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Covenanter Stories – No. 5, William Cleland



Born at Douglas in 1661, Cleland was a student at St. Andrews, returning to Lanarkshire to join with the Covenanters. He was present at various conventicles, including one held at Cumberhead on 31st March 1679. The conventicle was spotted by a platoon of around twenty dragoons under the leadership of Lt. John Dalyell. The Covenanters attacked the dragoons, and the lieutenant was fatally wounded. According to the report of the Ensign of the patrol, Cleland was one of those involved in the attack.

Cleland was at Drumclog, where he acted as an officer, although still a teenager at the time. He assumed the same role at Bothwell Bridge, after which he fled to Holland, returning to Scotland in 1685, to take part in Argyle’s rebellion.


Following the defeat of General McKay at Killiecrankie, Cleland led an army of Cameronians against the advancing Jacobite army, and they joined in battle at Dunkeld. The foot soldiers wanted to retreat in the face of the impossible odds; the Cameronians being outnumbered five to one by the Highlanders. They complained that the officers could escape on horseback, whereas the foot soldiers would soon be overtaken and cut down. Cleland’s reply was to order that the horses be shot, so that all were in the battle together. The men defended the town and the highlanders were routed.

Cleland was wounded during the battle and ordered that he be carried into a house so that the Cameronians would not see that he was wounded and lose heart. He died of his wounds.


It must not be thought that Cleland was just a rough soldier, a man only of the sword and the halbert. A book of his poems, some of them humorous, was published in 1697, which reveal the extent of his remarkable intellect. His son John Cleland was the author of a number of novels.

From → Covenanters

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