The Glasgow Review Issue 1

Back to list of Issues

Alexander Montgomerie and the Netherlands, 1586-89

Roderick J Lyall

Among the few accepted facts of the life of Alexander Montgomerie is his capture, between Gravesend and Brielle (The Brill), by an English ship bearing the Governor of Brielle, Sir Thomas Cecil, on 24 June 1586. The evidence for this is in a letter from Cecil himself to Lord Burghley, written two days after the event:

...we had lyke to haue had som lyttell fyghtes by the waye with our pynnase by mettynge of a Skottyshe Barke of eight skoore toonn with sixskoore Skottishe soldiers within hyr, and one MountGomerye one as he sayith hymself nere in credytt and place to the kynge of Skottland, one that hath serued in the Low Contryes and captayn of that shypp. /.../ the captayn hym self is gvone with certayn lattars of credytt to his Excellency and vntyll his retourn booth the shypp and the men I haue staydd here.1

Although no Christian name is given, the description fits the poet so well that there has been no challenge to the argument of R.D.S. Jack that he was the Scot thus taken.2 Three years later, James VI recalled that he had, in 1586, granted

the said Capitane Alexander his Maiesties licence to depairt and pass of this realme to the pairtis of France, Flanderis, Spane and vthiris beyond sey, for the space of fyve yeiris thaireftir,3

and that Montgomerie had duly gone. Although there were other Montgomeries who bore the rank of Captain at this period, this conjunction, together with the captive's claim to be `near in credit and place to the King of Scotland', seems conclusive, and there is no reason to doubt that Professor Jack is correct.

But what happened next? In originally drawing attention to the biographical significance of Cecil's letter, Professor Jack suggested that Montgomerie was guilty of piracy, and `the poet's imprisonment may well have resulted from this incident.' This view was supported by Helena Shire, who concluded that `it is highly likely that from that interview with "his Excellency" [i.e. Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, the English Governor in the Netherlands] dated Montgomerie's imprisonment.'4 More recently, Professor Jack has regarded this outcome as certain: `Foreseeably,' he says in his valuable critical introduction to Montgomerie's work, `he was put in jail'.5 The inference is apparently supported by the same Privy Seal letter which cites the King's 1586 licence and Montgomerie's departure: he went abroad `quheras he remanit continewallie sensyne deteynit and halden in prison and captiuitie, to the greit hurt and vexatioun of his persoun, attour the lose of his guidis.'6 Again the case seems conclusive. But it is not what actually happened; and the King's letter itself is curiously inaccurate.

A number of documents in the Algemeen Rijksarchief in The Hague and the Public Record Office in London demonstrate quite certainly that Montgomerie's interview with Leicester did not result in his imprisonment, but in his doing what he may well have set out from Scotland to do, serving in the allied Dutch, English and Scottish forces against Spain. The crucial item, cited by a Montgomerie family history but dismissed by Dr Shire in a footnote, appears in the register of Leicester's commissions as governor-general:

Commission pour Alexander Mongommery

Robert Conte de Leycester, Baron de Denbicgh & Lieutenant de sa Maieste d'Angleterre, Gouuerneur et Capitaine general des prouinces vnies du pais bas. A tous ceulx qui ces preusentes verront salut, Comme le Seigneur Alexander Mongommery s'est voluntairement transporte d'Escosse en ces pais, pour faire seruice a cest estat Et nous ayant pour agreable loffre qu'il nous en a faict, luy auons donne charge au Cappitaine d'une compagnie Infanterie, Et que portant il conuient luy faire depescher lettres de commission a ce pertinentes/ SCAUOIR FAISONS que ce considere et pour l'entiere confiance que nous auons de ses vertus preudhomme, valeur dexterite et bonne diligence auons ledict Alexander Mongommery Comme dict est commis et establissons par ces presentes Cappitaine d'une Compagnie d'infanterie Escossaise de cent et cinquante testes en luy donnant plain pouuoir authorithe et mandement especial de la pourueoir d'un Lieutenant et aultres officiers, Les conduire et mener a la guerre contre les Espaignols, malcontens leurs adherents et aultres ennemis de sa Maieste et ces pais soit en compaigne ou es villes et places fortes la et ainsi que de par nous luy sera commande, d'auoir soigneux regard que par ceulx de sa dicte compagnie soit tenu tout bon ordre discipline militaire guet et garde tant de nuict que de jour, sans permectre qu'ils contreuiennent aux ordennances militaires desia dressees ou encoires a dresser, Et au surplus faire tout ce que bon et leal Capitaine est tenu et doibt faire pour le seruice de ce Maieste, et ces pays, Aux gaiges et traictements a ce ordonnez, Surquoy et de soy bien et fidelement acquicter en ceste sa charge et commission ledict Seigneur Mongommery sera tenu de faire le serment pertinent en noys mains ou de celux (sic.) que commettrons a ce, Comme aussi de il fera presenter ceste commission au chambre des finances pour y estre enregistree comme il conuient, Ordonnons pour ce au Lieutenant Officiers et soldats de sadicte compagnie de recognoistre et respecter ledict Mongommeri pour leur Capitaine et l'obeir comme pour l'acquict de leur deuuoir il conuiendra, Mandons aussi a tous officiers, Magistratz et tous aultres qu'il appartiendra de faire audict Capitaine a l'execution de ceste sa charge et commission toute faueur et assistence requise Car ainsi l'auons trouue conuenir.

