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Historical Geography of the Clans of Scotland
By T. B. Johnston, F.R.G.S. and Colonel James A. Robertson
The Highland Campaigns
The Revolution - Killiecrankie (1689)


THE Revolution of 1688 passed off peacefully in England, but in Scotland, as in Ireland, the new regime only established itself after serious fighting.

The Convention of Estates, which transferred the crown of Scotland from the head of James II. to that of William of Orange, met at Edinburgh on March 14, 1689. King James had left England for ever in December. He had entrusted the charge of his civil affairs in Scotland to the Earl of Balcarres. The charge of his military affairs had been committed to Major-General John Graham of Claverhouse, who had just been raised to the peerage as Viscount Dundee. Claverhouse, who in his youth had served in France and Holland, had during the reigns of Charles., II. and James II. been the most active instrument in carrying out the coercive policy of the Scottish Government against the Covenanters, and in that connection has left a name of sinister significance in the history of Scotland. We are now to meet him as the devoted champion of a hopeless cause, and as a commander of Highland forces only second to his great kinsman Montrose.

The Convention began its work surrounded by an atmosphere of violence. No one knew when or how the storm might break. The Castle was held for the King by the Duke of Gordon. The city was full of armed men, Claverhouse’s old troopers on the one hand, and on the other the stern and fanatical Cameronians of the West, now eager for vengeance on their old enemies. Dundee was warned that his life and that of Sir George Mackenzie, the "Bloody Mackenzie" of the Covenanters, were in imminent danger. He applied in vain to the Convention for protection. In the Convention itself the King’s friends were in a hopeless minority. They accordingly resolved to withdraw to Stirling and there hold a convention by themselves—a course which had been authorised by the King. They met for this purpose on March 18, but at the instigation of the Marquis of Atholl they decided to postpone their departure for a day. Dundee, however, declared that he had some fifty troopers mounted and ready to start, and that he would not remain a day longer in Edinburgh. At the head of his troop he rode out under the Netherbow Port, down Leith Wynd, and along the line of road where Princes Street now stands. When he reached the foot of the Castle Rock he halted his troop, climbed the rock, and held an interview with the Duke of Gordon at the postern gate, still visible in the wall. Then he resumed his march towards Stirling.

His departure greatly alarmed the Revolutionary party in the Convention, who well knew that it meant trouble in the North. A party of horse was sent to bring him back. They overtook him, but returned with their mission unfulfilled. Claverhouse, it was said, assured their commander, Major Buntine, that he would send him back to his masters in a pair of blankets if he attempted to carry out his orders. The fugitives crossed the Forth at Stirling, and Claverhouse safely reached his house at Dudhope near Dundee.

A force of regular troops had been sent from England for the support and protection of the Convention. These consisted of 200 dragoons and some 1100 men of the Scots Dutch Brigade under Major-General Hugh Mackay of Scoury, who reached Edinburgh on March 25. The Convention called out the fencible men in the districts favourable to the Revolution, and sanctioned the formation under Lord Angus of a regiment of the Cameronians. There was much searching of heart among the "wild westland Whigs" as to whether they were free to take service under an uncovenanted King, but the issue of their deliberations was the formation of the famous Cameronian regiment—the 26th Foot—which, as we shall see, was soon to give proof of its valour.

Thus protected, the Convention proceeded with its work. On April 4 it passed the memorable resolution which sets forth the delinquencies of King James, and then proceeds to declare that "he hath forefaulted the right to the crown, and the throne is become vacant." On the 11th the Claim of Right was adopted, and William and Mary were declared King and Queen of Scotland. On the same day they were proclaimed at the Cross of Edinburgh.

No attempt was made by the garrison of the Castle to interfere with these proceedings. The Duke of Gordon could scarcely have done so had he wished. His garrison from the first did not exceed 160 men, and it was soon weakened by dissensions and desertions. His only object seems to have been to hold the Castle until it should appear how matters were going in the country. After various summonses the Castle capitulated on June 14.

