Tag Archives: Claverhouse

22 June 1679, The Battle of Bothwell Bridge

On the anniversary of this key military encounter I re-post an updated version of last year’s piece……

In a previous post we looked at the Battle of Drumclog where on 1st June 1679, a small government force under Bonnie Dundee’s command was attacked and routed by a larger, irregular force of Covenanters.

Emboldened by this outstanding success the Covenanters moved to capitalise on it. While in Edinburgh, the Privy Council initiated counter measures designed to quell the rebellion before it got completely out of hand. All of this would lead to a second and decisive military encounter some three weeks later and 20 odd miles further north on 22 June at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge.

Battle of Bothwell Bridge monument

Battle of Bothwell Bridge monument

In the immediate aftermath of his defeat at Drumclog, Dundee had written a full report to his commander, the Earl of Linlithgow, Major General of his Majesty’s forces in Scotland expressing his opinion that “This may be counted the beginning of the rebellion”. And so this would seem to be the case with the sudden appearance of covenanting sympathies in many hitherto seemingly law-abiding citizens.

3rd Earl of Linlithgow, Claverhouse's commander

3rd Earl of Linlithgow, Claverhouse’s commander

While many of those to the fore of the Covenanting force could be deemed to be determined, ruthless and experienced, none of them were generals. And the military command initially fell upon Robert Hamilton who, as was so often the case in these troubled times, would feature in a prominent role on both pro and anti Stuart divide, having fought for the Stuarts in the defeats at Cromwell’s hands at Dunbar (1650) and Worcester (1651) and would eventually flee to Holland in the aftermath of the failure of the Monmouth Rising (1685) the purpose of which was to remove James VII and II from the throne, replacing him with Charles II’s illegitemate but acceptably Protestant offspring, the Duke of Monmouth.

As soon as they had abandoned their pursuit of Dundee’s defeated force after Drumclog, the Covenant Army resolved, under Hamilton’s leadership, to “continue and abide together in arms”. They understood well that it was only a matter of time before the Government would move against them, in force. On the afternoon of their victory they marched the fifteen miles to Hamilton (the village not the man) where they camped. Glasgow, where Dundee and his remaining troops stood to arms with the Government garrison under the command of Lord George Ross of Hawkhead, was only 10 miles distant.

In the wee, small hours of the following morning the post boy galloped through the dark, Edinburgh streets bearing Ross’ despatch to Linlithgow announcing the defeat at Drumclog and his intention to barricade the streets of Glasgow in the face of the advancing covenanting host. Within an hour the Privy Council were gathered and plans laid to assemble the scattered Government troops from Fife and Dumfries for the Earl of Linlithgow to lead westwards against the rebels on 4th June.

17th century Glasgow, where the Covenanting rebels attacked Claverhouse and Ross

17th century Glasgow, where the Covenanting rebels attacked Claverhouse and Ross

At sunrise on 2nd June the rebel force approached Glasgow and at 11 am made a rash and ill-judged assault on the barricades at the bottom of High Street and the Gallowgate. The troops of Ross and Claverhouse fired on them from behind these and within a short time their assailants withdrew leaving many wounded lying in the street and at least seven dead. They rallied a mile to the east of the town where the setback of their repulse now gave rise to the splits and schisms long-threatened in a mob where each man and woman considered themselves to be a party of one.

If they possessed ‘leaders of integrity and followers with a singleness of purpose’ then this army of Covenanters might have been forged into a force as strong as any led by Cromwell. However, with fully two thirds of them deemed by themselves to be preachers, with the vanity and unwillingness to subvert to the greater good often prevalent in the species, it was a hopeless cause. Even with strong leadership it would have been an almost impossible task but the leadership of this rebel force was inept to a degree rarely seen before or since in our little corner part of the world.

The total number of different shades of religious opinion amongst them would have been impossible to determine but in broad terms they were split into two factions. These being the Moderates (which was purely a relevant term) led by John Welsh of Irongray, a great grandson of John Knox. And the Honest Party, led by the previously mentioned Robert Hamilton, who had no aspirations to moderation when it came to matters religious amd political. And a considerable surprise it would have been, no doubt, for the redoubtable Mr Welsh to find himself for once outstripped in his fanaticism.