donne en le Haye subz nostres nom et cachet le xxiiije de Jullet xvc quactre vingtz et six.

soubsigne R, Leycester. cachetez en chire vermille enbas estoit Par Ordonnance de Son Excellence sur ledos estoit Au jourdhuy le siexiesme jour de Aougst quatrevingtz et six le Cappitaine Alexander Mongommery denomme au blanch de cestes a faict le serment pertinent de Cappitaine d'vne compaignie Infanteriees mains de son Excellence faict a la Haye lan et iour

que dessus, moy present, soubsigne Gilpin.7

There is a trap in the dating here: Leicester's administration, like most other Dutch institutions, generally - though not absolutely consistently - used for its internal communications the Gregorian `new style' calendar, which had been adopted by the Duke of Anjou at the beginning of 1583, and according to which the date was ten days later than that given by the `old style' which was still in use in Scotland and England and was often signalled in documents as `stilo Anglie'.8 The date of Montgomerie's commission was therefore 14 July (O.S.), and the date of his oath 6 August; N.S. dates will hereafter be given in the split form (`6/16 August') with the earlier date corresponding to those occurring in British documents, in order to cause as little confusion as possible.

It is important that Montgomerie's arrival in the Low Countries be seen in the context of contemporary political, diplomatic and military events. Scottish forces had been fighting for the Dutch provinces in their rebellion against Spain since 1572, and Cecil's letter observes that Montgomerie himself had already taken part in that war. But the situation had changed substantially during the early 1580s, partly with the submission of the southern provinces to Spain, and more recently with the decision of Elizabeth of England to commit an expeditionary force under the Earl of Leicester, who was (against Elizabeth's own wishes) to become Governor-General. The Scottish contingent now became part of an allied army under English leadership, a difficult position in view of the delicate balance of political forces in Scotland itself. But there was, in 1585-86, a clear movement towards the establishment of an Anglo-Scottish agreement, underpinned by James' desire to secure his presumptive claim to the English succession. It was his favourite and ambassador, Patrick, Master of Gray, who (despite having been previously `a knowen papist, a favorer of the French course')9 offered towards the end of 1585 to raise a Scottish contingent to join Leicester's forces.10 Gray may well have been influenced by the presence among the English commanders of Sir Philip Sidney, with whom he had apparently struck up a friendship during his embassy to London in the last months of 1584.

Little support was forthcoming, however, from either the English government or the Scottish. Mendoza, the Spanish ambassador in London, was reporting as early as April 1585 that James VI was resisting pressure from Elizabeth to join in an intervention in the Low Countries,11 and he gave a spirited reaction in May of the following year when urged by Archibald Douglas to support the English expedition.12 Elizabeth, meanwhile, had fallen out with Leicester, who was reported to be anxious to return to England; personal politics therefore aligned with the English reluctance to provide an advance payment in discouraging Gray from going ahead with his plan. Nevertheless, he declared to Douglas on 27 May that he was determined to send 1500 men `wythin fifteyn dayis'; the next day he wrote to Walsingham stating that `sume alredy ar gone, uthers going, and within a tuentye dayes I hoype to haue at his lordship a fyftein hundrethe footmen'; the day after that, `Montgomery eldir' and `Montgomery younger' appeared in a list of 68 colonels, captains and other officers ready to sail to the Netherlands under his command.13 There was a constant exchange of letters through June: Gray was backing away from his commitment on the 8th, but four days later it was reported to Randolph that he was willing to go if he received a direct invitation from Leicester, a line which Gray himself confirmed in a letter to Burghley on 16 June.14 By this time, it seems, a substantial force had been together for some weeks; the men were restive, and Gray himself, who had incurred considerable costs in raising them, scarcely less so. All this time, the English government, deeply immersed in negotiations for an alliance with Scotland, held back from encouraging Gray in his schemes; Douglas wrote to Walsingham on 23 June:

Truly, Sir, the gentleman doth not a little marvayle, howe it hath fallen oute, that he was first animated to the said voyage, then discharged, after noe small losse of expenses bestowed, as well for his particular preparacion, as for the entertaynement of diuers that would have gone with him in companie. 15

It was at this moment, apparently, that Montgomerie, like a small number of other captains, took ship for the Netherlands. Mendoza reported on 23 July that some 300 or 400 Scots had done so,16 although it is difficult to say how many of this number were officers.

