The Massacre of Glencoe, Causes and Consequences
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
.. continued from the previous article ...
Dundee escaped from the South and raised the Jacobite standard in the Highlands, while William appointed to the command in Scotland General McKay, and efficient though not brilliant officer who had served under him in Holland. Five and forty years earlier Montrose had shown what could be done and had learnt what could not be done by an army composed of the clansmen. Among the mountains especially such an army could move with extraordinary speed which regular troops could not hope to match.
In the shock of onset the charge of the Highlanders was apt to be irresistible. But the commander of the mixed force was certain to find himself hampered if not paralysed by clan feuds and rivalries which even at the most critical moments it was almost impossible to repress, especially as the clans formed separate contingents, each led by its own chief.
But, further, the Highlander conceived of war not as campaigning but as raiding; after a fight or two he was disposed to consider himself at liberty to return to his glens with his booty. With such forces much damage might be inflicted on an enemy, but with such forces alone an organised campaign of conquest was not practicable.
The Battle of Killiecrankie
Dundee's hope was that he would be able to keep the Lowlands in a state of perpetual alarm and to demoralise the government troops until he should receive reinforcements from France or from Ireland which would enable him to conduct an effective campaign. The failure of this hope when the summer was already far advanced it imperative that Dundee should effect some striking achievement in order to keep his forces from dissolving.
Accordingly he enticed McKay into the Highlands, drew his force into an ambush at the Pass of Killiecrankie and put it completely and overwhelmingly to rout. Nevertheless his brilliant victory proved a fatal disaster to the Jacobite cause. Dundee himself fell while leading a triumphant charge. There was no man to take his place.
The victorious clansmen attacked Dunkeld; but being there repulsed by the resolute resistance of a regiment of Cameronians, they lost heart and interest and dispersed to their own homes. The civil war was practically at an end.
The war being disposed of, there remained three problems for the government — the settlement of the Highlands, the settlement of the powers of parliament, and the settlement of the ecclesiastical question. All of them were thorny. The parliament demanded that the Committee of the Articles should be entirely elected by the Estates.
The Crown, through its ministers and its own representative or commissioner, the Duke of Hamilton, claimed that the ministers should themselves form one of the groups in the committee; and neither party would give way. On the Church question the parliament wanted to restore the independent government of the Church on the Presbyterian system.
The Crown, on the other hand, was determined to uphold the supremacy of the State over the Church, and also, not without reason, feared that Presbyterian supremacy would be intolerant and retaliatory. All that was accomplished in 1689 was the passing of an Act abolishing Episcopacy. During the winter, however, some of the leaders of the opposition to the Crown discredited themselves by entering upon intrigues with the Jacobites, and, on the other hand, William resolved to make substantial concessions.
Committees of the Articles abolished
Accordingly in the following year the old Committees of the Articles were finally abolished. Future committees were to be appointed by the Estates, but their appointment was not to be a condition precedent on legislation; and while ministers of the Crown had the right of attending such committees, they had no right as ministers to vote.
Another Act- established the Presbyterian system of Church government with the Kirk Sessions as its base and the General Assembly as the apex. William's concessions secured his position as against Jacobitism, but practically the Scottish parliament and the Scottish Church had won their demands at the expense of what had hitherto been the royal prerogative.
Controlling the Highlands
For the settlement of the Highlands the policy adopted combined conciliation with compulsion. The advocates of military control were allowed to establish a government fort and garrison at Fort William; but although for some time many of the Highland chiefs refused to take the oath of allegiance, the disappearance of all chance of help either from Ireland or from France disposed them to come to terms.
Some accepted a solatium, and when in August 1691 amnesty was promised to all who should take the oath of allegiance by the first of January ensuing, all of them took advantage of the promise, although many deferred doing so till the last moment.
The massacre of Glencoe
Nevertheless in one case the submission came too late. Sir John Dalrymple, the Master of Stair (that is the heir-apparent of the Earl of Stair), one of William's principal advisers with regard to Scottish affairs, found an opportunity for destroying the small clan of the Macdonalds of Glencoe.
The chief had presented himself, on the last day allowed by the law for taking the oath, at Fort William, where there was no authority empowered to receive it. Hence he did not actually take the oath before a duly constituted authority till a week too late.
The Edinburgh authorities refused to accept the oath thus tendered, and Macdonald's name was returned to London as a recalcitrant. Of these circumstances William and possibly Dalrymple were unaware; and Dalrymple procured from the king an order that "this set of thieves" should be "extirpated."
To carry out the order a party of soldiers was sent to Glencoe, whose commander was connected by marriage with the chief's family. Their hostile intentions were carefully concealed; they were received and entertained hospitably by the clan for a fortnight. Then in the night they rose upon their entertainers and massacred them, though some few of the intended victims succeeded in making their escape.
The act deservedly aroused furious resentment; the punishment of the perpetrators was demanded on all hands; and the inadequacy of the penalties inflicted after the whole story of the crime was revealed left a rankling sentiment of bitterness in Scotland against the system which kept the king of Scotland at a distance from the realm and out of touch with the Scottish people.
William's ignorance of the facts connected with the tendering of the oath, an ignorance which may or may not have been shared by the Master of Stair, might have been held to excuse him if his subsequent conduct had not endorsed the whole of the proceedings. Stair had to resign his office, but William did not withdraw from him his personal favour. The memory of the massacre of Glencoe remained among the Scottish people as one of the incentives to Jacobitism and to the popular dislike at least of any closer connection with England.
This article is excerpted from the book, 'A History of the British Nation', by AD Innes, published in 1912 by TC & EC Jack, London. I picked up this delightful tome at a second-hand bookstore in Calgary, Canada, some years ago. Since it is now more than 70 years since Mr Innes's death in 1938, we are able to share the complete text of this book with Britain Express readers. Some of the author's views may be controversial by modern standards, particularly his attitudes towards other cultures and races, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.