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Claverhouse

The following is from Claverhouse by Mowbray Morris:

Chapter III

Claverhouse was not left long in idleness. In 1664, the year of the first Indulgence, it had been determined to withdraw the regular troops altogether from Scotland, leaving their place to be supplied by the local militia, which was now practically raised to the condition of a standing army and, contrary to immemorial law, placed under the immediate authority of the Crown. But the bishops and their clergy had demurred. They had little fancy for being left with no other protection than a half-disciplined rabble, who, ready as they might be to act against their troublesome countrymen, had no more respect for a lawn sleeve than for a homespun jerkin. A few troops of regular cavalry were therefore retained, and one regiment of Foot Guards. The former were commanded by Athole, the latter by Linlithgow. Towards the end of 1677 a fresh troop of cavalry was raised, and the command given to the young Marquis of Montrose, grandson to him who had died on the scaffold and kinsman to Claverhouse.

Claverhouse applied to him for employment, and it appears from Montrose's answer that the application had been warmly backed by the Duke of York. "You cannot imagine," runs the letter, "how overjoyed I should be to have any employment at my disposal that were worthy of your acceptance; nor how much I am ashamed to offer you anything so far below your merit as that of being my lieutenant; though I be fully persuaded that it will be a step to a much more considerable employment, and will give you occasion to confirm the Duke in the just and good opinion which I do assure you he has of you." The writer goes on to say that he himself was expecting instant promotion, and to promise his kinsman a share in whatever fortune might befall him: none but gentlemen, he adds, are to ride in his troop. The offer was accepted, and the promotion was not long delayed.

The Indulgence had failed, as by some at least of those who had countenanced it it had been expected to fail. The Opposition, led at Edinburgh by Hamilton and Argyle, and backed in London by Monmouth and Shaftesbury, which had for some time past been working openly against Lauderdale, had also for the moment failed. The Commissioner's hands were strong. With the King and the Duke of York at his back, and, in Edinburgh, Sharp, Burnet, and the majority of the Episcopalian clergy, together with all the needy nobles who loved best to fish in troubled waters, Lauderdale could afford, as he thought then, to laugh at all opposition. To assume that his design had been from the first to goad the West into open rebellion affords, indeed, a simple explanation of a policy that in its persistent unwisdom and brutality seems strangely irrational and monstrous, even for such times and men. But it is rash to take any policy as certain in those dark and crooked councils, unless it be—as probably in Lauderdale's case it was, and as it assuredly was in the case of most of his creatures—the policy of personal aggrandisement. At any rate, after the failure of the Indulgence had been made clear even to those hopeful spirits who still, with Leighton, had believed it possible to efface years of wrong by a few grudging concessions, the cruel game was renewed with fresh vigour. The Highlanders, indeed, had gone, but their place was now to be filled by a more dangerous because a more disciplined foe. Orders were given to raise three new troops of cavalry for special service in Scotland. The Earls of Home and Airlie were chosen by Lauderdale to command two of these troops: the third was, at the King's express desire, given to Claverhouse. At the same time, Athole, who was now in opposition with Hamilton and Argyle, was superseded by Montrose, and Linlithgow named commander-in-chief of all the royal forces in Scotland.

Claverhouse now for the first time steps in his own person on the stage of Scottish history. Eleven years later, in 1689, he passes off it for ever. It is with the tale of that brief time, so crowded with action, so variously recorded, that we shall be from this point concerned.

