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Kilsyth, A Parish History
Chapter V


Lady Livingston’s Epitaph; Viscount Dundee—His Life a Biographical Problem—His Avariciousness—From Cornet to Peer—Birth—College Life—In the Army of William—Joins Royalists—Sent to Scotland—Drumclog—John King’s Invitation—Dundee’s Marriage—Jean Cochrane’s Beauty and Constancy—The Cases of John Brown and Andrew Hislop— Attends the Convention—Rallies the Clans—Killiecrankie.

In the churchyard of Kilsyth there is a mural tablet bearing the following inscription :—

“Beneath this stone are deposited the remains of Jean Cochrane, Viscountess of Dundee, wife of the Hon. William Livingston of Kilsyth, and their infant son. Their deaths were caused by the falling in of the roof, composed of turf, of a house in Holland. Mr. Livingston was with difficulty extricated. The lady, her child, and nurse were killed. This occurred in the month of October, 1695. In 1795 the vault over which the church at that time stood having been accidentally opened, the bodies of Lady Dundee and her son, which had been embalmed and sent from Holland, were found in a remarkable state of preservation. After being for some time exposed to view, the vault was closed. The lady was the daughter of William, Lord Cochrane, who predeceased his father, William, first Earl of Dundonald. She married first John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount of Dundee, who was killed at the battle of Killiecrankie, 1689; and, secondly, the Honourable’William Livingston, who succeeded his brother as third Viscount of Kilsyth in 1706. Lord Kilsyth married secondly, Barbara, daughter of Macdougall of Makerston, but dying under attainder at Rome in 1733, without surviving issue, the whole family became extinct.”

Such is the epitaph, and every line of it is suggestive. What a story it contains of plottings and conspiracies, of banishments and providential visitations, of bereavements and broken affections, of political revolution and tumult, of love and war, of estrangement and strife, and of the extinction of a noble and lordly line. How suggestive are its brief clauses to the mind of the Scottish patriot. It is a witness, a reminder, of “those ages of darkness and blood, when the minister’s home was the mountain and wood.”

Although over two hundred years have elapsed since the death of Dundee, and although every event in his career has been fully expiscated, his life must still be regarded as an unsolved biographical exercise and problem. And it is so, not because there is anything specially intricate or peculiarly difficult of apprehension in the life itself, but it has invariably been approached and estimated in the interests of a bitter, envenomed, and uncompromising partisanship. Dundee’s biographers have either been his sworn friends or his open foes. And so far as the literary portrait is concerned, the results are what might have been expected. The one class have loaded his memory with execration, the other have spoken of him in the language of the loftiest panegyric. The one have represented him as almost a fiend in human form— a man from whose body the leaden bullets of the Covenanters rebounded harmless; the other have placed him on the pedestal of the idol, and poured out before his shrine those oblations only rendered to the demi-gods. The interest excited by his name is still extraordinary. To one class of men to this hour he is the “Bloody Claverhouse,” to another he is still “Bonnie Dundee.”

This extraordinary partisanship is not without its excuse, for surely there never was human character that presented a finer field for the operations of the special pleader than that of Claverhouse. If it is wanted to brand his memory, there is lying ready to hand the cases of Andrew Hislop and John Brown, “The Christian Carrier.” If it is wanted to prove him an incompetent general, there is the defeat at Drumclog. And if evidence is wanting of his tyranny, there is his whole grinding policy towards the men of the West. On the other hand, if it is wanted to champion his character there is his life of singular moral purity, and his incorruptible integrity of purpose. If it is desired to vindicate his humanity and clemency, there are the pardons he granted to all those poor wretches lying in Dundee prison under sentence of death for petty offences. Again, if it is desired to prove his statesmanship and generalship, there are the rallying of the clans, and the battle of Killiecrankie.

This debating-society method of looking at the character of Dundee is not the right one. This is a case where a conjunct view is imperatively called for, and where such a view has been delayed to the detriment of the truth. Character is never found in its purely elemental forms. There is invariably a mingling of purer and baser ingredients, and if we look on Claverhouse without prejudice, he is very far indeed from being any exception to this rule. He is neither so black as his enemies have painted him, nor so great as such panegyrists as Scott, Aytoun, and Napier would lead us to suppose. A close glance at his career makes at once apparent the singular brevity of his active life. A casual student of Claverhouse might well be tempted to infer that he had held office in Scotland for a long period, and that while in this land he had performed repeated efforts of the most exalted heroism. These things are not so. Such power as he had in Scotland was limited to a space of eleven years. He only fought two battles —Drumclog and Killiecrankie. His defeat at Drumclog led on to a rebellion. His victory at Killiecrankie was barren of result. So far as furthering the cause of James II. was concerned, that battle might as well never have been fought. A great general is the child of great occasions, but to Dundee there only came the single opportunity. That he used it well is undoubted, that he would have followed it up involves “a might have been,” of which the historian cannot take account. It was indicative of the possession of power, but all it really does is to elevate Dundee to the position of the Marcellus of Scottish military story.

