30th January: The Executions of Charles I and Oliver Cromwell

On Tuesday 30th January 1649, Charles Stuart, 11th monarch of the House of Stuart, 2nd incumbent of the unified throne was marched from St James’ Palace to Whitehall to be publicly beheaded. His forbears had sat on the throne of Scotland for 261 years and now it was to end. In the snow, in a foreign land, in front of a silent mob.

Charles I heads for his execution

Charles I heads for his execution

Twelve years later, on Wednesday 30th January 1661, the disinterred body of Oliver Cromwell, which had lain in its grave for over two years, was taken from the Red Lion Inn in Holborn along with that of Henry Ireton, another of the regicides, to Tyburn where it was publicly hanged in chains. No public pronouncement of death being deemed necessary as the corpse had been such for some time.

After hanging there for some hours his body was taken down and the head struck unceremoniously from the rest of it whence it was placed high on a wooden stake for all to see.

Cromwell's corpse is hanged (with his fellow regicides Bradshaw and Ireton)

Cromwell’s corpse is hanged (with his fellow regicides Bradshaw and Ireton)

Cromwell: a man who had come close to being crowned himself and who was deemed then and since to represent the quintessentialness of British values to have his body treated in a manner so contemptuous that even now, three and a half centuries later we have no idea, and less concern, as to the location of said head.

Cromwell's severed head, as pictured in 1700. It's present whereabouts are unknown

Cromwell’s severed head, as pictured in 1700. It’s present whereabouts are unknown

As Cromwell’s corpse swung in the winter breeze, there was to be no dwelling on the manner in which events had unfolded. When he had died, the first time, he was at the height of his powers as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of the Three Kingdoms. His position backed up by his New Model Army, an extremely effective military force of his own creation. Nonetheless, it was remarkable the extent to which the fortunes of his interests had deteriorated so much in such a short space of time.

For Charles Stuart, however, there was plenty of time for him to consider the vicissitudes of his life. By January 1649 he had been held prisoner for nearly three years. First by the Scots Covenanting Army in Newcastle, upon whose mercy he had thrown himself when he had exhausted all other options following the defeat of his army in the Civil War. And then when the Scots handed him over to the vengeful Parliamentarians he was held under house arrest in a number of different locations whilst said Parliamentarians made up their mind as to what to do with him.

During this time his prospects were not entirely grim with the Scots rising in arms once more, this time to seek his freedom. But these hopes were to be dashed as Cromwell and his New Model destroyed this army at the Battle of Preston. And as negotiations wound tediously on over the months it was only near the end when Parliament sought to indict him for treason that he would have had some idea that matters might end with his death.

Charles I at his trial. Parliament had sacked his barber and he would let no-one near him with a razor.

Charles I at his trial. Parliament had sacked his barber and he would let no-one near him with a razor.

Like the citizenry of England, the Scots were not averse to brutally assassinating their anointed monarch when the need arose. As when James I was done to death in the basement of Blackfriars Monastery in 1437. Or when James III died at the hands of a mysterious assassin in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Sauchieburn in 1488.

Edward II of England’s grizzly end by means of a hot poker testifies to the enthusiasm with which such matters were conducted south of the border, albeit this happened after his abdication. However, we have the cases of Henry VI and the Princes in the Tower as eloquent evidence of due process in that part of the world.

However, in the long and colourful history of the Kingdom of Scotland there had never been efforts made to prosecute then execute a monarch. In England, however, not only was there a proud tradition of executing reigning monarchs, such as Lady Jane Grey in 1554. They had also taken it upon themselves to execute other peoples’ monarchs. The utterly reprehensible fashion in which Her Grace, Mary Queen of Scots was held prisoner for some nineteen years before a shameless show trial found her guilty of treason against a monarch of whom she was not a subject and condemned her to death, stands in clear testimony to the barbaric manner in which such matters have been conducted there over the centuries.

Mary, Queen of Scots at her execution in 1587.

Mary, Queen of Scots at her execution in 1587.

In January 1649, the first effort of the Rump Commons to raise the treason indictment against King Charles was immediately thrown out as unlawful by the three Chief Justices of the Common Law Courts of England. And so, in the high-handed manner in which this august body conducts its business, the Rump Commons unconstitutionally declared itself capable of legislating alone.

It then created a bill for the King’s trial and passed it as an act without royal assent. By this stage even the incorrigible optimism of Charles Stuart would have begun to give way to a more realistic assessment of the way the wind was blowing.

Charles had a firm and unaltered view of his God-anointed position. It was largely this firmness of purpose expressed as a wholesale refusal to compromise with any and all which had brought him into conflict with his Parliaments and his citizenry and which, arguably, had brought about the ruinous collapse in the fortunes of himself and those of the noble House of whom he was but the latest progeny.

So we can be reasonably sure that he did not entertain himself in his final hours with thoughts of what might have been done, by himself or by others, in the years gone by, to avoid this disastrous outcome.

Perhaps he might have handled his dealings regarding religious worship less high-handedly. The manner in which the he imposed his chosen form of worship on the people of Scotland led directly to the Signing of the National Covenant and thus to years of needless bloodshed which would continue long after his death.

The National Covenant is signed in 1638. The bloodshed of the Covenant Wars would soon follow.

The National Covenant is signed in 1638. The bloodshed of the Covenant Wars would soon follow.

Perhaps, he might have recognized the fundamental split that had occurred with his English Parliament and returned to the land of his fathers to re-establish the separate Kingdom of Scotland. Perhaps, in 1603, his father before him, James VI/I, might have given more thoughtful consideration to the offer of the joint crown in the first place. And instead of haring across the border at the first opportunity never once to return on the twenty-two years of his remaining life, he might have considered the possible downside of the arrangement. He might have pondered how a political arrangement with a single monarch presiding over two nations with separate sovereign Parliaments and with clear and historically proven diverse interests could ever possibly work.

No such thoughts occurred to either man. Nor indeed to those who came after. Charles’ son, Charles II, restored to the throne when the whole Cromwellian nonsense crumbled to dust after the man’s death, had too many other distractions to entertain him than taking action to provide long-term political stability.

And his brother, James II, had little enough time during his reckless reign to consider what could be done before jumping into the boat and heading for France, despite the entreaties of those who had the interests of him, his Ancient House and the people of Scotland at heart.

It was James’ reckless abandonment of his responsibilities that directly gave rise to another 57 years of bloodshed and sacrifice in the Jacobite Risings.

So perhaps there was a clear inevitability about the manner of his death. The mistakes, however, were not all his.

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17 January 1746, the Battle of Falkirk (II)

The 1745 Jacobite Rising lasted nine short months, from Charles Edward landing on Eriskay in July until the destruction of the Army at Culloden the following April. During this time there were three major battlefield engagements and at least two minor skirmishes. Charlie’s Jacobite Army won all of these engagements bar one.

You could fill a book analysing the reasons for the failure of the Rising. Many people have. It is this writer’s view that failure was inevitable. However, the military performance of the Jacobite Army throughout this campaign cannot be gainsaid.

The history of the Rising, commonly given to us, highlights; the Jacobite victory at Prestonpans, deemed to be simply lucky; the drive south into England which reached Derby before turning for home when victory was seemingly within their grasp; then the final denouement at Culloden with the apparently inevitable victory of professional, experienced British troops over badly organised, badly led, uncivilized highlanders.

This superficial assessment of events fails to recognise the two key conclusions that a proper, balanced analysis would reach. Firstly, the Jacobite Army was an extremely effective military force. Secondly, as was so often the case since its inception under Cromwell, the performance of the British Army was utterly sub-standard.

