argyll had not raised any new forces in the west since Charles II went into exile.

Argyll preferred a safer and more ambiguous method ofopposition. He had made many enemies and for a time he favoured theproposals of the Earl of Loudoun regarding the revival of the powers of the Committee of Estates. In a letter to General Monck dated 15 October 1651, Argyll appealed for the cessation of hostilities. His intentions appear to have been twofold: on the one hand, he aimed to seek permission, by means of a settlement, for the meeting of a Scottish Parliament, consisting largely of the remnants of the Committee of Estates. On the other, he was attempting to strengthen his own position by presenting himself as a vital mediatorbetween both sides.

Both the English and Scottish populations were deeply suspicious of Argyll’sintentions and motives. On 19 November 1651, Argyll had arranged to meet two of General Monck’s officers but never turned up, pleading illness. By the beginning of 1652, the situation had become further inflamed by the arrival of eight Commissioners appointed by the English government to organise the civil government and prepare for the union. Overcome by illness, Cromwell’s commander, General Monck was unable to complete his control over all of Scotland and was succeeded in February 1652 by Major-General Richard Deane. In March 1652, Argyll sent a series of letters to the Commissioners declaring that any reports they may have heard concerning his hostility towards them were maliciously deceitful. In April, both Brodick Castle on the Isle of Arran and the Bass Rock were defeated. The first resulted from military victory; the second came about after a series of protracted negotiations with the owner of the Bass, John Hepburne, laird of Wauchton. After an eight-month siege, Dunnottar Castle was the last royalist stronghold to capitulate on 24th May 1652.

Argyll’s formal acceptance of the union and his agreement to obeythe Parliament in England gloatingly appeared in the newspaper, SeverallProceedings in Parliament, for 2-9 September. Argyle later declared that he had signed this treaty under threat. However, the settlement between the Scottish Earl and the English authorities did allow the Argyll some form of independence. A supplementary treaty declared that except under some unforeseen emergency, no other English troops would be brought into Scotland. However many Scottish royalists had already began resisting Cromwell’s forces.

Three out of the five garrisons were occupied by the English – at Loch, Kincairn and Tarbet however they were quickly attacked and disbanded by Highlander rebels and the garrisons at Dunstaffnage Castle and Dunolly Castle were re-established as Scottish Royalist garrisons. The Duke of Argyll however claimed to disapprove of these acts of aggression..

1652 to 1653: A Year of Preparations for War

Oliver Cromwell's preparations for the Highland expedition had been progressing since March. On 9th June 1652, Deane appointed Colonel Robert Lilburne to command the campaign. Deane wrote a series of letters to the Parliament in England narrating his experiences in the Highlands. On 6th July 1652 he wrote from the Vale of Baggonoye that his troops were experiencing difficulties due to the want of provisions. It is a dismall place where we scarce see a man or beast for 40 miles together.

This was not the only time that English commanders would struggle with theinhabitable terrain of the Scottish Highlands. As Deane complained, the territory was mountainous and unfamiliar while it held a tradition of widespread violence and lawlessness. Moreover, the foreign English troops viewed the customs and conduct of the Highlanders with a mixture of haughtiness and distaste. By early 1652 some minor skirmishes had already began between Highland royalist rebels and Cromwell’s occupiers. In the spring of 1652, Colone Ewen Cameron chief of Clan Cameron, was able to join with the Earl of Glencairn's army and soon after the Battle of Tulloch Pass took place where he and his men routed some of Cromwell’s forces.

Charles II maintained contact with his former subjects in Scotland after his disastrous defeat at the Battle of Worcester in September of 1651. From his exile in Paris, he discussed with Highland chiefs the possibility of retrieving his regalia and personal belongings that had been left at Dunnottar Castle. The defeat of Dunnottar meant that the royal agent, Major-General Vandruske, who was sent to Scotland in March 1652 was forced to abandon theproject. The exiled King, however, was encouraged by the onset of the Anglo-Dutch war and a missive sent three months later ‘from diverse of the most considerable nobility’ in the Highlands.

