Sunday, November 27, 2016

Before 'Literally Hitler' – meet 'Bluidy Clavers', John Graham of Claverhouse (1648–89)

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‘Literally Hitler’ has become the tired insult of 2016. Everybody who ‘progressives’ in particular don’t like is described in impassioned tone as ‘Literally Hitler’. Often for relatively minor things such as a difference of opinion, not the actual invading of neighbouring countries and suchlike. Whilst many are getting excited about ‘post-truth’ being the buzz-term of the year, for me it pales in comparison with this very worn-out Adolfian accusation. It is little more than Godwin’s Law 2.0. It’s pretty grotesque to belittle the slaughter of the millions who were rounded up, gassed and burned in ovens during the Holocaust in particular. I’ve been to Auschwitz and Birkenau.

Before the arrival of Hitler on the national and world stage in 1933, there must have been other commonly-understood personalities who were up until then regarded as the embodiment of unimaginable evil. For Lowland Scots and Ulster-Scots, the obvious one that springs to mind is John Graham of Claverhouse (1648–89), a.k.a ‘Bonnie Dundee’ by his supporters, and ‘Bloody Dundee’ by his opponents and victims. In Scots he was ‘Bluidy Clavers’. 

He was the first Viscount Dundee, prior to which he had been the 7th Laird of Claverhouse. At some point in the 1680s King James II gave him military command of all of the King’s forces in Scotland. In James’ previous office as Duke of York he had announced that:

"there would never be peace in Scotland till the whole of the country south of the Forth was turned into a hunting field.” (source here)

Not hunting for stag or pheasants, hunting for humans - Covenanter Presbyterians. And Claverhouse got the job. His name occurs time and again on the gravestones of Covenanter martyrs across Scotland. A now-deceased friend of mine told me of having been at a folk music event in Wigtown in the south coast of Galloway some years ago, and a visiting singer began a rendition of the old Jacobite song in praise of Claverhouse called ‘Bonnie Dundee’. He told me that there was shall we say a heated reaction. No wonder.

Claverhouse was killed in the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689 when the Jacobites famously defeated the forces of King William III (William of Orange) which were led by General Hugh Mackay. Claverhouse was buried at the church of nearby Blair Castle. There have been attempts to rewrite Claverhouse as maybe not having been as bad as his legend has painted, but the legendary image has stuck. Of the many soldiers who were tasked throughout the 1661-1688 period to hunt down Covenanters, his name stands above them all - according to Professor Michael Montgomery's exhaustive research, even as far as County Tyrone and also America with the warning to errant children that 'the Clavers will get you' (source here). James Leyburn’s landmark volume The Scotch-Irish: A Social History has further examples of the same expression (see here).

In the early 1900s, Millisle-born missionary Amy Carmichael wrote of one of her maternal Dalzell ancestors, probably the notorious Thomas Dalzell of Binns, being “a friend of Claverhouse, who persecuted the Covenanters. My father’s people were Covenanters”. I know an elderly couple who live outside Portaferry, the wife of whom told me one night at a talk I was giving in Portavogie that her family tradition was that her ancestors had fled from Scotland to Ulster to get away from Claverhouse.

PS: I remember being on school Scripture Union summer camps in the picturesque town of Moffat on three occasions in the late 1980s (when I was 14, then 17 and finally 18) at a place now called the Well Road Centre, and being pretty horrified that the Black Bull Hotel had a plaque on the wall which told some of Claverhouse's story, a photo of which I’ve added below.