Category Archives: The Killiecrankie Campaign

27th July 1689 The Battle of Killiecrankie

As the hands of the clock moved round to midnight on Tuesday 26th July 1689, John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount Dundee and Lieutenant-General of King James’ army in Scotland, took a slow sip of wine.

Sat with him around the big, oak dining room table in the Great Hall of Blair Castle were some dozen of the principal Chiefs of the Highland Clans and a handful of his own officers.

They sat in silence as they awaited the return of the scouts, riders that Claverhouse had sent south just a few hours ago, directed to confirm the whereabouts and intentions of the Government redcoat army, commanded by General Hugh MacKay.

And as they waited they ate and drank enthusiastically from the larder of the Master of Blair Castle, John Murray, 2nd Earl of Atholl who was absent having allied himself with the forces of the aforementioned General MacKay.

While Claverhouse and his commanders dined and waited so did the soldiers of their small army, camped outside Blair Castle’s walls. Every man fully aware that the battle which would determine the outcome of this 10 week campaign would be fought within the next few hours.

Blair Castle, where Claverhouse's army camoped the night before Killiecrankie

Blair Castle, where Claverhouse’s army camped the night before Killiecrankie

The circumstances which had brought them here on this warm Scottish evening had been unwinding for many years previously but could be traced back five and a half years to February 1685 when the old King, Charles II, restored to the throne in 1660 amid such wild celebrations and public optimism, after the long dark years of Cromwellian rule, had suffered a sudden seizure and died.

Charles II, whose death in 1685 initiated James' rule and subsequent usurpation

Charles II, whose death in 1685 initiated James’ rule and subsequent usurpation

The crown had passed to his younger brother, James, Duke of York, who had chronically mismanaged the situation from day one. A committed Catholic, in darkly Protestant times, his mishandling of his own affairs as well as those of the crown had created widespread dissatisfaction with his rule and had led to the prominent members of the English and Scottish political leadership to extend an invitation to James’ own son-in-law, the deeply ambitious and suitably Protestant William Prince of Orange, to come and seize the throne for himself.

James VII/II, whose mismanagement of the business of kingship created the problem in the first place

James VII/II, whose mismanagement of the business of kingship created the problem in the first place

Needing little encouragement William and his invasion force had landed at Torbay in December 1688 and headed for London as King James’ support melted away by the minute. James, despite the entreaties of those loyal to him, Claverhouse in particular, had vacillated whilst his natural despondency grew until in the week before Christmas he had fled his capital city for France, flinging the Great Seal into the Thames as he went. Within days William and his wife had been declared joint rulers of England.

William, Prince of Orange, whose unprincipled pursuit of ambition was rewarded with the Crown of the Three Kingdoms

William, Prince of Orange, whose unprincipled pursuit of ambition was rewarded with the Crown of the Three Kingdoms

The Convention of the Scottish Estates had been summoned in Edinburgh in March to determine whether the Scottish people would take a similar decision or choose James instead to continue to rule his Scottish subjects. Support for James was weak from the outset but, bolstered by the efforts of Claverhouse and other loyal men, the decision was still far from certain when letters from both monarchs were received and duly read to the assembled body.

The letter which James should have sent, carefully crafted by Claverhouse and other allies of the King, which was a model of tempered leadership, had been discarded at some point. And the one which was read out, penned by the sort of foolish men who the King had chosen to surround himself with, both during his rule and now in exile, was anything but and the mood of the gathering swung sharply in favour of the usurper.

Within hours Claverhouse stood alone in committing himself to firm action to restore his king to the ancient throne of his fathers and left the Convention for Dundee. With the collapse of support for James the Convention duly reached their decision and William and Mary were pronounced joint rulers of the three kingdoms of Scotland, England and Ireland.

Three weeks later on 13 May 1689, with his commission as James Lieutenant-General in Scotland issued, Claverhouse raised the Royal Standard on Dundee Law and the first Jacobite Rising was under way.

At this point his ‘army’ comprised only the 200 officers and men of the horse troop that he had commanded for the last few years as he had sought to maintain the rule of law in those parts of Scotland where men and women, deeply committed to the establishment of undiluted Presbyterian Rule, as set out in the Solemn League and Covenant first penned in 1643, went about furthering their aims through violent insurrection.

