Persecution of the Scottish Covenanters: Incidents in the Life of Lady Greenhill. Part One


The barbarity of those whose work it was to oppress and destroy our worthy Scottish forefathers for their attachment to the cause of truth…

…seems to have increased as the persecuting period advanced towards its termination. The wicked men who were engaged in deeds of cruelty became more hardened and more dexterous in the perpetration of crime; and Satan, knowing that his time was but short, exerted himself with greater energy and fury, and excited in the breasts of his agents a spirit of uncommon ferocity. Individuals who, during the earlier part of the persecution, were allowed to remain in comparative quiet, were, during the latter years, subjected to the same treatment as others. Neither the bloom of maiden innocence and beauty, nor the wailings of helpless childhood, nor the entreaties of the widowed mother could prevail with those whose hearts were dead to every soft emotion and every generous feeling. The delicacy of sex yielded no protection to the pious maiden, and the domestic privacy afforded no shelter to the worthy matron in those days of tribulation and misrule.

A Young Girl seated on a rock reading a letter a dog curled up at her feetMrs. Renton, was born in the parish of Douglas, and descended of a worthy family of the name of Summerville. She was, at the time of our story, a widow. She had been married to the proprietor of a small estate called Greenhill, in the parish of Wiston. The mansion-house of the manor was situated at a short distance from the vicinity which was the scene of much persecuting violence.

Concerning the religious character of Mrs. Renton’s husband, tradition has said nothing. She herself, however, was a woman of real piety, and her abode was the ready asylum of the houseless wanderer, who had voluntarily left all for Christ’s sake. Lady Greenhill, as she was familiarly called, was regarded as an influential person in the district where she resided, and her example was therefore considered as the more pernicious.

It was known that she was guilty of refuge and safe-harbor, as well as of being attached in principle to the cause of the Covenanters, and hence the ruling party determined, if possible, to bring her to another way of thinking. In the district in which she lived, the lady was not solitary in her non-conformist practices. The parts about her were often visited by the outed ministers, and especially by the good Cargill, whose administrations in that neighborhood were attended with uncommon success; and consequently, many in these places were reared up to bear witness to the truth in the day of defection. Patrick Walker says, that Mr. Cargill had great delight in coming to Clydesdale where Mrs. Greenhill lived, because her he had the greatest liberty in preaching and praying; also several other ministers, he adds, at that time did the same. There were many “solid and serious Christians” whose houses afforded a retreat to the sufferers, and Greenhill was one of them. On this account, says the same writer, the persecution raged very hotly in the upper ward of Lanarkshire, and particularly in the vicinity of this story, during what he terms the “two slaughter years of 1654 and 1685.” It was very probably about this time that Greenhill was so often the scene of danger.

One day in the busy season of harvest, Claverhouse and his troopers suddenly made their appearance before Greenhill. The labors of the field at this period require the assistance of every hand, and few refuse to lend their aid in securing the yellow treasures which the ripening autumn has presented to the husbandman. Harvest is the most hilarious time of the year. It is the season which crowns the hopes of the agriculturist, and fills his heart with gladness. It is the season when the young men pour forth from the cottages, in joyous mood, to assail with the gleaming sickle the spacious wheat fields, waving their golden produce in the rustling breeze. In that more homely age to which this sketch refers, the household of the laird and the family of the cotter took their places side by side on the harvest rig and plied with buoyant spirits and willing hands the labors of the field. When Claverhouse arrived at Greenhill, he found none of the domestics within, and the reapers had just finished their mid-day repast, and were again in the field–

“Swelling the lusty sheaves,
While through their cheerful band the rural talk,

The rural scandal, and the rural jest,
Flew harmless.

CovenantersLady Greenhill that day occupied the place of a servant within doors, preparing the meals for the reapers at their stated hours, while all the inmates were sent to assist in the pleasant toil of shearing. The lady belonged to a class of housewives of which there is now, in the same rank of life, scarcely a remnant to be found. No portion of her time was spent in triflings, useless pursuits, and idle visits. By her the harpsichord was not struck for the purpose of killing a vacant hour, nor was the toilet made an altar on which to offer sacrifice to her personal vanity. The object of this truly virtuous lady was to imitate the apostolic injunction to women professing godliness: “Whose adorning, let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be in the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which, in the sight of God, is of great price; for, in this manner, in the old time, the holy women also who trusted in God adorned themselves.” There is a gaiety, and a frivolity, and a worldly affectation among some religious professors, which plainly indicate what manner of spirit they are of; and hence, as an excellent writer remarks, “were Christ and his apostles now upon earth, in their plain and lowly form, it is much to be feared that they would be thought hardly good company enough for many of the present race of genteel and modish professors of religion.”