There is a prominent feature in Dundee’s character that has been wholly left out of account. I refer to his avariciousness, and the rapidity with which he rose to position and fortune. A general who can be relied upon deserves to be substantially rewarded; but surely the Drumclog defeat is a wholly inadequate explanation of the lucrative posts which Dundee eagerly sought after, and which almost without a murmur were bestowed on him. Beginning life as a cornet, a soldier of fortune, he became Commander of His Majesty’s Forces in Scotland. A poor Scottish laird, he became a viscount. He held various sheriffships and commissionerships. The charge of the Dundee constabulary was not a distinguished place, but it was a fairly well-paid post, and he got it. In these short years he climbed to the top of the social tree, for he became a privy councillor, as well as a peer of the realm. He clutched at every confiscated estate. In 1680 he got the estate of Freugh, but he was not contented. Three years afterwards he captured the fine estate of Dudhope, near Dundee, of which Maitland, the proprietor, had been bereft. His own anxiety to get hold of Dudhope is a painful exhibition of covetousness. If Dundee had survived the battle of Killiecrankie, I can understand how a grateful King might have taken pride in rewarding proved merit, but what are we to think of all these emoluments and lands and honours, bestowed upon a man who had as yet given no more indication of military power than might have been well given by a sergeant of constabulary ? There is one, and only one, answer. For the carrying out of his relentless purposes against the grey Presbyterian Fathers of the Scottish Church, the King believed Claverhouse would be of real service to him, and that he had found in him an excellent and pliant tool in his hands.

John Graham was born in the year 1643—the year of the Solemn League and Covenant. He was come of a very old Scottish family, and was a descendant of the Grahams of Fintry. At the University of St. Andrews he showed an aptitude for mathematics, and developed an enthusiasm for Highland poetry. Determining to give himself to a military career, he enlisted as a volunteer in the service of France. Thereafter, in 1672, he went to Holland, and became a cornet in one of the cavalry regiments of William, Prince of Orange. At the battle of Seneff he rescued his leader from a marsh into which his horse had floundered, and, mounting him on his own steed, brought him off in safety when he was on the point of being taken. For this bit of spirited work William made him captain. A vacancy taking place in one of the Scotch regiments in Holland, Graham applied for the post, but, not receiving the nomination, he looked on the matter as a slight, threw up his commission, and in 1677 was back in England.

Receiving a lieutenancy in a troop of horse under his kinsman, the Marquis of Montrose, he began rapidly to ascend the ladder. His presence was strongly in his favour. He was about middle height, but exceedingly handsome. He had a fine face and a martial bearing. He captivated all who came near him by the graces of his manner. To the open-heartedness and charm of his conversation he owed the high esteem in which he was held by Charles II. and James II. He impressed his superiors as being a thoroughly reliable and uncompromising officer. In the end of 1678 he was despatched with a troop of horse to Galloway to put down conventicles and field preachings, and generally to hold the Covenanters in check. The Act of 1670, imposing on our fathers the punishment of death and the confiscation of their goods, being still in operation, Graham’s work was of a most uncongenial character. He cannot have liked it, but he had a high idea of military discipline, and during the years he overran the western counties he committed those actions of rapine and cruelty which have loaded his name with reproach. Through his restless activity he struck terror into the hearts of the peasantry, and his troopers were so ubiquitous that they were known as “the ruling elders of the Kirk.”

After that Covenanter’s blunder, the murder of Archbishop Sharp on Magus Muir on the 5th May, 1679, Graham was called upon to exercise increased vigilance. And there was need, for the Covenanters were growing more and more determined in their cause. On Sunday, the first June, Graham came up with a considerable number of the men of the Covenant, exceedingly well posted on the marshy lands on the farm of Drumclog. South and north the ground sloped gently down to a soft, boggy hollow, through which ran a slow stream fringed with stunted alder bushes. At the foot of the southern slope, and with the burn between them and the enemy, the Covenanters, to the number of a thousand men, were artfully drawn up. Those who had fire-arms were nearest the stream, and these were backed by a line of pikemen. The pikemen were again backed by a line bearing various kinds of improvised weapons. At the extremities of their line were two small bodies of horse. Graham had under his command about 500 infantry and cavalry. The attack commenced with a skirmish of musketry. Hamilton, seeing his men were no match for the marksmen of Graham’s Foot, ordered them to the attack. Graham was precipitate, and poured down his troopers on the foe. In the swampy ground his horsemen were of little account and got badly cut up. Claverhouse fought personally with the most desperate valour.

