The Defeat of the Covenanters at Airds Moss, A Very Wild Prank, Gideon’s 300 and the ‘Wild-fire of Bastard-zeal’ for Separation

The text of the Torwood Excommunication was quickly publicised by the Society people:

‘Some of his hearers … fixed copies of it on the Mercat-cross of Edinburgh, and the doors of the Parliament-house, and other remarkable places. Also they reported, that there were mo[r]e yet to be excommunicated. O, whither shall our shame go, at such a h[e]ight of folly are some men arrived!’ (Law, Memorialls, 161.)

Edinburgh’s Mercat Cross

The Society people appear to have posted the excommunication in Edinburgh (probably at night) by 18 September and within days of the Torwood conventicle, as on the following Sabbath Cargill spoke at Falla Hills on 19 September about knowing that ‘I am and will be condemned by many for what I have done, in excommunicating these wicked Men’. (Walker, BP, II, 8.)

The publication of the text of the excommunication in prominent places was not just to draw attention to the matter, it was also to some degree in conformity with the Presbyterian practice that an excommunication should be ‘published universally throughout the Realme, lest that any man should pretend ignorance’.

Law’s claim that some of the hearers from Torwood reported ‘that there were mo[r]e yet to be excommunicated’ appears to be based on the statements of at least some of those who were captured after Torwood, however, that claim does not survive records of their trials and testimonies.

Excommunication was the most serious disciplinary weapon in the armoury of the Presbyterian church. For what it meant, see here. Cargill had acted either alone or possibly with the tactic agreement of Robert MacWard’s militant circle in Rotterdam, but neither the established episcopal church nor the outed moderate-presbyterian ministry accepted the validity of his Torwood excommunication.

Vilant’s Book

William Vilant, the indulged presbyterian minister at Cambusnethan parish, was highly critical of Cargill’s excommunication. In an additional dialogue appended to his A review and examination of a book, bearing the Title of the History of the Indulgence (1681), he attacked the Sanquhar Declaration of 1680, the Queensferry Paper and the Torwood Excommunication. He regarded the latter as both a Popish error like ‘high flown’ Prelacy, i.e., episcopacy, and a ‘prank’, rather than of Presbyterian principles:

‘The Authors of this Bond [i.e., the Queensferry Paper] in their Deposing the King and Subordinate Rulers, and in declaring them no Rulers, and in engaging to execute Judgment upon them (I shall forbear to speak of their late Excommunication of them, because I have not seen it) they have confirmed the Papists in these Errors, for they will think that the pope may claim as much Power over Kings to whom he is not Subject as their own private Subjects claim.’ (Vilant, A review, 554-5.)

‘And one of them hath very summerly excommunicated the King, the Duke of York, the Duke of Monmouth, and several Peers and Officers of State. This is prelacy high flown at the first flight, it’s but now and then that the Bishop of Rome, the Pope himself, plays such pranks’ (Vilant, A review, 624-5.)

There is little doubt that the seven men excommunicated would have regarded it as the work of a few fanatics. According to Vilant, it was the subject of witty banter and damaging to the moderate presbyterian cause:

‘As for this late Excommunication, judicious sober persons are grieved and much ashamed to hear of it; and it’s a matter of sport and derision to others; and it’s more than probable that Jesuits take advantage of the distempers of weak persons, to drive them under pretext of zeal to such Pope-like pranks, to make the Popes Excommunication of Princes less odious, and to render Presbyterians odious to Rulers; but any who will not shut their eyes, may see that such extravagancies are inconsistent with Presbyterian principles and practices.’ (Vilant, A review, 626-7.)

Vilant’s views were recycled by two other moderate presbyterian ministers, John Row and Robert Law, in their memorials of the period that discussed Torwood. Like Vilant, Row stated that Cargill had acted ‘very summarily’ when he had conducted the excommunication and that ‘sober men or ministers … judged [it] a very wild prank’. Law, too, stated that Cargill had acted ‘popelyk’ when he had excommunicated the King. (Row in M’Crie, Life of Blair, 579-80; Law, Memorialls, 161.)

