It is Impossible to Fight with Wind: Lanarkshire in 1679
Two days after the assassination of Archbishop Sharp, Lord Ross was still unaware that events had reached a tipping point in the struggle between government forces and the Covenanters. Ross had sent couriers to his superior, the earl of Linlithgow, but so far, they had not returned. He seems to have been slightly puzzled by that, but sent a further report on the “rebel” activity in Lanarkshire…
Letter of George, Lord Ross, and Captain in the King’s Regiment of Foot Guards, to the Earl of Linlithgow, Monday 5 May, 1679.
‘For the Earle of Linlithgow, Major-Generall to His Majtis forces
Lanerick, 5 May, 1679.
I sent on[e] of the E[arl]. of Homes troope [of horse] to Edinburgh on Wensday last [i.e., 30 April], to attend yor. Lo[rdship’s]: comands; by ane other of the same troope on Frydaye therafter [2 May], I gave yor. Lo[rdship]: ane accompt of a disordr comited by some of our men in the cuntrey; non of which being yet returned, I doe againe intreat yor. Lo[rdship]: will give ordore conserning the comiters of that abuse [in Pettinain parish].’
A report that arms, probably illegally imported from the United Provinces, were held near Lanark had led to a standoff between pitchfork-wielding locals and government forces on the estate of James Lockhart of Cleghorn, a staunch royalist, at some point between Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 May.
‘My Lord, upon informatione that a tenant of [Lockhart of] Cleghorns had some of thes new fashoned armes, Haliburton with 6 of E[arl]. Hom[e]s troope [of horse] wer ordored out to seize the man and the armes; the man they got, bot no armes bot a halbart only; which being done, instead of returning with the prisoner, they put up ther horsses in several stables, and, I belive, fell a drinking; in which tym some few peopll fell upon them with forks and the lyke, and hath wounded on[e] of the soldiors most desperatly ill, and really all of them give bot a very ill accompt of themselfs in that actione. Haliburtone says, he durst not fire upon them, becaus he had not a remission in his pocket: however, the felow and his halbart ar both heare [in prison in Lanark]; I have spoke with the man; he is a great rogue, and a young fellow, and does not deny bot he is listed as on[e] who is to defend thes feild conventickls in armes: thes who fell upon the soldiors ar all Head, bot Cleghorn promises me all ther names; and this is the whole accompt of that affarre;’
Lord Ross and other commanders believed that the Presbyterians were planning an insurrection in the West. An armed confrontation was expected. Ross was not sure that his forces would prevail in any encounter, but, like Claverhouse, he expected them to acquit themselves well in the face of the enemy no matter what the odds were. In that context, the apparent breakdown in discipline in the Pettinain incident may have weighed on the mind of Lord Ross.
He informed Linlithgow that, so far, their enemy remained elusive:
‘as to any thing ells, we ar just in the same conditione ye left us. I could learne of no meitings to be yesterday [i.e., Sunday] anywher, and therfor sent out no partys, least I should wearye the Kings forces improfitably. By on[e] belonging to [John Graham of] Claverus I resaved yor. Lo[rdship’s letter]: of the 3d instant [i.e., Saturday]; it is inposible for us to fight with wind, bot if any of thes peopll doe apear, be ther number what it will, we shall aither give ane accompt of them, or they of us; if Claverus be to have any detachments from this [garrison], I expect yor. Lo[rdship’s]: ordor for it, haveing no warrand for it as yet.
It is clear from the instructions that Ross had received on 3 May, that Claverhouse was expected to lead the effort to confront the rebels when they appeared in the field. On 1 June, Claverhouse would attack the rebels at Drumclog.
For more on the Covenanters in Lanarkshire, see here.
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