A LIFELONG ambition became a reality for Australian visitor Ian Baillie last week when he came face-to-face with his childhood hero.
Mr Baillie visited Montrose as part of a month-long visit to Scotland to primarily trace his family history, but also took the chance while in the country to combine his genealogical research with a passion for the story of James Graham, 1st Marquis of Montrose.
And his visit was timely as this year is the 400th anniversary of Graham’s birth, which will be marked next week with a service of commemoration in St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.
The 17th century aristocrat and soldier is still considered to be one of the most controversial figures in Scottish history but Mr Baillie, from Adelaide in South Australia, is in no doubt that he was fascinating character.
The son of Scottish parents, originally from East Lothian, he grew up surrounded by influences and reminders of his Scottish roots and, when a teenager, was an avid reader of the novels of Nigel Tranter in which he first discovered the marquis.
He said: “The epic scope of his life coupled with the author’s passionate narrative fired my youthful imagination in a way that has endured to this day. “He was a courageous soldier, superb tactician and leader of men whose exploits have been studied in military academies ever since. That he was finally defeated, betrayed abandoned by his monarch, tried and executed publicly as a common criminal only adds lustre to the human drama that his life and death represents.”
The marquis was one of the first signatories of the National Covenant against Charles I’s reorganisation of the Kirk in Scotland and commanded a Covenanter in the ensuing Bishops’ Wars.
He later became disillusioned by the direction his political colleagues were taking and in 1643 he switched to the King’s side, raised an army and won six victories within a year, most against superior numbers. He was later betrayed after his defeat at the Battle of Carbisdale, captured and executed at the mercat cross in Edinburgh in 1650.
Mr Baillie has visited a number of sites connected with his life, but the crowning moment will be on Monday, when he will attend the service in St Giles.
And he was full of praise for the help he has received, both in Montrose and elsewhere on his tour.
He said: “It has taken on a life of its own in a way that has amazed me. The Montrose Society got me the tickets for the St Giles event, which I didn’t know about when setting up the trip, after they were contacted by the owner of the B&B I’m staying in and she really went the second mile to set it up.
“The staff at Montrose Museum were also great and really helpful. I might have just come here, looked at the marquis’s statue and moved on but it’s the willingness of people to do a bit extra that’s made the difference.”