The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, by Walter Scott

The Battle of Loudonhill.

The whigs, now become desperate, adopted the most desperate principles; and retaliating, as far as they could, the intolerating persecution which they endured, they openly disclaimed allegiance to any monarch who should not profess presbytery, and subscribe the covenant. — These principles were not likely to conciliate the favour of government; and as we wade onward in the history of the times, the scenes become yet darker. At length, one would imagine the parties had agreed to divide the kingdom of vice betwixt them; the hunters assuming to themselves open profligacy and legalized oppression; and the hunted, the opposite attributes of hypocrisy, fanaticism, disloyalty, and midnight assassination. The troopers and cavaliers became enthusiasts in the pursuit of the covenanters If Messrs Kid, King, Cameron, Peden, &c. boasted of prophetic powers, and were often warned of the approach of the soldiers, by supernatural impulse,217 captain John Creichton, on the other side, dreamed dreams, and saw visions (chiefly, indeed, after having drunk hard), in which the lurking holes of the rebels were discovered to his imagination.218 Our ears are scarcely more shocked with the profane execrations of the persecutors,219 than with the strange and insolent familiarity used towards the Deity by the persecuted fanatics. Their indecent modes of prayer, their extravagant expectations of miraculous assistance, and their supposed inspirations, might easily furnish out a tale, at which the good would sigh, and the gay would laugh.

217 In the year 1684, Peden, one of the Cameronian preachers, about ten o’clock at night, sitting at the fire-side, started up to his feet, and said, “Flee, auld Sandie (thus he designed himself), and hide yourself! for colonel —— is coming to this house to apprehend you; and I advise you all to do the like, for he will be here within an hour;” which came to pass: and when they had made a very narrow search, within and without the house, and went round the thorn-bush, under which he was lying praying, they went off without their prey. He came in, and said, “And has this gentleman (designed by his name) given poor Sandie, and thir poor things, such a fright? For this night’s work, God shall give him such a blow, within a few days, that all the physicians on earth shall not be able to cure;” which came to pass, for he died in great misery. —Life of Alexander Peden.]

218 See the life of this booted apostle of prelacy, written by Swift, who had collected all his anecdotes of persecution, and appears to have enjoyed them accordingly.]

219 “They raved,” says Peden’s historian, “like fleshly devils, when the mist shrouded from their pursuit the wandering whigs.” One gentleman closed a declaration of vengeance against the conventiclers with this strange imprecation, “Or may the devil make my ribs a gridiron to my soul!”— MS. Account of the Presbytery of Penpont. Our armies swore terribly in Flanders, but nothing to this!]

In truth, extremes always approach each other; and the superstition of the Roman catholics was, in some degree, revived, even by their most deadly enemies. They are ridiculed by the cavaliers, as wearing the relics of their saints by way of amulet:—

“She shewed to me a box, wherein lay hid

The pictures of Cargil and Mr Kid;

A splinter of the tree, on which they were slain;

A double inch of Major Weir’s best cane;

Rathillet’s sword, beat down to table-knife,

Which took at Magus’ Muir a bishop’s life;

The worthy Welch’s spectacles, who saw,

That windle-straws would fight against the law;

They, windle-straws, were stoutest of the two,

They kept their ground, away the prophet flew;

And lists of all the prophets’ names were seen

At Pentland Hills, Aird–Moss, and Rullen Green.

“Don’t think,” she says, “these holy things are foppery;

They’re precious antidotes against the power of popery.”

The Cameronian Tooth. — Pennycuick’s Poems, p. 110.

