The Killing Time

By Vicky Whyte

Article in Konect Calders and Balerno August 2014

November 1684: The Kirk of Calder in Mid Calder is the scene of a military enquiry into the circumstances of the death of two of His Majesty's Life Guards, who were murdered at a place called Swyne Abbey near Livingston on the 20th November 1684.

Every parishioner in Mid Calder was bought into the Kirk for interrogation regarding the circumstances of the deaths of the two Guards, whose names were Thomas Kennoway and Duncan Stewart … but the villagers revealed nothing and the perpetrators of the crime were never found. The enquiry was called by His Majesty’s (James II's) commanding officer, was held under the Lords Livingston, Ross & Torphichen.

What was the background to this extraordinary event?

Kennoway had become notorious in the village of Mid Calder for seizing an old man who, he alleged, was a rebellious Covenanter and had him “beaten and bound in a most barbarous manner,” as it was said in the annals of the times.

The Covenanters - such as the old man allegedly attacked in Mid Calder - were Presbyterians who were seeking to protect their faith in the face of the Episcopal Church of England that the Stuart kings were trying to impose on Scotland. They had drawn up the “National Covenant of Scotland,” (signed in Greyfriars Kirk in 1638) hence the label “Covenanters.” The Episcopal Church of England had the king at its head and then a hierarchy of archbishops, bishops and so on. They ruled under what they called the “Divine Right of Kings.” The Scottish Presbyterians, however, did not think that a king should be at the head of a church, and stood against them.

This stand against the imposed English church resulted in tremendous cruelty, torture, imprisonment and deportation over the period while the Stuarts were in power, a timeline of approximately 50 years. The era is known as the “The Killing Time” in Scotland and lasted from 1625 until 1688 through the reigns of Charles 1, Charles II and James II with an intervening period of respite of 21 years when Cromwell was Lord Protector of England. The National of Covenant of Scotland, besides protecting their faith, actually swore fealty of the Covenanters to their king. But this didn’t make any difference and they suffered greatly under the Stuart kings for the right to worship with God as the head of their church.

Returning to the Mid Calder incident - a few people went into Edinburgh to complain to General Dalzell of The Binns (near Philpstoun) about the cruelty shown to the old man. In reply Dalzell, who was one of the king’s men, made the old man sign a paper on pain of death that Thomas Kennoway had never wronged or harmed him in any way. This infamous General Tam Dalzell, who became know as “Bluidy Tam” had been the leader of the kings troops at the famous Battle of Rullion Green 18 years earlier, so this reaction is unsurprising.

Battle of Rullion Green, Pentland Hills.

The site of Rullion Green is in the Pentlands near Glencourse. The Battle here in 1666 was a showdown in the attempt by the Covenanters to earn their religious freedom. A troop of around 3000 Convenanters - a mixture of professional soldiers and ordinary citizens - assembled from Dumfries and Galloway, Ayrshire and Lanarkshire heading for Edinburgh to present a petition to Parliament. Many of their number deserted however, disheartened, leaving only around 900 by the time they got as far as Colinton. Their leader decided to call a parade and review at Rullion Green in the Pentlands. General Tam Dalzell, commander of the Kings troops, was in Currie at the time with a force of around 3000, and decided to cut straight through the hills and confront the Covenanters. The Covenanters were vastly outnumbered and roundly defeated, the survivors allegedly treated very cruelly. There is a monument commemorating Rullion Green near the Dreghorn Barracks at Colinton.

The Covenanters held their secret prayer meetings throughout the “Killing Time” at remote sites known as Conventicles. The Cauldstane Slap in the Pentlands just off the Lang Whang was one such site, and records from 1684 tell of gatherings of between two and three hundred people near the Slap, some armed with swords and pistols. There were many sites in the Border country too.

There is still a conventicle held once a year near Durisdeer (Dumfries and Galloway) on the Duke of Buccleuch’s estate. It is an open air prayer meeting held up in the hills on the site of a ruined kirk and an old graveyard where many of the Covenanters were buried. The people gather annually to remember the sacrifice that they made.

It wasn’t until 1688 that the Scots were allowed to worship in their own way. Under all of this tremendous pressure brought about the by Crown, the Covenanters refused to give up their rights and they should still be respected for their bravery and sacrifice for what they believed in.

The Cauldstane Slap, Pentlands