Hugh Mackay (general)

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Hugh Mackay
General Hugh Mackay (c.1640–1692).jpg
Painting of Mackay from 1690.
Born 1640
Scourie, Sutherlandshire, Scotland
Died 24 July 1692 (aged 51–52)
Southern Netherlands
Allegiance Dutch Republic Dutch Republic
Years of service 1660–1692
Rank Lieutenant General
Unit Dutch Scots Brigade
Commands held Military Commander in Scotland, March 1689 - November 1690
Battles/wars Fifth Ottoman-Venetian War
Franco-Dutch War Seneffe
Glorious Revolution 1688
Jacobite Rising Killiecrankie
Nine Years' War Aughrim Steinkirk
Awards Privy Councillor of Scotland

Hugh Mackay (c. 1640 – 24 July 1692) was a Scottish military officer who settled in the Netherlands and spent most of his career in the service of William of Orange (later William III of England).

Mackay was commissioned in 1660, spending the next few years in England and France, then volunteered in 1666 to fight for the Republic of Venice in the Fifth Ottoman-Venetian War. He rejoined the English military in 1672 on the outbreak of the Third Anglo-Dutch War but in 1673 transferred to the Scots Brigade, part of the Dutch army. This was a long established unit which Mackay served with for the rest of his career.

Mackay led the Brigade during the Glorious Revolution and was military commander in Scotland from 1689-90. Despite defeat at Killiecrankie in July 1689, the Highlands had largely been brought under control by the end of 1690 and Mackay was reassigned to Ireland for the 1691 campaign.

He returned to the Netherlands in October 1691 after the Treaty of Limerick and when the Nine Years War began was made commander of the British Division serving with the Allied army. He was killed at the Battle of Steinkirk on 24 July 1692.


Scourie, seen across the Sound of Handa

Hugh Mackay was born around 1640, the third son of Hugh Mackay of Scourie, a junior branch of the Mackay clan and his wife Anne, daughter of John Corbet of Arboll. The Mackays had been the predominant landowners in Strathnaver but by the time Hugh was born, attempts to compete with the more powerful Sutherlands meant much of their land was mortgaged. Devout Presbyterians, the Mackays were Royalists during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and joined Glencairn's rising of 1653/54, in part due to the Sutherlands being on the opposite side.[1] The last of their Scottish estates including Scourie were sold in 1829.[2]

Hugh's elder brothers William and Hector were killed in 1668 and when his father died the same year, he inherited Scourie although he never lived there himself. He had two younger brothers; James was killed at Killiecrankie in 1689 and Roderick died on service in the East Indies. Mackay married the daughter of a rich Dutch merchant in 1673 and his family settled in the Netherlands; this branch ultimately became hereditary Chiefs of Clan Mackay and continue to hold the titles of Lord Reay in the Scottish peerage and Lord of Ophemert and Zennewijnen in the Netherlands.[3]

17th Century Military Customs[edit]

For many English politicians in the late 17th century, standing armies were considered a danger to individual liberties and a threat to society itself.[4] The use of troops to suppress political dissent by the Protectorate and James II created strong resistance to permanent units owing primary allegiance to the Crown or State. To prevent this, it was deliberate policy to treat regiments as the personal property of their Colonel; they changed names when transferred to another and were disbanded as soon as possible.[a][5]

Commissions were assets that could be bought, sold or used as an investment; one person could simultaneously hold multiple commissions and there were no age restrictions. Henry Hawley, commander of government forces at the Battle of Falkirk Muir in 1746 obtained his first commission when he was only nine years old. Holding a commission did not require actual service and at senior levels in particular, ownership and command were separate functions. Many colonels or lieutenant colonels played active military roles as staff or regimental officers but others remained civilians who delegated their duties to a subordinate.[6]

States commonly employed units composed of other nationalities, for example the French Irish Brigade or the Dutch Scots Brigade. Loyalties were often based on religious belief or personal relationships rather than nationality, with officers frequently moving between armies or changing sides. Professionals like Mackay formed a small and tight-knit group; when commanding government forces in Scotland between 1689–90, former Scots Brigade colleagues included future opponents Alexander Cannon, Thomas Buchan and Viscount Dundee as well as his subordinate Thomas Livingstone.[7]