On 25th 1652 June King Charles commissioned John Middleton, 1st Earl of Middleton as Lieutenant-General of Scotland, directing the nobles of Scotland to assist him in every possible way. Charles explained to his leading supporters in Scotland that he had chosen John Middleton because of his consistent loyalty, his military experience, skill, and his popularity among the Scots. However, like many men of his time, Middleton had previously fought both for and against the Royalist cause. He had supported the royalist James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose when the latter had been a covenanter and had also fought on the side of the Parliamentarians at the Battle of Marston Moor.However, his later exploits were more pleasing to the King. He had become anEngager, fighting at the Battle of Mauchline Muir and the Battle of Worcester. He was imprisoned at Worcester but had escaped the tower in what seems to have been the usual disguise of the time -women’s clothes - and had joined the King at St. Germains.

The first task with which General John Middleton was faced involved gathering sufficient funding and resources to give the Royalists a chance of victory. He realised his best chance of revenue was from rich Scottish nobles living out of the country and from the courts of Europe. However, despite letters from Middleton and visits from his agents, only a paltry amount was collected on behalf of the King.

In July of 1652 Angus Macdonald of Glengarry who was acting chief of the royalist forces in Scotland sent a messenger, Captain Malcolm Smith, to the King, requesting commissions and limited assistance and stores. Smith arrived in Holland in October and had reached Paris by mid-November. He informed Charles that the chiefs of the Clan MacDonnell of Glengarry, Clan MacDonald of Clan Ranald, Clan Fraser, Clan Cameron, Clan MacLean and Clan MacLeod and many others each vowed to raise an army of men. The King already had many loyal Highland subjects, including, George Munro, 1st of Newmore who had visited him in Holland as early as 1649 and who had defeated Argyll at the Battle of Stirling (1648).

On 9th August 1652, Charles II instructed Middleton to pursue contributions from the Dutch. However, soon after his arrival in Holland in autumn, Middleton fell seriously ill with tertian fever and royalist plots were temporarily suspended. On 20 th December 1652, Charles drew up a document detailing the appointment of six commissioners, including MacDonald of Glengarry, to act as a Council of War until John Middleton, 1st Earl of Middleton was able to take command. It is clear however that there were rivalries from an early stage in the royalistuprising. In August 1652, Charles II’s secretary, Nicholas, wrote that althoughGlengarry had not the authority, military skill or wisdom to take command and he had no intention of bowing before Middleton.

Towards the end of 1652, a messenger from William Cunningham, 9th Earl of Glencairn, chief of Clan Cunningham had arrived at the court to offer service to Charles. Glencairn was a Lowlander who was one of the few Royalist Scottish noblemen at the beginning of the Civil War in 1642 but was later made Lord Justice-General by Parliament. Charles added his personal recommendation inGlencairn’s favour but told the Earl that if the Highlanders refused to accept him, he should hand over his royal commission. Glencairn was duly elected the royalist leader.

1653: The rising gains momentum

By February 1653, Cromwell’s commander, Lilburne realised that the royalist forces were gathering strength. He relied largely on information from the two main allies of the English in Scotland: Campbell, the Earl of Argyll and Sir James Macdonald, chief of the Clan MacDonald of Sleat. MacDonald of Glengarry’s movements were sufficiently significant to be mentioned in Mercurius Politicus, under the dates of 5th and 12th February 1653:

"About three days ago, the Marquis of Argyle was with Colonel Lilburn and yesterday he sent him a letter signifying the great and frequent meetings of Glengary with the other Highlanders and Islanders, but what the intent of their meeting may be, he saith he knows not."

