John Graham, 1st Viscount Dundee

John Graham, 1st Viscount Dundee
John Graham, 1st Viscount Dundee
Born 21 July 1648(1648-07-21)
Glen Ogilvie, near Glamis, Angus
Died 27 July 1689(1689-07-27) (aged 41)
Killiecrankie, Perthshire
Resting place St Bride's Kirk, by Blair Castle, Perthshire
Nationality Scottish
Other names Bonnie Dundee, Bluidy Clavers
Alma mater University of St Andrews
Occupation Soldier
Title Major-general, Viscount Dundee
Religion Episcopalian
Spouse Lady Jean Cochrane
Children James Graham, 2nd Viscount Dundee
Parents Sir William Graham, Lady Madeline Carnegie

John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount Dundee (c. 21 July 1648 - 27 July 1689), known as the 7th Laird of Claverhouse until raised to the viscounty in 1688, was a Scottish soldier and nobleman, a Tory and an Episcopalian. Claverhouse is remembered as a persecutor of the Covenanters, when he was responsible for policing south-west Scotland during and after the religious unrest and rebellion of the 1670s and 80s, which led to Presbyterian historians dubbing him "Bluidy Clavers". However, Claverhouse recommended lenient treatment of the Covenanters[neutrality is disputed] and married into a prominent Covenanter family. Later, as a general in the Scottish army, Claverhouse remained loyal to King James VII of Scotland (King James II of England) after the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688. He rallied the loyal Highland clans and, although he lost his life in the battle, led them to victory at Killiecrankie. This first Jacobite rising was unsuccessful, but Claverhouse became a Jacobite hero, acquiring his second soubriquet "Bonnie Dundee".


Early life

The Graham family was descended from King Robert III, through his second daughter Princess Mary.[1] John Graham was born of a junior branch of the family, that had acquired the estate of Claverhouse near Dundee. He was the elder son of Sir William Graham and Lady Madeline Carnegie, 5th daughter of the Earl of Southesk. He had a younger brother, David, and two sisters. Both John and David were educated at the University of St Andrews, graduating in 1661.

William Graham died in around 1652,[2] and the brothers became the responsibility of their uncles and other relatives. In 1660 they were listed as burgesses of Dundee, probably at the instigation of their paternal uncle George Graham. John Graham came of age and inherited the Claverhouse estate in about 1667.[3] The Claverhouse properties included a house in Glen Ogilvie, in the Sidlaw Hills to the north of Dundee (since demolished), Claypotts Castle, and a house at Mill of Mains. In 1669 Graham's maternal uncle, David Carnegie, Lord Lour, obtained him an appointment as a Commissioner of Excise and Justice of the Peace for Angus.[4]

Military service abroad

He began his military career in 1672, as a Junior Lieutenant in Sir William Lockhart's Scots Regiment. This regiment was under the command of the Duke of Monmouth, in the service of the French King, Louis XIV. By 1674, Graham was a Cornet in William of Orange's guards. He was present at the Battle of Seneffe that year, and rescued the young Prince when his horse fell in marshy ground. As a reward for his actions, Dundee received a Captain’s commission in the same troop. Two years later, following an unsuccessful siege of Maastricht, Graham resigned his commission and returned to Scotland. William wrote a letter to James, Duke of York (later James VII), who was both his uncle and father-in-law, recommending John Graham as a soldier.

Military Service in Scotland

After leaving Holland, Graham was appointed captain by Charles II and sent to south-west Scotland in 1678, with orders to suppress conventicles (outdoor Presbyterian meetings) that the king deemed seditious. His reputation for relentless repression of the Covenanters, as they are known today, in Dumfries and Galloway earned the nickname of "Bluidy Clavers". The difficulties of his task, the hostility of the populace, and the nature and extent of the country he was required to watch were too great for the leader of a small body of cavalry, and in spite of his vigorous and energetic action, Graham accomplished little. He conducted his occupation with zest, however, and interpreted consistently the orders he received, acting as both judge and executioner. In 1685 he executed John Brown for his refusal to swear that he would not take up arms against the king (as he had done before), and to take the Oath of Abjuration: "I do hereby abhor, renounce and disown in the presence of Almighty God, the pretended Declaration of War lately affixed at several parish churches, in so far as it declares war against his sacred Majesty, and asserts that it is lawfull to kill such as serve his Majesty in Church, State, Army or Country, or such as act against the authors of the pretended Declaration now shown to me."[5][6]

