The Fiery Cross in Moray and Ross, 1679.
A curious event at the time of Bothwell Brig concerned the sworn appearance of the ancient call to arms – the Fiery Cross, or Crann Taire. This was a traditional demand by a clan chieftain for all his supporters to gather in full armour and accoutrements to defend the clans` rights, lands and property. It was more than a summons, as failure to obey was the highest dishonour for a family and meant rejection and perpetual disgrace. The cross itself has been described as ” a fiery stick, kindled at both ends, and set upon a pole, and carried in a man`s hands” and, ” one of the ends of the horizontal piece was either burnt or burning, and a piece of linen or white cloth stained with blood was suspended from the other end; and then the signal was passed from hand to hand, till it had passed through the whole territories of the clan.” The last official time the signal was used by the government seems to have been on 9 June 1685 when sent through Fife and Kinross to raise the people against the Earl of Argyll`s rebellion. It was used by Highland chiefs during the 1715 and 1745 Jacobite rebellions.
Following Drumclog, three weeks before the battle at Bothwell Brig, a general muster of troops had been ordered by the government to deal with the rebellion. As such, many men in the North would have had a liability to serve against the Covenanters, even though some who mustered at Stirling harboured sympathy for them. It then seems that the government suspected that support was not being given as well it might be. Their suspicion was kindled by a story that the Fiery Cross had traversed the district from the region of Nairn to Elgin, and also from Strathspey , Rothes, Knockando, Birnie and Urquhart. The story was that the MacDonalds were gathering to descend on the rich low lying lands of the sea shore and thus the men of Moray were duty bound to defend their lands and cattle from the raiders, rather than join the muster. In the event no MacDonalds appeared , either daunted by the energetic steps taken to resist or, the local gentry had been misinformed of the intentions. The suspicion was that someone, a supporter of the Covenanters, had deliberately misinformed thus frustrating the muster.
The privy Council ordered an inquiry into the matter. Many people were examined under oath and a mass of evidence collected, but nothing was found to positively tie in Covenanter supporters. The nearest to welcoming the incident was the Laird of Grant, son in law of Brodie of Lethen, who discouraged his friends ( and father in law) from joining the government`s muster. Brodie had spoken to several other gentlemen friends at a funeral they all attended at Auldearn, the result of which was the Fiery Cross.
In some ways the incident was a clever ploi to help the Covenanters against the government; but as an isolated incident it merely fed the government`s paranoia and offered the opportunity to seek out cause for further fines to be imposed on Covenanter sympathisers. The Brodie family had already suffered considerable penalties which James Brodie had sarcastically called a `Voluntary Cess`, and George Pringle of Torwoodlee, a noted Covenanter, was the son in law of Lethen. The Laird of Grant had been fined 42,500 pounds Scots; James Brodie of Brodie fined 24,000 pounds Scots; Brodie of Lethen 40,000 pounds Scots; Brodie of Milton 10,000 pounds Scots and several others fined smaller sums and or banished. Their crimes were the usual “withdrawing from ordinances” “hearing outed ministers”; keeping unlicensed chaplains”; “holding house conventicles”; “entertaining vagrant preachers”. In some instances the lairds were “fined and amerciated” for “the delinquencies, disorders and irregularities” of their wives. Since the sums involved would have ruined them , the gentlemen, led by the Laird of Grant had petitioned the Privy Council to no avail ( the fines were too good an opportunity to be missed by the avaricious and grasping members of the Council). The Laird of Grant sought a review as one of the charges was keeping an unlicensed chaplian. But, he explained, Mr Alexander Fraser was a tenant of his paying rent for a farm, and a minister approved by Bishop Murdoch McKenzie for appointment to the living at the Kirk of Daviot. It did no good. Brodie of Brodie went to London to seek reduction of his fine but only succeeded in giving bond for 22,000 merks to a Colonel Maxwell ( a Papist) to whom the sum was paid. The fine was gifted to the Popish College at Douay in France, and a large portion was paid to the newly converted papist the Earl of Perth.