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Bonnie Dundee and General Hugh Mackay
(by Kenneth Morgan)

This is a message posted at the Tartans.com general chat forum "The Pub" (History Only) by Kenneth Morgan on September 14, 1998.

What? you ask, were the social undertones of the religious wars in Scotland. There are always undertones. Here are a few.

Loyalty v self-interest

Parliament v King

Mercantile v Noblese

Piety v Debauchery

Abuse of authority v accountable government

I could list more.

In the late middle ages and the renaissance a great social change occurred. Until then power was in the hands of an oligarchy of nobles who in ancient times had seized it by force of arms. The world was seen by most as a hierarchy


Pope - King

Bishop - Baron

Priest - Knight


This hierarchy had long suffered an internal tension between the temporal and spiritual powers. In practice the two estates settled upon a truce dividing the powers of church and state. These frequently became entangled. In part, because the clergy tended to hold lands as temporal princes as well as spiritual ones. Occasionally a Pope would need to render a decision that put him at odds with a King. For instance, Henry VIII of Englandís request for annulment of marriage from Katherine of Aragon. Popes routinely granted annulments to Kings who had wives that did not produce heirs. In this instance however, Katherine was the Aunt of Charles I of Spain, who was also the Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire Ė the theoretical heir to Emperor Constantine of Rome. The Pope, Clement VII, was faced with angering the King of England or the King of Spain. Let us all hope that he made a righteous decision when he decided to anger the far off King of England rather than the nearby Emperor.

Overlaying this problem was the loss of moral authority among the clergy. Priest had become synonymous with clerk and none were celibate or pious. Archbishop Beaton of Scotland, the last Roman prelate, is a case in point. He behaved as if he were a temporal prince. He dressed like a temporal prince, he lived openly with his consort and treated his children as heirs to a temporal estate. He provided himself and his family with every luxury. To those who suggested any reform or who challenged his authority he showed no mercy. He had the popular reformers Patrick Hamilton and George Wishart burned. Just to make sure that the commoners understood that he meant business, a couple was burnt for eating a goose on Friday and for the wifeís failure to call upon Mary during her childbirth.

Combine the two issues of hierarchy and moral authority and you have revolution. A sincere priest could have a powerful affect. The revolution began in Germany. Martin Luther objected, on moral grounds to 95 issues, most prominent among these was selling indulgences. Secular princes had objected to these for a long time because they were a kind of additional taxation. It was a balance of trade issue. Large sums of money were taken out of country and sent to Rome. And it was used for what? Rich food, fancy houses, concubines, bribes and gifts to undermine secular authority, salaries for soldiers, oh and yes, the occasional benefit for the poor. Luther was not the first reformer, but he was the first with such powerful friends..

One other issue figures in Britain. Who would have sovereignty, the king or parliament? The democratic impulse was rising as the middle class grew. These wealthy and influential families were not a part of the old hierarchy. They wanted to be. Most saw the best route was by changing the way government was seen.

People in this age seemed to have trouble understanding compromise. With them it seems "If you arenít with me you are against me." As soon as one side gained some superiority they would use their power in a wholesale progrom against the opposing party. When both Mary I (Bloody Mary) of England and Mary Queen of Scots assumed the throne much violent repression of Protestants took place. This led to reaction and punitive actions by the opposition when they were in power. And so it went back and forth with and escalation of violence and reprisal.

In these times, as now, each individual saw the world in his or her own way. One saw a corrupt priest. Another was angered that he was forbidden to read the Bible, another was only interested in how he might best raise the family fortune, another saw self-righteous Puritans taking all the fun out life, another saw disloyal riffraff putting on airs, another sought revenge for the martyrdom of the sincere parish priest who had given so much to the community. And so it was. A bloody civil war ensued throughout the British isles that lasted for more than 100 years.

In the far north, the powerful Clan Mackay went over to Protestantism very early. They sent large contingents to fight for King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden and to the Dutch to help in their fight against Spain, and then later France. There is to this day, a highland regiment in the Dutch Army, the Dutch Mackay Regiment. The drain of manpower may have lead to the loss of their estate and influence in the north to the Sutherlands.

By 1689 the religious wars were about over. The days of Cromwell were past. The monarchy had been restored in Britain but the monarchy seemed to have learned nothing. James VII of Scotland (II of England) attempted arbitrary rule. He alienated both the English and Scottish Parliaments. In Scotland the particular way he did this was to attempt to restore Roman Catholic Episcopal authority, in effect making Scotland Catholic.

William of Orange, was invited by members of Parliament, to invade England. James VII army deserted him and William & his English & Scottish wife Mary became the first constitutional monarchs in England. William himself had Stewart blood. Parliament in Scotland also ratified their rule. It was in Scotland however, where the only British resistance was shown. Viscount Dundee, John Graham of Claverhouse, led a coalition of mostly highlanders who were loyal to God and King. Dundee, who had a handsome boyish face was know as Bonnie Dundee by his supporters and Bloody Clavers by the Protestant Covenanters. He got the name Bloody Clavers for about the same reason that the Duke of Cumberland became "Stinking William" after Culloden. Some ten years earlier he had participated in the defeat of the Army of Covenators at Battle of Bothwel Bridge 1679. General Hugh Mackay was commander of the forces of God and parliament. The two forces met at the pass of Killekrankie. Dundee was outnumbered but held the high ground. The fight was bloody and casualties were high on both sides. In the end the Jacobites held the ground so they could be called the winners. But it was a victory at a high cost. Bonnie Dundee was killed. The Jacobite movement gained energy from the victory but lost its focus. No other aristocrat was prepared to assume Dundee's leadership. Since the Jacobite resistance was not decisively defeated but rather withered away, it left a lingering impression of a hostile and rebellious highlands. Thus William III was encouraged to demand loyalty oaths and the stage was set for the tragedy of Glenn Coe.

William III spent the rest of his life fighting against France, Hugh Mackay went on to achieve victories. He was killed in France while in the King's service.

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