The difficult discussions, punctuated by haggling over money, dragged on into the autumn. Once the Anglo-Scottish agreement was concluded in July, Elizabeth wrote to James urging him to licence Gray to depart; this was reported done by 1 August.17 Recruitment now regained some momentum, but on 9 September Gray was in Dunfermline, still demanding that the English meet his substantial costs. The previous day, he had written to Leicester:

I never haid desyr to be vithe you til nov, vould to God I ver, bot I sweir the fault is not in me.18

It is, however, despite this disclaimer, difficult to resist the conclusion that he had for some time been at best lukewarm about the project, and the final straw seems to have been the death of his friend Sidney: on 6 November he wrote to Douglas that this tragedy had caused him to decide positively not to go:

And nou Sir I must confess the treuthe, he & I haid that freindschipe that moued me to desyr so mutche my voyag to the Lou Countreis. But nou I aschur yow I mynd not to go althocht I micht have great aduancement by it, & greater than euer I did see by it. Theirfor nou, Sir, since it has pleasit God to call one that man, I content my self to leiue at home.19

The arrival of Montgomerie with his 120 men, therefore, came at a crucial moment in the proposed Scottish intervention in the Netherlands, and the English nervousness about his position is understandable. Nor was it confined to Cecil: while prepared to grant him a commission of the basis of his `vertus preudhomme, valeur dexterite experience et bonne diligence', Leicester was evidently concerned about his reliability and that of another Scot, David Oliphant, who was commissioned the day before Montgomerie and who took his oath at the same time.20 The previous day, 5/15 August, Leicester had written from Utrecht to his newly-established chamber of finances, expressing some disquiet about the dependability of the Scottish forces he was taking on:

En oultre désirons, que donnies commission à quelque commissaire d'aller passer monstre les Ecossais estantz à Delff soubz les capitaines Montmory et David Olifour, à quoy il sera besoing d'user de bon soing affin que ladicte monstre se face pertinamment et fidèlement. Et sera necessaire qu'enchargiez ledict commissaire qu'il prenne le serment de chasque officier desdictes compaignies en particulier tant sur leur fidélité que de leur religion, et que ceulx, qui ne sont de la religion reformée, ne soyent passez ny acceptez en service, ains rejettez nonobstant que les capitaines y voulussent contredire et ce pour certaines raisons que nous en avons.21

That Montgomerie and Oliphant were linked in Leicester's mind is here quite evident, as is his suspicion that the religious convictions of the some of the Scots might make them unreliable allies. The doubt clearly extended to the captains themselves, and in Montgomerie's case we know that he was justified: there are good grounds for believing, not only that he was a Catholic convert, but that he had already been involved in some form of intrigue.22 Leicester's suspicions, moreover, were not confined to the loyalties of these individuals. Responding to the increasing note of caution in Gray's letters, Leicester had written to Walsingham on 15 July:

Vppon the vewe of the master [of] Greys letter I fell into some doubt of some matters told me a good whyle since, though I beleeued it not, which was, that therewas a plott laid to bringe manie Scotts over, by adevice of some here, to make a bridle of our nacion to strengthen some other.23

None of this tells us much, of course, about Montgomerie's real reasons for arriving, with his mysterious cargo of salt and sea-coal, in the Netherlands, nor about his relationship, if any, with David Oliphant. The latter is himself a somewhat mysterious figure: it is probably he who occurs along with the two Montgomeries among the Scots intending to accompany the Master of Gray in May. There is no indication in Cecil's letter of 26 June that he was on board Montgomerie's ship; but Leicester's instructions to his chamber of finance make it clear that the two Scottish companies were now together at Delft, just south of The Hague. There is no clear evidence of Oliphant's religious position: other members of the family were certainly Catholics, and Laurence, fourth Lord Oliphant (1529-93) had originally adopted a pro-Marian position, apparently changing sides in the early 1570s. But his son, the Master of Oliphant, had been among the leaders of the Ruthven conspiracy and had gone into exile, either drowning after being attacked by English privateers or finishing up a Turkish captive in Algiers.24 It seems quite probable that Montgomerie's fellow-captain can be identified with the David Oliphant apparently operating as a privateer, allegedly in the service of Henri de Navarre, in the English Channel in the summer of 1587, whose crew included several Scots; if so, he may also the the same as the `Captain Oliver' mentioned as a privateer by Walsingham on 5 May 1578.25