An excommunication was supposed to isolate an individual from all spiritual, social and economic contact in order to produce repentance. In those terms, Torwood was a complete failure.

The Torwood Wallace Oak

Torwood: A New Strategy
However, Cargill was no fool. It is extremely unlikely that he ever intended the Torwood excommunication to achieve the repentance of Charles II. Instead, Torwood was intended to influence the behaviour of the audience, i.e., the Society people, rather than bring about repentance in the excommunicated individuals. Its secondary aim may have been to inform fellow radicals in England and the United Provinces that the militant movement was still in business.

Cargill may have kept almost everyone in the dark about his intentions at Torwood, but the excommunication was part of a sustained assault by the Society people on Charles II’s authority that had been launched in spectacular style with the Sanquhar Declaration on 22 June, 1680. That attack had continued in Richard Cameron’s preachings at the Gass Water, Carluke and Hynd’s Bottom and at Cargill’s preaching at Craigmad.

Torwood offered continuity with the Society peoples’ rejection, separation and noncompliance with all forms of royal authority. However, it also marked a change in strategy.

Sanquhar’s declaration of ‘war’ on the King and persecutors, and the rhetoric of field preachings which had followed it, had been an attempt by the militant movement to reignite the confrontation and conflict with the regime which had taken place before the defeat at Bothwell in 1679. Their intention was to pick up the Lord’s standard which had fallen at Bothwell, but firmly plant it in the ground of a new platform that explicitly rejected both royal authority and any accommodation with the indulged presbyterian ministry, i.e., precisely the issues which had torn the presbyterian movement apart in the acrimonious debates during the Bothwell Rising. It was a short-to-medium term strategy that depended on momentum to succeed. The killing of Cameron and defeat at Airds Moss on 22 July, 1680, had brought that strategy to a halt.

It was time for a rethink, which appears to be precisely what Cargill did after he preached at Craigmad, as he suspended field preaching and spent time in prayer for weeks. His answer to their strategic problem was laid out at the Torwood conventicle.

Airds Moss © Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse.

Little attention has been paid to Cargill’s afternoon sermon at Torwood on Lamentations 3.31-32.,“For the Lord will not cast off for ever…”. It dealt with the Lord’s wrathful withdrawal from covenant-breaking Scotland, which was believed by the militants to have been the cause of their defeat at Bothwell in 1679 and perhaps at Airds Moss in 1680. There is some fragmentary evidence that the latter defeat was interpreted by some militants as a sign of God’s continuing wrath with ‘His people’.

After the defeat at Airds Moss, Archibald Alison, one of Cameron’s armed followers who was executed on 13 August, 1680, repeated Cameron’s warning to them that they were not like ‘Gideon’s 300 men’, an invincible biblical army.

Cameron’s words quoted in Alison’s testimony are a strong hint that discord had broken out among his militant followers prior to Airds Moss:

‘My friends, we are not to compare ourselves with a Gideon’s 300 men. No, not at all. Our design is to have you examined how ye are, and what ye are; to choose two or three of the foot, and two or three of the horse, that are found fittest qualified for elders; to try your principles, to try your life and conversation, and to have you being Christians. Our number was more the last day, and we gave them free leave to go home, and only but a few handful to stay; for we design not to fall upon any party of the forces, except they be few in number, and oppose us in keeping up the Gospel in the fields; for I am persuaded that one meeting in the fields has been more owned and countenanced by His presence with His people, than twenty house meetings, as they are now bought; and therefore make no strife among yourselves about officers, because they are but men; yea, I think there is not a man amongst you all meet for it. We are not meet to be a Minister to you; only we are to wait till the Lord provide better; and, ye that are not satisfied to stay in defence of the Gospel, good morrow to you, whatsoever ye be.’ (Thomson (ed.), CW, 60-1.)

Gideon chooses the 300

‘Gideon’s 300 men’ was a reference to the biblical story of Gideon in Judges, chapter seven, in which God instructed Gideon to reduce the size of his army down to only three-hundred men so that the Israelites would know that God was responsible for their victory.