“The leader rode among them
On his war horse black as night;
Well the Cameronian rebels
Knew that charger in the fight.’

With his own hand he recaptured one of his standards. But his individual prowess was vain. The Covenanters, led as they were never led after, fought with a valour equal to his own. Unable to manoeuvre, the cavalry of Claverhouse broke and fled, and the day was theirs. Graham narrowly escaped being taken. The victors lost but three men, whilst thirty-six dragoons were killed.

When the broken rabble streamed past the knoll, on which John King, a perfervid Covenanting preacher, was loudly chanting a psalm, he stopped in his singing, and with an audacity worthy of Gabriel Kettledrummle, bawled at the pitch of his voice to Claverhouse an invitation “to stay the afternoon sermon.” Three weeks later, at Bothwell Bridge, the Covenanters had a splendid opportunity of showing the stuff of which they were made; but, torn by internal jealousies, and disputing amongst themselves when they should have been fighting, their victory at Drumclog was more than revenged. At Bothwell Bridge Claverhouse was present, but was not called upon to come into action.

The veerings of love are frequently curious, often unaccountably capricious and extraordinary. When it was whispered that Claverhouse had set his affections on Jean Cochrane, people wondered, and with more reason than is often displayed in such cases, how of all ladies in the world he had thought of her. Jean was the youngest of a family of seven, a daughter of William, Lord Cochrane of Dundonald. She thus belonged to as strong and staunch a Presbyterian family as could be found in Scotland. The Edinburgh people said the country was to have the spectacle presented to them of the strong Royalist Samson getting his locks shorn in the lap of the Whiggish Delilah! Lady Catherine Cochrane, Jean’s mother, when she heard that her daughter was going to marry John Graham of Claverhouse, was beside herself with rage. When Dundee’s mother was made acquainted with the proposed match, her moral sense was also terribly shocked. When she heard of the consummation of her son’s nuptials, it is said that she knelt and fervently prayed to God that “should He see fit to permit the unworthy couple to go out of the world without some terrible token of His indignation, He would be pleased to make her some special revelation, to prevent her from utterly disbelieving in His providence and justice.” The Marquis of Hamilton tried to get the King to countermand the marriage. The latter action touched Claverhouse in a tender place, and stirred his blood. “I will, in despite of them,” he said, “let the world see that it is not in the power of love, nor any other folly, to alter my loyalty. ... As for the young lady herself, I shall answer for her. Had she not been right principled, she would never, in spite of her mother and relations, made choice of a persecutor, such as they call me.” And Jean stood unflinchingly by her lover whilst he fought out the Killiecrankie fight of his affections to a better than a Killiecrankie issue. Claverhouse settled on Jean 270 a year, and the marriage was pushed forward. On the 10th June, 1684, at Paisley, John Graham, a handsome bachelor of 41, led to the altar the young Jean Cochrane. A poet of the day wrote of her :—

“She while she lived, each woman did excel
In everything which we perfection call;
It seems tlie gods designed her outward form
Their masterpiece and standard uniform.”

Although the mothers did not attend the marriage, it went on as all marriages do in the circumstances—well enough without them. But Claverhouse’s marriage had a close which few marriages have. Whilst the ceremony was proceeding, news reached the church that the Whigs were up. The blessing had scarcely died on the clergyman’s lips, and the congregation had hardly realised the situation, when the groom had sprung to the stirrup and was off. His horse’s hoofs clattering away in the distance was witness enough that it was not yet in the power of love or any other folly to alter his devoted loyalty. Not till the beginning of August was he able to join his wife in the retirement of Dudhope; and in the few stormy years that were yet spared to him there is evidence that the young wife must have enjoyed but little of her husband’s society.

