27 July 1689 – The Battle of Killiecrankie

Late afternoon, a sunny day on a Perthshire hillside. The River Garry thunders through the rocky defile at the bottom of the slope. A double line of redcoat soldiers stand to arms with their backs to the river looking up at the ranks of kilted warriors massed in their clan regiments further up the hillside.

General Hugh MacKay, commanding King William’s army in Scotland, looks along the line of his anxious soldiery and considers the merits of his position. He’d had one purpose in mind this morning, as he had put his socks on in his camp at Dunkeld and that was to bring Dundee’s army to battle so that he might destroy it. For three months he had pursued them across Scotland but the Viscount’s host had persistently eluded him.

General MacKay

General MacKay

Now, not only had he successfully brought his command through the narrow and treacherous Pass of Killiecrankie with its risk of ambush but he now stood toe to toe with his antagonist, King James’ Lieutenant-General, John Graham of Claverhouse, the recently ennobled Viscount Dundee. And he could now sweep away this one remaining obstacle to the rule of the House of Orange throughout the three kingdoms.

The narrow pass through which MacKay led his troops before the battle

The narrow pass through which MacKay led his troops before the battle

Perhaps, he might have preferred it were his own force not stood downhill from the enemy. The vaunted highland charge was a battle tactic of some repute. This Graham’s kinsman, the Marquess of Montrose, had used it successfully on no fewer than six occasions during his ultimately unsuccessful campaign to restore another Stuart monarch some forty years previously. Then it was a tactic that had been mostly deployed on level ground. Save at the final encounter at Kilsyth when, famously, the charge had been executed uphill after the unfortunate commander of the Covenanting Government’s army, General Baillie, had been instructed to execute a flank march in the face of the enemy. The black-cowled Geneva ministers who had given him his orders believed that not only were they the defining authority on the issue of man’s relationship with God, but also that they were experts in the matter of warfare. The responsibility for the subsequent destruction of Baillie’s army could be laid squarely at their door.


General William Baillie, commander of the Covenant army destroyed by Montrose at the Battle of Kilsyth (1645)

General William Baillie, commander of the Covenant army destroyed by Montrose at the Battle of Kilsyth (1645)

Today, however, not only is MacKay looking up the hill at his enemy but to prevent the possibility of being outflanked, he has reduced the depth of his force by a full rank, lest the Jacobite cavalry expose the weakness of his overly narrow frontage. The question of whether or not his thinned-out line would be strong enough to withstand the inevitable enemy charge does not seemed to have occurred to the erstwhile redcoat commander. Who, despite his highland lineage, has spent his entire military career on the continent and is as much a stranger in this, his own country, as any of his men.

His opponent, gazing down the hill at him from his horse,is of different stock entirely. As experienced in untidy, irregular scuffling across lowland bogs as he is in the ways of formal, well-mannered, continental warfare he had seen at such encounters as the Battle of Seneffe and the Siege of Maastricht.

Claverhouse saves William of Orange at the Battle of Seneffe

Claverhouse saves William of Orange at the Battle of Seneffe

Both forces had stood, assembled in battle array, for over an hour. The leading element of the Jacobite Army having emerged from the trees at the top of the slope not long after MacKay had received the comforting news the last of his marching column had cleared the narrows of the pass. The opposing commanders had then organised their dispositions in preparation for the long-awaited battle which had loomed inevitably ever since Dundee had raised King James’ Standard on Dundee Law in April, to initiate this first Jacobite Rising.

All his efforts since then had been focused in achieving decisive victory in this definitive battle. Perhaps, indeed, this was the culmination of his destiny. For forty years he had served his King and Parliament. Much of the last ten of these in the front line maintaining law and order in the face of the best efforts of hard-line Presbyterians to subvert said rule that it might be replaced with that of the Covenant.

And, latterly, as the failures of King James VII & II to effectively rule his kingdom multiplied to the extent that the hapless monarch felt compelled to simply abandon his responsibilities, in the same self-centred and short-sighted manner as his senior subjects had themselves abandoned him, the entire hopes of the Stuart monarchy had now fallen on the shoulders of this one man.

James VII & II flees to France (December 1688), abandoning all behind him

James VII & II flees to France (December 1688), abandoning all behind him

But such a man, of character unbesmirched. A natural, charismatic leader of men, as much on the field of battle as in the Parliamentary debating chamber. One who understood fully the principles by which good men should be guided.


And now he sat, ahorse, ready for the defining battle of a generation and, it would transpire, beyond. Surrounded by the chiefs of the highland clans and his own loyal officers who had served with him throughout the last troubled decade. And the issues at stake were understood by every man on that sunny hillside. If MacKay and his redcoats prevailed then the fortunes of William of Orange into whose lap the crown had so fortuitously tumbled, would be secure. Less than a year after leading ashore a hostile invasion force while the incumbent monarch sat yet on his throne, he would be undisputed political and military master of the Three Kingdoms. However, if the recently deposed King James’ Lieutenant-General were to be master of the field at the end of the day then it might all be changed once more with the House of Stuart restored to the throne upon which their ancestors had sat for over three hundred years.

Now, as the sun began toi dip behind the hill upon which he had assembled his King’s army, Dundee gave the order to charge. And what a sight this must have been for General MacKay’s men, this wave of terrible human ferocity tearing down towards them.Where the armies were closest, on the Jacobite left, the Camerons and MacDonalds were in amongst MacKay’s men before they were even able to fire their weapons. The regiments on either side broke and fled and the slaughter commenced.

The highland charge which swept General MacKay's line away

The highland charge which swept General MacKay’s line away

MacKay, by no means lacking in personal courage whatever his shortcomings as a military commander, did what he could to reform his line but the irreversible nature of the rout would have been obvious within minutes.

