The Bothwell Debacles

Battle of Bothwell Bridge, 1679

By Michael Daniels

Bothwell Bridge! Nothing conjures up so much pride but at the same time so much disappointment and self-loathing within the Covenanter heart. What is Bothwell Bridge? Well it was a battle that took place at the bridge at Bothwell in the 6th month on the 22nd day of the year 1679. It was fought between English non-covenanted unlawful troops and militant Covenanters. It is a battle that went down in infamy among Covenanters because of what transpired prior to the battle. But why does it conjure up so much pride but also so much self-loathing?

§Drumclog, The Background

Several weeks prior to the Battle of Bothwell Bridge was another battle, the Battle of Drumclog. The Battle of Drumclog was fought on 6th month of the 1st day of the year 1679, between a group of Militant Covenanters (Remonstrators) and the forces of John Graham of Claverhouse, at High Drumclog, in South Lanarkshire.

§Lawful Assassination of James Sharp

Following the lawful assassination of Archbishop James Sharp (a turncoat tyrant who persecuted Covenanters and had their hands and feet cut off and then put to death) on Magus Muir, and the Declaration of Rutherglen, the militant Covenanters were on the verge of open war. A large conventicle was planned to take place at Loudoun Hill in defiance of English tyrannical persecution of the Covenanters. On the Sabbath morning of the 6th month on the 1st day the Rev. Thomas Douglas broke off his sermon with the words “Ye have got the theory, now for the practice”, when it was reported that the dragoons of Claverhouse were heading to the area. Claverhouse, better known to his enemies as ‘Bluidy Clavers’.

§Battle of Drumclog

A group of around 200 armed Covenanters to a boggy moor near the farm of Drumclog. With about 40 mounted men, and armed with muskets and simple pitchforks, the Covenanter force was no rabble.

bloody banner covenanter banner with proper colors

Cameronian William Cleland led a force around the stank, and advanced rapidly. Despite heavy fire from the English troops, the attack was entirely successful. The line of Claverhouse’s force broke, and the dragoons were soon routed from the battlefield, leaving 36 dead.

The flag above is William Cleland banner flag during both Drumclog and Bothwell Bridge.

This was a great victory for the Covenanters and soon the news spread across Scotland and Covenanters came from many places to join the militia. Within weeks the militia had grown very rapidly from just around 240 men to well over 6,000. Such pride, such a glorious thing to see. A whole field of Scottish Covenanter countrymen coming to defend our land as well as our National Covenant and the Solemn League and Covenant that was sworn by three kingdoms and all their colonies.

“Within a week of Drumclog, the militants’ force rapidly grew to around 6,000 men: a level it broadly sustained throughout the Rising despite of the arrival and departure of numerous elements. Although smaller in size than the Covenanters’ armies of the 1640s, it was twice the size of the militant presbyterian Western Association of 1650.” -The United Societies: Militancy, Martyrdom and the Presbyterian Movement in Late-Restoration Scotland, I679 to I688 by Mark Jardine

The army was strong and had the chance of surprise to move forward quickly onto Bothwell Bridge and from there on toward Edinburgh.

§Bothwell Bridge

The Covenanters had established their camp on the south bank of the Clyde, north of Hamilton.

§Bothwell Debates

But then division broke out. As I have for many years heard the story that the Covenanters stalled prior to Bothwell Bridge to bicker around doctrine. This is where the self-loathing comes into play. I had never seen anything regarding what they actually fought over during the Bothwell Debates as I could never find anything to actually listed what they bickered over. It was always said that they bickered over many issues as well as minor doctrinal differences that could have been settled later. What the Bothwell Debates did do was stalled the military movement and it cost them dearly. It cost them the war.

But is this the whole story? I am afraid not. I have since learned the actual nature of the Bothwell Debates and what they actually bickered over. It is still true that the Bothwell Debates cost them the war for stalling but it was not some minor bickering or over minor doctrinal differences.

