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The Highland Host of 1678
Chapter I - The Situation


CHARLES II. had, by 1677, ruled over Scotland for seventeen years, a period marked chiefly by attempts to establish himself as supreme in all matters both civil and ecclesiastical. By the aid of his Privy Council, now presided over by Lauderdale, - he ruled Scotland as an absolute monarch who, nevertheless, had not yet learned the temper of his subjects, and was as far distant as his father had been from understanding the religious conscience of the Whigs of Western Scotland, who still, as in 1638, demanded the abolition of bishops and the establishment of a free General Assembly. To them Presbyterianism meant not only religious but also civic freedom, while Episcopacy still stood for bondage of conscience and constitutional slavery. The years of coercion and repression had served but to render them more determined to resist all interference with their Scottish Church, and less likely to be easily reconciled to rulers who had signally failed to gain their religious sympathies.

Lauderdale, the head of the King's Government in Scotland, was a fitting instrument for any measure of tyranny adopted against these unbending Presbyterians; shortsighted as his master, and as strong in his own conceit, he showed himself as little aware as Charles himself that all government must depend ultimately upon the good-will of those governed. In his younger days, he had been looked upon with favour by the covenanter Baillie, who had commended him as "a youth that brings, by his noble carriage, credit to our nation, and help to our cause." [Robert Baillie, Letters and Journals, edited by Laing, vol. ii. p. 107.] But thirty-five years had elapsed since these words were written, and this long period of evil living had sadly altered both outward appearance and moral character, rendering him one of the least likely of men to appeal to the stern, ascetic mind of the Covenanters. Abhorred as the author of these acts of oppression under which they groaned, he was incapable of arousing in those whose obedience he sought any feelings other than utter loathing and the deepest hatred. [Sir George Mackenzie, Memoirs, pp. 157, 158.]

Lauderdale, since 1669, had striven, though with signal want of success, to coerce the -malcontents. Letters of Indulgence, acts against conventicles, the declaring of all heritors and masters responsible for the conformity of their tenants and servants, Letters of Intercommuning—all these acts of repression had no more than inflamed the zeal of the people and confirmed them in their stand against the government. [Measures Taken by Privy Council against Religious Recusants, Register, Privy Council of Scotland, vol. iv. (Third Series) pp. xv, . xvi, xvii ; vol. v. (Third Series) pp. ix-xii.] The situation had become serious, and now conventicles were not only religious meetings but assemblings of armed men. Lauderdale knew that to the Whig religious liberty and political freedom were synonymous, and determined at all risks to avert the fear of another rising. In 1677, therefore, he issued the Bond, which made heritors and masters responsible for the loyal behaviour of all resident on their lands, and, to enforce this act, took that step which all are agreed in regarding as the chief blot on his career in Scotland. To ensure the acceptance of the Bond and the crushing out of any armed resistance, he brought into the disaffected districts, to live at free quarters, a military force composed of highlanders, regulars and militia, the body of licensed marauders handed down to execration in the West as " The Highland Host."

The situation in the South-west of Scotland was indeed grave. There was no need to exaggerate the determination of the populace to withstand all the demands of armed Episcopacy. [King Hewison, The Covenanters, vol. ii. pp. 262, 263, 264, 265.] Since, however, the whole situation was the result of the severe policy of coercion already adopted, it seemed to many that the use of measures more drastic still must inevitably be the occasion of that rebellion the outbreak of which was so much dreaded. There were not wanting those, indeed, who affirmed that the object of the government was to bring the threatened insurrection to a head, so that there might be a pretext for the maintenance of a standing army in England. [Burnet, History of His Own Times, p. 277: "These things seemed done on design to force a rebellion: which they thought would be soon quashed and would give a good colour for keeping up an army." Wodrow, Sufferings of the Church of Scotland, vol. ii, p. 372 n. Memoirs of Rev. John Black-adder, p. 231: "The policy of Lauderdale and his friends was to incite a revolt."] Charles, anxious to secure the succession of his brother to the throne, knew that the presence of an army in his kingdom was of importance in securing the subservience of the people. An army of 200,000 men had recently been raised in the short space of six weeks, under pretext that the King was at last to yield to the wishes of his subjects and declare war on France. Many in England, however, were persuaded that this army was intended for service not abroad but at home, and that the Duke of York sought to place himself at the head of the army in order to secure his brother's absolute rule and his own succession to the throne. [Laing, History of Scotland, vol. iv. p. 88.] Barillon, writing to Louis XIV. on April 18th, 1678, says: "Mr. le due d'York se croit perdu pour la religion si l'occasion presente ne lui fert a soummettre l'Angleterre." [Extract from letter written by Barillon to Louis XIV., dated April ,8th, 1678, quoted in Sir John Dalrymple's Memoirs, vol. ii. pp. 142-3.]

