1902 Encyclopedia > John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount of Dundee

John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount of Dundee
(John Graham, 1st Viscount of Dundee)
Scottish soldier and nobleman
(1643-89)




JOHN GRAHAM OF CLAVERHOUSE, VISCOUNT DUNDEE, (1643-1689), born in or about the year 1643, was the elder son of Sir William Graham and Lady Jean Carnegie. Of his youth little record has been kept; but in the year 1665 he appeared in St Andrews as a student of St Leonard's College. His education was upon the whole good, as appears from the varied and valuable correspond-ence of his later years. Young Graham was destined for a military career; and, having remained in St Andrews for about four years, he proceeded abroad as a volunteer in the service of France. Thereafter, in 1672, he went to Holland, and obtained the post of cornet in one of the cavalry regiments of William, prince of Orange. In 1674 he was raised to the rank of captain, as a reward for having rescued the prince from a marsh where his horse had foundered during a retreat. Shortly afterwards, William having at his disposal the command of one of the Scotch regiments in Holland, Graham made application for the post. He was not appointed, and resigned his commission. In the beginning of 1677 he returned to England, bearing, it is said, letters of strong recommendation from William to Charles II. and the duke of York.

Early in 1678 he accepted a lieutenancy in a troop of horse under the command of his relative the marquis of Montrose. Promotion immediately followed. He was expressly nominated by Charles II. to the command of one of the newly raised troops of cavalry. From the time, indeed, of his return to Scotland he assumed an influential position. His prestige as a soldier, his uncompromising disposition, and his unmistakable capacity, at once marked him out as a leader upon whom Government could rely. In the end of the year he was despatched with his troop to Galloway to suppress the disorders which prevailed in the district. He had a difficult and unpopular task,—that of carrying out the policy of Lauderdale in the most disaffected part of Scotland. The Act of 1670, imposing the punishment of death and confiscation of goods, was still in operation; and the Covenanters had for years before Graham's return to Scotland propounded the theory that opposition to the Government and the actual slaughter of the king were not only just, but a religious duty. Opposition to Lauderdale's measures, however, was winked at by the duke of Hamilton, and the recent authorized inroad of the Highlanders had widened the area of dissatisfaction. It is not wonderful that the success of Graham in his mission was small He entered, however, upon his occupation with zest, and inter-preted consistently the orders he received. There is evi-dence, also, that his efforts were appreciated at head-quarters, in his appointment, jointly with the laird of Earls-hall, to the office of sheriff-depute of Dumfriesshire in March 1679, with powers—specially narrated in his com-mission—anent " separation," conventicles, " disorderly baptisms and marriages, " and the like.

For some years thereafter the position of Graham was perhaps as difficult and delicate as one man was ever called upon to occupy. In the midst of enemies, and in virtue of the most erroneous but direct orders of his Government, he combined the functions of soldier, spy, prosecutor, and judge. Shortly after the murder of Arch-bishop Sharp, on 5th May 1679, he was summoned to increased activity. There were reports of an intended gathering in the neighbourhood of Glasgow, and at the head of his dragoons Graham went in pursuit of the rebels. On Sunday the 1st of June, the Covenanters having removed from Loudon Hill to a well-protected position upon the marshy ground of the farm of Drumclog, Graham, who had gone in search of them, advanced. Hindered from the attack by the nature of the ground, he had to wait till the impatience of his adversaries, who were under better leadership than they ever afterwards enjoyed, induced them to commence an impetuous attack. Headed by the youthful Clelland, the Covenanters charged the cavalry, who in a little turned and fled. The loss of the victors was but three men, while thirty-six dragoons were killed, Graham himself having a narrow escape. This was the only regular engagement he had with the Cove-nanters. Small as it was, the result raised an enthusiasm in the bosoms of the victors, and was the beginning of an actual rebellion.

On the 22d June Graham was present at the battle of Bothwell Bridge, at the head of his own troop. Immedi-ately thereafter he was commissioned to search the south-western shires for those who had taken part in the insur-rection. In this duty he seems to have been engaged till the early part of 1680, when he disappears for a time from the record of these stringent measures. His powers during these months were of the most sweeping description; and it appears that his ample commission was most slenderly used. The gravest accusation against him in reference to this period is that he was a robber.

