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Wilson's Border Tales
Gleanings of the Covenant

No. 17. James Renwick

In the times in which we live, party spirit is carried very far. Many honest tradesmen, merchants, and shopkeepers, are ruined by their votes at elections. The ordinary intercourse of social life is obstructed and deranged. Friends go up to the polling station with friends, but separate there, and become, it may be, the most inveterate enemies. This our latter reformation of 1832, has cost us much; but our sufferings are nothing to those which marked the two previous reformations from Popery and Prelacy. In the one instance, fire and faggot were the ordinary means adopted for defending political arrangements; in the other, the gallows and the maiden did the same work, and the boots and the thumbikins acted as ministering engines of torture. The whole of society was convulsed; men’s blood boiled in their veins at the revolting sights which were almost daily obtruding upon their attention; and their judgments being greatly influenced by their feelings, it is not to be wondered at, that they should, in a few instances, have overshot, as it were, the mark—have sacrificed their lives to the support of opinions which appear now not materially different from those which their enemies pressed upon their acceptance. It is a sad mistake to suppose that the friends of Presbytery, during the fearful twenty-eight years’ persecution of Charles and James, died in the support of certain doctrines and forms of church government merely. With these were, unhappily, or rather, as things have turned out, fortunately, combined political or civil liberty, the establishment and support of a supreme power, vested in King, Lords, and Commons—instead of being vested, by usurpation, merely in the King alone. By avoiding to call Parliaments, and by obtaining supplies of money from France and otherwise, the two last of the Stuart Despots had, in fact, broken the compact of government, and had exposed themselves all along, through the twenty-eight years of persecution, to dethronement for high treason. This was the strong view taken by those who fought and who fell at Bothwell Bridge, and this was the view taken by nine-tenths of the inhabitants in Scotland—of the descendants and admirers of Bruce and Wallace—of Knox and Carstairs. James Renwick, the last of the Martyrs in the cause of religion and liberty, was executed in Edinburgh in his 26th year. He was a young man of liberal education, conducted both at the college of Edinburgh, and Groningen, abroad—of the most amiable disposition, and the most unblemished moral character—yet, simply because he avowed, and supported, and publicly preached, doctrines on which, in twelve months after his execution, the British Government was based, he was adjudged to the death, and ignominiously executed in the presence of his poor mother and other relatives, as well as of the Edinburgh public. Mr Woodrow, in his history of this man’s life, alludes to some papers which he had seen, containing notices of Mr Renwick’s trials and hairbreadth escapes, prior to his capture and execution—which, however, he refrains from giving to the public. It so happens that, from my acquaintance with a lineal descendant of the last of the Martyrs, I have it in my power, in some measure, to supply the deficiency; his own note, or memorandum-book, being still in existence, though it never has been, nor ever will probably be published.

It was in the month of January 1688, that Mr Renwick was preaching, after nightfall, to a few followers, at Braid Craigs, in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh. The night was stormy—a cold east wind, with occasional blasts of snow; whilst the moon, in her second quarter, looked out, at intervals, on plaids and bonnets nestled to the leeward of rocks and furzo. It was a piteous sight to view rational and immortal creatures reduced to a state upon the level with the hares and the foxes. Renwick discoursed to them from the point of a rock which protruded over the leeside of the Craigieknowe. His manner was solemn and impressive. He was a young man of about twenty-five years of age; and his mother, Elspeth Carson—sat immediately before him--an old woman of threescore and upwards—in her tartan plaid and velvet hood. Her son had been born to larger promise, and had enjoyed an excellent academic education; and much it had originally grieved the old woman’s heart to find all her hopes of seeing him minister of her native parish of Glencairn, blasted; but his conscience would not allow him to conform; and she had followed him in his wanderings and field-preachings, through Ayrshire, Renfrewshire, and all along by the Pentland Hills, to Edinburgh, where a sister of hers was married, and lived in a respectable way on the Castle Hill. This evening, after psalm-singing and prayer, Mr Renwick had chosen for his text these words, in the fourth verse of the eighteenth chapter of the book of Revelation—"Come out of her, my people." The kindly phrase, "my people," was beautifully insisted upon.

"There ye are," said Renwick, stretching out his hand into the darkening sleet; "there ye are—a poor, shivering, fainting, despised, persecuted remnant, whom the great ones despise, and the men of might, and of war, and of blood, cut down with their swords, and rack with their tortures. Ye are, like y’re great Master, despised and rejected of men; but the Master whom ye serve, and whom angels serve with veiled faces, and even He who created and supports the sun, the moon, and the stars, He—blessed be His name!—is not ashamed to acknowledge ye, under all your humiliation, as His people. ‘Come out of her,’ says He, ‘my people.’ O sirs, this is a sweet and a loving invitation. Ye are ‘His people,’ the sheep of His pasture, after all; and who would have thought it, that heard ye, but yesterday, denounced at the cross of Edinburgh as traitors and rebels, and non-conformists, as the offscourings of the earth, the filth and the abomination in the eyes and in the nostrils of the great and the mighty? ‘Come out!’ says the text, and out ye have come—‘done ere ye bade, guid Lord!’ Ye may truly and reverentially say—Here we are, guid Lord; we have come out from the West Port, and from the Grass-market, and from the Nether Bow, and from the Canon-gate—out we have come, because we are Thy people. We know Thy voice, and Thy servants’ voice; and a stranger and a hireling, with his stipend and his worldly rewards, will we not follow; but we will listen to him whose reward is with him; whose stipend is Thy divine approbation; whose manse is the wilderness; and whose glebe land is the barren rock and the shelterless knowe. Come out of her. There she sits," (pointing towards Edinburgh, now visible in the scattered rays of the moon,) "there she sits, like a lady, in her delicacies, and her drawing-rooms, and her ball-rooms, and her closetings, and her abominations. Ye can almost hear the hum of her many voices on the wings of the tempest. There she sits in her easy chair, stretching her feet downwards, from west to east, from castle to palace! But she has lost her first love, and has deserted her covenanted husband. She hath gone astray—she hath gone astray!—and He who made her hath denounced her—He whose she was in the day of her betrothment hath said, she is no longer mine, ‘come out of her, my people’—be not misled by her witch-cries, and her dalliance, and her smiles—be not terrified by her threats, and cruelties, and her murderings—she is drunk, she is drunk—and with the most dangerous and intoxicating beverage too—she is drunk with the blood of the saints. When shipwrecked and famishing sailors kill each other, and drink the blood, it is written that they immediately become mad, and, uttering all manner of blasphemies, expire! Thus it is with the ‘Lady of the rock’—she is now in her terrible blasphemies, and will, by and by, expire in her frenzy. And who sits upon her throne?—even the bloody Papist, who misrules these unhappy lands—he the usurper of a throne from which by law he is debarred—even the cruel and Papistical Duke, whom men in their folly or in their fears, denominate ‘KING’—he, too, is doomed—the decree hath gone forth, and he will perish with her because he would not come out."

"Will he indeed, Mr Bletherwell? But there are some here who must perish first." So said the wily and enfuriated Claverhouse, as he poured in his men by a signal from the adjoining glen, (where the lonely hermitage now stands in its silent beauty,) and in an instant had made Renwick, and about ten of his followers——the old woman, his mother, included—prisoners. This was done in an instant, for the arrangements had been made prior to the hour of meeting, and Claverhouse, attired in plaid and bonnet, had actually sat during the whole discourse, listening to the speaker till once he should utter something treasonable, when by rising on a rock, and shaking the corners of his plaid, he brought the troop up from their hiding-places, amidst the whins and the broom by which the glen was at that time covered. Renwick, seeing all resistance useless, and indeed forbidding his followers, who were not unprovided for the occasion, to fire upon the military, marched onwards, in silence, towards Edinburgh. As they passed along by the land now denominated "Canaan," they halted at a small public-house kept by a woman well known at the time by the nickname of "Red-herrings," on account of her making frequent use of these viands to stimulate a desire for her strong drink. Over her door-way, indeed, a red-herring and a foaming tankard were rudely sketched on a sign-board, (like cause and effect, or mere sequence!) in loving unity. The prisoners were accommodated with standing-room on Tibby’s kitchen; while the soldiers, with their leader, occupied the ben-room and the only door-way—thus securing their prisoners from all possibility of escape. Refreshments, such as Tibby could muster, consisting principally of brandy and ale, mixed up in about equal proportions of each, were distributed amongst the soldiers—who were, in fact, from their long exposure in the open air, in need of some such stimulants; whilst the poor prisoners were only watched, and made a subject of great merriment by the soldiers. The halt, however, was very temporary; but, temporary as it was, it enabled several of the members of the field-meeting to reach Edinburgh, and to apprise their friends, and what is termed the mob of the streets, of the doings at "Braid Craigs" Onwards advanced the party—soldiers before and behind, and their captives in the middle—till they reached the West Port, at the foot of the Grassmarket. It was near about ten o’clock, and the streets were in a buz with idle ‘prentices, bakers’ boys, shoemaker lads, &c. The march along the Grassmarket seemed to alarm Clavers; for he halted his men, made them examine their firelocks, spread themselves all around the prisoners, and, advancing himself in front, and on his famous black horse, with drawn sword and holster pistols, seemed to set all opposition at defiance. The party had already gained the middle of that narrow and winding pass the West Bow, when a waggon, heavily loaded with stones, was hurled downwards upon the party, with irresistible force and rapidity--Clavers’s horse shied, and escaped the moving destruction; but it came full force into the very midst of the soldiers, who, from a natural instinct, turned off into open doors and side closes; in this they were imitated by the poor prisoners, who were better acquainted with the localities of the West Bow than the soldiery. In an instant afterwards, a dense and armed mob rushed headlong down the street, carrying all before them, and shouting aloud, "Renwick for ever! Renwick for ever!" This was taken as a hint by the prisoners, who, in an instant, had mixed with the mob; or sunk, as it were, through the earth, into dark passages and cellars. "Fire!" was Claverhouse’s immediate order, so soon as the human torrent had reached him; and fire some of the soldiers did, but not to the injury of any of the prisoners, but to that of a person—a bride, as it turned out—who, in her curiosity or fear, had looked from a window above; she was shot through the head, and died instantly. But, in the meantime, the rescue was complete—Claverhouse, afraid manifestly of being shot from a window, galloped up the brae, and made the best of his way to the castle, there to demand fresh troops, to quell what he called the insurrection; whilst, in the meantime, the men, after a very temporary search or pursuit, marched onwards, with their muskets presented to the open windows, in case any head should protrude. But no heads were to be seen; and the soldiers escaped to the guard-house (to the heart of Mid-Lothian) in safety. Here, however, a scene ensued of a most heartrending nature. Scarcely had the men grounded their muskets in the guard-house, when a seeming maniac rushed upon them with an open knife, and cut right and left like a fury. He was immediately secured, but not till after many of the soldiers were bleeding profusely. They thrust him immediately, bound hand and foot, into the black-hole, to await the decision of next morning; but next morning death had decided his fate—he had manifestly died of apoplexy, brought on by extreme excitement. His mother, who had followed her son when he issued forth, deprived seemingly of reason, having lost sight of him in the darkness, had learned next morning of his fate and situation. She came, therefore, with the return of light, to the prison door, and had been waiting hours before it was opened. At last Clavers arrived, and ordered the maniac to be brought into his presence, and that of the Court for examination. But it was all over; and the distorted limbs and features of a young and a handiome man were all the mark by which a fond mother could certify the identity of an only son. From this poor woman’s examination, it turned out that her son was to have been married on that very day to a young woman whom he had long loved; but that he had been called to see her corpse, after she was shot by the soldiery, and had rushed out in the frantic and armed manner already described. The poor woman, from that hour, became melancholy; refused to take food; and, always calling upon the names of her "bonny murdered bairns," was found dead one morning in her bed.

