Battle of Bothwell Bridge

Battle of Bothwell Bridge

At least four Steel’s were involved at this battle (David, John, Robert, and William), just 2.4 miles from where, 134 years later, David Livingstone would be born. Common locations included: Skellyhill, Waterhead, Steel’s Seat, Steel’s Cross, Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, Logan water, South Cumberland, Priesthill, Cleughbrae, Auchengilloch glen, Lanark, and Mennock hill.


Battle of Bothwell Bridge

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Bothwell Bridge over the River Clyde

Following the Restoration of King Charles II, the Presbyterians in Scotland were increasingly persecuted for their beliefs, and a small armed rising had to be put down in 1666. Although some Presbyterian ministers were “Indulged” by the government from 1669, allowing them to retain their churches without having to accept Episcopacy, the more hard-line elements continued to hold illegal outdoor meetings, known as conventicles. These were often broken up by squads of government dragoons, including those led by John Graham of Claverhouse. On 1 June 1679, Claverhouse had encountered such a gathering near Loudoun Hill, but his troops were routed by armed Covenanters, and he was forced to flee to Glasgow. Following this initial success, remembered as the battle of Drumclog, the Covenanters spent the next few weeks building their strength, as did the government. Charles’ son James, Duke of Monmouth was sent north to take command, and the militia were raised.

The battle

Battle of Bothwell Bridge, 1679

The Covenanters had established their camp on the south bank of the Clyde, north of Hamilton. The rebels numbered around 6000 men, but were poorly disciplined and deeply divided by religious disagreements. They had few competent commanders, being nominally led by Robert Hamilton of Preston, although his rigid stance against the Indulged ministers only encouraged division. The preacher Donald Cargill and William Cleland, the victor of Drumclog, were present, as were David Hackston of Rathillet and John Balfour of Kinloch, known as Burley, who were among the group who murdered Archbishop Sharp on 3 May. The government army numbered around 5000 regular troops and militia, and was commanded by Monmouth, supported by Claverhouse and the Earl of Linlithgow.

Covenanters Prison, Greyfriars Kirkyard.

Battle centred around the narrow bridge across the Clyde, the passage of which Monmouth was required to force in order to come at the Covenanters. Hackston led the defence of the bridge, but his men lacked artillery and ammunition, and were forced to withdraw after around an hour. Once Monmouth’s men were across the bridge, the Covenanters were quickly routed. Many fled into the parks of nearby Hamilton Palace, seat of Duchess Anne, who was sympathetic to the Presbyterian cause. Around 600 Covenanters were killed, while some 1200 were taken prisoner.


Bothwell Bridge Monument

The prisoners were taken to Edinburgh and held on land beside Greyfriars Kirkyard, an area now known as the Covenanters’ Prison. Many remained there for several months, until the last of them were transported to the colonies in November. All those who had taken part on the Covenanter side of the battle were declared rebels and traitors, and the repression during this period has become known as “the Killing Time” in Covenanter histories.[2] A core of hard-line rebels remained in arms, and became known as the Cameronians after Richard Cameron their leader. Cameron was killed in a skirmish at Airds Moss the next year, but his followers were eventually pardoned on the accession of King William III in 1689.


Bothwell Bridge Memorial

The battle is a central event in Sir Walter Scott’s 1816 novel, Old Mortality. Scott fictionalises the battle and the events leading up to it, introducing real people who were not actually present, such as General Tam Dalyell, as well as his own fictional characters. However, his description of the flow of the battle is considered accurate.

In 1903, on the 224th anniversary of the battle, a monument was dedicated on the site. This stands beside Bothwell Bridge, which was largely rebuilt in the 19th century.


  1. ^ “Inventory battlefields”. Historic Scotland. Retrieved 2012-04-12.
  2. ^ Scottish Covenanter Memorials Association.


External links

“Broadside ballad entitled ‘New Scotch Ballad: Call’d Bothwell-Bridge: Or, Hamilton’s Hero'”, National Library of Scotland.

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This entry was posted in Covenanter War, UK-Scotland-South, War and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Battle of Bothwell Bridge

  1. May I use your photo of the Covenanters Prison, Greyfriars Kirkyard? I am running a campaign to save the gothic revival masterpiece of Cambusnethan Priory, near Wishaw, and the architect, James Gillespie Graham, is buried in the Covenanters Prison.

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