Dundee himself, rode down with his cavalry in the wake of the charging highlanders. And as he rose and turned in his saddle to maintain the direction of the mounted thrust, a musket ball struck below the arm and outwith the protection of his breast-plate, and he fell to the ground. As the clansmen set about completing the rout of MacKay’s command, Dundee’s officers tended to their stricken leader, but to no avail. The wound was grievous and within minutes the commander of King James’ forces in Scotland and the best and last hope for the restoration of the House of Stuart lay dead.









Airds Moss and the Death of Richard Cameron

On 22nd June 1680 at the point where Ayrshire meets Lanarkshire was fought the Battle of Airds Moss where Richard Cameron, known to posterity as the Lion of the Covenant, met his death.


Memorial at Airds Moss

Memorial at Airds Moss

It was, even by the standards of the time, an obscure encounter with little impact on the prevailing political situation. Involving as it did, on the one hand well-armed, well trained and capably led troops in the service of the Scottish Privy Council. And on the other enthusiastic, committed but badly led zealots with little or no experience of warfare.

The only real significance of the event was the death of the aforementioned Cameron. Born in 1648, the very same year as John Graham of Claverhouse and, coincidentally, the same year as a number of other Scots who were to feature prominently in the drama of Scottish politics towards the end of the century; including James Dalrymple, duly to become Viscount Stair and James Drummond, who as the 4th Earl of Perth would be imprisoned in the immediate aftermath of the Glorious Revolution and die in exile at the Jacobite court of St Germain.

Richard Cameron, born in this particular year to gentle farming folk in Falkland in Fife, went up to St Andrews University aged 14 and after his graduation secured employment back in Falkland as the parish school teacher. However, in his early twenties he seems to have encountered the fiery preaching of John Welsh and fallen under the spell of this most intolerant of covenanting preachers. Young Richard came out as a covenanter and in 1676 was duly given license to preach. And despite legislation against conventicles being firmly in place young Cameron, despatched to Annandale, began his prominent field preaching career.

Falkland, Fife. Birthplace of Richard Cameron

Falkland, Fife. Birthplace of Richard Cameron

He was, it should be said, particularly intolerant of the Indulged Clergy, which is to say those ministers who had been forgiven their previous rebellious transgressions by the Scottish Parliament in return for oath-taking and acceptance to a degree of conformity.

While the Reverend Welsh, would in no sense be mistaken for a tolerant individual, he was keen to not provoke a complete split with his former colleagues, in the interest of the forward movement of the movement as a whole.

Young Richard was not troubled by such niceties as short term sinking of differences in order that long term gains might be made by the majority and proceeded to denounce the aforementioned Indulged at every opportunity.

This hostility was by no means all one way and in 1679, under much pressure from the said Indulged Clergy, Richard Cameron shipped out to Holland where he was duly ordained a minister in the Church of Scotland. While in exile he missed all the drama of the murder of Archbishop Sharp and the Battles of Drumclog and Bothwell Bridge which followed on from this outrage.

He returned to these shores shortly thereafter only to find, to his apoplexy, that a Third Indulgence had been granted and in turn accepted by the General Assembly.

Joining forces with Donald Cargill, another product from the Rotterdam school of intolerance, and the infamous David Hackston of Rathillet, wanted still as the ringleader of the murderous assassins who had perpetrated the foul assassination on Magus Moor, they rode into Sanquhar on 22 June, the anniversary of the defeat at Bothwell Bridge the previous year. Amid appropriate ceremony and psalm singing they nailed their manifesto to the market cross. This document denounced Charles Stuart as ‘a tyrant and usurper’ and promised righteous judgment on o whole list of shortcomings that they believed to characterize those they opposed.

Richard Cameron conducting an illegal conventicle

Richard Cameron conducting an illegal conventicle

With a government bounty of 5000 merks to anyone who brought him in ‘dead or alive’ Cameron and his handful of followers took to the hills, keeping on the move and sleeping rough. On 22 July they were taken by surprise at Airds Moss by a troop of Government horse under the command of Bruce of Earlshall. With some 20 horsemen and 40 foot they were outnumbered by around two to one, conceding also all those traditional elements which determined the outcome of such encounters; discipline, military experience and sound leadership.

Cameron was killed in the action and Hackston taken prisoner being led subsequently back to Edinburgh where he was executed and his body parts displayed in a manner fully compliant with the customs of the times.

Mercat Cross, Edinburgh





The Battle of Bothwell Bridge, 22 June 1679

In the last post we looked at the Battle of Drumclog where on 1st June 1679, a small government force under Bonnie Dundee’s command was attacked and routed by a larger, irregular force of Covenanters.

Emboldened by this outstanding success the Covenanters moved to capitalise on it. While in Edinburgh, the Privy Council initiated counter measures designed to quell the rebellion before it got completely out of hand. All of this would lead to a second and decisive military encounter some three weeks later and 20 odd miles further north on 22 June at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge.

Battle of Bothwell Bridge monument

Battle of Bothwell Bridge monument

In the immediate aftermath of his defeat at Drumclog, Dundee had written a full report to his commander, the Earl of Linlithgow, Major General of his Majesty’s forces in Scotland expressing his opinion that “This may be counted the beginning of the rebellion”. And so it would seem to be the case with the sudden appearance of covenanting sympathies in many hitherto seemingly law-abiding citizens.

3rd Earl of Linlithgow, Claverhouse's commander

3rd Earl of Linlithgow, Claverhouse’s commander

While many of those to the fore of the Covenanting force could be deemed to be determined, ruthless and experienced, none of them were generals. And the military command initially fell upon Robert Hamilton who, as was so often the case in these troubled times, would feature in a prominent role on both pro and anti Stuart divide, having fought for the Stuarts in the defeats at Cromwell’s hands at Dunbar (1650) and Worcester (1651) and would eventually flee to Holland in the aftermath of the failure of the Monmouth Rising (1685) the purpose of which was to remove James VII and II from the throne.