Montgomerie and Oliphant, once their commissions were completed, presumably joined the Scottish regiment of Bartholomew Balfour. Some Scots, very probably this regiment, were certainly involved in the capture of Doesburg on 2 September,26 and it was the army from this engagement, under Leicester's own command and including Sir Philip Sidney, which then proceeded to Deventer, moving on on 15 September to besiege Zutphen. It was there, of course, that Sidney was mortally wounded on 23 September, dying on 17 October. By an extraordinary coincidence and the fortunes of war, the foremost poets of their generation in England and Scotland had happened together on a Dutch battlefield; we cannot definitely put them in the same camp until Zutphen, but it is highly likely that their companies had been part of the same force since Doesburg, and very probable that they had been together at least from the time that Leicester led his army into Gelderland in the latter part of August. That Montgomerie and the rest of Balfour's regiment was at Zutphen is beyond question: on 26 September, three days after Sidney was wounded, a list of `Bandes present in the campe before Zutphen' included nine companies of the `Scootes Regement', the captains' names including `David Holliphant' and `Alexander Montgomerie'.27 This thorough (if mathematically uncertain) document gives the number of men in each company, divided into `holle', `sicke' and `hurte': Montgomerie's band now consisted of 92 men with no casualties. Two further such lists survive, for 4 and 5 October, and in both cases Montgomerie's company included 79 fit men and 21 `sycke'.28

Montgomerie and Oliphant again occur together in a Dutch pay-list of 28 November 1586, leaving little doubt that this unspecified `Montgomery' is also the poet, who received at this point 1700 guilders to pay his men.29 A more complete account of `The rate of the contributions ordinary & extraordinary in the lowe contrey' for 1586-87 makes a clear distinction between eleven companies in Balfour's regiment and a further 24 Scots companies among the `Anglois, Irlandois et Eccossois estants a la charge du pais', towards the end of which we find a detailed list of payments to Montgomerie:

24e de Juillet 1586 - fl. 600
23e d'Aoust 1586 - fl. 500
10e de Septembre 1586 - fl. 200
Les mois de Juillet et Aoust par Lodenstein surquoy
est suyuie ordonnance le 12e de decembre 1586- fl. 1151
11e 19e 28e de Septembre et 4e d'Octobre surquoy est
ensuyuie ordonnance le 23e de decembre - fl. 693
Par ceux de Delft surquoy est
ordonnance de 10e de Januier 1587 - fl. 385 - 6 - 7
Par ceulx de la Briele surquoy est suyuie
ordonnance au mesme jour - fl. 24 - 3 - 0
16e de Januier - fl. 60
Par ceux de Gorinchem surquoy
ordonnance du 11e de feburier 1587 - fl. 135 - 3 - 0
Somme fl.3748- 12 730

Oliphant's account, following a similar but not identical pattern, comes next. The arrangement of the list in general reflects the funding arrangements rather than the military structure, but the fact that Balfour's regiment has eleven companies is no doubt due to the reorganisation which took place in December 1586, by which Balfour took command of eleven companies including his own, a new regiment of five companies being formed under the command of Archibald Paton. The doubts which the English entertained about Balfour's reliability were still active, and he was thought to be too sympathetic to the Dutch marshal Hohenlohe.31 It was Paton, however, who proved to be truly treacherous, surrendering Geldern to Parma's forces on 29 June 1587. It is not apparent what happened to Montgomerie's company in this reorganisation of December 1586. Perhaps the payments from Delft, Brielle and Gorinchem in January and February 1587 imply that they were active in those areas at that period; but thereafter there is a long gap in the records.

He might have remained invisible, had he not got into some kind of trouble with the Dutch authorities. The problem was evidently financial rather than ideological:

Zijn by der hant genomen ende gevisitert de pointen, scriftelijck overgegeven by de heren raden van State, Bardesius ende Teylinck, metten tresorier De Bie den xien deser, oft op eenige derselver soude moegen geresolvert wordden by de aenwesende gedeputeerde van de provintien, ende is goetgevonden op't iiie point, daer die van den Rade hen beclagen over d'infractie van heure authoriteyt, besunder mits het scryven van eenige brieven, gedan by denheren van Brakel, Trello ende graeff Philips van Nassau, dat die van den rade sullen voirderen antwoorde op tgene Hare. E. desenaengande an de verscreven heren hebben gescreven, om, deselve gesien, alsdan gesamentlijck te moegen resolveren, gelijck ten dienste van den lande sal bevonden te behoiren; item dat die van den Rade d'heren Staten sullen bericht doen van de pretensie van de capitainen van de compaignnièn, in't verscreven gescrifte vervat, mitsgaders wanneer hen de leste betalinge is gedan.

