Home eBooks Index eBooks by Author Glossary Search eBooks

Claverhouse

The following is from Claverhouse by Mowbray Morris:

Chapter V

There is no letter from Claverhouse in this year, 1679, later than that reporting the defeat at Drumclog. There was, indeed, no occasion for him to write. As soon as the news of his defeat and the attack on Glasgow had reached the Council, orders were at once sent for the forces to withdraw from the latter place and join Linlithgow at Stirling. After Bothwell Bridge had been won he was sent again into the West on the weary work that we have already seen him employed on. But during the intervening time his independent command had ceased. At the same time there is no reason to suppose that he was in any disgrace for the defeat at Drumclog. He had committed the fault, not uncommon, as military history teaches, with more experienced leaders than Claverhouse, of holding his foe too cheaply: he had committed this fault, and he had paid the penalty. There is some vague story of a sealed commission not to be opened till in the presence of the enemy, and when opened on the slope of Drumclog containing strict orders to give battle wherever and whenever the chance might serve. But the story rests on too slight authority to count for much. His own temperament would have made him fight without any sealed orders; and, indeed, he had not long before written to Linlithgow that he was determined to do so on the first occasion, and had warned his men to that effect. The wisdom of his resolve is clear. Disgusted with their work, discontented with the hardness of their fare and the infrequency of their pay, in perpetual danger of their lives from unseen enemies, his soldiers were getting out of hand. Claverhouse was the sternest of disciplinarians; but the discipline of those days was a very different thing from our interpretation of the word. It was more a recognition by the soldier of the superior strength and possibilities of his officer, than trained obedience to an inevitable law. When they once had satisfied themselves that their captain was unable to bring the enemy to book, was unable even to provide them with proper rations and pay, no love for the flag would have kept them together for another hour. It was essential for Claverhouse to show them that he and they were more than a match for their foes whenever and in whatever form the opportunity came. Unfortunately for him it came in the form of Drumclog, and the proof had still to be given.

But it is abundantly clear that no stain was considered to rest either on his honour or his skill. The only ungenerous reference to his discomfiture came a few years later in the shape of a growl from old Dalziel against the folly of splitting the army up into small detachments at the discretion of rash and incompetent leaders. Claverhouse was removed from his independent command only because the circumstances of the moment made it necessary. When it was found necessary to despatch a regular army against the insurgents (as, for all their provocation, they must after Drumclog be styled), he took his proper place in that army as captain of a troop in the Royal Scottish Life Guards. When the brief campaign had closed at Bothwell Bridge, and, worst fortune for him, affairs had resumed their original complexion, he went back to his old position.

It will be necessary, then, to supply this gap in Claverhouse's correspondence by a brief review of the state of things from the battle of Drumclog to the date of his new commission.

The garrison of Glasgow had, as we have seen, joined Linlithgow at Stirling. There they lay for a day or two till orders were received from the Council for the whole army, which only numbered about eighteen hundred men in all, to fall back on Edinburgh. In the capital the greatest consternation reigned. The first proceeding of the Council was to proclaim the rising "an open, manifest, and horrid rebellion," and all the insurgents were summoned to surrender at discretion as "desperate and incorrigible traitors." Having thus satisfied their diplomatic consciences they wisely proceeded to more practical measures. The militia was called out, horse and foot, in all the Lowlands, save in the disaffected shires. For those north of the Forth the rendezvous was at Stirling, for those south on the links of Leith. Each man was to bring provisions with him for ten days. The magistrates were ordered to remove all the powder and other munitions of war they could find in the city to the Castle. An armed guard was stationed night and day in the Canongate, and another in the Abbey. Finally, a post was sent to London on Linlithgow's advice to urge the instant despatch of more troops, and two shillings and sixpence a day of extra pay was promised to every foot soldier.

