IT has long been an irritating fallacy put about by those with some sort of agenda that Scotland has never been conquered. The Romans left the far north of Scotland and the isles well alone, and so did Edward Longshanks, otherwise they could be said to have conquered Scotland. So, no foreign power ever conquered us.

That is just not true. For most of a decade in the middle of the 17th century, Scotland was most certainly occupied by a conquering force and the whole country was under the thumb of Oliver Cromwell and his brilliant military governor general George Monck.

In this last of our series on the Covenanters, we will be looking at the Killing Time that began in the 1680s, but it is worth looking back to the rule of Monck and his pacification of Scotland, if only to prove that the Covenanters were the architects of their own downfall – from ruling Scotland prior to 1650 to being hunted down and killed like wild game in the 1680s, has there ever been so precipitous a fall in Scottish history?

So how did that downfall start? There’s a simple answer to that. When Cromwell invaded Scotland in 1650 for its support of King Charles II, he did so with the New Model Army. It contained Monck’s regiment, which would become the Coldstream Guards a decade later.

The Covenanters in charge of the country decided to confront Cromwell, and with a larger army they joined battle with the New Model Army at Dunbar. History show us – and we will examine the battle at another time – what mistakes the Covenanters’ leaders made on September 3, 1650, but the underlying reason for the overwhelming defeat of the Scottish army was that the Covenanters, in their zeal for Presbyterian purity, had expelled large numbers of “the ungodly” from the ranks.

Anyone with any knowledge of soldierly history will tell you that it is often “the ungodly” who win you battles, as Wellington proved with his “mere scum of the Earth”, as he called them, against Napoleon and his vast forces.

Deprived of fighting experience, Dunbar duly became a disaster for the Scots, and Cromwell’s forces soon occupied the whole of the southern half of the country. In a campaign that Longshanks himself would have been proud of, Monck led the assault northwards. The invaders burned Dundee and killed perhaps as much as 20 per cent of the population in September 1651, then took Aberdeen the following year.

Monck was not always present as for a time he was quite ill in England, and then led the Royal Navy’s rout of the Dutch. However, after he returned to Scotland in 1654 he engineered the pacification of Scotland, including the Highlands, where he defeated the last royalist army at Dalnaspidal to end what was known as Glencairn’s Uprising, after the hapless earl who led it – he personally surrendered to Monck.

In his cause he was helped by the “Tender of Union” which was passed by the English Parliament which “incorporated” Scotland into England in the winter of 1651-52.

That’s right, more than 50 years before the Act of Union itself, Scotland was united with England into one state – not something you read about much in Scottish history books. What’s more, many burghs and individuals across Scotland accepted the position under threat from the occupiers.

Always an excellent soldier, and a shrewd strategist, Monck comfortably held all Scotland for Cromwell, building castles and creating garrisons. After the latter died in 1658, the general engineered the restoration of the monarchy. As we saw last week, that was a dreadful outcome for the Covenanters, as Charles cracked down on Presbyterianism and sent Archbishop James Sharp north to the See of St Andrews to mastermind the brutal suppression of those who clung dearly to the Covenant.

A mistake to confess here: last week I wrote that the assassins of Sharp in May 1679 were caught and executed. Like many, I was confused by the fact that there is a memorial to the “Five Covenanters” near to where Sharp was murdered on Magus Muir. In fact, only two or possibly three of the assassins – there may have been as many as nine – were caught and put to death, and the Five Covenanters, who had no part in the assassination, were actually executed on Magus Muir as a reprisal for the murder of Sharp.

The Archbishop himself was venerated as a martyr by his family and friends and his corpse was installed in a splendid marble tomb in the Church of the Holy Trinity in St Andrews. The tomb is still there, but Sharp isn’t as his body was removed in 1725 by persons unknown.

Before his death, the Archbishop had put in place the “kill Covenanters on sight” law which led to one of the darkest periods of Scottish history, the Killing Time.

It really began with two battles. The killers of Sharp were mostly from Fife and fled from the Kingdom westwards after that fateful day – May 3, 1679. They had actually been waiting to kill the Sheriff of Cupar when Sharp’s coach arrived, and by murdering a much greater figure in cold blood – and in front of his daughter – the assassins roused the wrath of Charles II and the man he had appointed to suppress the Covenanters, the experienced soldier Captain John Graham of Claverhouse.

Students of Presbyterian history know him as “Bluidy Clavers” but more people will know him by the name by which he became famous, especially after his death – Bonnie Dundee. How a Jacobite hero could also be a hated figure will be explained when we come to examine his extraordinary life.

In the meantime we just need to know that from 1678 onwards, Claverhouse was in charge of the war against the Covenanters. And it really was a war, fought with savage ferocity, particularly by Claverhouse and his troops. They specialised in finding conventicles where the Covenanters had gathered to pray and slaughtering anyone they encountered there.

