In July 1639, after the signature of the treaty of Berwick, Montrose was one of the Covenanting leaders who visited Charles. This change of policy on his part, frequently ascribed to the fascination of the kings conversation, arose in reality from the nature of his own convictions. He wished to get rid of the bishops without making presbyters masters of the state. His was essentially a laymans view of the situation. Taking no account of the real forces of the time, he aimed at an ideal form of society in which the clergy should confine themselves to their spiritual duties, and the king, after being enlightened by open communication with the Scottish nation, should maintain law and order without respect of persons. In the Scottish parliament which met in September, Montrose found himself in opposition to Argyll, who had made himself the representative of the Presbyterian and national party, and of the middle classes. Montrose, on the other hand, wished to bring the kings authority to bear upon parliament to defeat this object, and offered him the support of a great number of nobles. He failed, because Charles could not even then consent to abandon the bishops, and because no Scottish party of any weight could be formed unless Presbyterianism were established ecclesiastically.
Rather than give way, Charles prepared in 1640 to invade Scotland. Montrose was of necessity driven to play something of a double part. In August 1640 he signed the Bond of Cumbernauld as a protest against the particular and direct practising of a few, in other words, against the ambition of Argyll. But he took his place amongst the defenders of his country, and in the same month he displayed his gallantry in action at the forcing of the Tyne at Newburn. After the invasion had been crowned with success, Montrose still continued to cherish his now hopeless policy. On 27 May 1641 he was summoned before the Committee of Estates charged with intrigues against Argyll, and on 11 June he was imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle. When Charles visited Scotland to give his formal assent to the abolition of Episcopacy, Montrose communicated to him his belief that Hamilton was a traitor. It had indeed been alleged, on Clarendons authority, that he proposed to murder Hamilton and Argyll; but this is in all probability only one of Clarendons many blunders. Upon the kings return to England Montrose shared in the amnesty which was tacitly accorded to all Charles's partisans.
For a time Montrose retired, perforce, from public life. After the Civil War began in England he constantly pressed Charles to allow him to make a diversion in Scotland. Hamiltons impracticable policy of keeping Scotland neutral for long stood in the way of Charles's consent. But in 1644, when a Scottish army entered England to take part against the king, Montrose, now created a marquis, was at last allowed to try what he could do. He set out to invade Scotland with about 1000 men. But his followers deserted, and his condition appeared hopeless. Disguised as a groom, he started on the 18 August with only two gentlemen to make his way to the Highlands. Highlanders had never before been known to combine together, but Montrose knew that most of the clans detested Argyll, and the clans rallied to his summons. About 2000 disciplined Irish soldiers had crossed the sea to assist him. In two campaigns, distinguished by rapidity of movement, he met and defeated his opponents in six battles. At Tippermuir and Aberdeen he routed Covenanting levies; at Inverlochy he crushed the Campbells, at Auldearn, Alford and Kilsyth his victories were obtained over well-led and disciplined armies. At Dundee he extricated his army from the greatest peril, and actually called his men off from the sack that had begun a feat beyond the power of any other general in Europe. The fiery enthusiasm of the Gordons and other clans often carried the day, but Montrose relied more upon the disciplined infantry which had followed Alastair Macdonald from Ireland. His strategy at Dundee and Inverlochy, his tactics at Aberdeen, Auldearn and Kilsyth furnished models of the military art, but above all his daring and constancy marked him out as the greatest soldier of the war, Cromwell alone excepted. His career of victory was crowned by the great battle of Kilsyth (August 15, 1645). Now Montrose found himself apparently master of Scotland. In the name of the king, who now appointed him lord-lieutenant and captain-general of Scotland, he summoned a parliament to meet at Glasgow on the 20 October, in which he no doubt hoped to reconcile loyal obedience to the king with the establishment of a non-political Presbyterian clergy. That parliament never met. Charles had been defeated at Naseby on the 14 June, and Montrose must come to his help if there was to be still a king to proclaim. David Leslie, the best of the Scottish generals, was promptly despatched against Montrose to anticipate the invasion. On the 12 September he came upon Montrose, deserted by his Highlanders and guarded only by a little group of followers, at Philiphaugh. He won an easy victory. Montrose cut his way through to the Highlands; but he failed to organize an army. In September 1646 he embarked for Norway.
Montrose was to appear once more on the stage of Scottish history. In June 1649, burning to revenge the death of the king, he was restored by the exile Charles II to the now nominal lieutenancy of Scotland. Charles however did not scruple shortly afterwards to disavow his noblest supporter in order to become a king on terms dictated by Argyll and Argylls adherents. In March 1650 Montrose landed in the Orkneys to take the command of a small force which he had sent on before him. Crossing to the mainland, he tried in vain to raise the clans, and on 27 April he was surprised and routed at Carbiesdale in Ross-shire. After wandering for some time he was surrendered by Macleod of Assynt, to whose protection, in ignorance of Macleods political enmity, he had entrusted himself. He was brought a prisoner to Edinburgh, and on 20 May sentenced to death by the parliament. He was hanged on the 21st, with Wishart's laudatory biography of him put round his neck. To the last he protested that he was a real Covenanter and a loyal subject.
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