Sir Walter Scott
The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border
The Battle of Bothwell Bridge
It has been often remarked, that the Scottish, notwithstanding their national courage, were always unsuccessful when fighting for their religion. The cause lay, not in the principle, but in the mode of its application. A leader, like Mahomet, who is at the same time the prophet of his tribe, may avail himself of religious enthusiasm, because it comes to the aid of discipline, and is a powerful means of attending the despotic command, essential to the success of a general. But, among the insurgents, in the reign of the last Stuarts, were mingled preachers, who taught different shades of the Presbyterian doctrine; and, minute as these shades sometimes were, neither the several shepherds, nor their flocks, could cheerfully unite in a common cause. This will appear from the transactions leading to the battle of Bothwell Bridge.
We have seen that the party, which defeated Claverhouse at Loudon Hill, were Cameronians, whose principles consisted in disowning all temporal authority, which did not flow from and through the Solemn League and Covenant. This doctrine, which is still retained by a scattered remnant of the sect in Scotland, is in theory and would be in practice, inconsistent with the safety of any well-regulated government, because the Covenanters deny to their governors that toleration, which was iniquitously refused to themselves. In many respects, therefore, we cannot be surprised at the anxiety and rigour with which the Cameronians were persecuted, although we may be of opinion, that milder means would have induced a melioration of their principles. These men, as already noticed, excepted against such Presbyterians as were contented to exercise their worship under the indulgence granted by government, or, in other words, who would have been satisfied with toleration for themselves, without insisting upon a revolution in the state, or even in the church establishment.
When, however, the success of Loudon Hill was spread abroad, a number of preachers, gentlemen, and common people, who had embraced the more moderate doctrine, joined the army of Hamilton, thinking that the difference in their opinions ought no longer to prevent their acting in the common cause. The insurgents were repulsed in an attack upon the town of Glasgow which, however, Claverhouse, shortly afterwards, thought it necessary to evacuate. They were now nearly in full possession of the west of Scotland, and pitched their camp at Hamilton, where, instead of modeling and disciplining their army, the Cameronians and Erastians (for so the violent insurgents chose to call the more moderate Presbyterians) only debated, in council of war, the real cause of their being in arms. Robert Hamilton, their general, was the leader of the first party; Mr. John Walsh, a minister, headed the Erastians. The latter so far prevailed, as to get a declaration drawn up, in which they owned the King’s government; but the publication of it gave rise to new quarrels. Each faction had its own set of leaders, all of whom aspired to be officers; and there were actually two councils of war issuing contrary orders and declarations at the same time; the one owning the King, and the other designing him a malignant, bloody, and perjured tyrant.
Meanwhile, their numbers and zeal were magnified at Edinburgh, and great alarm excited lest they should march eastward. Not only was the foot militia instantly called out, but proclamations were issued, directing all the heritors, in the eastern, southern, and northern shires, to repair to the King’s host, with their best horses, arms, and retainers. In Fife, and other counties, where the Presbyterian doctrines prevailed, many gentlemen disobeyed this order, and were afterwards severely fined. Most of them alleged, in excuse, the apprehension of disquiet from their wives. * A respectable force, however, was soon assembled; and James, Duke of Buccleugh and Monmouth, was sent down, by Charles II, to take the command, furnished with instructions, not unfavourable to the Presbyterians. The royal army now moved slowly forward towards Hamilton, and reached Bothwell moor on the 22d of June, 1679. The insurgents were encamped chiefly in the Duke of Hamilton’s park, along the Clyde, which separated the two armies. Bothwell bridge, which is long and narrow, had then a portal in the middle, with gates, which the Covenanters shut, and barricaded with stones and logs of timber. This important post was defended by three hundred of their best men, under Hackston of Rathillet, and Hall of Haughhead. Early in the morning, this party crossed the bridge, and skirmished with the royal vanguard, now advanced as far as the village of Bothwell. But Hackston speedily retired to his post, at the end of Bothwell bridge.