And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me.
Now therefore go to, proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early from mount Gilead. And there returned of the people twenty and two thousand; and there remained ten thousand.
And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go.
So he brought down the people unto the water: and the Lord said unto Gideon, Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink.
And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water.
And the Lord said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place.’ (Judges 7.2-7.)

The importance of Cameron’s explicit denial that his followers were not emulating ‘Gideon’s 300’ is that exactly the same debate over purging the Covenanters’ army had taken place after their victory at the battle of Drumclog in 1679.

The defeat at Airds Moss was probably interpreted by some militants in the opposite way to their earlier victory at Drumclog on 1 June, 1679. In the days after Drumclog, several sources reported that the Covenanters’ success in battle was viewed as a sign of God’s approval of their platform and cause. In a similar way, after their defeat at Bothwell a few weeks later, many militants had rationalised their loss on the basis that the Lord had turned against their cause because former ‘malignants’ had been incorporated into their expanded army and the platform which the Lord had so approved of at Drumclog had been watered down in the debates before Bothwell.

Clearly, Cameron’s followers had argued over purging themselves of any who were in anyway associated with the sins of the land.

Another clue to the discord among Cameron’s followers is given by Patrick Walker in his account of the departure of the militant preacher, Thomas Douglas, from Cameron’s side. The key individual to note in the following is Mr. James Boig, or Bogues, a theology student who had been with Cargill at Arnbuckle and fled to the United Provinces after Bothwell.

According to Walker:
‘The Wild-fire of Bastard-zeal is easily kindled, but not so soon quenched again. Mr. [Thomas] Douglas, Mr. [Walter] Smith and Mr. [James] Bogues returned to Scotland [from the United Provinces in mid 1680]; but Mr Bogues and others still maintained this Debate, which was a great Grief to Mr. Cargill, being so much in his Company; and occasioned Mr. Thomas Douglas to leave Scotland and go to England.

This Debate continued until Mr. Donald Cargil, Mr. Smith and Mr. Bogues were all in the Enemy’s Hands, and brought to Edinburgh Tolbooth [in July, 1681].’ (Walker, BP, I, 249.)

The Scots Kirk in Rotterdam

The Dispute in the Scots Kirk in Rotterdam

The dispute between Douglas and Boig, to which Walker refers, had first arisen in the Scots Kirk in Rotterdam in late 1679 when, along with Robert Hamilton and others, Boig had separated from Robert MacWard, Thomas Douglas and Walter Smith after they had heard the minister of the Scots Kirk, Robert Fleming, preach, on the grounds that Fleming had previously invited James Veitch, an indulged minister, to preach at the Scots Kirk. (Walker, BP, I, 248.)

At first sight, this appears to be an arcane dispute, but the issue at the core of it was Boig’s insistence that the militants completely detached themselves from any sins of the land, such as hearing another presbyterian minister who maintained brotherhood with the indulged presbyterian ministers who were only allowed to preach under royal authority.

Walker states that Boig had brought his ‘wild-fire of bastard-zeal’ for separation back to Scotland when he, Smith and Douglas had returned in mid 1680. He does not state that the three men arrived at the same time, but they may have arrived at the beginning of Cameron and Cargill’s field preaching campaign.

Walter Smith was present at Torwood on 12 September, 1680, but may have arrived some time before that.

When did Boig return?
It is not clear when James Boig returned from exile, however, he is first recorded back in Scotland in early November, 1680, when he and Cargill were nearly captured at the Mutton Hole. (Walker, BP, II, 14.)

If Boig was the cause of Douglas going to England, then he must have been in Scotland earlier in the year in July.

When did Douglas go to England?
Douglas had returned from exile before the Darmead Fast (<22 June) and was present at the proclamation of the Sanquhar Declaration on 22 June, but he was not present at Airds Moss on 20 July.

