The Battle of Rullion Green took place on the 28th of November, 1666.
From the dawn of time until the middle of the 18th Century, Scotland’s story involves many battles. Over the centuries, there have been several glorious victories and umpteen terrible defeats, and of those battles, many took place on home soil. Of those home fixtures, far too many involved native Scottish people fighting native Scots. One such battle was the scrap at Rullion Green, but it wasn’t much of a battle – for the military purist. On the one side, there was a heavily armed Royalist force, led by the veteran General Sir Thomas (Tam) Dalyell of the Binns, and on the other, were the heavily outnumbered Covenanters, led by Colonel James Wallace, himself a veteran of the Covenanter Army in Ulster during the 1640s. Dalyell was a seasoned commander who had seen service in Russia and Poland, and had gained a fearsome reputation as ‘the Beast of Muscovy’. The poor Covenanters believed Dalyell to have been in league with the Devil, with whom he regularly played cards.
On afternoon of Wednesday, the 28th of November, 1666, the Covenanters paraded for review on the slopes of Rullion Green. Horsemen were then seen approaching from the west, but hopes of reinforcement were cruelly dashed when the sight and sound of kettle drums and fluttering standards heralded the vanguard of Dalyell’s troops. He had three thousand (some suggest as many as five thousand) veteran and semi-professional soldiers at his back and most of the nine hundred or so poorly armed Covenanters must’ve been wishing they were somewhere else. They did have the advantage of the ground, but they had no artillery and few firearms. Wallace placed the mounted ‘gentlemen of Galloway’ under McLellan of Barscobe at the south end of the slope, the ‘infantry’, armed largely with pitchforks, in the middle, and the ‘cavalry’ under Major Learmont on the nor’ side.
To their credit, the Covenanters made a brave stand, first repelling a probe by fifty of Dalyell’s horse against McLellan, then a charge against Learmont at the top of the long slope. However, when Dalyell moved to attack the centre with his full force, the Covenanters couldn’t withstand the onslaught. Sheer weight of numbers crushed the ‘rebels’ and, as Wallace later said, “we were beaten back, and the enemy came in so full a body and with so fresh a charge, that, having us once running, they carried it strongly home, and put us in such confusion that there was no rallying”.
The Covenanters were cut down and about fifty were killed. Between seventy and one hundred Covenanters were taken prisoner and those who escaped fled to the Pentland Hills, where many of the wounded died in the bogs or on the moors. There are many stories about what happened to those involved in the battle. One who fled, badly wounded, was John Carphin from Ayrshire. He stumbled to a cottage, but refused the help of a local shepherd in case he would get into trouble for harbouring a fugitive. The shepherd found his body the next morning and fulfilled his dying wish by burying him on the summit of Black Law, where he could see the Ayrshire Hills “for one last time”. A gravestone was erected in 1841 by the Minister of Dunsyre. It reads: “Sacred to the memory of a Covenanter who fought and was wounded at Rullion Green Nov 28th 1666 and who died at Oaken Bush the day after the battle and was buried by Adam Sanderson of Blackhill.”
Others who fled were shot or slain in their flight and were buried in the neighbouring Kirkyards of Penicuik and Glencorse. In fact, the Kirk session records of Penicuik list a payment of 3s 4d to a grave digger for ‘making westlandmen’s graves’. Of the prisoners, many were taken and held in ‘Haddo’s Hole’ in St. Giles’ Cathedral. The leaders were hauled before the Court and, on the 10th of December, 1666, ten were hanged at the Mercat Cross. Their hands were cut off and nailed to the prison door out at Lanark, and their severed heads sent to their villages where they were exhibited as a warning. A further five were executed on the 14th and six more on the 22nd and others were later executed at various places in the west. The remains of those hanged in Edinburgh were buried in a corner of Greyfriars Kirk, in which the Martyrs’ Monument now stands.
At the battle site of Rullion Green, which lies about eight miles south of Edinburgh, there is a railed enclosure, which contains a monument to the events of 1666. The inscriptions on the solitary stone tell of the Reverend John Crookshank and a Mr. Andrew M’Cormick “and about fifty other true covenanted Presbyterians”. On the reverse, there is a bit verse:
“A cloud of witnesses lyes here,
Who for Christ's interest did appear
For to restore true Liberty
Overturned then by Tyrrany
And by Proud Prelats who did rage
Against the Lord’s own heritage.
They sacrificed were for the Laws
Of Christ their King, his noble cause,
These heroes fought with great renown,
By falling got the Martyr’s Crown.”
The Battle of Rullion Green was the sorry conclusion to the Pentland Rising, which began with a march on Dumfries and led to an approach on Edinburgh that got as far as Colinton, before news of the City’s stiff defences led to its withdrawal. The spontaneous Rising was kindled on the 13th of November at St. John’s Dalry, in reaction to Royalist soldiers’ beating of an old man called John Grier. Four local Covenanters came to his rescue and the villagers joined in. There actions escalated from there, but from its sudden inception to its bloody conclusion, the whole affair lasted only two weeks.