John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount Dundee was born in 1648. Strangely enough, in that same year, and the one following, a handful of individuals were also born who would all have key roles to play on the enthralling religious, political and military stage that was to be Scotland in the latter part of the 17th century.
Men like John Dalrymple who would go on to become the Master of Stair and play a prominent role in events such as the Massacre of Glencoe and the signing of the Treaty of Union in 1707. Men like Richard Cameron, known to posterity as the Lion of the Covenant. Men like James Drummond, 4th Earl of Perth, who was to become Lord Chancellor of Scotland and introduce the use of thumbscrews into the kingdom. Also his brother, John, born in 1649, and would as the Earl of Melfort, do more political damage to King James’ cause than any other during the key period between the Glorious Revolution and the culmination of Dundee’s Rising at the Battle of Killiecrankie.
Also of this generation was William Carstares, born in Cathcart, Glasgow on this day in 1649. He was the son of a Presbyterian minister who held some sympathy at the time with those many who protested against King Charles I’s initiatives but he did not take an extreme position. So the atmosphere of young William’s upbringing was a balanced one, redolent with tolerance and Presbyterian piety.
William, however, did not take after his father who would famously say of him in later years, in a curiously Blackadderesque manner, that ..”he would plot and plot till he plotted his head off. Ministers of the Gospel are not called on to meddle with that work.”
Ordained a Protestant minister in Holland, Carstares was drawn into the circle around William, Prince of Orange.
During the 3rd Anglo Dutch war (1672 – 1674), Carstares played an important role as master spy for William, moving between England and Holland, under the cunning and completely unsuspicious nom de plume of William Williams. In September 1674 he was arrested in England for espionage. No firm evidence was uncovered despite threats of torture and he was sent to EdinburghCastle where he would remain a prisoner until 1679. He was released then along with a number of other malcontents as the Scottish Government sought to ameliorate the political climate after the Covenanter uprising which had ended at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge.
Undiscouraged by his years in jail, Carstares threw himself once more into the feverish world of political plotting. He was involved in a Whig Plot during the Exclusion Crisis when the presbyterian gentry sought to exclude the King’s brother (James, Duke of York and future James VII & II) from the succession, on the grounds of his Catholicism. The plan was to replace him instead with Charles’ illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth. Charles managed to avoid this by using his Royal Prerogative to dissolve the English Parliament, in 1679.
Then in 1683 Carstares was implicated in the unsuccessful Rye House Plot. A scheme which had the naked intention of assassinating both the King and his brother as they travelled to Newmarket races.
He was arrested again and this time subjected to various tortures including the Boot and the notorious Thumbikins.
He made a deal with the Secretary of State in Scotland, John Drummond, that his statement would not be used against himself. However, it was enough to see the conviction of his fellow conspirator, Baillie of Jerviswood, who was subsequently put to death with all the hideousness associated with traitor’s executions prevalent at the time.
Carstares was subsequently released and headed back immediately to Holland in time to become involved with the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685 when an armed force, hostile to the newly crowned King James II & VII, landed at Lyme Regis under the command of Monmouth, while a smaller force landed in Scotland under that incorrigible Covenanting hardliner, Archibald Campbell, Earl of Argyll. The Rising was subsequently crushed at the Battle of Sedgemoor on 6th July by forces loyal to the king. Fortunately, for his political future, Cartsares had remained in Holland, so once again escaped retribution for his crimes.
Battle of Sedgemoor. Presbyterian hopes crushed again.
When William’s army invaded England in the lead up to the Glorious Revolution in 1688, Carstares was this time on the boat and by William’s side in the newly created official capacity of William’s Royal Chaplain for Scotland.
Finally after all the years of scheming and plotting, Carstares’ fortunes had now become completely transformed. Following William’s triumph, in the aftermath of James II & VII’ s flight to France, he became a hugely influential member of William’s court and would be his primary advisor in all matters Scottish, manipulating affairs through his established methodology of scheming deviousness.
Following William’s death he remained at court as advisor to Queen Mary II & II and was subsequently elected principal of Edinburgh University. He played a key role in pushing through the abhorrence of Parliamentary Union in 1707 and when in 1714 Mary’s successor, Queen Anne, died and the unified parliament cast about Europe to find an acceptably protestant monarch before finally settling on the Electress of Hanover’s son George, Carstares was still around to have the office of Royal Chaplain conferred upon him yet again.
He finally died late in December 1715, of apoplexy, having survived long enough to see the failure of the latest Jacobite military effort to reverse the events of the Glorious Revolution and restore the Stuart Monarchy to the unified throne.