On this day in 1680 a company of English dragoons surprised and surrounded a Scottish preacher and a small band of armed men. Deciding to fight to the death, their leader, Richard Cameron, prayed “Lord, spare the green and take the ripe.” The skirmish took place at Ayrsmoss and sprang out of the complicated web of religious and political relations which strained English and Scottish relations at the time.
England had unilaterally imposed Episcopalian worship on most of Scotland. Cameron was a member of the historic but now-outlawed Covenanter movement–men and women who continued to worship in accordance with their Presbyterian convictions. Because of his natural gift of oratory, Covenanter leaders felt Cameron was called to preach the Gospel. And so, though not yet ordained, he became an outdoor preacher. He embraced the most steadfast position of the Scottish reformers and proclaimed the doctrines of grace with great fervor.
No doubt his patriotic Scots fervor for freedom from the despised English helped to shape his fierce recalcitrance, nonetheless, there was little doubt about the authenticity of his message. Thousands hung on his sermons, weeping when his eloquent appeals for repentance and submission to Christ touched their hearts. After receiving ordination in the Netherlands, Cameron returned to Scotland to plant churches.
In his absence, Charles II had offered a broad indulgence for the Scots–if only the Covenanters would recant. Cameron attacked the royal decree savagely. With a number of other leaders he drew up the revolutionary Sanquhar Declaration which disowned Charles II’s authority and went so far as to boldly declare war on him. Cameron even prophesied the overthrow of the Stuart line for, among other things, “usurping the royal prerogatives of King Jesus.” As a result, he was aptly nicknamed the “Lion of the Covenant.”
A reward of 5,000 pounds was immediately placed on his head. A small band of guards had to accompany him wherever he went to preach. But their swords proved insufficient on the day of disaster. The dragoons charged and hacked the Scots to death–though they offered fierce resistance. Cameron was slain and his body was desecrated–his head and hands were cut off to be displayed on an Edinburgh gate.
Even so, Cameron’s prophecy was fulfilled in short order. Charles II was succeeded by his brother, James II who was driven into exile. The English Parliament then ended the Stuart royal line by summoning William III of Orange to the throne in a bloodless revolution.