The guerrilla warfare of the royalists in Scotland began on a large scale from the summer of 1653 and went on for about thirteen to fourteen months. On 6th August 1653 Lilburne informed his master, Oliver Cromwell that he believed the royalist rebels were intending ‘suddaine action’ and that they were daily joined by Scottish Lowland stragglers and men from Ireland. Of course, at this point theRoyalists still hoped that the arrival of John Middleton, 1st Earl of Middleton with large numbers of men, supplies and finance from the Continent, would prove to be the decisive turning point in the struggle. A similar hope that the Dutch fleet might render aid was quashed by its defeat on 31st July at the hands of the English Royal Navy and General Monck at the Battle of Texel.

It appears that the first Royalist gathering place was the in region between Lochaber and Inverness. On 13th August Lilburne wrote to Col. Thomas Reade, the governor of Stirling, that Glencairn was not far north of Badenoch and heading towards Inverness and that he was joined by around 1200 men including Lorne and MacDonald of Glengarry. Lilburne added that the inhabitants of Badenoch and Atholl had refused to join the rebels. A few days later, in a letter to Cromwell, Lilburne reported that Kenmore and the Tutor of Clan Gregor had retreated to the Hills after attempting to stir up support in the areabetween Dumbarton and Stirling. However, it seems that as far south as Stirling was at risk from the insurgents. Another group of rebels were in Clan Fraser country to the east of Inverness. It seems that the rebels were capitalising on rumours which suggested that John Middleton, 1st Earl of Middleton and the Henry Stuart, Duke of Gloucester were to land on 20th August at
Portpatrick with 10 000 men.

However on 18th August 1653, Lilburne wrote that the news of the Dutch defeat had provoked the rebel forces to disperse from Bonnywher near Ruthven Castle in Badenoch. Lorne and the Clan MacLean had returned to their own territories in Argyllshire and the Isle of Mull respectively. Glencairn and Glengarry had travelled in the direction of Lochaber while the Clan Gregor had travelled to the west of Stirling. The rumour that the Highlanders had dispersed is illustrated in a letter from the Duke of Argyll to Lilburne dated 30thAugust 1653. He passed on the information that only Kenmore, McNaughton andLorne were still ‘bent on mischief’.

It seems that the royalists realised they were insufficiently strong in numbers to engage in an open battle. On 3rd September 1653, Argyll reported that Lorne and his cousin Kenmore were in Menteith, a few miles to the west of Stirling, Glencairn was on the Isle of Mull and MacKenzie, the Earl of Seaforth had returned to his territory in Kintail.

Col. Reade, Cromwell's governor of Stirling, attempted to pursue Lorne and Kenmore but with little success. A skirmish took place at Aberfoyle at which both sides declared victory. Reade only managed to kill two or three of the insurgents for the remainder quickly retreated into the Hills where the lack of provisions and approaching nightfall had stopped the English army in their tracks.

In November 1653 Lilburne was complaining of the ‘secrett contrivements and incouragements the generality of this people affords (the Royalists)’. In another report of the same month he writes that even victims of the Royalists’ plunder refused to provide intelligence and that every appearance or victory of the enemy seemed to heighten the spirit of the Scottish people. This is perhaps the greatest indicator of the feelings of the majority of native Scots. Encouraged by every Royalist victory, the ordinary people of Scotland were illustrating their innate hostility to the foreign English occupyers of Oliver Cromwell. In Parliament it was feared that a Scottish uprising might spur the English royalists into action.

The English Royalists’ plan to seize coastal ports

The year 1653 was a gloomy time for most English Royalists. The best the royalists in England could hope for before the summer of 1653 was to furnish the exiled court with information about their activities; to send money for the King’s upkeep, and to protect the lives of his leading councillors. In August 1653 a plot was uncovered to seize ports in the west, starting with the garrison at the Dorset town of Poole and extending as far as Portsmouth. The leading agent in the plot was Robert Phelips of Montacute, who had been involved in the royal escape after Worcester. The Cromwellian authorities were aware of the existence of a plan even before the arrival of Phelips in England in early July. He was duly imprisoned in the Tower of London but it was not long before he escaped. After the discovery of the plot, the English Royalists again played it quiet until the exploits of their Scottish counterparts provided further scope for optimism.

