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The Highland Host of 1678
Chapter V - The Conduct of the Host


THE Commission granted to the Leaders of the Host exonerated them, as we have seen, from all blame, no matter what excesses their followers might commit. These followers were for the most part poor ignorant Highlanders, many of them doubtless "broken men," accustomed to look upon the neighbouring Lowlands as the fitting ground for marauding expeditions, all of them likely as the result of habit and long training to feel that a descent in force upon the Whigs must have as its only object the accumulation of booty. In this particular case they were taking part in an expedition sanctioned by the King and led by their chiefs, who, as members of the Committee of the West, were present not to restrain their followers from lawlessness, but to point out those against whom they must direct themselves. From January till March these rude Highlanders were engaged day by day in the attempt to force an unwilling people into submission, searching their houses, seizing their weapons, leading off their horses. Inflicted as these indignities were in no kindly fashion upon men by no means easily cowed and still unbroken in spirit, the wonder is that the only recorded instance of actual bloodshed is that of the poor Highlander, M'Gregor, already mentioned, killed at Campsie on the homeward march. It is to be feared, however, that little credit is to be given for this bloodless invasion either to the members of the Host or to those who sent them forth. That a rebellion did not ensue immediately, as so many of Lauderdale's followers, eager for confiscated estates—for which, indeed, according to Burnet, they had already cast lots, [Burnet, History of My Own Times, vol. ii. p. 146.] desired, is to be attributed not to any easy interpretation of brutal orders nor to any desire to lessen the burden for a people against whom King, Bishops, and Council were united, but to the fixed determination of the unbending Whigs that they would not gratify those who sought to goad them on to insurrection so that they might be harried from the land. Against such passive resistance the Highlanders had no excuse for bloodshed, and the most serious authentic case of violence is that of Alexander Wedderburn, minister of Kilmarnock, who was severely injured by a blow with the butt of a Highlander's musket. [Wodrow, vol. ii. p. 429.]

At the same time the evidence all points to the fact that violence and disorder were rampant throughout the shires while the Host remained. Many of the people, rather than abide the coming of the Highlanders, fled to Ireland. Those who remained had to submit to every manner of indignity and violence, their houses being ransacked for provisions and valuables, while they themselves went in fear of their lives,—this on the evidence of those who were with the Host, and of men in the King's service, who would not naturally be prejudiced in favour of the Whigs. [Historical MSS. Commission, Report XII., Appendix viii. p. 35.] The situation was aggravated by the fact that the invasion occurred at the season of the year when the people should have been engaged, not in protecting their property against the depredation of unruly bands of Highlanders, but in ploughing--an operation which itself was much hindered by the seizure of so many horses. [Historical MSS. Commission, Marquis of Ormonde (New Series), vol. iv. p. 126. Viscount Granard to Ormond, March 3rd, 1678: "I expect that shoals of people from Scotland, and those not of the best principles, will land. For by what I can learn, multitudes of them are so plundered by the Highlanders that they have left their habitations, and have not put plough in ground this year." Burnet, History of My Own Times, vol. ii. P. 20.]

Such were the sufferings, indeed, of the unhappy people of Lanarkshire and Ayrshire that all Scotland was stirred to sympathy for them; "I heard what desolation was done in the West countree and what they were resolving to do anent the pursuing of these hands," writes Alexander Brodie of Brodie in his Diary, under date February 27th, 1678. [Diary of Alexander Brodie of Brodie (S.H.S., Spalding Club), p. 397. 6 Fraser : Maxwell of Pollock, vol. ii. p. 320.] Again, Thomas Stewart of Coltness writes to his brother-in-law, John Maxwell of Pollock, "I am glad you are frie of the Host. The Lord comfort them amongst whom they ar." [Complaint concerning Lauderdale's Administration. Historical MSS. Commission, Report XI., Appendix iv. P. 30.] It is true that the Covenanting sources of information are doubtless somewhat highly coloured and prone to exaggeration; but the several facts derivable from all are clear as showing that the Highlanders plundered the shires without much discrimination as to whether their victims had taken the Bond or not, that, not content with booty in kind, they demanded money from the people on one pretext or another, and that threats and a show of violence were often resorted to in order to compel the production of the coveted spoil. Nor did the soldiery always stop short at threats. An Ayrshire man, for example, "John Wallace in Crookes in Dundonald parish" had his hand cut off by one of the Perthshire troopers, John Hunter, a member of Pitcur's horse. "To defraye the expenses of his cure and to help him to some maintinence" Wallace was awarded 117 pounds Scots, a sum which had just been paid as a fine by a certain James Graham. At the same time the Marquis of Atholl was recommended by the Lords of the Committee to take measures with regard to Hunter "that speedy and examplar justice may be done upon him for so great a cryme." [Register Privy Council, Scotland, vol. v. (Third Series) p. 558] There is no record, however, of any punishment having been exacted from the trooper.

The commandeering of horses, again, was a very serious blow to an agricultural people, concerning which complaint was all the more bitter since the season chosen for the descent was ploughing time. Not content with the free quarter granted them, the Highlanders, in wanton cruelty and mischief, killed cattle which they could not possibly use. Highway robbery was common, while in some districts the soldiery evolved even a system of blackmail, which they designated `dry quarter.' "The meanest straggler," writes Wodrow, "exacted his sixpence a day, and the modelled forces, their shilling, or merk Scots a day, and their subalterns, captains, and leaders, their twenty-pence, half-crowns, and crowns, as they pleased to require." [Wodrow, vol. ii. p. 422.] In other places there were instances of tribute being levied at the rate of three half-pence a day per acre of land. Under these circumstances, it is not to be wondered at that the people often came into conflict with their oppressors, and that cases of minor injury at the hands of the Highlanders were common, but, although complaint was made frequently to the Committee, no redress was to be obtained, [Ibid. p. 423.] both because the Highlanders were very much out of hand and because frequently the officers were involved along with their men, although to this there were notable exceptions, the Marquis of Atholl and the Duke of Perth, for example, rendering themselves conspicuous by their humanity and their endeavours to restrain the clansmen from lawlessness. Their men, however, could not be kept back altogether from sharing in the general freebooting, and these noblemen had consequently to be content with mitigating the evil as much as possible. [Wodrow, vol. ii. p. 423.]

Wodrow, drawing up a full account of the losses sustained in Kyle, Carrick, and Cunningham alone, through the quartering, robbing, and spoiling of the soldiers, as prepared by the heritors for transmission to the King, estimates the amount at nearly £138,000 Scots, and adding the estimated loss from parishes not detailed in his list, fixes the whole loss in Ayrshire as not less than £200,000 Scots. To this has to be added the loss incurred by Stirlingshire, Dumbartonshire, Lanarkshire, and Renfrewshire, although none of these suffered so much as Ayrshire.

It was to be expected that an invasion, causing so much misery to those upon whom it was inflicted, would leave such an impression behind it that many particular accounts would be left of the depredations of the Host. Wodrow quotes several of these accounts [Wodrow, vol. ii. p. 428. Extract from the Diary of Quentin Dick and letter from a gentleman of the parish of Dreghorn.] to show the barbarous methods employed by the Highlanders, and the great sufferings endured by the Covenanters. Two men who endured much at the hands of the Host were Mr. William Dickie, a merchant of Kilmarnock, and Mr. Wedderburn, minister of the same town. William Dickie had nine Highlanders quartered upon him for six weeks. "When they went off they robbed his house, from whence they carried some sacks full of household stuff and goods; a hose full of silver money, and abused this honest man, broke two ribs in his side, and swore they would cut off his head; and frighted his wife sore by putting a derk a Iittle into her side, that she being big with child, very soon died with the terror. This good man's loss was very great, upwards of a thousand merks." The Highlanders had set about plundering Kilmarnock on the Sunday before they left the town, and were only restrained through the exertions of their officers, to whom several private citizens gave large sums of money as the price of their intercession. It was on this occasion that the Rev. Mr. Wedderburn received that blow from the butt end of a Highlander's musket which subsequently, according to Wodrow, proved the cause of his death. [Wodrow, vol. ii. p. 430.]

A sad case recorded by Wodrow is that of Lady Patrick Houston, of Renfrewshire, whose husband at the time of the descent of the Host was absent in London. "A party of soldiers had sadly harassed Sir Patrick Houston's tenants in his absence, he being in London; yea, such was their rudeness to dame Anne Hamilton his lady, that not only the meaner sort, but even Sir George Nicolson, who commanded them, threatened her personally to that pitch, that she was obliged to let down the portcullis of the gate to keep them out of the house: but unhappily, she found two of her younger sons, Mr. William and Archibald, were without the gates; she was so frightened with their threatenings, and the fears of what they might do to the two boys, that she fell into a fever, of which in a few days she died; and her sister, Mrs. Grizel Hamilton, daughter of the Lord Bargeny, by waiting upon her, fell into the same distemper, and died." [Wodrow, vol. ii. p. 431.]