Pre-1688 Service[edit]

In 1660, Mackay was commissioned Ensign in Dumbarton's (aka Douglas) Regiment, a Scottish mercenary unit that traced its origins to 1619 and had latterly been employed by Louis XIV of France.[8] This was commanded by the Earl of Dumbarton, a leading Scottish Catholic; from 1660–1662, it served as body guard to Charles II before resuming French service in 1662. It was based at the vital dockyard of Chatham in Kent during the 1664–67 Second Anglo-Dutch War; in his entry for 30 June 1667, Samuel Pepys records reviewing the regiment in Rochester. In 1666 Mackay volunteered for the Venetian forces fighting in Crete but rejoined Dumbarton's when the Third Anglo-Dutch War broke out in 1672.[9]

Dutch Raid on Chatham 1667; a humiliating English naval defeat that threatened the Stuart monarchy

Many Scots opposed this alliance with Catholic France against their Dutch fellow Calvinists. Mackay married the daughter of a rich Amsterdam merchant in 1673 and transferred to the Scots Brigade serving William of Orange; he took part in the 1674 Battle of Seneffe and siege of Grave.[10] The Brigade dated to the 1570s but by 1674 only 13 officers in its three regiments were Scottish; when William complained about its low morale, Mackay suggested recruiting as much as possible from Scotland.[11] This revitalised the Scottish units, Mackay's Regiment was largely composed of his own family or clan members; the Franco Dutch War continued until 1678, the three English regiments being restored in 1674.[b][12]

Since England had no permanent army, units like the Scots Brigade or the Tangier Garrison were an important source of professionals for expanding the army when needed. In theory, Charles and James controlled the appointment of officers but in reality this required negotiation. Many officers were political and religious exiles, particularly after the 1679–81 Exclusion Crisis; in 1680, Charles tried to appoint the Catholic Earl of Dumbarton as Brigade commander but William refused.[13]

As a result, Mackay was placed in 'temporary' command when the Brigade went to England in 1685 to help suppress the Monmouth Rebellion. The Brigade returned to the Netherlands in August without seeing action, although James appointed him as a Privy Councillor of Scotland in an attempt to gain his loyalty. In early 1688, James demanded the repatriation of the entire Brigade; William refused to comply but used the opportunity to remove officers of doubtful loyalty.[14]

Revolution of 1688[edit]

sepia-toned allegorical engraving representing William III's arrival at Tor Bay
The Arrival of William III by Sir James Thornhill. William landed at Torbay in England on 5 November

The Brigade was part of William's invasion force; a small detachment engaged in the Wincanton Skirmish on 20 November 1688, one of the few actions of a largely bloodless campaign.

On 4 January 1689, William appointed Mackay commander in Scotland; he was delayed by illness, arriving in Leith on 25 March 1689. His original mission was to protect the Scottish Convention in Edinburgh but on 12 March James landed in Ireland and John Graham, Viscount Dundee launched a rising in Scotland to support this.

Mackay brought with him 1,100 men from the Scottish regiments in Dutch service; recruits increased his numbers to over 3,500 but many were only partially trained. On 16 May, Dundee reached Glenroy where he was joined by 1,800 Highlanders recruited by Ewen Cameron of Lochiel. The two commanders spent the next few weeks tracking each other in the hope of bringing on an action on favourable terms but were unable to do so. Dundee returned to Glenroy on 11 June while Mackay installed a garrison at Inverness and headed for Perth.[15]

Scotland 1689–90[edit]

Killiecrankie; the Camerons overwhelm Mackay's line

Dundee had installed a Jacobite garrison at Blair Castle, a strategic point controlling access to the Lowlands and seat of the Duke of Atholl. In a good example of how many families balanced the competing sides, Atholl left Edinburgh for Bath in England claiming ill-health. His eldest son John Murray now 'besieged' his ancestral home, the Jacobite commander being Patrick Stewart of Ballechin, a trusted family retainer and one of Atholl's key lieutenants during Argyll's Rising in 1685.[16]

In late July, Murray withdrew when reinforcements led by Sir Alexander Maclean arrived at Blair; on 26 July Mackay left Perth with around 3,500 men and moved north to support him. He entered the Pass of Killiecrankie on the morning of 27th; Dundee had positioned his forces on the lower slopes of Creag Eallich to the north so Mackay halted and formed his troops facing uphill in a line only three men deep to maximise firepower.[17]

The Jacobites began their assault shortly after sunset at eight pm; volleys from Mackay's left flank killed nearly 600 but the effectiveness of their fire was masked by a shallow terrace on the hillside and the right flank fled without firing a shot.[18] The Highlanders fired a single volley at 50 metres, dropped their muskets then used axes and swords in hand-to-hand fighting.

