The Duke of Monmouth was beginning to form a scheme of a ministry: but now the government in Scotland was so remiss that the people apprehended they might run into all sort of confusion. They heard that England was in such distractions that they needed fear no force from thence. Lauderdale's party was losing heart, and fearing a new model there as was set up here in England.
All this set those mad people that had run about with the field conventicles into a frenzy. They drew together in great bodies. Some parties of the troops came to disperse them, but found them both so resolute and so strong that they did not think fit to engage them: sometimes they fired on one another and some were killed of both sides.
When a party of furious men were riding through a moor near St. Andrews, they saw the archbishop's coach appear. He was coming from a council day, and was driving home: and he had sent some of his servants home before him, to let them know he was coming, and others he had sent off on compliments; so that there was no horsemen about the coach. They seeing this concluded, according to their frantic enthusiastic notions, that God had now delivered up their greatest enemy into their hands, seven of them made up to the coach, while the rest were as scouts riding all about the moor. One of them fired a pistol at him, which burnt his coat and gown but did not go into his body: upon this they fancied he had a magical secret to secure him against a shot; and they drew him out of his coach and murdered him barbarously, repeating their strokes till they were sure he was quite dead, and so got clear off, nobody happening to go cross the moor all the while. This was the dismal end of that unhappy man: it struck all people with horror and softened his enemies into some tenderness, so that his memory was treated with decency by those who had very little respect for him during his life.
A week after that there was a great field conventicle held within ten mile of Glasgow: a body of the guards engaged with them, and they made such a vigorous resistance that the guards, having lost thirty of their number, were forced to run for it. So the conventicle formed itself into a body and marched to Glasgow. The person that led them had been bred by me while I lived at Glasgow, being the younger son of Sir Tho. Hamilton, that married my sister, but by a former wife: he was then a lively, hopeful young man: but getting into that company and into their notions he became a crack-brained enthusiast, and under the show of a hero was an ignominious coward. Duke Lauderdale and his party published everywhere that this rebellion was headed by a nephew of mine, whom I had prepared for such work while he was in my hands. Their numbers were so magnified that a company or two which lay at Glasgow retired in all haste and left the town to them, though they were then not above four or five hundred; and these were so ill armed, and so ill commanded, that a troop of horse could have easily dispersed them.
The council at Edinburgh sent the Earl of Linlithgow against them with 1,000 foot, 200 horse, and 200 dragoons: a force much greater than was necessary for making head against such a rabble. He marched till he came within ten miles of them and then pretended he had intelligence that they were above 8,000 strong; so he marched back; for he said it was the venturing the whole force the king had upon too great an inequality. He could never prove that he had any such intelligence: some imputed this to his cowardice: others thought that, being much engaged with Duke Lauderdale, he did this on purpose to give them time to increase their numbers, and thought their madness would be the best justification of all the violences that had been committed in Duke Lauderdale's administration.
Thus the country was left in their hands, and if there had been any designs or preparations made formerly for a rebellion, now they had time enough to run together and to form themselves: but it appeared that there had been no such designs by this, that none came into it but those desperate intercommoned men, who were as it were hunted from their houses into all those extravagances that men may fall in, who wander about inflaming one another, and are heated in it with false notions of religion.
The rebels, having the country left to their discretion, fancied that their numbers would quickly increase: and they set out a sort of manifesto, complaining of the oppressions they lay under and asserting the obligation of the covenant: and they concluded it with the demand of a free parliament.
When the news of this came to court, Duke Lauderdale said it was the effect of the encouragement that they had from the king's hearkening to their complaints: whereas all indifferent men thought it was rather to be imputed to his insolence and tyranny.
The king resolved to lose no time: so he sent the Duke of Monmouth down post, with full powers to command in chief, and directions were sent to some troops that lay in the north of England to be ready to march upon his orders.
Duke Lauderdale apprehended that those in arms would presently submit to the Duke of Monmouth, if there was but time given for proper instruments to go among them, and that then they would pretend they had been forced into that rising by the violence of the government: so he got the king to send positive orders after him that he should not treat with them, but fall on them immediately: yet he marched so slowly that they had time enough given them to dispose them to a submission.
They fixed at Hamilton, near which there is a bridge on Clyde, which it was believed they intended to defend: but they took no care of it. They sent some to treat with the Duke of Monmouth: he answered, that if they would submit to the king's mercy and lay down their arms he would interpose for their pardon, but that he would not treat with them so long as they were in arms.
Some were beginning to press their rendering themselves at discretion. They had neither the grace to submit, nor the sense to march away, nor the courage to fight it out: but suffered the Duke of Monmouth to make himself master of the bridge.
They were then 4,000 men: but few of them were well armed. If they had charged those that came first over the bridge they might have had some advantage: but they looked on like men that had lost both sense and courage, and upon the first charge they threw down their arms and ran away.
There was between two and three hundred killed and twelve hundred taken prisoners. The Duke of Monmouth stopped the execution that his men were making as soon as he could and saved the prisoners; for some moved that they should be all killed upon the spot. Yet this was afterwards objected to him as a neglect of the king's service and as a courting the people. The Duke of York talked of it in that strain: and the king himself said to him, that if he had been there they should not have had the trouble of prisoners: he answered, he could not kill men in cold blood; that was only for butchers.
Duke Lauderdale's creatures pressed the keeping the army some time in that country, on design to have eat it up. But the Duke of Monmouth sent home the militia, and put the troops under discipline: so that all that country was sensible that he had preserved them from ruin. The very fanatical party confessed that he treated them as gently as was possible, considering their madness.
He came back to court as soon as he had settled matters, and moved the king to grant an indemnity for what was past, and a liberty to hold meetings under the king's licence or connivance: he showed the king that all this madness of field conventicles flowed only from the severity against those that were held within doors.
Duke Lauderdale drew the indemnity in such a manner that it carried in some clauses a full pardon to himself and all his party; but he clogged it much with relation to those for whom it was granted. All gentlemen, preachers, and officers were excepted out of it, so that the favour of it was much limited. Two of their preachers were hanged, but the other prisoners were let go upon their signing a bond for keeping the peace. Two hundred of them were sent to Virginia, but they were all cast away at sea.
Thus ended this tumultuary rebellion, which went by the name of Bothwell-bridge, where the action was.