Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Battle of Bothwell Bridge

Today, June 22, 1679, the Duke of Monmouth defeated the Covenanters at the Battle of Bothwell Brig (or Bridge), ending the Covenanter Rebellion (or Rising) of 1679.

The Covenanters took their name from a document, the National Covenant, which one of them had written in 1638. Those who signed it were called Covenanters.

They were strongly against the Anglican Church, and met in fields rather than churches. In the English Civil War (1642-51) they had been a mighty force in Scotland. The King forbade field meetings a.k.a conventicles, and had soldiers policing Scotland. One troop of the King's cavalry was under a young captain named John Graham of Claverhouse.

Right: A portrait of John Graham of Claverhouse

On June 1, Claverhouse and cavalry came upon a strong conventicle prepared for battle. The Covenanters outnumbered the King's soldiers, and after a short battle, sent him back to Glasgow. Thus began the Covenanter Rebellion (or Rising) of 1679. Claverhouse stayed at Glasgow until reinforcements under James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth, arrived. But the Covenanters were gathering strength too. At Bothwell Bridge, the Covenanters had 6,000 men, while Monmouth had:

  • 3 Independent Troops of Horse under Claverhouse, the Earl of Home, and the Earl of Airlie

  • The Life Guards under young Montrose (not the same as the Marquis of Montrose in the English Civil War)

  • A troop of English Horse under Major Edmund Maine

  • The King's Regiment of Foot under Colonel the Earl of Linlithgow

  • Lord Mar's Regiment (of Foot) under Colonel the Earl of Mar

  • The Scots Dragoons (three troops) under Captain Stuart, Captain Inglis, and Captain Strachan

  • English Dragoons (two troops) under Major Oglethorpe, and Captain Cornewall

  • And two or three more English troops of Dragoons

James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth

Note: a troop was 60 men commanded by a captain

Bothwell Bridge order of battle taken from page 62 of Grahame of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee by Michael Barrington.

Monmouth and his army would have to cross a bridge to reach the Covenanter camp, so if the Covenanters could defend the bridge stoutly, the Royal Army might not be able to pass. But most of the Covenanters were arguing (either about theology or commanders) rather than preparing to fight. Still, the bridge was barricaded with stones and some Covenanters were there to defend it. Linlithgow and his men were able to cross the bridge and defeat the divided Covenanters.

Replica of a banner carried at Drumclog and Bothwell Bridge by the Covenanters (from page 288 Mark Napier's Memorials and Letters Illustrative of the Life of John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee)

This was not only the last action of the Covenanters in their short-lived 1679 Rising (or Rebellion), but also the last time the Covenanters would gather a strong force against the King.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Jacobite White Rose Day

On June 10, 1688, James Francis Edward Stuart (to his supporters James III, to his detractors the "Old Pretender") was born to James II and his second wife, Mary of Modena. According to English law, a son would take precedence over an older daughter in the succession of the throne. Those who looked forward to James II's death so that his daughter Mary, who was married to William of Orange, would succeed to the throne, had their hopes shattered. Seven men wrote a letter to William, asking him to invade England for the throne.William was more than happy to oblige, and landed in England. Mary of Modena and her son fled to France, and James II followed shortly.
Now there were two opposing camps in England. The Williamites believed that William III had a right to sit on the throne. The Jacobites believed that William III was a usurper, and continued to pledge allegiance to James II, and when he died, to James III. The Jacobites remained a force to be reckoned with in European politics for nearly a century.
The white rose or white cockade was a symbol of Jacobitism. To symbolize their unity with France, James II's army wore white cockades (Williamites wore green plants or orange clothing), and the symbolism of the white rose/cockade carried over for centuries to the present day.
Happy White Rose Day!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Let Them Eat Cake...or not

Marie-Antoinette is accused of being uncaring towards the peasants of France. When someone told her about the shortage of bread across France, she allegedly responded, "Let them eat cake (brioche)!" However, problems abound with attributing this saying to Marie-Antoinette.
Firstly, the only period source for the quote is Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions. Rousseau says, "Finally I recalled the stopgap solution of a great princess who was told that the peasants had no bread, and who responded: 'Let them eat brioche.'"
Rousseau does not even cite the name of the "great princess".
Secondly, Rousseau wrote his Confessions in 1765, and they were published in 1782. In 1765, when he wrote the statement, Marie-Antoinette was nine and not even French! She was born in Austria in 1754, and married the future Louis XVI in 1770. Until 1770, the French population knew her only as the daughter of Austrian Empress Maria-Theresa. It is absurd to say that an Austrian archduchess of nine years should make a comment on the starving people of France!
Finally, a letter from Marie-Antoinette to her family in Austria,
"It is quite certain that in seeing the people who treat us so well despite their own misfortune, we are more obliged than ever to work hard for their happiness. The King seems to understand this truth."
Quite a different mindset on the peasants and their well-being than is traditionally ascribed to the last Queen of France!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


For lo, they lie in wait for my soul: the mighty are gathered against me; not for my transgression, nor for my sin, O LORD.--Psalm 59:3

"The winners get to write history"--attributed to Napoleon

Marie-Antoinette (1753-1793) is possibly the most controversial woman on this calendar. She is frequently denounced as spending millions of the French treasury on fountains or candles, thus bankrupting the French crown, being uncaring about the peasants (e.g. "Let them eat cake"), and ultimately causing the French Revolution which guillotined her. However, I believe this portrait is too harsh. Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were the best monarchs that France had had for over one hundred years. Marie-Antoinette gave to the poor "bountifully" as M. Guizot says in his History of France. In gratitude they erected a monument of snow which said, "Fair queen, whose goodness is thy chiefest grace/With our good king here occupy thy place/Though this frail monument be ice or snow/Our warm hearts are not so." The problems with the Treasury began after the disaster of the Seven Years' War, and were only made worse by a spendthrift Minister of Finance. Marie-Antoinette had very little to do with the bankruptcy of the Crown. In fact, she rejected a diamond necklace after being informed that it cost the equivalent of two frigates (fast ships of 40-60 cannons). The French Revolution was caused more by Louis XV than by Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette.