An “outed” minister in his black frock and white necktie preaches to a large group of countryfolk congregating at the mouth of a cave.
Drumclog, 1 June 1679
The Restoration of 1660 led, inevitably, to dissatisfaction in Scotland, for King Charles II wished to see a return to an Episcopalian church, insisting that Presbyterianism was ‘no religion for a gentleman’. An essentially conciliatory policy led to most Scots falling into line, isolating a hard core of diehards who preferred to roam the open countryside, presiding over open-air services known as conventicles.
In 1671, conventicle preaching was made a capital offence, owing to government fears that coventicles would be used as a tool for the promotion of political unrest – as they were, with armed ‘congregations’, several hundred strong, roaming the hills. Such government troops as existed to enforce the law were always overstretched. In Glasgow, for example, the Earl of Ross commanded a garrison of just 240 men.
Matters came to a head in May 1679, with the murder of James Sharp, Archbishop of St Andrews. His assassins joined forces with Sir Robert Hamilton, an eccentric activist and advocate of violence. On 29 May, Hamilton and a group of armed supporters arrived in Rutherglen, where they presided over a conventicle in the market square.
An officer of dragoons, Captain John Graham of Claverhouse, whose task it was to break up conventicles wherever he found them, arrived at Rutherglen on 31 May and then moved on to Hamilton, where he heard that a large conventicle was to take place the following day at Loudon Hill, near Drumclog.
On the morning of 1 June, after breakfasting at Strathaven’s Slate Inn, Graham set out for Loudon Hill. In fact, the service was being held on nearby Harelea Hill and, as he approached from the high ground to the north, Graham may have heard songs of praise and perhaps even the words of the fiery preacher, James Douglas, borne aloft on the morning air.
The worshippers, several thousand in number, had been warned of Graham’s advance for, by the time of his arrival on the scene, the women and children had been moved to safety. There remained an armed guard of sixty men led by Hamilton. A further 200 poorly armed but committed able-bodied members of the congregation stood ready to defend their right to worship.
Instead of being faced with a peaceful meeting that would disperse hurriedly, leaving him free to pick up the ringleaders at his leisure, Graham was met with armed resistance. His own force of 150 dragoons and infantry was heavily outnumbered, and the Covenanters had occupied a position on high ground, occupied today by Stobieside. Furthermore, in order to tackle them, he would have to advance over some very boggy land.
Having sent a rider back to Glasgow for reinforcements, Graham demanded the insurgents’ surrender. When this was not forthcoming, he sent in a skirmishing party. Instead of scattering as he had hoped, the rebels formed an advance party of their own, the two sides exchanging one or two volleys of musket fire before the rebel skirmishers withdrew. This left Graham with no choice but to order a general advance. He must have realized that his dragoons would be rendered largely ineffective by the nature of the terrain, but he gambled on throwing the rebels into disarray. He could not have guessed that the rebels, throwing caution to the winds, would respond by launching a fast and furious assault of their own.
As Graham himself later reported, the amateur rebel infantry began its advance, guided, perhaps, by local men who knew how to negotiate the mire. The dragoons stood their ground, but their fire cannot have been confined to disciplined volleys, for the rebels seem to have experienced little difficulty in coming to grips with them. Moreover, William Cleland (a minor poet), leading the rebel infantry, managed to outflank the government force on its left. In the resulting confused mêlée, Graham’s horse was wounded by a pitchfork-wielding rebel, prompting it to bolt and carry its rider from the field. Despite the severity of the wound that Graham claimed it had sustained, the animal carried him three miles to Hillhead, where he commandeered his trumpeter’s horse to take him on to Glasgow.
In his absence, his men stood little chance. Deducing that Graham had fled voluntarily, the rank and file followed suit, although a number were surrounded and butchered. At Strathaven, hostile villagers were on the alert, for they attempted to block the road, forcing the pursued survivors to fight their way through. Darkness had fallen by the time they reached Glasgow, accompanied by the requested reinforcements, whom they had met on the road.