As soon as they had abandoned their pursuit of Dundee’s defeated force after Drumclog, the Covenant Army resolved, under Hamilton’s leadership, to “continue and abide together in arms”. They understood well that it was only a matter of time before the Government would move against them, in force. On the afternoon of their victory they marched the fifteen miles to Hamilton (the village not the man) where they camped. Glasgow, where Dundee and his remaining troops stood to arms with the Government garrison under the command of Lord George Ross of Hawkhead, was only 10 miles distant.

In the wee, small hours of the following morning the post boy galloped through the dark, Edinburgh streets bearing Ross’ despatch to Linlithgow announcing the defeat at Drumclog and his intention to barricade the streets of Glasgow in the face of the advancing covenanting host. Within an hour the Privy Council were gathered and plans laid to assemble the scattered Government troops from Fife and Dumfries for the Earl of Linlithgow to lead westwards against the rebels on 4th June.

17th century Glasgow, where the Covenanting rebels attacked Claverhouse and Ross

17th century Glasgow, where the Covenanting rebels attacked Claverhouse and Ross

At sunrise on 2nd June the rebel force approached Glasgow and at 11 am made a rash and ill-judged assault on the barricades at the bottom of High Street and the Gallowgate. The troops of Ross and Claverhouse fired on them from behind these and within a short time their assailants withdrew leaving many wounded lying in the street and at least seven dead. They rallied a mile to the east of the town where the setback of their repulse now gave rise to the splits and schisms long-threatened in a mob where each man and woman considered themselves to be a party of one.

If they possessed ‘leaders of integrity and followers with a singleness of purpose’ then this army of Covenanters might have been forged into a force as strong as any led by Cromwell. However, with fully two thirds of them deemed by themselves to be preachers, with the vanity and unwillingness to subvert to the greater good often prevalent in the species, it was a hopeless cause. Even with strong leadership it would have been an almost impossible task but the leadership of this rebel force was inept to a degree rarely seen before or since in our little corner part of the world.

The total number of different shades of religious opinion amongst them would have been impossible to determine but in broad terms they were split into two factions. These being the Moderates (which was purely a relevant term) led by John Welsh of Irongray, a great grandson of John Knox. And the Honest Party, led by the previously mentioned Robert Hamilton, who had no moderation in anything. And a considerable surprise it would have been, no doubt, for the redoubtable Mr Welsh to find himself for once outstripped in his fanaticism.

John Welsh, leader of one of the Covenant factions at Bothwell Bridge

John Welsh, leader of one of the Covenant factions at Bothwell Bridge

Having checked the forward movement of the rebels Linlithgow now amended his initial plan of concentrating his forces in Glasgow and decided instead to carry out this concentration of his forces at Stirling. A strange choice explained only by timidity on his part and one which left both Glasgow and Edinburgh vulnerable to subsequent advance by the still intact rebel force. And if they were to repeat their manouevre of the Pentland Rising of 1666 then there might yet be an undesired outcome to this revolt.

Thus Ross and Dundee were ordered to withdraw from Glasgow towards Stirling, doing so on 3rd June while Linlithgow advanced from Edinburgh. Their forces joined at Bonnybridge on the 5th. This combined force now numbered 1800 men; horse, dragoons (mounted infantry) and foot. A despatch was then received from the magistrates of Glasgow reporting that the Covenanters, now some 7000 strong, were camped in the vicinity of Bothwell Bridge, near Hamilton.

Bothwell Bridge, scene of the eponymous battle

Bothwell Bridge, scene of the eponymous battle

Linlithgow advanced once more, reaching Kirkintilloch at midday on 6th June. A reconnaissance party reported that the rebels had now occupied Glasgow and after due consideration and consultation with his officers, Linlithgow decided that the disparity in size of the two armies was such that he risked disaster by attacking and was duly recalled to Edinburgh by the Privy Council. Drumclog was only 5 days old and the rebellion was now entirely out of hand.

Still more of the disaffected rallied to the Covenant banner and the rebel force continued to grow in size, and to their collective misfortune, to grow also in disparity of strongly-held opinion. There now ensued fully two weeks of internecine bickering over religious intricacies. On 8th June a ‘very great convention’ was held in Rutherglen where a resolution was determined by the Honest Party to remain aloof from Welsh and his moderates. They met again the following day where both sides of the debate agreed on the necessity of issuing a unified, public declaration of their aims. Yet neither could accept the other’s drafting of this. On 10th June there was a ‘very hot disputation, particularly concerning the indulgence’ which is to say who was to be forgiven for previous political / religious transgressions and who was not. Again no resolution was determined. And so it continued. Each passing day brought further discussion and yet more disagreement as the differences between the disparate viewpoints became emphasised and that which drew them together became drowned in the din.

But now the King, his majesty Charles II, became stirred into action by the reports of rebellion from the north. He decided to appoint his illegitimate son, James, Duke of Monmouth as commander-in-chief of his forces in Scotland. Monmouth’s orders were issued on 11th June and he disembarked in Edinburgh on 19th June.

James, Duke of Monmouth. commander of the Government army at Bothwell Bridge

James, Duke of Monmouth. commander of the Government army at Bothwell Bridge

He brought only two troops of horse from England to supplement the Scottish Government’s now concentrated army which he rendezvoused with at Blackburn, West Lothian on 19th June, assuming overall command of a combined force of some 5000 men.

If this army force was small in numbers it was strong in leadership. Monmouth had extensive campaigning experience in Flanders. The 3 principal dragoon officers were seasoned and experienced men. Claverhouse and the Earls of Home and Airlie commanded their own separate troops and with Montrose (not The Montrose) leading the Life Guards there was no shortage of skill, experience and, crucially, military discipline.

