John Graham was the elder son of Royalists, and related to the Marquis of Montrose. Claverhouse spent his childhood in Glen Ogilvy near Dundee. He studied at St. Andrews University.
He began his career as a soldier in France, as a volunteer for Louis XIV (under the Duke of Monmouth and MacKay of Scourie). He joined William of Orange (of Holland, 1674) and is said to have saved William's life in battle. He was recommended to James, Duke of York at William's marriage to Mary Stuart (1677), and became one of James's personal advisors.
In 1678 he was assigned the duty of suppressing the
Covenanters (Presbyterian rebels who opposed Anglicanism) in Dumfries and Galloway. In 1679 Covenanter's rebellion he was defeated at Drumclog. He also helped defend Glasgow, and fought at Bothwell Brig.
The years of 1681-1685 are known as the Killing Times because of the autrocities committed. James Graham was among those who committed them. He earned the name "Bloody Clavers" by his brutal suppression of the Coventanters. Two of those he dealt with were the Wigtown Martyrs - women who were tied to a post to be drowned by the incoming tide.
Although Claverhouse's reputation is for one of ruthless suppression in dealing with the convenanters, in 1674 he had married, Jean Cochrane, who was from a prominent Covenanter family. In addition, at one point he urged moderation.
Learning of Lochiel's Highland confederacy (to restore James II to the throne), and declared a rebel, Claverhouse left his wife and new born son in Glen Ogilvy and rode north-east to rally support for the Jacobite cause. In 1688 when William of Orange invaded, James II made Graham second-in-command of the Scottish army and named him Viscount Dundee.
In four months Dundee covered 800 miles (from Inverness on 8 May, he crossed Corrieyairack and Drumochter Passes to raid Perth on the 10th). General Hugh MacKay was dispatched to deal with the rebellion in Scotland. MacKay commanded met four thousand musketed men, Lowland Scots and veterans of the Dutch wars.
MacKay's Government army had to go through the pass of Killiecrankie. Dundee's troops hid in the braken and waited for MacKay. MacKay's troops outnumbered Dundee two to one. On July 17, 1689 Graham ambushed General Hugh Mackay at the Pass of Killicrankie.
The Battle of Killicrankie was one of the last last battles that saw the effective use of claymores and the highland charge. Graham's forces attacked Mackay's right flank. MacKay's forces firing a musket volley. However, because of their inexperience and the ferocity of the highland charge, they were too slow to reload. The Highlanders overwhelmed them. Mackay's left flank also retreated in disarray. Graham's troops performed the classic pincer movement and crushed the remainder of Mackay's troops. Graham's victory was absolute.
However, Graham himself had been mortally wounded. Surviving long enough to direct the battle and learn of his victory, he died soon after. The Jacobites had no leader as capable to replace Dundee. In August the Jacobites, under Colonel Alexander Cannon, were defeated at the Battle of Dunkeld by veterans of the Covenanter's Uprising led by William Cleland. The First Jacobite Uprising ended May Day, 1690.
The guide at the Killikrankie Visitor Center.
Thanks to Alex Calderhead of Clan Graham!