After his departure from Edinburgh Dundee remained for some time at Dudhope. Ostensibly he was taking no part in public affairs, but he was still surrounded by the troopers with whom he had marched north, and he was in active correspondence with the Highland chiefs, in particular with the redoubtable Ewen Cameron of Locheil. Every Jacobite in Scotland looked to him for leadership, and he was regarded with proportionate alarm by the Whigs. He was cited on March 18 to appear in his place in Parliament, and a few days later was formally summoned to lay down arms, on pain of being dealt with as a traitor. He protested that he was living in peace in his own house, and that he had left the Convention because his life was in danger; in any case, he said, he begged the favour of a delay till after his wife’s expected confinement, and was willing to give security not to disturb the peace in the meantime.

On March 30 he was proclaimed a traitor. A force under Mackay was sent to seize him. Dundee and his troopers retreated north into the Gordon country, where he was joined by some sixty horse under Lord Dunfermline. During the next few weeks it is not easy—for the purposes of the present work it is not necessary—to follow him minutely in his rapid movements about the Highlands. We find him back at Dudhope, having eluded Mackay in the north. Mackay, in the meantime, at the head of some 450 men, had found his way into Deeside. The Master of Forbes met him there with a body of forty horse and some 500 foot, but, says Mackay, "these were so ill armed, and appeared so little like the work, that the General, thanking the Master for his appearance for their Majesty’s service, ordered him to dismiss those countrymen with orders to be ready to come together whenever any enemy party threatened their own province." Marching by Strathbogie, Mackay reached and occupied Elgin. There he remained for some time, and communicated with such of the northern chiefs and lairds as were understood to be friendly to the Revolution cause. They were not enthusiastic. "In all the progresses and marches of the General benorth Tay," says Mackay, "he testified to have remarked no true sence of the deliverance which God had sent them except in very few, and that the people in general were disposed to submit to and embrace the party which they judged most like to carry it, their zeal for the preservation of their goods going by them far beyond the consideration of religion and liberty."

In the meantime Dundee had appeared at Inverness, where Macdonald of Keppoch had arranged to meet him with 900 men. The situation which he found there is the subject of a well-known passage in Macaulay; it is more concisely described in Drummond of Balhaldy’s Memoirs of Lochiel. "He (Dundee) marched directly to Inverness and found Keppoch, who, instead of executing his commission, satt down before that toun, seized the Magistrats, and most wealthy citizens, and obliged them to pay him a sum of mony for their ransome before he consented to dismiss them. His Lordship was extreamly provocked and expostulated the matter with him in very sharp terms. He told him that such courses were extreamly injurious to the King’s interest, and that instead of acquiring the character of a patriot, he would be looked upon as a common robber and the enemy of mankind! Keppoch excused himself the best way he could, pretended that the toun was owing him sums equall to what he had received, and in place of conducting my Lord Dundee in the manner he was commissioned, he retreated into his own country." Dundee next retired into Lochaber, leaving Inverness to be occupied by Mackay. Then he made a swoop on the low country. On May 11 he raided Perth at midnight, carried off the lairds of Blair and Pollock as prisoners, and seized a large sum of public money. On the 13th he suddenly appeared before Dundee; Lord Rollo, who was encamped outside the town, had just time to retire within the walls.

Dundee then crossed the country by way of Rannoch into Lochaber, where he was received with all honour by Lochiel. Here a great muster of the clans had been arranged—from all the West Highlands and the Hebrides gathered Camerons, Macdonalds, Macleods, Macleans, all the hereditary enemies of the Campbells,—it was Montrose’s army over again. Dundee’s first idea was to make an attempt to discipline them as regular troops, but Lochiel convinced him that it was better to let the Highlander fight in his own way. [Lochiel’s views on the subject will be found in the Memoirs of Lochiel, pp. 250 et seq. They give an interesting account of the old Highland method of warfare. The same volume gives various instances of Dundee’s troubles with his unruly army, especially with the incorrigible Keppoch.] A vain attempt was made to get King James to come over from Ireland with reinforcements.

