John Graham of Claverhouse
Sovereign Grand Commander 1675-1689
John Graham of Claverhouse or Bonnie Dundee is someone who has divided the opinion of historians over the centuries. He was the first Jacobite leader whom some claim was also a cultural leader and a military tactician and was romanticised by the Jacobites whilst he was vilified by the Presbyterian Covenanters* as a demonic killer.
The Graham family were descended from King Robert III through marriage and related to the Bruce’s the Stuarts and were distant relatives of James Graham 1st Marquiss of Montrose. In 1413 Sir William Graham had married the sister of King James I, the great granddaughter of Marjorie Bruce and Walter the Stewart. Later another family member married the sister of “Cardinal Beaton **, the arch conspirator on behalf of the Guise and Lorraine interests.”
John Graham 1st Viscount Dundee was born into a junior branch of the family that had acquired the Claverhouse estate just north of Dundee and was the eldest son of Sir William Graham and Lady Madeline Carnegie, 5th daughter of the 1st Earl of Northesk.
Brought up around Glen Ogilvie, he and his brother were educated at St. Leonard’s College, University of St. Andrews from where he graduated with an MA in 1661. Although John’s father died in 1652, he did not in fact inherit the family estates until 1667 when he came of age. Two years later he was appointed a Commissioner of Excise and a Justice of the Peace, courtesy of his maternal uncle David Carnegie, Lord Lour.
His military career began in 1671 as a junior Lieutenant in Sir William Lockhart’s Scots Regiment which was under the command of the Duke of Monmouth and included John Churchill prior to him becoming the Duke of Marlborough, all at that time being in the service of the French king Louis XIV in France and Holland. Some reports suggest that he first went to France to study the art of war under the famous Marshal Turenne, who as we have already seen was Sovereign Grand Commander of our Order from 1640-1675. In 1674 he was a cornet in William of Orange’s guard and present at the battle of Seneffe in what is now modern Belgium where legend has it, he saved the life of Prince William when his horse fell in marsh land. Some argue that even if this legend is not true John Graham certainly gave great service to William having gained a reputation as a fearless soldier.
As a reward for his actions William gave Graham a commission as Captain in his own regiment of Horse Guards. However two years later after the Peace of Nimeguen with the continent again at peace and being disappointed in his hopes of obtaining his own regiment he resigned his commission and returned to Scotland It wasn’t long however before he was back in England when Prince William of Orange recommended him to James Duke of York as someone likely to be useful and so, for a while John Graham became James’s advisor. As can here be seen at this time William and James would appear to be on good terms with each other.
Back in Scotland in 1677 John Graham served as a lieutenant in a cavalry troop commanded by his cousin the Marquis of Montrose and later when promoted to captain and following the assassination of Archbishop Sharpe,(at one time a Presbyterian and a Covenanter who shifted his allegiance and became Archbishop of St. Andrews and primate of Scotland) was sent to south west Scotland to suppress and stamp out the illegal outdoor Presbyterian Covenanters meetings. Making his headquarters in the Black Bull Hotel in Moffat it was from that hotel that he coordinated his actions against the Covenanters rounding them up from the Galloway Hills and sending them to Edinburgh for imprisonment or execution. It would appear that at some stage Claverhouse fought alongside the Earl of Eglinton against the Covenanters.
In March 1679 Claverhouse was appointed jointly with his subaltern the Laird of Earlshall to the office of sheriff-depute of Dumfries and Annandale which included powers of baptism and marriage and for some years after this he continued to function as a soldier, spy, prosecutor and judge.
It is said that it was Graham’s actions which led to the Covenanters rising at Drumclog which culminated at the battle of Bothwell Brig. Graham and his army were defeated by the Covenanters (who were led by the 19year old poet William Cleland) at the Battle of Drumclog Moss in Lanarkshire in June 1679 and where Graham was almost killed, however some three weeks later he successfully defended Glasgow against the rebels and they were comprehensively defeated at the battle of Bothwell Brig by the Government forces which included John Graham and were under the command of the Duke of Monmouth. As the Government route was taking place it is said that Monmouth gave orders to back away from the Covenanters but Graham seems to have taken revenge for his defeat at Drumclog and four hundred Covenanters were killed twelve hundred taken prisoner and marched to Edinburgh where they were held prisoner in Greyfriars Kirk. A gravestone in St Ninian`s old Kirkyard in Stonehouse commemorates someone who was killed at the Battle of Drumcleg in the following manner.