In this post we’re focusing on Falkirk, the second of the three battles, using it an attempt to answer two questions. How good a military force was the Jacobite Army, particularly the generalship, and how good or bad were the British Army who opposed them?

The Commanders

Lord George Murray commanded the Jacobite Army at Falkirk. At fifty years of age he had significant previous form with respect to Jacobite Risings. Out in the 1715 event, he commanded one of the three Atholl regiments in the Earl of Mar’s Army during this campaign and fought in the defeat at the Battle of Preston in November where he was taken prisoner. He escaped and made his way to France. In the 1719 Rising he had a prominent role at the Battle of Glenshiel, the only field action fought during that campaign. Murray commanded the right wing and was wounded during the action but escaped the field.

Lord George Murray de facto military commander during the '45

Lord George Murray de facto military commander during the ’45

He returned to Scotland in 1724 and was pardoned by the Government the following year. When Charles arrived at Blair Atholl in September 1745 at the head of the newly assembled army, Murray joined and was installed as Lieutenant-General. By the time the first battle of the campaign was fought, at Prestonpans on 21st September, Murray was virtually in full military command. However, Charles, as commander-in-chief was never fully comfortable with this arrangement and the relationship between the two men, both personally and in matters military was often disputatious. It was on Murray’s initiative that the bold move was taken the night before Prestonpans to change flanks by taking his infantry in narrow file across the marsh before falling on Cope’s redcoats, annihilating the British Government’s force.

This victory aligned with his comfortable command over the mostly highland army put him in a strong position. However, Charles was less than comfortable with him on a personal level from the outset and his counsellor’s dripped poison in his ear regarding Murray at every opportunity.

Murray was opposed to the Prince’s plan to march into England and at Derby he led the arguments in favour of retreating northwards. A decision which Charles was fully opposed to but had little choice other than to concur with in the face of almost unanimous agreement amongst the chiefs.

As the army made its way back north Murray took command of the rearguard, with redcoat detachments maintaining a continuous presence at his rear and flank. Twelve days, and almost two hundred miles into this ordeal when they reached Clifton Moor in Cumbria, Murray turned his rearguard of several hundred men around and engaged an enemy contingent of similar size under the personal command of the Duke of Cumberland, sending word up the line to Charles of his intentions.

Once again Murray won the day. And the Jacobite Army was able to continue its northward march untroubled by further enemy interference.

Henry Hawley commanded the Hanoverian force that was to fight at Falkirk. He was 67 years old and, like Murray, a Lieutenant-General. He too had previous form in Jacobite Risings. As Lieutenant-Colonel of the 19th Regiment of foot he fought at, and was wounded in, the Battle of Sheriffmuir. Which was fought on the same day as Murray led his force at Preston.

General Henry Hawley. Commander of the losing side at the battle.

General Henry Hawley. Commander of the losing side at the battle.

His upward progress in the British Army continued at a steady pace and in 1743 he was second-in-command of the cavalry at the Battle of Dettingen, during the War of the Austrian Succession. A commander with a particularly harsh reputation in a particularly harsh environment, James Wolfe once said of him “The troops dread his severity, hate the man and hold his military knowledge in contempt.”

On 29th December 1745, following General Cope’s disastrous defeat at Prestonpans, Hawley was promoted to Commander-in-Chief of George’s forces in Scotland. Following the destruction of his own command at Falkirk, he was involved at Culloden in the aftermath of which he further enriched his reputation for brutality in dealing with the prisoners of war.
The Armies

The Jacobite army consisted entirely of volunteers, not all of whom were convinced of the possibility of success. Prince Charles’ arrival on Eriskay on 2nd August 1745 with but seven companions was largely unexpected by those who he hoped to lead. Twenty six years had elapsed since the last failed restoration attempt and the weapons had long been lying under the thatch. Nonetheless, he made his way to Moidart on the mainland and, crucially, managed to convince both MacDonald of Clanranald and Cameron of Lochiel to commit to this fresh attempt. The fiery cross was duly sent out and the Prince penned many letters with the rally set for Glenfinnan on 19th August.
The Standard was raised, as it had been on four previous occasions and the Rising was on. Albeit the army at this point comprised little more than 1000 men, virtually all Highlanders.

In the traditional manner of Highland armies whether under the command of Montrose, Dundee or the Prince, this force would grow then shrink in size and grow again on a continual basis as the individual clan Chiefs took it upon themselves to be part of it or not. By the time they reached Derby in early December it was no more than 4000 strong. And the force that Murray commanded at Falkirk was at its largest with a strength of some 8000 men.

King George’s armies were of a different nature altogether. These were paid professionals benefitting from formal training and for the most part combat-experienced from either the continental battlefields of the War of the Austrian Succession, or from the subjugation of various indigenous peoples across the world.

When General Cope watched his defeated men flee the field at Prestonpans, the 2,500 men he saw disappear into the distance was probably more than the force that had routed them. During the rest of the campaign the redcoat army would outnumber the Jacobites. Hawley’s command at Falkirk being in the order of 9000 men.

In terms of cavalry the Jacobites had little to speak of and none that could be effectively deployed at a tactical level on the battlefield. The welcome arrival of French troops later in the campaign, in the form of the Irish Brigade provided some additional cavalry who were deployed in a peripheral role at both Falkirk and Culloden.

The Armies’ Performance Prior to Falkirk

In the first four months of the Campaign Murray had marched his little Army out of the Highlands and taken the Capital, unopposed by enemy forces. He’d destroyed the first army sent against him at the Battle of Prestonpans. He had then marched them all the way to Derby through what was unmistakably hostile territory, regardless of the false hopes held by Prince Charles and his immediate circle that huge numbers of latent, English-born Jacobites would flock to their banner.

On the way back, harried by redcoat soldiery at rear and flank, he had turned a portion of his force around and dealt a decisive blow against these, allowing the army to continue their return to Scotland without further menace.

By contrast the performance of King George’s men looked pretty poor. Having failed to stamp out the rebellion in its crucial, nascent stage they had then been forced to abandon Edinburgh to their enemy. Given the opportunity to crush it at a full, formal field engagement at the Battle of Prestonpans. Which was exactly the type of engagement where the esteemed quality of the British Army’s training, equipment, leadership and martial stock, provided huge superiority. And they failed utterly.

General Cope, as so many redcoat generals before and since, succumbed to the delusions they cherished so dearly. That there enemy was an undisciplined rabble, poorly armed and poorly led. Blinded by the chasm he believed to exist between his force’s superiority in all military aspects and the paucity of those of the Jacobites, he was outthought, outfought and completely outgeneraled. Like Cope, like Chelmsford at Isandlwana, Burgoyne at Saratoga, Percival at Singapore. Hubris abounded.

Granted when Murray viewed the dispositions of the two sides the evening before Prestonpans it would have given him cause for thought. Particularly with his personal experience of battlefield defeats against just this type of force. It’s at times like this that a resourceful commander has to think outside the box. Exactly as Cromwell did with his flank march across the Pennines prior to the destruction of the Scots Engagement army at the first battle of Preston in 1648, or moving front by ninety degrees under cover of darkness as, again versus the Scots, at Dunbar in 1650.

It could be argued that Murray was fortunate to have at his side a man with the key local knowledge of the path through the marshy ground which allowed the outflanking to take place. History has proven that able commanders make their own luck.

