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Graham, John, first viscount of Dundee [known as Bonnie Dundee]free

  • Magnus Linklater

John Graham, first viscount of Dundee (1648?–1689)

by David Paton

Graham, John, first viscount of Dundee [known as Bonnie Dundee] (1648?–1689), Jacobite army officer, was the eldest son of William Graham (d. 1653), of Claverhouse, and Lady Magdalene Carnegie (d. 1675), fifth daughter of John Carnegie, first earl of Northesk.

Family background and education

John Graham was descended from the Grahams of Kincardine, who were also ancestors of the Montrose family. In the early fifteenth century Sir William Graham of Kincardine married, as his second wife, Lady Mary Stewart, daughter of King Robert III. The eldest son of this union, Sir Robert Graham of Fintry and Strathcarron, married Matilda, daughter of Sir James Scrymgeour of Dudhope, on the outskirts of Dundee, and it was from this marriage, which brought together royal blood and strong links with the city and title of Dundee, that the Grahams of Claverhouse were descended. The Scrymgeours were not only Scotland's hereditary standard-bearers, but constables of Dundee and owners of Dudhope Castle. In the seventeenth century they became the earls of Dundee.

The Grahams acquired property around Dundee, including Claverhouse, an estate some 3 miles north-east of the city, alongside the Dighty Water, later known as the Barns of Claverhouse; Claypotts Castle, a small sixteenth-century keep, near Broughty Ferry; and the lands and barony of Glen Ogilvie, in the parish of Glamis, known as the Glen. The family's connections with the Montrose branch remained strong: John's grandfather, Sir William Graham, became a curator or tutor to the first marquess during his minority years, but died in 1642, too early to be caught up in Montrose's highland war. John's parents married in 1645 and in addition to John had a son and two daughters. The family was spared when Cromwell's army came north and sacked Dundee in 1650 and in the following year General Monck gave 'Lady Carnigges of the Glen' an order of protection (Linklater and Hesketh, 17). At his father's death two years later John was officially declared heir with the title of Graham of Claverhouse, but his mother acted as guardian or ‘tutrix’ until the end of his pupillage at the age of fourteen. On 22 September 1660 both he and his younger brother, David, were admitted as 'burgesses and brethren of the guild of Dundee, by reason of their father's privilege' (ibid., 18). By that date Claverhouse had probably been at university for two years. He was admitted to St Salvator's College at St Andrews University and undertook a full course in the liberal arts, philosophy, and mathematics. A later account of his time at university, given in the memoirs of Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel, said:

He had made considerable progress in the mathematics, especially in those parts of it that related to his military capacity; and there was no part of the Belles Lettres which he had not studied with great care and exactness. He was much master in the epistolary way of writing; for he not only expressed himself with great ease and plainness, but argued well, and had a great art in giving his thoughts in few words.

ibid., 19

Claverhouse's letters, many of which survive, suggest this to be true, and though Sir Walter Scott wrote that he spelled 'like a chambermaid', he seems to have been no worse in this regard than many contemporaries. In 1661, his final year at university, James Sharp, later archbishop of St Andrews, became master of St Mary's College. A contemporary, the Revd Thomas Morer, wrote later that Claverhouse 'was admired for his parts and respects to churchmen, which made him dear to the Archbishop, who ever after honoured and loved him' (ibid., 19–20).

Early military service

Claverhouse's teenage years were spent at Glenogilvie, where he and his brother managed the family estates. In February 1669 he was appointed a commissioner of excise and a JP for Forfarshire. Then on 25 July 1672 he volunteered for military service abroad. The commander, whose regiment of foot he joined as a junior lieutenant, was Sir William Lockhart, another Scot, whose men formed part of the army commanded by the duke of Monmouth in the service of Louis XIV's general Marshall Turenne. Among Graham's fellow officers was John Churchill, later duke of Marlborough; leading the opposing Dutch army was another young man, Prince William of Orange, captain general and stadholder of the Dutch United Provinces.

