Battle of Dunkeld 1689

In 1689, revolution threatened to plunge Scotland into war. The catholic King James VII had been de-throned and replaced by the protestant William of Orange. James’ supporters raised an army in the Highlands in an attempt to regain control of the country. The Scottish Parliament authorised the forming of a number of regiments in response to this threat.

On 14th May 1689, one of these regiments was formed at Douglas in South Lanarkshire. Its Colonel was the young Earl of Angus, after whom it was named, and its ranks were filled with fierce Covenanters, known as Cameronians. William Cleland, who had fought at Drumclog and Bothwell Bridge, was made their Commanding Officer.

On 27th July 1689, at the Pass of Killiecrankie, the Highland army under the command of John Graham of Claverhouse met the Government force led by General Hugh Mackay. Graham’s men won a convincing victory, although Graham was fatally wounded in the battle. The defeat of the Government force caused widespread panic, and the Earl of Angus’ Regiment was sent to Dunkeld to stop the advance of the Highland army.

The regiment took up defensive positions in Dunkeld cathedral and in the Duke of Atholl’s house. The regiment at this time numbered some 1,200 men, and the odds for victory seemed slim against the Highland army of around 5,000 men.

On the morning of 21st August, the Highland army began their attack, charging into the streets of Dunkeld, where they met the advance guard of the Earl of Angus’ regiment. In time, the Earl of Angus’ men were forced back to the cathedral and Atholl House. When their ammunition ran low, men were sent onto the roofs to take lead for making musket balls.

The Highlanders now occupied dozens of houses in the town and were firing on the defenders from the upper windows. In response, the thatched roofs were set on fire, and the buildings, and the men inside them, were burnt to the ground.

The battle lasted for hours, by which time half the town was on fire. The Earl of Angus’ regiment never lost heart, and were determined to fight to the last bullet. Just when their situation seemed most desperate, the attacking Highlanders began to fall back and were soon in full retreat. The Earl of Angus’ regiment had won its victory, against a force much larger than themselves. As the Highlanders retreated the men of the Regiment threw their caps in the air and sang a hymn of triumph and thanks.

The victory at Dunkeld put an end to King James VII attempt to regain his throne.

memorial stone magnify
Memorial to William Cleland inside Dunkeld Cathedral

Memorial to William Cleland inside Dunkeld Cathedral.

Dunkeld Cathedral magnify
Dunkeld Cathedral

Cameronians of the Lowland Volunteers on parade at Dunkeld Cathedral, August 20th 1989, the 300th Anniversary of the Battle.