Falkirk

Now, early in the New Year of 1746, despite their unquestioned success on the battlefield up to this point, the Jacobite Campaign was in a poor position. All could see now that there would be no further support than that already shown, whether political or military. England was a busted flush so if final success was to be achieved it would have to be found in Scotland. And so they moved to besiege Stirling Castle, in the absence of any other constructive option.

A fresh Hanoverian army had came north under the previously mentioned General Hawley. And in early January it left Edinburgh to attack them. Fortunately for the Jacobites, Hawley was as much a typical product of the school of redcoat generalship as Cope.

As Hawley reached Linlithgow, the Jacobite advance guard moved back and Murray made preparations for a full engagement at Plean on 15th January.
Hawley, however, having reached Falkirk, moved into a most comfortable billet and showed no signs of moving against them, as he engaged with local sympathetic nobility and enjoyed their hospitality to the fullest. His army was encamped some 2000 yards away.

Once again, as one commander sat on his arse convinced of his forces’ superiority over his enemy, said enemy then exercised his resourcefulness to the fullest. Early on 17th January Murray led the Jacobite army directly towards Hawley’s encampment at Falkirk. His approach was designed to bring his army onto the high ground above the Hanoverians. Exactly the same approach used by Dundee when he left Blair Castle on the morning of Killiecrankie in July 1689 seeking General MacKay’s redcoats during the first Jacobite Rising.

As was his wont the marching order of the army was determined by the order of battle with the MacDonald’s promised the right wing of any battle to be fought that day: Keppoch’s regiment led the van, some 450 strong with Clanranald and the Glengarry men following.

At about 1 o’clock in the afternoon word was brought to Hawley that the Jacobite army approached. Unbelievably, Hawley chose to ignore this intelligence. Clearly no reconnaissance was being conducted and if Hawley had posted some form of rudimentary advance guard then posterity has failed to record the details. By 2 o’clock the attack was imminent. A further message was conveyed to the good general, by te commendable General Huske, outlining the peril of their position and this, it seems, was enough to move Hawley out of his chair.

As he galloped into the camp, sans hat and breathing heavily, his men were already preparing to move out and they headed up the hill in a relatively orderly if somewhat hurried manner. Their artillery train of ten stout cannon, however, became stuck in the mud at the foot of the hill and would be unavailable to them in the imminent action. This would be a boon to the Jacobites when you recall the early damage wrought on their line at Culloden when Cumberland had the full train at his disposal.

 

The Initial Dispositions

The first redcoat troops to reach the top of the hill were the dragoons. They could clearly see the Jacobite army approaching from the right. They proceeded on for several hundred yards until stopped by boggy ground, then wheeled right ready for action as the remainder of Hawley’s infantry then took position to the right of them as the Jacobite force opposite them formed up into line of battle.

At this point it seems the calm but cold weather conditions which had prevailed all day now deteriorated significantly, with strong wind and stinging raining now enveloping the battlefield. The rain was to have a major detrimental impact on the performance of all the muskets deployed on the field. Another element which would favour the more lightly armed Jacobites whose weapon of choice was the broadsword.

The opposing forces stood opposite each other for some quarter of an hour while their dispositions were completed in the lashing rain (see map). The redcoat front line comprised the three regiments of dragoons on the left and six regiments of infantry. Their second line comprised a further five infantry regiments with the Glasgow and Campbell militias posted a little to the rear in keeping with the British military doctrine of the time.

The best of the many maps of the Battle of Falkirk, From Katherine Tomasson's seminal biography of Lord George Murray

The best of the many maps of the Battle of Falkirk, From Katherine Tomasson’s seminal biography of Lord George Murray

The Jacobite were deployed in three lines with all their cavalry deployed in the rear rank as reserve. Their front line of 10 clan regiments was some 4000 men strong.

Due to the haphazard manner in which they had been brought to the field by their commander in the first place and the limitation placed on their initial dispositions by the boggy ground in the second, the redcoats had to make do with the lie of the land as they found it. The luxury of fighting on chosen ground a la Napoleon at Austerlitz or Wellington at Waterloo having been denied them by the incompetence of their general. The problem that they faced was the huge ravine which is the prominent feature on the battlefield even to this day.
During this period Lord George Murray stood at the front of the Jacobite right wing, in front of Keppoch’s men with targe and broadsword in hand. Beside him stood his aide-de-camp Anderson of Whitburgh, the invaluable young man who had guided the army through the morass before the attack at Prestonpans. Word was brought to Murray by Colonel Stewart who had been sent to reconnoitre the enemy position that there was no infantry support behind the redcoat dragoons.

 

The Battle Begins

At about four o’clock Hawley started the ball rolling and ordered the aforementioned dragoons on the right to charge. During their march to the field and as they formed up on it, the entire Jacobite army had been a model of military discipline. This continued now as the dragoon charge drew near. Every man on the right wing with a firearm awaited the signal from Murray before firing at the enemy. The ripple of fire ran down the whole wing and some eighty redcoat saddles were emptied.

This was enough for the rest who turned and bolted. Crashing in amongst the infantry regiment who were now the end of the line, they swept away the Glasgow militia and disappeared from the battlefield.

 

The Highlanders Charge

Whether directed by Murray or by their Chiefs, the MacDonalds now launched the full-throated highland charge which had been so effective on battlefields for centuries.

These were the men who would, of their own volition, charge again at Culloden three months later. Each of them having witnessed first hand on two previous occasions thick, red lines of British infantry disappearing like snow off a dyke in the face of such irresistible ferocity.

Within seconds the MacDonalds and the Athollmen who had stood behind them in the second rank, were in among the redcoat infantry with broadsword and dirk. Nine of the redcoat infantry regiments from both ranks now began to unfurl like ripped knitting. Only the three regiments from the right wing who had formed up on the other side of the ravine, having had no other option, were able to make a stand and the remnants of the other nine sought shelter behind them as they tried to conduct a fighting retreat of the hill.

Hawley’s second in command, Major Huske, who appeared to conduct himself on the day to a standard far higher than that of his commander, now sought to rally the lurking remnants one of the dragoon regiments, Cobham’s. Having done so they now, to their credit, launched a fresh attack on the Jacobite forces nearest them. However, the French troops of the Irish Piquets, counter attacked and drove them in turn from the field.

In due course Murray found himself at the bottom of the hill beside Hawley’s stranded cannon having a discussion with the Prince and his advisors concerning their next move.

From the initial charge of the dragoons the whole action had probably taken about ninety minutes. A second redcoat army had been driven from the field albeit without their complete destruction. But, as is always the case in the history of the Jacobite risings, there would be another one along soon.

28th August 1640, the Battle of Newburn Ford

Newburn was the only battle fought during the Second Bishops War, an even more obscure campaign then the First Bishops War.

It was one of those unusual occasions when a Scottish army marched south, conducted itself in commendable martial fashion against an admittedly ill-led, ill-prepared English opposition and won the day handsomely. Its worth looking at just on the basis of this rarity alone.

Of itself the battle had a profound impact, playing a key role in the prolonged deterioration of the relationship between Charles I and his English Parliament which led to the regicide of said monarch and all the unfortunate train of events which then ensued; the war of the Three Kingdoms, the Cromwellian Interregnum, the Restoration, James II’s disasterous reign, William’s usurpation, the Jacobite Risings, the Union of the Crowns and so on ad infinitum.