The militia and standing army soon became unequal to the task of enforcing conformity, and suppressing conventicles In, their aid, and to force compliance with a test proposed by government, the Highland clans were raised, and poured down into Ayrshire.220 An armed host of undisciplined mountaineers, speaking a different language, and professing, many of them, another religion, were let loose, to ravage and plunder this unfortunate country; and it is truly astonishing to find how few acts of cruelty they perpetrated, and how seldom they added murder to pillage221 Additional levies of horse were also raised, under the name of Independent Troops, and great part of them placed under the command of James Grahame of Claverhouse a man well known to fame, by his subsequent title of viscount Dundee, but better remembered, in the western shires, under the designation of the bloody Clavers. In truth, he appears to have combined the virtues and vices of a savage chief. Fierce, unbending, and rigorous, no emotion of compassion prevented his commanding, and witnessing, every detail of military execution against the non-conformists. Undauntedly brave, and steadily faithful to his prince, he sacrificed himself in the cause of James, when he was deserted by all the world. If we add, to these attributes, a goodly person, complete skill in martial exercises, and that ready and decisive character, so essential to a commander, we may form some idea of this extraordinary character. The whigs, whom he persecuted daunted by his ferocity and courage, conceived him to be impassive to their bullets,222 and that he had sold himself, for temporal greatness, to the seducer of mankind. It is still believed, that a cup of wine, presented to him by his butler, changed into clotted blood; and that, when he plunged his feet into cold water, their touch caused it to boil. The steed, which bore him, was supposed to be the gift of Satan; and precipices are shewn, where a fox could hardly keep his feet, down which the infernal charger conveyed him safely, in pursuit of the wanderers. It is remembered, with terror, that Claverhouse was successful in every engagement with the whigs, except that at Drumclog, or Loudon-hill, which is the subject of the following ballad. The history of Burly, the hero of the piece, will bring us immediately to the causes and circumstances of that event.

220 Peden complained heavily, that, after a heavy struggle with the devil, he had got above him, spur-galled him hard, and obtained a wind to carry him from Ireland to Scotland, when, behold! another person had set sail, and reaped the advantage of his prayer-wind, before he could embark.]

221 Cleland thus describes this extraordinary army:

— Those, who were their chief commanders,

As sach who bore the pirnie standarts.

Who led the van, and drove the rear,

Were right well mounted of their gear;

With brogues, and trews, and pirnie plaids,

With good blue bonnets on their heads,

Which, oil the one side, had a flipe,

Adorn’d with a tobacco pipe,

With durk, and snap-work, and snuff-mill,

A bag which they with onions fill;

And, as their strict observers say,

A tup-born filled with usquebay;

A slasht out coat beneath her plaides,

A targe of timber, nails, and hides;

With a long two-handed sword,

As good’s the country can afford.

Had they not need of bulk-and bones.

Who fought with all these arms at once?

* * *

Of moral honestie they’re clean,

Nought like religion they retain;

In nothing they’re accounted sharp,

Except in bag-pipe, and in harp;

For a misobliging word,

She’ll durk her neighbour o’er the boord,

And then she’ll flee like fire from flint,

She’ll scarcely ward the second dint;

If any ask her of her thrift.

Forsooth her nainsell lives by thift.

Cleland’s Poems, Edin. 1697, p. 12.

]

222 It was, and is believed, that the devil furnished his favourites, among the persecutors, with what is called proof against leaden bullets, but against those only. During the battle of Pentland-hills Paton of Meadowhead conceived he saw the balls hop harmlessly down from General Dalziel’s boots, and, to counteract the spell, loaded his pistol with a piece of silver coin. But Dalziel, having his eye on him, drew back behind his servant, who was shot dead. —Paton’s Life. At a skirmish, in Ayrshire, some of the wanderers defended themselves in a sequestered house, by the side of a lake. They aimed repeatedly, but in vain, at the commander of the assailants, an English officer, until, their ammunition running short, one of them loaded his piece with the ball at the head of the tongs, and succeeded in shooting the hitherto impenetrable captain. To accommodate Dundee’s fate to their own hypothesis, the Cameronian tradition runs, that, in the battle of Killicrankie, he fell, not by the enemy’s fire, but by the pistol of one of his own servants, who, to avoid the spell, had loaded it with a silver button from his coat. One of their writers argues thus: “Perhaps, some may think this, anent proof-shot, a paradox, and be ready to object here, as formerly concerning Bishop Sharpe and Dalziel — How can the devil have, or give, power to save life? Without entering upon the thing in its reality, I shall only observe, 1. That it is neither in his power, or of his nature, to be a saviour of men’s lives; he is called Apollyon, the destroyer. 2. That, even in this case, he is said only to give enchantment against one kind of metal, and this does not save life: for, though lead could not take Sharpe and Claverhouse’s lives, yet steel and silver could do it; and, for Dalziel, though he died not on the field, yet he did not escape the arrows of the Almighty.”—God’s Judgement against Persecutors. If the reader be not now convinced of the thing in its reality, I have nothing to add to such exquisite reasoning.]