[The points delivered in writing by the lords councillors of State, Bardesius and Teylinck, with treasurer De Bie, on the 11th of this month, were received by hand and it was considered whether any of them should be permitted to be resolved by the present deputies of the Provinces, and it was agreed on the third point, in which the Councillors accused them of the infraction of their authority, namely through the writing of some letters, done by van Brakel, Trello and Count Philip of Nassau, that those of the Council shall claim answer from their said Lordships concerning that which the said lords have written, so that, this having been seen, then they shall likewise be allowed to decide in a way determined to be appropriate in the service of the state; item, that those of the Council of the lords States shall make account of the claim of the captains of the companies, contained in the said writings, together with the date when the last payment was made to them.]32

In Japikse's edition of the resolutions of the States General, this minute of 16 December 1587 is supplied with a note to the effect that eight captains are named, of whom the last is `de Schot Montgomery'; the minute-book itself contains no such reference, and I have not been able to locate the additional source from which Jakipse drew his information. There is, however, no good reason to doubt its authenticity, and it follows that Montgomerie was by the end of 1587 involved in a dispute - probably over pay - in which the complaints of a number of field commanders were represented to the States by three influential members of the Council of State. It may well be that the company in which we find him (the other seven are two captains named Hohensachsen, Nieuwenaar, Coppe Jarges, Weerdenborch, Vijgh, and Arnout van Grunevelt) contains a clue to where Montgomerie had been since February 1587. These other petitioners are mostly Dutch, and the involvement of Philip of Nassau may reflect the command under which Montgomerie was now fighting.

At any event, Montgomerie's claims were again before the States early in the New Year, being presented by Jacob Valcke, pensioner of Goes on 7 January.33 Five days earlier, the Council of State had produced a record of the payments which Montgomerie had received for his men. The case was considered again on 25 January:

D'here Van der Beke heeft gerapportert, dat hy, nacommende de commissie, hem opgeleet, ten eynde Hare E. metten capitain Mongommery souden liquideren de pretensie desselffs, mair dat die van den Rade hem ter antwoirdt hadden gegeven, dat zy sulcke ende dyergelycke affrekeningen ofte liquidatièn bevonden van te zer groote consequentie voir de provintièn ten respecte van andere oversten ende capitainen; dat zy mitsdien nyet geraden en vonden daerinne te treden; dan veeleer den heren Staten wel hadden willen adviseren, dat zy beter vonden, dat men denselven sal toevuegen voir eene recognitie eene redelycke somme van penningen, daermede deselve remonstrant uuyter herbergen verlost mach wordden, versuickende mitsdien die verscreven Van der Beke, dat d'heren Staten daerop willen resolveren; na deliberatie is geresolvert, dat die heren Staten van Hollandt wordden versocht aen den verscreven suppliant, desenvolgende, te willen verstricken de somme van drye ofte vier hondert guldens, in mindernisse van heurequote in de ordinaris contributièn van de provintièn oft van de quote, die zy extraordinarie sullen gehouden zijn te dragen in de oude schulden, daerop de provintièn alsnu wordden bescreven.

[The lord Van der Beke reported that he, according to the commission laid upon him, had spoken with the members of the Council of State, to the end that Their Excellencies with Captain Montgomerie should resolve the latter's claim, but that the Councillors had given to him as answer that they had found certain accounts or settlements with great consequences for the provinces regarding the other commanders and captains; that they therefore did not think it advisable to go into that; then the lords States would have greatly preferred to advise that they found it better, considering the claimant's good and faithful service, that the latter be given a reasonable sum of money as a recognisance, by means of which the said claimant may be liberated from the inns; the said Van der Beke requesting in addition that the lords States would agree to that; after consideration it is agreed that the lords States of Holland are requested to give to the said supplicant the sum of three or four hundred guilders, subtracting that from their share of the ordinary contributions of the provinces, or of the share that they would exceptionally retain in respect of the old debts, and the provinces are to be informed of this.]34

Montgomerie, then, was in some kind of financial difficulty, incarcerated in `the inns', and the States, after considering what he had previously been paid, and recognising the view of the Council of State that simply to meet his claim would create an awkward precedent, agreed in the light of his `good and faithful service' that he should be made an ex gratia payment of up to 400 guilders, to be paid by the province of Holland. The sums involved are considerable: 400 guilders was rather more than a year's pay for a captain, which had been set at one guilder per day on 2 September 1586.35 Perhaps, then, his debts involved his men as well. It would appear that Montgomerie's negotiations were part of a much larger pattern involving the English and Dutch forces. At any event, the recommendation of 25 January was not immediately effective, and was repeated four days later:

Hebben voirts versocht te weeten van wegen den verscreven Raedt, oft d'heren Staten eenige betalinge hebben geordonnert voir de commissarissen van de monsteringe, by den Raedt gestelt, volgende Hare E. voirgande versueck, gedan doir den here Teylinck. Hebben noch gerecommandert de betalinge van de compaignièn ruyteren van Bacxen, liggende binnen Bergen opten Zoom; item van de compaignièn ruyteren van Groenevelt ende Balen, dat elcker derselver mach gegeven wordden vijff ofte sesse hondert guldens; hebben nochmaels gerecommandert den capitain Montgommery.

