James Graham, the son of the 4th Earl of Montrose, was born in 1612. After being educated at St. Salvator's College, St. Andrews, he travelled to France, Italy and the Netherlands.
Montrose returned to Scotland in 1637 and soon afterwards was one of the four noblemen who drew up the National Covenant in support of Presbyterianism. However, in 1639, he expressed doubts about the Covenant and after he confessed he had been communicating with Charles I his main political opponent, Earl of Argyll, arranged for him to be confined in Edinburgh Castle.
After his release he decided to support the king during the Civil War. In August, 1644, he defeated the Covenanters under Lord Elcho at Tippermuir. He then captured Aberdeen (September, 1644) and plundered the countryside. At Inverlochy (February, 1645) his army killed 1,500 Campbells in battle. He achieved further victories at Auldearn (May, 1645) and Alford (June, 1645).
Montrose was offered a senior post in the French army but committed to the royalist cause he returned to Scotland with a small army in April 1650. Three weeks later he was defeated at Carbisdale.