The Pentland Rising - Rullion Green.

 The Pentland Rising and the Battle of Rullion Green  is an important event in Covenanter history because it was the first time the rullboard.jpg (27609 bytes)Covenanters had come together as a substantial force to protest the constraints upon their religion since the Restoration of King Charles II. Significantly it arose not from any great machinations of rebellion, but was a spontaneous event; the protest of downtrodden people against taskmasters whose cruelties had become insufferable .From its sudden inception until its bloody close only two weeks elapsed.

Rullion Green lies about 8 miles south of Edinburgh on the slopes of the Pentland Hills Rullion Green enclosure.and was, as now, prime sheep country. On the fringe of a small wood there is a railed enclosure containing a single headstone commemorating the events of 1666. In April, 2000, the inscriptions on the solitary stone were almost indecipherable and badly in need of cleaning.

  Side 1. Here and near to this place lyes the Reverend Mr John Crookshank** and Mr Andrew M'cormick ministers of the Gospel and About fifty other true covenanted Presbyterians who were killed in this place in their own Inocent self defence and defence of the covenanted work of Reformation By Thomas Dalzeel of Bins upon the 28 of november 1666 Rev 12. 11 Erected September 28, 1738.

Side 2. A cloud of witnesses lyes here, who for Christ's interest did appear For to restore true Liberty Overturned then by Tyrrany And by Proud Prelats who did rage Against the Lord's own heritage. They sacrificed were for the Laws Of Christ their King, his noble cause, These heroes fought with great renown, By falling got the Martyr`' Crown.

** Wodrow says John Crookshanks ( Minister of Redgorton) was slain at Pentland, but this was probably his son John, who was some time regent in Edinburgh Univ., and ordained to Convoy and Raphoe in Ireland before 1661.[Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, H Scott (1915) rev 1917, 1920vol 4 p 240 Redgorton, 1626].

Pressure had been building on the Covenanter ministers from 1662, when about 400 were ejected from their churches, and in 1664  more rules were introduced which prohibited any ejected minister living within 20 miles of his former church. Severe penalties were imposed on parishioners who failed to attend church services conducted by curates appointed by the government. The curates were required to furnish names of absentees from church to local military commanders for enforcement of fines. The military were frequently cruel and would be quartered on a a defaulter until the fine was paid, in the meantime eating him out of house and home and stealing his goods, chattels and livestock.

 The spark to the march on Edinburgh occurred on November 13, 1666, at St. John's Dalry in Kirkcudbrightshire. An elderly man by the name of John Grier was unable to pay a fine for not attending church and was beaten severely by some of Sir James Turner's soldiers. A group of four local Covenanters led by MacLellan of Barscobe happened to be in the village . They went to the rescue and entreated the soldiers to let the old man go. However, swords were drawn  and a pistol shot (loaded with a piece of clay pipe in the absence of a ball) wounded one of the soldiers, a Corporal George Deane. The Covenanters were joined by other villagers who helped disarm the soldiers. 

A crowd of about ninety people gathered including a local landlord, John Neilson of Corsock. Reckoning that they would be severely punished by other soldiers in the vicinity, they resolved to take them prisoner. Knowing also, that they would receive little mercy from Sir James Turner, they decided to march on Dumfries where he was based. On their way they repeated their deed in Balmaclellan where they took 16 soldiers prisoner, killing one. So it happened that a band, now grown to about 250, marched to Baillie Finnie`s house in Dumfries between eight and nine in the morning of 15 November 1666.  Here  they took prisoner their zealous persecutor and local military commander, Sir James Turner - still in his nightclothes. They relieved him of monies sent from Edinburgh for paying his soldiers, and also fines that they had collected. His troops, of which there were only a dozen or so in the town, were disarmed with one soldier wounded. A curious incident then followed when the monies they had seized was entrusted to a Captain Gray, who promptly decamped with it the following night - never to be seen again.

The protesters came mainly from the West of Scotland, from Dumfries and Galloway, Ayrshire, and Lanarkshire, where the ministers, who had been ejected from their churches, continued preaching by holding open air meetings, called "conventicles". To hold such meetings was an offence and many suffered for it, but their flock grew, especially among the peasantry.  At Bridge of Doon, the Covenanters found their military leader in Colonel James Wallace of Auchens , anrullslopes.jpg (13524 bytes) experienced soldier who joined them along with his deputies Major Learmouth, Captain Arnot and Captain Paton of Meadowhead. In a turn of fortunes these  men had once stood shoulder to shoulder with Dalziel of the Binns at Worcester in 1651, but now found themselves on opposing sides. Having some professional leadership, the gathering multitude marched to Ayr. They collected further recruits at Mauchline and Lesmahagow and by the time they had swung round to Lanark they numbered about 1200. At Lanark it was decided to renew the Covenants, which prompted additional recruits, and brought the total to about 3000. 

