Wednesday, February 15, 2006


As in 1658-60 Scottish politicians found themselves reacting to events in England. In December 1688 James’s ministers fled Edinburgh in the wake of anti-Catholic rioting, leaving the control of the city to radical Presbyterians.

In January 1689 William summoned a Convention of Estates to meet in Edinburgh on 14 March. Scottish Jacobites refused to attend and on 4 April members voted, with only five against, that James had attempted ‘the subversion of the Protestant religion, and the violation of the laws and liberties of the kingdom.’ The Claim of Right, the Scottish equivalent of the Bill of Rights, was accepted on 11 April. ‘The Scottish revolution thus rested on a far more explicitly contractual idea of kingship than the English.’

It was also a Presbyterian revolution. On 22 July William agreed to an act abolishing ‘prelacy and all superiority of any office in the Church in this kingdom above presbyters’. William, who would have liked to have kept bishops in order to preserve a degree of uniformity in the British churches, accepted this reluctantly. He was also forced to accept a lesser degree of toleration than in England. A witch-hunt was initiated against clergy who sympathized with episcopacy. 664 ministers were dismissed in the following decades and many Episcopalians, who still held to divine right monarchy, looked to the restoration of the Stuarts to secure their rights.

Whereas the Presbyterians of the Lowlands were overwhelmingly Williamite, Jacobitism remained strong in the Highlands. When the Convention offered the Crown to William, John Graham of Claverhouse, now Viscount Dundee, rode north to rally the Jacobite clans. On 27 July 1689 several thousand Highlanders led by Viscount Dundee defeated William’s forces under General Mackay at Killiekrankie. But this was a Pyrrhic victory as Dundee was killed and the Jacobites were finally trounced at Crondale on 1 May 1690. But the rebellion showed the strength of Scottish Jacobitism and further pushed William into the arms of the Presbyterians.

On 7 June the Scots Parliament grated William supply for the next twenty-eight months in return for an act that established Presbyterian government in the Church. Episcopalians (Anglicans) and Catholics were legally disadvantaged. The principle of one established Church for the whole of the British Isles was abandoned.

Because his army was tied down first in Ireland and then on the Continent, William was unable to subject the Highlands to the same military conquest as Ireland. Instead the government constructed Fort William, but lacked the troops to police it, and the Highlands remained unstable and militarily threatening. In the summer of 1691 the chiefs were given the opportunity to recognize William as king by taking an oath. The failure of Alasdair MacIan to meet the deadline led to the punitive massacre of Glencoe on 13 February 1692, a very nasty incident which was exploited by William’s opponents.

Fear of a Jacobite threat in Scotland led to the union of the English and Scots parliaments in 1707 and the creation of Great Britain. Watch this space for more details.