He was now in his thirty-fifth year. Confused and conflicting as the witnesses of his life and character may be, of the man himself as he looked to the eyes of his contemporaries there is the clearest testimony. Over the mantelpiece of Scott's study in Castle Street hung the only picture in the room—a portrait of Claverhouse. An original portrait Lockhart calls it, but which of the five portraits engraved in Napier's volumes it may have been, if any of them, I cannot tell. All these engravings, with a unanimity not common in the portraiture of the time, show the same face: a face of delicate, almost feminine beauty, framed in the long full love-locks of the period.[15] The eyes are large and dark, the figure small but well made, and the general expression of the countenance one of almost boyish smoothness and simplicity. His manners were gentle and courteous, though reserved: his habit of life was, as has been already said, singularly decorous: he was scrupulous in the observance of all religious ordinances. After his death an old Presbyterian lady, who had lodged below him in Edinburgh, told Lochiel's biographer how astonished she had been to find one of his profession so regular in his devotions. In truth, one of the most curious, and at the same time one of the most indisputable, points in the life of this singular man is the contrast between those public actions which have had so large a share in moulding the popular impression, and his private character and conduct. And not less curious is the contrast between the reality of his personal appearance and the counterfeit presentment likely to be fostered by a too liberal adherence to that impression. It would be difficult to imagine a more complete surprise than awaits those who turn for the first time from the stern, brutal, and profane soldier of the historian's page to the high-bred and graceful gentleman of the painter's canvas.

Claverhouse seems to have received his commission in the autumn of 1678. The earliest of his letters extant is dated from Moffat, a small town in the north of Dumfriesshire, on December 28th. It is addressed to Lord Linlithgow, and contains this significant passage: "On Tuesday was eight days, and Sunday there were great field-conventicles just by here, with great contempt of the regular clergy, who complain extremely when I tell them I have no order to apprehend anybody for past misdemeanours."[16] And this scrupulous observance of his orders, at a time when a little excess of zeal was unlikely to be regarded as a very serious blunder, is yet more strikingly illustrated in his next letter, written a week later from Dumfries. In that town, at the southern end of the bridge over the Nith, the charity of some devout Covenanting ladies had lately set up a large meeting-house. The clergy, as wild against the Covenanters as Lauderdale himself, were very importunate with Claverhouse to demolish this hotbed of disaffection; but he, though he confessed privately to his chief his annoyance at seeing a conventicle held with impunity "at our nose," answered all importunities with a calm reference to his orders. The southern end of the bridge was in Galloway, and in Galloway his commission did not run. The authority of the Deputy-Sheriff of the shire was therefore called into play, and with his countenance the offending building was quickly razed to the ground. In his report of this business Claverhouse writes:—"My Lord, since I have seen the Act of Council, the scruple I had about undertaking anything without the bounds of these two shires is indeed frivolous, but was not so before. For if there had been no such act, it had not been safe for me to have done anything but what my order warranted; and since I knew it not, it was to me the same thing as if it had not been. And for my ignorance of it, I must acknowledge that till now, in any service I have been, I never inquired further in the laws than the orders of my superior officers." This will not be the only occasion on which Claverhouse will be found keeping strictly within the lines of his commission, instead of, as he has been so frequently charged with doing, wantonly and savagely exceeding it.

This Deputy-Sheriff (or Steward, as the phrase then ran) needs a word to himself, both on his own account, as representing a certain phase of character unfortunately too common to the time, and as the real author of many of the cruel deeds of which Claverhouse so long has borne the blame. Sir Robert Grierson of Lag was regarded in his own district with an energy of hatred to which even the terror inspired by Claverhouse gave place, and which has survived to a time within the memory of men still living. In the early years of this century the most monstrous traditions of his cruelty were still current, and are not yet wholly extinct. In a vaulted chamber of the house in which he lived, on the English road some three miles south of Dumfries, is still shown an iron hook from which he is said to have hung his Covenanting prisoners; and a hill in the neighbourhood is still pointed out as that down which he used, for his amusement, to send the poor wretches rolling in a barrel filled with knife-blades and iron spikes,—an ingenious form of torture, commonly supposed to have been invented by the Carthaginians two thousand years ago for the particular benefit of a Roman Consul. The dark and mysterious legend of Sir Robert Redgauntlet, with which Wandering Willie beguiled the way to Brokenburn-foot, was a popular tradition of Sir Robert Grierson, or Lag (as, in the familiar style of the day he was more commonly called) in Scott's own lifetime: the fatal horseshoe, the birth-mark of all the Redgauntlet line, was believed to be conspicuous on the foreheads of every true Grierson in moments of anger; and it was a grandson of old Lag himself who sat to Scott for the portrait of the elder Redgauntlet, the rugged and dangerous Herries of Birrenswark. Within the last fifty years it was a custom of Halloween in many of the houses in Dumfriesshire and Galloway to celebrate by a rude theatrical performance the evil memory of the Laird of Lag.[17]

