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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 24 — Protestantism in Scotland

Chapter 27 — Drumclog — Bothwell Bridge — the "killing times"

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The Conventicle to be Crushed — Storm of Edicts — Letters of Intercommuning — Sharp's New Edict — His Assassination — The Highland Host — Graham of Claverhouse — His Defeat at Drumclog — Dissensions in the Covenanters' Camp — Battle of Bothwell Bridge — Prisoners — They are Penned in Grayfriars' Churchyard — Shipped off to Barbados — The "Killing Times " — James II — His Toleration — The Sanquhar Declaration — The Stuarts Disowned — The Last Two Martyrs, Argyle and Renwick — Importance of the Covenanting Struggle

Despairing of being able to go through with their designs so long as the field-preachings were permitted to take place, the Privy Council summoned all their powers to the suppression of these assemblages. Lauderdale's insolence and tyranny had now reached their fullest development. He was at this time all-powerful at court; he could, as a consequence, govern Scotland as he listed; but proud and powerful as he was, Sharp continued to make him his tool, and as the conventicle was the special object of the primate's abhorrence, Lauderdale was compelled to put forth his whole power to crush it. The conventicle was denounced as a rendezvous of rebellion, and a rain of edicts was directed against it. All persons attending field-preachings were to be punished with fine and confiscation of their property. Those informing against them were to share the fines and the property confiscated, save when it chanted to be the estate of a landlord that fell under the Act. These good things the Privy Council kept for themselves, Lauderdale sometimes carrying off the lion's share. Magistrates were enjoined to see that no conventicle was held within their burgh; landlords were taken bound for their tenants; masters for their servants; and if any should transgress in this respect, by stealing away to hear one of the outed ministers, his superior, whether magistrate, landlord, or master, was to denounce or punish the culprit; and failing to do so, was himself to incur the penalties he ought to have inflicted upon his dependents. These unrighteous edicts received rigorous execution, and sums were extorted thereby which amazed one when he reflected to what extent the country had suffered from previous pillaging. It was not enough, in order to escape this legal robbery, that one eschewed the conventicle; he must be in his place in the parish church on Sunday; for every day's absence he was liable to a fine. [1]

The misery of the country was still further deepened by the machine which was set up for the working of this system of ruinous oppression. The Privy Council, too large, it was judged, for the quick dispatch of business, was reduced to a "Committee of Affairs." Sharp was president, and with him were associated two or three others, true yoke-fellows of the "Red Primate." This court was bound by no statute, it permitted no appeal, and like the cave of ancient story, although many footsteps could be seen going in, there were none visible coining out. Another means of executing the cruel laws which had replaced the ancient statutes of the kingdom, was to raise an additional force, and place garrisons in the more disaffected shires. This, again, necessitated a "cess," which was felt to be doubly grievous, inasmuch as it obliged the country to furnish the means of its own destruction. The peasantry had to pay for the soldiers who were to pillage, torture, and murder them. A yet further piece of ingenious wickedness were the "Letters of Intercommuning," which were issued by the Government against the more eminent Presbyterians. Those against whom these missives were fulminated were cut off from human society: no friend, no relation, durst give them a night's lodging, or a meal, or a cup of cold water, or address a word or a letter to them; they were forbidden all help and sympathy of their fellow-creatures. For a minister to preach in the fields was to incur the penalty of death, and a price was set upon his head. The nation was divided into two classes, the oppressors and the oppressed. Government had become a system of lawless tribunals, of arbitrary edicts, of spies, imprisoning, and murdering. Such was the state of Scotland in the year 1676. Nevertheless, the conventicle still flourished.