When the news of the rising reached Edinburgh Commissioner Rothes was in London and Archbishop Sharp  was President of the Council. Sharp summoned a meeting of the Council and issued instructions  to General Thomas Dalziel of the Binns, commander of the army. Dalziel was dispatched to Glasgow, where he levied conscripts, with instructions to march upon the rebels wherever they were found. The noblemen in the south and west were directed to hold themselves ready to join the royal forces. Sharp`s presumptive action did not sit well with the nobility who sarcastically  asked if there was no one but a priest to issue orders in an emergency. 

With Dalziel and some 2,500 troops in the vicinity of Lanark  the Covenanters decided to head for Edinburgh with the intention of making representations against the harsh regime. But clearly, the force was seen also as a threat to the government and the King. Unfortunately they chose to march to Bathgate on possibly the worst road in Scotland - over an almost impossible moor. To make things worse the weather was foul with torrential rain and no shelter or support was forthcoming when they arrived. In consequence their numbers began reducing as  almost half the company headed for home. On November 25, the rebels reached Colinton about five miles from Edinburgh where messengers advised that the gates were armed with cannon and there was no support for their cause in the city. With this disheartening news it was decided to return to Galloway and many more of the band went their different ways.

On afternoon of Wednesday November 28 1666, the  rebels paraded on the slopes of Rullion Green not so much to fight but  for review by Colonel Wallace, who was concerned at their low spirits and the continuing desertions. Their spirits revived  when horsemen were seen coming from the west - hopes were that reinforcements had arrived from West Lothian. But the sound of kettle drums and fluttering standards showed them to be the vanguard of  Dalziel`s troops, who had learned of their whereabouts in the village of Currie and had taken a short cut through the hills to intercept them.  His 3,000 (some say 5,000) semi and professional soldiers met strong resistance from a force of about 900 that had the advantage of the ground.

The battle ground is a long slope, highest at the north end.  Colonel Wallace  placed the gentlemen of Galloway, on horses, commanded by McLellan of Barscobe, at the south end.  Those on foot were placed in the centre, and the greater part of the cavalry under Major Learmont on the other wing .  Dalziel was a seasoned commander who had seen service in Russia and Poland and had gained a fearsome reputation as `the Beast of Muscovy`. His military skills soon came into play. After some time viewing the opposition Dalziel sent about fifty horse to attack the Covenanters on  lowest end of the slope - which was soon countered by Captain Arnot and his horse. Being forced to retire and regroup, Dalziel then ordered a charge against Major Learmont that was also rebuffed. At about sunset Dalziel moved his entire force forward and attacked the centre which soon crumbled under the onslaught and was unable to rally. The sheer weight of penthills.jpg (17493 bytes)numbers eventually crushed the Covenanters who fled into the Pentland Hills leaving two ministers from Ulster and about 50 Covenanters dead on the slopes of Rullion Green. Colonel Wallace later said

" we were beaten back, and the enemy came in so full a body and with so fresh a charge, that, having us once running, they carried it strongly home, and put us in such confusion that there was no rallying."

 Several of the wounded Covenanters were brought in by country people and others were shot or slain in their flight and were buried in neighbouring kirkyards of Penicuik and Glencorse. The kirk session records of Penicuik lists a payment to a grave digger of 3s 4d for "making westlandmen's graves".

Colonel Wallace survived the battle and went to Holland leaving a terrible condemnation of the local people who, he said, left the Covenanters unburied for a day and a night and stripped the bodies of their apparel. It was the women of Edinburgh who came and wrapped the bodies with winding sheets and buried them. About 70 - 100 prisoners were taken, mostly having been given quarter but about 30 were hanged at the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh and at various places in the South West as a warning to others. Many of the wounded are believed to have died in the bogs and on the moors when trying to reach their homelands in the west. He died in Rotterdam in 1678. Robert McWard writing to John Blackadder said of Wallace`s  last days

" if the cause for which he had suffered was mentioned, when it was scarce  believed he understood or could speak, there was a sunshine of serene joy looked out of his countenance ..."

 One tale is told of a nameless Covenanter dying from his wounds, who reached the home of an Adam Sanderson, a farmer at Blackhill. The wounded man sought relief and wished to be on his way soon realising the danger to his host but in a parlous state and dying asked to be buried in sight of his homeland of Ayrshire. The next day he was found dead and Adam Sanderson carried the body to a spot on Black Law and buried him. A tombstone marks the spot, from which on a clear day Ayrshire can be seen over twenty miles away.

