Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Review of Bonnie Dundee: For King and Conscience by Magnus Linklater and Christian Hesketh

Bonnie Dundee: For King and Conscience by Magnus Linklater and Christian Hesketh

Among those who know the name of John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, there are two vastly different perspectives on the man. It would not be too much to say that they are as different as black and white, light and shadow. Among those of a Covenanting or Presbyterian persuasion, he is a wicked persecutor of the true Church, enforcing a tyrant king’s edicts with vicious glee. But among Jacobites (both past and present), he is “Bonnie Dundee”, the gallant Scottish defender of James II against the usurper William of Orange.  

One man, two views. Was Claverhouse a villain or a hero? Books have written on both sides of the controversy, but Linklater & Hesketh’s Bonnie Dundee: For King and Conscience is a balanced look at one of the most remarkable Scots of the late 17th century.

This biography covers Claverhouse’s life from his service under William of Orange to his death at the Battle of Killiecrankie. All the facets of his life are covered in 17 chapters. The book opens with a foreword, describing his two differing reputations. 

The first chapter sets the stage for the troubled times in which Claverhouse lived, as the Archbishop of Saint Andrews is assassinated by nine Covenanters. This spurred the King of Scotland (1) to more strict enforcement of his laws. And one of his enforcers was John Graham of Claverhouse.  The next chapter follows Claverhouse through his birth and service with William of Orange in the French-Dutch wars. Claverhouse saved William’s life by mounting him on his own fresh steed, when William was near capture by the French. Ironically, the two men would be fighting each other 15 years later! 

A chapter introduces the group known as the Covenanters, who had signed the National Covenant and/or the Solemn League and Covenant. Upon his return from William’s Dutch army, Claverhouse was appointed a captain of Horse (2), with the responsibility of enforcing the King’s laws. He began his patrols in the Scottish countryside—only to meet defeat at the battle of Drumclog.  The Battle of Drumclog was his first and last defeat, where he ran into a stronger group of armed Covenanters who beat him back to Glasgow. This rebellion in Scotland brought an influx of English troops, who decisively defeated the Covenanters at the battle of Bothwell Brig.

With the suppression of this rising, Claverhouse turned his attention to courting Helen Graham of Menteith. He was ultimately unsuccessful, but quickly made a new friend in the person of James, Duke of York, who set up court in Edinburgh.  But all was not well for Claverhouse, however, and he clashed legally with Sir James Dalrymple over who ruled what jurisdiction. After confrontations, Dalrymple was brought to trial in late 1682. When the verdict was rendered, Claverhouse was praised for his enforcement of the King’s laws and Dalrymple was (briefly) confined to Edinburgh Castle for his false accusations against Claverhouse.
Shortly after, Claverhouse began to court another young lady, Jean Graham of Cochrane. Her family was Presbyterians and some in it were even Covenanters, in contrast to Claverhouse, who was a good Episcopalian. Apparently, Claverhouse’s church attendance convinced one Presbyterian lady who “could not believe a good thing of any person of his persuasion, till his conduct rectified her mistake.” But in an answer to those who whispered that his marriage would hinder his effectiveness for Charles II, Claverhouse wrote: “…let the world see that it is not in the power of love, nor any other folly, to alter my loyalty.” Claverhouse married Jean Graham, but their wedding day was disturbed by a report of armed Covenanters clashing with the King’s troops, forcing Claverhouse to mount and search the countryside for them.

Policing Scotland in search of illegal activities would take up much of Claverhouse’s time for the next two years. This book tackles Claverhouse’s actions in shooting John Brown, Andrew Hislop, and Matthew Meiklewraith. These have been used to blacken Claverhouse’s reputation, and the authors examine them closely.

Changes were brewing in 1688, for William of Orange—the same man whose life Claverhouse had saved—invaded England to take the crown from James II. Claverhouse, who had now been promoted to Viscount Dundee, supported James and opposed William. Dundee travelled to England, then back to Scotland, where he attended a convention convened to sort out the difficult situation. With James in Ireland and William a foreigner, who should be king? The convention decided on William and Dundee escaped to raise an army in support of James.

His army, the first Jacobite one ever assembled, was mainly raised among the Highland clansmen. Dundee guided them through Scotland, raiding enemy outposts and confusing his opponent, General Hugh Mackay. At last Dundee saw his chance, and he attacked Mackay at the Pass of Killiecrankie. In the ensuing battle, the Highlanders defeated Mackay’s infantry, but their daring leader John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, was killed.

Dundee’s last council of war (before Killiecrankie) contains a request that defined the character of the man: “…I beg leave of you, to allow me to give one ‘Shear-darg’ [a harvest-day’s work] to the King, my master, that I may have an opportunity of convincing the brave clans that I can hazard my life in that service as freely as the meanest of them. You know their temper, gentlemen, and if they do not think I have personal courage enough, they will not esteem me hereafter, nor obey my commands with cheerfulness.”

This is a well-written and balanced biography of an important Scottish character.  5/5 stars.

(1) Charles II of Scotland. This king was also known as Charles II of England. Scotland was not at this time ruled by England; instead Scotland and England were united in a personal union because they shared the same monarch. In much the same way, George I united Great Britain and Hanover in a personal union, and William III did the same with England and the Netherlands. Scotland would remain independent until the 1707 Act of Union incorporated it into Great Britain, with its capital in London, England.

(2) Heavy cavalry, not to be confused with dragoons. Dragoons were mounted infantry, riding to a battle and dismounting to fight. Horse (heavy cavalry) were trained to charge and skirmish on horseback. Since Claverhouse often commanded dragoons in battle, he is erroneously identified as a Captain of Dragoons.

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