At the start of the year 1651, the Lord-General Cromwell set his attention on the region of Fife. But before he could embark on a campaign across the Frith, he became disabled by sickness. The Lord-General’s sickness continued through the first five months of the year, prompting the spread of rumours that he had actually died and that the English army was simply not letting the truth out.
When Cromwell was sufficiently recovered to take to the field, he mustered the English army and commenced the campaign. On 24 June Cromwell gave the order to march. The English army advanced to Redhaugh and then on to the Pentland Hills, where an encampment was established. After a short stay there, the army marched on to Newbridge and then to Linlithgow (variously, Lithgow). From the battlements of Linlithgow Castle, the Lord General was able to view the Scottish army led by the King encamped at Torwood, near Stirling. Cromwell was able to ascertain that the Scots had constructed some very formidable earthworks which, in conjunction with a river and bog, effectively safeguarded the encampment. Once more, he would need to lure the Scots out to fight; there would be no way for his English army to breach the fortifications. To that end, Cromwell marched his army in full battle readiness near to the Scottish camp on 02 July. The English army stood there, anxious for a fight, for something like eight hours. The Scots did not stir, so Cromwell took his army off to Glasgow. Following a period of rest, the English army was once more marched northward to Stirling. But when they arrived, they found the Scottish army had moved their camp to Kilsyth (variously, Kelsith), a short distance northeast of Glasgow. Cromwell turned his army about again and headed back toward Glasgow, quartering his army at Monksland, about four miles from the Scots, which he reached on 12 July. Try as he might to goad the Scots into battle, Cromwell was unsuccessful.
Perhaps out of frustration, Cromwell, on 14 July, decided to attack Callander House, a nearby estate. After battering the structure for nearly eight hours, the walls were breached in a couple spots. The governor refused to submit, though, and so Cromwell sent a detachment of troops to force the inhabitants out. It took all day of battering at the stately Callander House for the English troops to breach a hole in it in order to take possession of the estate. The action resulted in the death of the governor along with sixty-two of his men. The whole time that the bombardment and capture of Callander House was taking place, the Scottish army did not stir from their camp.
Immediately after the capture of Callander House, Cromwell sent Colonel Overton across the Forth with a force of sixteen hundred foot soldiers and four hundred horse. On 16 July, a detachment Colonel Daniel’s foot soldiers were ferried across the Forth, past Inchgarvie Castle perched on an island. Overton himself led four companies of foot soldiers and four companies of cavalry across. They landed at North Queensferry in Fife under an artillery shower, which he returned in kind, causing the Scottish defenders to take to flight.
King Charles responded to the invasion of Fife by sending four thousand men under Major General Sir John Brown and Major General James Holborne of Menstrie to repel the invaders. In the meantime, Lambert and Okey crossed the Forth with two regiments each of foot and horse troops. The reinforcements would help to ensure the English of a victory.
The Scots under Brown and Holborne arrived at Inverkeithing on the 20th, about a mile from the spot at which the English army was landing. Lambert’s regiments had not completed their disembarkation when the Scottish army arrived. The Scots found the size of the English army that was landing in Fife to be larger than their own, and momentarily hesitated. Lambert, on the other hand, did not hesitate for an instant; he feared that the Scots would entrench if he gave them the chance. The English general did not want a repeat of the stalmate that took place before Dunbar.
Holborne pulled his troops back to a group of small hills just to the north of Inverkeithing. He would command the right flank of the Scottish army. Brown’s cavalry was positioned on Holborne’s left. A contingent of musketeers were placed along the sides of the narrow Castlandhill pass, and the foot soldiers were positioned in the center.
Lambert positioned his infantry troops on the slope of the Ferryhills, opposite the Scots. Then he directed his cavalry to ride against the Scottish lines, but to feign a retreat, in order to goad the Scots into attacking. The Scots took the bait and charged across the valley toward the English infantry. The English cavalry, in a decisive move, turned and fell on the charging Scots. Despite a somewhat lengthy skirmish, when the two armies made contact, the actual battle lasted only about fifteen minutes.
The battle of Inverkeithing was a disaster for a number of the Highland clans. Nearly two thousand Scotsmen died in the battle. Some seven hundred and sixty clansmen of Clan Maclean, including two sons of Maclean of Ardgour, were among the slain. They had stood firmly under the banner of Hector Maclean of Duart. Only forty of the Macleans survived. Seven hundred of the Buchanans died where they stood. One of the reasons for the slaughter was that when the actual fight began, General Holborne fled, taking with him most of the cavalry; Seeing Holborne retreating, Brown, likewise pulled his cavalry troops out. The infantry troops were left unprotected by the cavalry.
Lambert did not allow the Scots under Holborne and Brown get away, though. He pursued the Scots for roughly six miles with his own cavalry. In the chase, some two thousand Scotsmen were killed and fourteen hundred were taken prisoner. Less than one thousand of the Scottish troops made it back safely to Stirling.
The Scottish prisoners taken included General Brown, one colonel, one lieutenant-colonel, one major, thirteen captains, seventeen lieutenants, twenty-nine ensigns, five quarter-masters, twenty-six serjeants,twenty-five corporals and twelve hundred rank and file. Also taken as prizes were forty-two regimental colours. General Brown died shortly after being taken, presumably of a heart attack over the disaster.
The English army then swept through Fife, taking one castle or fort after another, all the while encountering little resistance from the Scots.
Shortly after the English invasion of Fife, Charles moved his army back to Stirling. Cromwell had kept his regiments on the king’s tail, and so came to within two miles of Sterling, hoping to provoke Charles into a fight. On the 22nd of July he gave up and took his army to Linlithgow. He sent the majority of his troops over into Fife as reinforcements to Lambert, while he, himself retired to Leith.
Cromwell soon received news that Lambert had acquired the surrender of the town of Burntisland. During the next week, Cromwell, with the remainder of the English army, crossed over the Forth and joined with Lambert. General Whalley was dispatched to take possession of a number of small garrisons which hugged the coast. Then leaving Colonel Wolf’s regiment to hold Burntisland, on 30 July, Cromwell marched the English army toward St. John’s Town and Cumbernauld. His intention was to take those towns and thereby prevent supplies from being sent by the Highlanders to Stirling.
Having come to Cumbernauld, Cromwell sent before him a messenger with the usual letter calling for the surrender of the town and its garrison. The messenger was sent back to the Lord General with the reply that the townsfolk would not accept any letter from Cromwell. They informed him that the town was currently under the protection of the King’s soldiers. The Earl of Sutherland had just the day before entered the town with a body of thirteen hundred Scottish Highlanders, primarily Gordons. Cromwell retaliated against the town’s refusal to surrender without a fight by opening a cannonade against it. The town was shelled over the night of August 1/2, and after a day of being bombarded by the English artillery, the townsfolk pressured Sutherland to surrender.