The evidence suggests that Boig’s dispute with Douglas had come to a head at some point in the month after 22 June when Douglas was in Cameron’s band. Taken together, the hints and clues indicate that prior to the defeat at Airds Moss that Cameron’s followers had disputed the issues of separation, the appointment of officers and whether like Gideon’s invincible three hundred they should confront government forces.

Clearly, a section of Cameron’s followers had pressed that only those entirely free of the sins of the land should be included among Cameron’s followers. The discord appears to have caused departure from Cameron’s band, probably including Douglas, and Cameron may have struggled to keep a lid on the situation.

The importance of Boig and/or others like him among Cameron’s followers is that they would have almost certainly interpreted the defeat at Airds Moss as further evidence of the Lord’s wrath with the militants. Intriguingly, in his afternoon sermon at Torwood, Cargill appears to have believed that God had given ‘His People … away for a while’.

The evidence suggests that Airds Moss was interpreted by some militants as a continuing sign of the Lord’s wrath with ‘His people’. The obvious solution would have been renewed efforts to purge themselves of the sins of the land. That may be why Cargill is said to have reached for excommunication so ‘that no weapon which Christ allows his servants under his standard to manage against his enemies, might be wanting’. (Shields, A Hind Let Loose, 168.)

The next record of Boig as one of Cargill’s trusted followers in early November suggests that Torwood may have helped to bind together individuals like Walter Smith and James Boig who had been on opposite sides of the dispute in Rotterdam.

The Last Judgment

Cargill’s sermon at Torwood also offered hope. Although God had long ‘cast off’ the Church and people of Scotland, he was sure that the Lord would not continue to cast off ‘the people of God’, i.e, the remnant or Society people, as God would ‘turn the wheel upon the wicked’ and ‘have His people up again’.

How was that reversal to be achieved? In order to assuage the Lord’s wrath, the key question for each and every member of the Society people was ‘Have ye kept His bed chaste?’ If they had been ‘chaste’, i.e., avoided the sins of the land, God would return to them again and they would be thanked rather than face His terrible judgment at the Apocalypse.

Cargill’s sermon reemphasised one of the militants’ core aims, that they were to avoid compliance with the sins of the land which had caused the Lord’s wrath. Instead of taking the cause forward through ‘war’ and open confrontation, Cargill placed greater emphasis on personal separation from the authority of the “ungodly” Restoration state as a means of progressing the cause.

Cargill’s decision to excommunicate at Torwood may also have been influenced by the first martyrdoms under the militants’ new platform created by the Sanquhar Declaration. In the period between Airds Moss and Torwood, David Hackstoun of Rathillet was executed on 30 July and Archibald Alison and John Malcolm on 13 August. While Rathillet was a leading militant well versed in matters of testimony, Alison and Malcolm, the latter of whom was a weaver, were ordinary followers of Cameron who had been captured at Airds Moss. Perhaps as a result, Cargill wrote to the two men after they were sentenced to death on 3 August with advice on how they could best offer testimony at their martyrdom. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 15-19.)

The first martyrdoms under the post-Sanquahr testimony and the problem of how the humble “foot soldiers” of the militant movement should offer testimony were in Cargill’s mind in the run up to Torwood. They may also have influenced his decision to excommunicate at Torwood.

The problem that the martyrdoms of Alison and Malcolm exposed was how were relatively humble Society people to offer testimony without being drawn into the debate over the validity of the Sanquhar Declaration or the complex issues surrounding the militants rejection of royal authority. The Torwood excommunication simplified those debates for those brought before the privy council or justiciary by creating a blanket rejection of ungodly authority. Not every militant would have understood the arguments over their rejection of royal authority and how they were supposed to apply them, but they all would have understood what excommunication meant.

The Torwood Excommunication put the decision to reject royal authority into the conscience of individual Society people, as the sentence of excommunication placed them under a particular burden to shun and completely reject royal authority when they encountered it, either in oaths, or before the council or court.

In the wake of Torwood, many of the Society people brought before the council refused to cooperate or remained silent or refused to sign their confessions. As a result, many of them were found guilty of treason, not for what they had done prior to their capture, but often for their treasonable utterances or failure to recognise royal authority when brought before the council or court.