However, as the weeks passed Claverhouse and his men moved through the Highlands drawing to their cause many influential leaders of men, particularly those of the highland chiefs who could be persuaded that the best option for them and for the people of Scotland was the overthrow of William and the return of a Stuart to the throne.

Faced with this development the Convention appointed General MacKay in command of their forces and charged him with bringing Claverhouse’s rebel force to battle and destroying it. Since then both armies had played cat and mouse with each other throughout the highlands and about the north-east of Scotland as they sought circumstances which would favour victory. Hitherto these circumstances had proven elusive but now, in the dog days of July, matters had drawn to a head.


Now in the early hours of the short Scottish night, the scouts returned. MacKay’s army comprising almost four thousand men was, it seemed, camped at Dunkeld, some twenty plus miles south of Blair Castle, with the intention of moving north at first light to seek out King James’ army and bringing it finally to battle.

Claverhouse, his officers and the chiefs sat around the big oak table in silence as the full implications of this news sank in. Whilst all were warriors and eager for a decisive victory they were each aware of the likely consequences of defeat: the end of the Stuart cause with William secure on his throne for years to come, the ruin of their clans’ fortunes with a vengeful government unlikely to be reluctant to pursue Jacobite loyalists to their utter ruin and either execution or transportation for any fortunate to survive defeat.

General Hugh MacKay of Scourie, commander of the Williamite army destroyed at Killiecrankie

General Hugh MacKay of Scourie, commander of the Williamite army destroyed at Killiecrankie

Then the Viscount broke the silence and with a calm and decisive voice swept away the doubt and indecision. Announcing his intention to head south and engage MacKay as soon as dawn broke, he issued a stream of orders concerning the marching order of the army and the route to be taken.

In the meantime twenty miles to the south at Dunkeld, General Hugh MacKay, similarly appraised of the whereabouts of his enemy had already issued his instructions for the morning’s northern march and his force lay abed.

As dawn broke both armies formed up into marching order and headed towards each other. Mackay himself was a highlander but had left Scotland long before to pursue a military career. He had one concern only this morning and that was the fear that Claverhouse’s army, faced with superior odds, would again decline to engage him and melt away like highland mist and the seemingly endless pursuit would have to continue. In his mind the only challenge was to bring Claverhouse to battle at which point the superior quality of his men, their equipment and his leadership would bring about the inevitable victory.

However, there was the difficulty of the Pass of Killiecrankie to be first hazarded. The road north from Dunkeld follows the River Tummel for some miles until it meets the confluence with the River Garry at which point the way closes in to a dark and narrow defile which is the Pass. Even a General such as MacKay with his unshakeable belief in the superiority of his troops was cautious about this passage. Consequently, he had directed some of his troops to hold the Pass the previous day and as he now drew near to the entrance in the early afternoon sunlight it was not without concern that his troops entered the dark and forbidding way.

The narrow defile of the Pass of Killiecrankie.

The narrow defile of the Pass of Killiecrankie.

When his command subsequently emerged at the other end and a galloping trooper brought the news to him at the head of the column that the last of his soldiery were safely through, it would have seemed to him that the last remaining possibility of failure had passed.

Claverhouse, in the meantime, also a seasoned veteran of formal, continental warfare as well as the more haphazard style of fighting which prevailed in Scotland at the time, had cause for doubt which matched MacKay’s confidence in magnitude. He was now committed to leading his irregular force in to battle against greater numbers of regular infantry. To engage toe-to-toe in a stand up fight would be to invite disaster. So he had to find and fully utilize any opportunity for advantage that might be gleaned.

The first such was terrain. Aware that MacKay would need to traverse the Pass following the road at the bottom of the gorge, the Viscount held firmly to the high ground as his army made passage south. The single tactical ploy for a highland army is to charge and while this had proven effective on flat ground its advantage would be considerably multiplied if it could be deployed downhill.

The HIghland Charge, a challenge to defend against on level ground. Considerably harder downhill of it.

The Highland Charge, a challenge to defend against on level ground. Considerably harder downhill of it.

So the two armies felt their way towards each other as the day wore on. Not long after MacKay’s men had cleared the Pass a shout went up from the front of their column and all eyes followed the direction of pointing hand up the hill on their right hand side where a handful of kilted figures had emerged from the trees. These were followed by several more and it became clear that this was indeed the vanguard of Claverhouse’s army.

