Renwick’s Escape at Dungavel

Cairn at Summit of Dungavel © Copyright Iain Russell and licensed for reuse.

Take a good look at the image above. It is rare to be able to follow exactly in the footsteps of James Renwick, but the picture above shows where Renwick made a providential escape out of the ‘very paws’ of pursuing dragoons.

In a letter of mid August 1684 to Robert Hamilton in Leeuwarden, Renwick tells of his close escape from certain death and martyrdom.

On 30 July 1684, Renwick was on the way to the United Societies’ convention with three others when they encountered twenty-two or so dragoons. Renwick and his party turned up a hill called Dungavel, which lies south of Strathaven in Lanarkshire and east of Darvel in Ayrshire. Dungavel is just short of 1,500 feet high.

Map of Dungavel Hill

While his three companions were round the foot of the hill, Renwick rode up the hill hotly pursued by dragoons, probably about an eight-hundred foot climb. Some of the dragoons went to his right to cut him off his escape to the mosses to the south-east while others behind shot at him. On some level ground near the top of Dungavel he dismounted and probably fired a shot back at his pursuers. However, when he attempted to remount, his horse would not hold still.

With only one shot left, Renwick abandoned his horse, hoping it would save his wallet and papers together with Mr B’s wallet (which probably contained letters from the Dutch minister William Brackel who was based in Leeuwarden), and made for the top of the hill. There he found a cairn, six or seven paces of ground out of the dragoons’ eyes and hid in a pit.

In it he lay citing Psalm 6.8 a hundred times over: ‘Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping’.

And Psalm 91.2: ‘I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust’.

By what Renwick saw as divine providence, the dragoons did not find him. He had escaped, but his three Societies’ brethren had all fallen into the dragoons’ hands, one of them receiving ‘eleven wounds.’

Afterwards, Renwick headed across the moor in the direction of the river Clyde for about four miles before he met ‘Wind-hill’, i.e., John Steel of Windhill, a forfeited laird, who sheltered him for two days, probably the nights of 30 July and 31 July. He also records that he kept a meeting, probably meaning the United Societies’ general convention, on the second night he was at Windhill, which lies in Evandale parish. Even then, the militia were not finished with him. On the night of the convention, Renwick escaped twice ‘even out of there very paws’. (Houston, Letters, 163-5.)

Windhill is less than two miles south-east of Strathaven and just over five miles north-east of Dungavel Hill.

Map of Windhill        Street View of Windhill

Renwick’s escape and the location of Windhill also help to resolve the little mystery of where the Societies’ fifteenth convention was held on 31 July 1684. The record of the location of the fifteenth convention was lost when several leaves from the manuscript of Michael Shields Faithful Contendings Displayed disappeared before it was bound in Wodrow’s collection in the early eighteenth century. We know some of the content of the meeting from surviving letters dated 31 July, but not what Shields wrote about the politics of the meeting or where he said it was held. (Shields, FCD, 133-4.)

Thanks to Renwick’s letter we know that the fifteenth convention was held close to Windhill, almost certainly at the Societies’ regular general convention site at Auchengilloch.

Map of Auchengilloch

Text © Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

~ by drmarkjardine on September 19, 2010.

7 Responses to “Renwick’s Escape at Dungavel”

  1. […] Renwick avoided capture at a ‘Hill called Darngavel’. From Renwick’s letters, we know that he escaped at Dungavel Hill on 30 July 1684. (Houston, Letters, 163; Shields, Life of Renwick, 54-5; Wodrow, History, IV, 51; […]

  2. […] 30 July, Renwick was nearly captured at Dungavel on his way to the Societies’ fifteenth convention at […]

  3. […] are distinct parallels between Linning’s story and Renwick version of his near capture at Dungavel on 30 July, 1684. At Dungavel, Renwick fled from the dragoons on horseback but was then forced to abandon his horse […]

  4. […] Young Captured at Dungavel? The time frame for Young’s capture in Evandale parish coincides with the capture of three of James Renwick’s companions in the same parish on 30 […]

  5. […] probably from the troop of either Captain John Inglis, or Captain William Cleland, encountered James Renwick and three Society people at Dungavel. Renwick narrowly escaped from them, but three of his companions were captured. Two of the latter […]

  6. […] 30 July, Renwick was nearly captured at Dungavel on his way to the Societies’ fifteenth convention at […]

  7. […] also places his discussion of the proclamation after the story of how Renwick narrowly evaded capture by dragoons at a ‘Hill called Darngavel’, which Renwick’s letters confirm was on 30 July 1684 and actually at Dungavel Hill that lies near […]

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