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.)
The Society people appear to have posted the excommunication in Edinburgh (probably at night) within hours or days of the Torwood conventicle, as on the following Sabbath Cargill spoke at Falla Hills 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 presbyterians ministry accepted the validity of his Torwood excommunication.
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 presbyterians’ 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.
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 Ayrsmoss (or Airdsmoss) 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.
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 Ayrsmoss 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 Ayrsmoss, 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 Ayrsmoss:
‘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’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 Ayrsmoss 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 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 in September, 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 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.
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 almost certainly not present at Ayrsmoss 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 Ayrsmoss 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 Ayrsmoss 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 Ayrsmoss 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 Smith and Boig who had been on opposite sides of the dispute in Rotterdam.
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 Ayrsmoss 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 Ayrsmoss. 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 posts 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 Dalyell died in 1685, Renwick also failed to excommunicate the latter’s replacement, Lieutenant General William Drummond, who led 1,200 Highlanders in the 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 in late September.
Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.