Two years after he joined Lockhart's regiment it returned to England, and Claverhouse switched sides, 'wishing', as his contemporary, Sir John Dalrymple put it, 'to know the services of different nations' (Linklater and Hesketh, 22). Religious reasons may also have played a part, with the end of the second Anglo-Dutch war and the withdrawal of the official British corps from French service providing the opportunity of serving with a protestant army. Claverhouse volunteered and became a cornet in the prince's own company of guards, where he saw almost continuous action over the next three years. At some point during this time he is alleged to have saved William's life. In the course of one of his battles William was supposedly knocked from his saddle and Claverhouse rode to his aid, pulled him on to his own horse, and carried him away from danger. Cameron of Lochiel claimed this occurred at the battle of Seneffe, but there is no record that William was unhorsed at Seneffe. In any event Claverhouse was promoted to captain of horse in November 1676, where he is recorded as the 'baron de Claverhous'. He may have had even greater ambitions, since at some point he appears to have had a public row with a rival officer, David Colyear, later earl of Portmore, whom he accused of intriguing behind his back for a promotion which Claverhouse regarded as rightfully his. They came to blows, and Lochiel records Claverhouse as striking Colyear with a cane. He was seized by guards and brought before William for what was at that time a serious crime: attacking a fellow officer could be punished by the loss of the striking arm. Claverhouse apologized, but went on to bring up the question of his promotion, to which William, in dismissing him, responded: 'I make you full reparation for I bestow on you what is more valuable than a regiment—I give you your right arm' (ibid., 25).

Claverhouse's name was brought to the attention of Charles II's brother, James, duke of York, perhaps by William himself, and in February 1678 after returning to Scotland, he was, on James's personal recommendation, given command of one of three independent troops of horse, raised to deal with growing ferment from covenanters in the south-west of Scotland. On 23 September he was gazetted as captain, on pay of 14s. a day, with an allowance of 4s. for two horses. His brief was to patrol the extreme south-west area of Dumfriesshire and Annandale, to break up the field conventicles being held there by covenanting ministers, and to maintain law and order.

Defeat at Drumclog

A number of Claverhouse's letters sent at this time to his commanding officer, the earl of Linlithgow, reveal frustration at his lack of resources, but also the punctiliousness of a junior officer determined not to put a foot wrong. On 28 December 1678 he wrote:

my Lord, they tell me that the one end of the bridge in Dumfries is in Galloway and that they may hold conventicles at our nose, we do not dare to dissipate them seeing our orders confines us to Dumfries and Annandale. Such an insult as that would not please me and on the other hand I am unwilling to exceed orders. So that I may expect from your lordship orders how to carry in such uses?

Linklater and Hesketh, 33

Among his early actions was the destruction of a barn suspected of being used for a conventicle, and the disciplining of one of his soldiers for shooting a horse. In February 1679 he was given extra powers by an act of parliament conferring on him the role of sheriff depute of Dumfries, Annandale, Wigtown, and Kirkcudbright. Along with the title went rights to arrest, impose fines, and prosecute anyone failing to attend church services. These civil duties brought him into conflict not only with local people but with William Douglas, third earl of Queensberry, and sheriff of Dumfriesshire, who became a political opponent. In March, Claverhouse wrote to Linlithgow, warning of open rebellion. His predictions were borne out following the murder on 3 May of Archbishop Sharp, the escape of his assassins to the west, and the burning, on 29 May—the king's birthday—of anti-covenant acts of parliament on the streets of Rutherglen. Although Claverhouse and his fellow-officer, Lord John Ross, had fewer than 500 officers and men between them, Claverhouse rode out immediately to Rutherglen, leaving Ross with his troops in Glasgow.

Learning that another large conventicle was due to take place that Sunday, 1 June, near Loudon Hill, south-west of Hamilton, Claverhouse made for the little village of Strathaven, east of Loudon. As he wrote later: 'I thought we might make a little tour, to see if we could fall upon a conventicle; which we did, little to our advantage' (Linklater and Hesketh, 42–3). It was something of an understatement. The battle of Drumclog, which took place that day, was to be his first and only military defeat. The covenanting force outnumbered his men by as much as two to one, and though they were poorly armed, their commander was the remarkable William Cleland, just nineteen years old, a poet as well as a soldier, with military skills beyond his age. Taking advantage of the ground, a hill overlooking a boggy marsh which prevented Claverhouse's horse from charging, Cleland's men closed in for hand-to-hand combat, causing some of the dragoons to lose their nerve and fall back. Claverhouse's own mount was attacked by a pitchfork, which 'made such an opening in my sorrel horse's belly, that his guts hung out half an ell' (ibid., 46). Maddened by the wound, the horse bolted, taking Claverhouse from the field. The retreat became headlong, and the beaten and dispirited dragoons fled back towards Glasgow. Drumclog was, in reality, no more than a skirmish, but it was still a defeat. As Claverhouse admitted in a report that night: 'I saved the standards; but lost on the place about eight or ten men … the dragoons lost many more … I made the best retreat the confusion of our people would suffer' (ibid., 46). He seems not to have been censured for this defeat by the privy council, but his independent command now came to an end, and his troop of horse guards were absorbed into the duke of Monmouth's army which defeated the covenanting force on 22 June at the battle of Bothwell Bridge.

The king's servant

Claverhouse was now summoned to London to attend the court, and it was during the three years from 1679 to 1682 that his close association with James, duke of York, later James II (James VII of Scotland) began. He was a regular visitor to the court, both in London and at Windsor, and on one occasion travelled to France with the duke's party. When James was appointed high commissioner in October 1679, as Charles II's representative in Scotland, Claverhouse accompanied him north. He continued his policing duties in the west, but was again summoned to join the duke on his return journey to England in February 1680. It is clear that he was much favoured by James, who rewarded his loyalty with the small estate of Freuch in Galloway. Claverhouse also, at this time, began a lengthy correspondence with the earl of Menteith with a view to winning the hand of the earl's niece Helen Graham, the heir to his estates; his suit, however, was unsuccessful. In 1681 he was a member of the assize (or jury) in the trial of the duke of Argyll who had been unable to swear the newly drafted oath of loyalty brought in under the Test Act. He was also granted two newly vacant titles, the heritable sheriffdom of Wigtown and the heritable regality of Tongland, north of Kirkcudbright, and commissioned to act as sheriff depute in the neighbouring districts of Dumfries, Annandale, and Kirkcudbright. He reported directly to Queensberry, who was now lord justice-general.

To bring order to a troubled area Claverhouse devised a scheme whereby dissenters who agreed to attend their local church were offered an amnesty, while ringleaders who continued to hold illegal conventicles were severely punished. He asked for government funds to raise a hundred dragoons and establish a permanent garrison in the area. The plan appears to have worked. Two known ringleaders were captured and sent to Edinburgh for trial, while local landowners were told to ensure their tenants attended church. By April 1682 he was able to report to Queensberry:

[T]his country is now in perfect peace; all who were in rebellion are either seized, gone out of the country, or treating their peace; and they have already conformed, as going to the Church, that is beyond my expectation. In Dumfries, not almost all the men are come, but the women have given obedience … I do expect to see this the best settled part of the Kingdom on this side the Tay.

Linklater and Hesketh, 76–7

The privy council recognized the success of Claverhouse's efforts and on 15 May 1682 he was summoned before it to be thanked for his ‘diligence’ in fulfilling his commission in Galloway. However, his methods brought him into conflict with Sir James Dalrymple, the lord president and a powerful local laird, who, together with his son, Sir John Dalrymple, resented Claverhouse's jurisdiction. Claverhouse responded by arresting a number of Dalrymple tenants. When Sir John protested he was forcibly removed from a courtroom in Strathaven, where Claverhouse had been taking evidence. Sir John described the events in a letter:

Claverhouse became so rude and enraged that though there were an hundred present who were not members, yet Claverhouse did cause his soldiers and officers take [me] by the shoulders from the table, which was an indignity that his Majesty's justice, and princely generosity, does not allow to be offered to a gentleman.