In the meantime Mackay at Inverness was trying to recruit his army from among the clans, with little success. Some Mackays joined him from the Reay country. He tried to bribe old Lochiel, who, "without opening the letters, brought them to my Lord Dundee and begged that he would be pleased to dictate the answers."

While Dundee was in Lochaber news reached him that Colonel Ramsay, with a force of 1200 men, was coming up from the south through the Atholl country to join Mackay at Ruthven Castle on the Spey, close to Kingussie. Dundee marched to intercept him. Ramsay precipitately retreated towards Perth, and Ruthven Castle was captured and destroyed by the Jacobites. Dundee, after an ineffectual attempt to surprise Mackay, marched up Glenlivat and into Strathdon. After some manoeuvring and skirmishing in Aberdeenshire, there came a pause in the campaign as if by mutual consent. Mackay, having left a garrison in Inverness, retired to Edinburgh. He had seen, as Cromwell saw after Dunbar, and as the Government saw in the eighteenth century, that the Highlands could only be permanently kept quiet by the establishment of permanent garrisons among them, and his object now was to induce the authorities to give effect to this view. Dundee in the meantime dismissed the bulk of his men to their homes for the present, and himself made a tour through the districts of some of the more remote clans to secure their support to his master’s cause.

It is in the middle of June that the curtain rises on the next act of the drama. The key of the central Highlands was Blair Castle. The Marquis of Atholl had retired to Bath, out of harm’s way, on the pretext of his health. Nothing could be done through him. Dundee in vain endeavoured to get Lord John Murray to declare for James. However, Stewart of Ballechin, the Marquis’s factor, was a trusty Jacobite, and Dundee solved the difficulty by preparing a commission authorising him to hold the castle for King James in the Marquis’s absence, and it was garrisoned accordingly. The clan thus found themselves with a divided allegiance; most of them ultimately sided with Ballechin and Dundee.

Mackay thereupon resolved to march into Atholl and possess himself of Blair at all costs, in the meantime begging Lord John Murray to do all he could to keep the Atholl men from joining Dundee. Mackay’s force now consisted of "six battalions of foot . . . with four troops of horse and as many dragoons"—between 3000 and 4000 men in all. He marched from Perth on July 23. On the 27th he reached the Pass of Killiecrankie.

Dundee in the meantime had reassembled his army. Lochiel joined him with 240 men. General Cannon arrived from Ireland at the head of a regiment which had been sent over by King James, "three hundred new-raised, naked, undisciplined Irishmen," Balhaldy calls them. The Macdonalds, Macleans, and other western clans joined in great numbers. There has been much dispute over the number of troops actually engaged under Dundee. It was probably something over 2000.

Dundee reached Blair on the night of July 26 or on the morning of the 27th. As soon as it was heard that Mackay was at the mouth of the Pass a council of war was held. Were they to fight him or not? Some of the old regular officers with the army thought not, the odds were too great. The Highland chiefs, on the other hand, were eager for battle. Lochiel’s counsel was emphatic and decided, "Fight immediately," he said, "for our men are in heart; they are so far from being afraid of their enemy that they are eager and keen to engage them, lest they escape their hands, as they have so often done. Though we have few men, they are good, and I can venture to assure your lordship that not one of them will fail you."

The story of the actual conflict is vividly told by Drummond of Balhaldy [The accounts of Killiecrankie vary somewhat as to details. Drummond had probably excellent opportunities of getting first-hand information.]:-

"Ane advice so hardy and resolute," says he, "could not miss to please the generous Dundee. His looks seemed to brighten with ane air of delight and satisfaction all the while Locheill was a-speaking. He told his councill that they had heard his sentiments from the mouth of a person who had formed his judgement upon infallible proofs drawn from a long experience, and ane intimate acquaintance with the persons and subject he spoke of. Not one in the company offering to contradict their General, it was unanimously agreed to fight.

