Tag Archives: John Dalrymple

The Massacre of Glencoe – the House of Orange Imposes the New Order

On this day in 1692 thirty eight men, women and children were murdered in their beds by a detachment of the British army who had been staying with them as guests. How did this deed of eternal infamy come about?

By early 1691 much of the political and military uncertainty of the preceding years had been resolved. The military efforts to restore King James dynasty to the unified throne had met with decisive failure both in Scotland, with the failure of Bonnie Dundee’s rising in 1689 and in Ireland with the defeat of an army led by James himself at the Boyne on 1690.


John Graham of Claverhouse who led the 1st Jacobite Rising

William II & III could now focus on taking the steps required to solidify the position of the House of Orange and ensure that all threat of the Stuart restoration was put to bed once and for all. Thus in early 1691 John Dalrymple, the Master of Stair was appointed Secretary of State of Scotland.

stair The Master of Stair, architect of the massacre

To William, Scotland was an irritating complication and the mostly Jacobite Highlands were a further annoyance. In Stair, William had a loyal servant, understanding of his master’s wishes and prepared to impose whatever repressive policies were necessary to fulfill these.

Stair determined, not unreasonably, given recent historical precedent, that there should be physical evidence of submission to the new regime by any who had taken part in military action against it. It was announced that the Privy Council of Scotland required all clan chiefs to swear an oath of allegiance to William, before a sheriff, or depute, by the end of the year or be treated as traitors.

Once James’ reluctant assent was given each of the chiefs duly swore the oath. The MacIan, chief of the Glencoe MacDonalds, who had been with Dundee throughout that first Jacobite Rising and had performed the full measure of his duty at Killiecrankie, tarried but eventually, in the dying days of 1691, made his way to FortWilliam to perform the task. When he arrived on Hogmanay, it was to discover that the senior officer of the Government garrison was not empowered to take his oath and he would have to travel to Inveraray to do so. Inevitably, he signed the document late. Nonetheless, the oath having been taken he returned to his people in the belief that he had complied with the new king’s demands.

ft williamFort William where the MacIan attempted unsuccessfullyto sign the Oath on Hogmanay 1691

However, his signed oath, forwarded to the Privy Council with due explanation, was refused. So by 11th January, Stair now knew that a single, small clan group had failed to take the oath in the stated time. And a chain of events was put into motion which would lead to an indelible stain on the political record of Stair and on William himself.

Stair concealed from William the fact that the MacIan had taken the oath. William, on the understanding that the Glencoe MacDonald’s had failed to demonstrate the required loyalty to the new order, duly authorized the full measure of retribution.

So the order was passed from the Secretary of State to the Commander of crown forces, thence to Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton in command of the Fort William garrison in Lochaber, and from him to the King’s officer in the field, Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon.

Captain robert campbell of glenlyonCaptain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon who commanded at the event

Glenlyon and his 120 redcoat soldiers duly arrived at Glencoe on 1st February, ostensibly an a tax collecting mission and were hospitably received by the MacIan’s people. And at 5 am on the morning of 13th February they rose up against their unsuspecting hosts and began to slaughter them. In the dark and the confusion many escaped leaving Glenlyon with but 38 corpses to show for his night’s work.

The Massacre of Glencoe

Campbell’s Redcoats execute the ‘Extirpation’ order

Treachery and the murder of women and children were not unknown in the highlands of Scotland but this was a deliberate act initiated by a monarch who had publicly given his commitment to the proper establishment of civil rights.

Glenlyon’s men were swiftly marched to Edinburgh and shipped thence to Flanders, far away from any direct questioning on their role in the atrocity. Stair remained entirely unrepentant over his involvement in the action, throughout the remainder of his political career. Happy to have served his master’s wishes and to have reduced in some small measure the possibility of further rebellion.
William , Prince of Orange

William II & III. The man ultimately responsible.

For three more years he remained in office despite the tumult of outrage. But in 1695 a Commission of Enquiry was finally conducted into the matter and all blame was apportioned to Stair who was duly removed from his post. In 1700 he was subsequently restored to his government as a member of ther Privy Council for Scotland and was created 1st Earl of Stair in 1703. He was able to play a not inconsiderable role in the fulfilling his now dead master’s ambition with the achievement of the abhorrence of Parliamantary Union in 1707.


Birth of William Carstares – a scoundrel by any standards

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.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 360Cathcart Parish, Glasgow. William Carstares birth place

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.”

William_Carstares_about_1700William Carstares

Ordained a Protestant minister in Holland, Carstares was drawn into the circle around William, Prince of Orange.

William , Prince of OrangeWilliam, 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.

Rye_House_1793_Turner (of plot fame)Rye House. Setting for the infamous plot

He was arrested again and this time subjected to various tortures including the Boot and the notorious Thumbikins.

thumbikinsThe dreaded 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.

Baillie of JerviswoodBaillie of Jerviswood. Another victim of Carstares shennanigans.

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.

Sedgemoor 3

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.

Landing of William of OrangeWilliam, Prince of Orange, lands at Torbay in 1688.

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.

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