‘Under the Highest Peril’: The Rabbling of Ayrshire in 1689 #History #Scotland

On Christmas Day, 1688, armed Covenanters began a campaign of rabblings in Ayrshire designed to terrify ministers and their wives out of their churches, houses and parishes. Ninety armed Covenanters rabbled the ministers at Cumnock, Mauchline and Galston. On 27 December, their band, which had increased to two-hundred strong, publicly destroyed the “garment of the Whore of Babylon” while rabbling the minister of Kilmarnock. Then they turned south towards Tarbolton in Ayrshire …

On the way, they seized the minister of Riccarton, who they had apparently missed earlier in the day when his wife had fed the Covenanters.

‘Upon the said day [27 December] they went to Rickarton [just south of Kilmarnock]: whence they brought [John Arbuckle] the Minister of the place to Torbolton: where they kept for a whole night the Ministers of these two Parishes under a Guard [i.e., they also guarded James Gillespie, who had been assaulted by his parishioners in mid 1681]: and next Morning [28 December] brought them to the Church-yard of Torbolton where they rent the Minister of Torboltons Canonical Coat, and put the one half of it about each of the Ministers necks, commanding the Church-Officer of the Place to lead them thereby per vices as Malefactors, discharging them from all Exercise of the Ministry, & from their Houses, Gleibs, and Stipends under the highest peril.’

Street view of Tarbolton churchyard

What the Cameronian Covenanters meant by ‘the highest peril’ would have been absolutely clear to the ministers and their wives. The Cameronians were well known for political assassinations, such as murdering Archbishop Sharp in 1679, killing the minister of Carsphairn in 1684 and violently attacking the minister of Irongray in 1685.

The rabblings were successful in removing several ministers who had fled to Glasgow by early January. However, it is clear that some ministers in the Presbytery of Ayr had not fled, especially in areas where the Cameronians did not have a strong presence. By early January, they, too, were threatened with ‘death’ in a paper delivered, possibly nailed to the church door, to the heart of the Presbytery.

‘Upon the Eleventh of January 1689, The Full Minister of Air [Alexander Gregory] received a written Paper, Commanding him and all his Brethren to leave their Ministers against the fifteenth under the pain of death:’

Map of Old Church of Ayr:

The threat was backed up:

‘and because he did not regard this, there came to his House upon the fifteenth about Eight of the Clock at night Eleven Armed Men of them, who Commanded him under pain of Death to Preach no more in the Church of Air till the Princes [i.e., William of Orange’s] further order.

And at the same rate did they treat his Colle[a]gue [William Waterson] that same night.

‘Much about the same time these Armed Men with their Associats went throughout all the Ministers Houses within that Presbytery, and discharged them any more to Exercise their Ministry, and appointed them to remove from their Manses, or Parsonage Houses and Gleibs and discharged them to meddle with their Stipends under the penalty aforesaid. So that now the most of the Clergy through force and Violence have left the Countrey; none in it undertaking their Protection; but all the Rabble of it in Arms against them. And to Compleat their Miseries those who are Indebted to them refuse to pay even so much as may carry them to places of shelter: which exposeth them to the greatest hardships Imaginable.

To obviate the Impudent denial of these things the under Subscribers are able and shall (if called) in due time produce sufficient Proof of the whole, and that both by writing and Witnesses. Given under our hands at Edenburgh upon the Twenty and Sixth day of January One Thousand Six Hundred Eighty Nine years.

[Alexander] Gregory, Parson of Aire.
Will. Irwine Minister at Kirk Michael. [Apprehended at battle of Killiecrankie in support of Jacobites]
Fran[cis]. Fordyce, Parson of Cumnock.’ (Case of the Present Afflicted Clergy, First collection of papers, 2-3.)

How successful were the Covenanters’ rabblings in the Presbtery of Ayr?

The Presbytery embraced twenty-eight charges. The ministers of six of those (excluding Kilmarnock which lay in a different presbtery) were directly threatened by the Covenanters in late 1688. Of the remaining twenty-two charges in the Presbytery, only one, Dalrymple parish, certainly retained their minister through the Revolution. Ochiltree parish did not have a minister and in one other case, that of Kirkoswald, it is not clear if the parish had a minister in 1688.

All of the ministers from the remaining nineteen charges deserted their parishes: Two had fled to Edinburgh by late January, two from the Covenanter strongholds of Muirkirk and Dalmellington, seven from Carrick (including Barr, Dailly, Maybole and Straiton), where the Cameronians were divided post 1685, and eight more from the rest of the Presbytery (including Sorn, where the minister, William Anderson, is traditionally said to have fled along the Curate’s Steps, a foot path from the church that leads across the mouth of the Cleuch Burn below the castle. (NSA, Ayrshire. 144; Love, Scottish Covenanter Stories, chapter 44.)

Approximate location of Curate’s Steps path:

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please feel free 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 August 29, 2017.

2 Responses to “‘Under the Highest Peril’: The Rabbling of Ayrshire in 1689 #History #Scotland”

  1. […] From Kilmarnock, the 200 armed Cameronian Covenanters moved south towards Tarbolton. On the way, they found the minister of Riccarton, whose wife had brav… […]

  2. Most interesting history. A pity I wasn’t aware of it while in the area a number of times, holidaying!

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