In 1666, Sir James Turner was sent with 140 soldiers to the south-west of Scotland to fine anyone who wouldn’t take the oath of allegiance to the king or speak against the covenants. This made the situation worse, as Turner was greedy and fined people far more than he should have, and his soldiers were cruel. The final straw came when some of his soldiers threatened to roast alive an old farmer called Grier for not paying his fine. Four Covenanters overheard their threat and rescued Grier, then gathered about 150 more men and took Turner prisoner.
The Covenanters then renewed the Solemn League and Covenant at Lanark before marching towards Edinburgh to protest to the king about the persecution they were facing and the fact that bishops had been forced on the church. The king’s army came out to face the Covenanters at Rullion Green in the Pentland hills. The Covenanters had about 900 men, many without proper weapons, and the army had 3,000 men. The Covenanters were completely defeated, with 50 killed, 80 taken prisoner, and the rest escaping into the darkness. 36 of the prisoners were executed, and some were tortured, including 25 year-old minister Hugh MacKail.
At Ayr and Irvine, the official hangman refused to hang the prisoners. In Ayr, this problem was only solved when one of the prisoners was offered his freedom if he would do the hanging.
However all those who were executed were so calm when facing death that they inspired others. The soldiers then were sent to take revenge on their friends and families.
J. G. Vos, The Scottish Covenanters (Edinburgh, 1998 ), pp 101-3
Ian B. Cowan, The Scottish Covenanters 1660-1688 (London, 1976), pp 60-72.
David Stevenson, ‘Turner, Sir James (b. c.1615, d. in or after 1689)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
John Callow, ‘MacKail , Hugh (1640/41–1666)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004