Torwood increased the potential for martyrdom.

A “One-Off” Event
The Torwood Excommunication was a one-off event which was not repeated by James Renwick during his ministry between late 1683 and early 1688, even though other members of the Scottish elite would equal or surpass the persecution of those excommunicated. No effort was made to update the list of those excommunicated: of the seven men excommunicated, only two, York and Mackenzie, survived beyond 1685.

Rothes and Lauderdale died in the year after Cargill’s execution. The successors to their offices were usually closely associated with York, Catholicism and the persecution of the Society people.

Renwick could have excommunicated the successors of Lauderdale and Rothes who also repressed the Society people, such as James Drummond, fourth earl of Perth, or John Drummond, earl of Melfort, or William Douglas, duke of Queensberry, but he did not.

After Charles II, Monmouth and General Thomas Dalyell died in 1685, Renwick also failed to excommunicate the latter’s replacement, Lieutenant-General William Drummond, who led 1,200 Highlanders in a most brutal campaign of the Killing Times.

The Torwood Excommunication was probably not updated because it had already had its impact on its intended target, the Society people.

After Torwood, Cargill defended his excommunication of Charles II at Falla Hills on 19 September.

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

~ by drmarkjardine on January 11, 2012.

8 Responses to “The Defeat of the Covenanters at Airds Moss, A Very Wild Prank, Gideon’s 300 and the ‘Wild-fire of Bastard-zeal’ for Separation”

  1. […] the time of Airds Moss, the minster of Cambusnethan parish was William Vilant, an indulged moderate presbyterian, who was deeply opposed to Cameron’s Sanquhar Declaration. In […]

  2. The (Law, Memorialls, 161.) ‘Some of his hearers … some men arrived!’ quote used here, is missing its full context surely? It suggests that Cargill acted ‘popelyk’ and based this ‘excommunication’ on 1 Corrinthians Chapter V which is all about sexual relations “Yet all manner of fornication is heard among you, and such fornication, which is not among heathen men, so that some man have the wife of his father” (Wycliffe Bible).

    The Robert Law text appears not to provide references for much of the ‘commentary’ however, closer inspection reveals the hand of Wodrow “a vulgar glutton of coarse and canting gossip” (Napier, History Rescued, 43.) The Cargill account precedes one of Wodrow’s bizarre ‘ghostly apparition’ stories from (Wodrow, Analecta), a text full of mad, perverted and sick religious fantasy and incredible levels of vagueness, especially given his later adamant assertions on dates, times and manner of martyrdoms.

    Mark, I am very interested in your desire to ‘road test ideas’ etc. I also understand your personal and academic interest in the “Societies”, but the more I read, the more I am convinced that one of the most interesting outcomes would be to look at the whole story again. Attempting to rewrite the account using only facts that can be properly supported i.e sans Shield’s lies, sans the hand of Wodrow and his ‘canting gossip’ and sans all that have subsequently based their opinions on, and then have simply regurgitated and embellished these lies and the ‘there be dragons’ approach to the subject.

    Surely a comparison of a simple and factual account and the current one would be most interesting indeed? It would lead us to a proper understanding and fuller appreciation of the complexities and astonishing sophistication within Scottish Society and the Scottish Legal system pre-enlightenment.



    • Hi David,
      With you on the last paragraph. From memory Law and Row (also mentioned) appear to have based their hostile account of Torwood on Vilant’s book of 1681, as at least one of them repeats one of Vilant’s phrases. I’ll have a look at the Wodrow connection, but the story in Wodrow’s Analecta (unpublished for over a century) and Law may be based on the same source. Both men were interested in such matters.

      Law’s accusation that Cargill acted ‘popelyk’ is mentioned later in the post. It was a pretty standard moderate presbyterian charge that the Society people were either like the Jesuits or part of a Jesuit plot. Nonsense, of course, but the moderates hated Cargill, threw as much mud as possible at the Societies and repeated many wild rumours about them.

