1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Dundee, John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount
DUNDEE, JOHN GRAHAM OF CLAVERHOUSE, Viscount (c. 1649-1689), Scottish soldier, was the elder son of Sir William Graham and Lady Madeline Carnegie. Of his youth little record has been kept; but in the year 1665 he became a student at the university of St Andrews. His education was upon the whole good, as appears from the varied and valuable correspondence of his later years. Young Graham was destined for a military career; and after about four years he proceeded abroad as a volunteer in the service of France. In 1673 or 1674 he went to Holland, and obtained a cornetcy, and he was soon raised to the rank of captain, as a reward for having saved the life of the prince of Orange at the battle of Seneff. A few years later, being disappointed in his hopes of obtaining a regiment, Graham resigned his commission. In the beginning of 1677 he returned to England, bearing, it is said, letters of strong recommendation from the prince to Charles II. and the duke of York. In 1678 he became a lieutenant, and soon afterwards captain of a troop, in the regiment commanded by his relative the marquis of Montrose. The task before him was the suppression of the Covenanters’ rebellion. To this he brought, over and above the feelings of romantic loyalty and the cavalier spirit, which in his case was free from its usual defects, a hatred of the Covenanters which was based largely on his hero-worship of the great Montrose. Further, his uncompromising disposition and unmistakable capacity at once marked him out as a leader upon whom the government could rely. But the difficulties of his task, the open or secret hostility of the whole people, and the nature and extent of the country he was required to watch, were too great for the leader of a small body of cavalry, and in spite of his vigorous and energetic action, Graham accomplished but little. He entered, however, upon his occupation with zest, and interpreted consistently the orders he received. There is evidence, also, that his efforts were appreciated at headquarters in his appointment, jointly with the laird of Earlshall, his subaltern, to the office of sheriff-depute of Dumfries and Annandale in March 1679, with powers—specially narrated in his commission—anent “separation,” conventicles, “disorderly baptisms and marriages,” and the like.
For some years thereafter the position of Graham was in the highest degree difficult and delicate. 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 Archbishop Sharp (1679), he was summoned to increased activity. There were reports of rebels gathering near Glasgow, and Graham went in pursuit. On the 1st of June, the Covenanters being in a well-protected position upon the marshy ground of Drumclog, Graham advanced to the attack. Hindered by the ground, he had to wait till the impatience of his adversaries induced them to commence an impetuous attack. The charge of the Covenanters routed the royal cavalry, who turned and fled, Graham himself having a narrow escape. This was the only regular engagement he had with the Covenanters. The enthusiasm raised by this victory was the beginning of a serious and open rebellion.
On the 22nd of June Graham was present at the battle of Bothwell Bridge, at the head of his own troop. Immediately thereafter he was commissioned to search the south-western shires for those who had taken part in the insurrection. 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. The wide powers given to him by his commission were most sparingly used, and the gravest accusation made against him in reference to this period is that he was a robber.
He was, in any case, an advocate of rigorous measures, and his own systematic and calculated terrorism, directed principally against the ringleaders, proved far more efficacious than the irregular and haphazard brutalities of other commanders. During these months he was despatched to London, along with Lord Linlithgow, to influence the mind of Charles II. against the indulgent method adopted by Monmouth with the extreme Covenanting party. The king seems to have been fascinated by his loyal supporter, and from that moment Graham was destined to rise in rank and honours. Early in 1680 he obtained a royal grant of the barony of the outlawed Macdougal of Freuch, and the grant was after some delay 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 Sanquhar Declaration of the 22nd of 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 retained his commission in the army—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. These powers he exercised strictly and in conformity with the tenor of his orders, which were not more severe than he himself desired. 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 between Graham and Sir John Dalrymple, who, with many others of the gentry, was far from active in the execution of the government’s orders, confirmed his prestige. Graham was acquitted by the privy council of the charges of exaction and oppression preferred against him, and Sir John condemned to fine and imprisonment for interference with his proceedings. In December 1682 Graham was appointed colonel of a new regiment raised in Scotland. He had still greater honours in view. In January 1683 the case of the earl of Lauderdale, late Maitland of Hatton, was debated in the House of Lords. Maitland was proprietor of the lands and lordship of Dundee and Dudhope, and the decree of the Lords against him was in March 1683 issued for the sum of £72,000. Graham succeeded in having part of the property of the defaulter transferred to him by royal grant, and in May he was nominated to the privy council of Scotland.