Col Edward Wogan joins the Royalist rising

In November 1653 Colonel Edward Wogan, an Irishman sailed from France into England where he recruited twenty-one men in London and rode off with them to join the Earl of Glencairn. He had decided to desert Parliamentary service and instead to move his body of mounted men along with some Worcestershire Royalists . They rode some 300 miles into Edinburgh. It is possible that, on the way, Wogan and his men carried out a coup against the English parlimentrians at Carlisle Castle, releasing a number of Royalist prisoners.

Wogan and his small band set out for on 21st November, covering around 25 miles a day, reached Durham nine days later. His decision to rest in Durham was reversed at the news of a Royalist success of the highlanders. Realising that reinforcements would probably soon be arriving from England, he gave up his intention to recruit in Durham and Northumberland and set off on 4 December. A party of Cromwellian horse was despatched from Newcastle to apprehend them but was driven back. Wogan and his men also managed to capture small parties of Cromwellians on their way, taking eighteen men outside Berwick, and driving through the town in broad daylight. In the Lowlands, with the informal help of a number of Moss-troopers, they captured a number of Lilburne’s men and entered Peebles on 9 December 1653. Wogan was able to persuade a number of dissatisfied mosstroopers to join his band permanently.

When Wogan advanced into the Earl of Glencairn’s headquarters at Loch Tay, he had according to Captain John Gwynne - around one hundred supporters. Glencairn welcomed the Irishman and granted him a commission to raise a regiment of horse. In a letter dated 6 February, Clarendon wrote to Middleton that Wogan had reported his troops were ‘above 1 500 horse and 8 000 foote’. He led his new regiment in a number of successful raids into Lowland territory thus winning the respect of Highlanders. Indeed, it was when Wogan’s career had reached another pinnacle that an injury ended further adventures. During a skirmish with English troops from the Brazen Wall Regiment near Drummond and Weems, he was wounded in the shoulder by a sword-thrust after killing the commander.

Wogan certainly made a favourable impression on the Scottish Royalists with whom he fought side by side. John Graham of Deuchrie, who accompanied Glencairn throughout the rebellion, wrote of his valour and courage:

"The colonel himself was unfortunately killed in a rencounter he had with the brazen-wall regiment of horse; but notwithstanding of the deadly wounds he had received, he rooted the troop, and killed the commander thereof, though it was said, that in all the civil wars they never had been beat. This brave gentleman had his wounds healed over: but from what cause I know not, they broke out again, and occasioned his death, to the great regret of all who knew him."

Glencairn attacks Falkland

In September 1653, while Lorne and Kenmore were occupied in Argyllshire, Glencairn attacked Falkland, kidnapping an officer, Captain Penne, and four or five of his soldiers who were guarding timber. Lilburne believed a number of inhabitants of Falkland aided the royalists. Sir Arthur Forbes negotiated the release of the prisoners with the English army, demanding the sum of £80. Around the same time around 300 Highlanders attacked the town of Dumbarton, killing two soldiers and taking two prisoners.

1654: The rising reaches its peak

By early 1654 Lilburne's letters to Cromwell are filled with pleas for more men, more ships and more money. Cromwell had around 12 000 foot soldiers and 2 200 of horse officially stationed in Scotland. These were considerable numbers and men of excellent quality. However, through economic necessity, the troops had been reduced to their lowest possible strength. One of the most serious shortages was the deficiency of horse. On 24th December 1653 Lilburne had wrote that there was not more than 1200 or 1300 fighting horses in the entirecountry. Also in December 1653 royalist activity spread even further south. At the beginning of the month a party of armed men seized horses within four mile of Berwick but released a number of prisoners. Other parties were active in Dumfriesshire and Galloway.