John Welsh, leader of one of the Covenant factions at Bothwell Bridge

John Welsh, leader of one of the Covenant factions at Bothwell Bridge

Having checked the forward movement of the rebels, Linlithgow now amended his initial plan of concentrating his forces in Glasgow and decided instead to carry out this assembling of his forces at Stirling. A strange choice explained only by timidity on his part and one which left both Glasgow and Edinburgh vulnerable to subsequent advance by the still intact rebel force. And if they were to repeat their manouevre of the Pentland Rising of 1666 then there might yet be an undesired outcome to this revolt.

Thus Ross and Dundee were ordered to withdraw from Glasgow towards Stirling, doing so on 3rd June while Linlithgow advanced from Edinburgh. Their forces joined at Bonnybridge on the 5th. This combined force now numbered 1800 men; horse, dragoons (mounted infantry) and foot. A despatch was then received from the magistrates of Glasgow reporting that the Covenanters, now some 7000 strong, were camped in the vicinity of Bothwell Bridge, near Hamilton.

Bothwell Bridge, scene of the eponymous battle

Bothwell Bridge, scene of the eponymous battle

Linlithgow advanced once more, reaching Kirkintilloch at midday on 6th June. A reconnaissance party reported that the rebels had now occupied Glasgow and after due consideration and consultation with his officers, Linlithgow decided that the disparity in size of the two armies was such that he risked disaster by attacking and was duly recalled to Edinburgh by the Privy Council. Drumclog was only 5 days old and the rebellion was now entirely out of hand.

Still more of the disaffected rallied to the Covenant banner and the rebel force continued to grow in size, and to their collective misfortune, to grow also in disparity of strongly-held opinion. There now ensued fully two weeks of internecine bickering over religious intricacies. On 8th June a ‘very great convention’ was held in Rutherglen where a resolution was determined by the Honest Party to remain aloof from Welsh and his moderates. They met again the following day where both sides of the debate agreed on the necessity of issuing a unified, public declaration of their aims. Yet neither could accept the other’s drafting of this. On 10th June there was a ‘very hot disputation, particularly concerning the indulgence’ which is to say who was to be forgiven for previous political / religious transgressions and who was not. Again no resolution was determined. And so it continued. Each passing day brought further discussion and yet more disagreement as the differences between the disparate viewpoints became emphasised and that which drew them together became drowned in the din.

But now the King, his majesty Charles II, became stirred into action by the reports of rebellion from the north. He decided to appoint his illegitimate son, James, Duke of Monmouth as commander-in-chief of his forces in Scotland. Monmouth’s orders were issued on 11th June and he disembarked in Edinburgh on 19th June.

James, Duke of Monmouth. commander of the Government army at Bothwell Bridge

James, Duke of Monmouth. commander of the Government army at Bothwell Bridge

He brought only two troops of horse from England to supplement the Scottish Government’s now concentrated army which he rendezvoused with at Blackburn, West Lothian on 19th June, assuming overall command of a combined force of some 5000 men.

If this army force was small in numbers it was strong in leadership. Monmouth had extensive campaigning experience in Flanders. The 3 principal dragoon officers were seasoned and experienced men. Claverhouse and the Earls of Home and Airlie commanded their own separate troops and with Montrose (not The Montrose, note) leading the Life Guards there was no shortage of skill, experience and, crucially, military discipline.

On 20th June Monmouth was at Muirhead and on the evening of 21 June he was advancing on Bothwell Bridge and the larger Covenanting Army. How had things gone with them in the meantime? Not well. The advance of the Government Army had merely accentuated the acute divisions in their camp. On 16th, 17th and 18th, camped on Shawhead Moor, their leadership, such as it was, continued to meet in acrimonious debate. Hamilton’s Moderates had proposed a Day of Humiliation which Welsh’s Honest men had protested. With the whole gathering deep in confusion they had recrossed Bothwell Bridge on 18th June and encamped on Hamilton Moor.

The wrangling continued through the 19th, and on 20th June they were joined by reinforcements from Galloway. These were favourers of the Indulgence and thus natural allies of Welsh’s party. They submitted a written statement of their desires to Hamilton who promptly, and unsurprisingly, rejected it.

Late in the evening of 21 June, just hours before the battle would commence, the two factions met in their final council of war. One desired to purge the army of undesirables while the other refused to fight under the officers which had been selected prior to the arrival of the Galloway men which had given the moderates numerical superiority in the argument. After heated discussion Hamilton and his people withdrew. The Moderates sat down to frame a petition to Monmouth but once again agreement over the content proved impossible. And in a few short hours this host of pious men, leaderless, unprepared and distracted would blunder into battle.

