Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Leslie, David
LESLIE, DAVID, first Lord Newark (d. 1682), military commander, was the fifth son of Sir Patrick Leslie of Pitcairly, Fifeshire, commendator of Lindores, by his wife Lady Jean Stewart, second daughter of Robert, first earl of Orkney. He entered the service of Gustavus Adolphus, under whom he became colonel of horse. In the summer of 1640 he was severely wounded in Sweden (Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser. 1640, pp. 319, 443), but was convalescent by September, when he and other Scottish colonels serving in Sweden obtained leave to return to Scotland to aid the covenanters (ib. 1640–1, p. 101). On 24 Nov. 1643 he was appointed major-general in the Scottish army under Alexander Leslie, earl of Leven [q. v.], which crossed the Tweed on 19 Jan. 1644. The part played by Leslie in the battle of Marston Moor on 2 July has given rise to some dispute, but it seems probable that he is entitled to almost equal credit with Cromwell in gaining the victory. Cromwell himself practically ignores the services of Leslie: ‘Our own horse,’ he says, ‘save a few Scots in our rear, beat all the princes horse’ (letter to Colonel Valentine Walton). On the other hand, Robert Baillie asserts that Leslie ‘in all places that day was his [Cromwell's] leader’ (Letters and Journal, ii. 209). One indisputable fact is that Leslie, who commanded three regiments of horse forming the reserve of the left wing commanded by Cromwell, came to Cromwell's assistance at the very instant that his troops showed symptoms of recoiling from the impetuous charge of Rupert. Besides being admirably opportune, Leslie's attack was skilfully delivered, and it practically decided the battle. Probably Leslie also for a short time took command of the whole of the left wing, while Cromwell was getting his wound dressed. He also charged the famous Whitecoats under Newcastle, and annihilated the regiment (see especially Gardiner, Great Civil War). After the surrender of York Leslie was sent forward in advance to join the Earl of Callendar in the siege of Newcastle (Rushworth, vol. ii. pt. iii. p. 645), but on the arrival of Leven he was despatched to the north-western shores, and defeated the forces of Musgrave and Fletcher in Westmoreland. He then laid siege to Carlisle, which surrendered on 28 June 1645.
While employed in the midland shires in dogging the movements of the king, and thus preventing him from advancing northwards to effect a junction with Montrose in Scotland, he was suddenly summoned to Scotland by the committee of estates that he might, if possible, retrieve the disaster of Kilsyth on 15 Aug., and check the career of the victorious Montrose. At the head of four thousand horse he, on 6 Sept., entered Scotland by Berwick, where he had an interview with the fugitive committee of estates. His original design was to intercept Montrose at the Forth, but learning at Prestonpans that he was still in the south of Scotland, he resolved to attack him there. He was favoured of fortune, but this scarcely lessens the merit of his achievement. By a rapid march southward he surprised Montrose in the early morning of 13 Sept. while the low grounds of Philiphaugh, on which Montrose had encamped, were enveloped in mist, and almost annihilated his forces, Montrose himself, with a few horse, escaping to the mountains. The glory of the victory was sullied by the massacre of the camp-followers, including a large number of Irish women. This apparently was done in retribution for excesses committed by Montrose. After his victory Leslie advanced northwards to the Lothians, and thence convoyed the committee of estates to Glasgow, where his services were rewarded with a gift of 50,000 merks and a chain of gold (Guthry, Memoirs, p. 205). He then proceeded to Angus, and for a time made Forfar his headquarters; but when it was discovered that Montrose was no longer dangerous he returned to England, and rejoined the Scots army under Leven at Newark-upon-Trent.