Graham had for some time been recognized as an adherent of the party who were adverse to measures of leniency and conciliation. During these months he was accordingly despatched to London along with Lord Lin-lithgow to influence the mind of Charles II against the indulgent method adopted by Monmouth with the extreme Covenanting party. It is perhaps not to his credit that he succeeded in the object of his mission. He was then in the prime of life, was commandingly handsome in appearance, a lover of sport, and a devoted royalist. Charles seems to have been fascinated by his loyal supporter, and from that moment Graham was destined to rise in rank and honours. On the 21st of April 1680 he obtained a royal grant of the barony of the outlawed Macdowall of Freugh, and the grant was confirmed by subsequent orders upon the Exchequer in Scotland. In April 1680 it appears that his roving commission had been withdrawn by the Privy Council. He is thus free from all concern with the severe measures which followed the San-quhar Declaration of 22d June 1680.





The turbulence occasioned by the passing of the Test Act of 1681 required to be quelled by a strong hand; and in the beginning of the following year Graham was again commissioned to act in the disaffected districts. In the end of January he was appointed to the sheriffships of Wigtown, Dumfries, Kirkcudbright, and Annandale. He was besides acting captain of a troop of dragoons—the pernicious combination of his offices being thus repeated. He appears further to have had powers of life and death in virtue of a commission of justiciary granted to him about the same time. In his despatches there are indications that he disapproved of a system of indiscriminate punishment, and desired that severe vengeance should only be executed upon ring-leaders and men of rank. This, however, applied solely to the harshest measures then known to the law, those of torture and death. Where these were involved he preferred, after hunting out and seizing his prisoners, to send them to Edinburgh for trial. But within these limits his methods of procedure in the large districts over which he had control were uncompromising, and, if we suppose him to have had sympathy with his orders, most cruel. He quartered on the rebels, rifled their houses, and, to use his own words, " endeavoured to destroy them by eating up their provisions." The effect of his policy, if we believe his own writ, is not overstated as "Death, desolation, ruin, and decay."

The result of a bitter quarrel with Sir John Dalrymple confirmed the prestige of Graham, who was not only acquitted by the verdict of the Privy Council of the grave charges of exaction and oppression preferred against him, but had the satisfaction of seeing Sir John condemned to fine and imprisonment for interference with his proceedings. On 25th December 1682 he was appointed colonel of a new regiment raised in Scotland, and captain of its leading troop. He had still greater honours in view, and in March 1683 he started for Newmarket to demand an audience of the king. In the preceding January the case of the earl of Lauderdale, late Maitland of Hatton, which involved the question of his malversations with regard to the Scottish mint, was debated in the House of Lords. Maitland was proprietor of the lands and lordship of Dundee and Dud-hope, and the decree of the lords against him was in March 1683 issued for the sum of £72,000. Graham succeeded in having the property of the defaulter transferred to him by royal grant, and in May the additional honour was conferred upon him of nomination to the Privy Council of Scotland.

Shortly afterwards Claverhouse was appointed to be present at the sittings of the recently instituted Circuit Court of Justiciary in Stirling, Glasgow, Dumfries, and Jed-burgh. The notable objects of the circuit were the imposition of the test and the punishment of rebels. Several were sentenced to death. During the rest of the year he attended the meetings of council. As a statesman he was incapable of rising to an independent view of affairs, and was unable to overcome bis dutiful obedience to superior orders. Although he had had experience of the most disaffected portions of the country, there is but one record of his having interfered to prevent the accustomed irritating measures. He declared decisively against the proposal to let loose the Highland marauders upon the south of Scotland.