The surviving comments from among their number give us an insight into the shortcomings of their situation;……..”We were not concerned with an enemy as if there were none within 100 miles of us”………………..”There were none went through the army to see if we wanted powder or ball”……”A little before day we saw the enemy kindling their matches a great way off”…………
At about 3 am in the morning of 22 June the advance guard of Monmouth’s army closed on one end of the bridge. The rebels formed into two bodies with one holding their end of the bridge and the other drawn up a mile or so to the rear, while the single piece of cannon they possessed was dragged down to command the approach to the bridge. This piece and its gunner would be the star of the show for the discomfited rebels.

An exchange of pistol fire began across the water as Monmouth came to the front line. The two rebel factions, faced now with the imminent destruction of their host, had managed to thrash together a parley with which they could both live and now this representation was made to Monmouth, who could do little but entertain it. So hostilities ceased temporarily.

Their submission though was merely a list of their grievances and a request that they might meet with Monmouth to discuss the matters. The erstwhile Duke sent back that he could not enter into any discussions with rebels until they lay down their arms. He did not bother to await their reply before recommencing preparations for his assault and ordered the deployment of his own cannon to command the bridge. A second parley was sent out from the Covenant lines desiring to be told the nature of any terms that he might have brought from England. Monmouth sent them packing and duly ordered his cannon to open fire.

And this provided the first surprise of the day as the lone Covenant gun, manned by a stalwart whose name posterity has not preserved but was their one true hero if the day, drove the government artillerymen from their pieces. However, after their initial discomfiture they returned to their pieces and under the cover of their fire a storming party of dragoons led by the splendidly named Major Theophilus Oglethorpe, stormed and forced the bridge.

Oglethorp's dragoons storm the bridge

Oglethorp’s dragoons storm the bridge

Under instruction not to advance any further than the other end of said bridge, they became carried away by the heat of the moment and advanced up the hill towards the main body of the enemy. Who, perceiving the small numbers of the force approaching them, moved down the hill and drove them into the houses at that end of the bridge.

In response 300 foot, under the command of Lord Livingstone’s son, were sent across the bridge and they, in turn, drove the Covenanters back on their main body. Monmouth himself now came forward over the bridge with his own troop and together with those already over, formed up to face the rebels ‘but two carabines shot apart’.

A haphazard and leaderless effort, but an effort nonetheless, was made by the rebels in an attempt to rescue the day. An assault was made on a body of Atholl Highlanders on Monmouth’s right, as the commander sought to form his second line. A brief cannonade forced them back in confusion with the Covenanting horse among them driven headlong from the field. Seconds later the foot joined the stampede and the rout began.

Oglethorp and Claverhouse were ordered to pursue with Monmouth following with the foot. At about ten o’clock that morning a messenger was despatched to Edinburgh bearing news of the victory.

And so the rule of law was once again imposed in all areas of the nation. The defeat at Drumclog could now be placed in proper perspective as a one-off thrown up by the particular circumstances of the day. And appropriate, measured action could now be taken against those who had initiated rebellion against King and lawful Government.

The bubble which had been blown at Rutherglen two months previously had now burst spectacularly with the rout at Bothwell. Monmouth was able to lead his men through the country across which the rebels had so recently roamed at will and confirmed the conclusion that all signs of rebellion were extinguished. On June 25th the local militia were dismissed, their function fulfilled. And on the 26th Monmouth returned to Edinburgh for the grateful thanks of the Privy Council, receiving the Freedom of the City in a large gold box. By 29th June he was on his way back to London.

Controversy, inevitably abounds as we look back on the whole episode, particularly in relation to two of the day’s participants; the Duke of Monmouth, commander-in-chief of the Government force and a lowly commander of horse troops, John Graham of Claverhouse.

Within 6 years Monmouth was dead: tried and executed for treason following his defeat at the Battle of Sedgemoor as he attempted to overthrow his uncle, King James VII and II, and seize the British throne for himself. From this vantage point many re-assess his behaviour at, and after Bothwell Bridge and seek to find indications, through his clemency towards the rebels, of his future treasonous actions.