Linklater and Hesketh, 87

Sir John instituted legal action and Claverhouse responded by mounting a case for criminal libel. On 14 December the privy council found Dalrymple guilty, stripped him of judicial office, fined him £500, and committed him prisoner in Edinburgh Castle during the council's pleasure. Claverhouse, on the other hand, was acquitted of any wrongdoing and complimented for his faithful and diligent service to the king. On Christmas day 1682 a commission gazetted 'our right trusty and well beloved John Graham of Claverhouse' to be colonel of a newly formed regiment, 'His Majesty's Regiment of Horse' (ibid., 89).

Claverhouse's close connections with the duke of York were cemented by two months in spring 1683 spent in royal circles in London, Newmarket, and Windsor. He also acquired the lands and castle of Dudhope, not far from the Claverhouse estates near Dundee. On 11 May 1683 he was sworn of the privy council. His immediate duty was to accompany the circuit court which opened in Stirling and whose task was to ensure that the local citizenry swore oaths of loyalty according to the test acts. Most did so, though one man, William Bogue, prevaricated, was put on trial, and sentenced to death for high treason. Claverhouse's verdict on the affair is a fair summary of his own philosophy:

I am as sorry to see a man die, even a whig, as any of themselves. But when one dies justly, for his own faults, and may save a hundred to fall in the like, I have no scruple.

Linklater and Hesketh, 100

Claverhouse now contracted a marriage which could hardly have been less suitable. Jean Cochrane (c.1664–1695) was barely twenty years of age and came from a prominent whig family who were fervent supporters of the covenant. Claverhouse took the precaution of asking for the king's permission, which was granted, and on 10 June 1684 the couple were married at Paisley, with a guard of honour formed by Claverhouse's own troopers. In mid-celebration the bridegroom was called away to break up a conventicle in Lanarkshire. The search was fruitless, but subsequent incidents suggested that trouble might be flaring up again in the west, and harsh reprisals began to be taken. Six men, captured by Claverhouse's troop near Closeburn in Dumfriesshire, were taken prisoner and sent to Edinburgh where they were summarily tried and executed.

The killing time

These incidents mark the beginning of a period sometimes known as the ‘killing time’, with which Claverhouse's name, in the form of ‘bluidy Clavers’, has long been associated. According to some historians of the covenant he was the principal protagonist in imposing a brutal regime, which involved summary execution, torture, imprisonment, and banishment. He was said to be 'imbued with a disregard of individual rights', as well as being 'careless of death', and 'ruthless in inflicting it on others' (Wodrow, 3.68). He is variously said to have terrorized children into identifying the whereabouts of their parents by lining them up and firing over their heads, wrecking the homes of suspects, and extorting money by threat. Daniel Defoe, who came to Scotland some years later, accused him of murdering above a hundred of the persecuted people, 'several with his own hand' (Owens and Furbank, 6.194). These accounts are grossly exaggerated. Careful analysis of the evidence suggests that Claverhouse was directly involved in only three executions at the most, though he was undoubtedly rigorous in the pursuit of his duties. Early in September 1684 he was assigned to another itinerant court, set up by the privy council, which had wide powers to summon suspects and hand down draconian sentences. In November two life guards were attacked and killed, prompting the privy council to pass a resolution which was, in effect, a licence for summary execution. Claverhouse was later accused of carrying out just such an execution, in early December, against one William Graham, a tailor from Crossmichael in Kirkcudbright, whose gravestone claims that he was 'instantly shot dead by a party of Claverhouse's troops' (Linklater and Hesketh, 119). Yet, the date (1682) is wrong, and the details were not written down until six years later. Claverhouse was, however, involved in direct action following an attack by a large party of rebels on the town of Kirkcudbright on 16 December. He caught up with a small band of rebels on Auchencloy Moor, killed five men and took three prisoner. Later he presided at the trial of two of the prisoners, Robert Smith of Glencairn and Robert Hunter, and passed sentence of death upon them. The two were immediately executed. He also ordered that one of those killed in the skirmish, James Macmichael, should be disinterred from the graveyard at Dalry church and hanged on the local gibbet under the law of laesa majestas, intended as a demonstration that justice had been done, even after death.

