Airds Moss and the Death of Richard Cameron

On 22nd June 1680 at the point where Ayrshire meets Lanarkshire, was fought the Battle of Airds Moss where Richard Cameron, known to posterity as the Lion of the Covenant, met his death.

Memorial at Airds Moss

Memorial at Airds Moss

It was, even by the standards of the time, an obscure encounter with little impact on the prevailing political situation. Involving as it did, on the one hand well-armed, well trained and capably led troops in the service of the Scottish Privy Council. And on the other enthusiastic, committed but badly led zealots with little or no experience of warfare.

The only real significance of the event was the death of the aforementioned Cameron. Born in 1648, the very same year as John Graham of Claverhouse and, coincidentally, the same year as a number of other Scots who were to feature prominently in the drama of Scottish politics towards the end of the century; including James Dalrymple, duly to become Viscount Stair and James Drummond, who as the 4th Earl of Perth would be imprisoned in the immediate aftermath of the Glorious Revolution and die in exile at the Jacobite court of St Germain.

Richard Cameron, born in this particular year to gentle farming folk in Falkland in Fife, went up to St Andrews University aged 14 and after his graduation secured employment back in Falkland as the parish school teacher. However, in his early twenties he seems to have encountered the fiery rhetoric of John Welsh and fallen under the spell of this most intolerant of covenanting preachers. Young Richard came out as a covenanter and in 1676 was duly given license to preach. And despite legislation against conventicles being firmly in place young Cameron, despatched to Annandale, began his prominent field preaching career.

Falkland, Fife. Birthplace of Richard Cameron

Falkland, Fife. Birthplace of Richard Cameron

He was, it should be said, particularly intolerant of the Indulged Clergy, which is to say those ministers who had been forgiven their previous rebellious transgressions by the Scottish Parliament in return for oath-taking and acceptance to a degree of conformity.

While the Reverend Welsh, would in no sense be mistaken for a tolerant individual, he was keen to not provoke a complete split with his former colleagues, in the interest of the forward movement of the movement as a whole.

Young Richard was not troubled by such niceties as short term sinking of differences in order that long term gains might be made by the majority, and proceeded to denounce the aforementioned Indulged at every opportunity.

This hostility was by no means all one way and in 1679, under much pressure from the said Indulged Clergy, Richard Cameron shipped out to Holland where he was duly ordained a minister in the Church of Scotland. While in exile he missed all the drama of the murder of Archbishop Sharp and the Battles of Drumclog and Bothwell Bridge which followed on from this outrage.

He returned to these shores shortly thereafter only to find, to his apoplexy, that a Third Indulgence had been granted and in turn accepted by the General Assembly.

Joining forces with Donald Cargill, another product from the Rotterdam school of intolerance, and the infamous David Hackston of Rathillet, wanted still as the ringleader of the murderous assassins who had perpetrated the foul assassination on Magus Moor, they rode into Sanquhar on 22 June, the anniversary of the defeat at Bothwell Bridge the previous year. Amid appropriate ceremony and psalm singing they nailed their manifesto to the market cross. This document denounced Charles Stuart as ‘a tyrant and usurper’ and promised righteous judgment on a whole list of shortcomings that they believed to characterize those they opposed.

Richard Cameron conducting an illegal conventicle

Richard Cameron conducting an illegal conventicle

With a government bounty of 5000 merks to anyone who brought him in ‘dead or alive’ Cameron and his handful of followers took to the hills, keeping on the move and sleeping rough. On 22 July they were taken by surprise at Airds Moss by a troop of Government horse under the command of Bruce of Earlshall. With some 20 horsemen and 40 foot they were outnumbered by around two to one, conceding also all those traditional elements which determined the outcome of such encounters; discipline, military experience and sound leadership.

Cameron was killed in the action and Hackston taken prisoner being led subsequently back to Edinburgh where he was executed and his body parts displayed in a manner fully compliant with the customs of the times.

The Mercat Cross, Edinburgh. Where David Hackston of Rathillet was executed for his part in the murder of Archbishop Sharp

The Mercat Cross, Edinburgh. Where David Hackston of Rathillet was executed for his part in the murder of Archbishop Sharp

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2 thoughts on “Airds Moss and the Death of Richard Cameron

  1. […] and the signing of the Treaty of Union in 1707. Men like Richard Cameron, known to posterity as the Lion of the Covenant. Men like James Drummond, 4th Earl of Perth, who was to become Lord Chancellor of Scotland and […]

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  2. […] who had met his death leading an unsuccessful rebellion against Scottish Government forces at the Battle of Airds Moss in […]

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