Till the field-preaching was entirely and utterly swept away, the persecutor felt that he had accomplished nothing. After all the severities he had put in force:, would it be possible to find more rigorous means of suppressions? The persecutor's invention was not yet at an end. More terrible severities were devised; and Sharp proposed and carried in Council the most atrocious edict which had yet been passed. The edict in question was no less than to make it a capital crime on the part of any to attend a field-preaching in arms. This was, in fact, to pass sentence of death on four-fifths of the people of Scotland; [2] in some districts the entire population came within the scope of the penalty. But so it was: it was death to be present at a field-preaching; and judges, officers, and even sergeants were empowered to kill on the spot, as traitors, all persons whom they found going armed to the conventicle. This barbarous law only nursed what the Government wished to extirpate. If liable to be murdered by any Government official or spy who met him, what could the man so threatened do but carry arms? Thus the congregation became a camp; the attenders of field-preaching came prepared to fight as well as to worship; and thus were the Covenanters forced by the Government into incipient war.

Through Sharp's influence and cruelty mainly had this unbearable state of matters been realized. His violence at last provoked a terrible retaliation. Only a few days before his departure for London, where the atrocious edict of his own drafting was afterwards ratified by the king, he was surprised at a lonely spot on Magus Moor,

as he was passing (3rd May, 1679) from Edinburgh to St. Andrews, dragged from his carriage, and massacred. This was a great crime. The French statesman would have said it was worse — it was a great blunder; and indeed it was so, for though we know of no Presbyterian who justified the act, its guilt was imputed to the whole Presbyterian body, and it furnished a pretext for letting loose upon them a more ferocious and exterminating violence than any to which they had yet been subjected. The edict lived after its author, and his assassination only secured its more merciless and rigorous enforcement.

In this terrible drama one bloody phase is succeeded by a bloodier, and one cruel actor is followed by another still more cruel and ferocious. The Government, in want of soldiers to carry out their measures on the scale now contemplated, turned their eyes to the same quarter whence they had obtained a supply of curates. An army of some 10,000 Highlanders was brought down from the Popish north, [3] to spoil and torture the inhabitants of the western Lowlands. This Highland host, as it was termed, came armed with field-pieces, muskets, daggers, and spades, as if to be occupied against some great fortified camp; they brought with them also shackles to bind and lead away prisoners, whose ransom would add to the spoil they might take in war. These savages, who neither knew nor cared anything about the quarrel, were not a little surprised, on arriving in the shires of Lanark and Ayr, to see neither army nor fortified city, but, on the contrary, the pursuits of peaceful life going calmly on in the workshops and fields. Defrauded of the pleasure of fighting, they betook them to the more lucrative business of stealing. They quartered themselves where they chose, made the family supply them with strong drink, rifled lock-fast places, drew their dirks on the slightest provocation, and by threats and tortures compelled the inmates of the houses they had invaded to reveal the places in which their valuables were hidden. At the end of two months they were withdrawn, the Government themselves having become ashamed of them, and being disappointed that the population, by submitting patiently to this infliction, had escaped the massacre which insurrection would have drawn down upon them from this ruthless horde. This host returned to their native hills, loaded with the multifarious spoil which they had gathered in their incursion. "When this goodly army retreated homewards," says Kirkton, "you would have thought by their baggage that they had been at the sack of a besieged city." [4]

John Graham of Claverhouse and his dragoons next appear upon the scene. His troops are seen scorning the country, now skirmishing with a party of Covenanters, now attacking a field-meeting, and dyeing the heather with the blood of the worshippers, and now shooting peasants in cold blood in the fields, or murdering them at their own doors. Defeat checked for a little their career of riot, profanity, and Mood. It is Sunday morning, the 1st of June, 1679. On the strath that runs eastward from London Hill, Avondale, the Covenanters had resolved to meet that day for worship. The rounded eminence of the hill, with its wooded top, was on one side of them, the moss and heath that make up the bosom of the valley on the other. The watchmen are stationed as usual. Mr. Douglas is just beginning his sermon when a signal-gun is heard. Claverhouse and his dragoons are advancing.