As far as Claverhouse is concerned there has been as much opprobrium heaped upon him by future historians over his actions at Bothwell Bridge as there is at any other occasion in his career. The attempt to redress which is the driving force for this blog.

Much of this abuse is due to Sir Walter Scott’s depiction of the events of Bothwell Bridge in his novel,Old Mortality, which was published in 1816, nearly 140 years after the events took place. Scott gives Claverhouse a degree of prominence which far outweighs his actual involvement on the day and  also bestows upon him an aura of rapacious cruelty and vengefulness for which there is no basis. However, to be fair to Scott, he could have had little idea of the extent to which his work would outlive and outgrow him to the degree that it has. As Charles Terry, briefly and eloquently puts it, sober history competes unequally with romance.

Scott, author of Old Mortality

Scott, author of Old Mortality

Scott portrays Claverhouse as a colonel at the battle, promoted to General in the aftermath, whereas he was but a plain captain of horse, on the day and for some time afterwards. He and General Tam Dalziel, who was not in fact present at the battle having refused to serve under Monmouth, are credited by Scott with the ruthless pursuit of the fleeing rebels, in flagrant disobedience of Monmouth’s orders, rapaciously slaughtering the vanquished enemy.

Doubtless the emotion generated by his defeat at Drumclog would have been strong. The extensive source material relating to the battle itself and its immediate aftermath make passing mention only of his leading the cavalry on the right once Monmouth was over the bridge and reference to the capture ‘with his own two hands’ of two Covenant battle standards. Once again tradition becomes crystallized into fact in the face of a total absence of evidence. But it was ever thus.

13th November 1715, The Battle of Sherrifmuir

Sheriffmuir was the only battle fought in Scotland during the 3rd Jacobite Rising. Often deemed a draw on the basis that at the end of the engagement both sides withdrew from the field in good order, it was, in fact, a complete strategic defeat for the Jacobite Campaign and effectively ended Jacobite hopes for the Rising there and then.

The monument at the site of the battle

The monument at the site of the battle

The 1715 Rising was a more complex adventure than any of the other Jacobite campaigns (Claverhouse’s in 1689, the 1708, the 1719 and the 1745) involving, as it did, simultaneous, co-ordinated military efforts north and south of the border and an ambitious splitting of the Scottish arm to reinforce the southern effort.

Viewed from the historical perspective this was to be the closest that the Jacobites were ever to come to securing military victory and thus the political ambition of restoring the Stuart monarchy to the unified throne.

Unfortunately, the not unfamiliar crisis of leadership emerged at the key battles of Sheriffmuir and Preston, fought at the same time, and the opportunity slipped away, with even the subsequent and much vaunted effort of the ’45 failing to match the promise of this earlier drama.

There are those who have argued that by 1715 the restoration of the Stuart monarchy had become entirely anachronistic over the course of the past 27 years which had seen the House of Hannover become firmly entrenched in Whitehall and the final establishment of political union between Scotland and England. It’s hard to disagree with that view.

However, in 1715 there were many among the Clan Chiefs of the Highlands who took the view that the political situation that existed at the time was detrimental to the interests of Scotland and, more importantly, threatened their very way of life. This awareness, coupled with the repressive measures implemented by the London Government in the wake of the failed 1708 Rising, led many of the chiefs to believe that they had a simple choice of two alternatives: take up arms to bring about the restoration of the Stuart monarchy and thereby preserve their existence or be swept passively away within the foreseeable future.

The Earl of Mar who was to raise King James Standard to initiate the Rising, was a not untypical product of the political climate of 17th century Scotland. His efforts to maintain one foot in each political camp giving rise to his nickname of ‘Bobbing John’. As one of the Commissioners of the Union he was heavily involved in the establishment of the 1707 Treaty and held the position of Secretary of State for Scotland, thoroughly in bed with the unionist and Hanoverian establishment. However, with the death of Queen Anne in 1714 and the subsequent succession of George I, he fell out of political favour as Whigs superceded Tories as the party of power. He was removed from his position and headed back home in a huff.

John Erskine, 22nd Earl of Mar. Commander of the Jacobite Army

John Erskine, 22nd Earl of Mar. Commander of the Jacobite Army

In his next act was then to assemble an army for King James, raising the Royal Standard on 6 September at Braemar, although he didn’t receive his formal commission till later in October.