[They have furthermore requested to know from the said Council whether the lords States had ordered any payment for the commissioners of the musters, as stated by the Council, following Their Excellencies' former request, carried out by Lord Teylinck. They have also recommended the payment to the cavalry companies of Bacxen, lying close to Bergen op Zoom; item, for the cavalry companiesof Groenevelt and Balen, that each of the latter may be given five or six hundred guilders; they have once again recommended Captain Montgomerie.]36

Thereafter, the records are again silent. Difficult negotiations between the Dutch paymasters and their Scottish troops continued through the summer of 1588, fuelled, no doubt, by defections to the Spanish side. But Montgomerie is never mentioned among the petitioners, whether because he had himself defected, or had left the Netherlands, or had had his case resolved.

At any event, by the end of 1588 Montgomerie was back in Scotland. A transumpt given by John Skene on behalf of the Lords of Council in 1614 includes the text of an instrument of sasine relating to the transfer of the lands of Eglinton to Robert, Master of Eglinton, done at Eglinton on 12 December 1588 and witnessed by, among others, Alexander Montgomerie, brother-german to Hew Montgomerie of Hessilhead.37 Three major consequences derive from this previously unnoticed document. First, it proves pretty conclusively that the mysterious `Captain Montgomery' who appears to have been acting as an agent between the Duke of Parma and the mutinous garrison at Geertruidenberg in March 1589 is most unlikely to have been the poet, especially since the latter was again a witness to a Montgomerie family document at Irvine on 23 April 1589.38 Equally, the Montgomery who is mentioned by the English agent Thomas Fowler in a letter to Archibald Douglas on 25 November 1588 cannot be the poet; the English documents make it quite clear that this Montgomery, who was in fact Fowler's servant, was not released until March 1589, and did not arrive in Edinburgh until the middle of that month.39

It seems probable, then, that Alexander Montgomerie was in Scotland continuously from at least 12 December 1588 until 23 April 1589, and that he was therefore in the country, and perhaps attending the King in person, when James confirmed on 21 March 1589 the pension he first granted in 1583. It is all the more surprising that he seems to have accepted a partly false version of Montgomerie's recent circumstances:

... he depairtit of this realme to the pairtis of Flanderis, Spane and uthiris beyond sey, quheras he remanit continewallie sensyne deteynit and halden in prison and captiuitie, to the greit hurt and vexatioun of his persoun, attour the lose of his guidis.

These words certainly bear the construction placed upon them by Stevenson and most other commentators: that `continewallie' implies that Montgomerie was then still in prison, or believed to be. That is, as we have seen, unlikely to be so. But `continewallie sensyne' must mean that he was supposed (or claimed) to have been held in captivity abroad pretty well constantly since his departure from Scotland in 1586. Yet the evidence shows that he served as a captain from July-August of that year, and while there is a gap through much of 1587, the Dutch documents of early 1588 certainly do not imply that Montgomerie had been a captive during that time.

In its immediate context, the King's letter is a more remarkable document than has been realised, not least in its acknowledgement that Montgomerie had recently visited Spain. For a month earlier, on 21 February, news had reached Scotland of the detention in England of Thomas Pringle, servant of Colonel William Sempill, who was carrying incriminating letters concerning a Jesuit plot against the Reformed religion in Scotland, from the Low Countries to the Earl of Huntly and other Catholic sympathisers. James' behaviour in the weeks that followed seemed to many - especially the English agent Thomas Fowler - to reveal his ambivalence: Huntly was briefly imprisoned, then released, and on 13 March the King met with both Huntly and the Earl of Erroll, another of those implicated in the conspiracy, while they were all out hunting. On 20 March, James protested Huntly's innocence to Fowler himself. The following day, the Privy Council, meeting at Holyroodhouse, proclaimed Erroll a rebel and issued a summons for David Graham of Fintry, who was also suspected.40 This very day, James confirmed the pension of his Catholic courtier-poet, including in the statement of his circumstances the fact that he had been in Spain during his two-and-a-half-year absence from Scotland. That, of course, may explain the apparently erroneous statement about `continual' imprisonment: it was a cover-story to disguise the true nature of Montgomerie's activities. But why should a cover be necessary if all Montgomerie had done was support the Dutch Provinces in accordance with official policy? And if it was a cover-story, whose story was it? Montgomerie's, deceiving the King? Or one in which the King himself was a participant? Perhaps something in the vast Spanish archives of the war, at Simancas or in Brussels, will cast light upon this dark space in the records: nothing so far in print offers an explanation, and there, for the present, the matter must rest.