The connection of Claverhouse with the drowning of the Wigtown martyrs—Margaret Maclachlan and Margaret Wilson—has not been sufficiently established. Apart from that sad affair, the darkest deed, and one for which he was undoubtedly responsible, was the murder of John Brown of Priesthill. Wodrow says, that when tears and entreaties could not prevail, and Claverhouse had shot him dead, the widow said to him, “Well, sir, you must give an account of what you have done.” Claverhouse answered, “To men I can be answerable, and as for God, I will take Him into my own hand.” Patrick Walker, the pedlar, who says he received his version of the story from Brown’s widow, avers that Claverhouse did not shoot this worthy and pious man with his own hand, but that it was done by six of his soldiers. Claverhouse’s own account of this affair has now been unearthed, and is as follows:—“On Friday last, amongst the hills betwixt Douglas and the Ploughlands, we pursued two fellows a great way through the mosses, and in end seized them. They had no arms about them, and denied they had any. But being asked if they would take the abjuration, the eldest of the two, called John Brown, refused it; nor would he swear not to use arms against the King, but said he knew no King. Upon which—and there being found bullets and match in his house, and treasonable papers—I caused shoot him dead, which he suffered very unconcernedly.”

The case of Andrew Hislop is full of pathos. He was the son of a poor widow, and a Covenanter having died in her house, he was traitorously brought before Claverhouse and Westerhall, by one Johnstone, an apostate Presbyterian. Westerhall voted for the young man’s instant death. Claverhouse resisted and pled for his life. Westerhall stood firm; and at last Claverhouse yielded, saying—“The blood of this poor man be upon you, Westerhall, I am free of it.” That the masterful Claverhouse should not have stood firm in this case is, wholly unaccountable. I fear the greatest admirer o Claverhouse must conclude that the blood of this widow’s son is also spilt at his door. These are the two chief deeds of this kind which have rendered Dundee’s name infamous.

After the landing of the Prince of Orange, Dundee, in November, 1688, visited King James VII. in London. He urged upon that faint-hearted monarch the propriety of taking immediate action. He undertook to raise 10,000 troops and drive William out of the country. But what could be made of a King who, in a serious crisis of his fortunes, took more interest in fighting a main of cocks than in defending and holding his crown. James fled to France, and Dundee rode northward at the head of sixty faithful troopers. He attended the Convention at Edinburgh, but believing his life was not safe, he retired to Dudhope. The Convention ordered his return. He refused, and pushed northward to rally the clans. The Government offered ^30,000 for his head, and sent after him in pursuit General Hugh Mackay, with a well-equipped army. In a short space Dundee performed marvels of generalship and tactical ability. In the swiftness and dexterity of his movements he completely out-manoeuvred Mackay. Both generals being anxious to gain Blair Castle in Athole, the two armies, on Saturday, the 27th July, 1689, found themselves facing each other at the head of the Pass of Killiecrankie. Dundee had under command 2000 men, and Mackay had about double that number. Mackay’s men were disposed in the haughs, with the Garry in the rear, and behind the Garry the inhospitable mountains. He was in a trap from which only victory could deliver him. This was Dundee’s game. He had got the army into a position where it could not only be beaten, but annihilated. To prevent outflanking movements, Dundee’s army occupied the hillside. Lochiel was strongly opposed to Dundee taking personal part in the fight. Claverhouse begged that, like the commonest clansman, “he might be permitted to do a harvest-day’s darg for the King.” Dundee delivered a brief address to his troops. The sun set. The clansmen cast off their brogues and plaids. The pipes sounded, and the clans came down the hill. As they descended, slowly at the first, Mackay poured into their ranks a hot fire. When they came to the level ground the Highlanders discharged their muskets. Then, throwing their fire-arms away and drawing their claymores, with a terrific yell they burst, with the impetuosity of one of their own mountain torrents, on the ranks of the foe. The charge was so rapid that Mackay’s troops had no time to fix their bayonets when the broadswords were among them dealing death at every stroke. The onset was irresistible, and the Southrons fled like sheep. They were butchered in the Pass. They were drowned in the Garry. Mackay did all mortal man could do. He stood firm. But it was in vain he attempted to rally his men; in vain he spurred his charger into the thick of the flashing broadswords. Mackay left 2000 men dead on the field. Dundee’s loss is estimated at 900. Had the Highlanders not been attracted by the prospect of loot, it is probable Dundee’s game would have been played out, and not more than a score or two of the Government army been left to tell the tale. The battle of Killiecrankie was, on the part of Dundee, a finely planned and bravely executed piece of military work. But it was not the will of Providence he should reap from his victory anything beyond posthumous renown. As he waved his troops to the attack, a random ball struck him beneath the armpit, and wounded him fatally. That the shot was fired by one of his own troops, namely William Livingston, who had become possessed of a passion for his wife, is merely a popular delusion. At that moment that gentleman was lying a close prisoner in the Tolbooth in Edinburgh. Lady Dundee bore her husband one son, who died in infancy. It was thus Viscount Dundee passed to his rest and his account, a man in the inscrutable Providence of God a terror and a scourge to the people of Scotland.


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