John Balfour of Kinloch, commonly called Burly, was one of the fiercest of the proscribed sect. A gentleman by birth, he was, says his biographer, “zealous and honest-hearted, courageous in every enterprise, and a brave soldier, seldom any escaping that came in his hands.” Life of John Balfour. Creichton says, that he was once chamberlain to Archbishop Sharpe, and, by negligence, or dishonesty, had incurred a large arrear, which occasioned his being active in his master’s assassination. But of this I know no other evidence than Creichton’s assertion, and a hint in Wodrow. Burly, for that is his most common designation, was brother-in-law to Hackston of Rathillet a wild enthusiastic character, who joined daring courage, and skill in the sword, to the fiery zeal of his sect. Burly, himself, was less eminent for religious fervour than for the active and violent share which he had in the most desperate enterprises of his party. His name does not appear among the covenanters, who were denounced for the affair of Pentland. But, in 1677, Robert Hamilton, afterwards commander of the insurgents at Loudon Hill, and Bothwell Bridge, with several other non-conformists, were assembled at this Burly’s house, in Fife. There they were attacked by a party of soldiers, commanded by Captain Carstairs, whom they beat off, wounding desperately one of his party. For this resistance to authority, they were declared rebels. The next exploit, in which Burly was engaged, was of a bloodier complexion, and more dreadful celebrity. It is well known, that James Sharpe, archbishop of St Andrews, was regarded, by the rigid presbyterians, not only as a renegade, who had turned back from the spiritual plough, but as the principal author of the rigours exercised against their sect. He employed, as an agent of his oppression, one Carmichael, a decayed gentleman. The industry of this man, in procuring information, and in enforcing the severe penalties against conventiclers, having excited the resentment of the Cameronians, nine of their number, of whom Burly, and his brother-in-law, Hackston, were the leaders, assembled, with the purpose of way-laying and murdering Carmichael; but, while they searched for him in vain, they received tidings that the archbishop himself was at hand. The party resorted to prayer; after which, they agreed, unanimously, that the Lord had delivered the wicked Haman into their hand. In the execution of the supposed will of heaven, they agreed to put themselves under the command of a leader; and they requested Hackston of Rathillet to accept the office, which he declined alleging, that, should he comply with their request, the slaughter might be imputed to a private quarrel, which existed betwixt him and the archbishop. The command was then offered to Burly, who accepted it without scruple; and they galloped off in pursuit of the archbishop’s carriage, which contained himself and his daughter. Being well mounted, they easily overtook and disarmed the prelate’s attendants. Burly, crying out, “Judas, be taken!” rode up to the carriage, wounded the postillion and ham-strung one of the horses. He then fired into the coach a piece, charged with several bullets, so near, that the archbishop’s gown was set on fire. The rest, coming up, dismounted, and dragged him out of the carriage, when, frightened and wounded, he crawled towards Hackston, who still remained on horseback, and begged for mercy. The stern enthusiast contented himself with answering, that he would not himself lay a hand on him. Burly and his men again fired a volley upon the kneeling old man; and were in the act of riding off, when one, who remained to girth his horse, unfortunately heard the daughter of their victim call to the servant for help, exclaiming, that his master was still alive. Burly then again dismounted, struck off the prelate’s hat with his foot, and split his skull with his shable (broad sword), although one of the party (probably Rathillet) exclaimed, “Spare these grey hairs!”223 The rest pierced him with repeated wounds. They plundered the carriage, and rode off, leaving, beside the mangled corpse, the daughter, who was herself wounded, in her pious endeavour to interpose betwixt her father and his murderers. The murder is accurately represented, in bas-relief, upon a beautiful monument erected to the memory of Archbishop Sharpe, in the metropolitan church of St Andrews. This memorable example of fanatic revenge was acted upon Magus Muir, near St Andrews, 3d May, 1679.224