I lay the blame squarely on the Moderates (Protestors) within the party that led to the Covenanter defeat at Bothwell Bridge for stalling the military progression onto Bothwell Bridge and on Edinburgh. Apparently there was two main issues that arose during the weeks between Drumclog and Bothwell Bridge and the formation of two parties, the Moderates (Protestors) and the Militants (Remonstrators). The Moderates (Protestors) want to come to peace with the English Tyrants and have a settlement while the Militants (Remonstrators) wanted to quickly move onto Bothwell Bridge. That stall alone cost us the war. By the Moderates (Protestors) stalling, it allowed the English forces to get ready and prepare and come to attack the Covenanters. The other issue was how the army was going to write it’s Testimony.

“The militants … the narratives Wodrow used, … For them, the Debates had witnessed the undermining and betrayal of their cause by a few moderate lairds and the majority of the ministers. They were primarily concerned with the framing of the army’s testimony in the Debates and how what they perceived to be the failure to establish the correct testimony before the battle had brought down the Lord’s wrath on them and led to the Rising’s failure.” -The United Societies: Militancy, Martyrdom and the Presbyterian Movement in Late-Restoration Scotland, I679 to I688 by Mark Jardine

“In essence, the Debates were a power struggle for control over the Council between the militants, who were the majority on the council for most of the Rising, and more moderate elements, especially within the ministry who did not sit in the Council of War … the moderates were able to impose a new strategy, suggested by sympathetic presbyterian gentry in Edinburgh close to Monmouth, of drafting a supplication to Monmouth in the hope of achieving a negotiated settlement.” -The United Societies: Militancy, Martyrdom and the Presbyterian Movement in Late-Restoration Scotland, I679 to I688 by Mark Jardine

In the end, the Moderates were able to replace the majority of the Militants on Council of War and was able to draft ‘The Hamilton Declaration’ which was rejected by the Militant faction.

§The Bothwell Delcarations
The following are all the Declarations that got published during the Bothwell Debates:

Short Declaration to the Army, 6th Month on the 6th day, 1679.

Proclaimed at Glasgow by the militant leadership on the Council of War. It is styled in Wodrow as the ‘Declaration from the Covenanter’s Camp published to their army’.

“We who are here providentially convened in our own defence, for preventing and removing the mistakes and misapprehensions of all, especially of those whom we wish to be, and hope are friends, do declare our present purposes and endeavours to be only in vindication and defence of the true reformed religion in its profession and doctrine, as we stand obliged thereunto by our national and solemn league and covenants, and that solemn acknowledgement of sins, engagement to duties, made and taken in the year 1648, declaring against popery, prelacy, Erastianism, and all things depending thereupon.” -Wodrow, History, III, 91.

The Hamilton Declaration, 6th Month, 13th day 1679.

The Declaration was publicly rejected by the militant faction in 1680.