At the beginning of 1654 Glencairn’s rebels plundered the shires of Moray and Nairn, stealing from wealthy men in the area. On 18 and 19 January they overran the home of Alexander Brodie of Lethen, Lethen House, terrifying the local people with their coarseness and brutality. Indeed, the behaviour of the Royalists appears to have taken a turn for the worse perhaps as a result of the influence of the young Marquis of Montrose who had taken over Lorne’s command. A number of other influential men joined the rebels at the beginning of the year, including Lord Charles Gordon, the Earl of Mar, Lord Forrester, Lord Dudhope and the Earl of Selkirk.

February 1654 was a quiet month for the Royalists: Cromwell's Colonel Major General Thomas Morgan scored a number of victories against Glencairn and Kenmore at Cromar, chasing the latter to Kildrummy Castle. The castle had been fortified by the royalists but was seized by Morgan. Colonel William Daniel was enjoying similar success in Perthshire, capturing over one hundred men under the command of Atholl and Forbes at Dunkeld. Lilburne was cheered by this apparent ‘mouldering away’ of the Royalist cause.

At the end of February news finally came through that Middleton had landed at Tarbatness accompanied by eighty followers, including Sir George Munro, 1st of Newmore, Lord Napier, General Dalziel and Ludovic Drummond, and a quantity of ammunition. The arrival of Middleton does seem to have encouraged the insurgents. On 23 March, Lilburne reported to Cromwell that ‘there are risings in all Countries in considerable numbers’, and that ‘ [i] tt will bee necessary that provision bee made for the worst that can happen. In April 1654, Lilburne estimated that the combined forces of Glencairn and Middleton had reached 4000 while Montrose, Lorne and other scattered parties made up another 1300 or 1400. At the end of the month, Monck believed Middleton commanded 5000 royalist men.

During spring of 1654 many attacks were carried out with considerable successs against the forces of Cromwell. Most notably, Ewen Cameron chief of the Clan Cameron led groups of royalists at the Battles of Achdalieu, Achintore, and Strone Nevis where Cromwells forces were defeaed.

Disputes amongst the Royalists

Throughout 1654 Cromwell's effort was aided by the re-emergence of one of the greatest sources of weakness in the Royalist camp. That was that the royalists argued endlessly amongst themselves. The Highland chieftains were reluctant to serve under Glencairn, a Lowlander but, ironically, it was a fellow Lowlander, the Earl of Balcarres, who brought the inner hostilities to a head. However, it appears that Balcarres’s opposition to Glencairn was founded on personal dislike rather than political discord. In July and August 1654 the pair exchanged a number of biting letters concerning Glencairn’s leadership. Balcarres then attempted to convince Lorne, Seaforth and Atholl that the Royalists should be ruled by a committee rather than commanded by one man.

Lilburne had reported the Royalist quarrels to Cromwell as early on as 20th April 1654 and two days after that, General Monck had arrived at Dalkeith to take over the command in Scotland. Robert Lilburne was at last released from a responsibility that had proved to be so troublesome during early 1654.

A second rift had arisen amongst the royalists from Lorne’s quarrels with his own cousin, Lord Kenmore,and with Glengarry. Lorne also resented Glencairn’s command and, along with Balcarres and a few others, had written to Charles to express his discontent. When Glencairn realised he had been crossed, he sent Glengarry to arrest Lorne. Not surprisingly, when the two men met, they were prepared to fight and parted ‘great enemies’ just as Campbells and Macdonalds had been for generations. Indeed, it is possible that Glencairn sent Glengarry to arrest Lorne in order to take advantage of a long-standing feud.

Middleton’s arrival had actually provoked rather than subdued leadership quarrels. Glencairn was willing to accept the leadership of Middleton which was supported by royal commission. However, the appointment of Sir George Munro, a professional soldier with a reputation for arrogance and brutality who had fought in Scotland and Ireland, as second in command was a huge snub to the provisional commander who held the status of an Earl. This eventually resulted in a duel between the two in which neither was killed and the duel split up.

