Sir John Dalrymple, 1st Earl of Stair, lived from 1648 to 8 January 1707. A Scottish noble and politician, he played am important role in the acceptance by the Scots of William II and Mary II in place of James VII in 1688. He is primarily remembered, however, as the man behind the 1692 Glencoe Massacre. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Sir John Dalrymple was born at Stair House in Ayrshire, the son of James Dalrymple, 1st Viscount of Stair. An influential member of the Scottish Parliament, John Dalrymple served under James II/VII until 1688. After the "Glorious Revolution" in England had seen the overthrow of James II/VII and the accession to the English throne of William of Orangeand Mary, Dalrymple helped sway the argument about the future of the Scottish monarchy in favour of following England's lead.
It fell to Dalrymple to convey to William and Mary the terms of the Scots' agreement to their jointly taking the crown of Scotland. The response to the deposition of James VII by Scottish Jacobites was a major uprising in 1689 that was only put down with some difficulty, and only after James VII had been defeated by William at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland on 1 July 1689.
In the aftermath of the first Jacobite uprising it became important for those in day-to-day control of Scotland to demonstrate to William of Orange their grip on the country. John Dalrymple had been made Lord Advocate of Scotland in 1688, and in 1691 he was made Secretary of State for Scotland: effectively the King's representative in Scotland with the authority to take day-to-day decisions on the King's behalf.
It was John Dalrymple who, with the King's approval, devised the offer made in August 1691 to pardon all the Highland clans who had taken up arms in the 1689 Jacobite uprising, on condition they took an oath of allegiance to William of Orange by 1 January 1692. And it was John Dalrymple who engineered the circumstances which made it appear that the Glencoe MacDonalds had failed to take the oath before the deadline: and who, probably with the King's approval, ordered the Glencoe Massacre of MacDonalds by Government troops under the command of Captain Robert Campbell in the early morning of 13 February 1692.
The public outcry over the massacre caught Dalrymple by surprise, and after the government enquiry that followed he resigned his post as Secretary of State for Scotland. By 1700 his reputation had been rehabilitated, however, and he was appointed as a member of the Privy Council of Scotland. In 1703 he was made the first Earl of Stair by Queen Anne. Dalrymple went on to exert his considerable influence in favour of the Act of Union with England which, despite widespread opposition across Scotland, was passed in 1707: though Dalrymple himself didn't live to see it as he died in January of that year.
Sir John Dalrymple is remembered in one very unusual way. His family crest includes a blue St Andrew's Cross on which are shown nine gold diamonds. Within three years of his death, people were starting to refer to the nine of diamonds in a pack of playing cards as "The Curse of Scotland". Whether this was because he ordered the Glencoe Massacre, or because of his role in the overthrow of James VII, or because he helped bring about the Act of Union is unclear. It might even have been a little of all three!