Killiecrankie is the first recorded use of the plug bayonet by British troops in battle; this increased firepower by eliminating the need for pikemen but required training and confidence in its use. The bayonet fitted into the barrel of the musket (hence 'plug'), preventing further reloading or firing and so fixing them was delayed until the last possible moment.[19] Inexperience and the speed of the Jacobite charge meant Mackay's troops were effectively defenceless at close quarters and the battle was over in less than 30 minutes.[20]

Mackay and a small cavalry escort charged through the Highlanders, ending up on the high ground where he was able to watch the destruction of his force below. An orderly retreat turned into a rout as the government army disintegrated, losing nearly 2,000 men; Mackay's younger brother James was killed and his nephew Robert severely wounded. However, Dundee was shot dead in the final moments and the Jacobites stopped to loot the baggage train which allowed Mackay and 500 survivors to escape and reach the safety of Stirling Castle.

Dunkeld; the Cameronians repel the Highlander assault

Some members of the Scottish Parliament panicked but Mackay did not; he assembled a force of some 3,000 men, many mounted and thus highly mobile. Taking and holding a major urban centre or port like Aberdeen, Perth or Inverness required siege equipment the Jacobites did not possess while lack of cavalry made them vulnerable in the open. Keeping Highland troops in the field for long periods was a challenge even for experienced commanders like Dundee; time was on Mackay's side so long as he avoided another ambush like Killiecrankie.

When his once colleague and now opponent, Alexander Cannon, was prevented from reaching Aberdeen, his options were limited; an assault on Dunkeld on 21 August made little strategic sense since Highland tactics were unsuited to urban warfare and they returned home after being repulsed with heavy losses. Mackay spent the winter of 1689/90 reducing Jacobite strongholds and constructing a new base at Fort William while harsh weather conditions led to severe food shortages.[21] Thomas Buchan the new Jacobite commander who had replaced Cannon in February 1690 could only mobilise some 800 men; he was taken by surprise and his forces scattered at Cromdale in May. Mackay pursued Buchan into Aberdeenshire, preventing him from establishing a secure base; the Jacobites dispersed once more and in November Mackay relinquished command to Sir Thomas Livingstone.[22]

Ireland 1691[edit]

Louis XIV viewed French support for the Irish Jacobites as a low-cost way of diverting William's resources from Flanders. Despite defeat at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, Irish resistance continued and in March 1691, the French general Marquis de St Ruth landed at Limerick to launch a new campaign.

Mackay was sent to Ireland as second in command to General Ginkell; at the Battle of Aughrim on 12 July, he directed his infantry in a series of bloody frontal assaults on the Jacobite positions on Kilcommadan Hill which were repulsed each time. When the Irish infantry ran out of ammunition, a fourth attempt by Mackay using cavalry succeeded in turning their flank and the Jacobite army collapsed when St Ruth was killed. This effectively ended the War in Ireland.[23]

Flanders 1692[edit]

Map of the Battle of Steinkirk

The Treaty of Limerick on 3 October 1691 ended the war in Ireland; Mackay returned to the Netherlands and was made commander of the British division of the Allied army for the 1692 campaign in Flanders.

Statue of James Douglas, Earl of Angus (1671-1692), killed at Steinkirk with Mackay

After the French captured Namur in June 1692, their commander the Duc de Luxembourg established a defensive position he assumed was too strong to attack. However, at the Battle of Steinkirk on 24 July William launched an assault led by Mackay's division; with the element of surprise, they captured the first three lines of trenches and came very close to achieving a stunning victory but the French quickly recovered and fed in reinforcements.