While the dispositions, made by the Duke of Monmouth, announced his purpose of assailing the pass, the more moderate of the insurgents resolved to offer terms. Ferguson of Kaitloch, a gentleman of landed fortune, and David Hume, a clergyman, carried to the Duke of Monmouth a supplication, demanding free exercise of their religion, a free parliament, and a free general assembly of the church. The Duke heard their demands with his natural mildness, and assured them he would interpose with his Majesty in their behalf, on condition of their immediately dispersing themselves, and yielding up their arms. Had the insurgents been all of the moderate opinion, this proposal would have been accepted, much blood-shed saved, and, perhaps, some permanent advantage derived to their party; or had they been all Cameronians, their defence would have been fierce and desperate. But, while their motley and missassorted officers were debating upon the Duke’s proposal, his field-pieces were already planted on the western side of the river, to cover the attack of the foot guards, who were led on by Lord Livingstone, to force the bridge. Here Hackston maintained his post with zeal and courage; nor was it until all his ammunition was expended, and every support denied him by the general, that he reluctantly abandoned the important pass. ** When his party was drawn back, the Duke’s army, slowly, and with their cannon in front, defiled along the bridge, and formed in line of battle, as they came over the river; the Duke commanded the foot, and Claverhouse the cavalry.
It would seem, that these movements could not have been performed without at least some loss, had the enemy been serious in opposing them. But the insurgents were otherwise employed. With the strangest delusion that ever fell upon devoted beings, they chose these precious moments to cashier their officers, and elect others in their room. In this important operation, they were at length disturbed by the Duke’s cannon, at the very first discharge of which the horse of the Covenanters wheeled, and rode off, breaking and trampling down the ranks of their infantry in their flight. The Cameronian account blames Weir of Greenridge, a commander of the horse, who is termed a sad Achan in the camp. The more moderate party lay the whole blame on Hamilton, whose conduct, they say, left the world to debate, whether he was most traitor, coward, or fool. The generous Monmouth was anxious to spare the blood of his infatuated countrymen, by which he incurred much blame among his high-flying royalists. Lucky it was for the insurgents that the battle did not happen a day later, when old General Dalzell, who divided with Claverhouse the terror and hatred of the Whigs, arrived in the camp, with a commission to supersede Monmouth, as commander-in-chief. He is said to have upbraided the Duke, publicly, with his lenity, and heartily to have wished his own commission had come a day sooner, when, as he expressed himself, “These rogues should never more have troubled the King or country.” *** But, not withstanding the merciful orders of the Duke of Monmouth, the cavalry made great havoc among the fugitives, of whom four hundred were slain.
The same deplorable circumstances are more elegantly bewailed in Wilson’s Clyde, a poem, reprised in Scottish Descriptive Poems, edited by the late Dr. John Leyden, Edinburgh, 1803: –
“Where Bothwell’s bridge connects the margin steep,
And Clyde, below, runs silent, strong, and deep,
The hardy peasant, by oppression driven,
To battle, deemed his cause the cause of Heaven;
Unskill’d in arms, with useless courage stood,
While gentle Monmouth grieved to shed his blood;
But fierce Dundee, inflamed with deadly hate,
In vengeance for the great Montrose’s fate,
Let loose the sword, and to the hero’s shade
A barbarous hecatomb of victims paid.”
The object of Claverhouse’s revenge, assigned by Wilson, is grander, though more remote and less natural, than that in the ballad, which imputes the severity of the pursuit to his thirst to revenge the death of his cornet and kinsman, at Drumclog; + and to the quarrel betwixt Claverhouse and Monmouth, it ascribes, with great naivete, the bloody fate of the latter. Local tradition is always apt to trace foreign events to the domestic causes, which are more immediately in the narrator’s view. There is said to be another song upon this battle, once very popular, but I have not been able to recover it. This copy is given from recitation.