223 They believed Sharpe to be proof against shot; for one of the murderers told Wodrow, that, at the sight of cold iron, his courage fell. They no longer doubted this, when they found in his pocket a small clue of silk, rolled round a bit of parchment, marked with two long words, in Hebrew or Chaldaic characters. Accordingly, it is still averred, that the balls only left blue marks on the prelate’s neck and breast, although the discharge was so near as to burn his clothes.]

224 The question, whether the bishop of St Andrews’ death was murder was a shibboleth, or experimentum crucis, frequently put to the apprehended conventiclers. Isabel Alison, executed at Edinburgh, 26th January, 1681, was interrogated, before the privy council, if she conversed with David Hackston? “I answered, I did converse with him, and I bless the Lord that ever I saw him; for I never saw ought in him but a godly pious youth. They asked, if the killing of the bishop of St Andrews was a pious act? I answered, I never heard him say he killed him; but, if God moved any, and put it upon them, to execute his righteous judgment upon him, I have nothing to say to that. They asked me, when saw ye John Balfour (Burly), that pious youth? I answered, I have seen him. They asked, when? I answered, these are frivolous questions; I am not bound to answer them.” Cloud of Witnesses, p. 85.]

Burly was, of course, obliged to leave Fife; and, upon the 25th of the same month, he arrived in Evandale, in Lanarkshire, along with Hackston, and a fellow, called Dingwall, or Daniel, one of the same bloody band. Here he joined his old friend Hamilton, already mentioned; and, as they resolved to take up arms, they were soon at the head of such a body of the “chased and tossed western men,” as they thought equal to keep the field. They resolved to commence their exploits upon the 29th of May, 1679, being the anniversary of the Restoration, appointed to be kept as a holiday, by act of parliament; an institution which they esteemed a presumptuous and unholy solemnity. Accordingly, at the head of eighty horse, tolerably appointed, Hamilton, Burly, and Hackston, entered the royal burgh of Rutherglen, extinguished the bonfires, made in honour of the day; burned at the cross the acts of parliament in favour of prelacy, and for suppression of conventicles, as well as those acts of council, which regulated the indulgence granted to presbyterians. Against all these acts they entered their solemn protest, or testimony, as they called it; and, having affixed it to the cross, concluded with prayer and psalms. Being now joined by a large body of foot, so that their strength seems to have amounted to five or six hundred men, though very indifferently armed, they encamped upon Loudoun Hill. Claverhouse, who was in garrison at Glasgow, instantly marched against the insurgents, at the head of his own troop of cavalry and others, amounting to about one hundred and fifty men. He arrived at Hamilton, on the 1st of June, so unexpectedly, as to make prisoner John King, a famous preacher among the wanderers; and rapidly continued his march, carrying his captive along with him, till he came to the village of Drumclog, about a mile east of Loudoun Hill, and twelve miles south-west of Hamilton. At some distance from this place, the insurgents were skilfully posted in a boggy strait, almost inaccessible to cavalry, having a broad ditch in their front. Claverhouse’s dragoons discharged their carabines, and made an attempt to charge; but the nature of the ground threw them into total disorder. Burly, who commanded the handful of horse belonging to the whigs, instantly led them down on the disordered squadrons of Claverhouse, who were, at the same time, vigorously assaulted by the foot, headed by the gallant Cleland,225 and the enthusiastic Hackston. Claverhouse himself was forced to fly, and was in the utmost danger of being taken; his horse’s belly being cut open by the stroke of a scythe, so that the poor animal trailed his bowels for more than a mile. In his flight, he passed King, the minister, lately his prisoner, but now deserted by his guard, in the general confusion. The preacher hollowed to the flying commander, “to halt, and take his prisoner with him;” or, as others say, “to stay, and take the afternoon’s preaching.” Claverhouse, at length remounted, continued his retreat to Glasgow. He lost, in the skirmish, about twenty of his troopers, and his own cornet and kinsman, Robert Graham, whose fate is alluded to in the ballad. Only four of the other side were killed, among whom was Dingwall, or Daniel, an associate of Burly in Sharpe’s murder. “The rebels,” says Creichton, “finding the cornet’s body, and supposing it to be that of Clavers, because the name of Graham was wrought in the shirt-neck, treated it with the utmost inhumanity; cutting off the nose, picking out the eyes, and stabbing it through in a hundred places.” The same charge is brought by Guild, in his Bellum Bothuellianum, in which occurs the following account of the skirmish at Drumclog:—