"When the news of this vigorous resolution spread through the army, nothing was heard but acclamations of joy, which exceedingly pleased their gallant General; but before the council broke up, Locheill begged to be heard for a few words: ‘My Lord,’ said he ‘I have just now declared, in presence of this honourable company, that I was resolved to give ane implicite obedience to all your Lordship’s commands; but I humbly beg leave, in name of these gentlemen, to give the word of command for this ane time. It is the voice of your council, and their orders are that you doe not engage personally. Your Lordship’s business is to have an eye on all parts, and to issue out your commands as you shall think proper; it is ours to execute them with promptitude and courage. On your Lordship depends the fate not only of this little brave army, but also of our King and country. If your Lordship deny us this reasonable demand, for my own part I declare that neither I nor any I am concerned in shall draw a sword on this important occasion, whatever construction shall be putt upon the matter.’

"Locheill was seconded in this by the whole council; but Dundee begged leave to be heard in his turn: ‘Gentlemen,’ said he, ‘as I am absolutely convinced, and have had repeated proofs of your zeal for the King’s service and of your affection for me, as his General and your friend, so I am fully sensible that my engageing personally this day may be of some loss if I shall chance to be killed; but I beg leave of you, however, to allow me to give one Shear-darg (that is, one harvest day’s work) to the King, my master, that I may have ane opportunity of convincing the brave Clans that I can hazard my life in that service as freely as the meanest of them. Ye know their temper, gentlemen, and if they doe not think I have personal courage enough, they will not esteem me hereafter, nor obey my commands with cheerfulness. Allow me this single favour and I promise, upon my honour, never again to risk my person while I have that of commanding you.’

"The council, finding him inflexible, broke up, and the army marched directly towards the Pass of Killychranky, which M’Kay had got clear of some short time before. Att the mouth of the Pass, there is a large plain, which extends itself along the banks of the river, on the one side; and on the other there rises a rugged, uneven but not very high mountain.

"M’Kay still drew up his troops as they issued out of that narrow defile on the forsaid plain; and that he might be capable to flank Dundee on both sides in case of ane attack, he ordered his battle all in one line, without any reserves, and drew up his field batallions three men deep only, which made a very long front; for, as I have said already, his army consisted of no less than 3500 foot and two troops of horse. Haveing thus formed his lines, he commanded his troops, that were much fatigued with the quick march they had been obliged to make to prevent being stopt in the Pass, to sitt down upon the ground in the same order they stood, that they might be somewhat refreshed.

"Dundee keept the higher ground, and when his advanced guards came in view of the plain they could discover no enemy; but still as they came nearer they observed them to start to their feet, regiment by regiment, and waite the attack in the order above described. But Dundee never halted till he was within a musquet-shot of them, and posted his army upon the brow of the hill opposite to them; whence, having observed distinctly their order, he was necessitated to change the disposition of his battle, and inlarge his intervals, that he might not be too much out-winged. But before he could effect this the enemy began to play upon him with some field pieces they had brought with them for the siege they intended, and then their whole army fired upon them in platoons, which ran along from line to line for the whole time Dundee took up in disposing of his troops, which he performed in the following order:—

"Sir John M’Lean, then a youth of about eighteen years of age . . . was posted with his battalion on the right; on his left the Irishmen I have mentioned under the command of Collonell Pearson; nixt them the Tutor of Clanranald with his battalion. Glengary with his men were placed nixt to Clanranald’s; the few horses he had were posted in the centre, and consisted of Low-country gentlemen and some remains of Dundee’s old troop, not exceeding fourty in all, and these very lean and ill-keept. Nixt to them was Locheill; and Sir Donald’s battalion on the left of all. Though there were great intervals betwixt the battalions, and a large void space left in the centre, yet Dundee could not possibly stretch his line so as to equall these of the enemy; and, wanting men to fill up the void in the centre, Locheill, who was posted nixt the horse, was not onely obliged to fight M’Kay’s own regiment, which stood directly opposite to him, but also had his flank exposed to the fire of Leven’s battalion, which they had not men to engage, whereby he thereafter suffered much. But what was hardest of all, he had none of his Clan with him but 240, and even 60 of these were sent as Dundee’s advanced guard to take possession of a house from which he justly apprehended the enemy might gall them, if they putt men into it. But there was no helping the matter. Each Clan, whether small or great, had a regiment assigned them, and that too by Locheil’s own advice, who attended the Generall while he was makeing his disposition. The designe was to keep up the spirite of emulation in poynt of bravery; for as the Highlanders putt the highest value upon the honour of their familys or Clans, and the renoun and glory acquired by military actions, so the emulation between Clan and Clan inspires them with a certain generous contempt of danger, gives vigour to their hands, and keeness to their courage.

