The Battle of Killiecrankie – The First Jacobite Campaign, 1689-1691, Jonathan D. Oates

The Battle of Killiecrankie – The First Jacobite Campaign, 1689-1691, Jonathan D. Oates

Century of the Soldier 1618-1721: No.31

Although the fighting is better known, the first Jacobite war also included a major Scottish component, which lasted longer than the campaigns during the 15 or the 45, although never reached the same scale and remained largely confined to the Highlands. It was also the only one of the Jacobite wars to take place before the Act of Union, so the conflict examined here was an almost entirely Scottish affair, pitting the supporters of the deposed James II against the rather more numerous supporters of the revolution that had seen him replaced by William and Mary.

We start with a look at the politics of Scotland in the three decades before what became known as the Glorious Revolution. This was the period of the restoration of Charles II, and the succession of James II and VII, and traces how James managed to undermine his own position in both England and Scotland, in particular by advocating religious toleration, an idea that sadly would have been unpopular at the time regardless of who tried to impose it, but was made worse by James’s open Catholicism. Many feared that his calls for tolerance were just the first stage towards an attempted restoration of Catholicism, and his promotion of Catholics within the Irish Army supported that idea. As a result a group of English aristocrats approached William of Orange, who was married to James’s daughter Mary, who invaded with a largely Dutch army. Although James probably could have relied on his larger army he lost his nerve and fled to France, opening the way for William and Mary to become king and queen in England. The situation was different in Scotland, where a Convention met to decide what to do. There was a chance that this convention may have chosen to side with James, but the majority of the elected delegates opposed him, and in April 1789 the Scottish throne was offered to William and Mary. By this point an armed uprising to restore James had already begun.

After this introduction we move onto the military part of the campaign. We start with a look at the armed forces available to both sides. At this point both sides considered themselves to be the legitimate army, so wore similar uniforms (such as they were), and rather confusingly both referred to the other side as rebels. The bulk of the Jacobite troops were Highlanders, but many of their officers had experience in the Stuart’s Scottish army. At this early stage they were also often former colleagues of their opponents, most of whom had served in that same army. However most of their military experience came serving in foreign armies, as there had been very few wars involving the English or Scottish armies in the previous decades.

After this we move onto the campaign itself. This is split into three, with each section focusing on one of the three main battles of the campaign – the Jacobite victory at Killicrankie, which was one of the most costly battles of the entire Jacobite period, and the Government victories at Dunkeld and Cromdale. Killicrankie was unusual in that both sides suffered heavy losses – the Jacobites as they advanced towards the Government forces, the Government troops after large parts of their line broke and fled under the impact of the Highland charge. It was also unusual in that General MacKay, the defeated Government commander, remained in charge of the campaign after the battle despite having handled it rather badly. The battle also ended with the Jacobites chasing down and killing their retreating enemies, something government forces have since been criticized for doing at later battles but that was a standard feature of battles at the time.

The rest of the campaign is less famous than Killicrankie, probably because the wrong side won to fit with the later romanticised image of the Jacobites. These government success made a Jacobite victory unlikely, and after James was defeated at the Boyne and his position in Ireland collapsed, the Scottish clans asked for his permission to make peace. This was given, but too late for some, most famously the MacDonalds of Glencoe, who were considered to be one of the most rebellious clans, and who submitted just after the deadline. This led to one of the most controversial events of this war, the massacre of Glencoe, in which troops from Argyll’s regiment killed 38 MacDonalds, after having been billeted amongst them for the previous two weeks. To modern eyes the entire thing looks dreadful, but to contemporaries the main issue was this breach of hospitality!

This is an excellent study of the first of the Jacobite Wars in Scotland, fought alongside the more significant campaign in Ireland, and largely dependent on the results of that conflict. However it is well worthy of study in its own right as a major civil war in Scotland that could easily have had a wider impact if the Jacobites had been able to take advantage of their victory at Killiecrankie.

1 – Seventeenth Century Scotland, 1660-1688
2 – The Campaign begins, 1689
3 – The Jacobite Army
4 – William and Mary’s Forces
5 – The Battle of Killiecrankie
6 – The Battle of Dunkeld
7 – The Battle of Cromdale, 1790
8 – The End of the Campaign, 1691-1692

Author: Jonathan D. Oates
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 224
Publisher: Helion
Year: 2018

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