“As it is not unknown to a great part of the world how happy this church of Scotland was while she enjoyed the ordinances of Jesus Christ in purity and power, of which we have been deplorably deprived by the establishment of prelacy; so it is evident, not only to impartial persons, but to professed enemies, with what unparalleled patience and constancy the people of God have endured all the cruelty, injustice and oppression, that the wit and malice of prelates and malignants could invent and exercise, and being most unwilling to act any thing which might import opposition to lawful authority, or engage the kingdom in war, although we have been along groaning under the overturning the work of reformation, corruptions of doctrine, slighting of worship, despising of ordinances, changing the ancient church discipline and government, thrusting out of so many of our faithful ministers from their charges, confining, straitly imprisoning, exiling, yea, and putting to death many of them, and intruding upon their flocks a company of insufficient and scandalous persons, and fining , confining, imprisoning, torturing, tormenting, scourging, and stigmatizing poor people, plundering their goods, quartering upon them by rude soldiers, selling their persons to foreign plantations, horning and intercommuning many of both; whereby a great number in every corner of the land were forced to leave their dwellings, wives, children, and relations, and made to wander as pilgrims, still in hazard of their life, none daring to reset, harbour or supply, (though starving) or so much as to speak to them, even on death-bed, without making themselves obnoxious to the same punishments; and these things acted under colour of law, in effect tending to banish, not only all sense of religion, but also to extinguish the natural affections, even amongst persons of nearest relations, and likewise groaning under the intolerable yoke of oppression, in our civil interests, our bodies, liberties and estates, so that all manner of outrages have been most arbitrarily exercised upon us, through a tract of several years bypast, particularly in the year 1678, by sending against us an armed host of barbarous savages, contrary to all law and humanity, and by laying on us several impositions and taxes, as formerly, so of late by a meeting of prelimited and overawed members, in the conventions of estates in July 1678, for keeping up of an armed force, intrusted as to a great part of it, into the hands of avowed papists, or favourers of them, whereby sundry invasions have been made upon us, and exorbitant abuses and incredible insolencies committed against us, and we being continually sought after, while meeting in houses for divine worship, ministers and people frequently apprehended, and most rigorously used; and so being necessitate to attend the Lord’s ordinances in the fields, in the most desert places, and there also often hunted out, assaulted, to the effusion of our blood, and killing of some, we were inevitably constrained , either to defend ourselves by arms, at these meetings, or be altogether deprived of the gospel preached by his faithful ministers, and made absolute slaves; at one of which meetings, upon the first day of June instant, (being the Lord’s day) captain Graham of Claverhouse being warranted to kill whomsoever he found in arms at field conventicles making resistance, did furiously assault the people assembled; and further to provoke, did cruelly bind, like beasts, a minister, with some other people, whom he had the very same morning found in their houses, and severals being killed on both sides, and they knowing certainly, that by law they behoved to die, (if apprehended) they did stand to their own defence, and continued together, and thereafter many of our friends and countrymen being under the same oppression, and expecting the same measures, did freely offer their assistance. We therefore thus inevitably, and of absolute necessity, forced to take this last remedy (the magistrate having shut the door by a law against any application, that what ever our grievances be, either in things civil or sacred, we have not the privilege of a supplicant) do judge ourselves bound to declare, that these, with many other horrid grievances in the church and state, (which we purpose to manifest more fully hereafter) are the true causes of this our lawful and innocent self-defence. And we do most solemnly in the presence of almighty God the searcher of hearts, declare, that the true reasons for us continuing in arms, are candidly and sincerely these. 1st The defending and securing of the true protestant religion, and presbyterian government founded on the word of God, and summarily comprehended in our confessions of faith and catechisms, and established by the laws of the land, to which king, nobles and people are solemnly sworn, and engaged in our national and solemn league and covenants, and more particularly the defending and maintaining of the kingly authority of our Lord Jesus Christ over his church against all sinful supremacy, derogatory thereto, and encroaching thereupon. 2ndly. The preserving and defending the king’s majesty’s person and authority in the preservation and defence of the true religion and liberties of the kingdom, that the world may bear witness, with our consciences, of our loyalty, and that we have no thoughts nor intentions to diminish his just power and greatness. 3rdly. The obtaining of a free and unlimited parliament, and of a free general assembly, in order to the redressing of our forsaid grievances, for preventing the danger of popery, and extirpation of prelacy. This therefore being the cause we appear for, and resolved, in God’s great name to own (hereby homologating all the testimonies of our faithful sufferers for truth in Scotland, these eighteen years) together with acknowledgment of sins, and engagement of duties, we do humbly request the king’s majesty would restore all things as he found them, when God brought him home to his crown and kingdoms; and if that cannot be obtained, then we heartily and humbly invite, intreat, beseech, and obtest, in the bowels of Jesus Christ, all who are under the same bonds with us, to concur in the defence of the common cause and interest, and that they would not stand still, and see, not only us oppressed, but the forsaid cause ruined, adversaries highly and proudly insult against God and all good men, friends of the truth discouraged, yea, the protestant cause in Britain and Ireland, and even yourselves, within a little time, made prey of. Or else forced, when we are broken, (which the good Lord prevent) dreadfully to wrong your consciences. Finally. Because we desire no man’s hurt or blood, we request our countrymen, now the standing forces of the kingdom, some of them being our friends and kinsmen, not to fight against us, lest in doing so they be found fighting against the Lord, whose cause and quarrel we are sure he will own and signally countenance, seeing we fight under his banner who is the Lord of hosts.” -Wodrow, History, III, 94n.

