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Claverhouse

The following is from Claverhouse by Mowbray Morris:

Chapter IV

The die was now fairly cast. In a general rising lay the only hope of safety for Sharp's murderers. Desperate themselves, they determined to carry others with them along the same path, and by some signal show of defiance commit the party to immediate and irretrievable action. The occasion for this was easily found. May 29th, the King's birthday, had been, as already mentioned, appointed as a general day of rejoicing for his restoration. This had from the first given offence as well to those members of the Presbyterian Church who saw in his Majesty's return no particular cause for joy, as to those more ascetic spirits who objected on principle to all holidays. May 29th was therefore hailed as the day divinely marked, as it were, for the purpose on hand, a crowning challenge to the King's authority.

The business was put in charge of Robert Hamilton, a man of good birth and education, but violent and rash, without any capacity for command and, if some of his own side may be trusted, of no very certain courage. With him went Thomas Douglas, one of the fire-breathing ministers, Balfour and Russell and some seventy or eighty armed men. Glasgow had been originally chosen for the scene of operations; but a day or two previously a detachment of Claverhouse's troopers had marched into that city from Falkirk, and the little town of Rutherglen, about two miles to the west of Glasgow, was chosen instead.

On the afternoon of the 29th Hamilton and his party made their appearance in Rutherglen. They first extinguished the bonfire that was blazing in the King's honour; and, having then lit one on their own account, proceeded solemnly to burn all the Acts of Parliament and Royal Proclamations that had been issued in Scotland since Charles's return. A paper was next read, containing a vigorous protest against all interferences of the English Government with the Presbyterian religion, and especially those subsequent to the Restoration. This paper, which was styled the Declaration and Testimony of some of the true Presbyterian party in Scotland, was then nailed to the market-cross of the little town, and the party withdrew. All this, be it remembered, was done within only two miles of the royal forces, some of whom, it is said, were actually spectators of the whole affair at scarce musket-shot's distance. It was fortunate for the party that Claverhouse was not in Glasgow at the time.

He was then in Falkirk, from which place he had, as we have seen, written to Linlithgow on the very day of the Rutherglen business of a rumour he had heard of some particular gathering appointed for the following Sunday, June 1st. Though he did not believe it, he thought it well to join forces with Ross in case there might be need for action. This was done at Glasgow on Saturday; and at once Claverhouse set off for Rutherglen to inquire into the affair of the 29th. As soon as he had got the names of the ringleaders he sent patrols out to scour the neighbourhood for them. A few prisoners were picked up, and among them one King, a noted orator of the conventicles, formerly chaplain to Lord Cardross, whose service he had left, it is said, on account of a little misadventure with one of the maid-servants. The troops halted for the night at Strathavon, and early next morning set off with their prisoners for Glasgow. On the way Claverhouse determined on "a little tour, to see if we could fall upon a conventicle," which, he ingenuously adds, "we did, little to our advantage."

During his search for the Rutherglen men he had heard more of the plans for Sunday. It was clear something was in the air, and report named Loudon Hill as the place of business, a steep and rocky eminence marking the spot where the shires of Ayr, Lanark, and Renfrew meet. To Loudon Hill accordingly Claverhouse turned his march, and soon found that rumour had for once not exaggerated.

Two miles to the east of the hill lies the little hamlet and farm of Drumclog, even now but sparsely covered with coarse meadow-grass, and then no more than a barren stretch of swampy moorland. South and north the ground sloped gently down towards a marshy bottom through which ran a stream, or dyke, fringed with stunted alder-bushes. On the foot of the southern slope, across the dyke, the Covenanters were drawn up; and the practised eye of Claverhouse saw at a glance that they had gathered there not to pray but to fight. "When we came in sight of them," he wrote to Linlithgow, "we found them drawn up in battle upon a most advantageous ground, to which there was no coming but through mosses and lakes. They were not preaching, and had got away all their women and children."[24] They were ranged in three lines: those who had firearms being placed nearest to the dyke, behind them a body of pikemen, and in the rear the rest, armed with scythes set on poles, pitchforks, goads and other such rustic weapons. On either flank was a small body of mounted men. Hamilton was in command: Burley had charge of the horse; and among others present that day was William Cleland, then but sixteen years old, and destined ten years later to win a nobler title to fame by a glorious death at the head of his Cameronians in the memorable defence of Dunkeld.