The Duke himself was seizing eagerly on the pretext of the alliance with Holland to raise an army, although he was evidently not at all certain of the manner in which the House of Commons would receive these preparations. In January, 1678, he writes to the Prince of Orange: "We must prepare for war, which we are doing here, with as little noise as we can, till the Parliament meets! " [R Dalrymple, Memoirs, vol. ii. p. 145.] When Parliament did meet, it acted as York had secretly feared, and proved in no mood to further his projects for the army. On February 2nd, 1678, York again writes: "Now that his Majesty has done all they desired by their former address, they chicane and fly off from what they have formerly said; attack the prerogative and would impose upon his Majesty such things as cannot subsist with monarchy, and was never before pretended to by a house of commons." [Ibid] Again, on February 5th, 1678, he writes to the Prince of Orange: "Those who seemed to be most zealous for a war with France last session, are those who obstruct most the giving of a supply." [Ibid] The House proved more and more, obstinate, as the Duke still demanded supplies of men and money, some of the Commoners evidently making no secret of the fact that they feared the purpose which the army might ultimately serve. Thus on March 19th, 1678, the Duke writes: "Truly the temper of the House seems not to be good, and looks as if some of them minded more how to get the power from the King than anything else," and again, on March 22nd, "They have such groundless jealousies in their heads that they make no advances in the providing the rest of the money." He makes the position still more clear when he writes on April loth, 1678: " It is of the last importance to us (that the war should proceed) and I do not know what may happen if the war does not go on, considering the temper of the nation and the ill condition his majesty's affairs must be in for want of money." [Dalrymple, Memoirs, vol. ii. p. 145.] Since at this very time, Louis and Charles had already begun to make arrangements of a secret nature with each other—Barillon asserts the understanding to have dated from May, 1678—it is evident that the Duke of York, who must have known of these negotiations, was merely seizing on the opportunity to raise an army which might secure his own succession. It is also clear that the news of a revolt in Scotland would have proved at any rate not unwelcome. The coincidence of events is too clear to admit of any other conclusion than that Lauderdale, if not actively engaged in inciting a rebellion, was fully aware that to report a need for troops within his province, would not bring him into disfavour with his master. This is also the view of Wodrow. ["I am told by a person I can entirely credit, who was at London at this time, that he heard from good hands, that the king was now very much pushed by the Whigs, and the affectors of liberty in this time of peace, to retrench the charges the kingdom of England was at in maintaining an army, and wanted a plausible handle for keeping it up; and that it was concerted in the cabinet council, that all measures should be taken to exasperate the Scots fanatics, as they were called, to some broil or other that there might be a pretence to keep up the standing forces; and that the Duke of Lauderdale was writ to, and acquainted with the design; and when he came up to court, towards the end of October, the project of gratifying the prelates In violent measures, and of bringing down the Highlanders, was brought to a hearing " (Wodrow, Sufferings of the Church of Scotland, vol. ii. p. 372).]

