In 1688 Parliament declared that James II had forfeited the
throne by fleeing to France and offered the crown to his
son-in-law William of Orange. William had landed on the south of
England on 5th November with a Dutch army in order to defend
protestant liberties. In Scotland, John Graham of Claverhouse,
Viscount Dundee, known to history as 'Bonnie Dundee' raised his
standard in support of the deposed Stuart king and raised an
army in the highlands.
After the successful revolution of 1688 William and Mary, James
II daughter, were confirmed as joint monarchs in 1689. The
supporters of James II were known as Jacobites, which comes from
the Latin word for James – Jacobus. Jacobite ambitions were not
restricted to Scotland and James II, his son James Francis
Edward (the Old Pretender) and Charles Edward (the Young
Pretender) were just as keen, if not more so, at regaining the
English throne, seeing Scotland largely as a stepping stone to
secure the southern realm. After all England was one of the
foremost powers in Europe.
Scotland was a poor country at the end of the 17th century, the
economy and agriculture stunted by decades of war. Roads were
rough and transport by land difficult and the growth of trade
was hampered by the lack of ships and properly developed
harbours. Lowland areas had particularly suffered during the
religious troubles while the highlands, often seen as lawless
and barbaric by the ‘peaceful’ and ‘sophisticated’ lowlander,
had largely been left to manage their own affairs.
highlands and lowlands were separated by more than geography.
Lowland areas had more in common with the English. The
highlanders spoke Gaelic rather than English, their dress and
traditions were distinct, such as wearing the plaid and the
playing of the bagpipes, clan organisation was paternalistic and
militaristic. This is not to say that the highlands were any
less cultured or advanced than the lowlands, only that it was
seen that way in the lowlands.
lowlands were also predominantly Protestant while there were
still areas in the highlands which were Roman Catholic.
Rebellion of 1689
Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, had gone north to rally
support for James. Claverhouse, as James’s lieutenant general,
raised an army, mostly composed of MacDonald's, Cameron's,
Stewarts and MacLean's. Among the army was the 18 year old Rob
Roy MacGregor, renowned for his skill with the broadsword.
Claverhouse was a professional soldier having served in France
and the Netherlands. While in Dutch service it is said that he
saved the life of William of Orange, then the Prince of Orange
and now his rival. Upon his return to Scotland he was put in
charge of a troop of dragoons charged with enforcing compliance
with the established religion. This brought him into conflict
with the Covenanters who gave him the nickname 'Bluidy Clavers',
although he urged moderation believing that severe punishment
would only alienate rather than convert.
Early on in the campaign Dundee managed to capture a government
messenger and learned that the government commander, General
Hugh Mackay of Scourie, a Highlander and former colleague of
Dundee’s was at hand with three regiments of foot and one of
horse. Foiling MacKays plan to capture the rebels, Dundee made a
run for Castle Gordon where the Earl of Dunfermline and a body
of gentry came in.
Dalwhinnie he issued a summons in the name of his king bidding
the clansmen to muster at Lochaber on 18th May and then slipping
past Mackay, he ambushed government tax collectors at Perth and
diverted their funds to the Jacobite cause. Having discouraged
some local lairds from raising men for King William he attempted
to reach the men of his old regiment stationed at Dundee, the
proposed defection was however baulked by the watchful eyes of
the Williamite troopers.
MacKay had been reinforced by a further pair of foot battalions
and felt strong enough to take the initiative. On 9th June
Government dragoons engaged 300 MacLean's marching to join the
Jacobite army, and sharp encounter saw the dragoons put to
flight, leaving most of their weapons and gear behind. Despite
this success and even Dundee’s charisma nothing could be done to
stop the increasing number of desertions as the clansmen, laden
with loot, slipped back homeward.
the next month there was little activity. Dundee resisted an
offer of truce and was declared and outlaw with £20,000 on his
head. He wrote a letter to Lord John Murray castellan at Blair
Castle, which he held for his absent father the Marquis of
Atholl, urging the young peer to declare for the king. The
castle was of considerable strategic value and its loss to
either side would be a grievous blow. Its was feared by Dundee
that Murray’s sympathies lay with William of Orange so he
decided to play safe by ordering the Marquis’s factor Stewart of
Ballochie, a known Jacobite, to raise the Athollmen and seize
control. The value of Blair was not lost on MacKay who chivvied
his battalions on to win the race that was fast developing. It
was Dundee who won, reaching the castle on 26th July with some
2,500 men. Mackay was left struggling past Dunkeld his force
The Battle of Killiecrankie
(27th July 1689)
Blair the Jacobites held a council of war. Through they
commanded the castle the government troops were known to be fast
approaching and many of the clan chiefs urged caution preferring
to refuse battle until all of the scattered clans had come in.