Monk's campaign and the final defeat of the Royalists

Of Cromwell’s commanders George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle carried a greater authority in the English government than Lilburne could ever hope to. Partly as a result of his reputation and partly as a consequence of events in England taking a turn for the better. Monck had a larger and better supplied army at his disposal alongside wider civil powers.

Cromwell’s army in Scotland was often reinforced. In 1654 Whalley’s and Lambert’s regiments of horse which had been promised to Lilburne were active in Scotland in time for Monck’s summer campaigns and they were joined by Col. Pride’s regiment of foot and seven companies of Sir William Constable’s, and Col. Hacker’s regiment of horse. Moreover, earlier in April and May the shipping of a further 1000 men from Ireland under the command of Col. Matthew Alured. They were initially intended to garrison the area around Lochaber that had provedstrategically important for the royalists, particularly Ewen Cameron. However, on 8 May, Monck instructed Alured to establish a new garrison at Inverlochy Castle.

Monck was able to rely on a number of competent officers who were alreadystationed in Scotland. Col. Thomas Morgan, who was to play such a vital role in Monck’s campaign, was already active in the area from the southern shore of the Moray Firth to the far north.

On 3rd May Monck’s powers were extended to allow him to imprison the father or master of any man who acted against the Commonwealth. However, Monck pre-empted this decree by issuing a comprehensive proclamation just a day later. He also offered rewards to anyone who could capture or kill a leading Royalist, particularly Middleton, Atholl, Seaforth, Kenmore and Major General Dalziel.He also promised a pardon for all rebels who agreed to submit within twenty days, providing they had not committed an act of cold-blooded murder or were not on the authorities’ most-wanted list.Those who had been injured or who had property seized by the Royalists were promised reparations out of the rebels’ own estates. Monck was in a much stronger position than Lilburne had been when he arrived to take command in April 1654.

On 10th May 1654 Monck left Dalkeith and marched to Stirling where he remained until 14th May. Two days later he was at Cardross Castle and then moved back towards the east to Kilsyth where he stayed until 25 May. As soon as new pasturage grew, he made his way to Buchanan Castle near the banks of Loch Lomond. He ordered that the boats of the loch that had been or might be employed by the royalists to be burned. Another tactic was to lay traps of ‘crows’ feet’; a four-spiked instrument designed to lame horses in fords which could not be otherwise secured. Monck established four additional troops of horse near Glasgow to seize any Royalist forces who travelled into the Lowlands. The royalists were still a problem at this time and on May 25th, they attacked the town of St. Johnstons killing a man or two, and seizing forty horses. Also a number of prisoners detained in Edinburgh Castle who were destined to be sent to Barbados escaped from prison at this time and rejoined the royalists.

During June and July of 1654 several skirmishes took place between the royalists and Cromwell’s English forces, mostly in favour of the English under the command of Thomas Morgan. Glencairn’s royalists were finally defeated at the Battle of Dalnaspidal on 19th July 1654.


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*Woolrych, A. Commonwealth to Protectorate (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982).
*Paterson, R.C. No Tragic Story: The Fall of the House of Campbell (Edinburgh: John Donald, 2001).
* Dow, F.D. Cromwellian Scotland 1651-1660 (Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers Ltd., 1979).
*Firth, C.H. Scotland and the Commonwealth: Letters and Papers Relating to the Military Government of Scotland, from August 1651 to December 1653 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1895).
*Willcock, J. The Great Marquess: Life and Times of Archibald, 8th Earl, and 1st (and only) Marquess of Argyll (1607-1661) (Edinburgh and London: Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier, 1903).
*The Resolutioners supported the Resolutions rescinding the exclusive policy of the Act of Classes.
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*Underdown, D. Royalist Conspiracy in England 1649-1660.
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*Willcock, J. A Scots Earl in Covenanting Times.

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