There were two Gordons of Earlstoun, father and son. They were descended of an ancient family in the west of Scotland, and their progenitors were believed to have been favourers of the reformed doctrine, and possessed of a translation of the Bible, as early as the days of Wickliffe. William Gordon, the father, was, in 1663, summoned before the Privy Council, for keeping conventicles in his house and woods. By another act of Council, he was banished out of Scotland, but the sentence was never put into execution. In 1667, Earlstoun was turned out of his house, which was converted into a garrison for the King’s soldiers. He was not in the battle of Bothwell bridge, but was met, hastening towards it, by some English dragoons, engaged in the pursuit already commenced. As he refused to surrender, he was instantly slain. _ WILSON’S History of Bothwell Rising – Life of Gordon of Earlstoun, in Scottish Worthies – WODROW’s History, vol ii. The son, Alexander Gordon of Earlstoun, I suppose to be the hero of the ballad. He was not a Cameronian, but of the more moderate class of Presbyterians, whose sole object was freedom of conscience, and relief from the oppressive laws against non-conformists. He joined the insurgents shortly after the skirmish at Loudon Hill. He appears to have been active in forwarding the supplication sent to the Duke of Monmouth. After the battle, he escaped discovery, by flying into a house at Hamilton, belonging to one of the tenants, and disguising himself in female attire. His person was proscribed, and his estate of Earlstoun was bestowed upon Colonel Theophilus Ogilthorpe, by the crown, first in security for 5000- and afterwards in perpetuity. – FOUNTAINHALL, p. 390. The same author mentions a person tried at the Circuit Court, July 10, 1683, solely for holding intercourse with Earlstoun, an intercommuned (proscribed) rebel. As he had been in Holland after the battle of Bothwell, he was probably an accessory to the scheme of invasion, which the unfortunate Earl of Argyle was then meditating. He was apprehended upon his return to Scotland, tried, convicted of treason, and condemned to die; but his fate was postponed by a letter from the King, appointing him to be reprieved for a month, that he might, in the interim, be tortured for the discovery of his accomplices. The council had the unusual spirit to remonstrate against this illegal course of severity. On November 3, 1683, he received a farther respite, in hopes he would make some discovery. When brought to the bar, to be tortured, (for the King had reiterated his commands,) he, through fear, or distraction, roared like a bull, and laid so stoutly about him, that the hangman and his assistant could hardly master him. At last he fell into a swoon, and, on his recovery, charged General Dalzell, and Drummond, (violent Tories,) together with the Duke of Hamilton, with being the leaders of the fanatics. It was generally thought that he affected this extravagant behavior to invalidate all that agony might extort from him concerning his real accomplices. He was sent, first, to Edinburgh Castle, and, afterwards, to a prison upon the Bass island: although the Privy Council more than once deliberated upon appointing his immediate death. On 22nd August, 1684, Earlstoun was sent for from the bass, and ordered for execution, 4th November, 1684. He endeavoured to prevent his doom by escape; but was discovered and taken, after he had gained the roof of the prison. The Council deliberated, whether, in consideration of this attempt, he was not liable to instant execution. Finally, however, they were satisfied to imprison him in Blackness Castle, 16th September, 1684, where he remained till after the Revolution, when he was set at liberty, and his doom of forfeiture reversed by act of Parliament. See FOUNTAINHALL, vol. i. pp. 238, 240, 245, 250, 301, 302.
* “Balcanquhall of that ilk alleged, that his horses were robbed, but shunned to take the declaration, for fear of disquiet from his wife. Young of Kirkton – his laydes dangerous sickness, and bitter curses if he should leave her, and the appearance of abortion on his offering to go from her. And many others pled, in general terms, that their wives opposed or contradicted their going. But the Justiciary Court found this defence totally irrelevant.” – FOUNTAINHALL’S Decisions, vol i. p. 88.