The worshippers sit still, but the armed men step out from the others and put themselves in order of battle. They are but a small hosts -- fifty horsemen, fifty foot with muskets, and a hundred and fifty armed with halberds, forks, and similar weapons. Sir Robert Hamilton took the command, and was supported by Colonel Cleland, Balfour of Burley, and Hackston of Rathilet. Their step was firm as, singing the Seventy-sixth Psalm to the tune of "Martyrs" they advanced to meet the enemy. They met him at the Morass of Drumclog. The first mutual volley left the Covenanters untouched, but when the smoke had rolled away it was seen that there were not a few empty saddles in Claverhouse's cavalry.

Plunging into the moss, trooper and Covenanter grappled hand to hand with each other; but the enthusiastic valor of the latter called the day. The dragoons began to reel like drunken men. Claverhouse saw that the field was lost, and fled with the remains of his troop. He left forty of his men dead on the field, with a considerable number of wounded. The Covenanters had one killed and five mortally wounded. [5]

It was the heroism, not the numbers, of the Covenanters which had won the field; and the lesson which the victory taught them was to maintain the spirit of devotion, which alone could feed the fire of their valor, and to eschew division. The nation was with them in the main, their recent success had brought prestige to their cause, numbers were now flocking to their standards, some of them men of birth, and seeing the royal forces in Scotland were few, their chances were now better than when they measured swords with the Government at Rullion Green. But unhappily they were split up by questions growing out of the Indulgence, and they labored under the further disadvantage of having no master-mind to preside in council and command in the field. It was under these fatal conditions that, a few weeks afterwards, the battle of Bothwell Bridge was fought.

After Drumclog the Covenanters pitched their camp on Hamilton Moor, on the south side of the Clyde. They were assailable only by a narrow bridge across that river, which might be easily defended. The royal army now advancing against them, under Monmouth, numbered about 15,000; the Presbyterian host was somewhere about 5,000. But they were weakened in presence of the enemy more by

disunion than by disparity of numbers. The Indulgence had all along been protective of evils, and was now to inflict upon them a crowning disaster. It was debated whether those who had accepted the Indulgence should be permitted to join in arms with their brethren till first they had condemned it. A new and extreme doctrine had sprung up, and was espoused by a party among the Presbyterians, to the effect that the king by the Erastian power he claimed over the Church had forfeited all right to the civil obedience of the subjects.

The days and weeks that ought to have been spent in drilling recruits, providing ammunition, and forming the men into regiments, were wasted in hot discussion and bitter recrimination; and when the enemy at last approached they were found unprepared to meet him. A gallant party of 300, headed by Hackston, defended the bridge for many hours, the main body of the covenanting army remaining idle spectators of the unequal contest, till they saw the brave little party give way before overwhelming numbers, and then the royal forces defiled across the bridge. Panic seized the Presbyterian host, left without officers; rout followed; the royal cavalry pursued the fugitives, and mercilessly cut down all whom they overtook. The banks of the Clyde, the town of Hamilton, in short the whole surrounding country became a scene of indiscriminate slaughter. No fewer than 400 perished. This disastrous battle was fought on Sunday morning, the 22nd of June, 1679.