The lady of Greenhill was a grave and prudent woman, and did not think it beneath her to engage, when necessity required, in menial occupations; she had too much good sense and true moral dignity to be ashamed of this. In this respect she resembled the virtuous woman, whose character is finely drawn by the pen of inspiration: “She seeketh wool and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands; she girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff; she stretcheth out her hand to the poor, yea, she reaches forth her hands to the needy. She openeth her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness; she looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.”

The troopers, as has been stated, arrived at Greenhill immediately after the departure of the reapers to the harvest field; and nobody was left within but the lady, who was busily employed in her domestic duties. The trampling of the feet of the horses, and then a loud thundering at the door announced the arrival of a party of visitors by no means welcome.

Being taken by surprise, she was for a moment in perplexity whether to seek a place of concealment, or to open the door to the intruders. Finding, however, that it would be in vain to attempt to secrete herself within the house, she resolved, as the only alternative, to meet them at the door.

afterKilliecrankieAccordingly, having roused herself to the resolution, and having put up a mental prayer to the Preserver of her life, she unbarred the door, and admitted the bustling troopers. “Is Lady Greenhill within?” thundered the commander of the party. “I am Lady Greenhill,” was her cool and ready answer. “If,” replied Claverhouse, “you were the lady, you would not so readily acknowledge it.” Claverhouse had never seen her before, and consequently could not recognize her; and the servile dress in which she was then habited tended to lull suspicion, and not one of the party ever dreamed that she was any other than one of the lady’s female servants. Claverhouse thinking that the supposed servant wished to amuse herself by attempting to practice a harmless deception on the gallant troopers, in passing herself off as the lady of the mansion, pushed his way into the interior, and entered the parlor, expecting to find Lady Greenhill seated at her ease, and, without more ado, to make her his prisoner on the spot. The commander, not having found her, as he anticipated, asked again, in a firmer and more impatient tone, where the lady was. Mrs. Greenhill observing that she was not recognized, began to think that under this disguise she might probably escape detection, if she could act her part so as not to weaken the Impression that she was really a household servant. Accordingly, when the question was again asked by the Cavalier, she replied: “I am all that you will get for Lady Greenhill today” On this the troopers were enraged, and with deep oaths declared that the lady was certainly within, and that they would not leave the place till they found her. They proceeded instantly to the search, and the house was ransacked from cellar to garret. The lady all the while preserved her incognito, acted well her part, and sustained the character of an active and industrious Scottish maiden. The noisy and mischievous dragoons were racing about, and rambling through every apartment of the dwelling-house; and the lady, safe in the disguise of a servant, and apparently entirely at her ease, was occupied in the toils of the kitchen, and intent only on her work. The soldiers having accomplished their eager search without success, were greatly chagrined at their disappointment, and vented their rage in blasphemous language.

Finding it in vain to pursue their object any farther, they began to make preparations for their departure. Having regaled themselves with what food and liquor they could find, and having in revenge destroyed what they could not consume, they dispatched the supposed servant to fetch a man from the field, to conduct them through the pass of Howgate Mouth, on their way to Lanark.

Howgate Mouth is a deep and rugged defile, which intersects the western declivity of the area. In the days of our forefathers it was rather a dangerous pass, especially to those on horseback; and hence the necessity of a guide for the safe conduct of travelers. That necessity happily does not now exist, as a good thoroughfare has been made through it.

images (4)The dragoons moved along the defile, following the track of their cautious guide, who led them down with all the precision he could. As they were passing onward, they began to interrogate the man concerning the lady, and endeavored to extract some information respecting her retreat. “Yon,” said he, “was the lady that cried me frae the craft; everybody is on the rig the day but herself.” On this the commander of the party imagined that the man was wishing to impose on him in the same way as the supposed female servant in the house; and not being disposed to receive any further jests on the subject, he drew his sword, and demanded a distinct reply to his question, respecting the hiding-place of his mistress.

The man could give no other answer than he had already given; and he continued firmly to assert that the female they met in the house was the identical person of whom they were in quest. His assertions, however, were not credited by the soldiers; and they proceeded to belabor him with the broad side of their drawn swords, declaring that if he persisted in concealing the truth, he should do so at the expense of aching bones. On every repetition of the blows which the dragoons, by way of amusement to themselves, so liberally applied to his back and shoulders, his reply was uniformly the same, –“Yon was just the lady though.” At last, having sufficiently chastised his obstinacy, as they thought, and having got beyond the dangers of the pass, they dismissed him to tell his tale of woe to the merry reapers; but whether the cudgeling he had received rendered him unable to wield the sickle for the remainder of the day, tradition does not say. On this occasion, the worthy lady escaped in a way she did not expect. She could not tell a lie when interrogated by her enemies; and He who desires truth in the inward parts, was pleased to shield her from discovery.

–Taken from, “Traditions of the Covenanters”
Written by, Robert Simpson, D.D.


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