After the surrender of the king to the English in January 1647, the Scots army returned home. It was reduced to six thousand, and, under the command of Leslie with the rank of lieutenant-general, was sent to the north of Scotland to extinguish the embers of insurrection there. After capturing the castles of the Gordons, and chasing Huntly and his followers to their highland fastnesses (Turner, Memoirs, p. 44), Leslie passed into Argyllshire, whence he drove the Macdonalds and their Irish allies out of Scotland (ib. p. 46; Guthry, p. 243; Baillie, iii. 6). The garrison of one stronghold which had made a strenuous resistance were massacred without mercy after their surrender. In 1648 Leslie was offered the command of the horse in the army of the ‘Engagers’ for the rescue of the king; but, like the Earl of Leven, he declined to serve on account of the disapproval of the kirk authorities. After the defeat of the ‘Engagers’ at Preston Leslie took part in modelling the ‘Whigamores’ as an organised force in support of Oliver Cromwell. The alliance with Cromwell was severed by the execution of Charles I, but the Whigamores only gave a conditional support to Charles II. When Montrose made his appearance in the north of Scotland to effect the restoration of Charles II as an uncovenanted king, Leslie was despatched against him with a large force. As usual, his movements were characterised by great expedition; and in order still further to limit the opportunities of Montrose to collect followers, he sent forward a detachment under Colonel Strachan, which on 27 April totally routed the enemy at Invercarron. Montrose made his escape, but through Macleod of Assynt he was delivered up to Leslie, who conducted him in an ignominious manner to Edinburgh, where he suffered execution.
When Charles II agreed to mount the throne of Scotland as a covenanted king, Leslie became the real commander of the army raised on his behalf, as depute for the old and infirm Earl of Leven. To deal with the emergency Cromwell deemed it necessary to return from Ireland and conduct an invading force into Scotland. Leslie, on the enemy's approach, made no attempt to hold the south of Scotland, but devastated the open country between Berwick and Edinburgh. Outside Edinburgh he awaited Cromwell's arrival behind a line of defence selected and fortified with such skill that it was practically impregnable. Finding it equally impossible to cut off his supplies or entice him from his lines of defence, Cromwell was ultimately compelled from lack of provisions to withdraw to Dunbar. Keeping the high grounds to the west, Leslie closely attended his retreat, and while pushing forward a detachment to seize the pass of Cockburnspath, and to thus cut off his escape to England, drew up the main body of his forces on the slopes of the Lammermuirs. Cromwell was undoubtedly outmanœuvred. He himself practically acknowledged that his case was desperate. It has been generally supposed that, had Leslie been left to his uncontrolled judgment, he would have maintained his attitude of masterly inactivity. For this the chief direct evidence is the statement of Burnet that Leslie told the committee of estates that by ‘lying there all was sure, but that by engaging with gallant and desperate men all might be lost’ (Own Time, ed. 1839, p. 36). Leslie also declined to accept responsibility for the defeat on the ground that he ‘had not the absolute command’ (letter in Thurloe, i. 69); but he nevertheless attributed his defeat simply to the failure of his men, after moving down from the hills, to stand to their arms during the night, and of the officers to stay by their troops and regiments (letter quoted from Lothian Papers in Burton, Hist. of Scotland, vii. 26). He also affirms that, had they followed his counsel, Cromwell would have been defeated as completely as Montrose was at Philiphaugh. In any case, he was anticipated by Cromwell, who at the break of day of 3 Sept. gave the order to advance before the Scots under Leslie were drawn up in line. Thus, though the more disciplined troops made at first a desperate resistance, the case of the Scots was from the beginning hopeless, and, to use the words of Cromwell, they soon ‘became as stubble’ to his horsemen. No fewer than three thousand were slain almost where they stood, and over ten thousand taken prisoners. Leslie escaped and reached Edinburgh by nine o'clock; but no attempt was made to hold it, and the committee of estates ordered a rendezvous of the army under his command to be held at Stirling. From Stirling Leslie marched to Perth, and thence by Dundee to Aberdeen, in order to make final arrangements with the northern loyalists, who had taken independent action on behalf of the king. On 24 Oct. a letter was sent him by Middleton, the general of the loyalists, desiring a union against the common foe (Balfour, iv. 131–132), and on the 26th a band was subscribed by Huntly, Atholl, and other lords, acknowledging the league and covenant (ib. pp. 129–130). On the 29th an act of indemnity was therefore proclaimed at Perth, and on 4 Nov. the loyalists laid down their arms and accepted the act by a treaty with Leslie at Strathbogie (ib. p. 160). This was followed by the coronation of the king at Scone on 1 Jan. Leslie had already, on 