Mons est occiduus surgit qui celsus in oris

(Nomine Loudunum) fossis puteisque profundis

Quot scatet hic tellus et aprico gramine tectus:

Huc collecta (ait) numeroso milite cincta;

Turba ferox, matres, pueri, innuptaeque puellae;

Quam parat egregia Graemus dispersere turma.

Venit, et primo campo discedere cogit;

Post hos et alios, caeno provolvit inerti;

At numerosa cohors, campum dispersa per omnem,

Circumfusa, ruit; turmasque indagine captas,

Aggreditur; virtus non hic, nec profuit ensis;

Corripuere fugam, viridi sed gramine tectis,

Precipitata perit, fossis, pars plurima, quorum

Cornipedes haesere luto, sessore rejecto:

Tum rabiosa cohors, misereri nescia, stratos

Invadit laceratque viros: hic signifer eheu!

Trajectus globulo, Graemus quo fortior alter,

Inter Scotigenas fuerat, nec justior ullus:

Hunc manibus rapuere feris, faciemque virilem

Faedarunt, lingua, auriculus, manibusque resectis,

Aspera, diffuso, spargentes saxa, cerebro:

Vix dux ipse fuga salvus, namque exta trahebat

Vulnere tardatus, sonipes generosus hiante:

Insequitur clamore, cohors fanatica, namque

Crudelis semper timidus si vicerit unquam.

MS. Bellum Bothuellianum.

225 William Cleland, a man of considerable genius, was author of several poems, published in 1697. His Hudibrastic verses are poor scurrilous trash, as the reader may judge from the description of the Highlanders, already quoted. But, in a wild rhapsody, entitled, “Hollo, my Fancy,” he displays some imagination. His anti-monarchical principles seem to break out in the following lines:—

Fain would I know (if beasts have any reason)

If falcons killing eagles do commit a treason?

He was a strict non-conformist, and, after the Revolution, became lieutenant colonel of the earl of Angus’s regiment, called the Cameronian regiment. He was killed 21st August, 1689, in the churchyard of Dunkeld, which his corps manfully and successfully defended against a superior body of Highlanders. His son was the author of the letter prefixed to the Dunciad, and is said to have been the notorious Cleland, who, in circumstances of pecuniary embarrassment, prostituted his talents to the composition of indecent and infamous works; but this seems inconsistent with dates, and the latter personage was probably the grandson of Colonel Cleland.]