It was now that the cup of the suffering Presbyterians was filled to the brim. The Government, eager to improve the advantage they had obtained on the fatal field of Bothwell Bridge, struck more terribly than ever, in the hope of effecting the utter extermination of the Covenanters before they had time to rally. Twelve hundred had surrendered themselves prisoners on the field of battle. They were stripped almost naked, tied two and two, driven to Edinburgh, being treated with great inhumanity on the way, and on arriving at their destination, the prisons being full, they were penned like cattle, or rather like wild beasts, in the Grayfriars' Churchyard. What a different spectacle from that which this famous spot had exhibited forty years before! Their misery was heartrending. The Government's barbarity towards them would be incredible were it not too surely attested. These 1,200 persons were left without the slightest shelter; they were exposed to all weathers, to the rain, the tempest, the snow; they slept on the bare earth; their guard treated them capriciously and cruelly, robbing them of their little money, and often driving away the citizens who sought to relieve their great sufferings by bringing them food or clothing. Some made their escape; others were released on signing a bond of non-resistance; others were freed when found to be sinking under wounds, or diseases contracted by exposure. At the end of five months -- for so long did this miserable crowd remain shut up within the walls of the graveyard — the 1,200 were reduced to 250. On the morning of the 15th of November, 1679, these 250 were taken down to Leith and embarked on board a vessel, to be transported to Barbados. They were crowded into the hold of the ship, where there was scarce room for 100. Awful were the heat, the thirst, and other horrors of this floating dungeon. Their ship was overtaken by a terrible tempest off the coast of Orkney. It was thrown by the winds upon the rocks, and many of the poor prisoners on board were drowned. Those who escaped the waves were carried to Barbados and sold as slaves. A few only survived to return to their native land at the Revolution.

The years that followed are known as "the killing times;" and truly Scotland during them became not unlike that from which the term is borrowed — a shambles. The Presbyterians were hunted on the mountains and tracked by the bloodhounds of the Privy Council to the caves and dens where they had hid themselves. Claverhouse and his dragoons were continually on the pursuit, shooting down men and women in the fields and on the highways. As fast as the prisons could be emptied they were filled with fresh victims brought in by the spies with whom the country swarmed. Several gentlemen and many learned and venerable ministers were confined in the dungeons of Blackness, Dunottar, and the Bass Rock.

Aged matrons and pious maidens were executed on the scaffold, or tied to stakes within sea-mark and drowned. The persecution fell with equal severity on all who appeared for the cause of their country's religion and liberty. No eminence of birth, no fame of talent, no luster of virtue could shield their possessor from the most horrible fate if he opposed the designs of the court. Some of lofty intellect and famed statesmanship were hanged and quartered on the gallows, and the ghastly spectacle of their heads and limbs met the gazer in the chief cities of the kingdom, as if the land were still inhabited by cannibals, and had never known either civilization or Christianity. It is calculated that during the twenty-eight years of persecution in Scotland 18,000 persons suffered death, or hardships approaching it.

There came a second breathing-time under James II. This monarch, with the view of introducing Popery into the three kingdoms, published a Toleration, which he made universal. It was a treacherous gift, but the majority of Nonconformists in both England and Scotland availed themselves of it. The bulk of the outed Presbyterian pastors accepted it, and returned to the discharge of their functions.

There was a party, however, who refused to profit by King James's Toleration, and who continued to be the objects of a relentless persecution. They had previously raised the question whether the House of Stuart had not, by their perversion of the Constitution, religious and civil, and their systematic and habitual tyranny, forfeited all right to the throne. The

conclusion at which they arrived they announced in their famous proclamation at Sanquhar. On the 22nd of June, 1680, a little troop of horsemen rode up the street of that ancient burgh, and on arriving at the cross one of them dismounted, and the others forming a ring round him, while the citizens congregated outside the circle, he read aloud the following declaration — " We do by these presents disown Charles Stuart, that has been reigning, or rather tyrannizing, on the throne of Britain these years bygone, as having any right, title, or interest in the crown of Scotland, for government — as forfeited several years since, by his perjury and breach of covenant both to God and His Kirk, and by his tyranny, and breach of the essential conditions of reigning in matters civil. We do declare a war with such a tyrant and usurper." The reading ended, they affixed their paper to the market cross, and rode away into the moorlands from which they had so suddenly and mysteriously issued.