Confusion and the poor state of the roads prevented William from doing the same, which meant fewer than 15,000 of the 80,000 Grand Army were engaged at any point during the battle. With his troops spread out over the fortifications and under huge pressure from the French, Mackay asked William for permission to withdraw and reorganise. Ordered to continue the assault, he allegedly said 'The Lord's will be done' and taking his place at the head of his regiment was killed with many of his division. Over 8,000 of the 15,000 Allied troops engaged became casualties, with five British regiments almost wiped out.[24]

The destruction of Mackays division is referenced by a character in Laurence Sterne's 1759 novel Tristram Shandy, that includes many episodes from the Nine Years War based on contemporary accounts; '...(the regiments of) Cutts, Mackay, Angus, [c] Grahams and Leven were all cut to pieces and so had the English Life Guards been too, had it not been for some regiments on the right who marched boldly up to their relief and received the enemy's fire in their faces before any one of their own platoons discharged a single bullet.'[25] The regiments of Graham, Mackay and Leven fought at Killiecrankie, that of Angus at Dunkeld where it had been commanded by Lieutenant Colonel William Cleland.


Mackay's assessment by Victorian biographers like Henderson was largely a function of defeat at Killiecrankie and a tendency to overstate the abilities of Dundee in comparison to his contemporaries. Warfare in this period emphasised the defence and assault of fortified places, avoiding battle unless on extremely favourable terms and denying opportunities to opponents.[26] Based on these criteria, Mackay was a competent and reliable commander who kept his head under pressure. At Killiecrankie he was better advised to withdraw rather than fight but the result would have been very different if his right wing had not fled without firing a shot.[27]

Mackay recognised defeat did not change the strategic position and focused on denying the Jacobites access to a port or forcing them to fight on unfavourable terms. He succeeded in both these aims; the Jacobites suffered disproportionate casualties at Dunkeld because they had been left no useful objective while he kept up the pressure through the winter of 1689/90. Close coordination with Livingstone led to victory at Cromdale in May 1690 and his subsequent pursuit prevented Buchan reigniting the Rising. Logistics and communication were considerably more complex in the late 17th century and were key skills of the Duke of Marlborough, a contemporary and much better known military figure.[28]

Mackay was a far less effective battlefield commander; in addition to Killiecrankie, his repeated and bloody frontal assaults at Steinkirk and Aughrim show a lack of imagination. In summary, he was a reliable divisional commander who could be trusted to carry out his instructions but not a leader of armies. William allegedly observed; 'He had one very singular quality; in councils of war he delivered his opinion freely, and maintained it with due zeal, but how positive soever he was in it, if the council of war overruled, even though he was not convinced by it, yet to all others he justified it, and executed his part with the same zeal as if his own opinion had prevailed.' [29]


Mackay was the author of Rules of War for the Infantry, ordered to be observed by their Majesties, Subjects encountering with the Enemy upon the day of Battell, written by Lieutenant-General Mackay, and Recommended to All (as well officers as soldiers) of the Scots and English army. In xxiii articles. Published by his Excellencies Secretary. Reprinted at Edinburgh by John Reid in 1693.[29]

A volume printed by the Bannatyne Club in 1833 contains his Memoirs touching the Scots Wars, Memoires écrites à sa Majestie Britannique touchant la dernière Campaigne d'Irlande, Lettres ou Dépêches écrites, lorsqu'il commandoit en chef les troupes de sa Majêstie en Écosse, and an Appendix of Letters relative to Military Affairs in Scotland in the years 1689 and 1690, Many of his letters are printed in Leven and Melville Papers (Bannatyne Club), in Macpherson's Original Papers, and in Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. App. pt. viii.[29]


In 1673, Mackay married Clara de Bie, the daughter of a rich Dutch merchant; they had one son and either two or three daughters (sources vary, so it may be that one died young).