** There is an accurate representation of this part of the engagement in an old painting, of which there are two copies extant; one in the collection of his Grace, the Duke of Hamilton, the other at Dalkeith House. The whole appearance of the ground, even including a few old houses, is the same which the scene now presents. The removal of the porch, or gateway, upon the bridge, is the only perceptible difference. The Duke of Monmouth, on a white charger, directs the party engaged in storming the bridge, while his artillery gall the motley ranks of the Covenanters. An engraving of this painting would be acceptable to the curious; and I am satisfied an opportunity for copying it, for that purpose, would be readily granted by either of the noble proprietors. 1810. . . The picture has been engraved in outline for one of the publications of the Bannatyne Club. 1830.
*** Dalzell was a man of savage manners. A prisoner having called at him, while under examination before the Privy Council, calling him “A Muscovia beast, who used to roast men, the general, in a passion, struck him with the pomel of his shabble, on the face, till the blood sprung.” – FOUNTAINHALL, vol. i, p. 159. He had sworn never to shave his beard after the death of Charles the First. The venerable appendage reached his girdle, and as he wore always an old-fashioned buff-coat, his appearance in London never failed to attract the notice of the children of the mob. King Charles II, used to swear at him, for bringing such a rabble of boys together, to be squeezed to death, while they gaped at his long beard and antique habit, and exhorted him to shave and dress like a Christian, to keep the poor bairns, as Dalzell expressed it, out of danger. In compliance with this request, he once appeared at court fashionably dressed, excepting the beard; but, when the King had laughed sufficiently at the metamorphisis, he resumed his old dress, to the great joy of the boys, his usual attendants. – CREIGHTON’S Memoirs, p. 102.
+ There is some reason to conjecture, that the revenge of the Cameronians, if successful, would have been little less sanguinary than that of the royalists. Creichton mentions, that they had erected in their camp, a high pair of gallows, and prepared a quantity of halters, to hang such prisoners as might fall into their hands; and he admires the forbearance of the King’s soldiers who, when they returned with their prisoners, brought them to the very spot where the gallows stood, and guarded them there, without offering to hang a single individual. Guild, in the Bellum Bothuellianum, alludes to the same story, which is rendered probable by the character of Hamilton, the insurgent general. GUILD’S MSS. – CREIGHTON’S Memoirs, p. 61.
|THE BATTLE OF BOTHWELL BRIDGE
“O billie, billie, bonny billie,
Will ye go to the wood wi’ me?
We’ll ca’ our horse hame masterless,
An’ gar them trow slain men are we.” –
“O no, O no!” says Earlstoun,
So Earlstoun rose in the morning,
“Now, farewell, father, and, farewell, mother,
So they’re awa’ to Bothwell Hill,
“Ye’re welcome, lads,” the Monmouth said,
“But yield your weapons ane an a’;
Out then spak a Lennox lad,
Then he set up the flag o’ red,
They stell’d *** their cannons on the height,
As e’er you saw the rain down fa’,
“O hold your hand,” then Monmouth cry’d,
“O hold your hand,” then Monmouth cry’d,
Then wicked Claver’se turn’d about,
Than he’s awa’ to London town,
Alang the brae, beyond the brig,
* Waly! – an interjection.
