Tag Archives: Balcarres

23rd December 1688……..James II Ships Out to France.

And so the last monarch of the House of Stuart slipped away, without ceremony, on a ship to France and exile. There were few to witness his supine departure and Bonnie Dundee was not among them. The newly ennobled Viscount had taken his final leave of the King some days previously prior to James embarking on the barge at Whitehall that would transfer him to his final departure point.

James slips away from London on 18th December, heading for the coast.

James slips away from London on 18th December, heading for the coast.

During this exchange Dundee had brought to bear his not inconsiderable powers of persuasion in an effort to persuade James to remain and lead the fight to overturn his unlawful usurpation from the throne by William of Orange. However, this king had never been a man to bend his shoulder to the wheel of personal effort. And faced with a choice between maintaining, after a fashion, his regal court in exile, or the uncertainty and rough life of a counter-usurper he jumped on his boat and fled.

James heads into exile.

James heads for France and exile.

The only historical mark surviving from his precipitate flight is a blue plaque on the wall of the house where he spent his last night in his kingdom and a personal note he left outlining his grievances at the way matters had developed: a prolonged whinge about what was said and done by those who had schemed to bring about his replacement which does nothing to enhance history’s view of his shortcomings as a man and a monarch.

Plaque at the house in Rochester where James spent the night before sailing for France

Plaque at the house in Rochester where James spent the night before sailing for France

From the moment William had stepped ashore at Torbay in November with 21,000 troops behind him, support for James had gradually ebbed away. By the time that the single military action of the campaign was fought at Reading on 9th December , all was done and dusted. A combination of naked self-interest on the part of English and Scottish nobility and lack-lustre leadership from James had served the crown to William and his soon-to-be co-Ruler Anne, on the proverbial silver platter.

James' letter, intended for public consumption, comprising his list of whinges

James’ letter, intended for public consumption, comprising his list of whinges

A week before James’ final departure he had made an initial effort to flee to France. As in most of his kingly endeavours during his reign, he made a hash of it and had been compelled to return to London somewhat shamefacedly. It was at this point, 17th December, the day before he jumped onto his barge to head to Dover that he had a final conference with the last remaining men of substance that he had around him.

Engaged in a conference in Whitehall with various motley individuals who sought to give him false assurances, he withdrew out to the Mall, summoning with him, Viscount Dundee and Colin Lindsay, 3rd Earl of Balcarres.  The three men walked awhile and discussed the stark reality of the position.

We have no firm record of this conversation. James, it appears, was determined to flee, fearing that his life was in danger. Both Dundee and Balcarres would have sought to persuade him that if he was going to depart his capital that he should head north to Scotland where firm cause could be made. Their efforts were unsuccessful. Promising to send from France royal commissions for both men to drive his affairs civil and military, he then took his final leave of them.

At this very moment William was arriving in west London at the home of the Countess of Northumberland. The following day with James now gone, he took up quarters in St James’Palace.  On its military side, the Revolution was now accomplished.







18 May 1689…Tae The Lairds of Convention ‘Twas Claverhouse Spoke…

One of the most colourful and dramatic moments in the political / military historiography of 17th Century Scotland……

In the aftermath of James II/ VII’s supine abandonment of the throne of the Three Kingdoms following William of Orange’s hostile invasion in December 1688, the English Parliament fell over themselves to hand the crown to William and his good lady wife, Mary, as joint sovereigns.

The representatives of Scotland’s citizenry, conveniently present in London at the time, were summonsed to the royal presence that they might advise their Majesties on the most diplomatic manner in which to impose the same transition on the northern kingdom.

Amid much tiptoeing around vested interests it was recommended that a Convention be summonsed to gather in Edinburgh in March to pontificate and ultimately adjudicate on the appropriate decision: William or James.

On the 14th of March the Convention assembled in the ancient capital of Scotland. It was conducted in the same tiresome manner in which these issues are dealt with today; slowly, ponderously, to no good effect and all the time crying out for the decisive intervention of men and women of vision and courage.

Some who had once been for James were now for William. Others couldn’t make up their minds and amid it all courageous men of conscience, Dundee and Balcarrres principally, recoognising the constraints under which they worked, toiled to do what was necessary to achieve the required outcome.

The one factor in favour of King James’ cause was that Edinburgh Castle was held for him by the Duke of Gordon. Gordon, however, was a creature of his time; feckless and fearful and reluctant to put himself in a position where his status or political life was threatened.

It required stealthy visits under cover of night by Dundee and Balcarres to prevent the erstwhile nobleman from handing over the Royal fortress to the Williamites during the critical phase.

Ultimately, as the days and debates wore on, all could see whence the wind blew and one by one the nobility of Scotland, recognising where there best interests lay, gradually put aside their loyalty to their one true Monarch and, reluctantly or otherwise, backed the usurper.

Claverhouse led the, now, rebel cabal which determined that the best course of action was to convene a rival convention in Stirling that might deliberate on the matter in a safe environment, more conducive to balanced decision making. Those principals, still loyal to King James, agreed to leave the capital early on the morning of Monday 18th March.