Whether, however, the government was acting of set purpose or not, whether a rising was really desired or not, it is at any rate plain that there was necessity for vigorous action on the part of the ruling powers. Violent repression of the people had resulted in violent acts of reprisal on their part, and prompt action was necessary if those of the clergy who had conformed were to be protected from the exasperated populace. The West was not in the peaceful state that many covenanting writers have represented. In the western shires conventicler were frequent. Burnet states that there was generally present at the conventicles a body of "armed and desperate men," who took all military precautions to protect the more peaceable portion of the assemblage against surprise. [Burnet, History of His Own Time, p. 277.] Both Blackadder and Kirk-ton admit that people went to and from worship well armed and sometimes protected by squadrons of horse, and that the conventicles were not only becoming larger and being held more frequently but that they had grown much more warlike in their general aspect. So desperate, indeed, had the situation become that by November, 1677, it was plainly stated in a letter to Lord Rothes from the Commissioners charged with putting down conventicles in Ayrshire and Renfrewshire that "it was not in their power to quyet these disorders." [Register of Privy Council of Scotland, vol. v. (Third Series) p. 280. ] Concerning even the City of Glasgow, the Privy Council, in a letter addressed to the magistrates, dated May, 1677, complained that, in spite of all laws and acts of Parliament, great numbers of citizens were in the habit of deserting the public worship within the city for the purpose of attending conventicles. [Ibid. p. 158.] Lauderdale himself, writing in September, 1678, to the Earl of Danby, says that he fears trouble from no part of Scotland except the West, although even there he fears little so long as the people find no leaders among the gentry and nobility. His preparations were already being made, however, for any possible emergency, and he had asked that the English troops in Ireland might be massed in the northern part of the island, ready, should occasion arise, for an immediate descent upon the Scottish coast.

[The Earl of Lauderdale to the Earl of Danby, Lord High Treasurer: 4th September, 1677.

Blessing God that the country is very quiet; the writer says: "We are well rid of the feild conventicles except the disaffected West countrey wch hath been quiet a great while. But of late that villain Welsh with his associats the feild preachers have kept a great bussel. They have keept scandalous feild conventicles of multitudes in these parts. They preach and write to open rebellion, but I doe not feare rebellion seing no gentleman comes near them; yet we will heir make ourselves ready because they are a set of fanatick enthusiastick fooles, and no more guided by rules of reason than Fifthe Monarchie Men. And therefore I have desired the King to send present orders into Ireland that such a partie of the army in that Kingdome may march into the North of Ireland under the comand of my Lord Granard as was formerly to be ready, if there be occasion."

Historical MSS. Commission, Report IX., Appendix x. p. 452.]

It was not long before Lauderdale's opinion as to the critical state of affairs in the West received ample confirmation. Lord Dundonald, in the course of a visit to the disaffected districts, found that conventicles were held very frequently, especially in the district of Carrick, that meeting-houses were being built, and that an armed attack had been made upon the manse of Tarbolton, the minister escaping only on account of a fortunate absence from home. These things Dundonald felt it his duty to report.

[Lord Dundonald to the Earl of Lauderdale.
May it please your Grace,
I had occasion at my comeing west to come beer to the shyre of Ayre ffor doeing of some of my affaires. At my being beer, I fand such insolent abuses comitted That I thought it my duety to give your Gr. ane accompt theirof, ffor not onely are the conventicles very frequent especially in Carrick where they are keeped in every parosh allmost every week. And have deserted their oune paroshes which they frequented formerly, Bot they allso take up the churches that are planted and preaches in ym as they did in Tarbolitoune on Sabath wes a sevennyt, & its probable will doe the tyke in other places. I ame certainely informed yesternyt That Mr. Welsh hes intimat a corFiunion to be cellebrat at Garven wt in Carrick on Sunday next, And a house building on purpose for yt effect, And their is a contribution gathering in Mayboil to build ane other house their; I gote allso advertisement yesternight that seven or eight armed men brake in at a window of the Minrs house of Tarbolltoune and searched all the house for the Minr, who wes that night abroad, and they commanded his servantes to tell him that if ever he preached their againe he should die the next day. If thir abuses be not tymeously prevented it may come to a greater hight which I wish may be speediely thought upon. These are from

Your Gr. most humble servant,
DUN DONALD.
Auchants, x4th Octor, 77.
Lauderdale Papers, edited Airy, vol. iii. p. 88.]