In addition, Hugh's nephews Aeneas and Robert joined the Scots Brigade; Robert (d 1696) was severely wounded at Killiecrankie and later served in Ireland while Aeneas (died 1697) became Colonel of the Mackay Regiment after Hugh's death in 1692. Like their cousins, both of Aeneas' sons joined the Brigade, Donald (killed at Tourney in 1745) and Aeneas (date unknown). There were still Mackays serving when the Brigade was finally dissolved in 1782.[31]

Cultural significance[edit]

Mackay blamed his defeat at Killiecrankie on the failure of his troops to fit the plug bayonet in time to stop the rush of the Highlanders and suggested it be replaced with the ring or socket bayonet. The concept was first demonstrated in 1678 but rejected since the bayonet had a tendency to fall off; sources vary but Mackay either designed or suggested the adoption of a ring system for attaching it to the musket.[32] The recommendation was included in his 'Rules of War for the Infantry' published posthumously in 1693 but remained a design issue for many years.

He may also be known to some people nowadays from a mention in the song "Braes o' Killiecrankie": "O fie Mackay what gart ye lie".


  1. ^ This makes tracing the origins of modern regiments very complex; many regimental histories were written in the late 19th or early 20th century when establishing precedence or age was almost an obsession.
  2. ^ These had been recalled to England when the Second Anglo-Dutch War began in 1672.
  3. ^ Better known as the 26th (Cameronian) Regiment of Foot, which fought at Dunkeld in 1689


  1. ^ Bangor Jones, Malcolm. "From Clanship to Crofting; Land Ownership, Economy and the Church in the Province of Strathnaver" (PDF). Page 45. Retrieved 19 February 2018. 
  2. ^ Bangor Jones, Malcolm. "From Clanship to Crofting; Land Ownership, Economy and the Church in the Province of Strathnaver" (PDF). Page 51. Retrieved 19 February 2018. 
  3. ^ Steven, Alasdair (20 May 2013). "Obituary: Hugh Mackay, 14th Lord Reay and Chief of Clan Mackay". The Scotsman. Retrieved 1 February 2018. 
  4. ^ Childs, John (1987). The British Army of William III, 1689-1702 (1990 ed.). Manchester University Press. p. 184. ISBN 0719025524. 
  5. ^ Chandler David, Beckett Ian (1996). The Oxford History Of The British Army (2002 ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 52. ISBN 0-19-280311-5. 
  6. ^ Guy, Alan (1985). Economy and Discipline: Officership and the British Army, 1714–63. Manchester University Press. p. 49. ISBN 0-7190-1099-3. 
  7. ^ Chichester, HM. Thomas Livingstone, Viscount Teviot. Oxford DNB. Retrieved 18 February 2018. 
  8. ^ Offen, Lee. "Dumbarton's Regiment". History Reconsidered. Retrieved 5 January 2018. 
  9. ^ Mackay, John (1836). The Life of Lieutenant-General Hugh MacKay. Kessinger Publishing. p. 6. ISBN 1166595692. 
  10. ^ Mackay, John (1836). The Life of Lieutenant-General Hugh MacKay. Kessinger Publishing. pp. 10–11. ISBN 1166595692. 
  11. ^ Miggelbrink Joachim (2002). McKilliop, Andrew; Murdoch, Steve, eds. Fighting for Identity: Scottish Military Experiences c.1550-1900. Brill. pp. 91–92. ISBN 9004128239. 
  12. ^ Unknown (1795). An Historical Account of the British Regiments Employed Since the Reign of Queen Elizabeth and King James I In the Formation and Defence of the Dutch Republic Particularly of the Scotch Brigade (2009 ed.). T. Kay. p. 49. ASIN B002IYDVB6. 
  13. ^ Glozier, Mathew (2004). Scottish Soldiers in France in the Reign of the Sun King: Nursery for Men of Honour. Brill. p. 192. ISBN 900413865X. 
  14. ^ Childs, John (1984). "The Scottish brigade in the service of the Dutch Republic, 1689 to 1782". Documentatieblad werkgroep Achttiende eeuw.: 61. Retrieved 21 January 2018. 
  15. ^ Macpherson, James (1775). Original Papers: Containing the Secret History of Great Britain (2017 ed.). Hansebooks. pp. 357–358. ISBN 3-7434-3572-1. 
  16. ^ Kennedy, Allan. "Rebellion, Government and the Scottish Response to Argyll's Rising of 1685". Journal of Scottish Historical Studies. 36 (1): 8. doi:10.3366/jshs.2016.0167. 
  17. ^ Macpherson, James (1775). Original Papers: Containing the Secret History of Great Britain (2017 ed.). Hansebooks. pp. 369–371. ISBN 3-7434-3572-1. 
  18. ^ Oliver Neil, Pollard Tony (2003). Two Men in a Trench II: Uncovering the Secrets of British Battlefields (2015 ed.). Penguin. ISBN 0-14-101212-9. 
  19. ^
  20. ^ Hill, James (1986). Celtic Warfare 1595–1763 (2017 ed.). Dalriada Publishers. p. 73. ISBN 0-9708525-5-X. 
  21. ^ Lenman, Bruce (1995). The Jacobite Risings in Britain, 1689–1746. Scottish Cultural Press. p. 37. ISBN 1-898218-20-X. 
  22. ^ Chichester, Henry Manners. "Sir Thomas Livingstone". Wikisource. DNB 1895–1900. Retrieved 11 February 2018. 
  23. ^ Moody TW, Martin FX, Byrne FJ (2009). Early Modern Ireland 1534–1691 V3. OUP. pp. 503–505. ISBN 0-19-956252-0. 
  24. ^ Childs, John (1991). The Nine Years' War and the British Army 1688 97: The Operations in the Low Countries (2013 ed.). Manchester University Press. pp. 199–204. ISBN 0-7190-8996-4. 
  25. ^ Atkinson, CT (1938). "The British Losses at Steinkirk 1692". Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research. 17 (68): 200–204. Retrieved 26 July 2018. 
  26. ^ Messenger, Charles (2001). Reader's Guide to Military History. Routledge. p. 370. ISBN 1-57958-241-9. Retrieved 22 January 2018. 
  27. ^ Oliver Neil, Pollard Tony (2003). Two Men in a Trench II: Uncovering the Secrets of British Battlefields (2015 ed.). Penguin. ISBN 0-14-101212-9. 
  28. ^ Holmes, Richard (2008). Marlborough; Flawed Genius. Harper Press. pp. 478–480. ISBN 0-00-722571-7. 
  29. ^ a b c Henderson 1893.
  30. ^ Mackay, John. Life of Lieut.-General Hugh Mackay of Scoury. Leopold Publishing. p. 185. ASIN B0155TTLE6. 
  31. ^ Heraldic Media. "Lord Reay". Cracrofts Peerage. Retrieved 10 February 2018. 
  32. ^ Norris, John (2015). Fix Bayonets!. Pen and Sword. p. 26. ISBN 1-78159-336-1. 