"The afternoon was well advanced before Dundee had gott his army formed into the order I have described. The continual fire of the enemy from the lower ground covered them, by a thick cloud of smoake, from the view of the Highlanders, whereof severals dropping from time to time, and many being wounded, they grew impatient for action. But the sun then shineing full in their faces the Generall would not allow them to engage till it was nearer its decline.

"Locheill as well to divert as to incourage them, fell upon this stratagem. He commanded his men, who, as I have said, were posted in the centre, to make a great shout, which being seconded by those who stood on their right and left, ran quickly through the whole army, and was returned by some of the enemy; but the noise of the cannon and musquets, with the prodigious echoeing of the adjacent hills and rocks, in which there are severall caverns and hollow places, made the Highlanders fancy that their shouts were much brisker and louder than that of the enemy, and Locheill cryed out, ‘Gentlemen, take courage. The day is our own. I am the oldest commander in the army, and have allways observed something ominous and fatall in such a dead, hollow, and feeble noise as the enemy made in their shouting. Ours was brisk, lively, and strong, and shews that we have courage, vigour, and strength. Theirs was low, lifeless, and dead, and prognosticates that they are all doomed to dye by our hands this very night!’ Though this circumstance may appear triffleing to ane inadvertent reader, yet it is not to be imagined how quickly these words spread through the army, and how wounderfully they were incouraged and animated by them.

"The sun being near its close, Dundee gave the orders for the attack, and commanded that so soon as the M‘Leans began to move from the right, that the whole body should, att the same instant of time, advance upon the enemy. It is incredible with what intrepidity the Highlanders endured the enemy’s fire; and though it grew more terrible upon their nearer approach, yet they with a wounderfull resolution keept up their own, as they were commanded, till they came up to their very bosoms, and then poureing it in upon them all att once like one great clap of thounder, they threw away their guns, and fell in pell-mell among the thickest of them with their broad-swords. After this the noise seemed hushed, and the fire ceaseing on both sides, nothing was heard for some few moments but the sullen and hollow clashes of broad-swords, with the dismall groans and crys of dyeing and wounded men.

"Dundee himself was in the centre of the horse, which was commanded by Sir William Wallace of Craigie. The gallant Earl of Dunfermline had formerly that charge, but that very morning, Sir William having presented a commission from King James, that noble Earl calmly resigned, much to the dissatisfaction of Dundee; and from this small incident, it is affirmed, flowed the ruine and disappointment of that undertaking. When they had advanced to the foot of the hill on which they were drawn up, Sir William Wallace, either his courage faileing him, or some unknown accident interposeing, instead of marching forward after the Generall, ordered the horse to wheele about to the left, which not onely occasioned a halt but putt them into confusion. Dundee in the meantime, intent upon the action, and carryed on by the impetuosity of his courage, advanced towards the enemy’s horse, which were posted about their artillery in the centre, without observeing what passed behind till he was just entering into the smoak. The brave Earl of Dumfermline and sixteen gentlemen more, not regarding the unaccountable orders of their Collonell, followed their Generall, and observed him, as he was entering into the smoake, turn his horse towards the right, and raiseing himself upon his stirrops. make signes by waving his hatt over his head for the rest to come up. The enemy’s horse made but little resistance. They were routed and warmely pursued by those few gentlemen; and as to Wallace and those with him, they did not appear till after the action was over.

"The Highlanders had ane absolute and complete victorey. The pursute was so warm that few of the enemy escaped; nor was it cheap bought to the victors, for they lossed very nearly a third of their number, which did not ammount fully to two thousand men before they engaged."