MacKay immediately realised the weakness of his tactical position, his army with their backs to the thundering River Garry and at the bottom of a steep slope. Ordering his men through a quarter turn he issued orders for them to head a little up the slope where a slight ridge promised a better tactical position.

Meantime the Highland army had cleared the woods and under the direction of Claverhouse and the chiefs, formed easily from column of march into battle order. As MacKay completed his initial dispositions further down the hill it was clear that the Highlanders still retained a significant advantage at the top of the steep slope. Furthermore it was equally clear that the width of the Claverhouse’s frontage exceeded his own and thus threatened to outflank him.

MacKay, somewhat discomfited by this realisation, issued orders to thin his ranks from three to two in order to extend his frontage to match Claverhouse’s. Whose initial tactical advantage at the top of the slope now greatly increased in magnitude without any effort on his own part.

Many an eyebrow will have been raised further up the hill as they watched the execution of this manoeuvre. For an experienced general, steeped in the ways of warfare, MacKay’s fortunes were dwindling rapidly before a ball had been kicked.

Finally, with both armies optimally disposed in the view of their respective commanders, all now settled down for the inevitable, interminable wait which was the custom of the time.

Claverhouse sat on his horse a little behind the front centre of the army. Dressed for once in a buff coat at the insistence of the senior chiefs who knew to the extent which the fortunes of this escapade rode on the shoulders of this one man. After all the drama and intrigue and endless marching of the past few months it all now came down to this one engagement.

Finally, with the sun dipping behind the hills to the west and shining into the eyes of the redcoat soldiers Claverhouse gave the order to charge. It has been said that “Even a haggis, God bless her, can charge down a hill”. And the view has been expressed that a Highland army ceases to resemble a comic opera the moment it starts to move.

What a sight and sound that must have been as over two thousand of the finest fighting men in the kingdom hurtled down the hill roaring their determination. Whatever the cumulative experience of MacKay’s command little of their previous combat exploits would have prepared them for this.

Within moments the highland charge struck the redcoat line which, thinned to two troopers only, almost immediately came apart. With the angle of the slope pulling the impetus of this wave of ferocious humanity slightly to the one side, some redcoat regiments remained intact while others were completely swept away. MacKay, to his credit, retained his composure and was able to pull his surviving forces into some semblance of order as he led the retreat back in the direction whence they had marched so confidently but a few short hours before.

The pursuit of the shattered wreckage of his command continued in all directions for several miles with fully two thirds of those engaged failing to survive the day.

At the height of the battle the slaughter was tremendous.

At the height of the battle the slaughter was tremendous.

The disasterous news for the Jacobite army, however, was further up the slope, where King James’ Lieutenant-General lay mortally wounded. With the battle at its height and Claverhouse seeking to pull the imbalanced charge back onto better order, an enemy musket ball had penetrated under his raised sword arm, beyond the protection of his breast-plate. Within a few minutes John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount Dundee and the man who had pulled the whole rising together in the first place by sheer determination and force of personality was dead.

Claverhouse passes away and the hopes of the Jacobite cause die with him.

Claverhouse passes away and the hopes of the Jacobite cause die with him.

With him also passed the fortunes of the Jacobite cause. Although there were to be four further attempts to restore the Stuarts to the throne over the next fifty six years none had any real prospect of success. As Claverhouse will have realised from the very beginning their best chance was for James to have stood his ground in the face of William’s initial advance.

And so passed one of Scotland’s finest leaders of men. And as the history of any struggle is penned by the victors and not the vanquished, his memory has been sorely traduced in the intervening centuries with the focus falling on the false history of the ‘Killing Times’.


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.









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.

Bonnie Dundee Rebukes MacDonald of Keppoch

Late in the day of 01 May, Bonnie Dundee and his small force arrived at Inverness to find the town besieged by MacDonald of Keppoch and his seven hundred men with the destruction of the township imminent…………

Inverness_from_A_Tour_in_ScotlandInverness in the late 17th century

After Raising the Royal Standard on 13 April Dundee had ridden north into the mountains with his small troop of horse. His purpose was clear. He had an army to raise from the Lairds of the north and the Clans in the west and with his presently limited resources was in no position to take on General Hugh MacKay who had left Edinburgh in pursuit some days previously.