Meanwhile, the resentment of Queensberry towards Claverhouse and his alleged arrogance grew into an open quarrel. Complaints were sent to the duke of York amid rumours that Claverhouse was not being tough enough on the rebellious whigs in Ayrshire because of his wife's connections. He was ordered to move his court to Fife, and requested to pay back fines which he had spent on his soldiers' expenses. A month after the death of Charles II and the succession of James, he was summoned before the privy council by Queensberry and ordered to account for the fines he had collected. On 2 March 1685 he was stripped of his place on the council. Less than two months later, however, he was reinstated after formally apologizing to Queensberry, and by May was back in the saddle in Ayrshire.

Within days Claverhouse was involved in one of the most controversial incidents of his military career, when he rode into the village of Priesthill and questioned a man called John Brown, suspected of being a rebel. When Brown refused to take the oath, he was executed on the spot. Later covenanting versions claimed that Brown and his wife had been treated with great cruelty. Claverhouse's own report to Queensberry says only that after Brown had refused to acknowledge the king and following the discovery of arms and incriminating papers in his house, 'I caused shoot him dead, which he suffered very unconcernedly' (Linklater and Hesketh, 129). A second incident involved a young man, Andrew Hislop, from Gillesby in Annandale, accused of sheltering a wounded rebel. He was found by Claverhouse and his troops, and brought before the local steward depute, Sir James Johnstone of Westerhall, who ordered his execution. When the commander of a highland infantry company in the area refused to carry it out, Claverhouse ordered his own troops to do the job.

Another execution connected to Claverhouse is described on a tombstone in the churchyard of Colmonell in Carrick, which records the death, at Claverhouse's hand, of one Matthew McIlwraith. There is no record to confirm this statement, though the name Matthew Meiklewraith is listed on the lengthy roll of wanted men published in May 1684, so he may have met the same fate as John Brown. These three cases are the only ones that can be ascribed directly to Claverhouse and his soldiers. He may well have been severe in interrogation and zealous in pursuit of rebels, but he cannot, despite the subsequent covenanting mythology, be accused of unnecessary cruelty.

Fugitive and rebel

In the aftermath of the invasion by Argyll in May 1685 Claverhouse was promoted to the rank of brigadier. Later he journeyed south to see the king, and found himself sufficiently in favour to have the fines extracted from him by Queensberry repaid in full. On 21 December his regiment was given the title 'His Majesty's Own Regiment of Horse', and later he became a major-general with a pension of £200 sterling a year 'during pleasure' (Linklater and Hesketh, 137, 141). Records in Dundee show that with the return of relative peace to the west of Scotland he was able to spend more time on his estates at Dudhope, taking his seat on the local bench, and extracting local tolls and taxes on behalf of the town. In the course of the next two years he also journeyed south to Bath, where he took the waters, and London, where his portrait was painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller.

At the end of October 1688 Claverhouse, with his 357-strong regiment, joined the king and was with him in the days following the landing at Torbay of William of Orange on 5 November. One week later he was raised to the Scottish peerage as viscount of Dundee and Lord Grahame of Claverhouse, in recognition of 'good and eminent services … together with his constant loyalty and firm adherence (on all occasions) to the true interests of the Crown' (Linklater and Hesketh, 145). He was among those who attempted to persuade James to resist William's advance, and was said to have been so shocked at hearing news of the king's flight that he broke down in tears. While with his cavalry at Watford he received a letter from William inviting him to join the invading forces. He refused, and on 13 December met leading Scots figures in London to discuss the future. He was to see the king only once more, when James unexpectedly returned to London, having failed to cross the Channel. He promised that once he was in France he would commission Dundee lieutenant-general and commander-in-chief of the Scottish army.

