On 5th November 1688, a large Dutch fleet lay anchored off the coast of Torbay in Devon, England. The ships had brought with them a large army of over 14,000 professional soldiers composed of some of the best regiments the Dutch States General had at their disposal, among them was the Scots-Dutch Brigade. The Brigade was a well-established military unit in the Dutch Republic with Scottish soldiers having served there since 1572-73. In 1688, they were organised into three regiments of foot and had gained an elite reputation during the seventeenth century as ‘the bulwark of the Republic’.
It is, perhaps, unsurprising then that this ‘bulwark’ would act as the vanguard for the invasion of England. The Dutch incursion there would lead to the Revolution as well as the overthrow of the Catholic King James VII & II. He was, at the behest of the English Parliament, replaced by his son-in-law, Prince Willem Hendrick of Orange, who had led the Dutch army into England, alongside James’ daughter and the prince’s wife, Princess Mary Stuart. Although the intervention in England proved successful, it did not secure William & Mary’s position in the Three Kingdoms. Both William and the Dutch States understood well that engaging in England would necessitate interventions into Ireland and Scotland as well as spark a wider conflict in Europe, the Nine Years’ War (1688-1697).
As a result of the events in England, Scotland was plunged into a political crisis surrounding the succession. A Scottish constitutional meeting, the Convention of Estates, was called to meet and within days of their first meeting, on 14th March 1689, William’s Scottish supporters politically outmanoeuvred their opponents by deposing King James. This would result in the withdrawal of James’ most militant Scottish supporters, soon-to-be known as Jacobites, from the meeting and they would, with the support of several Highland clans, take up arms in response. A new Scottish civil war had, thus, erupted in the wake of the Revolution in which the Scots-Dutch Brigade would play a leading part; the Highland War, which lasted from March 1689 until December 1691.
The arrival of the Brigade in Scotland shortly thereafter would see them assume a central role in Scotland. Their deployment, ordered by William, was intended to secure the country for William & Mary and, by extension, the Dutch strategic interest in Europe. This Scots-Dutch military migration would mark the only time in the Scots Brigade’s 200-year history that they returned to their home country en masse. Recently submitted and passed, Graeme Millen’s doctoral thesis re-examines the Brigade’s involvement in the first of the Scottish Jacobite conflicts. For three years, the Scots-Dutch officer corps would act as the vanguard of William’s interests and they were to the fore in many of the conflict’s key moments, such as the Battle of Killiecrankie, on 27th July 1689. The thesis chronologically re-assesses the Highland War through the prism of the Scots Brigade’s involvement. This not only unveils the Scots-Dutch officers’ centrality to Williamite cause in Scotland, but the importance of Scotland to Dutch strategic interests in Britain and Europe.
Dr. Graeme S. Millen has recently been awarded his doctorate with the University of Kent’s Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies and is based in Glasgow, Scotland.