Enumerations of Public Defections, 6th Month, 16th through 18th day, 1679.

Draft declaration of public defections, or the sins of the land, created by the militant leadership.

“As to those before the restoration, we refer to the ‘Causes of God’s Wrath’. Since the year 1660 we reckon, 1. The universal rejoicings, bonfires, and riotings that were almost everywhere throughout the land, at the king’s return, and yearly since; and many public abuses then committed, and frequent profaning of the Lord’s name. 2. The establishing of, and complying with abjured prelacy. 3. The neglecting of public testimonies and protestations against the erecting of that tyrannical abjured hierarchy, and against the defacing of the Lord’s glorious work, and overturning the right government of this house 4. The great and public sin of many, in taking unlawful bonds, called bonds of peace, &c. Which are contrary to our solemn oaths and covenants. 5. The paying of unlawful cess and taxations, imposed and levied for keeping up sacrilegious supremacy, and for maintaining soldiers to suppress the gospel. 6. The complying with abjured Erastianism; ministers appearing at the court of usurping rulers, and accepting from them warrants and instructions (founded upon that sacrilegious supremacy) to admit them to, and regulate them in the exercise of their ministry; their leading blindfold alongst with them many of the godly in that abjured course; their indulgence becoming a public sin and snare, both to themselves and many others.” -Wodrow, History, III, 92.

§The Battle of Bothwell Bridge

Flag of the East Munkland Covenanter battle of bothwell bridge june 1679

But the Bothwell Debates did not fracture the army. The Militants (Remonstrators) remained and the army was united. The militants (Remonstrators) had grudgingly accepted the reality of their situation, but from their perspective, the defeat of the presbyterian army the next day would demonstrate the Lord’s displeasure with the army’s moderate platform.

The preacher Donald Cargill and William Cleland, the victor of Drumclog, were present, as were David Hackston of Rathillet and John Balfour of Kinloch, known as Burley, who were among the group who lawfully assassinated Archbishop Sharp on 5th month 3rd day. The government army numbered around 5000 regular troops and militia, and was commanded by Monmouth, supported by Claverhouse and the Earl of Linlithgow.

bloody banner covenanter banner with proper colors

Monmouth’s army arrived the next morning. In the parlay before the battle, the moderates’ hopes of a negotiated settlement vanished, as Monmouth’s terms insisted that they would have to lay down their arms and hand over known fugitives, which meant most of their leadership.

Even though the Covenanter Militant (Remonstrators) and Moderate (Protestors) factions had been bitterly divided, they had come to a form of agreement and remained together on the battlefield. However, in the delay caused by the parlay, Monmouth deployed his cannon. Monmouth’s army soon got the upper hand and won the day by killing or capturing a quarter of the Covenanter soldiers.

Many fled into nearby Hamilton Palace, seat of Duchess Anne, who was sympathetic to the Presbyterian cause, and it was in this area that the final engagements took place. The numbers of Covenanters who were killed were around 700. Around 1200 were taken prisoner were taken to Edinburgh and held on land beside Greyfriars Kirkyard, an area now known as the Covenanters’ Prison. Many remained there for several months. Many had their hands and feet cut off and then executed, some were sent to the colonies to be enslaved and work on plantations.

§My Own Ancestor at Bothwell bridge

nimmo crestMy own ancestor James Nimmo (my eighth great grandfather) joined the insurgents at Drumclog, and was among those defeated at Bothwell Bridge in 1679. One of a very few who managed to escape from the aftermath of Bothwell Bridge he fled to the north of Scotland and hid until he joined up with Richard Cameron and his men who would do Guerrilla Warfare against the English.