In the meantime, James Renwick had made the best of his way down the Cowgate, and across, by a narrow wynd, into the Canongate, where a friend of his kept a small public-house. He had gone to bed; but his wife was still at the bar, and two men sat drinking in a small side apartment. He asked immediately for her husband, and was recognised, but with a wink and a look which but too plainly spoke her suspicion of the persons who were witnesses of his entrance. Hereupon he called for some refreshment, as if he had been a perfect stranger, and, seating himself at a small table, began to read in a little note-book which he took from his side pocket—"four, five, six, seven"—yes, seven, said he—and it has cost me seven pounds my journey to Edinburgh. This he said so audibly as to be heard by the persons who were sitting in the adjoining box, that they might regard him as a stranger, and unconnected with Edinburgh. But, as he afterwards expressed it, he deeply repented of the attempt to mislead. The Lord, he said, had justly punished him for distrusting His power to extricate him, as He had already done, from his troubles. The men, after one had accosted him in a friendly tone about the weather, or some indifferent subject, took their departure; and Mrs Chalmers and he, now joined by the husband, enjoyed one hour’s canny crack ere bedtime, over some warm repast. The whole truth was made known to them; but, though perfectly trustworthy themselves, they expressed a doubt of their customers, who were known to be little better than hired informers, who went about to public-houses, at the expense of the Government, listening and prying if they could find any evidence against the poor Covenanters. Next day, even before daylight, the house was surrounded by armed men, and Renwick was demanded by name. Mr Chalmers did not deny that he was in the house, but said that he came to him as to a distant relation, and that he was no way connected with his doctrines or opinions. In the meantime, Renwick was aroused, and had resolved to sell his life as dearly as possible. He was a young and an active man, and trusted, as he owned with great regret afterwards, to his strength and activity, rather than to the mercy and the wisdom of his Maker. So, rushing suddenly down stairs, and throwing himself, whilst discharging a pistol, (which, however, did no harm,) into the street, he was out of sight in a twinkling; but, in passing long, his hat fell off; and this circumstance drew the attention and suspicion of every one whom he passed, to his appearance. One foot, in particular, pressed hard upon him from behind, and a voice kept constantly crying, "Stop thief!—stop thief!" He ran down a blind alley, on the other side of the Canongate, and was at last taken without resistance, by three men, one of whom—and it was the one who had all along pursued him—was the person who had accosted him last night in the public-house, respecting the weather. He was immediately carried to prison, where he remained—visited indeed by his mother—till next assizes, when he was tried, condemned, and afterwards executed—the Last of the Martyrs!

The conversation which he had with his mother, his public confessions of faith, and adherence to the covenanted cause, as well as his last address, drowned at the time in the sound of drums—all these are given at full length in Woodrow, (the edition of Dr Burns of Paisley,) to which I must refer the reader who is curious upon such subjects. In this valuable work will likewise be found the inscription placed upon a very handsome cippus, or monument of stone, erected to his memory. We give it to the reader. There is another if we mistake not, in the Greyfriars of Edinburgh, somewhat in the same style. They are both equally simple and touching.

In memory to the late
tha last who suffered to the death, for attachment to the
Covenanted Cause of CHRIST
in Scotland.
Born near this spot, 15th February 1662,
and executed at the
Grassmarket, Edinburgh,

"The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance."
Ps. cxii. and 6.
Erected by subscription, 1828.

The late James Hastings, Esq., gave a donation of the ground. The subscriptions, amounting to about £100, were collected at large from Christians of all denominations; and the gentleman who took the most active part in suggesting and carrying through the undertaking, was the Rev. Gavin Mowat, minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Congregation at Whithorn, and formerly at Scar-brig in Penpont, Dumfriesshire. The monument is placed upon the farm of Knees, at no great distance from the farm-house where the martyr was born. It stands upon an eminence, from which it may be seen at the distance of several miles down the glen, in which the village of Monyaive is situated. It was visited at one time by the author of this narrative; when the resolution, which has now been very imperfectly fulfilled, was taken.

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