John Graham of Claverhouse, also known as Viscount Dundee or Bonnie Dundee, was a Scottish soldier and nobleman who lived in the 17th century. He is best remembered for leading a Jacobite uprising in 1689 against the new Protestant monarchs William III and Mary II, who had deposed his patron James II, the last Catholic king of Britain.
John Graham was born around 1648 into a branch of the Graham family that owned the estate of Claverhouse near Dundee. He was a descendant of King Robert III of Scotland through his second daughter Princess Mary. He had two sisters and a younger brother David, who also became a soldier. He studied at the University of St Andrews and graduated in 1661.
He began his military career fighting in France and the Netherlands for various sides in the Franco-Dutch War (1672-1678). He served under Sir William Lockhart in France and then joined the Dutch Scots Brigade, a unit composed mostly of Scottish exiles loyal to Charles II.
He returned to Scotland in 1678 and was appointed captain of a troop of dragoons by Charles II’s brother James, Duke of York, who was then Lord High Commissioner for Scotland. His main task was to suppress Presbyterian rebels who opposed the Anglican establishment imposed by Charles II after the Restoration. These rebels were known as Covenanters because they adhered to a series of covenants that pledged loyalty to Presbyterianism and resistance to royal interference.
Graham earned a reputation for ruthlessness and cruelty in his dealings with the Covenanters. He was involved in several skirmishes and battles with them, such as Drumclog Moss (1679), where he was defeated by a larger force led by Robert Hamilton; Bothwell Bridge (1679), where he helped rout Hamilton’s army; and Aird’s Moss (1680), where he captured Richard Cameron, one of the most prominent Covenanter leaders.
He also gained several nicknames from his enemies: “Bluidy Clavers” for his bloodthirsty actions; “The Killing Time” for his role in executing many Covenanters; and “The Hammer of God” for being seen as God’s instrument of wrath against them.
However, Graham was not always harsh towards his opponents. He sometimes showed leniency and mercy to those who surrendered or repented. He also married Jean Cochrane, daughter of Lord Dundonald, who came from a prominent Covenanter family, in 1684.
In 1685, James II succeeded Charles II as king of England, Scotland, and Ireland. He was openly Catholic and tried to promote religious tolerance for Catholics and other dissenters. However, this alienated many Protestants who feared that he would undermine their rights and privileges.
In November 1688, William III (William of Orange), stadtholder of the Netherlands and nephew/son-in-law of James II, invaded England with a large army and navy, supported by many English nobles and politicians who opposed James II. James II fled to France, leaving behind his wife Mary of Modena, and their infant son James Francis Edward Stuart, who was widely suspected to be an impostor.
William III and Mary II, James II’s eldest daughter from his first marriage, were declared joint sovereigns of England, Scotland and Ireland by Parliament. Graham remained loyal to James II and refused to swear allegiance to William III and Mary II. He became second-in-command of the Scottish army sent to aid James II, but returned to Scotland after James’s flight.
He was created Viscount Dundee by James on November 12, 1688. He then rallied those Highland clans loyal to James II, known as Jacobites (from Jacobus, the Latin form of James), and prepared for an uprising against William III and Mary II. He faced opposition from many Lowland Scots, who supported William III and Mary II, as well as from some Highland chiefs, who were reluctant to join him.
On 27 July 1689, Claverhouse’s Jacobite army defeated Scottish government forces led by Major-General Hugh Mackay at the battle of Killiecrankie south of Blair Atholl. Claverhouse was killed in the fighting and was later laid to rest at the nearby St Bride’s Kirk on the grounds of Blair Castle.