Mar had no military experience and was poorly equipped on a personal basis both to lead men and to take decisive action when required. His every move in his political life hitherto had been made on the basis of risk minimization. And his conduct of the Rising reflected these personal shortcomings. He was able to quickly put together an army of considerable size; estimates vary, as is usual in Scottish history, between 6 and 12, 000 men with the smaller number being the likelier. This, and the fact that most towns on the east coast declared for King James, is a fair reflection of the depth of popular antipathy towards both the rule of the House of Hannover and to political union with England.

Despite these factors and the strong position they put him in, Mar habitually hesitated: reluctant to commit himself fully in either direction lest he end up on the losing side to the wreck of his personal ambition.

The other key figure commander in the Jacobite ranks, north of the border was William Borlum of Mackintosh. And on 11th October after an extended period of inactivity on the part of the Jacobite Army, Borlum was despatched south with some 2000 clansmen. His mission was to link up with such of those English and border Jacobites who had mobilized in support, under the leadership of the Earl of Derwentwater and Viscount Kenmure. History is vague as to who determined this move. But given his overwhelming lack of vision and reluctance to take decisive action, it seems unlikely to have been Mar. With Borlum, in consultation with the other chiefs, being the likeliest candidate.

Borlum, now unleashed as it were, was able to demonstrate exactly the kind of decisive action and ability to manoeuvre a large body of men at speed which was required and which had been so clearly displayed in the past by other men of substance such as Claverhouse and Montrose.

John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee

John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee

With the Firth of Forth heavily patrolled by the English navy he was able to muster sufficient small boats to ferry his entire command across to the other side, during the hours of darkness, incurring no loss and with his enemy entirely unaware of what was happening. A remarkable action comparable with Montrose’s strike at Inverary at Christmas 1644, his surprise flank march prior to the Battle of Inverlochy in February 1645 and the merry dance that Claverhouse and his small army led the unfortunate General MacKay during the Killiecrankie campaign in the summer of 1689.

After this excellent start, though, things fell away and once Borlum joined his command with Kenmure’s and Derwentwater the southern campaign was similarly blighted by hesitancy and indecision and ended in ignominy with the surrender of the entire force at the Battle of Preston. Events which don’t concern us here.

The Jacobite Army is surrenedered after the Battle of Preston

The Jacobite Army is surrendered after the Battle of Preston

Mar, meantime, finally cajoled into action by his men made a move south from Perth on 11th November. He knew no further recruits would join his army until some degree of success had been seen to be achieved and ominously, news had reached him that regular Dutch troops had landed in England to strength the government forces.

As he moved the army south the government army in Scotland under the command of the Duke of Argyll moved to intercept them at Dunblane. Mar’s force was now, most agree, a mximum of 7000 troops with possibly 1000 of them mounted. Argyll’s command was barely half that number.

By the evening of November 12th both sides were aware of the other’s presence and in the morning they commenced to make their dispositions for battle. The ground at Sheriffmuir, on the lower slopes of the Ochils is rough and broken and it would seem that for much of this preparatory period neither side had a clear view of what the other was doing.

In contrast to Mar’s lack of military experience, John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll and the first leader of the House of Campbell in 4 generations not to be christened Archibald, was a different creature.

John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll. Victor at Sheriffmuir Archibald's son, John. The first head of the House of Argyll in 4 generations not christened Archibald.

John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll. Victor at Sheriffmuir Archibald’s son, John. The first head of the House of Argyll in 4 generations not christened Archibald.

He had seen service in both the Wars of the Grand Alliance and the Spanish Succession and was familiar with what needed to be done to meet the demands of this particular situation.

As the battle opened the right wing of each side achieved significant early success, much in the manner of the initial stages of the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644. As each commander then rallied his victorious wing back to the field it was clear that the earlier inequality in nunbers had become more acute and Mar’s force was now some three times greater in magnitude than Argyll’s who, consequently, chose to now position his men in a strong defensive situation based on some ditches and turf walls and awaited the inevitable onslaught from Mar’s force.

And this was it, the decisive point of the Battle of Sheriffmuir. The decisive point indeed of the entire 1715 Jacobite Rising. The decisive point, arguably, for the whole Jacobite dream, stretching back from when Claverhouse first raised the Standard on Dundee Law in April 1689 to the final destruction of the massed clansmen on Drumossie Moor in April 1746.

