In November 1666, an army of Covenanter rebels was defeated by government troops in the Pentland Hills in what came to be known as the Battle of Rullion Green.
While believed to be a small engagement, the clash occurred during a spontaneous rebellion, known as the ‘Pentland Rising’, in response to repressive policies against Presbyterian Covenanters.
The Covenanters played a significant role in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and English Civil War. But in the years following the restoration of the monarchy, this minority Protestant group was viewed with suspicion by the government and subjected to intermittent bouts of persecution.
Repressive policies introduced by the government also required that ministers renounce the 1638 National Covenant. Many refused to do so, causing tensions to rise.
In 1665, the outbreak of the Second Anglo-Dutch War further strained relations between the crown and Scotland’s Covenanters, with the former growing particular concerned over religious links between Scotland and the Dutch.
In response, government troops under the command of General James Turner were dispatched to the south west of Scotland, a hotbed of Covenanter support. It is here that the uprising broke out.
Harassing the locals
Government soldiers are said to have harassed villagers in the town of Dalry but were disarmed by Covenanters led by Robert McClellan of Barscobe. A similar incident in the village of Balmaclellan also saw government troops confronted and disarmed.
This small rebellion gathered pace and the Covenanters marched on Dumfries where they captured General Turner. Before long, several hundred men had joined the uprising, many of whom were farmers and artisans disgruntled at government policies.
The rebellion quickly found itself under the leadership of a consortium of ministers, minor landowners and former soldiers. James Wallace of Auchens, a veteran of the civil wars, also joined the cause, taking command of the fledgling army.
Advance on Glasgow
Marching north, the force originally intended to take Glasgow but was blocked by a government army and travelled east – gathering more support along the route to Edinburgh.
Arriving in Colinton on the outskirts of the capital on 27th November, the Covenanter rebels were cold, exhausted and consisted of a mixture of cavalry and infantry.
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Once again blocked from entering the city by a government army under the command of Tam Dalyell of the Binns, the rebels hugged the slopes of the windswept Pentland Hills to manoeuvre their way toward the city.
And it was at Rullion Green on 28th November that they were intercepted.
The Battle of Rullion Green
Pursued and attacked by government cavalry, the Covenanters were able to resist the initial assault but were quickly rounded on by the main force. In contrast to the Covenanter rebels, Dalyell’s army was comprised of highly experienced cavalry troops and a sizable infantry force. Exact numbers are unclear, but the government army is thought to have been around 2,500 strong.
Taking the high ground, the Covenanters are said to have fought well at first; repulsing a series of vicious charges on their left flank. But in fading light and under intense pressure, the Covenanters eventually broke when government cavalry crashed into the rebels’ right flank.
Around 50 Covenanters died in the Battle of Rullion Green, many of whom were killed during the retreat. Dozens more were captured, and a number are said to have been tortured while in captivity.
The government response to the rebellion was swift. Around 36 men were executed for their involvement, with sentences carried out in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Ayr.
Some of the leaders involvement in the rising, including James Wallace, had previously been implicated in anti-government conspiracies – which is believed to have prompted the harsh treatment of the prisoners.
The aftermath of the rebellion saw little respite for Covenanters amidst government reprisals. In the years following, Covenanters were subjected to another a brutal campaign of religious suppression during a period known as The Killing Time.