Dundee was more bullish stressing his men’s high morale and
found support from Lochiel, the most respected of the clan
leaders. The highlanders girded themselves for battle.
following dawn Mackay marched out of Dunkeld and by mid-morning
the army was approaching the pass of Killiecrankie, a narrow and
treacherous defile, enough to cause alarm to any commander of
regular troops. The track, little more than a pathway, wound for
two miles through the pass and, after a halt of two hours, the
troops began the long assent.
clear of the pass, MacKay made his headquarters at the nearby
Urrard House and deployed his battalions to meet Dundee’s
expected attack. On the Extreme left he posted a commanded party
of shot under Lt Colonel Landers. Next to these stood the
regiments of Balfour, Ramsey and Kenmure. The Cavalry formed the
centre and Leven's together with MacKay's own and Hastings stood
on the right.
Battle Map, Click to enlarge
the right of the Jacobite line stood the Macleod's and next to
them an Irish unit under Colonel Cannon, and then came the might
of clan Donald, men of Clan Ranald, Glengarry and Glencoe
flanked by Grants of Glenmoriston. In there centre there was a
bare 40 mounted men under Walter of Craighie while on the left
stood Cameron of Lochiel, MacLean's, MacDonald's of Kintyre the
McNeil's and MacDonald of Sleat.
Whilst the sun shone brightly in the eyes of his highlanders
Dundee’s would not advance. MacKay began a cannonade with his
light guns, after a short time the guns, under strain,
disintegrated. No casualties were inflicted on the Jacobite
line. At 8.00pm when the fierce glare of the summer sun began to
wane, Dundee shouted the charge. Concerned that his line might
be outflanked MacKay had divided his foot battalions. To
compound this folly he allowed a distinct gap to appear in the
center relying solely on his cavalry to hold the center.
the Jacobites hurled their slogans skimmed fleet-footed towards
the Williamites the lie of the ground caused them to edge to the
right exposing them to devastating enfilade from MacKay's right.
His regiment, Hastings and half of Levens avoided the furry of
the onslaught. On the left however the charge struck home, the
raw levies parrying swinging broadswords with clumsy bayonets,
the evening air ringing to the clash of steel. Lauders
fusiliers, Balfour's and half of Ramsey’s broke, spewing a
torrent of fugitives fleeing the merciless blades. In
desperation MacKay hurled his squadrons against the highlanders
flank but Belhaven’s troop were flung back their rout
disordering Kenmure’s shaken foot who, in turn, dissolved in
Mackay managed a fighting retreat with as many men as he could
muster, the dazed survivors falling back through the pass in the
gathering dusk making for Stirling. Behind he left more than
half his force, some 2000 men, dead or taken.
victors had also suffered. The opening volleys had torn great
gaps in their ranks and as many as 600 had fallen, including Sir
Donald MacDonald of Sleat. Amongst their loss was one who was
irreplaceable, Dundee himself. Observing the attack on the left
in difficulty he spurred towards his staled clansmen and as he
did so a random shot, probably one of the last, struck him in
the side. He fell and died shortly afterwards. John Graham had
died at the moment of his greatest victory and with him died the
Stuart cause in Scotland, for as Lochiel had predicted, there
was no one who could take his place.
The End of
Command of the Jacobite army fell to Colonel
Cannon who advanced the army down the valley of
the Tay heading for Perth. At Dunkeld their way
was barred by a force of 1200 covenanters led by
Lt Colonel William Cleland.
In the early hours of 21st August the Jacobites
attacked the town from all sides. The
covenanters fought back doggedly. When they had
ran out of ammunition they began to strip the
lead from the roof of the cathedral and as they
were forced back set fire to the houses they
Cleland made a final stand around the cathedral
and Dunkeld house repeatedly fighting off
Jacobite attacks. Cleland took a fatal shot to
the head, just as the highlanders were
The following year was to be a fatal one for the
Jacobite cause. In Ireland king James was
defeated at the battle of the Boyne and was
again forced to flee to France. His Scottish
army mustered again, led by Thomas Buchan. At
the beginning of May the government forces led
by Mackay, who was still in command, surprised
the Jacobites in camp near Cromdale. Over 400
prisoners were taken although both Cannon and
Buchan escaped. With this, 'The Rout of Cromdale',
the rebellion came to an inglorious conclusion.