Although Burly was among the most active leaders in the action, he was not the commander in chief, as one would conceive from the ballad. That honour belonged to Robert Hamilton, brother to Sir William Hamilton of Preston, a gentleman, who, like most of those at Drumclog, had imbibed the very wildest principles of fanaticism. The Cameronian account of the insurrection states, that “Mr Hamilton discovered a great deal of bravery and valour, both in the conflict with, and pursuit of the enemy; but when he and some others were pursuing the enemy, others flew too greedily upon the spoil, small as it was, instead of pursuing the victory: and some, without Mr Hamilton’s knowledge, and against his strict command, gave five of these bloody enemies quarters, and then let them go: this greatly grieved Mr Hamilton, when he saw some of Babel’s brats spared, after the Lord had delivered them to their hands, that they might dash them against the stones.” Psalm cxxxvii. 9. In his own account of this, “he reckons the sparing of these enemies, and letting them go, to be among their first stepping aside; for which, he feared that the Lord would not honour them to do much more for him; and says, that he was neither for taking favours from, nor giving favours to the Lord’s enemies.” Burly was not a likely man to fall into this sort of backsliding. He disarmed one of the duke of Hamilton’s servants, who had been in the action, and desired him to tell his master, he would keep, till meeting, the pistols he had taken from him. The man described Burly to the duke as a little stout man, squint-eyed, and of a most ferocious aspect; from which it appears, that Burly’s figure corresponded to his manners, and perhaps gave rise to his nickname, Burly signifying strong. He was with the insurgents till the battle of Bothwell Bridge, and afterwards fled to Holland. He joined the prince of Orange, but died at sea, during the expedition. The Cameronians still believe, he had obtained liberty from the prince to be avenged of those who had persecuted the Lord’s people; but through his death, the laudable design of purging the land with their blood, is supposed to have fallen to the ground. —Life of Balfour of Kinloch.

The consequences of the battle of Loudon Hill will be detailed in the introduction to the next ballad.

The Battle of Loudonhill.

You’l marvel when I tell ye o’

Our noble Burly, and his train;

When last he march’d up thro’ the land,

Wi’ sax and twenty westland men.

Than they I ne’er o’ braver heard,

For they had a’ baith wit and skill

They proved right well, as I heard tell,

As they cam up o’er Loudoun Hill.

Weel prosper a’ the gospel lads,

That are into the west countrie;

Ay wicked Claver’se to demean,

And ay an ill dead may he die!

For he’s drawn up i’ battle rank,

An’ that baith soon an’ hastilie;

But they wha live till simmer come,

Some bludie days for this will see.

But up spak cruel Claver’se then,

Wi’ hastie wit, an’ wicked skill;

“Gie fire on yon westlan’ men;

“I think it is my sov’reign’s will.”

But up bespake his cornet, then,

“It’s be wi’ nae consent o’ me!

“I ken I’ll ne’er come back again,

“An’ mony mae as weel as me.

“There is not ane of a’ yon men,

“But wha is worthy other three;

“There is na ane amang them a’,

“That in his cause will stap to die.

“An’ as for Burly, him I knaw;

“He’s a man of honour, birth, an’ fame;

“Gie him a sword into his hand,

“He’ll fight thysel an’ other ten.”

But up spake wicked Claver’se then,

I wat his heart it raise fu’ hie!

And he has cry’d that a’ might hear,

“Man, ye hae sair deceived me.

“I never ken’d the like afore,

“Na, never since I came frae hame,

“That you sae cowardly here suld prove,

“An’ yet come of a noble Graeme.”

But up bespake his cornet, then,

“Since that it is your honour’s will,

“Mysel shall be the foremost man,

“That shall gie fire on Loudoun Hill.

“At your command I’ll lead them on,

“But yet wi’ nae consent o’ me;

“For weel I ken I’ll ne’er return,

“And mony mae as weel as me.”

Then up he drew in battle rank;

I wat he had a bonny train!

But the first time that bullets flew,

Ay he lost twenty o’ his men.

Then back he came the way he gael,

I wat right soon an’ suddenly!

He gave command amang his men,

And sent them back, and bade them flee.

Then up came Burly, bauld an’ stout,

Wi’s little train o’ westland men;

Wha mair than either aince or twice

In Edinburgh confined had been.

They hae been up to London sent,

An’ yet they’re a’ come safely down;

Sax troop o’ horsemen they hae beat,

And chased them into Glasgow town.

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