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
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 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.
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.