An Incident Concerning Bonnie Dundee


Much  of  Scottish history in the middle years of the  seventeenth  century  is dominated  by  the actions of the Covenanters in their firm opposition  to  any form  of  Episcopal church.  Various means of dealing with their demands were tried by the monarchy and its representatives.  These ranged from appeasement and compromise to military confrontation.  However, as Charles II clearly favoured the Episcopal Church and actively promoted its reinstatement in Scot­land, these attempts were doomed to failure.  The result was merely to margina­lise the Covenanters and to place their activities outside of the law.   The distinction between religious and political dissent thus became blurred and the voices of the radical leaders stood out from those of the suppressed moderates.

By the late 1670s field conventicles had become widespread and the dissidents grew bolder by the year.  The Falkirk area was replete with Covenanters and conventicles were held at Bo’ness, Denny, Torwood and the Black Loch near Slamannan.  Alexander Livingston, second Earl of Callendar, was a man of liberal principles and was sympathetic to the Covenanting cause.  It was probably for this reason that government troops were billeted at Callendar House in 1675 and 1678 as a form of punishment.  According to Kier on the latter occasion “the Falkirk mob rose in great fury and put the intruders to flight” (Kier 1828, 210).  However, the presence of the royal forces in Falkirk at this time was part of a general withdrawal from the south-west of Scotland which had over-heated.  These movements can be traced in the Records of the Privy Council:

November 1677:

The squad of his Majesties troup of guards quartered  at  Glasgow was  ordered to remove to Falkirk and the fourty horses appointed to be  levied added to that troup ordered to quarter at Linlithgow.  That pairt of his Majes­ties regiment of guards quartered at Glasgow was ordered to remove to Linlith­gow  and quarter there and fourscore of the pairty of foot formerly ordered  to Dunolich was appointed to quarter at Falkirk

(Reg. Privy Council vol. 5, 273).

22 November 1677:

Guards to be mustered on Larbert Muir by Marquis of Atholl, captain, and Earl of Linlithgow, colonel (Reg. Privy Council vol. 5, 281).

24 January 1678:

They appoynt the horses out of Perthshyre under the comand of the Marques of Athole to quarter this night in Falkirk there to remaine till further order.

They appoynt the horses under the command of the Earle of Pearth to quarter this night at Larbour there to remaine till further order.”  Other troops were to go to Stirling, Kilsyth, St Ninians, Bannockburn, Craigforth (Reg. Privy Council vol. 5, 505).

Fears and rumours of civil unrest were rampant.  Positive action was required.  On 18 December 1677 Sir George Monro was replaced as commander-in-chief by George Livingston, the third Earl of Linlithgow.   Linlithgow was an experienced soldier, though he was 61 years of age.   In his younger days he had learned his trade on the continent in the service of Elizabeth of Bohemia, aided, no doubt, by the influence of his uncle the first Earl of Callendar.  Together with his uncle he had served with the Covenenters in the Scottish army which successfully besieged Newcastle in 1644.  However, they both then participated in the “Engagement” of 1648 which ended in disastrous battle near Preston in Lancashire.  The event placed him in good standing when Charles II was restored to the throne.  Linlithgow’s commission as “Major-General and Commander-in-Chief over all the Forces as well Horse as Foot, already raised or to be raised in Scotland” was confirmed on 7 May 1678 (Livingstone 1920, 119).

That same month two companies of dragoons were created by Royal Warrant to add to the existing one, and an 800 strong foot regiment was formed (the Royal Scots Fusiliers).   In September three independent troops of horse were also raised, commanded by the Earl of Airlie, the Earl of Home and Captain John Graham.   The  appointment  of Graham of Claverhouse to such a  command  was  a little  unexpected,  and  has usually been laid at the door of  the Duke of  York.  However, it is probable that he was already known to Linlithgow, as both of them were burgesses of the burgh of Dundee.  Claverhouse’s troop was given the task of patrolling the area around Dumfriesshire and Annandale in order to maintain the rule of law in that much disaffected region.