From this little landward town was sounded out the first knell of the coming downfall of the House of Stuart. It looked eminently absurd in these twenty men to dethrone the sovereign of Great Britain, but however we may denounce the act as extravagant and even treasonable, the treason of these men lay in their not having fleets and armies to put down the tyrant that the law might reign. The Sanquhar Declaration however, with all its seeming extravagance, did not exhaust itself in the solitude in which it was first heard. It startled the court. The Government, instead of letting it die, took it up, and published it all over the three kingdoms. It was read, pondered over, and it operated with other causes in awakening and guiding public sentiment, till at last the feeble echoes first raised among the moors of Lanark, came back in thunder in 1688 from the cities and capitals of the empire.

The close of the persecution was distinguished by two remarkable deaths. As Argyle and Guthrie had opened the roll of Scottish martyrs, so now it is closed by Argyle and Renwick. It was meet surely that the son of the proto-martyr of the Twenty-eight Years' Persecution, should pour out his blood on the same scaffold on which that of his great ancestor, and of so many besides, had been shed, and so seal as it were the testimony of them all. The deep sleep into which he fell just before his execution has become historic. He was taken aside in presence of his enemies into a pavilion, to rest awhile, before departing to his eternal rest. Equally historic are his last words: "I die with a heart-hatred of Popery, prelacy, and all superstition whatever." Having so spoken he laid his head upon the block.

The scaffold, before being taken down, was to be wetted with the blood of yet another martyr — James Renwick. He was of the number of those who refused to own James as king; and fearlessly avowing his sentiments on this as on other matters, he was condemned to be executed. He appeared on the scaffold on the 17th of February, 1688 -- calm, courageous, and elevated. In his last prayer he expressed a confident hope that the dawn of deliverance in Scotland was near, and that days of glory yet awaited her. He essayed to address the vast concourse of sorrowing spectators around the scaffold, but the drums beat all the while. There came a pause in their noise, and the martyr was heard to say, or rather to sing, "I shall soon be above these clouds — I shall soon be above these clouds, then shall I enjoy thee, and glorify thee, O my Father, without interruption, and without interruption, forever." The martyr's death-song was the morning hymn of Scotland, for scarcely had its thrilling strains died away when deliverance came in the manner we shall presently see. [6]

Meanwhile we behold Scotland apparently crushed. All her noblemen and gentlemen who had taken the side of the nation against the court had perished on the scaffold, or had been chased into exile; her people were lying by thousands in their quiet graves among the moors or in the city churchyards, their withering limbs illuminating with ghastly yet glorious light the places where they were exposed to view; and when Renwick ascended the ladder to die, the last minister of the Presbyterian body still I arms against the Government had fallen. There now remained none but a few country-people around the blue banner of the Covenant. Never did defeat appear more complete. As a notion Scotland seemed to be crushed, and as a Church it seemed utterly overthrown.

Yet in reality Scotland had gained a great victory. By her twenty-eight years of suffering she had so illustrated the fundamental principles of the struggle and the momentous issues at stake, and she had so exalted the contest in the eyes of the world, investing it with a moral grandeur that stimulated England, that she mainly contributed to the turning of the tide, and the triumph of the Protestant cause all over Christendom. The world was then in one of its greatest crises. The Reformation was ebbing in Germany, in France, in Holland, in all the countries of Christendom; everywhere a double-headed tyranny was advance on men, trampling down the liberties of nations and the rights of Churches. Scotland retreated behind the bulwark of her Presbyterian Church; she fought against the "supremacy of King James," which meant simply arbitrary government; she fought for the "supremacy of King Jesus," which meant free Parliaments not less than free Assemblies -- the supremacy of law versus the supremacy of the monarch-conscience versus power. Disguised under antiquated words and phrases, this was the essence of the great struggle, and though Scotland lost her people in that struggle she won her cause. Her leaders have all fallen; the last of

their ministers has just expired on the scaffold; there is but a mere handful of her people around her blue banner as it still floats upon her mountains; but there is an eye watching that flag from beyond the sea ready whenever the hour shall strike to hasten across and reap the victory of these twenty-eight years of martyrdom, by grasping that flag and planting it on the throne of Britain.

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Saturday, October 31st, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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