On 20th June Monmouth was at Muirhead and on the evening of 21 June he was advancing on Bothwell Bridge and the larger Covenanting Army. How had things gone with them in the meantime? Not well. The advance of the Government Army had merely accentuated the acute divisions in their camp. On 16th, 17th and 18th, camped on Shawhead Moor, their leadership, such as it was, continued to meet in acrimonious debate. Hamilton’s Moderates had proposed a Day of Humiliation which Welsh’s Honest men had protested. With the whole gathering deep in confusion they had recrossed Bothwell Bridge on 18th June and encamped on Hamilton Moor.

The wrangling continued through the 19th, and on 20th June they were joined by reinforcements from Galloway. These were favourers of the Indulgence and thus natural allies of Welsh’s party. They submitted a written statement of their desires to Hamilton who promptly, and unsurprisingly, rejected it.

Late in the evening of 21 June, just hours before the battle would commence, the two factions met in their final council of war. One desired to purge the army of undesirables while the other refused to fight under the officers which had been selected prior to the arrival of the Galloway men which had given the moderates numerical superiority in the argument. After heated discussion Hamilton and his people withdrew. The Moderates sat down to frame a petition to Monmouth but once again agreement over the content proved impossible. And in a few short hours this host of pious men, leaderless, unprepared and distracted would blunder into battle.

The surviving comments from among their number cast illumination on their situation;……..”We were not concerned with an enemy as if there were none within 100 miles of us”………………..”There were none went through the army to see if we wanted powder or ball”……”A little before day we saw the enemy kindling their matches a great way off……………
At about 3 am in the morning of 22 June the advance guard of Monmouth’s army closed on one end of the bridge. The rebels formed into two bodies with one holding their end of the bridge and the other drawn up a mile or so to the rear, while the single piece of cannon they possessed was dragged down to command the approach to the bridge. This piece and its gunner would be the star of the show for the discomfited rebels.

An exchange of pistol fire began across the water as Monmouth came to the front line. The two rebel factions, faced now with the imminent destruction of their host, had managed to thrash together a parley with which they could both live and now this representation was made to Monmouth, who could do little but entertain it. So hostilities ceased temporarily.

Their submission though was merely a list of their grievances and a request that they might meet with Monmouth to discuss the matters. The erstwhile Duke sent back that he could not enter into any discussions with rebels until they lay down their arms. He did not bother to await their reply before recommencing preparations for his assault and ordered the deployment of his own cannon to command the bridge. A second parley was sent out from the Covenant lines desiring to be told the nature of any terms that he might have brought from England. Monmouth sent them packing and duly ordered his cannon to open fire.

And this provided the first surprise of the day as the lone Covenant gun,
manned by a stalwart who’s name posterity has not preserved but was their one true hero if the day, drove the government artillerymen from their pieces. However, after their initial discomfiture they returned to their pieces and under the cover of their fire a storming party of dragoons led by the splendidly named Major Theophilus Oglethorpe, stormed and forced the bridge.

Oglethorp's dragoons storm the bridge

Oglethorp’s dragoons storm the bridge

Under instruction not to advance any further than the other end of said bridge, they became carried away by the heat of the moment and advanced up the hill towards the main body of the enemy. Who, perceiving their small numbers, moved down the hill and drove them into the houses at that end of the bridge.

In response 300 foot, under the command of Lord Livingstone’s son, were sent across the bridge and they, in turn, drove the Covenanters back on their main body. Monmouth himself now came forward over the bridge with his own troop and together with those already over, formed up to face the rebels ‘but two carabines shot apart’.

A haphazard and leaderless effort, but an effort nonetheless, was made by the rebels in an attempt to rescue the day. An assault was made on a body of Atholl Highlanders on Monmouth’s right, as the commander sought to form his second line. A brief cannonade forced them back in confusion with the Covenanting horse among them driven headlong from the field. Seconds later the foot joined the stampede and the rout began.

Oglethorp and Claverhouse were ordered to pursue with Monmouth following with the foot. At about ten o’clock that morning a messenger was despatched to Edinburgh bearing news of the victory.

And so the rule of law was once again imposed in all areas of the nation. The defeat at Drumclog could now be placed in proper perspective as a one-off thrown up by the particular circumstances of the day. And appropriate, measured action could now be taken against those who had initiated rebellion against King and lawful Government.

The bubble which had been blown at Rutherglen two months previously had now burst spectacularly with the rout at Bothwell. Monmouth was able to lead his men through the country across which the rebels had so recently roamed at will and confirmed the conclusion that all signs of rebellion were extinguished. On June 25th the local militia were dismissed, their function fulfilled. And on the 26th Monmouth returned to Edinburgh for the grateful thanks of the Privy Council, receiving the Freedom of the City in a large gold box. By 29th June he was on his way back to London.

Controversy, inevitably abounds as we look back on the whole episode, particularly in relation to two of the day’s participants; the Duke of Monmouth, commander-in-chief of the Government force and a lowly commander of horse troops, John Graham of Claverhouse.

Within 6 years Monmouth was dead. Tried and executed for treason following his defeat at the Battle of Sedgemoor as he attempted to overthrow his uncle, King James VII and II, and seize the British throne for himself. From this vantage point many re-assess his behaviour at, and after Bothwell Bridge and seek to find indications, through his clemency towards the rebels, of his future treasonous actions.

As far as Claverhouse is concerned there has been as much opprobrium heaped upon him by future historians over his actions at Bothwell Bridge as there is at any other occasion in his career. The attempt to redress which is the driving force for this blog.

Much of this is due to Sir Walter Scott’s depiction of the events of Bothwell Bridge in Old Mortality which was published in 1816, nearly 140 years after the events took place. Scott gives Claverhouse a degree of prominence which far outweighs his actual involvement and bestows upon him an aura of rapacious cruelty and vengefulness for which there is no basis. However, to be fair to Scott, he could have had little idea of the extent to which his work outlived and outgrew him to the degree that it has. As Charles Terry, briefly and eloquently puts it, sober history competes unequally with romance.

