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The Rutherglen Declaration and the Battle of Dunclog


Continuing our history of Presbyterianism in seventeenth century Scotland…

On 29th May 1679, scarcely a month after Sharp’s murder, a group of armed men, around seventy in number, led by Sir Robert Hamilton, along with John ‘Burley’ Balfour and James Russel, two of the perpetrators of the foul deed of Magus Moor, rode into Rutherglen. It was a day of celebration in the town and a bonfire was blazing in the main street. The riders extinguished the bonfire and made their way to the town cross, where they read a declaration, condemning the actions of the government since 1660. Lighting their own fire, they burned the Acts of both the Parliament and the Privy Council passed during the period in question.

John Graham of Claverhouse was at Falkirk, and hearing of the deed, was determined to repay those who had committed such an affront. He seized a Presbyterian minister, the chaplain to Lord Cardross, along with some fourteen others, and drove them before him to Srathaven, arriving at six o’clock on the Sunday morning. He had already heard talk of a field meeting, and was determined to find the conventicle in progress and deal with the illegal congregation. Claverhouse rode out straight away, in a hot temper, having already threatened his men that anyone who did not wholeheartedly enter the affray would be court-martialled. Locating the field meeting was not difficult; a large number of worshippers were already making their way across country, and all that was required of Claverhouse’s spies, was to follow them and report back to their master.

The meeting place was at Drumclog, on the road between Strathaven and Kilmarnock, and the preacher was THOMAS DOUGLAS. (Douglas was already a wanted man, with a price of 3,000 Merks on his head, – Dane Love in Scottish Covenantor Stories, Pg 62) A rifle shot, fired by a lookout, warned the worshippers that the King’s men were approaching, and the minister closed the sermon with his famous words, “Well, you have had the theory, now you are going to have the practice. You know your duty, self-defence is always lawful.” Those who had weapons moved forward to the battle, while the old, the unarmed and the women were sent to find safety. The Covenanters took up position in such a way that the King’s soldiers, approaching from the direction of Strathaven, could only attack them by crossing bogs and lochs.

Advancing down the face of the slope, the Covenanters sang the familiar verses of the seventy-fifth psalm, to the tune Martyrs. Musket shots were exchanged, but Graham was determined to engage in a foot battle, and he sent his men down to where the Covenanters were advancing. Claverhouse, who had expected to attack the Covenanters while they were engaged in worship, was surprised to find them armed and ready instead!

The King’s men numbered around one hundred and fifty, mounted troops, and there were about three hundred Covenanters, who knew the terrain although only around fifty of them were mounted. The soldiers were well armed, with muskets and pikes, while only a few of the Covenanters had arms. Most carried makeshift weapons, mostly made from farm implements. Claverhouse was watching the conflict, and he saw his riders fall and his soldiers turn and flee. He knew that the opportunity to win was now slim, and sent out a flag of truce, which the Covenanters refused to accept. Musket fire was exchanged, and horsemen moved into the battle. The government troops were the first to lose a rider, who died from a shot fired by William Cleland, one of the Covenanter commanders on the day. Seeing a horseman lost, Claverhouse, sent his cavalry into the battle. This was a mistake. The horses became bogged down in the moss, and became easy prey for the Covenanters. The day was lost for the King’s troops, and won for the Covenanters.

The government troops took flight, pursued by the Covenanters, who killed around fifty of their enemies. Claverhouse himself was almost captured, when Cleland managed to grasp the bridle of his horse. A farmer, Thomas Finlay managed to stab the fleeing horse with a pike, injuring it, but still Claverhouse pressed the horse on, and narrowly managed to escape.

The day was not yet over for Claverhouse. When he arrived in Strathaven his troops came under attack again by some local men, and another twelve of the dragoons were killed. The prisoners from Hamilton left under guard at Strathaven, their gaoler under instructions to kill them if anything should go wrong at Drumclog, were set free in the confusion, and made good their escape. The remaining dragoons made their way to Glasgow, where Claverhouse reported to his Commander-in-Chief on the debacle.

The government defeat at Drumclog had serious repercussions. The Duke of Monmouth was despatched from England to take military command, and the Privy Council issued an edict warning the Covenanters to give themselves up within twenty-four hours, or be treated as traitors to whom no pardon could be given. An army of ten thousand men was raised from among the lairds and their retainers, and Monmouth and his men joined with this force.

Together they marched to Bothwell Bridge.

In the next instalment, The Battle of Bothwell Brig.

From → Covenanters

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