      As for discarding Shields as a source, I think that is a step too far. After Shields published A Short Memorial, who challenged the specific allegations that he had made against named individuals? Many of those named were still alive when he put his accusations in the public sphere. it also worth noting that Shields also accused “good Revolution men”, such as Colonel Douglas. Why would he do that if he had simply made it all up?



  3. It would appear that I may have got a little bit ahead of myself, although I believe that I now have found some of the answers to my above postulations…

    According to the Editor of the 1818 Memorials, “The MS from which the Memorials is printed are not in the hand-writing of the author. Transcribed with extreme inaccuracy… it has been corrected by Wodrow himeslf.”

  4. Re: Shields, “why would he make it up?” Why wouldn’t he Mark? Had he not singularly ‘failed to die a martyr’s death’ when he had it within his grasp. Had he wriggled, squirmed and like a ‘malignant’ – abjured Bothwell and taken the Oath. His conduct then, and subsequent to that clearly demonstrates that Shield’s only truth was a self serving one that saved his own skin – yet allowed him to decry anyone else – as ‘malignant’ etc. especially if the were unwilling to take a martyr’s crown for themselves. He lied – as and when it suited him – and frequently it can be shown that he did so.

    Personally, I am not keen to base any approach to Shields on mere probability or speculate on his motivations – although guilt, a reckless desire to inflame, to confront and maybe even to prove his new willingness to have his martyr’s crown are all possibilities – but surely that should come later?

    If you are not happy to discard him as a reliable source outright – being a step too far – he should certainly be approached with great caution and each assertion that he makes should need to be proved – beyond all doubt – before it is authoritatively used. Let us not forget, this is the person behind the biggest hoax in the whole of the martyrology – the ‘Wigtown martyrdom’ – a hoax that insults the intelligence and demeans all rational examination of the period and the subject.

    Finally vis a vis Wodrow’s Analecta and the Shield’s ‘Wigtown hoax’, clearly it was a tradition so ‘seared into the popular imagination and understanding’ that Wodrow commemorated it thus in 1702; “May 11. — This day I sau ane Englishwoman, Mary . . . . , said to be forty- five years of age, two foot and a half high, and very weel proportioned. Her papes seemed very bigg. She was very smart in converse, danced, and smoked tobacke. She pretended she was maried, and had a child. She looked old-like. At four years of age, she said a ordinary ring was drawn above her knee.”



    • The government did frame the Abjuration oath, it did commission officers to commit summary executions and order them to hunt out the Society people. Summary execution was legal and officers were indemnified for conducting such executions. Government forces were deployed in the areas where the killings took place. Government sources confirm that some individuals were summarily executed, Brown of Priesthill, James Kirko, David Steel etc.

      The Societies did declare war on their persecutors. They did murder some of them. They did resort to arms. They did assault government prisons. They were urged to refuse to take the Abjuration oath. Many of them were known fugitives rather than innocent men. They did haunt the same areas where the killings took place.

      Did Shields lie?

      • Mark, almost everything that you list above can be verified from other more reputable sources surely? I don’t believe we disagree upon much, but to say officers were commissioned to “commit” summary executions is not really accurate or unbiased. Likewise describing the Legal Government forces as “persecutors” presupposes much that is hard to support when viewing the whole Kingdom of Scotland and the wide range of views at that time.

        As I said previously, “He lied – as and when it suited him – and frequently it can be shown that he did so.” I stand by that statement. His and Walker’s fanciful accounts of the ‘Brown & Brounen affair’ are almost certainly untrue. Likewise the ‘Wigtown martyr hoax’ – utterly untrue and unsubstantiated. The ‘Bluidy Clavers’ lie is yet another deceit that can be laid partly at the door of Shields.

        Woodrow – making great use of Shields – has served us up a terrible lie that is a stain obscuring an incredibly important truth.

        All of the things that you have listed above can be deduced without resort to Shields.



  5. […] that led to an acrimonious schism with the ranks of Cameron’s followers over whether they should confront their enemies like Gideon’s three hundred or not. As a result of those disputes, Douglas departed from Cameron’s band in early July and preached […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.