Scott, author of Old Mortality

Scott, author of Old Mortality

Scott portrays him as a colonel at the battle, promoted to General in the aftermath, whereas he was but a plain captain of horse, on the day and for some time afterwards. He and General Tam Dalziel, who was not in fact present at the battle having refused to serve under Monmouth, are credited by Scott with the ruthless pursuit of the fleeing rebels, in flagrant disobedience of Monmouth’s orders, rapaciously slaughtering the vanquished enemy.

Doubtless the emotion generated by his defeat at Drumclog would have been strong. The extensive source material relating to the battle itself and its immediate aftermath make passing mention only oh his leading the cavalry on the right once Monmouth was over the bridge and reference to the capture ‘with his own two hands’ of two Covenant battle standards. Once again tradition becomes crystallized into fact in the face of a total absence of evidence. But it was ever thus.











The Battle of Drumclog, 1st June 1679

Let’s break away from the summer campaign of 1689 which will end at Killiecrankie and look at an earlier episode in Dundee’s military career.

The Battle of Drumclog

The Battle of Drumclog

In June 1679 the Battle of Drumclog was fought near Loudon Hill in Ayrshire between a government force under his command and a mob of covenanters who were able to surprise him. It might be considered that with the wildness of the times and prevailing circumstances Drumclog was inevitable, but the seeds for this clash were sewn a month before with the nefarious deed carried out on Magus Moor on 3rd May.

On this day a stagecoach bearing Archbishop Sharp and his daughter Isabel, was crossing the moor heading for St Andrews when nine covenanter horsemen fell in behind it in pursuit.

James Sharp was a prominent and controversial figure of the time. As Primate of all Scotland he had been at the forefront of the major events in Scotland for the previous two decades. Captured and imprisoned by Cromwell’s forces in 1650 he had been involved with General Monck in the negotiations for the restoration of Charles II in 1660. Subsequently appointed as Archbishop of St Andrews and to the Privy Council, he then engaged in what was seen by many to be the instigation of the suppression of covenanting principles. And his involvement in the imposition of the death penalty on prisoners captured after the Battle of Rullion Green in 1666, made him, in the eyes of most covenanters, a sworn enemy of their cause.

James Sharp 1618 - 1679, Archbishop of St Andrews

James Sharp 1618 – 1679, Archbishop of St Andrews

And now the opportunity had arisen for them to take their vengeance. As the coach increased speed to escape, one of the archbishop’s mounted servants dropped back in an effort to fend off the pursuers and was immediately cut down with a sword blow. Within minutes the coach was brought to a stop and the archbishop ordered out. Eight of the men crowded round the now-kneeling prelate and laid about him with their swords while his daughter, restrained in the coach, looked on in horror.

The Murder of Archbishop Sharp

The Murder of Archbishop Sharp

Several heavy sword blows to the head ended the business. The archbishop’s efforts to block the blows leaving his hands shredded. Abandoning the lifeless body the covenanting gang plundered the baggage removing what documents they found before riding off leaving the archbishop’s daughter to tend her father’s body.

This murder, a savage and shocking event, even by the standards of the time, was to have profound implications, with the Privy Council subsequently using it to justify the imposition of suppressive measures against those who held to the Covenant.

But all this was yet to follow. In the immediate aftermath of the Archbishop’s assassination the first task of the authorities was to identify, capture and bring to justice, those who had been responsible for the deed.

Fleeing the scene of their crime the assassins rode west to Dunblane then south west to safe haven with their own kind. Among these, there were some more vituperous in their beliefs, that saw this event as a heaven sent opportunity to initiate further, escalated action against the repressive hand of the state. One of the more vocal among these was Robert Hamilton who duly organized a public demonstration of covenanting zeal. On 29 May, the King’s Birthday, he led a band into the burgh of Rutherglen where celebratory bonfires had been lit. Dousing these they then ceremoniously burnt copies of recent repressive legislation then fixed their declaration to the market cross.

News of the events at Rutherglen reached John Graham of Claverhouse in Falkirk late in the afternoon of the 29th May. By the 30th he was in Glasgow and early the next morning he left there hot on Hamilton’s trail. Sweeping through the township of Hamilton he apprehended three of the participants in the Rutherglen display including the renegade preacher John King. He was able to establish that there was a large conventicle planned for the following day, Sunday 1st June, in the vicinity of Loudon Hill. Early that morning he rode forth, took breakfast at Strathaven thence on to Loudon Hill some six miles distant.

The ground where the battle was fought

The ground where the battle was fought

As Claverhouse and his troop breasted the hill at Drumclog they saw arrayed in full battle order some half a mile distant a sizeable gathering of rebels. These had already been made aware of the approach of the government troops and non-combatants had fallen back to the rear with the remainder prepared for action.

Claverhouse’s force faced considerable adverse odds. Eye witness accounts number his force at 120 men of whom half were mounted. The covenant opposition was in the order of two thousand, albeit inexperienced amateurs, if enthusiastic. This Graham had experience of the battlefields of 17th century Europe, although this encounter was of a different nature entirely, and now he had to bring his experience and judgment to bear. He sent forward a parley to give the rebels the opportunity to surrender and avoid bloodshed. This was peremptorily rejected.

And then the rebel force attacked. They launched themselves through the small bog that lay between the two forces and engaged the government troops. Their armament was mostly pitchforks so only by closing fast could they hope to win the day. The first attack was held at bay but their second was delivered with sufficient vigour to break through the government line. 30 troopers were killed and the rest fled or claimed quarter. Claverhouse’s mount, speared with a pitchfork in the first moments of the battle, galloped madly from the field. By the time he had returned it was too late to do anything but gather the fleeing remnants of his men and lead them to safety.

On reaching Glasgow, Claverhouse penned an unvarnished and objective dispatch to the Earl of Linlithgow. There were neither excuses nor fault-finding as it explained the failure.

It was a comprehensive and disastrous defeat for Claverhouse’s command. This covenant victory ignited the smouldering embers of rebellion in south west Scotland. The victorious covenanters moved to base themselves in Hamilton and their numbers swelled over the ensuing days.

The Inscription on the Monument at Drumclog

The Inscription on the Monument at Drumclog


18 May 1689 The Clans Rally to the Standard

Dundee had set the date of 18 May for the clans loyal to King James to gather at his standard.
After the bold night raid on Perth on 10 May Dundee and his small band which still numbered less than 200 men, continued through Angus, levying King William’s cess for the use of King James as they went.

Late in the afternoon of 13th May they were once again outside the town of Dundee where the standard had been raised precisely one month before. Claverhouse, dressed in armoured breast-plate with a black-furred helmet looked down upon the town. Holed up with the Williamite garrison behind the walls was Lieutenant-Colonel William Livingstone, old comrade-in-arms of Dundee’s. With his force of mounted troopers he would have made a valuable reinforcement to the small Jacobite army. However, the gates remained barred and Livingstone, deeming the situation unpropitious, remained inside the walls.

Dundee withdrew as night fell and headed for Glen Ogilvie where he spent his last night with Jean and his new born son before, in the morning, taking his leave of them for ever.

Bonnie Dundee takes his final farwell of his wife and son

Bonnie Dundee takes his final farwell of his wife and son

This was now 14th May with the gathering of the clan chiefs scheduled for 18th. He needed to be in Glen Roy before his invited guests. Time was short and there were but two common routes available to him either of which carried the risk of encounter with government troops which, at best, promised delay. So true to the Graham spirit he led his men directly across Scotland on a two day forced march.

They headed across the dark and desolate country round Loch Rannoch, around Ben Alder and up by Loch Treig through countryside still firmly in the grip of winter, before traversing the spur of Ben Nevis where below them they could see the Roy enter the Spean and springtime was evident all around them.

And here in Glen Roy, through which Montrose had led his men on their epic march on the way to The Battle of Inverlochy some forty years before, this Graham was warmly welcomed by Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel. This was the archetypal Highland Clan Chief of legend down to the last detail. The man who, legend had it, had killed the last wolf in Scotland and had bitten out the throat of an English soldier during a battle with General Monck’s garrison at Inverlochy, stood scrutinising the younger warrior.

Dundee for his part, having experienced first hand the rapacious prickleshness of MacDonald of Keppoch outside Inverness, would doubtless have been anticipating this meeting over the previous days with some concerns.

However, any fears he may have had proved groundless. It would seem that both men liked and trusted each other at first sight. They were two similar men of courage and integrity and if Lochiel’s motivation to become involved with this cause was more about the fear that an Orange succession would bring about once more the dominion of the House of Argyll over the other clans rather than from a deep love of the Stuarts, his commitment was nonetheless complete.

With his first act, Lochiel handed Dundee, unopened, the letter he had received some days before from General MacKay. This it transpired contained many promises, were Lochiel to bring his men out on the government side; a large sum of money, the governorship of Inverlochy Castle and the command of a regiment included.

Two days later on 18th May they made the short journey up Glen Roy to Mucomir to await the rallying clans. The first to arrive was Alastair Dubh MacDonell of Glengarry with his 300 men, followed thereafter by MacDonald of Morar with 200 Clanranald MacDonalds. And they continued to arrive; the MacIan with over 100 Glencoe MacDonalds, 200 Stewarts of Appin and then Keppoch, all smiles and warmth as though their disagreement at Inverness had never happened, rolled up with over 200 Keppoch MacDonalds.


The Fiery Cross: the method long used to rally clansmen to arms

The Fiery Cross: the method long used to rally clansmen to arms

The fiery cross was duly sent out to the more remote clans and in due course attracted also the MacDonalds of Sleat, MacLeans from Mull, Coll and Morvern, the MacLeods from Raasay, MacNeills from Barra and MacGregors.

Finally King James had an army in the field. It numbered less than 2000 men with barely one tenth of that number mounted but at its head a capable and inspirational leader with a clear purpose in his mind. And now he began to shape this force to achieve that purpose and he began to drill them that they might be best prepared for the fight that lay ahead.

The Night Attack on Perth – Dundee Cuts Down the Golden Oranges

10 May 1689 The Night Attack on Perth.


On 2 May a thoroughly chastised MacDonald of Keppoch and his 700 warriors headed off to the west leaving Dundee and his wee, small force in occupation at Inverness with General Hugh MacKay drawing up in Elgin.

For a week both parties stood their ground awaiting developments. Dundee’s force was still small and he’d added barely 200 mounted men to that since raising the standard the previous month. And MacKay’s move north of Dundee had confounded the possibility of drawing recruits from that area. In the meantime the good General had been rejoined by Colchester’s horse who he’d had to leave behind in Brechin some days previously as they had been unable to handle the rigours of the ride north.

Then on 8 May Dundee and his men left Inverness to MacKay. They rode south through Stratherrick to Invergarry castle, exactly as Prince Charlie would after the disaster at Culloden. They bedded down for the night at Kilcummin whence Montrose had led his army in that mad march across the hyperborean hell of the Grampian Hills in winter, to fall on and destroy Argyll’s army in February 1645.

The next day they crossed the Corryarrack Pass into the friendlier country of Speyside. And it was from here, at Presmuckerach, that he despatched his summons to the chieftains of all the principal clans of the highlands, bidding them rendezvous under the King’s Standard at Blair Atholl on 18 May.

On the morning of 10 May they were on the road again, riding past Blair Atholl Castle and down through Killiecrankie’s deep defile, with no idea of the portentous events that would be acted out in this very place in just a few short weeks.

They clattered into Dunkeld to find money and arms freshly gathered for the forces of King William’s new government and liberated these in King James’ name. With an officer of the Perthshire militia somewhat roughy handled, it seems.

dunkeldDunkeld Market Cross

And that very evening, appropriately refreshed, they rode south once more to strike wholly unexpectedly. They forded the silvery Tay in the dark and made their way cautiously towards the fair city of Perth.