Kirkton, in his History of the Church of Scotland, [Kirkton, PP. 386, 387, 388.] gives no such particular account as Wodrow, but contents himself with the general statement that "after they past Stirling, they, (the Highlanders) carried as if they had been in ane enemie's countrey, living upon free quarter, where ever they came." He remarks that it "was observed at that time that the heritors who had taken the bond suffered as much as they that refused it, for that sort of cattell who were their executioners were not inured to rule," and continuing, says, "As for the oppressions, exactions, injuries and cruelties committed by the Highlanders among the poor people of the West countrey, it is a business above my reach to describe; there is a whole book written upon that subject, wherein the list is more particular and full than ever my information could reach; and a thinking man may apprehend what a company of barbarous Highlanders would doe, when they were sent upon design to turn innocent people of the west countrey mad by their oppressions, in which office, indeed, you may believe they were very faithful."

The Reverend Robert Law, in his Memorials, bears out the same general impression of the conduct of the Highlanders. "Some of the people," he writes, "were very ill abused with the Highlanders, especially many of them were utterly herried and disabled from labour; and great summs of money, got by their dry quarters and other means, was taken out of that country, some say to the value of one hundred thousand merks Scots and above."

A more particular account of the conduct of the Host is given in the Memoirs of Mr. William Veitch and George Brysson, [Memoirs (M'Crie, 1825), Appendix P. 518.] where the writer is so much impressed by the ability of the Highlanders to discover hidden booty that he can account for their skill upon no other hypothesis than that they were endowed with "the second sight." "In the year 1678," the narrative runs, "there was a great Host of Highlanders came down in the middle of the winter to the Westren shires. The shire of Air was the centre of their encampment or cantovning, where they pillaged, plundered, theeved, and robbed night and day; even the Lord's day they regarded as little as any other. At their first coming, four of them came to my father's house, who was overseeing the making of his own malt; they told him they were come to make the Fig (as they termed the Presbyterians) to take with Government and the King. This they came over again and again. They pointed to their shoes, and said they would have the broge off his foot, and accordingly laid hands on him, but he threw himself out of their grips, and turning to a pitch-fork which was used at the stalking of his corn, and they having their broadswords drawn, cryed 'Clymore,' and made at him; but he quickly drove them out of the kilne and chaseing them all four a space from the house, knocked one of them to the ground. The next day about twenty of them came to the house, but he not being at home, they told they were come to take the Fig and his arms. They plundered his house, as they did the house of every other man who was not conform to the then laws; and such was their theevish disposition, and so well versed were they at the second sight, that, let people hide never so well, these men would go as straight to where it was, whether beneath the ground or above as though they had been at the putting of it there, search for it, dig it up, and away with it."

The author of A Hind let Loose gives a very vehement account of the barbarities practised by the Host, although he moderates his indictment of the Highlanders in his Short Memorial subsequently written. The passage [Hind let Loose, p. 190.] referring to the descent of the Host reads:

"But all this is nothing to what followed; when thinking these bloodhounds were too favourable, they brought down from the Wild Highlands a host of Savages upon the Western Shires, more terrible than Turks or Tartars, men who feared not God nor regarded man; And being also poor pitiful Skybalds, they thought they had come to a brave world, to waste and destroy a plentiful country, which they resolved before they left it to make as bare as their own." They showed " that rigour and restless boundless rage, that the Children then unborn and their pitiful mothers do lament the memory, of that day, for the loss of their fathers and husbands. Many houses and families then were left desolate in a winter flight, many lost their Cattel and Houses, and some in seeking to recover them lost their lives, by the sword of these Burrio's. [The words "by the sword of these Burrio's" are omitted in The Short Memorial.] So that it was too evident both by what orders was given, the severities of prosecuting and the expressions of some great ones since, that nothing less than the utter ruin and starvation and desolation of these Shires was consulted and concluded, and that expedition at that time calculated for that end; for what else can be imagined could induce to the raising 10 or 11,000 barbarous Savages, the joyning them to the standing forces, and with such cruel orders the directing them all to the West, where there was not one person moving the finger against them; neither could they pretend any quarrel, if it was not the faithfulness of the people there in their Covenanted Religion, and their hopelessness of complying to their Popish and Tyrannical designs and therefore no cause so feasible as to destroy them. So for despatching thereof, order is given that whosoever refuseth to subscribe that Hell-hatched bond, must instantly have 10, 20, 30, 40, more or fewer according to his conditions as he is poorer or richer, of these new Reformers sent to him, to ly not only upon free Quarters to eat up and destroy what they pleased, but also (for the more speedy expedition) ordered to take sixpence for each common Souldier a day, and the Officers more, according to there degrees, and so to remain till either the bond was subscribed or all destroyed; nor was these Trusties deficient to further their purposes in prosecuting these orders, who coming to their Quarters used ordinarily to produce a Billgate for near as many more as came, and for these absents they must have double money, because their Landlord was not burthened with their maintenance, and where that was refused would take the readiest goods, and if anything remained not destroyed and plundered at their removing, which was not transportible, rather then the owner should get any good of it, they would in some places set fire to it, as they did with the Corn Stacks. It would require several great volumes to record the many instances of horrid Barbarities, Bloods, and Villanies of that wicked expedition, so that what by Free Quarterings, Exactions, Robberies, Thefts, Plunderings, and other Acts of Violence and Crueltie, many places were ruined almost to desolation, all which the faithful choosed rather to suffer, than to sin in complying: and albeit their oppression was exceedingly lamentable, and their loss great, yet that of the complyers was greater and sader, who lossed a good Conscience in yeelding to them, and compounding with them.

