Battle of Drumclog
Drumclog proved that there was no hiding place from religious conflict in Scotland during a period pockmarked by the fierce power struggle between the Scottish Covenanters and the Royalists under King Charles Stewart II .
With their parliamentary sensibilities, the Restoration of 1660 brought new hardships upon the Covenanters. Persecution was rife, and in a tense atmosphere of Royalist retribution there were green shoots of a rebellion afresh. At stake was religious freedom – one liberty that has rarely been achieved without bloodshed. The Battle of Drumclog, in South Lanarkshire, was seen as a precursor to the larger conflict at Bothwell Bridge that took place three weeks later.
The Restoration forced Presbyterians into a covert divorce from the Church, and into clandestine prayer meetings. Ministers, driven under ground by the status quo of the Episcopacy, would gather with Covenanter sympathisers in conventicles, where prayers and politics could be shared, and the Covenanter movement could be kept alive. Under the leadership of firebrand reverends, Rebellion was again fermenting in the Presbyterian heartlands of Southwest Scotland, Ayrshire and Lanarkshire. All that was missing was the renewal of full-scale combat. With the Royalists in pursuit of the Covenanters it was only a matter of time.
The conventicles always had the potential to end in violence – Drumclog realised this when Royalist forces under the command of John Graham of Claverhouse gained intelligence of a Covenanter assembly underway in the shadow of Loudoun Hill. Claverhouse’s men were under instructions to disperse the conventicles, for they were a threat to the ruling order.
Around 200 Covenanters broke from the sermon in preparation for the battle. Claverhouse came to break them up, and they had stayed to rebel. Positioning themselves between the bog and the advancing Royalists, the Covenanters under William Cleland and Robert Hamilton took the initiative. And with some 40 mounted soldiers to accompany their sword and musket men, they had plenty to keep Claverhouse’s dragoons busy. As battle commenced, Cleland flanked the Royalists; Hamilton’s men stood firm under heavy fire, the heavy ground keeping them at arm’s length from Claverhouse, while Cleland’s men caused havoc, splitting Claverhouse’s offensive.
The 1st June, 1679 was an eventful day for the Covenanters. A morning sermon was succeeded by the intense conflict that saw Claverhouse’s men, not only repelled, but routed by the rebels.
However, it would be a temporary fillip; Bothwell Bridge would see the Royalists return in number, and reverse Drumclog in kind. Still, Drumclog set the precedent: the rebellion was alive.
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