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Battle of Bothwell Brig, 1679

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Covenanters' Memorial, Bothwell Brig
The Covenamters' Memorial at Bothwell Brig
The Covenamters' Memorial at Bothwell BrigBothwell Brig will always be remembered as a battle of lost opportunities. Following the modest success at Drumclog three weeks previously the hopes ( and with it perhaps, the naivety) of the Presbyterians ran high. But they lacked decisive leadership and spent most of the time arguing amongst themselves about doctrinal matters. If they had pursued Claverhouse and his troopers from Drumclog into Glasgow while the iron was hot, there may have been a different outcome. At the heart of the problem was Robert Hamilton (later Sir Robert, of Preston), the leader of the Covenanters elected before Drumclog who had assumed the position at Bothwell. Along with him were some of the leading ministers who were against having any of the `Indulged` in the army. Hamilton was a rigid and unbending opponent of the Indulgences and would have no truck whatsoever with anyone who had even associated with an indulged person. This extremism of a few, including the commanding officer, was the Covenanters` downfall.

There was a broad agreement that the Black Indulgence, as it was called, was wrong but they began arguing whether or not it should be expressly condemned in a proclamation which they were preparing in order to justify their conduct. Thus occupied in theocratic bickering their minds were not focussed on the job in hand.
 
The Indulged were Covenanters who favoured compromise and who had in many cases accepted indulgences from the government. They were in favour of including in the proposed proclamation that they `owned the king` ie recognised his right to rule but not the church. Ultimately this was included and proclaimed at Glasgow on 13 June 1679. They were still arguing frantically on 21 June when the Duke of Monmouth and some 10,000 troops appeared. The Duke of Montrose commanded the cavalry, the Earl of Linlithgow led the infantry. Claverhouse led his dragoons, Lord Mar had a regiment of foot, and the Earls of Home and Airlie brought their regiments. Still to come, as he waited fractiously for his appointment, was Dalziel of the Binns who resented being only second in command on this occasion. Within the Covenanter camp the moderates again wanted to make representations to the government forces, and with some duplicity engineered a letter that Hamilton signed, believing it to have been approved by his principal adviser, the Rev Donald Cargill. The letter was rejected by the Duke of Monmouth who insisted that the combatants must surrender to the mercy of the king. The half hour allowed to make their minds up evaporated as the two factions argued again and fighting became inevitable. At this juncture there was re-run of the battle at Dunbar as yet again, many of the `malignant` and `indulged` officers and men were removed from the army despite the certainty of battle - literally only minutes away.
 
Riven by disagreements, reduced in number, poorly armed with one small brass cannon, short of supplies, and with poor generalship the 4,000 men of the Covenanter army was decisively beaten by a substantial force, now of over 15,000 men . The position of the Covenanters from a military standpoint was quite good at the beginning. They had between them and the royalist forces a long narrow bridge that was well fortified, with a barricade in the middle. To either side there were houses and thickets on the side of the river which were well defended by the Covenanters. Although the river was fordable it was a foolish soldier who tried to cross, as soon became evident when withering musket fire drove them back. David Hackston and his men held the bridge, Burley ( one of the murders of Archbishop Sharp) and Captain John Nisbet with their horse were above the bridge and along the river bank. But in the rear and on the moor the main body of the Covenanters were still arguing among themselves as the stalwarts fought fiercely for the cause. Hackston`s party held the bridge for over an hour but began to run out of ammunition. Repeated demands for re supply were sent back but all they received was one barrel that was full of raisins, not gunpowder. They fought on until overpowered when, too late, the main body realised they were in trouble; they wavered and some began to run. It was a total rout in which Claverhouse and his troopers sought their revenge for Drumclog, even though Monmouth had given the Covenanters quarter.
 
The numbers vary with the source but about 400 were killed and about 1200 prisoners were taken, stripped and made to lay down on the moor under penalty of being shot if they lifted up their heads. These were the prisoners who were later marched to Edinburgh and penned in the open at Greyfriars Kirk Yard, where some lingered for five months. The last 250 of these prisoners were sentenced to transportation to the colonies and about 211 of them drowned on board the `Crown` when the ship sank off Orkney.
 
Following Bothwell Brig, and as had happened after the earlier Pentland Hills rising in 1666, the government made a Proclamation declaring, both by name and generally, that all participants were rebels and traitors . Following the Proclamation, Claverhouse and his troopers were sent in to settle the population. In Galloway the land owners were summoned before the Judiciary Court on 18 February 1680 where on very dubious evidence (from paid witnesses and informers) they were declared rebels, sentenced to death in their absence, and their lands forfeit. Among these were MacDougall of Freugh; William Gordon of Earlston and his son Alexander; Gordon of Craighlaw; Gordon of Culvennan; Dunbar of Machermore; and MacKie of Larg. William Gordon of Earlston had in fact been killed on the way to join his son at Bothwell Brig, but his name was included so that his lands could be seized. Into the Galloway region returned John Graham of Claverhouse and his brother Cornet Graham, who had been given a commission by the Privy Council to seize the movable property of all who had been in the rebellion or had fled (from persecution). Much of this found its way into their own pockets.
 
The significance of the defeat at Bothwell Brig was to prove very great. It led directly to a more systematic oppression on the part of the government; and it drove the persecuted into deeper seclusion, to the wild moors and uplands further away from the troopers hunting them down. These were the deep wooded glens, the morasses where there was only peaty water to drink, the rocky exposed hills, and lonely dank caves in gorges. Anywhere in fact where there was shelter and perhaps safety from their pursuers. 

Robert Hamilton fled to Holland where he was a close friend of Mr Brakell, minister at Leewarden. James Renwick corresponded with both of them and kept them informed of developments, while Hamilton made a contribution on the evolving policies of the United Societies. This included the debate on the payment of the cess, or war tax, implemented some four years previous to pay for the military presence especially in the south west.

 

Covenanters Section
Contents
 
  • The Killing Times
  • Battle of Bothwell Brig
  • The Wreck of The Crown
  • Henry & Francis
  • Jamie Douglas - poem
  • Incident at Martyrs Moss
  • Col James Douglas
  • Battle of Drumclog
  • List of Covenanters
  •  

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