As far as we can tell, Montgomerie's oeuvre contains no trace of the time he spent in the Netherlands. Thomas Duff made his subject boast

Hostis eram gravis haereseon semperque perodi

Falsa, Picarditas carmine Marte premens,41

which might be taken to imply that Montgomerie wrote anti-Protestant verses while he was in the Low Countries. But `Picardi' seems to have been used in Catholic circles as a generic term for Protestants; and in any case no such works survive. It is possible that `No wonder thoght I waill and weip' [MP 5],42 entitled in the Ker MS `The Poets Complante against the Wnkyndnes of his Companions vhen he wes in Prisone', is connected in some way with that period `in prison and captiuitie' to which the King's letter refers in March 1589, but we have seen that his information seems curiously inaccurate, while there is no indication in the poem that the imprisonment it deals with occurred outside Scotland. There appears, in short, to be a remarkable division between Montgomerie's extant literary output and the political crises outside Scotland in which he played an active, if minor, part. It is, however, important to remember that our knowledge of his work depends very heavily - indeed, almost exclusively - upon a single manuscript, which may reflect a considerable degree of editorial selection and scribal intervention.

It is difficult to believe that Montgomerie remained wholly unaffected by the two years he spent in the Low Countries - and perhaps elsewhere - in 1586-88, by his contact with the Leicester circle and the experience of the war itself, quite apart from any involvement in international intrigue covered by the palpably false statement in the King's letter of 21 March 1589. For the present, we can do little more than identify the facts, then use them as a starting-point for further investigation, reflecting as we do so that archives and libraries on the Continent still have many secrets to unfold.


I am grateful to Dr Simon Adams, who read an earlier version of this article and drew my attention to a number of additional references, and especially to PRO, SP9/93 (see below, n. 30).

1 - PRO, SP84/8, ff. 289r-v; this document has not previously been printed, but is thoroughly calendared in CSPFor., xxi (ii), 55-6.
Back to Text

2 - R.D.S. Jack, 'Montgomerie and the Pirates', SSL 5 (1967-68), 133-6.
Back to Text

3 - The document is printed in full in Alexander Montgomerie, Poems: Supplementary Volume, ed. George Stevenson (STS, Edinburgh 1910), pp. 306-8.
Back to Text

4 - H.M. Shire, Song, Dance and Poetry of the Court of Scotland under King James VI (Cambridge 1969), p. 108.
Back to Text

5 - R.D.S. Jack, Alexander Montgomerie (Edinburgh 1985), p. 10.
Back to Text

6 - Stevenson, ed. cit., p. 307.
Back to Text

7 - The Hague, Algemeen Rijksarchief, Raad van State, no. 1524, ff. 80r-81r. This document was first noted by Boson Gabriel de Montgomery, Origin and History of the Montgomerys (Edinburgh 1948), p. 208. `Gilpin' is George Gilpin, member of the intellectual circle around Daniel Rogers and English secretary to the Council of State.
Back to Text

8 - There is a useful summary of the complicated dating practices in Netherlandish documents of this period in Correspondentie van Robert Dudley Graf van Leycester en andere documenten betreffende zijn Gouvernement-Generaal en de Nederlanden 1585-1588, ed. H. Brugmans (3 vols,Utrecht 1931), I, xx-xxii.
Back to Text

9 - William Davidson, writing to Sir Christopher Hatton on 6 September 1584, Letters and Papers relating to Patrick, Master of Gray (Edinburgh 1835), p. 5n.
Back to Text

10 - Gray to Walsingham, 13 December 1585, CSPScot., viii, 171. A report quickly reached Spain that Leicester's force would include Gray and 600 Scots (CSPSpan., iii, 553-7).
Back to Text

11 - CSPSpan., iii, 536. It is probably the case that the pressure came from the English government rather than from Elizabeth herself.
Back to Text

12 - CSPScot., viii, 360-63.
Back to Text

13 - ibid., 400-10.
Back to Text

14 - ibid., 444
Back to Text

15 - Gray Papers, p. 98.
Back to Text

16 - CSPSpan., iii, 595.
Back to Text

17 CSPScot., viii, 478.
Back to Text

18 - Correspondence inédite de Robert Dudley, comte de Leycester et de Francois et Jean Hotman', ed. P.J. Blok, Archives du Musée Teyler, 2e sér., 12 (1910), 79-296, at 143.
Back to Text