23 Dec., been exonerated ‘of all imputation anent the miscarriage at Dunbar’ (ib. p. 214), and on his return from the north he took up a position at Torwood, between Stirling and Falkirk, to prevent the passage of Cromwell northward. It was so well chosen, and so well defended by entrenchments, that when Cromwell, whose operations had been delayed by illness, arrived before it in June, he regarded an attack on it as hopeless. He, however, succeeded in forcing a passage into Fife, and on 2 Aug. occupied Perth, thus threatening both to cut off Leslie's supplies and to take him in the rear. The country to the south of Leslie had necessarily, however, been left open, and the Scots therefore resolved to pass into England and march on London. The manœuvre might have been successful had the royalists in England shown more alacrity in utilising their opportunity, or had Cromwell shown less promptitude in dealing with the crisis. The endeavour to introduce Charles to the English as a covenanted king was, moreover, in itself a hopeless error. It caused dissension even among his Scottish supporters, and it scared away the English royalists from his banner. That in such circumstances Cromwell would triumph was a foregone conclusion, and Leslie seems to have foreseen that defeat was inevitable. Clarendon states that Leslie told the king that he was ‘melancholy indeed, for he well knew that the army, how well soever it looked, would not fight’ (iii. 540). Clarendon attributes the detention of the Scots army at Worcester to the fatigue caused by the long march, but probably it rather indicated the presence of doubt and despair in the counsels of the leaders. Insufficient energy was shown in strengthening its defences against Cromwell's arrival. ‘There was,’ says Clarendon, ‘no good understanding between the officers of the army. David Leslie appeared dispirited and confounded, gave and revoked his orders, and sometimes contradicted them. He did not love Middleton, and was very jealous that all the officers loved him so well.’ He also affirms that only on ‘that part where Middleton was’ was resistance made (iii. 550); but this may have been mere royalist prejudice and calumny, for Cromwell himself describes the battle as ‘as stiff a contest for four or five hours as ever I have seen.’ It would appear that when all was practically lost the king desired to make a charge with the horse, and then probably it was that David Leslie was seen riding ‘up and down as one amazed or seeking to fly’ (Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser. 1651, p. 437). Leslie does not seem to have shown greater alacrity in flight than Middleton. They made their escape together with a considerable body of horse, the number, according to Clarendon, reaching four thousand (Hist. p. 551). They appear to have lost considerable numbers from panic on their journey, but, had it not been for dissensions and recriminations, might have reached Scotland in safety. In Yorkshire, however, Leslie and Middleton separated themselves, either accidentally or designedly, from their discontented followers, and were taken prisoners at Chester on 17 Sept. On 24 Oct. Leslie was committed to the Tower (Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser. 1651–2, p. 273). By Cromwell's Act of Grace he was fined 11,000l., subsequently reduced to one-third of that sum. Latterly he obtained some relaxation of his imprisonment, but he was not granted his liberty till 1660.
After the Restoration Leslie was, 3 Aug. 1661, in recognition of his services to the royal cause, created Lord Newark by patent to him and heirs male of his body. A pension of 500l. a year was also bestowed on him. On 10 June 1667 the king sent him a letter assuring him of his continued confidence in his loyalty. He died of an apoplexy in 1682.
By his wife Jane, daughter of Sir John Yorke, he had three sons (David, who succeeded him; Charles, who died young; and James, who became a colonel) and five daughters (Helen, who died young; Elizabeth, married to Sir Archibald Kennedy of Cullean; Mary, married first to James Kinloch of Gilmerton, and secondly to Sir Alexander Ogilvy of Forglen; Margaret, married to Colonel James Campbell, fourth son of Archibald, ninth earl of Argyll; Anne, who died young; and Jane, who died young). His portrait after George Jamesone is engraved in Pinkerton's ‘Scottish Gallery,’ and after Vandyke by Vandergucht in Clarendon's ‘History.’
[Burnet's Own Time; Clarendon's Hist. of the Rebellion; Robert Baillie's Letters and Journals (Bannatyne Club); Sir James Turner's Memoirs (Bannatyne Club); Guthry's Memoirs; Rushworth's Historical Collections; Thurloe State Papers; Whitelocke's Memorials; Sir James Balfour's Annals; Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser., period of the Commonwealth; Montrose totally routed at Tividale in Scotland by Lieutenant-general Lesley, London, 1645; General Leslie's Speech in the Parliament of Scotland, 23 Oct. 1647, in defence of himself against certain Slanders, London, 1647; Victory obtained by Lieutenant-General David Lesley in the North of Scotland against Colonel Hurry and his Forces, London, 1650; Colonel Leslie's Historical Records of the Leslie Family, ii. 198–203; Douglas's Scottish Peerage (Wood), ii. 304–5.]