Born of a family which had held lands in Dumfriesshire since the fifteenth century, and had figured at various times on the troubled stage of Scottish history, Lag was undoubtedly a man of some parts and capacity for public affairs, but coarse, cruel and brutal beyond even the license of those times. The Covenanting historians charge him with vices such as even they shrank from attributing to Claverhouse; and, careful as it is always necessary to be in taking the evidence of such witnesses, it is abundantly clear that even these ingenious romancists would have been hard put to it to stain the memory of Lag. Later historians have been sometimes less careful in distinguishing between the two men. At least in one striking instance, the misdeeds of this ruffian have been circumstantially charged to the account of his more famous and important colleague.

It will be remembered that in the picture Macaulay has drawn of Claverhouse the soldiers under his command, and by implication Claverhouse himself, figure as relieving their sterner duties by a curious form of relaxation. They would call each other, he says, by the names of devils and damned souls, mocking in their revels the torments of hell. The authority for this surprising statement is Robert Wodrow, who was not born when Claverhouse returned to Scotland, and whose history of the Scottish Church was not published till more than thirty years after the battle of Killiecrankie.[18] Wodrow's work is very far from being the contemptible thing some apologists for Claverhouse would have us believe; but he is not a witness whose unsupported testimony it is always safe to take for gospel-truth. He wrote at a time when the naturally romantic imagination of the Scottish peasantry, stimulated by the memories of old men who had known the evil times, had largely embellished the facts he set himself to chronicle; and following the fashion of his day (indeed, as one may say, the fashion of many historians who cannot plead Wodrow's excuse), he was not always careful to separate the romance from the reality, even where the latter might have better served his turn. But considering all the circumstances—the circumstances of the time, of his subject, and of his own prepossessions, he is a writer whom it is impossible to disregard; and, indeed, compared with the other Covenanting chroniclers he stands apart as the most sober and impartial of historians. Where he got the story that has been so ingeniously fashioned into an indictment against Claverhouse is not clear. The passage runs as follows:—"Dreadful were the acts of wickedness done by the soldiers at this time, and Lag was as deep as any. They used to take to themselves, in their cabals, the names of devils and persons they supposed to be in hell, and with whips to lash one another, as a jest upon hell. But I shall draw a veil over many of their dreadful impieties I meet with in papers written at this time." This is not exactly the sort of evidence any judge but a hanging judge would allow, though it would serve well enough the turn of a prosecutor. It is at any rate evidence which no one, with any experience of the sort of gossip the annalists of the Covenant were content to call history, would care to take seriously. But whatever its value may really be, so far as it goes it is evidence not against Claverhouse but against Lag. It is clear from Wodrow that the story refers not to the royal soldiers but to the local militia; and a writer a little later than Wodrow makes it still more clear that the men supposed thus to have disported themselves in their cups were those commanded by Lag. John Howie, an Ayrshire peasant and a Cameronian of the strictest sect, who was not born till fourteen years after Wodrow had published his history, has given Lag a particular place in the Index Expurgatorius of his "Heroes for the Faith." There we may read how this "prime hero for the promoting of Satan's kingdom" would, "with the rest of his boon companions and persecutors, feign themselves devils, and those whom they supposed in hell, and then whip one another, as a jest upon that place of torment." Claverhouse, as has been already shown, was himself singularly averse to all rioting and drunkenness, as well as to profane amusements of every kind; and, as he was indisputably one of the sternest disciplinarians who ever took or gave orders, it is unlikely that he would have countenanced any such unseemly revels in the men under his command, with whom, moreover, he was in these years thrown into unusually close personal contact. But, in truth, the story, so far as he is concerned, is too foolish to need any solemn refutation. It has been only examined at this length as furnishing a signal instance of the recklessness with which the misdeeds of others have been fathered on him.[19]