These were sometimes huge prayer meetings. There is an account of one in Lanarkshire in 1680 at which 4000 people gathered to hear the preaching of the word by a Covenanting minister. The previous year, a smaller gathering at Rutherglen saw Covenanters, led by Sir Robert Hamilton, burn copies of the various Acts of Parliament and give a written declaration of the testimony of those “who have suffered imprisonments, finings, forfeitures, banishment, torture, and death from an evil and perfidious adversary to the church and kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ in the land”.

The Rutherglen Declaration concluded with this: “For confirmation of this our testimony, we do this day, being the 29th of May 1679, publicly at the cross of Rutherglen, most justly burn and above mentioned acts, to evidence our dislike and testimony against the same, as they have unjustly, perfidiously, and presumptuously burned our sacred covenants.

“And we hope none will take exception against our not subscribing this our testimony, being so solemnly published; since we are always ready to do in this as shall be judged necessary, by consent of the rest of our suffering brethren in Scotland.”

It was not quite a declaration of war, but Claverhouse took it as one. He charged to Drumclog near Darvel in Ayrshire where Hamilton and the Rutherglen Covenanters were supposed to have gathered. What nobody on the other side knew was that the Covenanters were gathered in their thousands and were prepared to fight.

On June 1, 1679, Claverhouse and his troops of dragoons, perhaps 400 in all, approached the giant conventicle, only to find 1500 men armed with pikes, swords and farming implements, commanded by Hamilton and a natural fighter, William Cleland.

The battle was swift and ended after Claverhouse’s horse was injured and bolted away with him. The dragoons were trapped in a boggy area and only just managed to escape with most of their lives, leaving 36 dead and seven captured behind them as they fled to Glasgow which was promptly assailed by the Covenanters. News of their victory spread like wildfire and thousands more came to join the uprising.

At this point it all went wrong for the Covenanters. The old problem of factionalism returned, with the most extreme being the Cameronians, named after Richard Cameron, a charismatic preacher who wanted absolute adherence to the Covenant. We remember his name because the famous Cameronian regiment that disbanded in 1968 was named after him. Other factions were not so zealous, and while they all met up and started arguing beside the bridge at Bothwell, Charles II’s army gathered under his illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth.

The “Battle” of Bothwell Brig was more like a massacre. The royalist army had masses of artillery, the Covenanters just one small cannon that soon ceased fire after its “gunpowder” turned out to be a bag of raisins.

The Covenanters stood their ground for two hours while being cut to shreds before they broke and fled. Claverhouse and his dragoons pursued them for miles, and in the end more than 800 Covenanters were killed and 1400 taken prisoner.

The fate of the prisoners was either to be exiled as slaves to meet almost certain death in the West Indies or to be simply killed out of hand as traitors.

The Duke of York, the future James II, came to replace Monmouth, and for a time he tried to placate the Covenanters, who by now were reduced to a rump. A dangerous rump, nevertheless, as Richard Cameron showed with raids across Ayrshire before he was surrounded and killed along with his brother at Airds Moss in July, 1680.

The killing went on, and on, and on. There were no more mass uprisings, and individual Covenanters were sought out and imprisoned or executed. It has been fashionable to portray the Covenanters as the Taliban of their day, fundamentalists who wanted a joyless Presbyterian Scotland. There is some truth in that assertion, but nothing could justify the use of the full apparatus of the state against people who were, after all, fellow Christians.

After another fiery preacher, a Cameronian called James Renwick, took the lead of the remaining Covenanters, the Privy Council drew up an Oath of Abjuration which all Scots had to swear, rejecting Renwick’s declarations. Those who refused were killed. Dozens of men and women died. Perhaps the worst atrocity took place in Wigtown in May 1685, where two women, 63-year-old Margaret Maclauchlan and 18-year-old Margaret Wilson, refused to take the Abjuration Oath. They were tied to stakes on the Solway sands and drowned when the tide rose.

Maybe that foul act finally slaked the brutal thirst of the forces against the Covenanters. There were a few more executions but by mid-1685 most of the Killing Time was over, though Covenanters were still being imprisoned until the arrival of Prince William of Orange and Queen Mary on the throne in 1688.

A footnote to end this history of the Covenanters. You can find a fairly accurate account of the history of the Killing Time in Sir Walter Scott’s novel Old Mortality – one of his best, and one which details the factionalism and shifting loyalties that ultimately destroyed the Covenanting cause.

It is estimated that 18,000 people lost their lives for adhering to the cause of the Covenant and to this day many Covenanters who died then are revered as martyrs for their faith.

It may not have been the Presbyterianism that we are familiar with nowadays, but it was their firm religious belief, one for which they died across Scotland as shown by the many monuments to individuals and groups.

In most parts of the country, and certainly across Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Fife, you will find at least one.