Like most other successful men Bonnie Dundee had the support of a strong and loving wife. In his case it was the lovely Jean.
Jean Cochrane, Viscountess Dundee
When he was 31 he nearly married Helen Graham. But after a lengthy, complex and intrigue-laden courtship Helen was wed to another.
Some years later he courted Jean Cochrane and this time his efforts were duly rewarded. Jean came from a high-profile Covenanting family and their union was embroiled in controversy from the very beginning. Nonetheless the strength of feeling that they had for each other is clear although they had only a handful of happy years together before Dundee’s death at Killiecrankie. Jean subsequently remarried and then died herself in tragic circumstances in Holland some years later.
Through his courtship of these two ladies we learn much of the character and underlying nature of Dundee who spent so much more of his time involved in the political and military comings and goings in the chicanery of post Restoration times.
He first fixed his attentions on Helen Graham in 1679 when he was 31 years old. This good lady was cousin to the impoverished and childless William Graham, eighth Earl of Mentieith. She was heir to this gentleman’s debts but not his titles and it’s not unlikely that Dundee was prepared to take on the debt if he could secure the Earldom in the fullness of time. His priorities at this point are unclear to us now and possibly to himself then.
The proposed union met with the initial approval of the 2nd Marquis of Montrose, the senior member of the Graham family, but encountered an obstacle in the shape of Helen’s stern and determined mother, Lady Graham, who was of the view that her daughter could do better for herself than this simple captain of horse with no title and little standing in society. The issue was further complicated when the aforementioned Marquis, in pursuit of the Mentieth Earldom for himself, began to openly court Helen.
With the behind the scenes scheming of Lady Graham and the parallel pursuit by Montrose there was much courtly rumour concerning Dundee’s motivation in the matter. The much-voiced implication being that the Menteith title was his sole concern. By this stage, though, his letters indicate that young Helen was the only focus of his intentions.
He pursued her hand diligently over the next two years, writing, as was his fashion many, many letters to the key people involved particularly Menteith. The fact that Helen lived in Ireland added an additional hurdle to the process. Alas, in the spring of 1682 Helen married an Irish gentleman, Arthur Rawdon, himself heir to the Earl of Conway.
Little has survived over the passage of time, to tell us of how the good lady felt about Claverhouse’s interest or even of her feelings for Montrose, the counter-suitor. What there is suggests that she had been kept wholly in the dark on the matter. In a letter to her father two years after her marriage there is a suggestion that had been aware of the situation she might well have had a tuppenceworth to put in. The Earl of Menteith duly passed away, childless, in 1694, and with him perished the title.
Two years later Dundee met and fell in love with an Ayrshire girl, Jean Cochrane. Aged 20 years to his 36 the age difference seemed to prove of no concern to either. However, young Jean was from solid, high-profile Covenanting stock and there were many, on both sides of the political split, who had strong feelings as to the unsuitability of the match.
Her father, William, was the son of Lord Cochrane, 1st Earl of Dundonald, and had Presbyterian leanings. Lord Cochrane was the ancestor of the 10th Earl Thomas Cochrane, believed to be the model for Jack Aubrey in Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander.
Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald
William died soon after the Battle of Bothwell Bridge in 1689, although he had not participated. He had married Lady Catherine Kennedy, a daughter of the 6th Earl of Cassilis. She was a staunch supporter of the covenanting cause and had given material assistance to those involved in taking arms against the King’s authority. Once again Dundee’s road to marriage was barred by the determined mother of the target of his affections.
There was further unsuitability of relatives in that, William’s brother, Jean’s uncle, had been actively involved in the Rye House Plot, an unsuccessful conspiracy to murder both Charles II and his brother James as they travelled to Newmarket Races in 1683. Indeed Dundee was officially sifting the evidence against him concerning his involvement in this episode.
Rye House – of plot fame
Dundee probably met Jean initially in Edinburgh where she travelled with her grandfather, Lord Dundonald, when he attended meetings of the Privy Council. And on resumption of his duties in Ayrshire, imposing the King’s authority on law-breaking Covenanters, the two got to know each other much better. As the romance developed there can be no doubt as to the strength of the feelings they had for one another. This was very different from his long distance wooing of Helen Graham, where he did not even get to meet the target of his affections.
Dundee made his formal proposal of marriage in the autumn of 1683. Lady Catherine’s opposition was immediate and adamant. Lord Dundonald, crucially, gave his assent. As did Jean’s brother, the young Lord Cochrane who was himself pursuing the daughter of the Duke of Hamilton and was thus greatly sympathetic to another proposed marriage across the existing political rift in Scotland.
Dissent in the council environs was strong. Jean’s immediate circle was suspect and her relations in all directions wholly unacceptable for one charged with the maintenance of law and order.
The Duke of Hamilton made particular mischief, ostentatiously seeking the King’s permission for the marriage of his daughter to Jean’s brother to highlight the fact that Dundee had taken no such permission-seeking steps.
Nonetheless, they were duly married in Paisley on 9th June 1684. The certificate shows the signatures of all relevant parties bar that of her mother who either refused to attend or simply expressed her dissatisfaction by refusing her signature.
Paisley – where Claverhouse and Jean were married
During the celebrations an order was received by one of Dundee’s captains from General Tam Dalyell to follow up reports of an illegal conventicle. Dundee’s sense of responsibility demanded of him that he accompany his men on this mission and he departed the wedding feast.
General Tam Dalyell of the Binns
So what do we know of this woman who wed one of our great national heroes in the face of her mother’s opposition, the disapproval of many of her family and as much controversy as its possible to imagine of that time?
Her married life with him was short but despite the prejudice of her upbringing, she made her husband’s cause and principles her own. When he departed from his home at Glen Ogilvy that last time in the Spring of 1689, on the campaign that would end with his death at Killiecrankie, she held the house resolutelyy in his name.
She survived him less than 7 years and her death, as his, was sudden and tragic. Following Dundee’s death she married again, to William Livingstone, son of James, Viscount Kilsyth. William had served with Dundee but had been imprisoned by the new authorities and had been unable to participate in the Killiecrankie campaign. In 1695 when the couple were travelling in Holland with their son, they stopped for the night at an inn in Utrecht. During the night the roof collapsed killing Jean and the boy. Her husband brought the bodies back to Scotland and they were interred in the Kilsyth mausoleum. Curiously, when this vault was opened in 1795, the bodies of both woman and child were found to be in a remarkable state of preservation.
The Kilsyth Mausoleum – Jean’s last resting place