Tag Archives: Blair Atholl

22nd July 1689: Both Armies Move Out

General MaKay, ensconced in Edinburgh, has considered his options.  Blair Atholl is a big concern to him. While Lord John Murray is staunchly Williamite his followers are by no means as reliable. By McKay’s calculations there are 1500 fencible men up for grabs by either side in that area. BlairCastle is key to free passage between the northern and southern highlands and this is now held for Dundee, albeit with Murray besieging it. So, abandoning his original plan of joining the Earl of Argyll in the west, McKay strikes north for Stirling with BlairCastle his immediate objective. He has 4000 redcoat soldiery at his back.

Dundee has now been joined in Lochaber by Lochiel, Glengarry and the Sleat MacDonalds. The final rendezvous for all those who have not yet joined the standard is set for Blair Atholl on 29th July. Dundee’s intention is to make his way there not by the most direct route but by that which will allow him to recruit as many fighting men as he can. In the meantime he knows Patrick Stewart will need some support in holding BlairCastle so he orders Sir Alexander MacLean to break off his siege of McKay’s ally, the Master of Forbes at CraigievarCastle, and make haste to Blair with his 400 men to assist in holding that fortress.

Then, on 22nd July, Dundee’s army breaks camp and moves out of Lochaber heading to Badenoch and Castle Cluny.

Killiecrankie, the climactic battle of the campaign is 5 days away.

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17th July 1689: Blair Castle Falls to King James

Killiecrankie is 11 days away and Dundee is still camped in Lochaber as he seeks to strengthen the army that he commands for the King. To this end he continues to seek to persuade those powerful men in the highlands who have not yet declared their loyalties to come out for King James.

The Marquis of Atholl is one such man. He holds sway over a key area of the central highlands with the BlairCastle the centre point for the administration of his affairs and the key gateway between northern and southern highlands.

The Marquis himself has responded to the deepening political and military crisis initiated by William of Orange’s landing at Torbay and the subsequent usurpation of King James, by heading of to Bath on sick leave, leaving his affairs in the hands of his eldest son, Lord John Murray.

Lord John, a committed supporter of William, heads off to Edinburgh leaving, in his turn, BlairCastle in the hands of his factor, Patrick Stewart of Ballechin. He has urged his men that if they cannot support William they should support no one. From the safety of the capital he organises a rendezvous for all Atholl men at Pitlochry, ostensibly for consultations. He is deeply aware that most of his vassals would stand by James if a choice had to be made.

The King’s Irish reinforcements have now joined with Dundee, but his army still numbers no more than two thousand men. The Earl of Argyll, William’s man, has assembled three thousand of his clansmen in Argyll. General McKay, commander of the main government force of five thousand, is preparing to leave Edinburgh. There is a clear prospect of Dundee being attacked on two fronts within days.

The rallying of the remaining clans and possible further reinforcement from Ireland is scheduled for July 29th. Dundee needs to maintain his strategic position in the centre of the country but be close enough to the west coast should reinforcements appear.

And Dundee now moves with clear insight, decisiveness and confidence. Reinforced by the receipt of his commission as the King’s Lieutenant-Colonel he sends instruction to Patrick Stewart at BlairCastle to hold the fortress in King James’ name.

When Lord John Murray arrives at Pitlochry to organise his vassals into armed service for William he is given a letter from Patrick Stewart in which he explains that he is unable to attend this gathering as he has been given clear orders to hold BlairCastle.

Lord John, in all his discombulation, heads off to besiege his own home. The key to the north is in Jacobite hands.

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