James Hogg & ‘Claverhouse and his Company Shooting Covenanters’ #Literature #Art #Scotland


The scene of executions. Did Claverhouse kill five men at Erne Cleuch?… The image above on the title page of Scots Worthies certainly makes it seem like he did.

The frontispiece of the 1864 edition of Howie’s Scots Worthies shows John Graham of Claverhouse summarily executing some Covenanters at Erne Cleuch. Howie of Lochgoin’s work was more hagiography, designed to praise the martyrs, than history. Many of the deaths and “sufferings” of the Killing Times were real, but curiously the 1864 edition put up front one that is derived from a novel by James Hogg.

Hogg, one of Scotland’s greatest writers, cannot to blamed for how others appear to have incorporated his stories into their historical traditions. What the etching does reveal, is a strange tale that links Hogg, a pioneer of photography, an Edinburgh engraver, the tradions of the martyrs and the landscape.

The NMS in Edinburgh has the engraving that inspired the 1864 edition:

‘Framed engraving, ‘Erne Cleuch, Claverhouse and his Company Shooting Covenanters’, inscribed ‘D.O. Hill RSA, W. Howison’

David Octavius Hill was a painter and a famed pioneer of photography. William Howison, or Howieson, was an engraver. Both men lived in Edinburgh and were associates of George Harvey, who frequently painted the Covenanters. As Howieson died in 1850, the original presumably dates to before that time. The image of Claverhouse at Erne Cleuch is a Hill original.

Hogg and Claverhouse
The Erne Cleuch engraving connects to a passage about Claverhouse in James Hogg’s The Brownie of Bodsbeck (1818):

‘The Covenanters knew that Clavers would make a sweeping and exterminating circuit about that time—incidents which were not to be overlooked, had been paving the way for it—incidents with which the main body of that people were totally unconnected. But it was usual at that time, and a very unfair practice it was, that whatever was said, or perpetrated, by any intemperate fanatical individual, or any crazy wight, driven half mad by ill usage—whatever was said or done by such, was always attributed to the whole sect as a body.

It is too true that the Privy Council chose, invariably, men void of all feeling or remorse to lead these troops. A man had nothing to study but to be cruel enough to rise in the army in those days ; yet, because there was a Dalziel, a Graham, a Creighton, and a Bruce among the king’s troops, it would be unfair to suppose all the rest as void of every principle of feeling and forbearance as they. In like manner, because some of the Covenanters said violent and culpable things, and did worse, it is hard to blame the whole body for these; for, in the scattered prowling way in which they were driven to subsist, they had no control over individuals.

They had been looking for the soldiers’ appearing there for several days, and that same morning had been on the watch; but the day was now so far advanced that they were waxen remiss, and had retired to their dens and hiding places. Besides, he came so suddenly upon them that some parties, as well as several stragglers, were instantly discovered. A most determined pursuit ensued. Clavers exerted himself that day in such a manner, galloping over precipices, and cheering on his dragoons, that all the country people who beheld him believed him to be a devil, or at least mounted on one.

The marks of that infernal courser’s feet are shewn to this day on a steep hill nearly perpendicular, below the Bubbly Craig, along which he is said to have ridden at full speed, in order to keep sight of a party of the flying Covenanters.’

mirk-sideMirk Side © Michael Graham and licensed for reuse.

‘At another place, called the Blue Sklidder, on the Merk side, he had far outrode all his officers and dragoons in the pursuit of five men, who fled straggling athwart the steep. He had discharged both his pistols without effect; and just as he was making ready to cleave down the hindmost with his sabre, he was attacked by another party, who rolled huge stones at him from the precipice above, and obliged him to make a hasty retreat.’

The entry in the mid nineteenth-century OS name book for ‘Blue Sklidder’ is scored out, but it lay by Mirkside, which is opposite the falls of the Grey Mare’s Tail.

Map of Mirkside

‘Tradition has preserved the whole of his route that day with the utmost minuteness. It is not easy to account for this. These minute traditions are generally founded on truth; yet though two generations have scarcely passed away since the date of this tale,* tradition, in this instance, relates things impossible, else Clavers must indeed have been one of the infernals. Often has the present relater of this tale stood over the deep green marks of that courser’s hoof, many of which remain on that hill, in awe and astonishment, to think that he was actually looking at the traces made by the devil‘s foot, or at least by a horse that once belonged to him.

* One of the women baptized in the Linn of Riskinhope by Renwick that year, has several children yet alive, not very aged people.’

Towards Loch Skeen from Watch Knowe

Towards Loch Skeen from Watch Knowe © Iain Lees and licensed for reuse.

‘Five men were slain that day; but as they were all westland men, very little is known concerning them. One of them was shot at a distance by some dragoons who were in pursuit of him, just as he was entering a morass, where he would certainly have escaped them. He is buried on a place called the Watch Knowe, a little to the south-east of Loch Skene, beside a cairn where he had often sat keeping watch for the approach of enemies, from which circumstance the height derived its name. When he fell, it being rough broken ground, they turned and rode off without ever going up to the body.’

Aerial View of Watch Knowe

There are two cairns on top of Watch Knowe.

Map of Watch Knowe

Watch Knowe was where the OS name book stated that the Covenanters ‘used to Station Men to give warning of the approach of the Soldiers’. There is no historical evidence that a Covenanter was killed and buried at Watch Knowe.

Hogg continues:

‘Four were surprised and taken prisoners on a height called Ker-Cleuch-Ridge, who were brought to Clavers and shortly examined on a little crook in the Erne Cleuch, a little above the old steading at Hopertoudy.’

Map of Kerrcleuch Rig

Aerial View of Kerrcleuch Rig


Waterfall on the Happertutie Burn © Jonathan Billinger and licensed for reuse.

‘Hopertoudy’ is Happertutie, which lies next other settings used by Hogg for the Covenanters at Dob’s Linn and the Watch Knowe. The location of the burn indicates that Hogg’s ‘Erne Cleuch’ is where the Happertutie Burn flows down from Yearny Knowe. It lies on the march boundary between Dumfriesshire and the Borders. It has to be said, that the falls in the engraving, above, resemble those on the Happertutie Burn when viewed from near the bridge.

Map of Happertutie Burn

Aerial View of Happertutie Burn

There is absolutely no historical evidence that four Covenanters were killed there. However, the four men that Hogg claims died by the hand of Claverhouse at Happertutie and the other at Watch Knowe can be added to the list of traditional deaths in the Killing Times which lie out with the realm of history.

For more on James Hogg and the Covenanters, see here.

For more stories and poems on the Covenanters of the 1680s, see here.

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Additional Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine



~ by drmarkjardine on October 19, 2016.

2 Responses to “James Hogg & ‘Claverhouse and his Company Shooting Covenanters’ #Literature #Art #Scotland”

  1. […] 20, 21, 22, 23, & 24. Five Covenanters that James Hogg claims were killed at Watch Knowe and by Claverhouse at the Happertu…. […]

  2. […] portent? The ‘Hopertoody’ links to the Happertutie Burn to the west of Muchra, where Claverhouse is said to have summarily executed four Covenanters. The ‘Muchrah Crags’ indicates East Muchra Hill, east of Muchra and beyond which lies […]

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