As usual, it is impossible to estimate with any exactness the strength of either side. According to one of their own party, who was present, the Covenanters did not exceed two hundred and fifty fighting men, of whom fifty were mounted and the same proportion armed with guns. These numbers have been accepted, of course, by Wodrow, and also by Dr. Burton. But within a week this handful had, on Hamilton's own testimony, grown to six thousand horse and foot; and though, no doubt, the success at Drumclog would have materially swelled the Covenanting ranks, if they were only two hundred and fifty on that day, the most liberal calculation can hardly accept the numbers said to have been gathered on Glasgow Moor six days later. Probably, if we increase the former total and diminish the latter, we shall get nearer the mark; but it is impossible to do more than conjecture. Sharpe, in the fragment printed by Napier, rates Hamilton's force at six hundred. Claverhouse's own estimate was "four battalions of foot, and all well armed with fusils and pitchforks, and three squadrons of horse." His experience was more likely to serve him in such matters than the untrained calculations of men who were, moreover, naturally concerned to magnify the defeat of the King's troops as much as possible; while it is clear from the tone of his own despatch, which is singularly literal and straightforward, that he had no wish, and did not even conceive it necessary, to excuse his disaster. But here again the estimate helps us little, owing to the vague use of the terms battalion and squadron. For the same reason we can but guess at the strength of the royal force. In the writings of the time Claverhouse's command is indiscriminately styled a regiment and a troop. It is certain that he was the responsible officer, so that, whatever its numerical strength, he stood to the body of men he commanded in the relation that a colonel stands to his regiment. But it is probable that his regiment, with those commanded by Home and Airlie, were practically considered as the three troops of the Royal Scottish Life Guards of whom the young Marquis of Montrose was colonel. From a royal warrant of 1672, it appears that a troop of dragoons was rated at eighty men, exclusive of officers, and that a regiment was to consist of twelve troops. But it is hardly possible that this strength was ever reached. From a passage in the third chapter of Macaulay's history it does not seem as if the full complement of a regiment of cavalry can have much exceeded four hundred men; but, I repeat, the indiscriminate use of the terms troop and regiment, battalion and squadron, makes all calculations theoretical and vague.[25] Scott puts the King's forces at Drumclog at two hundred and fifty men; and, as a detachment had been left behind in garrison with Ross's men at Glasgow, this is probably not over the mark, if Macaulay's estimate of a regiment be correct. He also, in the report Lord Evandale makes to his chief, rates the Covenanters at near a thousand fighting men, which would probably tally with Claverhouse's estimate. But, whatever the strength of either side may have been, it is tolerably certain that the advantage that way was on the side of the Covenanters.

The description of the fight in "Old Mortality" is an admirable specimen of the style in which Scott's genius could work the scantiest materials to his will. All contemporary accounts of the fray are singularly meagre and confused; and, indeed, the art of describing a battle was then very much in its infancy. It is difficult, from Claverhouse's own despatch, to get more than a general idea of the affair, which was probably after the first few minutes but an indiscriminate mêlée. No doubt it was his consciousness of some lack of clearness that inspired his apologetic postscript: "My Lord, I am so wearied and so sleepy that I have written this very confusedly." The flag of truce, which in the novel Claverhouse sends down under charge of his nephew Cornet Graham to parley with the Covenanters, was of Scott's own making, though it seems that a couple of troopers were despatched in advance to survey the ground. Nor does Claverhouse mention any kinsman of his, or any one of his name, as having fallen that day: the only two officers he specifies are Captain Blyth and Cornet Crafford, or Crawford, both of whom were killed by Hamilton's first fire. But though Claverhouse mentions no one of his own name, others do. By more than one contemporary writer one Robert Graham is included among the slain. It is said that while at breakfast that morning in Strathavon he had refused his dog meat, promising it a full meal off the Whigs' bodies before night; "but instead of that," runs the tale, "his dog was seen eating his own thrapple (for he was killed) by several." Another version is, that the Covenanters, finding the name of Graham wrought in the neck of the shirt, savagely mangled the dead body, supposing it to be that of Claverhouse himself.[26]