This war, as with its predecessor, arose from the belief amongst Covenanting Scots that the aforementioned Covenant could only be defended on the field of battle and so a sizeable Scottish Army, of some 20,000 infantry and 3, 000 horse, headed south in mid August in order to pursue the resolution of their grievances with King Charles’ military representatives. An army assembled by the unconstitutional authority of a Parliament which convened itself without the constitutionally essential Royal Commissioner and in the face of the King’s direct instruction for proroguement, declaring the King’s consent to be tacit. It was the same fiction by which the Long Parliament would be subsequently convened at Westminster

 

Command of this army was given to Alexander Leslie, one of the foremost military commanders in Scottish and Swedish history. Leslie’s force marched south and was led in person across the Tweed at Coldstream by the Great Montrose, over the very ford that Walter Scott has Marmion riding on the eve of Flodden.

Alexander Leslie

King Charles, meanwhile, struggled to field a presentable force and was compelled to call the Short Parliament that he might raise the necessary supplies for it. Sadly, for this noble monarch, his persuasive efforts, as was so often the case, proved fruitless and he dissolved this august body of men.

Charles I, King of both the victors and the vanquished at Newburn Ford.

Charles I, King of both the victors and the vanquished at Newburn Ford.

The English army was commanded by Edward, Lord Conway. This would prove to be the only occasion that the good lord was entrusted to command men in battle, during his brief military career.

As Leslie’s army approached Newcastle’s unfortified flank from the north, Conway drew up his force at Newburn Ford to prevent his enemy crossing the river. There was, to be fair, little else he could do as the Scots Army greatly outnumbered his and the quality of men under his command led a great deal to be desired, according to various contemporary accounts.

Leslie’s army was on higher ground and well blessed with cannon which it used to shell the English into an early and full-scale retreat from the river bank. The following morning the city of Newcastle meekly surrendered.

Leslie's Scottish Army crosses Newburn Ford having blown the English soldiery out of their positions and into full-scale retreat

Leslie’s Scottish Army crosses Newburn Ford having blown the English soldiery out of their positions and into full-scale retreat

The battle had no small significance to the constitutional future of both kingdoms and was won in an afternoon with only sixty dead on the losing side and around a dozen from the victors.

The Covenanting Army then proceeded to occupy Newcastle, thus controlling the supply of coal to London and Charles was compelled to agree the raising of a levy from the surrounding district to maintain the occupying force in victuals.

 

The ramifications of Leslie’s victory went far beyond the mere financial and the dizzy descent into the War of the Three Kindoms gathered apace.

 

21 August 1689, the Battle of Dunkeld: the end of the Covenant Cause

In the previous post we looked once more at the Battle of Killiecrankie where King James II’s army in Scotland had triumphed over that of William, the Usurper. But in the course of the engagement, Viscount Dundee, James’ Lieutenant-General and architect of the victory, had suffered a mortal wound and with his death the chances of ultimate success in the Campaign were dealt a grievous blow.

Within days of the battle, the Jacobite army, now under the command of Colonel Alexander cannon, who had brought the Irish reinforcements across the previous month, pulled back north into safer territory.

The Privy Council, close to panic and with little military resources to hand following the virtual complete destruction of MacKay’s command, ordered the newly formed Earl of Angus’ Regiment to advance from Perth and engage the Jacobite Army.

Said Regiment, some twelve hundred strong, was largely formed from the Cameronians, followers of Richard Cameron, known to posterity as the Lion of the Covenant, who had met his death leading an unsuccessful rebellion against Scottish Government forces at the Battle of Airds Moss in 1680.

As would be expected from such men they were fiercely loyal to the Covenant and each company was required to have an elder in addition to a Cameronian chaplain to ensure adherence to their idiosyncratic religious views.

Dundee’s strength had been in forging the Jacobite Army in the first place, bringing together strongly minded but prickly clan chiefs and maintaining them in the field for the months of the campaign prior to Killiecrankie. Cannon was not so gifted. Few men are. And although he was able to hold the force together some chiefs took themselves off home, Cameron of Lochiel and MacDonald of Sleat specifically. However, they left their men under Cannon’s command, which still numbered over 3000 men, notwithstanding the losses suffered in the battle.

When news reached the Jacobites that the Cameronians had advanced to Dunkeld with the intention of moving on to take and hold Blair Castle, Cannon moved his men southwards again, to engage and destroy Angus’ regiment.

The military situation now was very different from that of three weeks previously. In the days prior to Killiecrankie, General MacKay’s overriding concern had been in bringing Dundee to battle. The overwhelming superiority of his men’s fighting qualities, their training and equipment and the leadership abilities of his officers was, he believed, significant in all aspects to that of his enemy. This view, naturally, would be shared by said enemy and so he believed that they would only with the greatest reluctance engage his force in combat. Thus when he led his men out of Dunkeld on the fateful morning of the battle, and through the defile of the Pass of Killiecrankie, he had little concern as to the possibility that the Jacobite Army might seek and secure favourable ground on which to engage MacKay’s troops.

This hubris was to prove his undoing and it was largely due to the fact that Dundee had been able to unleash the full ferocity of the highland charge down a steep slope that led to MacKay’s complete defeat.

The commander of Angus’ Regiment, Colonel William Cleland, a veteran of Bothwell Bridge, who had considerably less military experience than General MacKay but a more realistic appreciation of the martial abilities of the two sides, sought on this occasion to take up an initial position which was, in defensive terms, considerably stronger.

An aeriel view of Dunkeld today. Largely unchamged since the battle was fought there.

An aeriel view of Dunkeld today. Largely unchamged since the battle was fought there.

Dunkeld then, as now, is a small and compact settlement with the few streets set out closely around the cathedral and the mansions of the Bishop and Marquis of Atholl. Cleland’s men had fortified themselves in a strong position in the houses in the centre of the town backed onto the Cathedral precincts and awaited the attack of the Jacobite Army which outnumbered them in the order of three to one.

And at about seven o’clock on the morning of 21 August the Cannon launched the Jacobite Army in a full-scale assault on all sides of Cleland’s position. As the bitter hand to hand struggle progressed throughout the morning, Cleland’s men were gradually forced back towards the Cathedral with Cleland himself killed at an early stage in the fight.

 

By noon, however, a stalemate had been reached, with the Jacobite Army unable to make any further progress against their enemy and they disengaged from the action, retreating back to the north. King

William Cleland commanding the Earl of Angus' regiment during the battle.

William Cleland commanding the Williamite forces during the battle.

William’s men had suffered great losses but they had won the day and the momentum which the Jacobites had gathered from their victory at Killiecrankie was now all but completely dissipated.

Cleland's monument

Cleland’s monument

History would prove that the high water mark in the fortunes of the Jacobite cause had been reached and despite further risings in 1708, 1715, 1719 and 1745, the Stuarts would come no closer to re-securing the throne.

But what of the Covenant that other complex, mystical and symbolic cause for which so many men and women had fought since the original document was first penned in 1638, some fifty years previously?

Dunkeld was the last battle that could be said, in any small measure, to have been fought in its name, albeit for the cause of an uncovenanted king. Fifty years of struggle had gained it nothing and “it faded away, impotent and gloomy, like one of Ossian’s ghosts. From that day on it had no authority in Scotland, and no living relation to the church.

Even more so it is clear that the cause of the Covenant and the input of Covenanters and strict Presbyterians of all shades had played no part in those events which had brought about the change of monarchy and all that followed on, for better or worse, mostly the latter, from what became known as the Glorious Revolution.

And going forward it would be more moderate and temperate views that prevailed in defining the role of the Kirk in Scottish life

27th July 1689 The Battle of Killiecrankie

As the hands of the clock moved round to midnight on Tuesday 26th July 1689, John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount Dundee and Lieutenant-General of King James’ army in Scotland, took a slow sip of wine.