“But qn I came I was not halfe ane hour thr until I feared the Lord was not wethm seeing no Authroretie in discipline, & being ten dayes wtthm I observed I could neer gett liberty in secret, qeh made me wt other thinges fear the ishew, percaving much devision among those tht should have guided the rest; houever upon 22nd we was brock by the enmy & wholly disperst & maney killed & taken, my selfe by the marcifull hand of God saflie brought off tho for sometime was in the place of greatess danger & a cannon ball kild a horse under a man hard by me, & oft hes tht word been sweet to me tht hee was a cover to me in the day off battel, so I stayed hidnly some times in on place some times in ane other in much hazerd. About three dayes after we wer brocke, ane alarome came qr I was tht a pairtie of the enemie was coming, it being the night time I was made to rise & goe to a corn field & hide my selfe qr in the morning getting my selfe somqt composed desired to adress my self to the Lord by prayer; & thrin hee fully did satisfie my mine tht we wer brock & thtit was not yet time nor we wer meet for deliverance, & consdiering the devisiones was amonst thm, made to bliss rthe Lord we wer brock rather thr qn we should have destroyed on ane other. I was oftn made to ly in cold barnes tht winter thrafter, yet injoyed much pleasant qwayetness in my mind tho cold and bad dyet & not timlie did affect my bodie.” Diary of my 8th Great Grandfather James Nimmo.

Nimmo quite confirms the accounts which Wodrow and others have given of the divisions which arose in the Covenanter camp during the Bothwell Debates.

§Richard Cameron and the Cameronians

The Covenanter minister Richard Cameron (1648-1680), known as the Lion of the Covenant, and twenty of his Cameronians, then issued the Sanquhar Declaration (1680) disowning ungodly royal authority:

“Although we be for government and governors, such as the word of God, and our covenants allows; yet we for ourselves and all that will adhere to us, the representatives of the true Presbyterian church and covenanted nation of Scotland, considering the great hazard of lying under sin any longer, do, by these presents, disown Charles Stuart, who hath been reigning these years bygone (or rather we may say tyrannizing) on the throne of Britain, as having any right, title, or interest to, or in the said crown of Scotland or government; as forfeited several years since, by his perjury and breach of covenant with God and His Church, and usurpation of His crown and royal prerogative, and many other breaches in matters ecclesiastic, and by his tyranny and breaches in the very leges regnandi in matters civil.

For which reasons we declare that several years since he should have been denuded of being king, ruler, or magistrate, or having any power, or to be obeyed as such. As also we, under the banner of our Lord Jesus Christ the Captain of salvation, do declare a war with such a tyrant and usurper, and all the men of these practices, as enemies to our Lord Jesus Christ and His cause and covenant, and against all such as have any way strengthened him, sided with, or acknowledged him, in his usurpation, civil and ecclesiastic: yea, and against all such as shall any way strengthen, side with, or acknowledge him, or any other in the like usurpation and tyranny; far more against such, as would betray or deliver up our free reformed church into the bondage of Antichrist, the pope of Rome.”


So let us take from this history and learn from our mistakes so that they don’t get repeated. When we have a chance to strike and the Blessed Lord has open up the way for us to take the ground for the sake of the defense of religion as well as self-defense, let us not stop and bicker. Let us not divide ourselves at such a crucial moment and stall but let us swiftly strike and do what is right and honorable and according to Divine precept. Divided we fall but united we stand! Do not repeat past mistakes by being chronological snobs or we are doomed to repeat the same failures. As an old saying goes, “History flows like a river and repeats itself”, so stand firm and stand with the Lord, do not be afraid and we will not repeat past mistakes but win the day. “The grass withers and the flower fades but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” (Isaiah 40:8)

“Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered: let them also that hate him flee before him. As smoke is driven away, so drive them away: as wax melteth before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God. But let the righteous be glad; let them rejoice before God: yea, let them exceedingly rejoice.” Psalm 68:1-3

“O my God, make them like a wheel; as the stubble before the wind. As the fire burneth a wood, and as the flame setteth the mountains on fire; So persecute them with thy tempest, and make them afraid with thy storm. Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O Lord. Let them be confounded and troubled for ever; yea, let them be put to shame, and perish: That men may know that thou, whose name alone is Yahovah, art the most high over all the earth.” -Psalm 83:14-18



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