Here lays or near this Ja Thomson
Who was shot in Rencounter at Drumcleg
June 1st 1679 By Bloody Graham of Claver House For his adherence to the Word of God and
Scotland’s Covenanted Work of Reformation.
Recognised as an adherent of the party who were averse to leniency and conciliation with the Covenanters, Graham was sent to London with Lord Linlithgow to influence Charles II against the indulgent methods adopted by the Duke of Monmouth, an enterprise in which he was successful. It would appear the Charles became enamoured with his loyal subject and in April 1680 granted John Graham the baronetcy of the outlawed Macdonald of Freugh.
In 1681 he was appointed Sheriff of Wigtown, Dumfries, Kirkcudbright and Annandale in which he had the power of life and death and a year later became Colonel of a new regiment of dragoons raised in Scotland and second in command of the forces in Ayr and Clydesdale following which he was nominated as a Privy Councillor of Scotland and was made Constable of Dundee. One of his first acts in his new position was to reduce the harsh penalties previously imposed for petty crime including removing the death penalty for stealing. He was also appointed to be present at sittings of the circuit court of judiciary in Stirling, Glasgow, Dumfries and
Jedburgh which had been recently instituted for the punishment of rebels (the Covenanters). In 1684 he was awarded the estate of Dudhope Castle by King James VII/ II and in that same year was back in the southern shires of Scotland again seeking out Covenanter rebels.
Despite his enthusiastic persecution of the Covenanters, in 1684 John Graham married Lady Jean Cochrane daughter of William Lord Cochrane, the Cochrane’s being a fiercely Covenanting family and Lord William reputedly being a prominent Freemason, an action for which he was temporarily in disgrace. “His fathers in laws sister, Margaret married Alexander Montgomerie in in 1676, thus making him eligible to become Sovereign Grand Commander after he became engaged to her.
Thought of by the Covenanters as being a ruthless murderer he was by some called “Bluidy Clavers.” He was implicated in the killing of the Covenanter John Brown and two of the women who became known as the Wigtown Martyrs. Other historians have claimed however that Graham was not the brutal soldier sometimes portrayed by his enemies and that subsequent Whig historians such as Thomas Babbington Macauley set out to deliberately blacken his character .by claiming that “Brown was shot by
Claverhouse with his own hand and without due deliberation or just and legal cause.”
However, a letter meant as an official report of the incident written by John Graham to the Duke of Queensberry in May 1685 when his Lordship was the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland tells a different story. This letter which is in the archives of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and of which I possess a copy, states that Brown was shot by troopers under Claverhouses`s orders; “and that he might have saved his life had he, like his nephew who was captured along with him, taken the oath of abjuration which had then been recently prescribed by government for persons suspected of high treason.” Consequently, some more sympathetic historians have argued that Claverhouse did not deserve the title of Bluidy Clavers and he was no more brutal than any other commanding officer of this period which has been called the Killing Times.
In 1686 John Graham was promoted to the rank of Major General of Horse, became Lord Provost of Dundee By 1688 he was second in command to General Douglas of the Scots army and while in England James II created him Viscount Dundee and gave him military command of all the Kings forces in Scotland, significantly this was in the week that William of Orange landed at Torbay. It was at this time that Dundee was in regular contact with King James trying to persuade him to make a stand in England against his enemies rather than flee to France, somewhat placated by James Dundee then returned to Scotland.
When in 1689 a Scottish convention decided that JamesVII/II had abdicated the throne and Scotland’s crown should therefore by awarded to William and Mary, John Graham objected strongly and embarked on a campaign to restore the crown to James. While in Edinburgh he daringly scaled the rock face of Edinburgh Castle to confer with the Duke of Gordon who was holding the castle for the Stuart King, following which he was declared a rebel and a bounty of £20,000 was placed on his head. John Graham went home to his family and after seeing to the security of his wife and young child raised the Royal Standard on Dundee Laws in support of the Jacobite cause.