Sat with him around the big, oak dining room table in the Great Hall of Blair Castle were some dozen of the principal Chiefs of the Highland Clans and a handful of his own officers.

They sat in silence as they awaited the return of the scouts, riders that Claverhouse had sent south just a few hours ago, directed to confirm the whereabouts and intentions of the Government redcoat army, commanded by General Hugh MacKay.

And as they waited they ate and drank enthusiastically from the larder of the Master of Blair Castle, John Murray, 2nd Earl of Atholl who was absent having allied himself with the forces of the aforementioned General MacKay.

While Claverhouse and his commanders dined and waited so did the soldiers of their small army, camped outside Blair Castle’s walls. Every man fully aware that the battle which would determine the outcome of this 10 week campaign would be fought within the next few hours.

Blair Castle, where Claverhouse's army camoped the night before Killiecrankie

Blair Castle, where Claverhouse’s army camped the night before Killiecrankie

The circumstances which had brought them here on this warm Scottish evening had been unwinding for many years previously but could be traced back five and a half years to February 1685 when the old King, Charles II, restored to the throne in 1660 amid such wild celebrations and public optimism, after the long dark years of Cromwellian rule, had suffered a sudden seizure and died.

Charles II, whose death in 1685 initiated James' rule and subsequent usurpation

Charles II, whose death in 1685 initiated James’ rule and subsequent usurpation

The crown had passed to his younger brother, James, Duke of York, who had chronically mismanaged the situation from day one. A committed Catholic, in darkly Protestant times, his mishandling of his own affairs as well as those of the crown had created widespread dissatisfaction with his rule and had led to the prominent members of the English and Scottish political leadership to extend an invitation to James’ own son-in-law, the deeply ambitious and suitably Protestant William Prince of Orange, to come and seize the throne for himself.

James VII/II, whose mismanagement of the business of kingship created the problem in the first place

James VII/II, whose mismanagement of the business of kingship created the problem in the first place

Needing little encouragement William and his invasion force had landed at Torbay in December 1688 and headed for London as King James’ support melted away by the minute. James, despite the entreaties of those loyal to him, Claverhouse in particular, had vacillated whilst his natural despondency grew until in the week before Christmas he had fled his capital city for France, flinging the Great Seal into the Thames as he went. Within days William and his wife had been declared joint rulers of England.

William, Prince of Orange, whose unprincipled pursuit of ambition was rewarded with the Crown of the Three Kingdoms

William, Prince of Orange, whose unprincipled pursuit of ambition was rewarded with the Crown of the Three Kingdoms

The Convention of the Scottish Estates had been summoned in Edinburgh in March to determine whether the Scottish people would take a similar decision or choose James instead to continue to rule his Scottish subjects. Support for James was weak from the outset but, bolstered by the efforts of Claverhouse and other loyal men, the decision was still far from certain when letters from both monarchs were received and duly read to the assembled body.

The letter which James should have sent, carefully crafted by Claverhouse and other allies of the King, which was a model of tempered leadership, had been discarded at some point. And the one which was read out, penned by the sort of foolish men who the King had chosen to surround himself with, both during his rule and now in exile, was anything but and the mood of the gathering swung sharply in favour of the usurper.

Within hours Claverhouse stood alone in committing himself to firm action to restore his king to the ancient throne of his fathers and left the Convention for Dundee. With the collapse of support for James the Convention duly reached their decision and William and Mary were pronounced joint rulers of the three kingdoms of Scotland, England and Ireland.

Three weeks later on 13 May 1689, with his commission as James Lieutenant-General in Scotland issued, Claverhouse raised the Royal Standard on Dundee Law and the first Jacobite Rising was under way.

At this point his ‘army’ comprised only the 200 officers and men of the horse troop that he had commanded for the last few years as he had sought to maintain the rule of law in those parts of Scotland where men and women, deeply committed to the establishment of undiluted Presbyterian Rule, as set out in the Solemn League and Covenant first penned in 1643, went about furthering their aims through violent insurrection.

However, as the weeks passed Claverhouse and his men moved through the Highlands drawing to their cause many influential leaders of men, particularly those of the highland chiefs who could be persuaded that the best option for them and for the people of Scotland was the overthrow of William and the return of a Stuart to the throne.

Faced with this development the Convention appointed General MacKay in command of their forces and charged him with bringing Claverhouse’s rebel force to battle and destroying it. Since then both armies had played cat and mouse with each other throughout the highlands and about the north-east of Scotland as they sought circumstances which would favour victory. Hitherto these circumstances had proven elusive but now, in the dog days of July, matters had drawn to a head.

 

Now in the early hours of the short Scottish night, the scouts returned. MacKay’s army comprising almost four thousand men was, it seemed, camped at Dunkeld, some twenty plus miles south of Blair Castle, with the intention of moving north at first light to seek out King James’ army and bringing it finally to battle.

Claverhouse, his officers and the chiefs sat around the big oak table in silence as the full implications of this news sank in. Whilst all were warriors and eager for a decisive victory they were each aware of the likely consequences of defeat: the end of the Stuart cause with William secure on his throne for years to come, the ruin of their clans’ fortunes with a vengeful government unlikely to be reluctant to pursue Jacobite loyalists to their utter ruin and either execution or transportation for any fortunate to survive defeat.

General Hugh MacKay of Scourie, commander of the Williamite army destroyed at Killiecrankie

General Hugh MacKay of Scourie, commander of the Williamite army destroyed at Killiecrankie

Then the Viscount broke the silence and with a calm and decisive voice swept away the doubt and indecision. Announcing his intention to head south and engage MacKay as soon as dawn broke, he issued a stream of orders concerning the marching order of the army and the route to be taken.

In the meantime twenty miles to the south at Dunkeld, General Hugh MacKay, similarly appraised of the whereabouts of his enemy had already issued his instructions for the morning’s northern march and his force lay abed.

As dawn broke both armies formed up into marching order and headed towards each other. Mackay himself was a highlander but had left Scotland long before to pursue a military career. He had one concern only this morning and that was the fear that Claverhouse’s army, faced with superior odds, would again decline to engage him and melt away like highland mist and the seemingly endless pursuit would have to continue. In his mind the only challenge was to bring Claverhouse to battle at which point the superior quality of his men, their equipment and his leadership would bring about the inevitable victory.

However, there was the difficulty of the Pass of Killiecrankie to be first hazarded. The road north from Dunkeld follows the River Tummel for some miles until it meets the confluence with the River Garry at which point the way closes in to a dark and narrow defile which is the Pass. Even a General such as MacKay with his unshakeable belief in the superiority of his troops was cautious about this passage. Consequently, he had directed some of his troops to hold the Pass the previous day and as he now drew near to the entrance in the early afternoon sunlight it was not without concern that his troops entered the dark and forbidding way.

The narrow defile of the Pass of Killiecrankie.

The narrow defile of the Pass of Killiecrankie.

When his command subsequently emerged at the other end and a galloping trooper brought the news to him at the head of the column that the last of his soldiery were safely through, it would have seemed to him that the last remaining possibility of failure had passed.

Claverhouse, in the meantime, also a seasoned veteran of formal, continental warfare as well as the more haphazard style of fighting which prevailed in Scotland at the time, had cause for doubt which matched MacKay’s confidence in magnitude. He was now committed to leading his irregular force in to battle against greater numbers of regular infantry. To engage toe-to-toe in a stand up fight would be to invite disaster. So he had to find and fully utilize any opportunity for advantage that might be gleaned.