  • Childs, John; The British Army of William III, 1689-1702; (Manchester University Press, 1987);
  • Childs, John; The Nine Years' War and the British Army 1688 97: The Operations in the Low Countries; (Manchester University Press, 2013 ed);
  • Chandler David & Beckett, Ian The Oxford History Of The British Army; (Oxford University Press, 1996);
  • Glozier, Mathew; Scottish Soldiers in France in the Reign of the Sun King: Nursery for Men of Honour; (Brill, 2004);
  • Guy, Alan; Economy and Discipline: Officership and the British Army, 1714–63; (Manchester University Press);
  • Hill, James; Celtic Warfare 1595–1763; (Dalriada Publishers, 2017 ed);
  • Holmes, Richard; Marlborough; Flawed Genius; (Harper Press, 2008);
  • Lenman, Bruce; The Jacobite Risings in Britain, 1689–1746; (Scottish Cultural Press);
  • Mackay, Hugh; Memoirs of the War Carried on in Scotland and Ireland 1689–1691; (The Balantyne Club, 2008, first published 1836);
  • Mackay, John; The Life of Lieutenant-General Hugh MacKay; (Kessinger Publishing, first published 1836);
  • Messenger, Charles; Reader's Guide to Military History; (Routledge, 2001);
  • Miggelbrink Joachim in McKilliop, Andrew & Murdoch, Steve, eds; Fighting for Identity: Scottish Military Experiences c.1550-1900; (Brill, 1992);
  • Moody TW, Martin FX and Byrne FJ; Early Modern Ireland 1534–1691 V3; (OUP, 2009);
  • Unknown (1795). An Historical Account of the British Regiments Employed Since the Reign of Queen Elizabeth and King James I In the Formation and Defence of the Dutch Republic Particularly of the Scotch Brigade (T. Kay, 2009 ed);