For four months he marched eight hundred miles with the Highland veteran Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel trying to rally support and kept hoping that King James would come over from Ireland. He crossed Corrieyairack and Drumochter Pass to raid Perth and so the Government sent a force into Scotland to stop any further Jacobite advance. The Government army, was ambushed at the Pass of Killiecrankie where Viscount Dundee gained his greatest and only military victory in the short lived battle where although outnumbered two to one his highland army defeated the Government forces made up mainly of Scottish lowlanders and veterans of the Dutch Wars and led by General Hugh Mackay of Scourie. It was an irony of this battle that John Graham and Hugh Mackay the two opposing leaders had served together in William of Orange’s army in the Netherlands.
This battle was notorious for its savagery with Ian Lorn Macdonald, the bard of Keppoch claiming that “the red blood flowed in waves over the grass and a thousand spades would be needed to level the graves of the enemy.” The losses however were great on both sides with the Jacobites losing a third of their number. This was to be one of the last battles in which there was effective use of the claymore and the Highland Charge and one in which. John Graham was mortally wounded by a musket shot which penetrated below his breastplate. It is reputed that as he died, he asked “How fares the fight?” and was told “The day goes well for the King. But I am sorry for your lordship.” To which he replied “It matters less for me seeing that the day goes well for my master.”
Some reports claim he was taken to St. Brides Kirk in nearby Blair Castle where he died whilst others claim that he died whilst sitting against a standing stone in a field near Killiecrankie which has become known as the Claverhouse stone and his body was later taken to Blair castle. A plaque at the ruined St. Bride’s Kirk in the grounds of Blair Atholl records that on his death John Graham of Claverhouse was buried three days after the battle in the vault of St. Brides. The burial vault was opened in the 1790`s and Dundee’s armour was removed and sold to tinkers from whom it was later recovered. The breastplate is now displayed at Blair Castle; his Jacket can be seen at Glamis castle.
John Graham’s death spawned a number of legends the best known of which is the tradition that he was invulnerable to all bullets and was killed by a silver button from his own coat; others relate that it was a silver bullet and still another that he was shot in the eye. Another legend is that he did not die in battle but was murdered in the confusion of the charge by two of his men who were actually Williamite`s and who had joined his army and infiltrated his staff. It is further claimed by the esoteric historian A.E. Waite that Claverhouse was head of the Knight Templars in Scotland and that when his body was found he was wearing a Knight Templar Cross, the Grand Cross of the Order which was passed to his brother David Graham who was also involved in the battle. Waite maintained this information was given by Abbe Augustin Calmet one of the most renowned and respected scholars and historians of his age.
In the 15th century another ancestor of Dundee’s a Robert Graham had married the daughter of the then Constable of Dundee. By this marriage he became brother in law to John Sandilands the grandfather of Sir James Sandilands Lord Torphichen whom we met in the chapter concerning Robert de Seton. Some have suggested this is perhaps how John Graham became head of the Templars and gained possession of its Grand Cross.
After Killiecrankie and the death of Viscount Dundee his army marched on and under the leadership of Colonel Alexander Cannon attacked Dunkeld. Although their opponents were but a single regiment of Cameronians under the command of Colonel William Cleland, the same William Cleland who had defeated Claverhouse at the Battle of Drumcleg (and who, incidentally was killed at the age of twenty-eight at Dunkeld), and outnumbered four to one, the Jacobites were unable to defeat them and so
abandoned the assault.
Approximately one hundred years after his death John Graham of Claverhouse was immortalised in a poem by Walter Scott who claimed his great grandfather had been one of Dundee’s followers; it was later turned into the well-known song and it was this poem that introduced the name of Bonnie Dundee. There is also a folk song commemorating the battle called “The Braes O` Killiecrankie” which includes the lines:
“But I met the devil and Dundee
On the braes o` Killiecrankie O.”
* Covenanters- Between 1638 and 1688 Scotland was in a constant state of civil unrest with many refusing to accept the king as head of the church. Those refusing signed a Covenant stating that only Jesus Christ was the true head of the church, and as a result death warrants were issued against them.
** Cardinal Beaton, was a former Archbishop of Glasgow who became the Scottish Ambassador to France and who together with Lord George Seton (whose son was created Earl of Winton and married Margaret Montgomery in 1600) became very close allies of Charles de Guise duc of Mayen, Head of the Holy League. They worked together to further the Guise-Lorraine cause.