They were not disturbed in their preparations. The Covenanters were too busy with their own affairs to take much heed what their enemies might be doing. They did, indeed, march into Glasgow, but beyond shooting a poor wretch whom they vowed they recognised as having fought against them on the 2nd, and possibly indulging in a little looting, they did nothing. They did not stay long in the town. Plans they seem to have had none, nor any settled organisation or discipline. Moving restlessly about the neighbourhood from village to village and from moor to moor, their preachers exhorted and harangued as much against each other as against Pope or Prelate, and their leaders quarrelled as though there were not a King's soldier in all Scotland, nor Claverhouse within a dozen miles of them eager for the moment to strike. There was no lack of arms among them, and their numbers seem at this time to have been not far short of eight thousand. But no men of any position or influence in the country had joined them with the exception of Hamilton; and his authority, whether the story of his cowardice at Glasgow be true or not, was not what it had been at Rutherglen and Drumclog. The preachers seemed to have exercised the only control over the rabble; and such control, as was natural, seems rarely to have lasted beyond the length of their sermons, which, indeed, were not commonly short. As the Covenanters (to keep to the distinguishing name I have chosen) were an extreme section of the Presbyterians, so now the Covenanters themselves were divided into a moderate and an extreme party. The chiefs of the former, or Erastians as their opponents scornfully termed them, were John Welsh and David Hume. Of Hume there is no particular account, but Welsh we have met before. Though he had been under denunciation as a rebel ever since the Pentland rising (in which he had, indeed, borne no part), he had never given his voice for war; and, though assuredly neither a coward nor a trimmer, had always kept from any active share in the proceedings of his more tumultuous brethren. His plan, and the plan of the few who at that time and place were on his side, was temperate and reasonable. They asked for no more than they were willing to give. Against the King, his government, and his bishops they had no quarrel, if only they were suffered to worship God after their own fashion. Though they themselves had not accepted the Indulgence, they were not disposed to be unduly severe with those who had. In a word, they were willing to extend to all men the liberty they demanded for themselves. Had there been more of this wise mind among the Covenanters—among the Presbyterians, one may indeed say—though it is hardly possible to believe that Lauderdale and his crew would not still have found occasion for oppression, it would be much easier to find sympathy for the oppressed.

On the other side, Hamilton himself, Donald Cargill, and Thomas Douglas were the most conspicuous in words, while Hackston, Burley, and the rest of Sharp's murderers were, of course, with them. Hamilton and Douglas we know. Cargill, like Douglas, was a minister: he had received a good education at Aberdeen and Saint Andrews, but had soon fallen into disgrace for the disloyalty and virulence of his language. In a sermon on the anniversary of the Restoration he had declared from his pulpit that the King's name should "stink while the world stands for treachery, tyranny, and lechery."[30] In this party all was confused, extravagant, fierce, unreasoning. What they wanted, what they were fighting to get, from whom they expected to get it, even their own historians are unable to explain, and probably they themselves had no very clear notions. They talked of liberty, by which they seem to have meant no more than liberty to kill all who on any point thought otherwise than they did: of freedom, which meant freedom from all laws save their own passions: of the God of their fathers, and every day they violated alike His precepts and their practice. To slay and spare not was their watchword; but whom they were to slay, or what was to be gained or done when the slaying was accomplished, no two men among them were agreed. For the moment the current of their fury seems to have set most strongly against the Indulgence and those who had accepted its terms. A single instance will show pretty clearly the state of insubordination into which those unhappy men had fallen. It was announced that one Rae, a favourite expounder on the moderate side, was about to preach on a certain day in camp. Hamilton, who still retained the nominal command, sent him a letter bidding him not spare the Indulgence. To this Rae, who does not seem himself to have been in any position of authority, made answer that Hamilton had better mind what belonged to him, and not go beyond his sphere and station.[31] It would not be difficult to draw a parallel between the condition of the Covenanting camp at that time and the so-called Irish Party of our own time. Indeed, if any body will be at the trouble to examine the contemporary accounts of Hamilton and his followers, and particularly their language, much of which has been faithfully chronicled by their admirers, they will be surprised to find how closely the parallel may be pushed.