They halted two miles outside and a select force of some twenty men crept up to the slumbering town about two o’clock in then morning. A handful entered by the open gate and secured the watch houses and the remainder then clattered noisily over the cobblestones.

PerthPerth, in  the 17th century

There had been a municipal banquet the night before and the King’s men could only rouse some of the gentry with sharp saber points. The enemy soldiers were placed under guard and all the weapons and horses gathered together at the market cross where, amid some ceremony, the golden oranges, the symbol of the usurping royal house, were cut from the standard of the regiment of the captured men.

And then, as swiftly as they had arrived, the King’s Lieutenant-General and his men and their prisoners were gone. The prisoners were subsequently carried off into the mountains and thence to Cairn na Burgh Castle on the Treshnish Isles, west of Mull before ending up in Duart Castle after Killiecrankie. It would seem they endured many hardships during their imprisonment and that not all of then survived the ordeal.

Cairn na Burgh Castle Treshnish ISlesCairn na Burgh Castle on the Treshnish Isles

Dundee rejoined the rest of his army and they rode to Scone where they made ready their next unpredictable move.

The Battle of Auldearn – Was Montrose a Genius or Just Lucky?

The Battle of Auldearn was fought on 9 May 1645.

The Commemoration Stone on the battlefield of Auldearn

The Commemoration Stone on the battlefield of Auldearn

There was a time when Auldearn was seen to be the most straightforward of the six battlefield wins carved out by Montrose and Alasdair MacColla against the armies of the Scottish covenanting Parliament during their year of victories between the summers of 1644 and 1645.

Primarily this was because back in the nineteenth century that erstwhile legend of English Civil War historianship, Samuel Rawson Gardiner, in his seminal work The History of the Great Civil War, had included an extensive analysis of the battle in what was commonly deemed to be the definitive work on the episode.

Samuel Rawson Gardiner, key historian of the 'English'Civil War

Samuel Rawson Gardiner, key historian of the ‘English’Civil War


Some years later it was accepted that the principal road from Inverness to Nairn which passed through the village of Auldearn and was a key feature of the battlefield, had in fact been moved ninety degrees between the battle and Gardiner’s assessment. For this reason among others, most notably the discovery of further primary sources, his version of events has in recent years been extensively challenged by a number of significant authors, most notably David Stevenson (Highland Warrior, 1980) and Stuart Reid (The Campaigns of Montrose1990).


The Campaigns of Montrose by Stuart Reid

The Campaigns of Montrose by Stuart Reid

Furthermore since Auldearn was otherwise the least documented of the six battles, with the lowest number of first hand accounts, each of which contradicts the others even more so than is normally the case with Montrose’s battles, it is now the most disputed of the six victories.

Each of the key aspects of the battle are debated and thus the conclusions as to Montrose’s personal performance on the day are spread along a spectrum which on the one hand sees the King’s Captain-General as a tactical genius with the inspired deployment of the mounted flank attack which swung the battle in his favour as being reminiscent of Napoleon’s victory against the Third Coalition at Austerlitz in 1805. While on the other extreme it is claimed that his basic, and oft-repeated error in not deploying sufficient scouts, led to his force suffering a surprise attack from the Government force he believed to be camped in Inverness, in which only the determination and martial skill of Alasdair MacColla and his Irish troops prevented a disastrous defeat.

Napoleon's victory at Austerlitz

Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz

The mists of time obscure not only the events on the battlefield itself but also the movements of the armies in the days before with the decision by the covenanting General Baillie to split his force in two being central to their subsequent defeat. Whether this decision was one that Montrose compelled him to carry out, allowing the latter to then meet and defeat each element individually, or whether it was taken independently of any action by Montrose, is also hotly debated. Regardless, this last point is less of a concern as clearly Montrose, on realising the opportunity provided, exploited it with speed and skill.

Anyway, let’s focus on the events of the day. Montrose, for once, was in pursuit of a Government force. This commanded by Sir John Urry. It was testimony to the strangeness of the times that Urry had previously served in Prince Rupert’s royalist army at the battles of Chalgrove Field and Marston Moor and would in the future serve in the Royalist Engagement force which Cromwell destroyed at Preston in 1648 and, most strangely of all perhaps, would go on to lead the cavalry element in Montrose’s army during his 1650 campaign which ended in defeat at Carbisdale.

Now in May 1645 he was leading a force of probably 2000 infantry and cavalry towards Inverness with Montrose and Alasdair in pursuit. It was Urry’s aim to use the Inverness garrison and other recently raised troops to bring his force up to a strength greater than Montrose’s and then turn and attack him.

Whether Montrose pursued him right to Inverness before falling back to Auldearn or whether he stopped there first is not certain. The evidence favours the view that having passed though the village on his way to Inverness, he then pulled back to this favourable spot and thus the battle was subsequently fought on the ground of his choosing. We do know that Urry, now reinforced to about 4000 infantry and cavalry moved east during the night to find then attack the royalist army.

Now to the next major controversy: to what extent were royalist scouts deployed? It was a foul night and the assumption was that the enemy was fourteen miles away and camped for the night. The criticism has been levelled that, though there were scouts out they were at no fair distance from their own camp and were more concerned with keeping dry than keeping watch. Also that if Urry’s men had not been instructed to fire their muskets to ensure they were dry for action then the royalist army would have had no warning at all of the enemy’s approach.

So there were scouts deployed and they heard the test shots when fired some four to six miles from the camp. That’s over an hour’s march which in the event was sufficient to allow satisfactory preparations to be made to meet them. In this writer’s view, the criticism is unfair. It may well have been a determining issue for Montrose’s fortunes on other battlefields but not tonight.

Next issue: Urry’s approach route to the village. Was it through Nairn and from the west? Or over the River Nairn and then through Cawdor from the south west? It doesn’t matter. It makes no odds to the outcome. The key element is that Montrose had more than an hour’s clear warning of the attack and was able to determine and implement an effective battle plan.