The hysterical state into which those at the head of affairs were thrown by such reports as these, received an added stimulus from the exaggerated rumours of disturbance which were common at the time. The Duke of Hamilton, writing on October 6th, 1677, to the Duke of Queensberry, disposed of one such characteristic report by telling him that the current story of an armed encounter between some of the King's troops and a number of countrymen who had been surprised at a conventicle, had its origin in a brawl involving only three soldiers who had become separated from their comrades and had behaved very rudely towards some of the civil population, whereupon the countrymen had set upon them, beaten them and disarmed them. The greater part of the tales of the wild doings of the Whigs had as little foundation in fact as the one thus exploded.

The Earl of Nithsdale did a great deal to spread such reports in Edinburgh, where his inventions created something almost amounting to a panic. Ably assisted by the bishops, the Earl reported, with much wealth of circumstantial detail, that the conventicler were armed camps, and that the Whigs were well equipped with weapons of every kind and mounted on horses brought over from Ireland for their use, the result being that the government immediately set on foot preparations for the conflict that seemed so imminent. [The following is quoted by the Duke of Hamilton to Queensberry as part of a letter sent him by L.G., "a friend that lives near Stirling": "Ther wes a great allarom att Edinburgh that the West was aboutt rysing in arms. The bishops bleu the coill, and Earl NithsdaIe wes cheaff informer, for he sed ther wer conventickels keapt consisting off over 3000, wheroff 1000 als weall mounted and armd as any in the nation to his certen knowledg. Some others told that some gentlemens houses were provyded with arms far abov the condition of pryvett families; that in some wer 20 pair off pistols, 20 carbyns, besyd mussquetts and fyerlocks. Bott the principall poynt wes moir considerable, which is, that within this year or thereby 7000 horses ar transported from Ireland; hitherto non can geit account of them bott that they ar in the hands off disaffected persons in the western and suthern shyrs."
Historical MSS Commission, Report XV., Appendix viii. p. 230.]

Lauderdale's constant complaint with regard to the conventicles thus wildly reported, was that the ministers who officiated at them were not only spiritual guides but political incendiaries, inciting their flock to rebellion by vehement denunciation of the King and his representatives in Scotland. That his fears with regard to the eloquence of these preachers were not unfounded is evident from the following account of a conventicle, sent by Lauderdale himself to Viscount Granard, then in command of the English troops massed on the north east coast of Ireland. The letter accompanying the report of the meeting is dated November 26th, 16fi7, and is sent by the hand of Mr. Patrick Menzies, Secretary to Lauderdale. [Historical MSS. Commission, Marquis of Ormonde (New Series), vol. iv. p. 69.]

"1677, November 5. Carrick.—Sunday was sennight, Mr. Welsh kept a most numerous conventicle in and about their new built meeting-house in the parish of Girvan, where were present Mr. Dick Cunningham, Gilchryst, Gilbert and Robert Kennedy, preachers, and about 7000 people, and the communion was celebrated, and upwards of 2000 persons received it; who, before communicating, were all engaged solemnly never to hear the orthodox ministers more, and to adhere to and pursue the glorious ends of the Solemn League and Covenant. Mr. Welsh preached on John ii., 34, 35, and amongst other seditious doctrines he said: "The Kings, nobles and prelates are the murderers of Christ," and then, sitting down in his chair, said: "Oh! people, I will be silent—speak, oh people, and tell me what good hath this King done since his home-coming—yea, hath he not done all the mischief that a tyrant could do both by his life and laws," and told the people that the present solemnity was appointed to restore Mr. Gilbert Kennedy, the Nonconformist, to his cure at Girvan, and that this was more Christ-like than an erastian indulgence. Monday after they kept a Presbytery, and chose Welsh moderator, and having published and received the penitence of one Mr. Cunningham (who had received ordination from the late Bishop of Galloway), for ever disowning episcopacy, they appointed him to be ordained by new imposition of hands. They proceeded to make acts, such as 1°, the people should not rise in arms till provoked thereunto, and that thereupon the sign should be given them to make ready: 2°, that people should be dissuaded to hear the orderly ministers any more, but they are not to hurt their persons or break their houses till they should be found acting against the cause of God by complaining to authorities, and that those are to be fallen upon. This they warranted from the commission the Israelites had to destroy the Canaanites."

