Bonnie Dundee, John Graham of Claverhouse

Bonnie Dundee - John Graham of Claverhouse

"Bonnie Dundee" or "Bluidy Clavers", depending on which side of the English/Scottish religious and civil war you were on. This by no means a full look at the man's life or events, but it is rather historically accurate summary.

Below the history of Dundee, are the words to a poem and now a song about Bonnie Dundee.

John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee (1648-89). Jacobite commander.

The elder son of the Royalists, descended from Robert III, and a distant kinsman of Montrose, Claverhouse spent his childhood in Glen Ogilvy near Dundee, attended St. Andrews University and then went to France as a volunteer serving Louis XIV (under the Duke of Monmouth and MacKay of Scourie). He joined William of Orange (of Holland, 1674), reputedly saved William's life in battle, and was recommended to James, Duke of York at Williams marriage to Mary Stuart (1677). Returning to Scotland, he commanded an independent Troop of Horse raised to supress seditious conventicles (Lowland Presbyterian meetings) in Dumfries and Galloway, and was given additional powers as Charles II's absolutism increased.

He was later blamed (and still is in some parts) for every atrocity of a savage period ("The Buidy Clavers"), but in fact urged moderation "lest severity alienate the hearts of the whole people". In the 1679 Covenanter's rebellion he was defeated at Drumclog, helped defend Glasgow, and fought at Bothwell Brig. His 1674 marriage to Jean Cochrane of a notoriously Covenanting family had briefly damaged his career, but while in England with the Scots Army in 1688 James VII made him Viscount Dundee, though ignoring his advice to stand firm.

Additional background

After Oliver Cromwell's reign as "Protecter of England" had ended, a new monarch was put back on the throne in Charles II, then James VII.

The restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 was something in which Scotland had no hand, but it was welcomed with relief in the land. The relief was, predictably, unjustified. The endless debate over bishops or no bishops was a live issue again. The revived Scottish parliament was a feeble affair, under the king's thumb, and new King Charles (Chas. II a Catholic King in a new Protestant climate), was involved in the Covenant which had been convienient when he signed it, but was now just a nuisance to him. He had the bishops reinstalled, and the bishops alone had the power to appoint parish ministers. Some ministers, and worshippers, gave in for the sake of peace.

Others rejected the churches and became Covenanters, going to the hills to worship privately in the open air at services known as Covenanticles.

Failure to attend church was now punishable by fines, and when one aggressive Covenanter group showed fight, it was attacked by the Dragoons. The Dragoons were heavily armed government soldiers; troops in some European armies of the 17th and 18th centuries - English government forces in this case. Thirty of the worshippers were hanged and the rest sent to slavery. This merely turned the Covenant into a secret army, armed for defense and ready to fight.

For several years, the authorities tried to extripate the secret worship. One preacher, Richard Cameron, declared open rebellion with a handful of parishioners. All were quickly killed by the dragoons. But from that point on, the Covenanter's were often known as "Cameronians" despite the fact it had little to do with the whole of Clan Cameron.

The situation worsened and with the death of King Charles II, came the accession of his Catholic brother, James VII and II of Scotland and England respectively, to the throne. Under his rule, attending a coventing act of worship was a capital crime, and many Presbyterians paid the ultimate penalty. In typical Stuart (or Stewart) fashion, of course, King James VII and II alienated all the people on whose support he depended. He was ousted from the throne in 1688, exiled to France, last of the line of Stewart (Stuart) to wear a crown.
*(Authors Note: This is a confusing time in Britains history with different emerging forms of Protestanism always at odds with the older Catholic faith, which was still much practised in the Highlands and some parts of England.)*

He (King James VII and II) had been ousted, at the request of English Parliament, by William of Orange. James, himself excepted his exile, but one man in particular, did not. One of these men was John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee ("Bonnie Dundee" and called by his enemies 'bloody Clavers'), who decided to raise an army of liberation. Bonnie Dundee went quietly through the Highlands, gathering willing clansmen for war.

During the post-Revolution Convention of Estates at Edinburgh, March 1689, his life was threatened and he left, first climbing the Castle Rock to confer with the Duke of Gordon who held the castle for the ousted James. Learning of Lochiel's Highland confederacy (to restore James to the throne), and now declared a rebel by the Convention, he raised the Standard on Dundee Law, left his wife and new born son in Glen Ogilvy for safety, he left to fight in the cause he believed in, riding north-east to rally support for the Jacobites (a form of the name James they used), cause.

So began four months and 800 miles of rapid marching (from Inverness on 8 May, he crossed Corrieyairack and Drumochter Passes to raid Perth on the 10th). With the veteran Lochiel he used Highland men and skills and shared the clans hardships, hopeful that James would cross from Ireland with troops in support. Lochiel and the Highlanders had repeatedly asked Claverhouse to not get directly involved in the upcoming clash with Government troops because they fought "the Highland way" and didn't want their leader to try to fight as a wild Highlander and possibly get hurt. Dundee insisted on fighting right with his men in every battle.

When the news filtered south, General Hugh MacKay (the Government Force's General) was dispatched to crush Dundee's rebellion. MacKay's Government army had to go through the pass of Killiecrankie where it was particularly vulnerable to attack. They negotiated the pass without incident, but at the head of the pass were the troops of Bonnie Dundee.