All that was required was a commander of simple courage and expediency with firm personal loyalty to the cause he espoused, who would send his men forward to complete the destruction of the enemy and leave the way open to take the army south to where the decisive military decisions would ultimately be determined.

But sadly what we had was the 22nd Earl of Mar. A man haunted by his unfulfilled, if ill-defined, personal ambition. Whose loyalty to any cause stretched no further than the furtherance of personal goals. “Oh, for an hour of Dundee”, legend has it, was the cry that went up from his waiting men. But they waited in vain.

Although Argyll, taking advantage of the fading light, led his men across the Allan Water for the night, Mar made no move and in the morning withdrew his force back to Perth.

It could, of course, be argued that even if Mar had won the day at Sheriffmuir, that it would have been to no avail as the southern Jacobite Army was, that very day, experiencing defeat at the Battle of Preston and the northern town of Inverness fell back into Hanoverian hands. Thus in the same way that Claverhouse’s victory at Killiecrankie did not lead to the ultimate triumph of the House of Stewart and that even after his Year of Victories when he vanquished 6 parliamentary armies in 6 battles and became military master of Scotland, ultimate victory eluded even the Great Montrose.

The Great Montrose

The Great Montrose

It would seem that the fortunes of the righteous in Scotland would ever be thus.

Detail on the Sheriffmuir monument

Detail on the Sheriffmuir monument

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.









The Battle of Drumclog, 1st June 1679

Let’s break away from the summer campaign of 1689 which will end at Killiecrankie and look at an earlier episode in Dundee’s military career.

The Battle of Drumclog

The Battle of Drumclog

In June 1679 the Battle of Drumclog was fought near Loudon Hill in Ayrshire between a government force under his command and a mob of covenanters who were able to surprise him. It might be considered that with the wildness of the times and prevailing circumstances Drumclog was inevitable, but the seeds for this clash were sewn a month before with the nefarious deed carried out on Magus Moor on 3rd May.

On this day a stagecoach bearing Archbishop Sharp and his daughter Isabel, was crossing the moor heading for St Andrews when nine covenanter horsemen fell in behind it in pursuit.

James Sharp was a prominent and controversial figure of the time. As Primate of all Scotland he had been at the forefront of the major events in Scotland for the previous two decades. Captured and imprisoned by Cromwell’s forces in 1650 he had been involved with General Monck in the negotiations for the restoration of Charles II in 1660. Subsequently appointed as Archbishop of St Andrews and to the Privy Council, he then engaged in what was seen by many to be the instigation of the suppression of covenanting principles. And his involvement in the imposition of the death penalty on prisoners captured after the Battle of Rullion Green in 1666, made him, in the eyes of most covenanters, a sworn enemy of their cause.

James Sharp 1618 - 1679, Archbishop of St Andrews

James Sharp 1618 – 1679, Archbishop of St Andrews

And now the opportunity had arisen for them to take their vengeance. As the coach increased speed to escape, one of the archbishop’s mounted servants dropped back in an effort to fend off the pursuers and was immediately cut down with a sword blow. Within minutes the coach was brought to a stop and the archbishop ordered out. Eight of the men crowded round the now-kneeling prelate and laid about him with their swords while his daughter, restrained in the coach, looked on in horror.

The Murder of Archbishop Sharp

The Murder of Archbishop Sharp

Several heavy sword blows to the head ended the business. The archbishop’s efforts to block the blows leaving his hands shredded. Abandoning the lifeless body the covenanting gang plundered the baggage removing what documents they found before riding off leaving the archbishop’s daughter to tend her father’s body.

This murder, a savage and shocking event, even by the standards of the time, was to have profound implications, with the Privy Council subsequently using it to justify the imposition of suppressive measures against those who held to the Covenant.

But all this was yet to follow. In the immediate aftermath of the Archbishop’s assassination the first task of the authorities was to identify, capture and bring to justice, those who had been responsible for the deed.

Fleeing the scene of their crime the assassins rode west to Dunblane then south west to safe haven with their own kind. Among these, there were some more vituperous in their beliefs, that saw this event as a heaven sent opportunity to initiate further, escalated action against the repressive hand of the state. One of the more vocal among these was Robert Hamilton who duly organized a public demonstration of covenanting zeal. On 29 May, the King’s Birthday, he led a band into the burgh of Rutherglen where celebratory bonfires had been lit. Dousing these they then ceremoniously burnt copies of recent repressive legislation then fixed their declaration to the market cross.

