A Proclamation of Pardon for the Highland Jacobite Clans was given by King William I (William of Orange) on the 17th of August, 1691.
In 1688 there began the ‘Jacobite Wars’, which were to last all of fifty-seven years before coming to a last dramatic end at Culloden. Some call them ‘Jacobite Rebellions’; patriots, the ‘Jacobite Risings’. What’s in a name. The victors get to proclaim the triumph. When you look back at those events, ye maun ask, who was rebelling against whom? When King James VII & II fought for his Kingdom against the aggressor that sought to depose him and lost, he escaped to France for sanctuary. His adversaries back home in his own country, supposed loyal subjects, played it very cute. They said, "You’re our King, you should be here. How come you’re not here? Ah yes, we´ll say you’ve abdicated, right, that’s what you’ve done. Oh well, we’d better appoint yon William of Orange in your place. You cannae complain, you’ve buggered off for a holiday in Paris." One side cries "Foul!" The other side calls it ‘The Glorious Revolution’. Thereafter, there occurred several ‘Jacobite Wars’.
The Jacobite Wars began in Scotland with the raising of the standard of James VII & II at Dundee Law by John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, on the 16th of April, 1689. There followed the battles of Killiecrankie, on the 27th of July, Dunkeld, on the 21st of August, 1689, and the Haughs of Cromdale, on the 1st of May, 1690. Meanwhile, in Ireland James’ own army was defeated at the Battle of the Boyne, on the 12th of July, 1690, and the Irish Jacobites were finally defeated after the Battle of Aughrim, in October, 1691. The Jacobite Wars were to be continued, to some greater or lesser extent, in the years of 1708, 1709, 1715, 1719 and 1745/6. But, back in 1691, William of Orange was a forgiving soul; he could afford to be or maybe he just had a guilty conscience, married as he was to the daughter of the man he’d just usurped. Such behaviour was par for the course in those days, of course, so we mustn’t be too judgemental.
Following Killiecrankie, in 1689, the Government tried to get the Clans ‘on side’ with an offer of peace, which was at the urging of John Campbell, the 1st Earl of Breadalbane. However, on the 17th of August, 1689, the Highland Chiefs sent a letter to General Hugh MacKay, scornfully rejecting the overtures of peace. The following March, William of Orange commissioned Lord Tarbat to offer a bribe to the major Clans. As much as £2,000 and any title less than an Earldom was to be offered to Glengarry, Clanranald, Sleate, Duart, Lochiel or the uncle of Seaforth, if they would ‘come in’. To back up the bribe and show what the alternative would be, General MacKay restored a fort at Inverlochy and christened it in honour of his King – hence Fort William. MacKay declared it was strong enough to withstand any attack by the Clans, but they weren’t intimidated.
The following year, after Cromdale, the Crown issued an order requiring an Oath of Allegiance from the Chiefs of the Clans and their principal tenants. Breadalbane took a deceitful hand and called a meeting of all the major Chieftains at which, instead of offering the intended Government incentives, instead offered only threats and airy-fairy promises, ‘playing both ends against the middle’ as the phrase goes. That meeting took place at Achallader on the 30th of June, 1691 and when MacKay was informed of Breadalbane’s deceits, he described his (very accurately) as "one of the chiefest and cunningest fomentors of the trouble of that kingdom not for the love of King James, but to make himself necessary to the government . . . as cunning as a fox, wise as a serpent, slippery as an eel . . . He knows neither honour nor religion but where they are mixed with interest . . . always on the side he can get most by, and will get all he can by both." Sir John Dalrymple, Master of Stair and Secretary of State for Scotland, spoke up for the Campbell, but the fact remains that the bribes were not paid, nor was the money returned to the Treasury. If you’re a conspiracy theorist, you’ll probably like to know that another Campbell, the Duke of Argyll, was a Lord of the Treasury and a close companion of King Willie.
The Clan Chiefs had been asked to swear an Oath, but trusting neither Campbell nor MacKay, they refused to submit until their ‘ex-King’ absolved them of their vows of loyalty. But before that could happen, a new Royal Proclamation was issued on the 17th of August, 1691, which offered all Highland Clans a ‘pardon’ for their part in the Jacobite ‘Uprising’. That new decree laid down fresh terms of compliance and promised ‘the utmost extremity of the law’ against all who should not have taken the Oath of Allegiance to King William III by the 1st of January, 1692. Wee Wullie had run out of patience. The Proclamation required that "[the Clans] should plead and take benefit of this our gracious indemnity, shall swear and sign the oath of allegiance to us by themselves, or a sheriff clerk subscribing for such as cannot write, and that before famous witnesses, betwixt and the first day of January next to come, in the presence of the Lords of our Privy Council, or the sheriffs, or their deputies, of the respective shires where any of the said persons live."
They Highland Chiefs promptly sent word to James VII & I in France, asking for his permission to take the oath. It appears James was a bit thrawn and took his time replying as it was mid-December before his authorisation to take the oath arrived. Despite difficult winter conditions, a good many took the oath in time. Government reports show that Locheil, Appin Keppoch, and Clanranald (by proxy) took the oath. Glengarry did not meet the required date, but did so on the 4th of February, 1691. Another man who failed to meet the deadline was Alastair MacIain, 12th Chief of Glencoe. He eventually swore his allegiance before the Campbell Sheriff of Argyll, on the 6th of January. However, he wasn’t treated as leniently as Glengarry, as history infamously records. He crossed the dead line, whilst still half asleep and being hauled from his bed in the village of Glencoe on the 13th of February, 1692. He died along with thirty-eight MacDonald men and another forty women and children of the Clan died of exposure after their homes were burned. That was the brutality of the Massacre of Glencoe. By the Spring of 1692, all of the Jacobite Chiefs had sworn allegiance to King William.