Battle of Killiecrankie

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Battle of Killiecrankie
Part of the Jacobite rising of 1689
Pass of Killiecrankie, from an 1802 book
Date 27 July 1689
Location Killiecrankie, Scotland
56°45′11″N 3°47′46″W / 56.753°N 3.796°W / 56.753; -3.796Coordinates: 56°45′11″N 3°47′46″W / 56.753°N 3.796°W / 56.753; -3.796
Result Jacobite victory
Scottish and Irish Jacobite forces Scottish Government forces
Commanders and leaders
John Graham Dundee
Colonel Alexander Cannon
Cameron of Lochiel
Major General Hugh Mackay
2,400 foot, 40 cavalry [1] 3,500-5,000 foot, 100 cavalry
Casualties and losses
800 1,700-2,000
Battle of Killiecrankie is located in Scotland
Battle of Killiecrankie
Location within Scotland

The Battle of Killiecrankie (Gaelic: Blàr Choille Chnagaidh), also referred to as Rinrory by contemporaries, took place on 27 July 1689 during the First Jacobite uprising between a combined Scottish and Irish Jacobite force and those supporting the new government of William III. The Jacobites achieved a stunning victory but suffered heavy casualties, including their leader.

The battlefield has been included in the Inventory of Historic Battlefields in Scotland and protected by Historic Scotland under the Scottish Historical Environment Policy of 2009.[2] The battle is remembered in four songs known as The Braes o' Killiecrankie which were included in Jacobite Reliques, a collection of songs published by James Hogg in 1819.

Historical settings


When James VII and II became King of Scotland and England in February 1685, he had widespread support in Scotland and England despite his personal Catholicism.[3] The 1681 Succession Act confirmed the rights of the natural heir 'regardless of religion,' the duty of all to swear allegiance to that king and the independence of the Scottish Crown.[4] The Scottish Test Act passed at the same time required all public officials and MPs to swear unconditional loyalty to the King but with the crucial qualifier that they 'promise to uphold the true Protestant religion.'[5] The linking of these two meant Parliament would support James but in return he would not alter the religious settlement.

James had been closely involved in passing the Acts as Lord High Commissioner as well as swearing to this in his Coronation Oath. Many regarded his policy of 'tolerance' for Catholicism as contrary both to that Oath and the agreement of 1681; since less than 2% of Scots were Catholic, there was little support for this. James was an autocrat who believed in the divine right of kings; when Parliament refused to approve his measures, he dissolved it and resorted to arbitrary rule. It was this response that ultimately led to his fall.[6]

In June 1688, the birth of a son James III created the prospect of a Catholic successor rather than James' Protestant daughter Mary and her Dutch husband William.[7] Seven English politicians representing a wide range of interest groups now invited William and Mary to assume the English throne (not the Scottish).[8] William landed in Torbay in November 1688 and advanced slowly towards London; as he did so, James' army deserted and he fled to France on 23 December. In February 1689, the English Parliament declared James had abdicated and formally offered the English throne to William and Mary. However, the issue of the Scottish throne remained unresolved.

Birth of Scottish Jacobitism

Supporters of the exiled James II were known as 'Jacobites' from Jacobus, Latin for James and the associated political movement as Jacobitism. By 1689, Stewart loyalists were limited to a handful of Catholics like the Duke of Gordon or those with personal ties of loyalty like John Graham, Viscount Dundee. However, the number of activists on either side was tiny and the vast majority unenthusiastic about either option.[9]

Describing clans as 'Jacobite' can be misleading since rivalries or opportunism were often as significant as political allegiance. The Presbyterian Macleans saw an opportunity to regain territories in Mull lost to the Campbells in the 1670s, while raiding was part of traditional clan warfare; on their way to Killiecrankie, the Keppoch MacDonalds tried to sack Inverness and were bought off only after Dundee intervened.[10]

The Convention that assembled in Edinburgh on 14 March had a large pro-Williamite and Presbyterian majority although this did not mean they all shared the same views.[11] James landed in Ireland on 12 March but the uncompromising tone of his Letter to the Edinburgh Convention of 16th 'instead of encouraging King James' friends put them out of countenance.'[a][12] On 11 April the Convention offered the Scottish throne to William and Mary; shortly thereafter Dundee raised James' Royal Standard on Dundee Law.

Initial military actions

When Ewen Cameron of Lochiel heard of William's landing in England, he began recruiting troops to fight for James. The short-term nature of clan warfare made keeping Highland forces together for long periods extremely difficult and thus placed a premium on action.[13]

Dundee went north with a handful of men to join Lochiel followed by a government force of about 3,500 led by General Hugh Mackay of Scourie, a Scot who had served under William in the Netherlands for many years. On 16 May, Dundee reached Glenroy where the clans had been summoned to meet him on 18th and took his small force of 1,800 men out in the hope of bringing on an action. He was unable to do so and returned to Glenroy on 11 June; most now dispersed to their homes leaving him with less than 200 men.[14]