"Then the Country behoved to pay the Soldiers for all this Service and hire them to do more, by paying the imposed Cess, whereby they were sharpened into a greater keenness in Cruel Execution of their orders, returning to these places of the Country whether they had chased the Persecuted People, who still kept their Meetings wherever they were, though they could not attend them but upon the hazard of being killed, either in the place (where some had their blood mingled with their sacrifice) or fleeing, or be exposed to their dreadful Cruelties more bitter than Death."

The Highlanders were the most feared by the Whigs on account of their strange dress, their different tongue, their diverse manners and customs. The men of Ayrshire regarded them as "a crew of barbarous and savage men of another language and custom and of no religion. [Wodrow, vol. ii. p. 447. Footnote "Observations upon a True Narrative."] But the Militia regiments drafted to the West were as much out of hand as the Highlanders. We have seen that the Lothian Militia was saved from the disgrace of mutiny only by the Council's order that it should be marched to Edinburgh and immediately disbanded; while the Nithsdale Militia, embodied to take the place of the regiment thus dismissed, was described at the time by Queensberry as a band of ruffians officered by `the scum of the country,' officers and men equally delighted at the prospect of sharing in the plunder of Ayrshire and Lanarkshire. [Historical MSS. Commission, Report VI., Appendix vi. p. 16.] There can be no doubt that such regiments were not far behind the Highlanders in lawlessness of all kinds. On the other hand, the small body of regular troops accompanying the Host was naturally more under discipline. Thus the writer of the True Narrative, while admitting that the Highlanders and the Militia regiments lived upon the shires at free quarters, and, in his opinion, rightly so, since thus the expense of their maintenance fell upon those whose conduct had made necessary their embodiment, is careful to point out that the regular regiments, both cavalry and infantry, were supported and paid entirely by the Public Treasury. The writer of the Observations upon the True Narrative, on the other hand, while willing to concede that the regular soldiers were more civil in their conduct than the unruly auxiliaries, states that " they did degenerate from their first civility by the influence of bad example, and the licentiousness allowed to the Highlanders," and that " they often took free quarters if not more." [Wodrow, "True Narrative," vol, ii, p. 445.]

The Highlanders had throughout the period of their stay in the West been employed day by day in gathering together as much plunder as possible, and consequently their retreat upon their withdrawal was a characteristic one. "You would have thought by their baggage," says Kirkton, "that they had been at the sack of a besieged city, and therefore when they passed Stirling Bridge every man drew his sword to shew the world they had returned conquerors from their enemies land, but they might as well have showen the pots, pans, girdles, shoes taken off countrey men's feet, and other bodily and household furniture with which they were loaded, and among them all none purchast so well as the two Earles, Airly and Strathmore, chiefly the last, who sent home the money not in purses, but in baggs and great quantities." [Kirkton, p. 387. Wodrow, vol. ii. p. 413.]

On the homeward march the Highlanders lived, as they had done before, upon the people through whose towns and villages they passed, meeting, for the most part, with but little molestation. Wodrow records, however, that some Glasgow students, along with other youths of the town, held Glasgow Bridge, the river being in flood, against a body of some two thousand of them. They allowed the Highlanders to pass in companies of forty at a time, made them deliver up their booty, and then marched them out by the West Port, without allowing them to go through the city itself. "The result," he says, "was that the custom house was near by filled with pots, pans, bed clothes, wearing clothes, rugg coats, gray coats and the like." [Wodrow, vol. ii. p. 413.] It has been pertinently remarked, however, that there is no record of any effort having been made to restore all this stolen property to the rightful owners.

The Highland Host had returned to their native mountains, but they left bitter memories behind that rankled long in the minds of the people of the West, and did much to render them steadfast in their opposition to the government of Lauderdale and in their hatred of the bishops, whom they cursed as the instruments of the evil that had come upon them. These ill-advised measures of coercion and persecution had but made the Covenanters desperate and ready for any act of retaliation; the murder of Archbishop Sharp, the skirmish at Drumclog and the final battle of Bothwell Bridge formed the natural corollary to the Black Bond and the Highland Host.


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