MacKay's forces followed standard English tactics of the time, firing a musket volley, then fixing bayonets to charge. However, under Bonnie Dundee's cool leadership, Dundee's wild Highlanders were on them, before they even had their bayonets out and flailing their claymores and screaming their battle cries, that "sent a shiver of horror down the backs of MacKay's entire regiment". The Highland Army under Dundee was completely and devastatimgly effective against Government forces and the English Crown took notice. It would later spawn retaliations, including the Massacre at Glencoe, against Highlanders from English King William of Orange (William III).

The Jacobites marched south and east, and in the Pass of Killiecrankie on 27 July they met four thousand musketed men under General Hugh MacKay, Lowland Scots and veterans of the Dutch wars. They were called "Williamites" as they fought for William of Orange. The Williamites outnumbered Dundee two to one, but they broke ranks under the ferocious storm-charge of the Highland clans, running in panic through the Pass. It was a hard tussle, said Iain Luim the bard of Keppoch, many a cocked hat and periwig was smashed ny the great and terrible swords of Clan Donald and others. Red blood flowed in waves over the grass, and a thousand spades would be needed to level the graves of the enemy. Among the thousands of Williamites killed, were also 600 Highlanders.

Outnumbered, and lacking firearms, Dundee's Highlanders swung the huge two-handed claymores mercilessly and MacKay's men were killed in thousands. The General was one of the few able to flee. This was a shocking loss to the British/Government forces and the danger of the Highland army was now a major problem for William and the British Parliament. The Jacobite cause, already started, was now taken more seriously than ever before.

It was a total victory for John Grahm (Bonnie Dundee), but, unfortunately he himself was killed in the clash at what is now called the "Battle of Killiecrankie", his greatest victory, and the Highlanders who followed him were now in the hands of a new leader, one not of the vitality and charisma of John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee.

They did keep together for an attack on Dunkeld, which was garrisoned by the Cameronians (as the Covenanters had become known -- due to the fact that one of their leaders was named Cameron); the Cameronians were at least as fierce and better disciplined than the many other Highlanders (followers of Dundee).

Dunkeld was held by a single regiment, the newly-mustered Cameronians, 1200 men behind the walls of the cathedral precincts. Their lieutenant-colonel was William Cleland. a brave young man who had once mocked the Highland Host in derisive doggerel, and who had fought with the "godly" at Drumclog and Bothwell Brig. He was killed by a Highland bullet in the liver and another in the head within an hour of the first assault, but his men set fire to the town and drove the Highland clans from it at the push of pikes. A few months before, these Covenanting zealots had been outlawed men, but ironically, now they were saviours of the Revolution, standing in the smoke and their bloody red coats, singing psalms of praise to a triumphant Sabbath.

Outnumbered four to one, the Cameronians held out till they wore out their attackers, and the Highlanders finally abandoned the assault, and the war of liberation, and drifted back to their native glens.

Dispirated by the defeat, the clans made pacts of mutual assistance, robbed Campbell lands in Breadalbane for past wrongs, and went home - for now. They would not rise again in strength for twenty-five years.

The war over religion and choice of king, however, was far from over. Bonnie Dundee or John Graham, "Viscount of Claverhouse" had shown the way for Highland resistance against the much more numerous government forces, and his life and to a large degree, his legend will live on in poems and songs forever in Scotland.

I hope it helps explain, who Bonnie Dundee was and what he did. Truly a courageous man, Lowlander himself and leader of the Highland forces at Killiekrankie.

Below, is the song "Bonnie Dundee" by Scot's singer Alex Beaton on his album titled "The Scotsman". Others may sing it also, but IMHO, Alex Beaton's version of Bonnie Dundee is the best -- as is his "Glencoe". The words, written by Sir Walter Scott, is believed to have conferred the nickname Bonnie Dundee on John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee.

-------------- Poem and Song below ----------------

This poem is now a song of the same name and nearly the same words. For those of you familiar with Alex Beaton, and others, you may well know this song. Here are the original words of the poem.

Bonny (Bonnie) Dundee

To the Lords of convention 'twas Claver'se who spoke,
"Ere the King's crown shall fall there are crowns to be broke;
So let each Cavalier who loves honour and me
Come follow the bonnet of Bonny Dundee.

Come fill up my cup, come fill up my can,
Come saddle my horses, and call up your men;
Come open the West Port, and let me gang free,
And it's room for the bonnets of Bonny Dundee!"

Dundee he is mounted, he rides up the street,
The bells are in backward, the drums they are beat;
But the provost, douce man, said "Just let him be,
The Gude town is well quit of that devil Dundee."

As he rode down the santified bends of the Bow,
Ilk carline was flyting and shaking her pow;
But the young plants of grace they looked quite couthie and slee,
Thinking, luck to thy bonnet, thou Bonny Dundee!

Come fill up my cup, come fill up my can,
Come saddle my horses and call up my men;
And to the west port, and let us be free,
And some wear the bonnets of Bonny Dundee!

"There are hills beyond Pentland, and lands beyond Forth,
If there's Lords in Lowlands, there's Chief's in the North;
There are wild Duniewassals three thousand times three,
Will cry "Hoigh!" for the bonnet of Bonny Dundee."

"Away to the hills, to the caves, to the rocks,-
Ere I own an usurper, I'll crouch with a fox;
And tremble, false Whigs, in the midst of your glee,
You have not seen the last of my bonnets and me!"

--Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

ęSkye-Net, R. Gunn, 1995/2009

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