Dundee was a most prodigious letter writer, particularly during his time as custodian of law and order in the south west. He now generated epistles tirelessly in all directions, seeking material and political support for the King’s cause from any who might provide it.

MacKay in the meantime, had taken up the pursuit of this outlaw force with a simple plan conforming to the military orthodoxy of the time. He aimed to chase Dundee and ‘hinder the growth of the disaffected’. It was to his great misfortune that he was now engaged on a campaign which would owe little to military orthodoxy but much to those with the vision to see, the swiftness to decide and the courage to act. Mackay would turn out to be from the same mould of many British generals down the ages: overconfident in the martial abilities of the men under his command, contemptuous of the irregular troops he would face and hidebound by a mental field manual which eschewed innovation and imagination.

(c) National Army Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationGeneral Hugh MacKay, luckless pursuer of Bonnie Dundee


It has been said in his defense that he was ill served from the outset by those he placed reliance upon. The Laird of Grant, who was to block Dundee’s access to Moray failed to do as directed. The Earl of Mar, charged with guarding the highlands of Aberdeenshire, passed away inconveniently. And the Marquis of Atholl, whose castle at Blair was key to the passage between the northern and southern highlands, chose to sit on the fence. The truth of the matter is that any competent judge of men or assessor of their mood in times of extensive political upheaval would have taken a firmer grip of the situation from the outset. Sadly for King William’s interests, Hugh MacKay was not of that calibre. And so he commenced a three month chase around the highlands and lowlands of eastern Scotland in a fruitless pursuit of King James’ Lieutenant-General which would only end at the precise moment when Dundee chose to meet MacKay’s redcoats in the field, and then defeated them utterly. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…….

Two days before arriving at Inverness, Dundee had brought his force south to the Cairn o’ Mount in the hope of drawing a portion of MacKay’s men, under Lieutenant Colonel William Livingstone, a close comrade of Dundee’s since the Battle of Drumclog, into defection.

That same day, 29 April, MacKay left Dundee heading to Brechin and chose to leave Livingstone’s force behind that they might maintain the surrounding countryside suitably ‘in awe’. The next day, 30 April, MacKay left Brechin leaving behind 120 of Colchester’s horse who were apparently now unfit to participate after the rigours of the previous day’s ride. And as they swung into Fettercairn, Dundee watching carefully from the high ground of the Cairn o’ Mount eight miles away, turned around and headed north again. And so when MacKay pounced it was to find the ground before him empty. As would prove so often to be the case throughout this three month cat and mouse chase prior to Killiecrankie, MacKay was only able to see the road in front and behind him, while Dundee saw the hills on either side and the hills beyond them also.

cairn o'mountThe view from Cairn o’Mount down to Fettercairn

Foiled in his attempt to lure Livingstone’s force into defection Dundee then headed north and west and overnighted at Castle Huntly. Leaving early on 01 May he headed straight to Inverness, passing first the battlefield of Auldearn where he would no doubt have spent a moment in silent salute to the victory of his kinsman the Marquess of Montrose over forty years previously. Then past the field of Culloden where the final hopes of the Jacobite cause were to be extinguished fifty odd years later.

Once more his tireless letter writing had produced fruit. Word had come from Cameron of Locheil in the west, outlining his enthusiasm for King James’ cause and inviting Dundee and his men to Lochaber. He had despatched MaDonald of Keppoch to meet Dundee at Inverness and escort him south west to Lochaber.

Keppoch had arrived at Inverness three days previously, his MacDonalds heavily encumbered with plunder they had gathered as they had made their way through the lands of Clan MacKintosh. For these three days he had threatened and blustered the magistrates of the town who were now in his camp seeking to agree a peaceful conclusion, when Bonnie Dundee rode in amongst them.

Keppoch’s band was of signal ferocity and their appetite for plunder and destruction was well whetted. They outnumbered Dundee’s force by some four to one and Coll na Ceapaich, Chieftain of the MacDonald’s of Keppoch was a man unaccustomed to taking orders from another, particularly from a lowlander he had never met.