On 1 June 1679 the Covenanters routed him and his company of dragoons at the Battle of Drumclog, whereupon he fled to Glasgow, successfully defending it until his party left on 3 June, heading towards Stirling. Later joined by the Duke of Monmouth, the whole of the militia, and two regiments of dragoons, both sides met again at the Battle of Bothwell Brig, on 22 June, and the Covenanters were convincingly routed. In 1680 he was dispatched to London to influence the king against the indulgent method adopted by the Duke of Monmouth with the extreme Covenanting party. The king seems to have been fascinated by his loyal supporter, and from that moment Graham was destined to rise in rank and honors. Early in 1680 he obtained a royal grant of the barony of the outlawed Macdougal of Freuch, and the grant was after some delay confirmed by subsequent orders upon the exchequer in Scotland.

In January 1681 he was appointed to the sheriffships of Wigtown, Dumfries, Kirkcudbright and Annandale. In December 1682 Graham was appointed colonel of a new regiment raised in Scotland. He had still greater honors in view. In January 1683 the case of the Earl of Lauderdale was debated in the House of Lords. Lauderdale was proprietor of the lands and lordship of Dundee and Dudhope, and the decree of the Lords against him was in March 1683 issued for the sum of 72,000 pounds. Graham succeeded in having the Castle of Dudhope (part of the property of the defaulter) and Lauderdale's title of Constable of Dundee transferred to him by royal grant in 1684. In May 1683 he was nominated to the privy council of Scotland.

Marriage and Promotion

He married Lady Jean Cochrane, a daughter of a fiercely Covenanting family in 1674. Shortly after the death of Charles II in 1685, Graham incurred a temporary disgrace by his deposition from the office of Privy Councillor; but in May he was reinstated, although his commission of justiciary, which had expired, was not renewed. In 1686 he was promoted to the rank of major-general, and had added to his position of Constable the dignity of Lord Provost of Dundee. In 1688 he was second in command to General Douglas in the army which had been ordered to England to aid the falling dynasty of the Stuarts. In 1688, however, he was created Viscount Dundee by James VII while with the Scots army in England.

Service in the Revolution of 1689

Dundee returned to Scotland in anticipation of the meeting of the convention, and at once exerted himself to confirm the waning resolution of the Duke of Gordon with regard to holding Edinburgh Castle for the king. The convention proving hostile, he conceived the idea of forming another convention at Stirling to sit in the name of James VII, but the hesitancy of his associates rendered the design futile, and it was given up. Previous to this, on 18 March, he had left Edinburgh at the head of a company of fifty dragoons, who were strongly attached to his person. He was not long gone ere the news was brought to the alarmed convention that he had been seen clambering up the castle rock and holding conference with the Duke of Gordon. In excitement and confusion order after order was dispatched in reference to the fugitive. Dundee retired to Dudhope. On 30 March he was publicly denounced as a traitor, and in the latter half of April attempts were made to secure him at Dudhope, and at his residence in Glen Ogilvy. But the secrecy and speed of his movements outwitted his pursuers, and he retreated to the north.

In 1689, after the overthrow of King James, he became a fervent supporter of the Stuart cause. Viscount Dundee raised his standard on Dundee Law in support of the Jacobite cause. However, in spite of his subsequent association with Dundee he was to face what the historian of Jacobitism, Bruce Lenman, has described as a 'stony faced' reception from the townsfolk. In reality, Claverhouse's association with Dundee was brief and unpopular and he was seen as the representative of an arbitrary authoritarian monarchy that was eroding the previous self autonomy of the Burgh.[7] Indeed when he returned to Dundee with a Jacobite army (Dundee Law at that time laid outside the Burgh walls) he was to find the gates firmly shut and the walls guarded.[8] For four months he rallied support in the hope that King James would return from Ireland. Modern biographers, particularly Andrew Murray Scott's Bonnie Dundee (1989, 2000) considers that his skill as a diplomat was as great as the inspiration he provided as a leader.

