When Lanark was in the eye of Scotland’s religious storm

Provost Ian McAllan unveils the plaque in Lanark cemetery, across from the original monument.
Provost Ian McAllan unveils the plaque in Lanark cemetery, across from the original monument.

When it comes to Clydesdale’s role in the Covenanting history of Scotland, the village of Douglas – quite rightly – plays a dominant part.

However, perhaps the momentous events there have, over the centuries, rather overshadowed those in Lanark during that long struggle by Scottish Presbyterians for freedom to follow their faith in the teeth of a then hostile United Kingdom’s monarchy.

Folk today wandering through the tranquil setting of Lanark Cemetery near the ruins of the Old St Kentigern’s Church might come across a modest monument to the Covenanters associated with the Royal Burgh and perhaps not realise it represents those who found themselves in the very eye of that religious storm when it raged through our area, many of whom paid for their involvement in the most bloody and barbaric ways possible.

On Sunday a ceremony was held to unveil a new plaque there and lay wreaths in a homage organised by the Scottish Covenanting Memorials Association, an organisation dedicated to maintaining remembrance of that ancient conflict and its fallen much as the Royal British Legion serves to remind us of later sacrifices for our freedoms of today.

But what were the events that led to Lanark having a Covenanting memorial in the first place?

The Royal Burgh has seen many historic events through the centuries including the beginning of Wallace’s fight for Scottish freedom in 1297 right through to Scotland’s first airshow in 1910.

In between these events anyone who thinks that Lanark played no great part in Scottish history would be entirely mistaken.

The Association’s official history of Lanark’s part in the Covenanting movement states: “Following their Pentland Rising in Galloway on November 13, 1666, the Covenanters decided to march to Edinburgh. They arrived in Lanark on Sunday, November 25, around one thousand in number.

“The next day they filled the town centre. The Solemn League and Covenant was renewed. This was the first time this had occurred since it was drawn up in the 1640s. The Rev. John Guthrie, the evicted minister of Tarbolton Church in Ayrshire, stood on the Tolbooth steps and addressed the infantry. At the Townhead (probably what we call the Top Cross today) Rev. Gabriel Semple preached to the horsemen. Those assembled raised their hands and swore their allegiance. The Covenanters then marched towards Edinburgh, where they were defeated in battle at Rullion Green, on November 29.

“Then, in January 1682 the Covenanters marched into Lanark where they published the Lanark Declaration. The leader was Rev. James Renwick and he and 60 men read the declaration from the Cross.”

The Declaration “repudiated the unconstitutional acts of Charles II”, a brave and, for some, suicidal act of defiance at that troubled time. The magistrates of Lanark council were fined 6000 merks for their slackness in apprehending the ‘‘desperate villains’’.

If the magistrates were fined for allowing the incident to take place, others paid a far greater penalty. Lanark weaver William Hervie was arrested a month later for his Covenanting activities, including that infamous Declaration, and executed at the Cross.

His gravestone can be seen to this day, near that memorial to his Covenanting brethern.