This was a difficult situation for Dundee. Keppoch’s force allied with his own would bring his numbers up to the level where it would be feasible to take on General MacKay. However, this degree of naked banditry would have a detrimental effect on his efforts to knit together an effective alliance against King William. So Dundee chose to face him down. And in front of Keppoch’s men and the burgesses of Inverness, in a manner which compelled compliance, Dundee rebuked him in the strongest terms, as Keppoch stood before him, humble and bewildered.

After offering a blustering apology Keppoch gathered together his men and his plunder and headed off in high dudgeon. So while Dundee had maintained some degree of law and order, enforcing the King’s discipline, it was at the cost of a valuable supplement of fighting men.

And as Keppoch and his men disappeared over the hills to the west, General Hugh MacKay and his redcoats rode into Elgin, some forty miles and two days march to the east.


13 April 1689, Bonnie Dundee Raises the Royal Standard

On 13th April 1689, Dundee raised the Royal Standard on Dundee Law and proclaimed his Majesty King James VII and II to be the true monarch of the three kingdoms.


James II again

King James VII and II

He had left the Convention of Estates in Edinburgh on 18 March once it became clear that those other Scottish nobles who had previously remained loyal to their monarch through difficult times had now forsaken him.

Despite the commitment of various prominent supporters to accompany him initially to Stirling to convene a Convention with the proper authorisation of King James, he had left the Capital accompanied only by his own small squadron of horse. Without his presence to oppose William’s interests, the Convention moved speedily to the business at hand.

On 20 March Dundee was declared an outlaw and six days later a party of Parliamentary heralds appeared outside his castle at Dudhope to publicly read out the outlaw declaration. With outstanding irony this document had, of necessity, been signed in the name of King James as William had not yet been proclaimed King of Scotland.

On 30 March his son was born and duly christened James, in honour of both his King and the Great Marquis. And a moment of personal pride and pleasure was afforded to him after all the troubling months. There would be no more such in the few months of life left.

Meanwhile the Convention still sat in Edinburgh with the Jacobite minority providing no opposition of any significance to the determined machinations of King William’s supporters. On 4 April, Sir John Dalrymple, the Master of Stair, who would go on to earn far greater ignominy in years to come with his involvement in the Massacre of Glencoe and the imposition of the Treaty of Union, moved the defining resolution that King James had ‘forefaulted’ his right to the crown. No Scottish Parliament had ever previously deposed the monarch but now the motion was passed with only 12 dissenting votes.

Then on 11 April the Convention passed a Claim of Right which confirmed James’ deposition and offered the crown of the ancient Kingdom of Scotland to William and Mary as joint sovereigns. Thus ‘thirty years of heedless misrule had brought inevitable catastrophe’.

Declared a rebel and an outlaw and with his commission as James’ Lieutenant-General having been intercepted, John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount Dundee led his handful of supporters to the top of Dundee law and unfurled the royal standard. His campaign to restore James to his throne had begun.


Dundee Law

Dundee Law, as it is today

Dundee Withdraws from the Convention of Estates, ‘whither the shades of Montrose might direct him’

On this day in 1689 Dundee withdraws from the Convention of Estates and heads north with his King’s commission.

The Convention which had been called to determine whether James VII and II, the incumbent, or William II and III, the recently arrived usurper, should be declared lawful King of Scotland, opened on 14th March.

James II again

King James VII and II, monarch of the Three Kingdoms

As far as James’ supporters were concerned the Convention was illegal but if they refused to participate their cause would be lost. Military action at this point wasn’t an option. Besides there was still a strong possibility that they could achieve a positive result at the Convention. And success through peaceful means would be preferred. Particularly since with William and Mary having been crowned joint monarchs of England the previous month, if James’ Scottish subjects were to choose him as their monarch then subsequent war with England was a clear possibility.

The principal argument in favour of choosing William was that there would be an end to the difficulties which had bedeviled James’ reign arising from his Catholicism and his autocratic leadership style.  Some believed that monarchical union with England was creating a strong impediment to the development of Scotland’s foreign trade and international diplomatic relations and so total separation with a return to a separate monarchy was the best way forward. There was another school of thought that full political union with England would see Scotland’s interest best served.

