Battle of Killiecrankie

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Battle of Killiecrankie

Killiecrankie, Perthshire The 27th of July 1689 AD

The Parliamentarians had been hankering after some revolt for quite some time: and in 1688, they got it. It took, of all things, a Dutchman to depose King James II (VII of Scotland). William of Orange ’s arrival ushered in a new era of government that espoused Protestantism and Parliamentary power. It was just what the Scottish Covenanters wanted. It also suited William quite nicely; he married his cousin Mary (the deposed James II’s daughter, Queen Mary II ), and slept a little more soundly after warming the English throne – after all, the French would be less of a threat to his homeland now that he wielded England’s power.
But not all in Scotland aligned themselves with this new age of whiggish reinvention. For every movement there is a counter movement, and the Glorious Revolution was met by the outbreak of Jacobitism. Taking its name from ‘Jacobus’, meaning James in Latin, the Jacobites sired a number of rebellions in the name of their deposed king. Highlanders who never accepted the Presbyterian Covenanters, many of whom Catholic, would lend their unruly clans’ support behind the Jacobites. A wide demographic rallied behind the cause – though, many were Catholic, and the reinstating of James II to the throne looked to be the only way to secure more freedom to practise their religion. Many just believed that the sovereign should rule supreme; and parliamentarianism was anathema to that belief. Many believed in the episcopacy.
Whatever their motive, the Jacobites would launch a number of risings – peaking in 1745 when they threatened Westminster – that would be shrouded in romance. In 1689, it was that historic foe of the Covenanters, John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, who launched an immediate rising to restore the exiled James II. He raised the Stewart Standard at Dundee , and went in search of an army. Enlisting the support of a confederation of Highland clans, bolstered by support from the Irish Guards, Dundee had helped coalesce Jacobite sympathies.
He was also attracting attention. General Hugh MacKay of Scourie had in the region of 3,500 troops at his disposal; Dundee was his target. It was at Lochaber that Dundee would learn of MacKay’s advance. At this stage, he was outnumbered by over 1,000 troops. The need for reinforcements was becoming desperate. MacKay had earned his spurs in the Dutch wars; his men were similarly battle-hardened Scottish Lowlanders. And just as Lord Montrose led the Covenanters in a game of cat and mouse, as the Wars of the Three Kingdoms raged four decades before, Dundee would elude MacKay until he could face him on his on terms. His stewardship would bring great success; but at considerable cost.

The ground was crucial to the Jacobites’ success, and it was on the road to Blair Atholl that Dundee would finally encounter the Covenanters. His men were still outnumbered, but there was a certain defiance in the Highland men under Ewan Cameron; the infamous Highland Charge, as on this occasion, expertly executed by the Lochaber Camerons, was a great leveller. Dundee’s men blocked the pass to Atholl. With no clear route through, MacKay’s men opened fire with musket, but at range, they had little success. The Jacobites took their time, charging when the time was right, and relied on their dexterity with the broadsword and brute strength to seize the initiative.
The Camerons’ charge was the coup de grace in a brutal evening battle – Dundee was among the thousands who lost their lives under a setting sun. But this was only to be a bloody dawn for Jacobitism; there were to be more risings.

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Comment

From Andrew Davidson on 17th January 2011
At the time of this battle troops still used a bayonet that plugged into the end of the rifle barrel this meant that once bayonets were fixed the rifle could no longer be fired. Following Killiekrankie the ring bayonet was introduced which meant the soldiers rifle could be both used as a spear and fired meaning that enemy charges could be much more easily repulsed or defeated, as was the case at Culloden les than a 100 years later.

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