19 - HMC Salisbury, iii, 191.
Back to Text

20 - ARA, Raad van State, no. 1524, f. 79r-v.
Back to Text

21 For discussion of Montgomerie's apparent involvement in a plot in the early 1580s, see Stevenson, ed. cit., pp. 264-5; this inter-pretation has been generally accepted by subsequent writers (but see the reservations expressed by Jack, Montgomerie, p. 5). For the political background, see T.S. Law, 'English Jesuits and Scottish Intrigues, 1581-82', Collected Essays and Reviews (Edinburgh 1904), pp. 217-43.
Back to Text

22 Correspondentie van Leycester, 1, 207- 8
Back to Text

23 - Correspondence of Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, ed. John Bruce (Camden Soc., London 1844), p. 348.
Back to Text

24 - On the career of the Master of Oliphant, see Joseph Anderson, The Oliphants in Scotland (Edinburgh 1879), pp. xlviii-li.
Back to Text

25 - CSPFor. 1577-78, 661-2.
Back to Text

26 - CSPFor., xxi (ii), 150-2.
Back to Text

27 - PRO, SP84/10, ff. 67r-68r. This list of nine companies tallies with a much briefer summary, undated but also belonging to September 1586, which attributes 1350 men to 'Balfors Regiment, ix. companies' (ibid., f. 94r).
Back to Text

28 - The list for 5 October appears in Bodleian MS. Tanner 78, f. 161r; I am grateful to Dr Sally Mapstone for examining this document for me. Although that for 4 October (BL MS. Harley 285, f. 251r) is damaged at the bottom of the leaf where the Scots names ought to be, the numbers of men in each company are largely intact, and it is therefore clear that Montgomerie's company was in the same condition as on the following day.
Back to Text

29 - The Scots Brigade in Holland, ed. James Ferguson (3 vols, SHS, Edinburgh 1899-1901), I, 48-51.
Back to Text

30 - PRO, SP9/93, f. 63r.
Back to Text

31 - CSPFor., xxi (iii), 176.
Back to Text

32 - Resolutièn der Staten-Generaal, 1576-1609, ed. N.Japikse and H.P. Rijpema (14 vols, The Hague 1915-70), v, 738. I am grateful to Ms. Inge de Lamper for help with the translation of the Dutch quotations.
Back to Text

33 - ibid., vi, 105.
Back to Text

34 - ibid., vi, 116-117.
Back to Text

35 - Scots Brigade, I, 96. On 13 December 1587, it was agreed to pay Balfour 40 guilders per month for each company of 150 men (ibid.).
Back to Text

36 - Resolutièn, vi, 121. Since completing this article, I have discovered a further reference to Mongomerie's financial affairs: on 12 February 1588 the States of Holland agreed to allow him [sterling]Flemish 700 `uijt de penningen die van Bremen verwacht worden' [out of the funds expected from Bremen], repayable within three months (ARA, Staten van Holland, 344, ff. 143v-144r).
Back to Text

37 - SRO, GD3/1/206.
Back to Text

38 - ibid., GD3/1/686. This document is cited, without comment and with the reference-number in an earlier form, by Jack, Alexander Montgomerie, p. 15; again, the text survives only in an engrossed version, in this case in an instrument of 24 April 1589.53 CSPFor., xxiii, 189. Professor Jack believed (`Montgomerie and the Pirates', 134) that it was written from St Omer, but both the published Calendar and the original document [PRO, SP78/19, f. 136] make it quite apparent that it was sent to St Omer from the town where Parma then was, i.e. Breda; the address on the dorso of both letters `A Monsr Guillaume homberton [marc]hant ... anglois loge a la [...]haute maison sur le grand merche St Omer'.
Back to Text

39 - John Montgomery wrote to his father on 15 March, soon after his arrival in Edinburgh (HMC Salisbury, iii, 398). On 19 March, Fowler wrote to Archibald Douglas: 'I expected great matters when my man came, but his mouth is stopt' (ibid., 398-9).
Back to Text

40 - RPC, iv, 360, 820-1, 367; CSPScot., x, 10-13. Incriminating letters from Huntly and Erroll to Parma, written on 24 January 1589, are recorded in PRO, SP77/5, f. 2.
Back to Text

41 - Mark Dilworth OSB, 'New Light on Alexander Montgomerie', The Bibliotheck 4 (1963-66), 230-5, at 232.
Back to Text

42 - Alexander Montgomerie, Poems, ed. James Cranstoun (STS, Edinburgh 1887), pp. 133-5.
Back to Text