The work Claverhouse now found to do must have been singularly distasteful to one who had seen war on a great scale under such captains as William and Condé. It was at once undignified and dangerous; and though danger was all to his taste, it was one thing to risk one's life in open battle with enemies worthy of a soldier's steel, and another and very different thing to run the chance of a stray bullet from behind a haystack or through a cottage window. The line of country he had to patrol (for his work was really little more than that) was all too large for the forces at his disposal. The enemies with whom he had mostly to deal were either old men or women, for the Covenanters were well supplied with intelligence, and generally had ample warning of his movements, quick and indefatigable as they were. "If your lordship give me any new orders, I will beg they may be kept as secret as possible, and sent for me so suddenly as the information some of the favourers of the fanatics are to send may be prevented."[20] And again:

"I obeyed the orders about seizing persons in Galloway that very night I received it, as far as it was possible; that is to say, all that was within forty miles, which is the most can be ridden in one night; and of six made search for, I found only two, which are John Livingston, bailie of Kirkcudbright, and John Black, treasurer there. The other two bailies were fled, and their wives lying above the clothes in the bed, and great candles lighted, waiting for the coming of the party, and told them, they knew of their coming, and had as good intelligence as they themselves; and that if the other two were seized on, it was their own faults, that would not contribute for intelligence. And the truth is, they had time enough to be advertised, for the order was dated the 15th, and came not to my hands till the 20th. I laid the fellow in the guard that brought it, so soon as I considered the date, where he has lain ever since, and had it not been for respect to Mr. Maitland [Lauderdale's nephew] who recommended him to me I would have put him out of the troop with infamy."[21]

The letters written during the first months of his commission are full of warnings of this sort. And he had other complaints to make, which must have been still more against the grain. He was so inadequately supplied with money by the Council that he found it a hard matter to pay his men, and harder still to pay the country people for the necessary provisions and forage; for, so far from quartering his men at large upon the peasantry, he seems, at any rate in those first months, to have been scrupulous to pay at the current rates for all he required to a degree that matches rather with the niceties of modern warfare than the customs of those rough times.

In March Claverhouse was appointed Deputy-Sheriff of Dumfriesshire by a particular warrant from Whitehall, and Andrew Bruce of Earlshall, one of his lieutenants, was nominated with him. This step gave great offence to Queensberry, who, as Sheriff of the shires of Dumfries and Annandale, by law held all such patronage in his own hand, and marks the beginning of the petty jealousy which from this time forward he seems to have shown to Claverhouse whenever he dared, and which rose afterwards, as we shall see, to a serious height. But Queensberry was no match for Lauderdale; and Claverhouse was duly settled in his new office, which, while strengthening his hands and enabling him to dispense with many tedious formalities, at the same time considerably increased his labours.

And so winter passed into spring, and still Claverhouse found no work more worthy of him than patrolling the country, arranging for his men's quarters, examining suspected persons, and endeavouring to persuade the Government to leave him not entirely penniless. More than once he sent word to Edinburgh that he believed something serious was afoot. "I find," he writes to Linlithgow on April 21st, "Mr. Welsh is accustoming both ends of the country to face the king's forces, and certainly intends to break out into open rebellion." This Welsh is a famous figure in Covenanting history. Grandson to a man whose name was long held in affectionate memory by his party as that of the "incomparable John Welsh of Ayr," and great-grandson to no less a hero than John Knox himself, he was on his own account a memorable man. He had inaugurated the first conventicle, and had ever since been zealous in promoting them and officiating at them among the wild hills and moorlands of the western shires, till his name had become a byword among the soldiers for his courage in braving and his skill in evading them. But though one of the most resolute and indefatigable of the ministers of the Covenant, he was also one of the most moderate and sensible. Had no one among them been more eager than he to carry the war into the enemy's country there had been no Bothwell Bridge. And, indeed, we shall find him seriously taken to task by the more extreme of the party as a backslider from the good cause for his endeavour to avert that disastrous affair.