Meanwhile, on the other side preparations went briskly forward. A strong detachment of regular troops was at once despatched from London, with the young Duke of Monmouth himself in command. Great pains have been taken both by contemporary and later writers to explain the reason of this appointment. It was designed, they have said, to render him unpopular in Scotland. It is certainly possible that he might have been sent to Scotland to get him out of the way of his admirers in England, who just at that time were somewhat inconveniently noisy in their admiration. But the appointment does not seem to need any very subtle explanation. Monmouth was the King's favourite son. He had served his apprenticeship to the trade of war in the Low Countries, and under such captains as Turenne and William of Orange. He was popular with the people for his personal courage, his good looks, his pleasant manners, and above all for his Protestantism—a matter with him possibly more of policy than principle, but which served among the common people to gain him the affectionate nickname of The Protestant Duke, and to distinguish him in their eyes as the natural antagonist to the unpopular and Popish James. With all his faults Monmouth was no tyrant, and Charles himself was rather careless than cruel. This appointment, therefore, was taken in Scotland to signify a disposition on the King's part to employ gentle means if possible with the insurgents, and as such was not altogether approved of. Gentle means were not much to the taste of the presiding spirits of the Council-Board at Edinburgh, whose native ferocity had certainly not been softened by the fright and confusion of the last few days. It was particularly requested, therefore, that Dalziel might be named second in command, who might well be trusted to counteract any unseasonable leniency on Monmouth's part. Fortunately for the insurgents the old savage did not receive his commission till the day after the battle.

Monmouth left London on June 15th and reached Edinburgh on the 18th. He at once took the field. Montrose commanded the cavalry, Linlithgow the foot: Claverhouse rode at the head of his troop under his kinsman, and the Earls of Home and Airlie were there in charge of their respective troops: Mar held a command of foot. Many other Scotch noblemen and gentlemen of position followed the army as volunteers. Some Highlanders and a considerable body of militia made up a force which has been put as high as fifteen thousand men, but probably did not exceed half that number.

The near approach of the royal troops only increased the quarrelling and confusion in the insurgent camp, which was pitched now at Hamilton. Some friends at Edinburgh had sent word to them that Monmouth might be found not indisposed to treat; and that it would be best for them to stand off for a while, and not on any account be drawn into fighting. But the idea of treating only inflamed the more violent. On the 21st a council was called which began in mutual recrimination and abuse, and ended in a furious quarrel. Hamilton drew his sword, vociferating that it was drawn as much against the King's curates and the minions of the Indulgence as against the English dragoons, and left the meeting followed by Cargill, Douglas and the more violent of his party. Disgusted with the scene, and convinced of the hopelessness of a cause supported by such men, many left the camp and returned to their own homes. Welsh and the moderate leaders resolved to take matters into their own hands. On the morning of the 22nd Monmouth had reached Bothwell. His advance guard held the little town about a quarter of a mile distant from the river: his main body was encamped on the moor. Shortly after daybreak he was surprised by a visit from Welsh, Hume and another of their party, Fergusson of Caitloch. Monmouth received them courteously, and heard them with patience while they read to him a paper (known in Covenanting annals as the Hamilton Declaration) they had drawn up detailing their grievances and their demands. The first were indisputable: the second were, as has been said, moderate. Monmouth was, however, forced to answer that he could not treat with armed rebels. If they would lay down their arms and surrender at discretion, he promised to do all he could to gain them not only present pardon but tolerance in the future. Meanwhile, he said, they had best return to their camp, report his message, and bring him back an answer within half an hour's time. They returned, only to find confusion worse confounded, and their own lives even in some danger from the furious Hamilton.