William , Prince of Orange

William III of England, soon to be also William II of Scotland

This would be the last convening of the Scottish Parliament before the final session in 1706 which was to see a similar disastrous decision taken. The first task for the Convention was to choose a President for the proceedings. The candidates being the Duke of Hamilton and the Marquess of Atholl. While nominally unaffiliated, Hamilton was backed by William’s supporters and James’ followers lined up full square behind Atholl. Hamilton’s election was the first sign that things were beginning to unravel.

John Murray 1st Marquis of Atholl by Jacob de Witt

Marquess of Atholl (with the Battle of Bothwell Bridge in the background)

The next business to be dealt with was the security of the city. Hostile mobs roamed the streets and had vented threats and abuse to those members considered to be supporters of James. The bigger issue, however, was determined to be EdinburghCastle. This was still held for King James by the Duke of Gordon. Along with the Bass Rock it remained the only piece of real estate in Scotland about which this could be said. Gordon was a good man but more than ready to hand over his charge so long as proper authority could be given. It took much effort from Dundee, and Colin Lindsay, 3rd Earl of Balcarres, including a secret journey during that first night, to ensure that he remained staunch to his King’s cause. Emissaries were sent backwards and forwards to negotiate the castle’s surrender but by the 3rd day, 16th March, the castle still held out for James.


Edinburgh in the 17th Century, with the castle towering over

Proceedings opened on 16th March with the news that there were two letters before the Convention, one each from William and James. After much discussion it was determined that William’s should be opened and read first, lest James’ contained instructions directing the immediate dissolution of the illegal proceedings.

William’s letter was a model of diplomacy and conciliation, reasonably asking that this gathering of Scotland’s political leadership should select him as monarch. And then James’ epistle was then opened. Balcarres and Dundee had, some weeks previously, drafted a proposed text for just this moment and despatched it to John Drummond, Earl of Melfort who had fled to France with James the previous December. And it was in the full expectation of hearing some reasonable variant of this that Dundee sat listening.

So it was with growing incredulity and horror that he and all loyal men in that chamber listened to the words then read out. Melfort had taken it upon himself to best the judge the mood of the gathering and had written harsh words declaring James’ imperious claim on the nation’s loyalty and promising nothing bar a pardon for all misdirected individuals who returned to their proper duty before the end of the month. Any remaining sympathy to James’ cause among the switherers was immediately crushed.

NPG D30869; John Drummond, 1st Earl of and titular Duke of Melfort by Peter Vanderbank (Vandrebanc), after  Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt

Earl of Melfort, architect of disaster for his King’s cause

Amidst the resulting uproar, King James’ supporters sat slumped in their seats while the letter was read a second time. They realised that their last hope of achieving a positive result was gone. Plans were then made to convene an alternative Convention with the full authority of King James, in Stirling on 18th March.

On the morning of the 17th March, as the proceedings opened Dundee announced that there he had discovered  a plot to assassinate him. It seems there was strong evidence of such a scheme although perhaps he may have exaggerated the danger he was in, in order to achieve the desired result. More uproar ensued as many of those present believed this to be irrelevant to the business of the day.

Dundee then stood up. As the tumult subsided he announced in a cold clear voice that, in his view, the Convention had been called illegally and he had received instructions and commission from King James to adjourn the proceedings to Stirling the following day. And with that announcement he walked unhurriedly from the hall without a backward glance.

A rendezvous had been organized for dawn on the morning of 18th March when Dundee and all those loyal to James, including the Marquesss of Atholl, would proceed to Stirling. However, Atholl and all the rest, including Balcarres, had cravenly reconsidered their position. So when Dundee, in full dress uniform, and his 30 troopers stood patiently in the early morning sunshine, word was brought to him that he was on his own.

One can only imagine the disappointment he felt at the shameful behaviour of his peers. Nonetheless with a firm command he ordered his men to ride. They rode around the north side of the city and approached the imposing castle walls. Dundee dismounted and swiftly climbed the hundred feet up the craggy slopes to the unguarded Postern Gate, where the Duke of Gordon awaited. Dundee briefed him on the latest setback to their cause and directed him to hold the castle in his King’s name. And with that he rejoined his men and rode north whither the spirit of Montrose directed him.

Postern gate 2

 The Postern Gate, where Dundee conferred with the Duke of Gordon before heading north

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