His greatest victory was at the Battle of Killiecrankie, later that year against much greater Williamite forces led by General Hugh Mackay. Scott believes that Claverhouse's death in victory as he led the Jacobite charge down the hill at sunset was the final desperate act of a man who was aware that he had been betrayed by Melfort the King's adviser and was trying to overcompensate for their lack of support. The Highlanders were completely victorious, but their leader, in the act of encouraging his men, was pierced beneath the breastplate by a musket ball of the enemy, and fell dying from his horse. Graham reputedly asked a soldier 'How goes the day?' The man replied 'Well for King James, but I am sorry for your lordship.' The dying Graham replied, 'If it goes well for him, it matters the less for me.' A short letter of the engagement to King James was later produced which purports to be from Graham but is now believed to be spurious. The battle, disastrous as it was to the government forces, was in reality the end of the insurrection, for the controlling and commanding genius of the rebellion was no more. The death of Dundee, in the midst and the confusion of a cavalry charge, formed the subject of numerous legends, the best known of which is the long prevalent but of course entirely false tradition that he was invulnerable to lead(due to a deal with the devil) and was killed by a silver button from his own coat. He died on the battlefield and was carried to nearby St Bride's Kirk a few miles away where he was buried. The stone which commemorates him at the crypt there gives his age (erroneously) as 46, though he was actually 41.

The use of "Bonnie Dundee" (or "Bonny Dundee") as an epithet dates to within a few years of the Viscount's death.

Preceded by
New Creation
Viscount Dundee Succeeded by
James Graham


  1. ^ "Clan Graham". Retrieved 2007-08-29. 
  2. ^ Scott cites documents which show that William died between 17 June 1652 and 29 January 1653.
  3. ^ He would have inherited the estate at 18 or 19 years of age. The exact date is as uncertain as the date of birth.
  4. ^ The commission was granted in February 1669, but withdrawn in September on the grounds that Graham was still a minor. The commission was restored in September, suggesting that Graham had turned 21 by then, and wastherefore born in 1648. See Scott, p.8
  5. ^ Alistair and Henrietta Tayler, John Graham of Claverhouse. London: Duckworth, 1939.
  6. ^ McFeeters (1913) ch. 46
  7. ^ Bruce Lenman, The Jacobite Risings in Britain 1689-1746, (Aberdeen 1980), p.39-42
  8. ^ Ibid p,39-40


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  • Andrew Murray Scott (1989). Bonnie Dundee: John Graham of Claverhouse. John Donald / Birlinn. ISBN 0859765326 . 
  • J. C. McFeeters (1913). Sketches of the Covenanters. 
  • Robertson, Alexander (1889) Lectures, Legal, Political, and Historical: On the Sciences of Law and Politics; Home and Foreign Affairs, Stevens & Haynes
  • Magnus Linklater and Christian Hesketh (1989). For King and Conscience: John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee (1648-1689). Weidenfeld and Nicholson. ISBN 0297795406 . 
  • Alistair and Henrietta Tayler (1939). John Graham of Claverhouse. Duckworth. 
  • Louis A. Barbé (1903), Viscount Dundee, Oliphant, Anderson and Ferrier, ("Famous Scots Series").

In literature

  • '"The Grameid", an epic poem in Latin on the Claverhouse campaign of 1689 was written by James Philip of Almerieclos, an Angus laird who was Dundee's kinsman and standard-bearer.
  • Claverhouse's campaign is the subject of a poem called "Bonny Dundee" written by Sir Walter Scott in 1830 (later adapted into a song known as "The Bonnets o' Bonnie Dundee")
  • Claverhouse is one of the central characters in Sir Walter Scott's novel, Old Mortality.
  • Claverhouse is the subject of Rosemary Sutcliff's 1983 young adult novel, "Bonnie Dundee". (In exile in Holland, Hugh Herriot recalls the exploits of his youth as a follower of Bonnie Dundee who tried to win back Scotland for the Catholic King James and whose death during a victorious battle proved to be a final blow for the Jacobite cause.)
  • "The Phoenix and the Laurel" (1954), a historical novel by Jane Lane (author) also takes the story of Claverhouse as its subject

External links

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