Covenanter Rebellion Gallery & History

“The Killing Times”

A brief history

In 1639 at Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh the National Covenant was signed by a large group who were opposed to the religious reforms of Charles I. This led to a series of armed actions between the Covenanting Army of Scotland and Charles I’s English Army from 1639 to 1640 known as the First and Second Bishop’s Wars. The Scots were bought off after they invaded England and took Newcastle. An uneasy peace was maintained for the next two years until the English Parliament and Charles I’s Royalists entered into the English Civil War.

In 1644 the Scots Covenanters joined the Civil War on the Parliament side and once again entered England. They eventually captured Charles I who they then handed over to Parliament. Not all the fighting against the Royalists was done south of the border as the Covenanters also fought the Royalist Montrose in Scotland.

Further chapters to the Civil War continued to be played out involving the Covenanters who were not always on the Parliament side. Later on they fought for the Royalists at Preston and then against Cromwell in Scotland in 1650/51 and again in England at Worcester 1651.

In 1660 the Restoration of Charles II brought further conflict for the Covenanters as he brought in Episcopalian reforms which pushed out the Covenanting Presbyterian Ministers. Followers of the Ministers held open air Conventicles which were outlawed and this led to conflict between them and the Government Militia. Between 1666 and 1679 a number of battles and skirmishes took place involving the Covenanters and Government troops.

 

The Battle of Bothwell Bridge 22nd June 1679

Following the seizure of Glasgow by the Covenanters the Government sent Charles II’s illegitimate son James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth, to organise the Scottish Army and to put down the rebellion. He met the Scottish Royalist Army in West Lothian on the 19th June and advanced towards Glasgow to confront the Covenanters.

The Covenanters, however, had left Glasgow and made their way south, crossing the river Clyde at Bothwell Bridge where they then camped on Hamilton Moor to discuss their next move. The Covenanter leader, Robert Hamilton, had approximately 7000 men under his command including horse, foot (some armed with firearms but predominantly with mixed hand weapons) and one cannon. On the morning of the 22nd Hamilton had three troops of horse, the cannon and two companies of foot at the south end of the Bothwell Bridge next to the buildings located there. The foot, under David Hackston of Rathillet, consisted of musketeers who were in a position to defend the bridge alongside the cannon. The rest of the army were lined out for battle about half a mile further south.

Monmouth’s army advanced towards Bothwell from the north on the morning of the 22nd and the advanced guard is believed to have contained the Fourth (Scottish, newly raised) Troop of Life Guards, three troops of Oglethorp’s Dragoons, a company of Scots Guards and David Leslie’s battery of artillery. The remainder of the army consisted of militia foot, horse and dragoons.

Before the commencement of hostilities Monmouth gave the Covenanters an hour to lay down their arms to which Hamilton refused. Monmouth then sent forward the Scots Guards and dismounted Oglethorp’s Dragoons to allow Leslie’s battery to deploy. As they were doing this the Covenanter cannon opened fire and scored a direct hit upon the Royalist battery causing the gunners to scatter. They were berated by Leslie and soon his artillerymen were back to their guns and began to open up on the Covenanter horse near the bridge causing them to move away out of control. The Scots Guards and Dragoons then opened fire upon the defenders eventually driving them back after a firefight allowing the Royalists to storm across the bridge and capture the rebel cannon. The Covenanter musketeers made their way back to the main part of the army where they then formed up alongside the other units to receive the Royalist attack.

Monmouth’s army poured across the bridge and formed up with the foot in the centre and horse and dragoons on either flank. Leslie’s artillery deployed on a slope to the right of the centre facing the Covenanters and Atholl’s Highlanders filled a hollow to the left of the guns supported by five troops of dragoons. The Covenanters were formed up in a similar pattern to the Royalists but much deeper as they outnumbered their enemy three to one and now without their cannon. The Covenanters believing they had seen a weakness in Monmouth’s right flank began to strengthen their foot units on the left and attacked the hollow where the Highlanders were and drove them back through sheer weight of numbers. The Royalist artillery opened fire against the Covenanter horse opposite them who were supporting the advancing foot and drove them away. The foot units without their support followed the cavalry and Monmouth ordered Oglethorp’s Dragoons, Major Mayn and Captain Claverhouse’s troops of horse and the Earl of Eglington’s volunteer horse, on his right flank, to pursue.

On seeing this the right wing of the Covenanters withdrew to make a stand 500 yards further south but a few rounds from Monmouth’s cannon put them to flight and the battle was over. Around 700 Covenanters were believed to have been killed in the battle with a further 1200 taken prisoner. The rest of the army melted away back to their homes. Of the Covenanters which were taken prisoner most were freed after they made oaths of good behaviour, some were executed while 209 died in a shipwreck while they were being transported to Barbados to be sold as slaves.

Hexham, Northumberland    ||    paintinghistory@live.co.uk    ||    01434 600529

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