In 1689 the Battle of Killiecrankie was fought between Jacobites, led by Viscount Dundee, and Government troops, led by General Hugh MacKay. The battle was part of the first Jacobite Uprising that took place after King James VII & II was deposed and King William of Orange took the throne.
After the Scottish parliament decided, at a convention in Edinburgh, to support King William many people were upset and opposed the decision. John Graham, 1st Viscount of Dundee was one such man. He was a lowland Scot and Episcopalian and had been made commander of all of Scotland’s forces under King James. Leaving the convention he set out to summon another convention in Stirling, this one in King James’ name. On 13th April 1689 Dundee raised the Stuart Royal Standard on Dundee Law marking the start of the first Jacobite Rising.
Following this Dundee headed north to raise an army against King William and for the next couple of months the Jacobite army began to take shape. Initially recruits were slow to emerge but gradually support grew with various clan chiefs pledging their allegiance and men from Ireland coming over to add to Dundee’s men. By July the army had eight battalions of men and were performing the deadly Highland Charge manoeuvre against their enemies.
On 27th July 1689 the Jacobite men faced the Government troops at Killiecrankie. This battle would decide who would gain control over Blair Castle, a main point in the route through the Highlands. It is estimated the Jacobites had roughly 2,500 men whilst the Government stood at 4,000 men. To help them though the Jacobites held a strong position on a hilltop above the Government men and waited until the sun was setting before making their charge. The battle lasted only a few minutes with the Highland Charge so fast that, it is said, the Government men didn’t even have time to fix their bayonets, leaving them unarmed at close quarters. The Government men were quickly forced to retreat and about half of the Government army was killed as they fled the field.
Meanwhile the victory had also cost the Jacobites. It is suggested that almost a third of the Jacobite force was killed and Dundee himself was fatally wounded. Victory had come at a high price. Dundee was believed to have been hit by a musket ball which knocked him off his horse. His men carried him to the nearby St Brides Kirk where he was buried in a vault in the kirk. His helmet and breastplate, removed from the vault below the church in the 19th century, are still preserved in Blair Castle.
For a while there was a legend that Dundee had not died from the bullet that hit him. People claimed that he had made a pact with devil who gave him a charm to make him invulnerable to lead bullets. Instead legend arose that one of the silver buttons from his own coat had been pushed into the wound and it was this that had killed him. Legends also say that Dundee rode a great black horse which was given to him by the Devil after it had been ripped from its mothers womb.
Regardless of the legends, the loss of Dundee at the head of the Jacobite army was a devastating loss and though the Jacobites continued to advance, without the strong leadership of Dundee they were defeated less than a month later at the Battle of Dunkeld.
This first step into Jacobitism did not end with Dundee though. IT would continue for years to come emerging in the 1715 and 1719 Rebellions before finally ending at Culloden at the end of the 1745 Uprising.
We hope you enjoyed this brief insight into the Battle of Killiecrankie. As always please share, comment, like, tweet and head to Killiecrankie itself where you can learn more about its history.
All the best, K & D