The first Jacobite Rebellion of 1689 was sparked when Catholic King James II and VII was deposed and replaced by his Protestant sister Queen Mary and her husband King William. The rebellion was short-lived with only a single Jacobite victory and the rebelling Highland clan chiefs were eventually paid off. Throughout the two years of the conflict, William, the Master of Forbes, proved to be a zealous and stalwart military leader in support of William and Mary.
In February 1685, King Charles II died unexpectedly at the age of 54. The King had at least 11 illegitimate children from a string of mistresses (including the notorious Nell Gwyn), but he had no legitimate children with his wife, Catherine of Braganza. As a result, his brother James II and VII became king. A Catholic in a predominantly Protestant Britain, King James issued the Declaration of Indulgence in 1687 that granted broad religious freedom by suspending penal laws enforcing conformity to the Church of England. Scottish Covenanters refused to accept the Declaration of Indulgence, and the King reissued the Declaration in 1688, which led to open resistance from Anglicans. The Declaration of Indulgence also reaffirmed the King's "Soveraign Authority, Prerogative Royal and absolute power, which all our Subjects are to obey without Reserve."
In 1677, the sister of James II and VII, Mary Stuart, had married Protestant Prince William of the House of Orange-Nassau in the Netherlands. When James’s heir, James Francis Edward, was born on June 10, 1688, many British nobles became fearful of a Roman Catholic dynasty. Seven prominent Protestant English nobles invited William to invade England and take the throne, in his wife’s name. He and his army landed on November 5, 1688, many influential Protestants, including James's own daughter Anne, defected and joined William. James fled the country on December 23, 1688, and in February 1689 the English Parliament acknowledged William and Mary as joint rulers. On April 11, 1689, the Scottish Convention (in lieu of the disbanded Parliament) adopted the Articles of Grievances and the Claim of Right Act that made Parliament the primary legislative power in Scotland and offered the Scottish throne to William and Mary. The Convention became a full Parliament on June 5, 1689.
While the new Scottish Parliament accepted the Protestants Mary Stuart and William of Orange as their true monarchs, many Scottish Catholics did not. George Gordon (1643 – 1716), formerly the Marquess of Huntly and now Duke of Gordon, held Edinburgh Castle under James II and VII. He and fellow Catholic John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount of Dundee (1648 –1689), recruited troops (primarily Irish and Highlanders) to the cause of the deposed King James. While originally serving in the army of William of Orange, Alexander Cannon (also spelled Cannan or Canon) remained loyal to James II and VII and served under Dundee. Their supporters were called “Jacobites” after the Latin name “Jacobus” for James.
King William and Queen Mary appointed Scots Brigade commander Hugh Mackay of Scourie as Lieutenant-General of the Scottish Army. Forbes support was especially critical because, as John Mackay of Rockfield (The Life of Lieut.-General Hugh Mackay, 1836), notes, “The shires of Aberdeen and Banff, being chiefly attached to the Romish faith, and under the influence of the potent house of Gordon and its numerous adherents, were of course hostile to the revolution, and from them, therefore, the General could expect nothing but the most determined opposition.”
Mackay continues with: “From this remark, however, must be excepted the Master of Forbes and Sir George Gordon of Edinglassie, the only individuals in this district who gave support or even countenance to the General.” Mackay notes that “that during the whole of this arduous contest, they displayed the most unwearied perseverance, disinterested zeal, and devoted attachment to the cause in which they were engaged, sacrificing, or risking without scruple, in its defence, person, house, and lands.”
Mackay also observes that “the shire of Inverness at that time abounded, as it still does, more than any other county, in Highland chiefs, most of them Roman Catholics, and of course, devoted to the cause of the exiled monarch. The only family mentioned by the General, as being friendly to the new government, was that of Forbes of Culloden – a family not of long standing in the county, nor possessed of an extensive estate; yet such was the moral influence of their hereditary talents and virtues, that in the course of a few generations, they acquired a degree of consideration and authority, not only in their own country, but throughout all Scotland, such as was not exceeded by that of any of their compeers.”
George Gordon, Duke of Gordon, eventually surrendered Edinburgh Castle on June 14, 1689. General Mackay arrived at the castle on July 1, 1689, and from there marched to Aberdeen. According to John Mackay of Rockfield, “Here he received an express from his faithful friend the master of Forbes, informing him that Cannon had taken up a strong position on his father's grounds, where he had the Highlanders at his back, a wood to cover him, and free communication with his friends in the low countries of Aberdeen and Banff.” (The Life of Lieut.-General Hugh Mackay, 1836.)
Mackay proceeded to the Forbes estate and his army made camp at the foot of Suie Hill, about five miles from Castle Forbes (Druminnor.) William, Lord Forbes, was at that time in his seventies. However, his eldest son William, Master of Forbes, was eager to join the cause. Author John Mackay notes that the Master of Forbes met Mackay “with forty gentlemen, his friends, and three or four hundred of the lower orders, who, however, (to use the General's words,) looked so little like their work, that he dismissed them for the present, with an expression of thanks for this testimony of their zeal for the protestant religion.” (The Life of Lieut.-General Hugh Mackay, 1836.) Having forced Cannon out of Aberdeenshire, Mackay went on to Stirling Castle.