As far as casualties are concerned, Graham may have lost around ten dead, with many more wounded, while rebel losses, according to the victors, may have stood at three to six dead. The importance of the battle lay in the confidence that it gave the Covenanters in terms of their effectiveness as a fighting force. Having defeated regular troops, they now felt capable of marching on to Glasgow.
Bothwell Bridge, 22 June 1679
Emboldened by their victory at the minor Battle of Drumclog on 1 June 1679, the Covenanter army under Robert Hamilton resolved to march directly on Glasgow, which they reached at about 10.00 a.m. on 3 June.
Government troops had barricaded the streets and coordinated Covenanter attacks were beaten off. Hamilton had made up his mind to withdraw when the commander-in-chief of the army in Scotland, the Earl of Linlithgow, ordered a retreat to Stirling, and the regulars marched away, enabling Hamilton to move in and take control.
James, Duke of Monmouth, was sent north to replace Linlithgow, and the time that it took to raise an army capable of confronting the Covenanters provided them with an opportunity to organize. Instead, they spent the coming weeks arguing among themselves.
In total, Monmouth could call on some 5,000 men, mainly comprising groups of hastily raised militia, but Monmouth was an experienced soldier, as were his officers who included the Earls of Airlie and Home and John Graham of Claverhouse, humiliated at Drumclog and now out for revenge.
The Covenanters, having withdrawn from Glasgow, were encamped on the opposite bank of the River Clyde, at the town of Hamilton. They had barricaded the bridge spanning the river at Bothwell. A narrow structure with a central gate tower, its approach on the Hamilton side was commanded by houses and walled enclosures. Although the Covenanters numbered around 6,000, they were thrown into a panic when lookouts observed the approach of Monmouth’s army on the evening of 21 June.
On the following morning, a force of 400 Covenanters manning the barricade began to exchange fire with the government troops. A discussion within the main Covenanter army, drawn up about half a mile from the bridge, resulted in an effort to parlay, and there was a lull while both sides conferred. Monmouth insisted that the Covenanters must lay down their arms and surrender unconditionally. He gave them half an hour to acquiesce, and when it was clear that they were not going to do so, he brought his artillery up to the bridge. The two sides exchanged fire and Monmouth’s gunners were driven back. Unfortunately, the Covenanters did not exploit this advantage and a stalemate ensued, both sides exchanging musket fire for two hours.
Finally, with ammunition running short, the defenders were forced to retire to the main body, enabling the government troops to cross the bridge and deploy on the south bank, experiencing no harassment from the rebels as they did so. Monmouth now brought his artillery back into operation, initially against Hamilton’s left wing. Several of Hamilton’s officers appear to have abandoned the field at an early stage, resulting in much indecision and confusion. According to some reports, the rebel cavalry gave a good account of itself before falling back and creating more turmoil within the infantry ranks.
Suddenly, in the absence of officers to command them and with the government guns continuing to play upon them, the entire rebel force threw down its arms, turned and fled. A surviving Covenanter later observed that the right wing stood fast, ‘but not so long as to put on a pair of gloves’. The government troops were quick to engage in pursuit. Prominent among the hunters was Graham of Claverhouse or ‘Bloody Clavers’, as he was known, owing to the ardour with which he persecuted Covenanters.
At the end of the day, 800 Covenanters had been killed and, despite Graham’s display of zeal, more than 1,000 were taken prisoner. The churchyard of Edinburgh’s Greyfriars Church was infamously used as a temporary open-air prison. Most prisoners were later freed, although, to set an example, there were a few executions. Others were transported to the colonies, one transportation vessel being wrecked off the Orkneys, with the loss of most of the 257 convicts on board. Although a hard core of extremist Covenanters, including Hamilton, remained at large, the defeat at Bothwell Bridge effectively put paid to their dalliance with armed rebellion.
William Aiton, A History of the Rencounter at Drumclog and Battle at Bothwell Bridge (Ulan Press, 2011).