News of the events at Rutherglen reached John Graham of Claverhouse in Falkirk late in the afternoon of the 29th May. By the 30th he was in Glasgow and early the next morning he left there hot on Hamilton’s trail. Sweeping through the township of Hamilton he apprehended three of the participants in the Rutherglen display including the renegade preacher John King. He was able to establish that there was a large conventicle planned for the following day, Sunday 1st June, in the vicinity of Loudon Hill. Early that morning he rode forth, took breakfast at Strathaven thence on to Loudon Hill some six miles distant.

The ground where the battle was fought

The ground where the battle was fought

As Claverhouse and his troop breasted the hill at Drumclog they saw arrayed in full battle order some half a mile distant a sizeable gathering of rebels. These had already been made aware of the approach of the government troops and non-combatants had fallen back to the rear with the remainder prepared for action.

Claverhouse’s force faced considerable adverse odds. Eye witness accounts number his force at 120 men of whom half were mounted. The covenant opposition was in the order of two thousand, albeit inexperienced amateurs, if enthusiastic. This Graham had experience of the battlefields of 17th century Europe, although this encounter was of a different nature entirely, and now he had to bring his experience and judgment to bear. He sent forward a parley to give the rebels the opportunity to surrender and avoid bloodshed. This was peremptorily rejected.

And then the rebel force attacked. They launched themselves through the small bog that lay between the two forces and engaged the government troops. Their armament was mostly pitchforks so only by closing fast could they hope to win the day. The first attack was held at bay but their second was delivered with sufficient vigour to break through the government line. 30 troopers were killed and the rest fled or claimed quarter. Claverhouse’s mount, speared with a pitchfork in the first moments of the battle, galloped madly from the field. By the time he had returned it was too late to do anything but gather the fleeing remnants of his men and lead them to safety.

On reaching Glasgow, Claverhouse penned an unvarnished and objective dispatch to the Earl of Linlithgow. There were neither excuses nor fault-finding as it explained the failure.

It was a comprehensive and disastrous defeat for Claverhouse’s command. This covenant victory ignited the smouldering embers of rebellion in south west Scotland. The victorious covenanters moved to base themselves in Hamilton and their numbers swelled over the ensuing days.

The Inscription on the Monument at Drumclog

The Inscription on the Monument at Drumclog


Claverhouse Heads to Edinburgh for William’s Illegal Convention

On this day in 1689 John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount Dundee, left Dundee and rode south to participate in William of Orange’s illegal Convention which had been called to determine who should be the next King of Scotland.

Just before Christmas 1688, James VII and II fled the throne of his three kingdoms, abandoning his subjects, his people and his responsibilities. William of Orange, at the head of his Dutch army, rode in to take over the royal palace at Whitehall.

On 13 February William and Mary were proclaimed joint monarchs of England and Ireland. The position of Scotland and her people in this matter of monarchical dispute now needed to be decided. As early as 7 January William had met with those of the Scottish political leadership who had come to debase themselves before him in London and invited their counsel as to how he should best pursue the Crown of Scotland. They recommended that he summon a Convention in Edinburgh on 14 March where the matter might be resolved. In the meantime they invited him to take upon himself the administration of the ancient kingdom

Throughout this process Dundee remained apart, and uncompromising. However, prudence demanded that he take steps to at least assess the danger to himself, as the anti-Jacobite forces grew in strength and focus.

To this end he employed William Gilbert, a Scottish theologian and Whig, who had attached himself to William’s court and interests some years previously. William appeared to tolerate Gilbert for his usefulness in unseemly clandestine matters but held him in low regard.

Gilbert raised Dundee’s query with William as to what action might be taken against him if he were to continue to live peaceably in Scotland. William pledged his protection as long as Dundee ‘were to live quietly’. Dundee then undertook not to disturb the new regime ‘unless forced’. A pledge he held to.

And so Dundee rode north, home to Dudhope Castle in Dundee to be with his pregnant wife. Over the next few weeks he busied himself with his responsibilities as Viscount Dundee, presiding over the meetings of the Town Council as Provost, during February.

Dudhope (1)

Dudhope Castle, Claverhouse’s home in Dundee

 Then on 13 March he took leave of Jean and rode south to William’s illegal convention and the crisis of his career.

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