[A somewhat fuller account of the same gathering is to be found in S.P. Dom. Car. II., vol. 397, No. 146. The paper is headed "An account of the present posture of affairs in the shires of Ayr and Renfrew." It amplifies the account of the gathering thus: "The communion was celebrated with silver cups, and at least soon people received. They distributed tickets to the people by some chosen to be elders. Many scandalous persons were admitted, such as William Kelso in Ayr, who since rides well armed in Welch's life guard.... The people's promise was taken before their admission to the Sacrament, never to hear curates again, but they should ever adhere to their League and Covenant.

"On Monday they kept a Presbytery, when Welch was Moderator, and there were many lay Elders. Welch was appointed to dispose of the money collected, at his pleasure. Gilbert Kennedy was removed and censured for not preaching warmly enough against the wicked ways of the nobles, the prelates, and their adherents. After this Mr. Cunningham made his repentance for having owned and served under episcopacy, and got the right hand of fellowship and is to receive new ordination. It was also enacted that people should not rise in arms till they should be some way oppressed and provoked, and that then the signs should be given them to make ready, that all the world might see they would not invade the rights of the worst pretenders without just cause and that the Elders and others favouring the Cause should dissuade the people from hearing the curates, but not to hurt them or break their houses, till they be found acting against the Cause of God by complaining to the great ones, and those who did so should be fallen upon. And this they warranted from the Israelites their destroying such of the Canaanites, as would not take peace when offered. Hereupon the breaking of Mr. Naismyth's house was commended, saying he was an incendiary."]

Since these were the reports that Lauderdale received and presumably believed, it is little matter for wonder that he should write that the conventicles were "of a sudden both more numerous and insolent than formerly" and that he felt himself justified in suspecting those who attended them to " intend somewhat more than bare preaching and praying." [Historical MSS. Commission, Marquis of Ormonde (New Series), vol. iv. p. 61.] He had also good reason to believe the Whigs to be well able to resort to the arbitrament of arms should they resolve to do so. He had received information that at a fair held at Maybole a great many swords had been sold to the country people. [S.P. Dom. Car. II., vol. 397, No. 146.] A report from another source had given him reason to believe that arms had been brought from Holland and were concealed in Glasgow and Edinburgh in the houses and shops of those favourable to the cause. Neither was money reported to be wanting among the Whigs, the information being that their sympathisers in London had already sent some two thousand pounds in view of a possible rising. [S.P. Ireland Car. II., vol. 338, No. 131.] Most of the gentry in the east and west of Scotland, but especially those of Clydesdale and Galloway, were said to be in favour of such a rising, and common report pointed to the Duke of Hamilton as the leader already chosen for this imminent rebellion. ["They will now fall upon a way who shall patronize them in this, and lead when the people are readie ; they all agree generally upon my Lord Duke Hamilton as the fittest persone, for severall reasones alleadged by them." Historical MSS. Commission, Report XI., Appendix vi. p. 157.] The story went that the men of the conventicles had approached the Duke's factor, who was known to be in sympathy with them, but that the Duke, when sounded by him on the matter, had declined to give any decisive answer, contenting himself with granting them liberty to hold conventicles in the lands under his jurisdiction, and with a general recommendation to "secresy and prudence."  [Ibid.]

From all the evidence, therefore, it is clear that Lauderdale had abundant reason to believe that the West was not in such a peaceful condition as was maintained by Hamilton and his supporters in their report afterwards made to the King on "some particular matters of fact relating to the administration of affairs in Scotland under the Duke of Lauderdale." [Ibid. Report XI., Appendix iv. p. 30 (quoted in Appendix).]