At first all went well under the new command and the deployment of these newly raised troops brought about a period of success in countering the activities of the Covenanters.  On 23 October 1678 the king wrote to Linlithgow to congrat­ulate him, “Wee though fit hereby to signifie to yow the sense wee have of the same … particularly in the late expedition into the West.”  Further proof of Charles II’s appreciation came in the form of an additional pension of £300 sterling.

Back home local people were arrested for attending the conventicles.  In November 1678 James Wilson, a gunsmith in Falkirk, was accused of having attended a conventicle at Bo’ness.  He pled guilty and was ordered to be deported to the Indies.  His attendance had been compounded by the “makeing of pickforks and a  new inventione of armes for the use of  these  who frequent disorderly meetings”  John Jervie, wright and John Rae, tailor, both of Falkirk, were also sentenced to deportation for the same crime (Reg. Privy Council vol. 6, p.52-3).  The list of persons declared fugitive grew (Reg. Privy Council vol. 6, 649).

As Bo’ness was evidently a hotbed of radicalism, Blackness Castle was refurbished and in January 1679 the Earl of Linlithgow was ordered to place a garrison there (Reg. Privy Council vol. 6, 92).  As a result “one squad of his Majesty’s troop of Guards” was stationed at Bo’ness.  Others were posted at Culross, Clackmannan, Stirling, Calder and various other places in central Scotland (Reg. Privy Council vol. 6, 124).

Conditions thereafter took a turn for the worse, and in February 1679 various of the new officers, including Claverhouse, were given the additional powers of sheriff-deputes.   In effect they had become judge and executioner.  Matters were little improved.

The Earl of Callendar had managed to sit on the sidelines for months, failing to attend meetings to swear the Royal Oath.  He was much respected in the Falkirk area and therefore a man whom it would be useful to have on the government’s side.  Somehow his past behaviour was fudged and in March 1679 he was appointed to the commission to suppress disaf­fection in the shire of Stirling (Reg. Privy Seal vol. 6, 147).  Trouble was manifested in different ways.  In April, for example, Patrick McGregor, who had been a servant of the Laird of Airth, was imprisoned in the tollbooth at Edinburgh for

some injuries done to Mr John Park, minister at Carridin; but being most sensible of his faults, and having prevailed with the said minister to consent to and crave for his liberation on his giving caution for his future peaceable beha­viour, he therefore desires to be liberated.  The Lords having considered the petition, they, in respect of the consent of Mr John Park above written, do grant warrant to the magistrates of Edinburgh to set free the supplicant, who has found caution in 1000 merks for the said minister’s indemnity.”

(Reg. Privy Council vol. 6, 180).

Then on the 3rd May James Sharp, Archbishop of St An­drews was murdered in broad daylight and it seemed that open rebellion would soon follow.   On the King’s birthday, 29 May, Rutherglen was temporarily occupied by the Covenanters who broke up any birthday celebrations and issued their own proclamations.  It was a major propaganda coup.  That same night Claverhouse was in Falkirk celebrating the birthday, probably at the expense of the second Earl of Callendar.  His temporary stay in the town may have been connected with the search for Archbishop Sharp’s murderers who were known to be making their way back to the south-west of Scotland from Fife.  In the afternoon Claverhouse sat at his desk and wrote to his commanding officer describing an incident that had happened that morning:


                                                                                                      Falkirk, May the 29, 1679.


  I came here last night with the horse and dragoons and munition in good pass.  This morning a shoomaker fyred, out at his wyndow, in at the present baylys (where three of my men where siting at meat and bread,) two bullets with in a foot of them.  The rogue flaid imediatly out of toun.  Two contry men, after we had  brok  up  his doors and missed him, came and declared they  had  seen  him runing a quarter of a mylle of toune.  I send a party after him, who found him lurking in a house.  He is otherways a great rogue, and frequents field conven­ticles, and, they say, taks upon him to exercise.  I am certenly informed there is a resolution taken amongst the whigues, that aighteen parishes shall meet Sonday nixt in Kilbryd moor with in four myles of Glascow.  I resolve, thogh  I doe not believe it, to advertise my Lord Rosse, so that with our joint force we may attaque them.  They say they ar to pairt no mor but keep in a body.