Shortly afterwards Claverhouse was appointed to be present at the sittings of the Circuit Court of Justiciary in Stirling, Glasgow, Dumfries and Jedburgh, recently instituted for 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, in which he displayed the spirit of an obedient soldier rather than that of a statesman capable of independent views. There is, however, one record of his direct and efficacious interference. 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 he was commissioned as second in command of the forces in Ayr and Clydesdale to search out the rebels. By this time he was in possession of Dudhope, and on the 10th of June he married Lady Jean, daughter of William, Lord Cochrane. As constable of Dundee he recommended 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 the southern districts as a criminal court; and in the end of the year he was again in the same region on the occasion of disturbances in the town of Kirkcudbright.
Shortly after the death of Charles II. (February 1685) Graham incurred a temporary disgrace by his deposition from the office of privy councillor; but in May he was reinstated, although 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 Renwick, which was alleged to be treasonable. While on this mission he pursued and overtook two men, one of whom, John Brown, called the “Christian carrier,” having refused the abjuration oath, was shot dead. The order was within the authorized powers of Graham.
In 1686 he was promoted to the rank of major-general, and had added to his position of constable the dignity of provost of Dundee. In 1688 he was second in command to General Douglas in the army which had been ordered to England to aid the falling dynasty of the Stuarts.
His influence with James II. was great and of long standing, and amid the hurry of events in this critical time he was created Viscount Dundee on the 12th of November 1688. 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 to go to France, promising that he would send Dundee a commission to command the troops in Scotland.
Dundee returned to Scotland in anticipation of the meeting of the convention, and at once exerted himself to confirm the waning resolution of the duke of Gordon with regard to holding Edinburgh Castle for the king. The convention proving hostile (March 16th, 1688), he conceived the idea of forming another 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. Previous to this, on the 18th of March, he had 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 castle rock and holding conference with the duke of Gordon. In excitement and confusion order after order was despatched in reference to the fugitive. 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 at his residence in Glen Ogilvy. But the secrecy and speed of his movements outwitted his pursuers, and he retreated to the north.
In the few years which had elapsed since 1678 he had risen, despite the opposition of his superiors in rank, from the post of captain and the social status of a small Scottish laird to positions as a soldier and statesman and the favourite of his sovereigns, of the greatest dignity, influence and wealth. In this period he had, justly or unjustly, earned the reputation of being a cruel and ruthless oppressor. When the ruling dynasty changed, and he 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.
In the Highlands his diplomatic skill was used with effect amongst the chieftains. General Hugh Mackay was now in the field against him, and a Highland chase began. The campaign resembled those of Montrose forty years earlier. The regular troops were at a great disadvantage in the wild Highland country, and Dundee, like Montrose, invariably anticipated his enemy. But, as usual, the army of the clans required the most careful management. After the first few weeks of operations, Dundee’s army melted away, and Mackay, unable to follow his opponent, retired also.
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; he was now in command of a considerable force, and in July both sides took the field again. A contest for the castle of Blair forced on the decision. Mackay, in his march towards that place, entered the pass of Killiecrankie, the battleground selected by Dundee and his officers. Here, on the 17th-27th of July 1689, was fought the battle of Killiecrankie (q.v.). The Highlanders were completely victorious, but their leader, in the act of encouraging his men, was pierced beneath the breastplate by a bullet of the enemy, and fell dying from his horse. Dundee asked “How goes the day?” of a soldier, who replied, “Well for King James, but I am sorry for your lordship.” The dying general replied, “If it goes well for him, it matters the less for me.” Dundee was conveyed to the castle of Blair, where he died on the night of the battle. Within an hour or two of his death he wrote a short account of the engagement to King James. The battle, disastrous as it was to the government forces, was in reality the end of the insurrection, for the controlling and commanding genius of the rebellion was no more. The death of Dundee, in the mist and the confusion of a cavalry charge, formed the subject of numerous legends, the best known of which is the long prevalent tradition that he was invulnerable to all bullets and was killed by a silver button from his own coat.