Dundee was shot down as he was leading the cavalry into action. The handful of horse under Lord Dunfermline, after returning from the pursuit, found him lying on the ground mortally wounded. "The fatall shott," says Drummond, "that occasioned his death, was about two hand’s-breadth within his armour, on the lower part of his left side; from which the gentlemen concluded that he had received it while he raised himself upon his stirrops, and streatched his body in order to hasten up his horse as I have related." He was removed to Blair Castle, where he died a few hours later. His body was buried with all honour in the church of Blair Atholl.

Mackay’s army was driven down the Garry in utter rout. "About the middle of the night," says Drummond, "the army returned from the pursute, but the enemy took the opportunity of retreating in the dark, and as they were marching through the Pass, the Atholl men . . . keeping still in a body, attacked them, killed some, and made all the rest prisoners, so that of the troops that M’Kay brought with him the sixth man did not escape. No less than eighteen hundred of them were computed to fall upon the field of battle." In the Highland army some 900 were killed and wounded. Drummond gives a terrible account of the effect of the claymore. "When day retu’rned the Highlanders went out and took a view of the field of battle, where the dreadful effects of their fury appeared in many horrible figures. The enemy lay in heaps allmost in the order they were posted; but so disfigured with wounds, and so hashed and mangled, that even the victors could not look upon the amazeing proofs of their own agility and strength without surprise and horrour. Many had their heads divided into two halves by one blow; others had their sculls cutt off above the eares by a back-strock, like a night-cap. Their thick buffe-belts were not sufficient to defend their shoulders from such deep gashes as allmost disclosed their entrails. Several pikes, small-swords, and the like weapons were cutt quite through, and some that wore skull-capes had them so beat into their brains that they died upon the spott."

Mackay, with a small body which he had kept together, made his way to Drummond Castle. The news of the defeat was brought to Edinburgh by the fugitives, and the Government was panic-stricken. On the other hand, recruits flocked to the victorious army; in a few days its numbers reached 5000 men.

There never was a more fruitless victory. Had Dundee lived he might well have undone the work of the Revolution. The bullet that killed him gave the death-wound to the cause of King James. He was succeeded in the command by Cannon, who at the best was a man of very ordinary abilities, and who was absolutely incapable of commanding a Highland army. An orthodox disciplinarian, he understood neither the peculiarities of the Highland character nor the conditions of Highland warfare. The chiefs began to drop away one by one.

Only one other engagement of any importance took place during the campaign. The newly-raised Cameronian Regiment had been sent north under their young Lieutenant-Colonel, William Cleland. They had garrisoned the town of Dunkeld. On August 18 a party of the Atholl men appeared before the town. These were soon reinforced by the whole of Cannon’s army, and on the morning of the 21st they attacked the Cameronians. After a long day of bloody and desperate fighting the Highlanders were repulsed. Disgusted with defeat, and thoroughly distrusting their leader, the clans began to scatter homewards. Cannon took refuge in Mull with the Macleans. The war in Scotland was practically over. In the spring of 1690 a small Jacobite force drew together in Strathspey, under Major-General Buchan, an officer whom James had sent over from Ireland. On April 30 they were attacked in the Haughs of Cromdale by Sir Thomas Livingston, commander of the garrison of Inverness, and easily scattered.

Most of Dundee’s officers took service abroad. By the end of 1691 all the Highland chiefs had submitted to the new Government, except the hapless Macdonald of Glencoe. The Massacre of Glencoe, which has left on the Government of the Revolution a stain of blood and treachery never to be effaced, took place on February 13, 1692. The last incident of resistance to the new powers was rather a boyish escapade than a serious act of war. Four young Jacobite officers, who had been taken prisoners at Cromdale, were confined in the fortress of the Bass Rock. One day in June 1691, when most of the garrison were on shore and the remainder were down unloading a collier vessel, the prisoners took possession of the fortress, shut the gates, and turned the guns on their gaolers. They were joined by a number of friends. A French man-of-war supplied them with provisions and stores. They held the Bass for nearly three years, making plundering descents on the neighbouring coast and taking toll of passing ships. In April 1694 they surrendered on honourable terms, and the rule of William and Mary was finally established throughout the British Islands.