The half-hour passed, and no further sign of submission was made. Monmouth bid the advance be sounded, and the Foot Guards, commanded by young Livingstone, Linlithgow's eldest son, moved down to the bridge. Just at that spot the Clyde is deep and narrow, running swiftly between steep banks fringed on the western side with bushes of alder and hazel. The bridge itself was only twelve feet wide, and guarded in the centre with a gate-house. The post was a strong one for defence, and had there been any military skill, or even unity of purpose, among the defendants, Monmouth would have had to buy his passage dear. Hackston of Rathillet had thrown himself with a small body of determined men into the gate-house, while Burley, with a few who could hold their muskets straight, took up his post among the alder-bushes. The rest stood idly by while their comrades fought. For about an hour Hackston held the gate till his powder was spent. He sent to Hamilton for more, or for fresh troops, but the only answer he received was an order to retire. He had no choice but to fall back on the main body, which he found at that supreme moment busily engaged in cashiering their officers, and quarrelling over the choice of new ones. The English foot then crossed the bridge: Monmouth followed leisurely at the head of the horse, while his cannon played from the eastern bank on the disordered masses of the Covenanters. A few Galloway men, better mounted and officered than the rest of their fellows, spurred out against the Life Guards as they were filing off the narrow bridge, but were at once ordered back by Hamilton. The rest of the horse in taking up fresh ground to avoid the English cannon completed the disorder of the foot—if, indeed, anything were wanted to complete the disorder of a rabble which had never known the meaning of the word order; and a general forward movement of the royal troops, who had now all passed the bridge, gave the signal for flight. Hamilton was the first to obey it, thus, in the words of an eye-witness, "leaving the world to debate whether he acted most like a traitor, a coward, or a fool."[32] Twelve hundred of the poor wretches surrendered at discretion: the rest fled in all directions. Monmouth ordered quarter to be given to all who asked it, and there is no doubt that he was able considerably to diminish the slaughter. Comparatively few fell at the bridge, but four or five hundred are said to have fallen, "murdered up and down the fields," says Wodrow, "wherever the soldiers met them, without mercy." Mercy was not a conspicuous quality of the soldiery of those days; and the discovery of a huge gallows in the insurgents' camp, with a cartload of new ropes at the foot, was not likely to stay the hands of men who knew well enough that had the fortune of war been different those ropes would have been round their necks without any mercy. But it is clear that Monmouth was able to save many. When Dalziel arrived next day in camp and learned how things had gone, he rebuked the Duke to his face for betraying his command. "Had I come a day sooner," he said, "these rogues should never have troubled his majesty or the kingdom any more."[33]

There is no authority for attributing to Claverhouse himself any particular ferocity. We may be pretty sure that the Covenanting chroniclers would not have refrained from another fling at their favourite scapegoat could they have found a stone to their hand; but as a matter of fact, in no account of the battle is he mentioned, save by name only, as having been present with his troop in Monmouth's army. The fiery and vindictive part assigned to him by Scott rests on the authority of the most amazing tissue of absurdities ever woven out of the inventive fancy of a ballad-monger.[34] He had no kinsman's death to avenge, and he was too good a soldier to directly disobey his chief's orders, however little they may have been to his taste.

There is, moreover, positive evidence to the contrary. Six years after the battle one Robert Smith, of Dunscore, who had been among the rebel horsemen at Bothwell, deposed that as they, some sixteen hundred in number, were in retreat towards Carrick, he saw the royal cavalry halted within less than a mile from the field, and this was considered by the fugitives to have been done to favour their escape. "For," he went on, "if they had followed us they had certainly killed or taken us all." It is clear, therefore, that whatever Claverhouse might have done had he been left to himself, or whatever he may have wished to do—what he did do was, in common with the rest of the army, to obey his superior's orders.

Chapter VI

FOOTNOTES:

[30] "Lives of the Scots Worthies," p. 383.

[31] Wodrow, iii. 93.

[32] Wodrow, iii. 107.

[33] Creichton, pp. 37-8.

[34] See some doggrel verses on the battle in "The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border," in which Claverhouse is represented as posting off to London from the field of battle and, by means of false witnesses, bringing Monmouth to the scaffold as a traitor who had given quarter to the King's enemies. Sir Walter, of course, knew very well what he was about; but it did not seem to him necessary to write fiction with the nice exactness of the historian; nor was he, happily for us, of that scrupulous order of minds which conceives that a cruel wrong has been done to the reputation of a man who has been in his grave for nearly a century and a half by employing the colours of tradition to heighten the pictures of fancy.


Copyright © Scotland from the Roadside 2019