Saturday, January 24, 2009

There are many to see them

IT WAS the 22nd July 1680. He rose early, and washed his hands. "This is their last washing. I have need to make them clean, for there are many to see them." The woman of the house where he had been lodging began to cry at the finality of his message. He offered her kind words of comfort - "Weep not for me".

His men had spent the night camped on the moor, and he joined them for some refreshment and rest. But their peace was shattered around 4 o'clock in the afternoon with the news that a detachment of heavily armed royal troops on horseback had tracked them down and was now not far away. His men urged him to flee, to leave them to the fight, but he steadfastly refused to leave. Taking up the best positions they could find on the soft marsh of Airds Moss, they stood their ground and prepared for the attack, with simple blacksmith-made handswords at their sides.

One hour later it was over. He, his younger brother Michael, and seven more of their number - friends, colleagues, comrades and brethren - lay dead on the moss. They lost nine, but in the hour of hand-to-hand combat, 28 of the King's troops were dead too.

In an act of vicious barbarity so typical of the time, the troops cut off the heads and hands of the dead Covenanters and put them into a sack. They were carried as bloody trophies to Edinburgh, the city where their parents and grandparents had first declared their commitment to the Covenant, but which had for the past 20 years been a scene of relentless public martyrdom. As the troops entered the city on 24 July, his head was held aloft on the point of a sword.

His aged father, Allan, had lain in a cold prison cell in the city for two years - he had been arrested in August 1678 for holding illegal preaching meetings in his house. The precious contents of the sack were dumped on the stone floor before the old man, and the prison guards mockingly asked him if he recognised them. He took them in his hands, kissed them, and with tear-filled eyes said:

"I know them, I know them", he replied. "They are my son's, my dear son's".

Without pausing, he carried on:

"It is the Lord. Good is the will of the Lord, who cannot wrong me nor mine, but has made goodness and mercy to follow us all our days".

His son's head and hands were then taken away and on 31 July were displayed on the Netherbow Port of the city, with the fingers pointing upwards, for the 60,000 people of Edinburgh to view as they went about their daily business.

"This is their last washing. I have need to make them clean, for there are many to see them."

At just 32 years old, Richard Cameron's prediction had been fulfilled.