The first such was terrain. Aware that MacKay would need to traverse the Pass following the road at the bottom of the gorge, the Viscount held firmly to the high ground as his army made passage south. The single tactical ploy for a highland army is to charge and while this had proven effective on flat ground its advantage would be considerably multiplied if it could be deployed downhill.

The HIghland Charge, a challenge to defend against on level ground. Considerably harder downhill of it.

The Highland Charge, a challenge to defend against on level ground. Considerably harder downhill of it.

So the two armies felt their way towards each other as the day wore on. Not long after MacKay’s men had cleared the Pass a shout went up from the front of their column and all eyes followed the direction of pointing hand up the hill on their right hand side where a handful of kilted figures had emerged from the trees. These were followed by several more and it became clear that this was indeed the vanguard of Claverhouse’s army.

MacKay immediately realised the weakness of his tactical position, his army with their backs to the thundering River Garry and at the bottom of a steep slope. Ordering his men through a quarter turn he issued orders for them to head a little up the slope where a slight ridge promised a better tactical position.

Meantime the Highland army had cleared the woods and under the direction of Claverhouse and the chiefs, formed easily from column of march into battle order. As MacKay completed his initial dispositions further down the hill it was clear that the Highlanders still retained a significant advantage at the top of the steep slope. Furthermore it was equally clear that the width of the Claverhouse’s frontage exceeded his own and thus threatened to outflank him.

MacKay, somewhat discomfited by this realisation, issued orders to thin his ranks from three to two in order to extend his frontage to match Claverhouse’s. Whose initial tactical advantage at the top of the slope now greatly increased in magnitude without any effort on his own part.

Many an eyebrow will have been raised further up the hill as they watched the execution of this manoeuvre. For an experienced general, steeped in the ways of warfare, MacKay’s fortunes were dwindling rapidly before a ball had been kicked.

Finally, with both armies optimally disposed in the view of their respective commanders, all now settled down for the inevitable, interminable wait which was the custom of the time.

Claverhouse sat on his horse a little behind the front centre of the army. Dressed for once in a buff coat at the insistence of the senior chiefs who knew to the extent which the fortunes of this escapade rode on the shoulders of this one man. After all the drama and intrigue and endless marching of the past few months it all now came down to this one engagement.

Finally, with the sun dipping behind the hills to the west and shining into the eyes of the redcoat soldiers Claverhouse gave the order to charge. It has been said that “Even a haggis, God bless her, can charge down a hill”. And the view has been expressed that a Highland army ceases to resemble a comic opera the moment it starts to move.

What a sight and sound that must have been as over two thousand of the finest fighting men in the kingdom hurtled down the hill roaring their determination. Whatever the cumulative experience of MacKay’s command little of their previous combat exploits would have prepared them for this.

Within moments the highland charge struck the redcoat line which, thinned to two troopers only, almost immediately came apart. With the angle of the slope pulling the impetus of this wave of ferocious humanity slightly to the one side, some redcoat regiments remained intact while others were completely swept away. MacKay, to his credit, retained his composure and was able to pull his surviving forces into some semblance of order as he led the retreat back in the direction whence they had marched so confidently but a few short hours before.

The pursuit of the shattered wreckage of his command continued in all directions for several miles with fully two thirds of those engaged failing to survive the day.

At the height of the battle the slaughter was tremendous.

At the height of the battle the slaughter was tremendous.

The disasterous news for the Jacobite army, however, was further up the slope, where King James’ Lieutenant-General lay mortally wounded. With the battle at its height and Claverhouse seeking to pull the imbalanced charge back onto better order, an enemy musket ball had penetrated under his raised sword arm, beyond the protection of his breast-plate. Within a few minutes John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount Dundee and the man who had pulled the whole rising together in the first place by sheer determination and force of personality was dead.

Claverhouse passes away and the hopes of the Jacobite cause die with him.

Claverhouse passes away and the hopes of the Jacobite cause die with him.

With him also passed the fortunes of the Jacobite cause. Although there were to be four further attempts to restore the Stuarts to the throne over the next fifty six years none had any real prospect of success. As Claverhouse will have realised from the very beginning their best chance was for James to have stood his ground in the face of William’s initial advance.

And so passed one of Scotland’s finest leaders of men. And as the history of any struggle is penned by the victors and not the vanquished, his memory has been sorely traduced in the intervening centuries with the focus falling on the false history of the ‘Killing Times’.

22 June 1679, The Battle of Bothwell Bridge

On the anniversary of this key military encounter I re-post an updated version of last year’s piece……

In a previous post we looked at the Battle of Drumclog where on 1st June 1679, a small government force under Bonnie Dundee’s command was attacked and routed by a larger, irregular force of Covenanters.

Emboldened by this outstanding success the Covenanters moved to capitalise on it. While in Edinburgh, the Privy Council initiated counter measures designed to quell the rebellion before it got completely out of hand. All of this would lead to a second and decisive military encounter some three weeks later and 20 odd miles further north on 22 June at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge.

Battle of Bothwell Bridge monument

Battle of Bothwell Bridge monument

In the immediate aftermath of his defeat at Drumclog, Dundee had written a full report to his commander, the Earl of Linlithgow, Major General of his Majesty’s forces in Scotland expressing his opinion that “This may be counted the beginning of the rebellion”. And so this would seem to be the case with the sudden appearance of covenanting sympathies in many hitherto seemingly law-abiding citizens.

3rd Earl of Linlithgow, Claverhouse's commander

3rd Earl of Linlithgow, Claverhouse’s commander

While many of those to the fore of the Covenanting force could be deemed to be determined, ruthless and experienced, none of them were generals. And the military command initially fell upon Robert Hamilton who, as was so often the case in these troubled times, would feature in a prominent role on both pro and anti Stuart divide, having fought for the Stuarts in the defeats at Cromwell’s hands at Dunbar (1650) and Worcester (1651) and would eventually flee to Holland in the aftermath of the failure of the Monmouth Rising (1685) the purpose of which was to remove James VII and II from the throne, replacing him with Charles II’s illegitemate but acceptably Protestant offspring, the Duke of Monmouth.

As soon as they had abandoned their pursuit of Dundee’s defeated force after Drumclog, the Covenant Army resolved, under Hamilton’s leadership, to “continue and abide together in arms”. They understood well that it was only a matter of time before the Government would move against them, in force. On the afternoon of their victory they marched the fifteen miles to Hamilton (the village not the man) where they camped. Glasgow, where Dundee and his remaining troops stood to arms with the Government garrison under the command of Lord George Ross of Hawkhead, was only 10 miles distant.

In the wee, small hours of the following morning the post boy galloped through the dark, Edinburgh streets bearing Ross’ despatch to Linlithgow announcing the defeat at Drumclog and his intention to barricade the streets of Glasgow in the face of the advancing covenanting host. Within an hour the Privy Council were gathered and plans laid to assemble the scattered Government troops from Fife and Dumfries for the Earl of Linlithgow to lead westwards against the rebels on 4th June.

17th century Glasgow, where the Covenanting rebels attacked Claverhouse and Ross

17th century Glasgow, where the Covenanting rebels attacked Claverhouse and Ross

At sunrise on 2nd June the rebel force approached Glasgow and at 11 am made a rash and ill-judged assault on the barricades at the bottom of High Street and the Gallowgate. The troops of Ross and Claverhouse fired on them from behind these and within a short time their assailants withdrew leaving many wounded lying in the street and at least seven dead. They rallied a mile to the east of the town where the setback of their repulse now gave rise to the splits and schisms long-threatened in a mob where each man and woman considered themselves to be a party of one.