But to come from tradition to fact. The affair began with a sharp skirmish of musketry on both sides. To every regiment of cavalry there were then joined a certain proportion of dragoons who seem to have held much the position of our mounted infantry, men skilled in the use of firearms and accustomed to fight as well on foot as in the saddle. A party of these advanced in open order down the hill to the brink of the dyke and opened a smart fire on the Covenanters, who answered with spirit, but both in their weapons and skill were naturally far inferior to the royal soldiers. Meanwhile, some troopers had been sent out to skirmish on either flank, and to try for a crossing. This they could not find; but, unable to manœuvre in the swampy ground, found instead that their saddles were emptying fast. Then Hamilton, seeing that his men were no match at long bowls for the dragoons, and marking the confusion among the cavalry, gave the word to advance. By crossings known only to themselves Burley led the horse over the dyke on one flank, while young Cleland followed with the bulk of the foot on the other. Claverhouse thereupon called in his skirmishers, and, advancing his main body down the hill, the engagement became general. But in that heavy ground the footmen had all the best of it. The scythes and pitchforks made sad work among the poor floundering horses. His own charger was so badly wounded that, in the rider's forcible language, "its guts hung out half an ell;" yet the brave beast carried him safely out of the press.[27] The troopers began to fall back, and Burley, coming up on sound ground with his horse, flung himself on them so hotly that the retreat became something very like a rout. Claverhouse, to whose courage and energy that day his enemies bear grudging witness, did all that a brave captain could, but his men had now got completely out of hand. "I saved the standards" (one of which had been for a moment taken) "and made the best retreat the confusion of our people would suffer." So he wrote to Linlithgow, but he made no attempt to disguise his defeat. He owns to having lost eight or ten men among the cavalry, besides wounded; and the dragoons lost many more. Only five or six of the Covenanters seem to have fallen, among whom was one of Sharp's murderers. This does not speak very well for their opponents' fire; but then we have only the testimony of their own historians to go by. Claverhouse himself could say no more than that "they are not come easily off on the other side, for I saw several of them fall before we came to the shock."

Pell-mell went the rout over the hill and across the moorland to Strathavon, through which the Life Guards had marched but a few hours before in all their bravery. As their captain passed by the place where his prisoner of the morning, John King, was now lustily chanting a psalm of triumph, the reverend gentleman called out to him, with audacity worthy of Gabriel Kettledrummle, "to stay the afternoon sermon." At Strathavon the townspeople drew out to bar their passage, but the fear of their pursuers lent the flying troopers fresh heart: "we took courage," writes Claverhouse, "and fell to them, made them run, leaving a dozen on the place." Through Strathavon they clattered, and never drew rein till they found themselves safe in Glasgow among their own comrades.