Early in February 1689 Dundee and the earl of Balcarres, accompanied by their troops, headed back to Scotland and the temporary security of Dudhope Castle, where Lady Dundee was expecting her first child. On 14 March the two peers attended the convention set up in Edinburgh to determine whether Scotland would back James or William. When it became clear that the convention would side with William, Dundee, with fifty troopers, rode out of Edinburgh, stopping only at the castle, where he spoke to the duke of Gordon who held it for the king. According to legend Gordon asked him where he was heading, to which Dundee replied 'Wherever the spirit of Montrose shall direct me' (Linklater and Hesketh, 159). He reached Stirling on 19 March, but found it no longer in friendly hands. He therefore rode on to Dunblane, where he met the first of his highland supporters, Alexander Drummond of Balhaldie, son-in-law of the influential highland chief Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel. Next day he returned to Dudhope to wait for news from James and to be with his wife for the birth of their child. A herald was sent to demand his surrender, and when he refused a proclamation was drawn up condemning his actions and pronouncing 'the said Viscount Dundee fugitive and rebel' (ibid., 163). Towards the end of March Lady Dundee gave birth to a son, James, who was baptized on 9 April at the church of Mains near Dundee. On 16 April, Dundee raised the royal standard on the heights of Dundee Law, and set out for the highlands.

The general who opposed Dundee was Hugh Mackay of Scourie. He arrived at Leith on 24 March with troops of the Scots brigade from Holland and was commissioned commander-in-chief of the forces under the convention. Mackay's army, amounting to no more than 1100 men, marched north to Brechin and Fettercairn, hoping for the support of prominent highlanders, including Ludovic Grant of that ilk, sheriff of Inverness, the master of Forbes, and the earl of Atholl. Unlike Mackay, Dundee understood instinctively how to win the loyalty and enthusiasm of the highlanders, and weld them into a potent force. He also knew how to move swiftly through the straths and hills of north-east Scotland, keeping well ahead of Mackay's more ponderous army. His strength at this stage was barely more than 200 men, though he hoped to recruit more in Lochaber, from what Lochiel described as 'the confederacy of clans' (Linklater and Hesketh, 161). In early May he issued a royal letter asking the clans to gather on 18 May.

Before then Dundee made a surprise move south to Blair Castle, a key stronghold which commanded the route south to Stirling and north to Inverness. There he received a warm welcome from Atholl's factor, Patrick Steuart of Ballechin, before striking further south, and capturing the city of Perth. He approached, but did not attack Dundee, and then turned back to the highlands after spending a night at Glenogilvie with his wife. The whole exercise had been a brilliant stroke of propaganda, and when on 18 May the clans gathered at Dalcomera, on the north bank of the River Spean, he was able to recruit an army of some 2000, led by clan chiefs including MacDonnell of Glengarry, Cameron of Lochiel, MacDonald of Morar, and MacIain of Glencoe. Later adherents came from the MacDonalds of Sleat, the captain of Clanranald, Sir John Maclean of Duart, MacNeil of Barra, Macleod of Raasay, and the MacGregor clan. Dundee hoped that reinforcements and supplies would come also from James, whose armies were now in Ireland, but despite promises, none was forthcoming. After a week spent drilling his clan army he marched east.

On 26 May, Mackay moved south from Inverness with 100 troopers, 140 dragoons, 200 foot, and 200 highland supporters. Over the next ten days the two armies criss-crossed northern Scotland. A few small skirmishes between stragglers, a castle or two sacked, and some booty seized was the sum total of military activity. Both leaders, Mackay and Dundee, suffered illness in the course of the campaign, and both found difficulty in keeping their armies up to strength. Finally, Dundee pulled back to Lochaber to recoup, while Mackay took his army north to Inverness. It was now augmented by 300 dragoons commanded by Colonel Berkeley, 700 foot under Sir James Leslie, 300 men of the earl of Leven's and Colonel Hastings's regiments, three regiments of the Scots brigade, and 200 highlanders.