If they possessed ‘leaders of integrity and followers with a singleness of purpose’ then this army of Covenanters might have been forged into a force as strong as any led by Cromwell. However, with fully two thirds of them deemed by themselves to be preachers, with the vanity and unwillingness to subvert to the greater good often prevalent in the species, it was a hopeless cause. Even with strong leadership it would have been an almost impossible task but the leadership of this rebel force was inept to a degree rarely seen before or since in our little corner part of the world.

The total number of different shades of religious opinion amongst them would have been impossible to determine but in broad terms they were split into two factions. These being the Moderates (which was purely a relevant term) led by John Welsh of Irongray, a great grandson of John Knox. And the Honest Party, led by the previously mentioned Robert Hamilton, who had no aspirations to moderation when it came to matters religious amd political. And a considerable surprise it would have been, no doubt, for the redoubtable Mr Welsh to find himself for once outstripped in his fanaticism.

John Welsh, leader of one of the Covenant factions at Bothwell Bridge

John Welsh, leader of one of the Covenant factions at Bothwell Bridge

Having checked the forward movement of the rebels, Linlithgow now amended his initial plan of concentrating his forces in Glasgow and decided instead to carry out this assembling of his forces at Stirling. A strange choice explained only by timidity on his part and one which left both Glasgow and Edinburgh vulnerable to subsequent advance by the still intact rebel force. And if they were to repeat their manouevre of the Pentland Rising of 1666 then there might yet be an undesired outcome to this revolt.

Thus Ross and Dundee were ordered to withdraw from Glasgow towards Stirling, doing so on 3rd June while Linlithgow advanced from Edinburgh. Their forces joined at Bonnybridge on the 5th. This combined force now numbered 1800 men; horse, dragoons (mounted infantry) and foot. A despatch was then received from the magistrates of Glasgow reporting that the Covenanters, now some 7000 strong, were camped in the vicinity of Bothwell Bridge, near Hamilton.

Bothwell Bridge, scene of the eponymous battle

Bothwell Bridge, scene of the eponymous battle

Linlithgow advanced once more, reaching Kirkintilloch at midday on 6th June. A reconnaissance party reported that the rebels had now occupied Glasgow and after due consideration and consultation with his officers, Linlithgow decided that the disparity in size of the two armies was such that he risked disaster by attacking and was duly recalled to Edinburgh by the Privy Council. Drumclog was only 5 days old and the rebellion was now entirely out of hand.

Still more of the disaffected rallied to the Covenant banner and the rebel force continued to grow in size, and to their collective misfortune, to grow also in disparity of strongly-held opinion. There now ensued fully two weeks of internecine bickering over religious intricacies. On 8th June a ‘very great convention’ was held in Rutherglen where a resolution was determined by the Honest Party to remain aloof from Welsh and his moderates. They met again the following day where both sides of the debate agreed on the necessity of issuing a unified, public declaration of their aims. Yet neither could accept the other’s drafting of this. On 10th June there was a ‘very hot disputation, particularly concerning the indulgence’ which is to say who was to be forgiven for previous political / religious transgressions and who was not. Again no resolution was determined. And so it continued. Each passing day brought further discussion and yet more disagreement as the differences between the disparate viewpoints became emphasised and that which drew them together became drowned in the din.

But now the King, his majesty Charles II, became stirred into action by the reports of rebellion from the north. He decided to appoint his illegitimate son, James, Duke of Monmouth as commander-in-chief of his forces in Scotland. Monmouth’s orders were issued on 11th June and he disembarked in Edinburgh on 19th June.

James, Duke of Monmouth. commander of the Government army at Bothwell Bridge

James, Duke of Monmouth. commander of the Government army at Bothwell Bridge

He brought only two troops of horse from England to supplement the Scottish Government’s now concentrated army which he rendezvoused with at Blackburn, West Lothian on 19th June, assuming overall command of a combined force of some 5000 men.

If this army force was small in numbers it was strong in leadership. Monmouth had extensive campaigning experience in Flanders. The 3 principal dragoon officers were seasoned and experienced men. Claverhouse and the Earls of Home and Airlie commanded their own separate troops and with Montrose (not The Montrose, note) leading the Life Guards there was no shortage of skill, experience and, crucially, military discipline.

On 20th June Monmouth was at Muirhead and on the evening of 21 June he was advancing on Bothwell Bridge and the larger Covenanting Army. How had things gone with them in the meantime? Not well. The advance of the Government Army had merely accentuated the acute divisions in their camp. On 16th, 17th and 18th, camped on Shawhead Moor, their leadership, such as it was, continued to meet in acrimonious debate. Hamilton’s Moderates had proposed a Day of Humiliation which Welsh’s Honest men had protested. With the whole gathering deep in confusion they had recrossed Bothwell Bridge on 18th June and encamped on Hamilton Moor.

The wrangling continued through the 19th, and on 20th June they were joined by reinforcements from Galloway. These were favourers of the Indulgence and thus natural allies of Welsh’s party. They submitted a written statement of their desires to Hamilton who promptly, and unsurprisingly, rejected it.

Late in the evening of 21 June, just hours before the battle would commence, the two factions met in their final council of war. One desired to purge the army of undesirables while the other refused to fight under the officers which had been selected prior to the arrival of the Galloway men which had given the moderates numerical superiority in the argument. After heated discussion Hamilton and his people withdrew. The Moderates sat down to frame a petition to Monmouth but once again agreement over the content proved impossible. And in a few short hours this host of pious men, leaderless, unprepared and distracted would blunder into battle.

The surviving comments from among their number give us an insight into the shortcomings of their situation;……..”We were not concerned with an enemy as if there were none within 100 miles of us”………………..”There were none went through the army to see if we wanted powder or ball”……”A little before day we saw the enemy kindling their matches a great way off”…………
At about 3 am in the morning of 22 June the advance guard of Monmouth’s army closed on one end of the bridge. The rebels formed into two bodies with one holding their end of the bridge and the other drawn up a mile or so to the rear, while the single piece of cannon they possessed was dragged down to command the approach to the bridge. This piece and its gunner would be the star of the show for the discomfited rebels.

An exchange of pistol fire began across the water as Monmouth came to the front line. The two rebel factions, faced now with the imminent destruction of their host, had managed to thrash together a parley with which they could both live and now this representation was made to Monmouth, who could do little but entertain it. So hostilities ceased temporarily.

Their submission though was merely a list of their grievances and a request that they might meet with Monmouth to discuss the matters. The erstwhile Duke sent back that he could not enter into any discussions with rebels until they lay down their arms. He did not bother to await their reply before recommencing preparations for his assault and ordered the deployment of his own cannon to command the bridge. A second parley was sent out from the Covenant lines desiring to be told the nature of any terms that he might have brought from England. Monmouth sent them packing and duly ordered his cannon to open fire.

And this provided the first surprise of the day as the lone Covenant gun, manned by a stalwart whose name posterity has not preserved but was their one true hero if the day, drove the government artillerymen from their pieces. However, after their initial discomfiture they returned to their pieces and under the cover of their fire a storming party of dragoons led by the splendidly named Major Theophilus Oglethorpe, stormed and forced the bridge.

Oglethorp's dragoons storm the bridge

Oglethorp’s dragoons storm the bridge

Under instruction not to advance any further than the other end of said bridge, they became carried away by the heat of the moment and advanced up the hill towards the main body of the enemy. Who, perceiving the small numbers of the force approaching them, moved down the hill and drove them into the houses at that end of the bridge.