Yet Claverhouse was right. Something very serious was soon to be afoot. During the last few weeks the Covenanters had been notoriously growing bolder. They did not always now, as hitherto, content themselves with evading the soldiers: they became in their turn the aggressors. More than once an outlying post of Claverhouse's men had been fired upon; and on one occasion a couple of the dragoons had been savagely murdered in cold blood. Even Wodrow found himself forced to own that about this time "matters were running to sad heights among the armed followers of some of the field meetings." But the trouble did not arise through John Welsh. It came through a servant of the Crown who had been a sorer plague to his countrymen than a myriad of disaffected ministers.

On May 5th, Lord Ross[22] from Lanark, and on the 6th Claverhouse from Dumfries, sent in their despatches to the commander-in-chief at Edinburgh as usual. It is clear that neither of them had at that time heard any rumour of an event which had happened a few days previously at no very great distance from their quarters. On May 2nd the Primate of Scotland had been dragged from his carriage as he was driving across an open heath three miles out of Saint Andrews, and murdered in open day before the eyes of his daughter.

James Sharp, Archbishop of Saint Andrews, was at that time probably the best-hated man in Scotland. Like all renegades he was in no favour even with his own party, though Lauderdale found after trial that he could not dispense with his support. Even the moderate Presbyterians, who regarded the uncompromising Covenanters as the real cause of their country's troubles, looked askance upon Sharp, as the man whom they had chosen out of their number to save them and who had preferred to save himself. By the Covenanters themselves he was assailed with every form of obloquy as the Judas who had sold his God and his country for thirty pieces of silver, and who had hounded on the servants of the King to spill the blood of the saints. Yet his murder was but an accident. Eleven years before an attempt had, indeed, been made upon his life by one Mitchell, a fanatical and apparently half-witted preacher, who was after a long delay put to the torture and finally executed on a confession which he had been induced to make after a promise from the Privy Council that his life should be spared. It is said that Lauderdale would have spared him, but Sharp was so vehement for his death that the Duke dared not refuse.

The chief promoters of the Archbishop's murder were Hackston of Rathillet, Russell of Kettle, and John Balfour of Burley, or, more correctly, of Kinloch. These three men were typical of the class who at this time began to come to the front among the Covenanters, and by their incapacity, folly, and brutality discredited and did their best to ruin a cause whose original justice had been already too much obscured by such parasites. It is impossible to believe that they, or such as they, were inspired by any strong religious feelings. Hackston and Balfour were men of some fortune, who had been free-livers in their youth, and were now professing to expiate those errors by a gloomy and ferocious asceticism. Both had a grudge against Sharp. Balfour had been accused of malversation in the management of some property for which he was the Archbishop's factor, and Hackston, his brother-in-law, had been arrested as his bail and forced to make the money good. Russell, who has left a curiously minute and cold-blooded narrative of this murder,[23] was a man of headstrong and fiery temper. They had all those dangerous gifts of eloquence which, coarse and uncouth as it sounds to our ears, was, when liberally garnished with texts of Scripture, precisely such as to inflame the heated tempers of an illiterate peasantry to madness. It is important to distinguish men of this stamp from the genuine sufferers for conscience' sake. The latter men were, indeed, often wrought up by their crafty leaders to a pitch of blind and brutal fury which has done much to lessen the sympathy that is justly theirs. But they were at the bottom simple, sincere, and pious; and they can at least plead the excuse of a long and relentless persecution for acts which the others inspired and directed for motives which it would be difficult, perhaps, to correctly analyse, but assuredly were not founded on an unmixed love either for their country or their faith. Stripped of the veil of religious enthusiasm which they knew so well how to assume, men of the stamp of Sharp's murderers were in truth no other than those brawling and selfish demagogues whom times of stir and revolution always have brought and always will bring to the front. There need, in these days, be no difficulty in understanding the characters of men who dress Murder in the cloak of Religion and call her Liberty.