In June 1684 he was again at his old employment—the inspection of the southern shires ; and in August, after the ambuscade of Enterkine-hill, he was commissioned as second in command of the forces in Ayr and Clydesdale to search out the rebels and report to head-quarters. By this time he was in possession of Dudhope, having on the 10th of June married Lady Jean, daughter of Lord Cochrane. As constable of Dundee it is recorded to his honour that he recommended to the Privy Council the remission of extreme punishment in the case of many petty offences. He issued from his retirement to take part in a commission of lieutenancy which perambulated as a criminal court the southern districts, and in the end of the year he was again in the same region on the occasion of the disturbances in the town of Kirkcudbright.

Shortly after the death of Charles II. (6th February 1685), Graham, through the jealous efforts of Queensberry, incurred a temporary disgrace by his deposition from the office of privy councillor ; but in May he was reinstalled, although it is to be observed that his commission of justiciary which had expired was not renewed.

In May 1685 he was ordered with his cavalry to guard the borders, and to scour the south-west in search of rebels. By Act of Privy Council, a certificate was required by all persons over sixteen years of age to free them from the hazard of attack from Government officials. Without that they were at once liable to be called upon oath to abjure the declaration of Benwick, which was alleged to be treasonable. While on this mission he pursued and overtook two men—John Brown, and a nephew whom he calls John Brownen. Brown, having refused the abjuration oath, was shot dead. The order was within the authorized power of Graham.

Until 1688 there is little more of note in his career. In 1686 he was promoted to the rank of major-general, and had added to his position of constable the not incon-siderable dignity of provost of Dundee. He appears, however, in the Privy Council in 1688 opposing the pro-posal that Lieutenant-General Douglas should have com-mand of the whole army which had been ordered to England to aid the falling dynasty.

A week or two after his departure with the army his fascinating influence had made itself felt upon James II., and .amid the hurry of events he was created viscount of Dundee on 12th November 1688. From York he went to Salisbury, where he advised James to sterner measures than the feeble-hearted monarch had the courage to adopt. Throughout the vexed journeyings of the king, Dundee is found accompanying or following him, endeavouring in vain to prompt him to make his stand in England and fight rather than flee from the invader. At last James announced his resolve, with the promise that he would send from France an appointment in favour of Dundee to command the troops in Scotland, and arrangements were entered into for communication with the voluntary exile.





Dundee returned to Scotland in anticipation of the meeting of the Convention, and at once exerted himself to increase the waning resolution of the duke of Gordon with regard to holding Edinburgh Castle for the exiled king. He had conceived the idea of forming a rival Convention at Stirling to sit in the name of James II., but the hesitancy of his associates rendered the design futile, and it was given up. Dundee, however, boldly appeared at the first meeting of Convention on 16th March 1686, and disclosed a plot which he declared he had discovered against his own life, but the matter after some inquiry was departed from.

On the 18th of March, despising the fears of his promised allies, he left Edinburgh at the head of a company of fifty dragoons, who were strongly attached to his person. He was not long gone ere the news was brought to the alarmed Convention that he had been seen clambering up the west side of the castle rock and holding conference with the duke of Gordon. In excitement and confusion order after order was despatched in reference to the fugitive, and the Conven-tion sat with locked doors to prevent communication with traitors without. Dundee retired to Dudhope. On the 30th of March he was publicly denounced as a traitor, and in the latter half of April attempts were made to secure him at Dudhope, and the residence in Glen Ogilvy to which he had retired. But the secrecy and speed of his move-ments outwitted his pursuers, and he retreated to the north. His career presents strange peculiarities. It was only in 1678 that he had returned to Scotland from abroad. Yet in the short period of intervening years he had, despite the opposition of his superiors in rank, risen from the post of captain, and the social status of a small Scotch laird, to positions as a soldier and statesman and the favourite of his sovereigns, of the greatest dignity, influence, and wealth. Yet it was in this period that he committed those acts on account of which his memory is loaded with reproach. When the ruling dynasty changed, and he who had so often been commissioned to quell insurrection had himself become an outlaw and a rebel, he supported the cause of his exiled monarch with such skill and valour that his name and death are recorded as heroic.