In response 300 foot, under the command of Lord Livingstone’s son, were sent across the bridge and they, in turn, drove the Covenanters back on their main body. Monmouth himself now came forward over the bridge with his own troop and together with those already over, formed up to face the rebels ‘but two carabines shot apart’.

A haphazard and leaderless effort, but an effort nonetheless, was made by the rebels in an attempt to rescue the day. An assault was made on a body of Atholl Highlanders on Monmouth’s right, as the commander sought to form his second line. A brief cannonade forced them back in confusion with the Covenanting horse among them driven headlong from the field. Seconds later the foot joined the stampede and the rout began.

Oglethorp and Claverhouse were ordered to pursue with Monmouth following with the foot. At about ten o’clock that morning a messenger was despatched to Edinburgh bearing news of the victory.

And so the rule of law was once again imposed in all areas of the nation. The defeat at Drumclog could now be placed in proper perspective as a one-off thrown up by the particular circumstances of the day. And appropriate, measured action could now be taken against those who had initiated rebellion against King and lawful Government.

The bubble which had been blown at Rutherglen two months previously had now burst spectacularly with the rout at Bothwell. Monmouth was able to lead his men through the country across which the rebels had so recently roamed at will and confirmed the conclusion that all signs of rebellion were extinguished. On June 25th the local militia were dismissed, their function fulfilled. And on the 26th Monmouth returned to Edinburgh for the grateful thanks of the Privy Council, receiving the Freedom of the City in a large gold box. By 29th June he was on his way back to London.

Controversy, inevitably abounds as we look back on the whole episode, particularly in relation to two of the day’s participants; the Duke of Monmouth, commander-in-chief of the Government force and a lowly commander of horse troops, John Graham of Claverhouse.

Within 6 years Monmouth was dead: tried and executed for treason following his defeat at the Battle of Sedgemoor as he attempted to overthrow his uncle, King James VII and II, and seize the British throne for himself. From this vantage point many re-assess his behaviour at, and after Bothwell Bridge and seek to find indications, through his clemency towards the rebels, of his future treasonous actions.

As far as Claverhouse is concerned there has been as much opprobrium heaped upon him by future historians over his actions at Bothwell Bridge as there is at any other occasion in his career. The attempt to redress which is the driving force for this blog.

Much of this abuse is due to Sir Walter Scott’s depiction of the events of Bothwell Bridge in his novel,Old Mortality, which was published in 1816, nearly 140 years after the events took place. Scott gives Claverhouse a degree of prominence which far outweighs his actual involvement on the day and  also bestows upon him an aura of rapacious cruelty and vengefulness for which there is no basis. However, to be fair to Scott, he could have had little idea of the extent to which his work would outlive and outgrow him to the degree that it has. As Charles Terry, briefly and eloquently puts it, sober history competes unequally with romance.

Scott, author of Old Mortality

Scott, author of Old Mortality

Scott portrays Claverhouse as a colonel at the battle, promoted to General in the aftermath, whereas he was but a plain captain of horse, on the day and for some time afterwards. He and General Tam Dalziel, who was not in fact present at the battle having refused to serve under Monmouth, are credited by Scott with the ruthless pursuit of the fleeing rebels, in flagrant disobedience of Monmouth’s orders, rapaciously slaughtering the vanquished enemy.

Doubtless the emotion generated by his defeat at Drumclog would have been strong. The extensive source material relating to the battle itself and its immediate aftermath make passing mention only of his leading the cavalry on the right once Monmouth was over the bridge and reference to the capture ‘with his own two hands’ of two Covenant battle standards. Once again tradition becomes crystallized into fact in the face of a total absence of evidence. But it was ever thus.

29 May 1679, The Rutherglen Declaration

This was a minor event of primarily symbolic importance. It was sandwiched between other happenings of considerably greater import. These being the cold-blooded murder of Archbishop Sharp on Magus Moor on 3 May by a handful of Covenanter lairds and the comprehensive defeat of assembled Covenanters at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge on 22 June.

By the spring of 1679 the enthusiasm of those committed to the Covenant increased by a degree as more and younger people were drawn to the cause and as the voice of the more extreme veterans of the movement, men such as Donald Cargill, an inveterate enemy of compromise, moved to the fore.

Claverhouse had been sent “to the west” some months before, in command of a newly raised troop of government horse in order to assist in the process of keeping the peace. He had then been promoted to Sheriff-depute for Dumfries and Annandale in reflection of the poor fist that was being made of the peace-keeping process by the local, heritable sheriffs who were, by and large, entirely sympathetic with the lawless if not fully involved in the law-breaking process themselves.

The elements for escalation were now in place but the spark that set the kindling ablaze didn’t happen down on the south-west as might have been expected but many miles to the east in Fife.

The murder of Archbishop Sharp, was, now as then, utterly indefensible. A prelate, a holder of one of the major offices of the state, ambushed in broad daylight by a gang of thugs who then hacked him to death while one of them held his daughter back to prevent her interference in the deed and that she might better bear witness to the hideous death inflicted on her father.

The brutal murder of Archbishop Sharp, in front of his daughter

The brutal murder of Archbishop Sharp, in front of his daughter

Even by the standards of the time it was shocking. Although there were many prepared to defend it and even now, two hundred and thirty odd years later there are those who would view it as not unreasonable. Having carried out the deed, the culprits immediately mounted their horses and fled south-west in the hope that they might conceal themselves in the heartland of their support.

In the immediate aftermath there were a number among the extremists who saw this event as a sign, as a justification for the escalation of further extreme action. Amongst their number was the 29-year-old Robert Hamilton who saw the need to carry out some further public demonstration of their cause in order to rally the faithful and to further wave an angry fist in the direction of the Privy Council.

They waited a short time until 29 May, the birthday of the King, Charles II, when public celebrations, bonfires and suchlike, were happening in the monarch’s honour. Hamilton and his 80 odd mounted support initially planned on carrying out their demonstration in Glasgow but on hearing of the presence there of Government troops, took the more cautious option of Rutherglen. There they dramatically extinguished such bonfires that had been lit in the King’s honour then created their own and on to these tossed copies of the various pieces of recent Government legislation and Royal Proclamations that they deemed to be offensive to honest Covenanting folk. Then they fixed their Declaration to the Market Cross, a reiteration of there endless, baseless complaints, the content of which does not seem to have survived the passage of time. And having made their point, they once again, in time-honoured fashion, fled the scene.

So once more, as with the Pentland Rising, thirteen years previously, extreme and brutal action carried out by hot heads was then fanned by the even more extremist covenant clergy into some indication of divinely inspired justification for full-scale rebellion and before you knew it there were a mob of heavily armed men and women fully assembled and ready to take whatever action was determined to be in the best interests of their cause. And once more, in a holy mob where each individual was essentially a party of one, collective agreement as to unity of purpose was impossible.

News reached Claverhouse in Falkirk that same evening concerning the events in Rutherglen and he immediately moved his troops to take the necessary action. Two days later at Drumclog, while searching for an illegal conventicle he ran headlong into some 200 heavily armed covenanters and his force was defeated and driven from the field.

The Battle of Drumclog, 1st June 1679

The Battle of Drumclog, 1st June 1679

With that the full weight of the forces of law and order were brought to bear and on 22 June at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge order was finally restored.

The Battle of Bithwell Bridge, 22 June 1679. The end of the rebellion.

The Battle of Bothwell Bridge, 22 June 1679. The end of the rebellion.

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