On 18 July a reward of 18,000 merks was offered for Dundee dead or alive, and this was supplemented by another, more generous one of £20,000 sterling. But Dundee was not betrayed. He had received documents from James, who was laying siege to Londonderry, commissioning him officially as lieutenant-general of the king's forces in Scotland, and giving him authority to offer commissions to the clan chiefs and proclaim war against the government in Edinburgh. There was also a promise of reinforcements. However, instead of the 5000 troops promised from Ireland, Dundee eventually received 300 poorly trained Irishmen, under the command of Colonel Alexander Cannon, who knew little of the highlands, and nothing of clan warfare. Nevertheless, the king's letter encouraged Dundee to send out messages to wavering clans that they should join the cause or suffer the consequences. His army still numbered fewer than 2000, together with a small troop of no more than fifty horse, but on hearing news that Steuart of Ballechin had taken control of Blair Castle, a vital garrison controlling the route south towards Stirling, he marched out from Lochaber on 22 July and headed south. Despite the lack of support, morale among the clansmen was high. As Drummond of Balhaldie later wrote: 'he had gained so upon the affections of his small army that, though half-starved, they moved forward as cheerfully as if they had not felt the least effects of want' (Linklater and Hesketh, 202). Late on the night of 26 July they reached Blair Castle, where Dundee held a council of war.

Victory and death

Meanwhile, Mackay's army had regrouped in Edinburgh before setting out north again. On the morning of Saturday 27 July the troops, with their long baggage train, came through the Pass of Killiecrankie, emerging on low ground beside the River Garry, with the rising slopes of the Creag Eallaich Hill to their right. Here Mackay first spotted some detachments of the highlanders. Ordering his troops to march some way up the hill to their right, he halted his battalions above Urrard House, then deployed them in a long line, three men deep, with their backs to the river. He dropped his troops of horse back from a gap in the centre, with the cannon in front of them. In hot sunshine, they awaited the enemy.

Dundee and his force had left Blair Castle at dawn, taking the highlanders in a circling movement southwards, behind the Hill of Lude, emerging on the heights of Creag Eallaich, overlooking Mackay's army. Seeing the length of the enemy's line he spaced the highlanders along the ridge, keeping the clans well packed, but with wide intervals between them. Each was assigned to aim for one of Mackay's battalions. He placed the cavalry in the centre. There were some small skirmishes in the course of the afternoon, but it was not until around eight o'clock in the evening, as the sun was beginning to set, that Dundee gave the order to charge. The clansmen set off down the slopes, screaming their battle-cries 'like one great clap of thunder' as Balhaldie put it (Linklater and Hesketh, 215). As they did so, they threw aside their plaids. Clutching only their muskets, swords, and targes, they headed straight for the enemy lines, pausing only to discharge their muskets—too early, as it happened, to cause much damage. A withering volley from Mackay's musketeers opened up some gaps among the highlanders, but they came together, and, drawing their broadswords, charged straight into the enemy lines. Mackay's left wing broke and fled almost immediately, but Leven's and Hastings's battalions loosed off musket fire into the flanks of the charging Camerons, inflicting great damage. Viscount Kenmure's foot soldiers in the centre also brought down a number of Glengarry's men. But then a troop of horse under Lord Belhaven, ordered forward by Mackay to attack Glengarry in the flank, wheeled suddenly left, panicked, and careered back onto Kenmure's men, scattering them as they galloped through the ranks. The combination of Glengarry's charge and the panicking horses was enough to break the battalion, which turned and fled. At the same time Annandale's troop, which had wheeled right to attack Cameron of Lochiel's men, also scattered, taking part of Leven's battalion with them. Mackay rode forward to steady his line, but it had already broken, with soldiers fleeing back down the hill towards the river and the Pass of Killiecrankie, pursued by the clansmen, who caused great slaughter as they trapped them in the mouth of the pass. Only Leven's battalion, and half of Hastings's, remained where they were.