What about the numbers deployed? More controversy here, but of the more usual kind. The various sources have Montrose’s force at a minimum of 1400 and a maximum of 3000. With Urry given between 4000 and 4500. A reasonable average of these would give the Government army an advantage of some two to one. In any event there were significantly more of them.

However, for the first time Montrose had at his disposal an effective number of mounted troops, some 200 Gordons. One would expect that his fertile imagination would have been seeking an opportunity to use these effectively from the moment they had ridden into his camp some days before. Indeed they were to be a primary feature of the plan he was now devising.

Alasdair and his Irish troops were camped in the village itself while Montrose, most of the rest of his highlanders and all the cavalry were resting behind, to the north east, of the village and effectively out of sight of the covenant army which now formed up to attack the village. Perhaps the criticism of weak, ineffective indeed non-existent scouting is more properly levelled at Urry as he now launched a full frontal attack on what he perceived to be the main body of his enemy with no awareness of what threats might lie out of sight across the broken, hilly ground.

Alasdair MacColla, commander of the Irish troops in Montrose's Royalist Army

Alasdair MacColla, commander of the Irish troops in Montrose’s Royalist Army

Alasdair and his 700 odd Irish were now formed across the front of the village with both his own yellow banner and the Royal Standard flying high and proud. Perhaps he had clear orders from Montrose to demonstrate as though they were the main royalist centre and then engage and fully occupy Urry’s frontal attack. A tall order indeed, facing odds of probably four to one, but one which he and his men were fully equipped for. More so probably than any other fighting force in the British Isles at the time.

A not untypical study of the Royalist infantry

A not untypical study of the Royalist infantry

Montrose meanwhile supervised the Gordon horsemen as they prepared their mounts to launch their lauded surprise flank attack.

And perhaps the comparisons with events on the Pratzen Heights in October 1805 are not so wide of the mark. On that occasion Napoleon led the Grand Army forward through Bohemia seeking the Russian / Austrian army of the Third Coalition. As he passed over the Pratzen Heights he realised the opportunity this terrain presented and so retreated back down into the valley surrendering, apparently, the advantage of the high ground to his enemy. He then deployed his right wing in somewhat weaker numbers than he normally would have and further instructed them to conceal themselves as much as possible among the villages and woods of the valley.

When the Russian and Austrian emperors surveyed the situation from the vantage of the high ground it was to see exactly what Napoleon wanted them to see and reach the conclusions he wanted them to reach. As they despatched the centre of their army down the hill to first destroy Napoleon’s right and then roll up the rest of the Grand Army in a magnificent victory, Napoleon with watch in hand enquired of Marshall Soult how long it would take him to march his entire corps to the top of the hill. To Soult’s response of fifteen minutes he went back to studying his watch and the progress of the enemy advance

When he was happy that the enemy force was fully down the hill and completely engaged with his right wing, which while weak was fully capable of precisely this task, he then unleashed Soult’s Corp. They then rode up the hill and using their own right wing as the hinge swung round and completely destroyed the Third Coalition Army which had been so painstakingly assembled through the efforts of William Pitt the Younger.

And so in a similar fashion, on a much smaller scale, granted, Urry has been persuaded to launch a full attack on what he thinks is the main body of the Royalist Army. Alasdair and his men keep them fully occupied although true to their nature and fighting experience this was best done by attacking themselves. So they moved forward from their original positions and began to push Urry’s force back before then in turn being forced back to their original positions by sheer strength of numbers. And so we can see how the view subsequently developed that Alasdair’s hot headedness almost lost Montrose the battle. When in fact he was fully complying with the orders he had been given in a situation he and his men would have relished.

So as the fighting raged in front of the village and the Gordon horse stood ready out of sight behind the hill over behind Alasdair’s left shoulder, Montrose carefully surveyed the entire situation and waited. He waited until he was convinced that Urry’s main force was irrevocably committed and indeed had suffered significant casualties before he then ordered the Gordon horse to ride out and strike Urry’s force full on from the right flank.

The unit on Urry’s right which was faced with this sudden onslaught was a cavalry detachment of northern levies, the Moray Horse, under the command of a Major Drummond. They were already struggling to make their own assault over the rough ground and were neither of the necessary calibre or state of readiness to meet this fast moving wall of horse and sword. They swerved to their left and were immediately overrun. In the inevitable climate of finger pointing and blame evasion that inevitably followed the comprehensive defeat this Major Drummond was to be accused of either giving the wrong order or even or treacherously steering his command to its destruction in order to suit the need of the enemy. The unfortunate man was executed some days later.

As Urry’s line began to fold up from the right Montrose himself brought the rest of the infantry forward, some moving through Alasdair’s men with the rest extending his line to the left. Although the enemy infantry still outnumbered them they were constrained now by the ground and their rear and flanks open to attack. The comprehensive slaughter of this now stationary and leaderless force commenced with all the horrors redolent of the time.

Complete victory was achieved by Montrose and Alasdair’s royalist army. Virtually the entire covenanting force was wiped out and for the fourth time in ten months Montrose was victor of the field.

Perhaps it was all perfectly straightforward after all. Urry was no bufoon and had demonstrated his military leadership qualities many times previously and would do so again. On this occasion he was up against an opponent who was on a different level altogether. The scouting issue could perhaps have been handled better but here it served its purpose satisfactorily. And when confronted with an unexpected attack Montrose, on ground of his own choosing was able to deploy his resources in situations which entirely suited their capabilities: Alasdair and his Irishmen slogging it out against superior numbers and the Gordon horse charging wildly in, to comprehensively defeat the enemy who had been beguiled to launch an attack without reconnaissance and having been misdirected in terms of the target for their attack.

This, of course, is just this writer’s view. There are many others. Feel free to share them.



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