Tag Archives: John Graham

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.


Why Bluidy Clavers?

To many people at home and abroad, John Graham was a bad man. He is seen to epitomize the rapacious cruelty of the state towards common Covenanting people in Scotland during the period roughly between 1677 and 1688. It is from his alleged activities during this period that his Bluidy Clavers epithet originated.

In the two centuries since, the clarity of events has dimmed somewhat. Some would contend that even at the time the details of these events were unconfirmed, hazy and questionable. And, since the history of any struggle is penned by the victors and not the vanquished, it might be argued that vested interests have been well served in ensuring that the maximum amount of opprobrium has been heaped upon his posthumous reputation.

Robert Wodrow in his “History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland” and John Howie in “The Scots Worthies”, in particular, have seized upon contentious episodes where judicial executions were carried out and painted Dundee irrevocably onto the canvas when he was either entirely absent or was clearly and legally executing the very responsibilities with which he had been charged. Daniel Defoe in many of his works seeks to reinforce the blackest aspects of these 2 gentlemen’s writings. These versions of events have since been relayed unquestionably by the prominent British historian Thomas Macaulay famously referred to by Marx as “a systematic falsifier of history” and of whom Winston Churchill expressed “the hope to fasten the label ‘Liar’ to his genteel coat-tails.”


Thomas Babington Macaulay

After the Restoration of the Stuart Monarchy under Charles II in 1660 there had been conflict to one degree or another between hard line Presbyterians and those charged by the King with the maintenance of law and order.This conflict had erupted on to the battlefield on a number of occasions, such as Rullion Green in 1666 and the battles of Drumclog and Bothwell Bridge in 1679. However, the Killing Times are generally accepted to have commenced in a serious and systematic manner around October 1684.

Dundee is deemed to have been directly involved in the deaths of 10 individuals, all in the spring of 1685 in the south west of Scotland. These were; John Brown of Priesthill, Andrew Hislop, Matthew Meiklewrath, the Wigtown Martyrs Margaret MacLachan and Margaret Wilson, and 5 men hanged at Mauchline.

So, John Brown then……. declared an outlaw in a royal proclamation of 5th May 1684, and in hiding since his involvement in the covenanting defeat at the Battle of Bothwell, he was pursued by Dundee and his men in rough country on 1st May 1685. On his capture he refused to take the Oath of Abjuration, the authorized test of loyalty to the Crown, unlike his companion and nephew John Browning, who was consequently spared execution. Brown also refused to undertake not to take up arms against the king. The men were taken to Brown’s house where weapons and ammunition were found. The sentence for such refusals: summary execution before two witnesses, was clearly laid down and widely known. A sentence Dundee ordered to be carried out promptly though giving Brown time for prayer and leavetaking.


A dramatisation of the death of John Brown

Howie paints an incredible picture of this execution, including in it Brown’s wife with her child, allegedly forced to watch while Dundee, supposedly fearing the mutiny of his own troops took a weapon and carried out the execution with his own hand while simultaneously subjecting the good woman to a tirade of abuse. Alexander Shields, in his Short Memorial, penned only five years after the event makes mention neither of children nor of these other fictitious details which tradition has crystallized into fact.

Andrew Hislop was the son of a woman who had been turned out of her house, the specified penalty for sheltering a criminal fugitive. When Dundee came across him ‘in the fields’ on 10th May 1685, he handed him over to the local justiciary, Sir James Johnston of Westerhall, who tried Hislop and condemned him to death. This WAS harsh. However, Dundee’s involvement in the man’s death had been peripheral and entirely consistent with the legal responsibilities he bore.

The details of Matthew Meiklewrath’s death are even scantier than the rest. The date is not known, and Wodrow makes no mention of him in his otherwise exhaustive work cataloguing the persecutions of covenanting folk. The inscription on his gravestone in Colmonell claims “By bloody Claverhouse I fell…..For owning Covenanted Presbytery”.

It seems reasonable to infer from this, in the absence of any other factual information, that Meiklewrath was offered the Oath of Abjuration, refused it, and was thus dealt with as per the legal realities of the time.

Woodrow makes no mention of the man, and Shields simply states that Claverhouse ordered his troops to execute him ‘without examination’. Which begs further examination of his gravestone inscription. The history of the persecutions can’t have it both ways.

Now to the five men hanged at Mauchline on 6th May 1685. The men were; Peter Gillies, John Bryce, William Finneson, Thomas Young and John Binning. The indications are that this last individual was John Browning, the nephew of the above mentioned John Brown who Claverhouse had sent to Mauchline for trial at the time of Brown’s death.

Defoe avers that Dundee hoovered up the 5 men from different gaols in the area and that their only crime was attendance at conventicles, but he does not / cannot name them. Patrick Walker, that other doyen of covenanting history, however, is able to provide extensive detail of the men and their capture but makes no mention of Dundee in the episode. Both Walker and Defoe insist the men were condemned without trial but William Wodrow writes clearly that at least Gillies and Bryce were tried before Lieutenant-General Drummond, commissioner of justiciary.

The whole episode is an unhappy example of the ruthless implementation of martial law. However, there is little difficulty in disassociating Bonnie Dundee from it. The men were legally tried and condemned by the appointed authorities, specifically Drummond. Dundee was not involved in this since he was not qualified to sit upon the court. So…..moving on, in an attempt to find some real substance behind these Bluidy Clavers myths. Let us look at the case of the Wigton Martyrs.

This was written about in the first instance by Thomas Wodrow some thirty years after the events are alleged to have taken place. Claverhouse’s 19th century biographer Mark Napier made strong attempts to defend the role of the crown in this episode. He also condemned Wodrow and the previously mentioned Thomas Macaulay as being “2 of history’s most incorrigible calumniators”. Various other luminaries in the pantheon of Scottish literature have weighed in over the years, including James Hogg and Sir Walter Scott.

The 2 women, Margaret Wilson and Margaret Maclachlan were tried in Edinburgh on 18th April 1685 and found guilty on the charges of refusal to take the Abjuration Oath and attendance at conventicles.  They were subsequently tied to poles in the Solway Firth and left to be drowned by the incoming tide on 11th May of the same year.

wigton martyr

One of the Margarets – a Wigton Martyr

Where sits Bluidy Clavers in this unbecoming episode? What is his involvement in the cruel, judicial execution of these 2 women? He wasn’t there. He had no involvement in it. None whatsoever. Granted, his brother David sat on the court that condemned the woman, but he is a different person.

This, then, is the full extent of Bluidy Clavers involvement in the legendary Killing Times of 17th Century Scotland: myths, mistakes, propaganda and lies.


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