Meanwhile, Jacobite John Graham, Viscount of Dundee, captured Blair Castle, which controlled access to the Scottish Lowlands. He left the castle garrison under the command of Patrick Stewart of Ballechin. General MacKay was determined to recapture Blair Castle and left Stirling Castle on July 25, 1689, before he received reinforcements. Therefore, he commanded six understrength regiments of foot with between 3,000 and 4,500 men. (Reid, Stuart; Battle of Killiecrankie, 1689: The Last Act of the Killing Times, 2018.) These regiments were commanded by Colonel George Lauder of Halton; Brigadier General Bartholomew Balfour; Lieutenant-General George Ramsay; Alexander Gordon, 5th Viscount of Kenmure (or Kenmore); David Leslie, 3rd Earl of Leven; Mackay's Scots Brigade; and the English regiment (called the 13th Foot) raised by Catholic Theophilus Hastings, 7th Earl of Huntingdon. These foot soldiers were supported by William Johnstone, 2nd Earl of Annandale, and John Hamilton, 2nd Lord Belhaven, each which commanded 50 horse.
Dundee learned of Mackay’s movement and marched his twenty-five hundred troops over the Drumochter Pass near Blair Castle on July 26, 1689. His army included Sir John Maclean and Clan Maclean; Clan Ranald; Clan Cameron of Lochiel; Alastair McDonald, 13th Lord Glengarry and Clan MacDonell of Glengarry and Glencoe; Clan MacDonald of Keppock; Clan Stewart of Appin; Clan Grant of Glenmoriston; the Cavalry of James Seton, 4th Earl of Dunfermline; and a regiment of Irish mercenaries.
On the morning of July 27, Mackay managed to march his troops through the narrow Pass of Killiecrankie, about two miles along the River Garry, near Pitlochry in Perthshire. Mackay had drawn up his troops at the end of the pass near Blair Atholl when Dundee attacked from the high ridge at about sunset. Although the outnumbered Jacobite army was victorious, their commander Dundee was fatally wounded. Colonel Alexander Cannon, leader of the Irish Regiment, took command of the army, which returned to Blair Castle. Mackay marched his remaining 500 to 800 men back to Stirling Castle.
The Battle of Killiecrankie was the first and only victory for the Jacobites. On August 21, 1689, Cannon attempted and failed to take Dunkeld from William Cleland, Lieutenant-Colonel of the Cameronian Regiment. Cannon lost over 300 soldiers at the Battle of Dunkeld while Cleland lost only 50. Faced with heavy losses, he dispersed his army.
During that winter, Mackay captured many Jacobite strongholds. He also reinforced an old wooden fort in Lochaber with stone walls and named the new structure Fort William, after William of Orange. In January 1690, Mackay reorganized the Royalist army and promoted the Master of Forbes to lieutenant-colonel of his own regiment of 600 clansmen.
Forbes defended Aberdeenshire from John Stewart, Earl of Buchan, who fell back to join with Alexander Cannon’s forces which were retreating from their failed siege of Stirling Castle. Together, they re-entered Aberdeenshire and were reinforced by 500 or 600 troops under the command of John Farquharson of Inverey, known as the “Black Colonel.” They pushed Lieutenant-colonel Forbes and Lieutenant-colonel Robert Jackson backed towards the city of Aberdeen.
In February 1690, King James II and VII appointed Major-General Thomas Buchan to replace Cannon as Jacobite commander-in-chief. Incensed at being passed over for command, Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel left the army with his clansmen. Buchan was assigned about 1,200 men but this was reduced to about 800 through desertion.
On April 30, 1690, he was marching his remaining troops down the River Spey when he was met at Cromdale by the Inverness garrison under the command of Sir Thomas Livingstone. Fog stretched out the encounter over two days. However, by the end of the Battle of Cromdale, Buchan had lost another 400 soldiers. Livinstone lost under a hundred.
John Mackay of Rockfield described William Forbes as “that excellent youth the Master of Forbes, who had so often signalized his zeal for the service” (The Life of Lieut.-General Hugh Mackay, 1836.) Author Mackay reports that General Mackay saw the opportunity of “rewarding the loyalty of Forbes, by compelling his Grace to restore to him the superiorities, of which he had been unjustly deprived. He accordingly suggested to his Majesty, and recommended to his ministers, the adoption of this, or some such measure, but, so far as appears, without effect.” General Mackay wrote to the Privy Council with this request on June 29, 1690: “The Master of Forbes is always at great charges and pains for the service, and hath of the countrymen placed garrisons over all the shire of Aberdeen where it is needful. I recommend him then earnestly to the consideration of the government, and that a letter of thanks and approbation of his measures, with assurance of reimbursement and reparation of his expences and losses for the service, be written to him; for such forward persons ought not to labour under discouragements.” However, his entreaties were not successful.
The Jacobite Rebellion of 1689 ended in Scotland when key Jacobite can chiefs were paid off by the government of William and Mary. Since the Battle of Killiecrankie, the Secretary of State John Dalrymple, 1st Earl of Stair, had been negotiating with the chiefs. With the June 1691 Declaration of Achallader, the chiefs agreed to swear allegiance to the new monarchs in exchange for a total of £12,000, to be divided among them as they saw fit. On August 27, 1691, the government of William and Mary offered a general amnesty to all clans who took an oath of allegiance to the new monarchs.
However, after two years of negotiations, Lord Stair was under pressure from King William to enforce the deal. Lord Stair decided to make an example of one of the smallest and most trouble-some clans. On February 13, 1692, the Earl of Argyll's Regiment of Foot under the command of Robert Campbell of Glenlyon killed about 30 members of the Clan MacDonald of Glencoe. The Massacre of Glencoe led to Lord Stair’s dismissal and became a potent symbol for future Jacobites. In 1810, Sir Walter Scott wrote the poem "On the Massacre of Glencoe," which was turned into a popular ballad. The Massacre of Glencoe Monument was erected in 1883.
In December 1694, Queen Mary died and William III became the sole ruler. A descendent of the House of Stuart regained the throne when Queen Anne assumed the throne in 1707. Anne was the sister of Queen Mary and daughter of the deposed James II & VII.