On 27 June, Dundee wrote to the Earl of Melfort asking for reinforcements; the loss of Kintyre after the Battle of Loup Hill made resupply from Ireland extremely difficult and the letter details possible alternative landing spots. It also refers to the defection of many supporters; the Duke of Gordon's surrender of Edinburgh Castle on 14 June was a particular blow.[15] Dundee's position was weakening as time went by; the only substantial reinforcements he received were 300 Irish soldiers under Alexander Cannon who landed near Duart on 21 July.[b]

A Jacobite garrison under Patrick Stewart of Ballechin occupied Blair Castle, a strategic point controlling access to the Lowlands and seat of the Duke of Atholl; this is a good example of how many families balanced competing sides. Claiming ill-health, Atholl left Edinburgh for Bath in England, leaving his eldest son John Murray to besiege his ancestral home while Stewart himself was a trusted retainer and one of Atholl's key lieutenants in suppressing the 1685 Argyll's Rising.[16]

In late July, Jacobite reinforcements under Sir Alexander Maclean arrived at Blair, prompting Murray to withdraw while Mackay moved north to support him. Seeing a chance to intercept Mackay, Dundee set out with his available forces, ordering the clans to follow "with all haste." Lochiel sent his sons to raise support; he and 240 Camerons plus Cannon's Irish contingent reached Blair on 26 July.


The Camerons overwhelm Mackay's line

On the morning of 27 July, Dundee learned Mackay's forces were entering the Pass of Killiecrankie, a track nearly two miles long with the River Garry on the left and steep hills on either side. He sent 400 men under Sir Alexander McLean to skirmish with Mackay's advance guard and allow him to place his 2,400 troops on the lower slopes of Creag Eallich to the north of the pass. The Jacobites were finally in position about five o'clock; Mackay deployed his troops facing uphill in a long line and only three men deep to maximise firepower. He hoped to provoke the clansmen into a charge where his superior firepower could cause maximum casualties but they held firm.[17]

Since the Jacobites had the sun in their eyes, they waited for sunset while Dundee formed them into columns and at eight o'clock, they began their advance. The left flank of Mackay's line fired three volleys, killing nearly 600 Highlanders but their fire was partly masked by a shallow terrace on the hillside while the right flank apparently fled without firing a shot.[18] As was their usual tactic, the Highlanders fired their own muskets at 50 metres, dropped them and then using axes and swords crashed into Mackay's centre which was "swept away by the furious onset of the Camerons.'

Killiecrankie is the first recorded use of the plug bayonet by British troops in battle; this increased firepower by eliminating the need for pikemen but required training and confidence in its use. The bayonet fitted into the barrel of the musket (hence 'plug'), preventing further reloading or firing and so fixing them was delayed until the last possible moment.[19] Inexperience in this technique combined with the speed of the Jacobite charge meant the government force were effectively defenseless once the Highlanders came to close quarters.[c] The battle was over in less than 30 minutes; what began as an orderly retreat turned into a rout and over 2,000 killed, including Mackay's younger brother James.[20] Mackay himself with a small cavalry escort charged through the Highlanders and ended up on the high ground watching the destruction of his force; he and about 500 others made it back to Stirling, largely because the Jacobites stopped to loot the baggage train.

However, the cost of victory was enormous with nearly one-third of the Jacobite force killed including Dundee himself who was fatally wounded towards the end; a letter under his name sent to James with details of the victory is generally thought to be a forgery but a useful summary of the action itself.[21] Dundee was replaced as commander by Alexander Cannon.

Site investigations

In 2004, a fragment of a hand grenade was found on the site. This is thought to be evidence of the first use in combat of a grenade in Britain.[22] Between August and October 2015, an archaeological survey of the site was undertaken in preparation for the improvement of the A9 road.[23] Finds included a copper alloy pendant, horse shoes, buttons, musket munitions, two buckles and part of the support for a sword belt. Transport Minister Derek Mackay said "Thanks to the survey work, experts are shedding more light on the Battle of Killiecrankie which took place over three hundred years ago, bringing 'Bonnie Dundee's' Jacobite victory to life. They are able to offer more information on the battle including the possible route soldiers took during the battle, potential cavalry positions, where the key skirmishes and close quarters fighting took place, and the likely retreating route taken by the fleeing government forces."[24][25]

Battle gallery

The Battle of Killiecrankie
The Soldier's Leap, where a fleeing soldier escaped his pursuers by leaping across the river after the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689. 
Graham of Claverhouse's stone: This stone marks the point where John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount Dundee, leader of the Jacobites was killed at Killiecrankie. 
Grave of John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount Dundee who was killed at Killiecrankie. He was buried beneath a vault at St. Bride's kirk at Old Blair three days later. 
Grave of Brigadier Barthold Balfour who fought on the government side and was killed at Killiecrankie. 


  1. ^ Jacobite unity in this period was undermined by the conflict between Catholic Non-Compounders who opposed James making any concessions to regain his throne while Protestant Compounders like Dundee regarded them as essential; until 1692, Non-Compounders dominated the Jacobite agenda.
  2. ^ Maclean of Duart was one of the last Jacobite holdouts; in 1692, he was provided safe-conduct to William's court in Flanders in return for surrendering Castle Duart to the Earl of Argyll.
  3. ^ In addition, some units like Hastings Regiment were previously part of James' English Army and of uncertain loyalty.