Fortunately the pursuit had slackened, or it might have gone ill with the garrison in Glasgow. Claverhouse's men had no doubt fine tales to tell of the fury of the Whig devils behind them; and had Hamilton been strong enough in cavalry to enter the town at the heels of the flying troopers it is not likely that he would have met with much opposition. The pursuit, however, did not follow far. Thanksgivings had to be made for the victory, and the prisoners to be looked to. All these, according to Wodrow, were let go after being disarmed; but Hamilton himself tells a very different tale. His orders had been strict that there should be no quarter that day; but on his return from the pursuit he found that his orders had been disobeyed. Five prisoners had been dismissed, and were already out of his reach: two others were waiting while their captors debated on their fate. Then Hamilton, furious that any of "Babel's brats" should be let go, slew one of these with his own hand, to stay any such unreasonable spirit of mercy, "lest the Lord would not honour us to do much more for him."[28]

That night the Covenanting captains stayed at Lord Loudon's house, where, though the master had deemed it prudent to keep out of the way, they were hospitably entertained by her ladyship. The next morning they continued their march to Glasgow.

Claverhouse was ready for them. The town was too open a place to be properly barricaded, but he had caused some sort of breastwork to be raised near the market-cross as cover for his men, and patrols had been out since daybreak to watch Hamilton's movements. That worthy was reported to be dividing his men into two bodies, one of which presently marched on the town by the Gallowgate bridge, while the other took a much longer route by the High Church and College. It was thus possible to deal with the first before the latter could come to its assistance. This was very effectually done. About ten in the morning the attack was made by way of the bridge, led by Hamilton in person.[29] But the welcome which met them from the barricades was too warm for the Covenanters. They broke and fled at the first fire, Claverhouse and Ross at the head of their men chasing them out of the town. Meanwhile, their comrades, descending the hill on the other side, saw what was going on, and, having no mind for a similar welcome, turned about and made off by the way they had come. The two parties joined and halted for a while at the place they had occupied on the previous night; but when they heard Claverhouse's trumpets sounding again to horse they fell back to Hamilton Park, where it was not thought prudent to follow them.

Chapter V

FOOTNOTES:

[24] Claverhouse to Linlithgow, June 1st, 1679. This is the famous despatch which Scott says was spelled like a chambermaid's. The original is now among the Stow Manuscripts in the British Museum.

[25] Cannon's "Historical Records of the British Army" (Second Dragoons): Macaulay's History, i. 305-8.

[26] Russell's account of Sharp's murder, Kirkton, p. 442. See also Creichton's Memoirs, though the captain was not present at the fight, having remained in garrison at Glasgow. In a Latin poem, "Bellum Bothuellianum," by Andrew Guild, now in the Advocates' Library at Edinburgh, are the following lines:

"Tum rabiosa cohors, misereri nescia, stratos
Invadit, laceratque viros: hic signifer, eheu!
Trajectus globulo, Græmus, quo fortior alter
Inter Scotigenas fuerat, nec justior ullus:
Hunc manibus rapuere feris, faciemque virilem
Fœdarunt, lingua, auriculis, manibusque resectis
Aspera diffuso spargentes saxa cerebro."

The passage is quoted at length in the notes to "Old Mortality." Sharpe, in his notes to Kirkton, says, on the authority of Wodrow, that Cornet Graham was shot by one John Alstoun, a miller's son, and tenant of Weir of Blackwood. This is not correct. There was a Cornet Graham so killed, but not till three years after Drumclog.

[27] "With a pitchfork they made such an openeing in my rone horse's belly." Sir Walter, following tradition, has mounted Claverhouse on a coal-black charger without a single white hair in its body, a present, according to the legends of the time, from the Devil to his favourite servant. See also Aytoun's fine ballad "The Burial March of Dundee":

"Then our leader rode among us
On his war-horse black as night;
Well the Cameronian rebels
Knew that charger in the fight."

[28] Kirkton, 444, note.

[29] It was reported by some of his own party that as his men entered the town Hamilton withdrew into a house at the Gallowgate to wait the issue. But it would be no more fair to take this report for truth than it would be to assume that Claverhouse really forbad burial to the dead Whigs, that the dogs might eat them where they lay in the streets. There was too much quarrelling in the Covenanting camp to allow us to take for granted all their judgments on each other when unfavourable; and at Drumclog Hamilton seems by all accounts to have borne himself bravely enough, whatever he may have done subsequently.


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