On his march into the Highlands he commenced among the chieftains the diplomatic policy in which he excelled. General Hugh Mackay was now in the field against him, and what was simply a Highland chase began. Mackay started with a body of cavalry, marched to the north, and having refused reinforcements from the untrained peasantry of Aberdeenshire, pushed the pursuit further and further to the west. Elgin, and latterly Inverness, were occupied by the Government troops. Dundee had in the meantime been scouring the country from Perth, which on the 11th of May he had plundered, to the wilds of Lochaber, to which he had latterly retired. The clans were assembled by the 28th of May, and on the 29th the castle of Buthven, near Kingussie, was seized. The army of Dundee was now much superior in numbers to that of Mackay, and the prudent general beat a hasty retreat. Having received reinforcements, however, he again advanced northward, and in Strathdon, in the early part of June, it seemed likely that the opposing forces would meet. But the Highland warriors, laden with plunder, were returning homewards, and the army of Dundee was melting away. The outlawed leader again retired, and Mackay conceived his mission at an end. He proceeded westward, and, having garrisoned Inverness, marched to the south.

Throughout the whole of the campaign Dundee was indefatigable in his exertions with the Highland chiefs and his communications with his exiled king. To the day of his death he believed that formidable succour for his cause was about to arrive from Ireland and France. He justly considered himself at the head of the Stewart interest in Scotland, and his despatches form a record of the little incidents of the campaign, strangely combined with a revelation of the designs of the statesman. It mattered little to him that on the 24th of July a price of ¿£20,000 had been placed upon his head. The clans had begun to reassemble, and he was now in command of a considerable force.

Mackay, who had visited Edinburgh to report events, returned to Perth, whence, with an army now amounting to about 4000 men, he proceeded to Dunkeld on the 26th of July. While in the metropolis he had endeavoured to secure the Athole interest, and that the castle of Blair should be held for King William. But he was as usual outwitted by Dundee, who, after unsuccessful negotiations with Lord Murray, won over the Athole factor by the pre-sentation of a commission prepared for the occasion. The castle was at once occupied, and at Dttnkeld Mackay received intelligence that the design of his march was frustrated. By ten A.M. of the 27th of July 1689 he was at the entrance to the pass of Killiecrankie.

Dundee had appointed a gathering of the clans at Blair for the 29th; and on the 27th he was at the head of at least 2000 men, including a contingent from Ireland. The reports of scouts that 400 of the enemy had already threaded the pass roused the impatience of the chiefs. But it was not until he received intelligence that the whole army of Mackay had entered the defile that he gave the order to march. With caution he disposed his troops on the hills to the right of the opposing army, wdiich, making its exit from the gully, was forming on the haughs. On Mackay's right and beyond the narrow plain were undulating heights backed by Craig Culloch. On one of these Mackay was astonished to observe the movement of the troops of Dundee. To prevent the enemy from gaining an intervening eminence, he at once ordered a flank movement, and his army marched up the face of the hillock, leaving the Garry in the rear. For several hours the two armies faced each other, Dundee restraining the impatience of his troops, but at eight in the evening the order was given to advance. Mackay had formed his line three deep, while his opponent had arranged his men in battalions with intervals wide enough to prevent the out-flanking of superior numbers. The Highlanders having dis-charged their firelocks threw them on the ground, and rushed impetuously on the foe. The result was instantane-ous ; Mackay's line was broken and driven helplessly into the gorge. Dundee, at the head of his cavalry, charged the enemy, but, confusion having arisen as to the leadership of the troop, he was not at once followed. The gallant soldier, waving on his men, was pierced beneath the breast-plate by a bullet of the enemy, and fell dying from his horse. Dundee asked " how the day went," and, hearing the answer and the expression of sympathy, replied that " it was the less matter for him seeing the day went well for his master." He was conveyed to the castle of Blair, where within an hour or two of his death he was able to write a short account of the engagement to King James. The battle, in which the Government forces had lost 2000 men as against 900 of the enemy, was in truth the end of the insurrection. The Highland camp was broken by jealousies, for the controlling and commanding genius of the rebellion was no more.

See Memorials and Letters of Graham of Claverhouse, by Mark Napier, 1859-62, where the literature of the subject is referred to. The work itself must be read with caution. (T. S.)




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