At the appointed hour, Bonnie Dundee, at the head of his troop of horse which had been under his command through the previous ten years; at Drumclog, Bothwell Bridge and throughout his tenure as Sheriff of Dumfries and Wigtownshre, now assembled in the early morning sunshine.

It would have come as no surprise to the King’s future Lieutenant-General that they stood and waited alone. After a modest pause Dundee led them forth of the city, pausing only for that momentous moment when he climbed the rocks of Edinburgh Castle to the Postern Gate, where once more he sought to impose his moral and physical courage on Gordon to hold the castle for King James, come what may.

And then they were gone. That lone troop of horse, heading north up that road which in four months time would end at the Battle of Killiecrankie.











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

The English Convention Parliament (1689) – King James’ Usurpation Legitimised.

James II succeeded to the throne of the three kingdoms in 1685 following the death of his brother Charles II. The three years of his reign were an unhappy time for all as the king’s Catholicism left him unprepared to compromise even a little with the growing religious demands of his mostly Protestant subjects, particularly in Scotland.

James II                                                                   King James II

Dissatisfaction led to intrigue and conspiracy as William of Orange’s ambition for the crown coincided with the desire of many of the men of influence at the Royal Court to replace James with a suitably protestant successor.

Amid much scheming in both Dutch and English courts, towards the end of 1688, a plan was hatched to usurp James. And so, on 5th November William of Orange landed at Brixham at the head of an uninvited army of some 40,000 men, twice the size of the Spanish Armada,

Landing of William of Orange

William of Orange lands at Torbay

On the 9th November William’s forces seized Exeter after the magistrates had fled. And on 18th November Plymouth surrendered to the Dutch. There was a brief skirmish at Wincanton where a small force of James’ English army defeated a small party of Dutch scouts before retreating.

However, as the days went on there were widespread political and military defections to William as James was abandoned by subjects, friends and family.

As the Dutch army marched towards London, James, with characteristic indecision, first fled the capital only to return on being discovered in flight.

However, by 17th December with William and his forces on the verge of entering London there could be no other recourse than the king abandoning his throne and leaving for exile. On this day James was attended by Bonnie Dundee and Colin Lindsay, 3rd Earl of Balcarres, the last 2 nobles of his court who remained loyal to the Stuarts.

(c) Traquair Charitable Trust; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Colin Lindsay, 3rd Earl of Balcarres

The three of them walked for a while in the Mall. James briefed Balcarres to attend to the civil affairs of Scotland and told Dundee he would receive a commission to command his army. And he left them trudging disconsolately off into exile.

So James was gone and William had arrived, without any major fighting much to the satisfaction of the miscreants involved. However, such a usurpation was unprecedented and had no easy resolution from the constitutional viewpoint.

William refused to simply take the crown as de facto king, preferring that the whole arrangement be properly documented and he gave instructions for an assembly of peers to be called. This gathering, on 22 January 1689, has become known as the Convention Parliament. Its purpose was to justify the overthrow of the properly anointed monarch and as such it had no legal standing.

For three weeks month arguments were heard as to the various proposals for monarchical arrangements going forward. Should William rule alone, or his wife, Mary who was James’s sister? Should, in fact, the throne pass to James and Mary’s sister Anne, who was satisfyingly protestant and who did, in the fullness of time, inherit the throne. Arguments were also put forward for a republic and the small voices of the loyal bishops proposed that James should be conditionally restored to the throne of his fathers.

De Hooghe's image of William III addressing the convention 'Parliament'

William of Orange addresses the Convention Parliament

It was, however, duly determined that since England was a protestant kingdom only a protestant could rule. The Commons agreed that the throne had become vacant due to the king’s abdication but the Lords rejected this as abdication was then a term of no legal standing. And furthermore that if the throne had become vacant then it should pass to the next in line which would be Mary.

Eventually, amidst the tawdry postulating over how best to tie up the loose ends of the whole debased affair, the Lords proposed that William and Mary should rule jointly, and the Commons agreed on the basis that William alone would hold the regal power.

William IIIs coronation

Coronation of William III and II and Mary II

On 13th February William and Mary were duly proclaimed joint monarchs of the Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland. And on 23rd February, with the same deft touch, the new King William retrospectively converted the Convention into a legitimate Parliament by dissolving it and summoning it again to pass the Crown and Parliament Recognition Act 1689.

He further ordered that a similar assembly be called in Edinburgh in order that he might be properly anointed monarch there. And it was this Convention of the Three Estates which opened on 14 March 1689 from which Bonnie Dundee withdrew and left to eventually raise the standard for the King and commence the campaign which ended at Killiecrankie.

And so a key turning point was reached in the History of Scotland. Within 20 years we would witness such events as the Massacre of Glencoe, the Darien disaster and finally and fatally, Parliamentary union with all that has come to pass from there.

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