** Blue was the favourite colour of the Covenanters; hence the vulgar phrase of a truly blue Whig. Spalding informs us, that when the first army of Covenanters entered Aberdeen, few or none “wanted a blue ribband; the Lord Gordon, and some others of the Marquis ( of Huntly’s,) family had a ribband, when they were dwelling in the town, of a red flesh colour, which they wore in their hats, and called it the royal-ribband, as a sign of their love and loyalty to the King. In despite and derision thereof, this blue ribband was worn, and called the Covenanter’s ribband, by the haill soldiers of the army, who would not hear of the royal ribband, such was their pride and malice.” – vol. i. p. 123. After the departure of this first army, the town was occupied by the barons of the royal party, till they were once more expelled by the Covenanters, who plundered the burgh and country adjacent; “no fowl, cock, or hen, left unkilled, and the haill housedogs, messens, (i.e. lap-dogs) and whelps within Aberdeen, killed upon the streets; so that neither hound, messen, nor other dog, was left alive that they could see. The reason was this – when the first army came here, ilk captain and soldier had a blue ribband about his craig (i.e. neck,); in despite and derision whereof, when they removed from Aberdeen, some women of Aberdeen, as was alleged; knit blue ribbands about their messens craigs, whereat their soldiers took offence, and killed all their dogs for this very cause.” – p. 160.
I have seen one of the ancient banners of the Covenanters; it was divided into four compartments, inscribed with the words – Christ – Covenant – King – Kingdom. Similar standards are mentioned in Spaulding’s curious and minute narrative, vol. ii. pp. 182, 245.
*** Stell’d – planted
+ Howe – hollow
++ Knowe – knoll
+++ It is very extraordinary, that in April, 1685, Claverhouse was left out of the new commission of Privy Council, as being too favourable to the fanatics. The pretence was his having married into the Presbyterian family of Lord Dundonald. An act of Council was also passed, regulating the payment of quarters, which is stated by Fountainhall to have been done in odium of Claverhouse, and in order to excite complaints against him. This charge, so inconsistent with the nature and conduct of Claverhouse, seems to have been the fruit of a quarrel betwixt him and the Lord High Treasurer. FOUNTAINHALL, vol. i. p. 36.
That Claverhouse was most unworthily accused of mitigating the persecution of the Covenanters, will spear from the following simple, but very affecting narrative, extracted from one of the little publications which appeared soon after the Revolution, while the facts, were fresh in the memory of the sufferers. The imitation of the scriptural style produces, in passages of these works, an effect not unlike what we feel in reading the beautiful book of Ruth. It is taken from the life of Mr. Andrew Peden, printed about 1720.
“In the beginning of May, 1685, he came to the house of John Brown and Marion Weir, whom he married before he went to Ireland, where he stayed all night; and in the morning, whence took farewell, he came out of the door, saying to himself, ‘Poor woman, a fearful morning,’ twice over. ‘A dark misty morning!’ The next morning, between five and six hours, the auld John Brown having performed the worship of God in his family, was going, with a spade in his hand, to make ready some peat ground; the mist being very dark, he knew not until cruel and bloody Claverhouse compassed him with three troops of horse, brought him to his house, and there examined him; who, though he was a man of stammering speech, yet answered him distinctly and solidly; which made Claverhouse to examine those whom he had taken to be his guides through the muirs, if ever they heard him preach? They answsered, ‘No, no, he was never a preacher.’ He said, ‘If he has never preached, meikle he has prayed in his time;’ he said to John, ‘Go to your prayers, for you shall immediately die!’ When he was praying, Claverhouse interrupted him there times; one time, that he stopt him, he was pleading that the Lord would spare a moment, and not make a full end in the day of his anger. Claverhouse said, ‘I give you time to pray, and ye are begun to preach;’ he turned about upon his knees, and said, ‘Sir, you know neither the nature of preaching or praying, that calls this preaching.’ Then continued without confusion. When ended, Claverhouse said, ‘Take goodnight of your wife and children.’ His wife, standing by with her child in her arms that she had brought forth to him, and another child of his first wife’s, he came to her, and said, ‘Now, Marion, the day is come that I told you would come, when I spake first to you of marrying me.” She said, ‘Indeed, John, I can willingly part with you.’ – ‘Then,’ he said, ‘this is all I desire. I have no more to do but die.” He kissed his wife and bairns, and wished purchased and promised blessing to be multiplied upon them, and his blessing. Claverhouse ordered six soldiers to shoot him; the most part of the bullets came upon his head, which scattered his brains upon the ground. Claverhouse said to his wife, ‘What thinkest thou of thy husband now, woman?’ She said, ‘I thought ever much of him, and now as much as ever.’ He said, ‘It were but justice to lay thee beside him.’ She said, ‘If ye were permitted, I doubt not but your crueltie would go that length; but how will ye make answer for this morning’s work?’ He said, ‘To man I can be answerable; and for God, I will take him in my own hand.’ Claverhouse mounted his horse, and marched and left her with the corpse of her dead husband lying there; she set the bairn on the ground, and gathered his brains, and tied up his head, and straightened his body, and covered him in her plaid, and sat down, and wept over him. It being a very desert place, where never victual grew, and far from neighbours, it was some time before any friends came to her; the first that came was a very fit hand, that old singular Christian woman, in the Cummer head, named Elizabeth Menzies, three miles distant, who had been tried with the violent death of her husband at Pentland, afterwards of two worthy sons, Thomas Weir, who was killed at Drumclog, David Steel, who was suddenly shot afterwards when taken. The said Marion Weir, sitting upon her husband’s grave, told me, that before that, she could see no blood but she was in danger to faint; and yet she was helped to be a witness to all this, without either fainting or confusion, except when the shots were let off her eyes dazzled. His corpse were buried at the end of his house, where he was slain, with this inscription on his grave-stone:
In earth’s cold bed, the dusty part here lies,
Of one who did the earth as dust despise!
Here, in this place, from earth he took departure;
Now he has got the garland of the martyrs.”
While we read this dismal story, we must remember Brown’s situation was that of an avowed and determined rebel, liable as such to military execution; so that the atrocity was more that of the times than of Claverhouse. That general’s gallant adherence to his master, the misguided James VII, and his glorious death on the field of victory, at Killiecrankie, have tended to preserve and gild his memory. He is still remembered in the Highlands as the most successful leader of their clans. An ancient gentleman, who had borne arms for the cause of Stuart in 1715, told the Editor, that when the armies met on the field of battle at Sheriff-muir, a veteran chief, (I think he named Gordon of Glenbucket,) covered with scars, came up to the Earl of Mar, and earnestly pressed him to order the Highlanders to charge, before the regular army of Argyle had completely formed their line, and at a moment when the rapid and furious onset of the clans might have thrown them into total disorder. Mar repeatedly answered, it was not yet time; till the chieftain turned from him, in disdain and despair, and, stamping with rage, exclaimed aloud, “O but for one hour of Dundee!”
Claverhouse’s sword (a strait cut-and-thrust blade) is in the possession of Lord Woodhouselee. In Pennycuick house is preserved the buff-coat, which he wore at the battle of Killiecrankie. The fatal shot-hole is under the arm-pit, so that the ball must have been received while his arm was raised to direct the pursuit. However he came by his charm of proof, he certainly had not worn the garment usually supposed to confer that privilege, and which was called the waistcoat of proof, or of necessity. It was thus made; “On Christmas dai, at night, a thread must be sponne of flax, by a little virgin girle, in the name of the divell; and it must be by her woven, and also wrought with the needle. In the breast, or fore part thereof, must be made, with needlework, two heads; on the head, at the right side, must be a hat and a long beard; the left head must have on a crown, and it must be so horrible that it maie resemble Belzebub; and on each side of the waistcote must be made a crosse.” – SCOTT’S Discovery of Witchcraft p. 231.
It would be now no difficult matter to bring down our popular poetry, connected with history, to the year 1745. But almost all the party ballads of that period have been already printed and illustrated by Mr. Ritson.
The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border
by Sir Walter Scott.
- The Battle of Bothwell Bridge from Alexander Smellie’s “Men of the Covenant”.
- The Cloud of Witnesses: At least 5 Wylies captured at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge.
- The Sinking of The Crown of London: Wylies captured at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge were abourd the Crown when it sank.
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