The Pentland Rising came as a great shock to the Duke of Rothes, the King`s Commissioner in Scotland, and his cohort, Archbishop Sharp, who had earlier sought the King's permission to bring back the Court of High Commission to deal with the summary trial and conviction of the troublesome Covenanters. With these absolute powers the persecution of the Presbyterians took a bloody turn.  Not content with having prisoners, a harsh Proclamation was made on December 4th which was intended to make  the lives of those who escaped as uncomfortable as possible. This declared many named persons, as well as all persons generally who took part, as rebels and traitors and forbade anyone having contact with them or harbouring them, supplying them etc. Among those named was the celebrated Alexander Peden, and also a Mr Orr (no other particulars  are given  although the title Mr is normally given to ministers of the kirk;  he may have been one of the Covenanter Orrs from Lochwinnoch.) 

About 70-100 prisoners from Rullion Green were taken to Edinburgh and incarcerated in a small room in St Giles Cathedral, called  Haddo`s Hole. The alleged leaders were held in the Edinburgh martyrsmon.jpg (40955 bytes)Tolbooth and rapidly hauled before the Court for trial. Ten of their number were hung on December 7, 1666 . After death their right hands were cut off and sent to be nailed to the prison door at Lanark and their severed heads sent to their respective home areas to be exhibited as a warning. Five more were executed on December 14 and six more on December 22 - a bloody Christmas message indeed for the Covenanters. They were the early victims whose remains were buried in a corner of Greyfriars Kirk where stands the Martyrs` Monument.

 Elsewhere there was a bloody price paid. In Ayr, eight men were sentenced to hang but the official hangmen from Ayr and nearby Irvine both declined to act. One of the prisoners, Cornelius Anderson, was bribed, made drunk and acted as hangman for the remaining seven. Anderson also acted as hangman at the execution of two more Covenanters in Irvine.

 In Glasgow four men were executed on December 19, 1666 and two more in Dumfries on January 2, 1667. For the lucky ones, if such it was, the prisons were overflowing with Covenanters and many were transported to slavery in the West Indies and the American colonies.

So it was that the Pentland Rising was put down but it left a fear in the government: they had seen that the Covenanters were capable of banding together and could be an effective military force. On the other hand, the excesses of retribution by the Duke of Rothes were subject to political pressures and he was replaced in 1667 by John Maitland, Earl and later Duke of Lauderdale, a more humane man under whom repression eased for a while - but only for a while !

  Rullion Green by Prof. John Stuart Blackie

Say not that they were harsh and stern and sour,
Or say they were so, but not therefore base;
In iron times God sends with mighty power
Iron apostles to make smooth His ways;
And hearts of rock, close - clamped with many a bar.
He plants where angry billows lash the shore;
Thus love by fear, thus peace is pledged by war-
(Stern law !) and gospel paths are paved in gore;
We reap in ease what they did sow in toil,
And rate them harsh, and stern, and sour the while.

Rude warriors, rest ! God from that ill wrought good;
Your strong endurance wrought  strong hate of wrong,
Let dark Dunnottar`s dungeon solitude,
And the strong Bass, attest your sufferings long;
No polished pen, no smooth and courtly verse,
Ye need to prove the virtue of your crime;
Pentland`s green slopes, and the black moors o` the Merse
Shall be your record to remotest time;
Ourselves your sons, inheriting your stuff
While we are worthy, shall be praise enough. 

The Pentland Hills by Baroness Nairne.

The pilgrim`s feet here oft will tread
O`er this sequestered scene,
To mark where Scotland`s martyrs lie
In lonely Rullion Green;
To muse on those who fought and fell -
All Presbyterians true;
Who held the League and Covenant -
Who waved the banner blue !

Ah ! here they sang the holy strain -
Sweet Martyr`s melody;
When every heart and every voice
Arose in harmony.
The list`ing  echoes all around
Gave back their soft reply,
While angels heard the hallow`d sound,
And bore it to the sky.

Alasdair Alpin McGregor in his Buried Barony  (1949) tells how as a schoolboy he had heard the annual service at Flotterstane Haugh Field, and in 1945  he attended the first post war service there. When I visited the Rullion Green memorial in April 1999 the farmer assured me that there were regular and very well attended meetings still held each year.

Proclamation of rebellion 4 December 1666

Mauchline Moor 12 June 1648

Drumclog  1 June 1679

Bothwell Brig 22 June 1679

Ayrs Moss 22 July 1680

A poem about the Whigs and Rullion Green (S Colvin, 1711).

Music commemorating the Pentland Rising; courtesy George Robertson, ( a descendant of Covenanter John Whitelaw ).



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