  1. ^ Historic Scotland, Alba Aosmhor. "The Inventory of Historic Battlefields – Battle of Killiecrankie" (PDF). Historic Scotland. Retrieved 18 December 2017. 
  2. ^ "Inventory battlefields". Historic Scotland. Retrieved 2012-04-12. 
  3. ^ Revolution; the Great Crisis of the British Monarchy 1685–1720 Tim Harris 2005 pp.39-65
  4. ^ Restoration Scotland, 1660–1690: Royalist Politics, Religion and Ideas; Clare Jackson 2003 pp.38-54
  5. ^ Harris, Tim; Taylor, Stephen, eds. (2015). The Final Crisis of the Stuart Monarchy. Boydell & Brewer. p. 122. ISBN 1783270446. 
  6. ^ Revolution; the Great Crisis of the British Monarchy 1685–1720, Tim Harris 2005 pp.153-178
  7. ^ Revolution; the Great Crisis of the British Monarchy 1685–1720; Tim Harris 2006
  8. ^ Revolution; the Great Crisis of the British Monarchy 1685–1720; Tim Harris pp.239-272
  9. ^ Lenman, Bruce (1995). The Jacobite Risings in Britain, 1689-1746. Scottish Cultural Press. p. 35. ISBN 189821820X. 
  10. ^ Lenman, Bruce (1995). The Jacobite Risings in Britain, 1689-1746. Scottish Cultural Press. p. 44. ISBN 189821820X. 
  11. ^ Coward, Barry (1980). The Stuart Age 1603-1714. Longman. p. 459. ISBN 0582488338. 
  12. ^ Lenman, Bruce (1995). The Jacobite Risings in Britain, 1689-1746. Scottish Cultural Press. p. 30. ISBN 189821820X. 
  13. ^ Fritze Ronald, Robison William (1996). Historical Dictionary of Stuart England, 1603-1689. Greenwood. pp. 68–70. ISBN 0313283915. 
  14. ^ Macpherson, James (1775). Original Papers: Containing the Secret History of Great Britain (2017 ed.). Hansebooks. pp. 357–358. ISBN 3743435721. 
  15. ^ Macpherson, James (1775). Original Papers: Containing the Secret History of Great Britain (2017 ed.). Hansebooks. pp. 360–366. ISBN 3743435721. 
  16. ^ Kennedy, Allan. "Rebellion, Government and the Scottish Response to Argyll's Rising of 1685". Journal of Scottish Historical Studies. 36 (1): 8. doi:10.3366/jshs.2016.0167. 
  17. ^ Macpherson, James (1775). Original Papers: Containing the Secret History of Great Britain (2017 ed.). Hansebooks. pp. 369–371. ISBN 3743435721. 
  18. ^ Oliver Neil, Pollard Tony (2003). Two Men in a Trench II: Uncovering the Secrets of British Battlefields (2015 ed.). Penguin. ISBN 0141012129. 
  19. ^
  20. ^ Hill, James (1986). Celtic Warfare 1595-1763 (2017 ed.). Dalriada Publishers. p. 73. ISBN 097085255X. 
  21. ^ Macpherson, James (1775). Original Papers: Containing the Secret History of Great Britain (2017 ed.). Hansebooks. pp. 372–373. ISBN 3743435721. 
  22. ^ "First grenade found at Killiecrankie". The Scotsman. 2004-02-22. Retrieved 2016-03-04. 
  23. ^ "Killiecrankie Battlefield Metal Detecting Survey". GUARD Archaeology. March 2016. Retrieved 2016-03-04. 
  24. ^ Ferguson, Brian (2016-03-03). "Dozens of Battle of Killiecrankie artefacts unearthed at A9 roadworks". The Scotsman. Retrieved 2016-03-04. 
  25. ^ "Battle of Killiecrankie artefacts found during A9 dualling survey". BBC News Online. 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2016-03-04. 


  • Wikisource-logo.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Killiecrankie". Encyclopædia Britannica. 15 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 795. 
  • Hill, James Michael (1986). Celtic Warfare 1595–1763. Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers Ltd. ISBN 0-85976-151-7. 
  • Macpherson, James (1775). Original Papers: Containing the Secret History of Great Britain (2017 ed.). hansebooks. ISBN 3743435721. 
  • Fforde, Catriona (2002). A Summer in Lochaber. House of Lochar. ISBN 1899863842. 
  • Historic Scotland. "The Inventory of Historic Battlefields – Battle of Killiecrankie" (PDF). Historic Scotland. Retrieved 18 December 2017. 
  • Lenman, Bruce (1995). The Jacobite Risings in Britain, 1689-1746. Scottish Cultural Press. ISBN 189821820X. 

Further reading

  • Article on the battle at Electric Scotland
  • Reid, Stuart (2009). The Battle of Kiellliecrankkie. Partizan Press. 
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