Dundee himself had waited briefly on the ridge before the highlanders set off, then spurred his horse downhill, heading straight for the centre of Mackay's line. As he approached, the cavalry troop behind him under the command of one of King James's officers, Sir William Wallace, swerved left, perhaps to avoid a patch of marshy ground, leaving Dundee isolated. A small group of mounted officers, including Dunfermline and Pitcur, galloped forward to fill the gap, but Dundee was lost in a cloud of smoke. One report has it that Dunfermline saw him turn in his saddle and raise his arm to signal for Wallace's men to come up and join him. At this point he was struck in the left side by a bullet, which may have hit him in the gap exposed beneath the armour as he raised his arm. He fell from his horse and died soon afterwards, attended by a soldier called Johnston. His last words were reported by Lieutenant John Nisbet of Kenmure's regiment, who was taken prisoner, and heard later at Blair Castle what happened. Dundee is said to have asked Johnston, 'How goes the day?', to which Johnston replied, 'Well for the King, but I am sorry for your Lordship'. 'It is the less matter for me', said Dundee, 'seeing that the day goes well for my master' (Linklater and Hesketh, 220). That night his body was stripped of its armour, possibly by men from clan Cameron. Next day it was wrapped in a plaid and taken to the church at Blair Atholl where it was placed in a rough coffin and buried on 29 July in a vault alongside that of Pitcur, who had also been killed in the battle. Dundee's armour and some of his clothes were later recovered by his brother. Today the breastplate can be seen at Blair, with a fake hole drilled in the centre of it on the instructions of the fourth duke of Atholl 'to improve its warlike appearance' (ibid., 221). A tablet marks the site of Dundee's burial place.

Although Killiecrankie was a total victory for Dundee's forces, with Mackay's losing up to a third of its strength—perhaps 1200 men and 500 prisoners—the general himself escaped, together with most of Leven's regiment and half of Hastings's. Losses on the highland side were far smaller—perhaps 700 dead and 200 wounded—but the clan chiefs, at the head of their men, suffered disproportionately, with MacDonalds of Sleat, Macleans, and Camerons losing some of their best men. Following Dundee's death leadership of the clan army passed to Colonel Cannon, who was to prove an ineffective commander. He was defeated three weeks later at the battle of Dunkeld, by a small force of Cameronians under the command of the soldier-poet William Cleland. Within a year the highland rising was effectively over.

For Dundee's family reprisals were inevitable. On his death the title passed to his infant son, James, but in early December the child died, and Dundee's brother, David, succeeded to the viscountcy. David was taken prisoner in September 1689 and, though released later that year, was stripped of the Dudhope estates and the title. Dundee's widow, who had left Dudhope to go to her Cochrane relatives in the west, returned to Edinburgh, and later married Colonel William Livingstone of Kilsyth, with whom she had a son. Both mother and child died in a freak accident on 15 October 1695 when the roof of an inn at Utrecht in Holland, where they were staying, collapsed, killing them both. They were brought back to Scotland for burial in the Livingstone's family churchyard at Kilsyth.


Dundee's reputation as a military commander rests on his brilliant campaigning skills, the loyalty he engendered among the highland clansmen, and his victory at Killiecrankie. His qualities of leadership and his youthful good looks meant that to his supporters, and to historians of the romantic school, he was celebrated as Bonnie Dundee. But his earlier military career in the west of Scotland is seen in a very different light; there he is still remembered as bluidy Clavers. Sir Walter Scott did much to reinforce the image of Dundee as a vengeful persecutor in his novel Old Mortality; while Lord Macaulay described him as: 'Rapacious and profane, of violent temper and obdurate heart, [he] has left a name which, wherever the Scottish race is settled on the face of the globe, is mentioned with a peculiar energy of hatred' (Macaulay, 498). Later historians have presented a more balanced picture, and it would be fair to say that close study of his life reveals a man guided rather by obedience to an unsatisfactory monarch than by any notably vindictive qualities. His loyalty to James was fundamental, both as a subject, an officer, and a friend. Dundee's letters are studded with references to the royal service, the importance of discipline and good order, and his abhorrence of lawlessness. For him the king was the ultimate commanding officer. It was, therefore, by a natural, and to him quite unsurprising logic that Dundee, the great disciplinarian, eventually found himself a rebel. The fact that his dedication was to drive him, against all his soldierly instincts, into open revolution, makes him at once an intriguing and courageous human being.


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