Hamilton himself, although anxious to clear his people from any charge ofmaking preparations for armed rebellion, was in honesty compelled to acknowledge to his private friends that, in his opinion, peace would be maintained only so long as no attempt was made by the Government to enforce obedience, and that the men of the West would never conform unless compelled by force of arms. [That itt will be possible to reclame the people from conventickls or gett them to take this bond I much doubt of itt. Lett us all do what wee can, so what may be the ishew if other measurs be not taken that ar not yett tryed, God he knowes." Letter from Hamilton to Queensberry, 3oth August, 1677. Historical MSS. Commission, Report XV., Appendix viii. p. 223.] Since Lauderdale and his government had determined to go forward with the religious policy already adopted, and were resolved upon the submission of the Whigs, it was evident that the time for recourse to measures of force was near. Already, on 5th October, 1677, the Privy Council, in a Report signed by Lauderdale himself as President, had definitely set forth their position with regard to conventicles. ["Report of the humble opinion of the Committee for publick affairs, concerning the way of prosecuting his Majesties laws against such as disturb the government of the Church." Ibid. Report XI., Appendix vi. p. 156.] The Council now proceeded to the more active step of asking the Commissioners of Militia and some other gentlemen of the shires of Ayr and Renfrew to meet to deliberate how an end might be put to the seditious courses of the people of these two shires, saying that this request was made in view of " there having bene frequent informatiounes sent in heir of the extraordinary insolencies committed not onlie against the present orthodox clergy by usurping their pulpitts, threattning and abusing their personnes, setting up of conventickling houses and keeping of scandalous and seditious feild conventicles, bot lykwayes of the great predjudice that is lyk to aryse to his Majesties authoritie and government and to the peace of the kingdome in general." [Historical MSS. Commission, Report XI., Appendix vi. p. 156.]

Lauderdale had already faced the questions of the best means of dealing with those who refused to conform and of suppressing a possible rising. He knew the indomitable spirit of those with whom he had to deal; he was well aware that the militia could not be trusted, ["There is not a regiment in all the militia of Scotland that his Majesty's commissioner puts trust in and that is his incomparable prudence, for to tell the truth his grace hath no reason," writes Mr. Matthew Mackail to Sir John Frederick, Member of the House of Commons. S.P. Dom. Car. I1., vol. 404, No. 194.] since it consisted chiefly of "commons much inclined to that opinion"; [Sir George Mackenzie, Memoirs, p. 239.] the regular forces in Scotland were a mere handful, consisting as they did of a troop of Life Guards under the command of the Marquis of Atholl, numbering 160 private gentlemen with their officers, and the regiment of Foot Guards made up of ten companies of 100 men each, the whole regiment with officers, non-commissioned officers and men numbering 1100 men. [A Military History of Perthshire, edited by the Marchioness of Tullibardine, vol. i. p. ii. " As (owing to condition of public revenue) wee dde now entertaine but one Regiment of our Foote Guard, so we will only keep up one Troope of Horse for our Horse Guard." 7th February, 1676. Warrant Book, Scotland, Car. II., vol. iii. pp. 356 and 357.] Sir George Mackenzie, in his Memoirs, gives the official view of the strength of the malcontents, estimating their force, although probably with some exaggeration, as easily amounting to ten thousand men. ["It was most easy for two or three conventicles by joining together, to make an army of ten thousand men, to whom all of that persuasion would probably gather." Sir George Mackenzie, Memoirs, p. 239.] In spite of such exaggeration, however, on the part of those who wished to emphasise the serious nature of the situation, the forces of the Covenanters, who were shown by the subsequent operations of the Host itself to be well armed and prepared for war, were certainly more than adequate to meet the regular forces of the Crown in Scotland. Lauderdale, seeing the crisis to be at hand, had, on 27th October, 1677, authorised Sir George Munro, Major-General of the forces in Scotland, [Warrant Book, Scotland, Car. II., vol. iii., No. 35.] to act as commander-in-chief of any troops brought together " for opposing any Rebellion or Insurrection there, if any shall happen to be." [Ibid. vol. iv., No. 261.] Should such a general rising ensue, however, it was evident that the small body of Regular troops in Scotland must be supplemented by irregular forces. The danger was increasingly imminent. It was plain that the West would yield only to coercion; both landowners and tenants in the shires were inclined to the covenanting party, and had, with few exceptions, refused to sign the Bond abjuring their nonconforming ways. Lauderdale, to whom nonconformity in religion meant disloyalty to the Crown and rebellion against all settled government, had determined that they must yield. To enforce his will, troops were necessary. The depleted state of the public treasury made it undesirable that these troops should come from without the borders of Scotland. In these circumstances, Lauderdale bethought him of the military forces of the clans, a source of warlike strength which many succeeding statesmen were to exploit.


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