I am, my Lord, your Lordship’s most humble servant,

                        J.GRAHAME.”  (Smythe 1826, 27.)

It is likely that this was an assassination attempt on Calverhouse.  It was a near miss and one which the Covenanters were doomed to regret.  Three days later the Earl of Linlithgow arrived at Falkirk with cavalry and infantry reinforcements from Edinburgh.  Here he discovered that Lord Ross had left Glasgow and was marching to meet him the following day at “Bridge of Bonie.”  On 6 June the two forces united at Larbert Muir, along with troops from Stirling.  Scouts informed Linlithgow that the rebels were at Bothwell Bridge and that day the government army marched to Kilsyth (Reg. Privy Council vol. 6, 213).  Claverhouse had lost a skirmish with the enemy at Drumclog and the emboldened Convenanting army was stronger than ever – said to number 8,000.  Once again Linlithgow waited for reinforcements which arrived with a new overall commander – the Duke of Monmouth.

Linlithgow used the time wisely in securing his rear by a series of actions.  All of the boats that lay on the banks of the Forth above Queensferry were seized and taken to Blackness (as happened in 1745 when they were kept at Bo’ness).  The Governor of Blackness Castle scoured the area and also secured a hogshead of hand grenades (Reg. Privy Council vol. 6, 226, 229).  The Laird of Bonhard was requested to raise the militia regiment of Linlithgowshire and Peebles.  On 17 June the Earl of Southesk marched the Heritors of Forfarshire to Stirl­ing and from thence to Falkirk (Reg. Privy Council vol. 6, 240).

Inexorably, on 18 June the government army moved westward and were told that the main body of the rebels lay about “the Haggs” (Reg. Privy Council vol. 6, 245).  The covenanters withdrew and on 22 June 1679 the Battle of Bothwell Bridge took place.  The Covenanting army was positioned on the south side of the bridge and hotly contested the crossing.  Captain Lord Livingston, the Earl of Linlithgow’s eldest son, distinguished himself by leading his father’s Foot Guards on the attack of the bridge.  After a period of hard fighting the Covenanters were low on ammunition and discipline and fled, with great loss of life and many taken prisoner.  Blackness Castle was used to house the higher status prisoners.

As for John Park, the minister at Carriden, despite his leniency with regard to his attacker he was hounded out of his parish in August 1690 “upon the account of his good and faithfull  service  in discovering and delateing Mr Donald Cargile and some other vagrant and fugitive persones,” as a consequence of which he

hath been threatned for his life and is not in safety to live in  the place  where he now resids, have thought fitt hereby to recommend to the  lords of  the clergy and particularly to the Lord Bishop of Edinburgh to provide  and preferre him elsewhere where his persone may be in safety and where he may find incouradgement  in his ministry;  and recommends to the Lords Commissioners  of the Thesaury to give him some allowance upon the account of his good service.”

(Reg. Privy Council vol. 6, 458).

Atrocities were committed by both sides.

G.B. Bailey (2021)


Anon1679Some Particular Matter of Fact, relating to the Affairs in Scotland. (National Library of Scotland Ry1.1.150(4)).
Linkwater,M & Hesketh,C1989John Graham of Claverhouse, Bonnie Dundee: For King and Conscience.
Livingstone, E.1920The Livingstons of Callendar and their Principal Cadets.
Smythe,G1926Letters of John Grahame of Claverhouse, Viscount of Dundee. (Bannatyne Club 15)
Register of the Privy Council of Scotland
Wodrow,R1842Analecta: or Materials for a History of Remarkable Provi¬dences; mostly relating to Scotch Ministers and Christians. Maitland Club 60.