The village, at that time, ran north and south on the general line of the Boath road, with enclosures running down westward towards the line of the burn. Montrose entrusted the defence of this area and the high ground of Castle Hill (where the Doo'cot now stands), to MacDonald, who had 300 Strathbogie Gordons under his command as well as two to three hundred Clan Donald men. The Royal Standard marked the centre of this position to draw attention to it, and some small cannon or culverin were mounted on the hill to protect the right or northern flank. The main strength of Montrose's force was stationed on the left wing, out of sight of an advance from the west, with the Gordon infantry about 700 strong and 100 Ulster MacDonalds under his personal command behind the ridge at Kinsteary Park His small cavalry force of some 200, under the Lords Aboyne and Lewis Gordon, was further to his left towards Newmill. He had no reserve and so the total Royal Army amounted to about 1,500 men.
The Covenant Army approached from behind Kinnudie and, shortly before noon, advanced towards the village. Lawers' Regiment was in the van, supported by Loudoun's. Lothian's and Buchanan's Regiments with the Moray Horse under Major Drummond on their right flank. The Northern levies formed Hurry's second Division, with Seaforth's men advancing across the high ground towards the Mill and Lovat's and Sutherland's further south in the broken boggy ground. The main body of Hurry's cavalry was kept in reserve under his personal command. In all the Covenanters had about 4,000 men in the field at Auldearn against the King.
General Hurry's forces experienced great difficulty in crossing the boggy ground in front of MacDonald's men, who had strengthened their position behind the banks and dykes of the enclosures on the higher ground of the village. Shots were exchanged and the Covenanters taunted the Royalists with cowardice for fighting behind cover. This induced the impetuous Alasdair to sally forth at the head of his men and a desperate encounter developed, watched by Montrose from the vicinity of Auldearn Kirk. Weight of numbers forced MacDonald's men to fall back but they bitterly contested every yard. MacDonald himself was attacked by Hay of Kinnudie, a tall powerful man, whom he cut down, and when later his sword was shattered, his brother-in-law, Davidson of Ardnacross, handed over his own at the cost of his life. Alasdair eventually regained the protection of the enclosures, covered by one of his men, Ranald MacKinnon of Mull who, though weaponless, wounded in the chest and shot through both cheeks by an arrow, kept the pikemen at bay with only his targe to defend himself. Yet he lived to tell the tale.
Montrose now saw that his right wing could not hold out much longer and rode over to the left wing south of the village, to launch his main attack on the flank of the enemy. In order to hearten the Gordons, who so far had only heard the confused noises of battle below them, he called to Lord Gordon. "MacDonald drives all before him. Is he to have all the honours of the day and leave no laurels for the house of Huntly? Charge!"
By this time, the Covenant Army had closed with the Royalists along the line of the village and Major Drummond was ordered to charge the position with his cavalry. For some unexplained reason, the horsemen wheeled left instead of right and broke through the ranks of their supporting infantry, throwing them into confusion. The Gordon Horse, charging from the slope, fell upon this disorganised flank and swept through them like a whirlwind and the Gordon infantry, following hard on their heels, completed the rout. The brunt of this attack fell on the regular regiments and also the Sutherland and Fraser men. They stood their ground as well as they could but were mown down like grass. The Seaforth men on the higher ground and the cavalry reserve, seeing the fate of their right wing, fled the field in confusion. There were, however, some notable exceptions, such as Rory Maclennan, the Kintail bannerman who led the picked bowmen of the Macraes and also Captain Bernard Mackenzie, with a company of his men from Chanonry in Ross, who fought desperately to protect the MacKenzie standard implanted in the ground, until all were cut down on the spot where they stood. Hurry himself was one of the last to quit the field.
MacDonald rallied his men for a final effort and attacked Hurry's reeling centre, despite the loss already of seventeen of his best officers. The pursuit continued for 14 miles with no quarter given. Sixteen colours and banners, all the baggage, ammunition and money fell into the hands of the victors.
Hurry's casualties have been put as high as 2,000 killed though about half this number seems more probable but they included Sir Mungo Campbell of Lawers, Sir John and Gideon Murray and two Gledstanes of Whitelaw. The bodies of those who fell to Montrose's attack from the south were buried in wasteland, now known as Dead Man's Wood, and those killed before MacDonald's position, in a hollow below the north-west corner of the kirkyard, which still contains memorials to Covenanting officers. The remnant of the Covenant Army escaped to Inverness, where Major Drummond was court-martialled and shot for his mishandling of the Moray Horse.
Montrose subsequently defeated the other half of the Covenant Army under General Baillie at Alford in Aberdeenshire on the 2nd July and scored another notable victory at Kilsyth in August, but thereafter his fortunes ebbed and his anno mirabilis flickered out after the disaster at Philiphaugh against General Sir David Leslie, who had been recalled by the Estates from England with his army, to meet the Royalist threat. After fleeing to the Continent he planned a new expedition on behalf of King Charles II but his second and last campaign ended briefly in defeat at Carbisdale on 27th April 1650. Although he escaped after the battle, he was later betrayed, captured and executed in Edinburgh on 21st May. But Montrose died, as he had lived, a Presbyterian and adhering to the National Covenant. Ironically, Hurry, who changed sides after Auldearn and became a Royalist, suffered the same fate with him.
"He either fears his fate too much,
Compiled by the History Department, The National Trust for Scotland, from notes and sketch map supplied by Brigadier John Sym DSO.
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