Every child knows the story of the tragedy on Magus Moor. It will be enough here to remind my readers, once more, that it was no preconcerted plan, but a pure accident—or, as the murderers themselves called it, a gift from God. The men I have named, with a few others, were really after one Carmichael, who had made himself particularly odious by his activity in collecting the fines levied on the disaffected. But Carmichael, who was out hunting on the hills, had got wind of their design and made his way home by another route. As the party were about to separate in sullen disappointment, a messenger came to tell them that the Archbishop's coach was in sight on the road to Saint Andrews. The opportunity was too good to be lost. Hackston was asked to take the command, but declined, alleging his cause of quarrel with Sharp, which would, he declared, "mar the glory of the action, for it would be imputed to his particular revenge." But, he added, he would not leave them, nor "hinder them from what God had called them to." Upon this, Balfour said, "Gentlemen, follow me;" and the whole party, some nine or ten in number, rode off after the carriage, which could be seen in the distance labouring heavily over the rugged track that traversed the lonely expanse of heath. How the butcher's work was done: how Sharp crawled on his knees to Hackston, saying, "You are a gentleman—you will protect me," and how Hackston answered, "Sir, I shall never lay a hand on you": how Balfour and the rest then drew their swords and finished what their pistols had begun; and how the daughter was herself wounded in her efforts to cover the body of her father—these things are familiar to all.

From May 6th to 29th no letters from Claverhouse have survived; but on the latter date he sent a short despatch from Falkirk, announcing his intention of joining his forces with Lord Ross to scatter a conventicle of eighteen parishes which, he had just received news, were about (on the following Sunday) to meet at Kilbryde Moor, four miles from Glasgow. The following Sunday was June 1st, on which day Claverhouse was indeed engaged with a conventicle; but in a fashion very different from any he had anticipated.

Chapter IV

FOOTNOTES:

[15] It is said that he used to tend these curls with very particular care, attaching small leaden weights to them at night to keep them in place,—a custom which, I am informed, has in these days been revived by some dandies of the other sex.

[16] This very much bears out Burnet's complaint against the Episcopal clergy in Scotland, which has been so strenuously denied by Creichton. "The clergy used to speak of that time as the poets do of the golden age. They never interceded for any compassion to their people; nor did they take care to live more regularly, or to labour more carefully. They looked on the soldiery as their patrons; they were ever in their company, complying with them in their excesses; and, if they were not much wronged, they rather led them into them than checked them for them."—"History of My Own Time," i. 334.

[17] "The Laird of Lag," by Lieut.-Col. Fergusson, pp. 7-11.

[18] His "History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland" was first published in 1721.

[19] This confusion was first pointed out by Aytoun in an appendix to the second edition of his "Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers."

[20] Claverhouse to Linlithgow, December 28th, 1678. These letters are all quoted from Napier's book. I have thought it better to give the date of the letter than the reference to the page.

[21] Claverhouse to Linlithgow, February 24th, 1679.

[22] George, eleventh Lord Ross, was joined with Claverhouse in the command of the western shires. He had married Lady Grizel Cochrane, daughter of the first Earl of Dundonald, and aunt of the future Lady Dundee.

[23] Printed in Sharpe's edition of Kirkton's "History of the Church of Scotland." It differs in some, but not very important, points from the account printed in the same volume from Wodrow's manuscripts.


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