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The Jacobites


The Jacobites, and 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' in particular, tend to be seen in a romantic light, the reality of the disaster they brought down on Scotland and their supporters glossed over. Here I attempt a more balanced view which illustrates the bungling nature of the last Stewarts. They lost a kingdom or two and retired into dissolution and bitterness. Those whose loyalty they counted on and received were led into catastrophe and casually cast adrift.

After the death of Charles II (he of the 'Restoration', Nell Gwynne etc.) his brother, James VII of Scotland and II of England managed to make himself so unpopular by his absolutist behaviour and his open support for Roman Catholicism that the English parliament invited James's son-in-law, the Protestant William of Orange (aka 'King Billy'), to become King of England. Roman Catholicism was the religion of England's traditional enemies, France and Spain, and therefore regarded as unpatriotic in England. England had its own Catholic religion, (a split from the Roman version) dating from the time of Henry VIII, which had as its head the English monarch. English state religion was closely tied to English nationalism because of the circumstances surrounding the split from the Roman church and to subscribe to any other religion was therefore suspect. James VII, as a Roman Catholic and English king, was therefore in a contradictory position. In Scotland, which had had close links with France in the past, the abhorrence of (particularly Roman) Catholicism was, at least in theory, of a more spiritual nature. For example, the head of the Roman church (the Pope) was regarded as a servant of Satan by Protestant zealots, and conversely the Roman church regarded Protestants as heretics. So much for the Christian spirit but it was about par for the course then. Religion in those times was much more closely tied into power politics than it is today in Britain.

In any case, when William of Orange accepted the invitation from the English parliament and set foot on English soil (November 1688), James did not attempt to fight for his crown. He fled the country instead. William became William III of England, ruling jointly with his wife, Mary, who as James's daughter, conferred a somewhat dubious legitimacy to their supplanting of the English king. In Scotland it took until April 1689 for a Convention of the Estates to decide that James had forfeited the Scottish crown and recognize William as William II of Scotland. The Convention had received letters from both James and William stating their positions. William's showed a political understanding completely absent from James's enraged and threatening letter. As mentioned elsewhere in these pages, the fact that Scotland and England were separate countries with a common monarch created political tensions which were not resolved until decades after the political union of the two countries in 1707.

  1. 1689....

    The term 'Jacobite' became the name for those who supported James VII after his deposition. The most famous Jacobite rebellion took place in 1745 when Charles Edward Stewart (aka 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' and the 'Young Pretender'), James VII's grandson, led his Jacobite army to ultimate disaster at the Battle of Culloden (near Inverness, in the North of Scotland) in 1746. After that Jacobite hopes of another 'Restoration' were effectively dead but the campaign had lasted on and off from 1689 to 1746, nearly sixty years.

    The first Jacobite rebellion in Scotland occured in 1689, after the Scottish Convention had accepted William III as king. John Graham, Viscount Dundee (aka 'Bonnie Dundee') withdrew from the convention in protest and raised a small army based on the cavalry group of which he was commander. His spectacular victory against the Williamite army at Killiecrankie was won at the cost of his own life. He was killed at the moment of victory. Thereafter the rebellion was fought to a standstill at Dunkeld by a regiment of the religously fanatical Cameronians. Ironically, Colonel Cleland, their commander, died at the moment of their victory.

    When James died in 1701 (before the union of the Scottish and English parliaments), his son James Francis Stewart (aka the 'Old Pretender'), became the legitimate king of Scotland (James VIII) in the eyes of the Jacobites. In 1707 that union took place and in the following year the Old Pretender attempted to assert his claim as king of both Scotland and England. The important prize was the throne of England since England was a much richer and more powerful country than Scotland but the Jacobites hoped to attain that goal by gaining Scottish support first. Given the unpopularity of the Union in Scotland it allowed the Jacobites to portray themselves as nationalists whatever the reality. In practice, although the Union was unpopular, most lowland Scots were unwilling to resist it by force. This meant the Jacobites mainly having to use the highland clans as an army against the forces of the now British government. The willingness of the Jacobites to use force to destroy the Union was simply because, over most of the period discussed, that held out the only real hope the Jacobites had of succeeding. It became an increasingly desperate hope.

  2. 1708....

    Seeking to capitalize on popular Scots' discontent at the recent Union of the Parliaments, the Old Pretender set out from France in 1708, his expedition sponsored by Louis XIV. The French king involved himself for the usual reason which led France to involve itself in Scottish affairs, namely to distract the English (now the British) from their fighting with the French. The Duke of Marlborough had been giving the French a bad time in Flanders and a Jacobite rising in Scotland might have taken some of the heat off. In the event the expedition was a fiasco. James did not even land in Scotland. Having anchored off the Fife coast, the French naval commander of the expedition refused to put James ashore when a superior English (strictly speaking now British) naval force appeared, and the Jacobite expedition returned, after a detour round Ireland(!), to France. English politicians of the time, who naturally dominated the now British parliament, had scant interest in Scotland, and it was virtually defenceless. If James had landed with his force of 5,000 infantry it is just possible that he might have regained his Scottish kingdom. It was in the aftermath of this abortive rebellion that the barbaric 'Act for Improving the Union of the Two Kingdoms' (commonly referred to as the 'Treason Act') was passed. This brought Scotland's previously comparitively humane law of treason into line with the severe English one.

  3. 1715....

    The next Jacobite military attempt to regain the British throne was in 1715. It was perhaps the best chance the Jacobites ever had of restoring the exiled Stewart dynasty to the British throne. The Union with England was more unpopular than ever in Scotland and in England too there was deep discontent with the non-English-speaking King George and the authoritarian Whig party which had taken over political power since the king's accession. The rebellion was bungled, however. Queen Anne had died in August 1714. She was the daughter of James VII, and the last Stewart monarch to rule in Britain (as it turned out). In 1701 the English had passed the Act of Settlement which decreed that on Anne's death the English throne would pass to Sophia, Electress of Hanover, and her heirs since Queen Anne had no surviving issue. Sophia was grand-daughter of James VI but there was little enthusiasm for the House of Hanover. With the Union of the Parliaments in 1707 the English had ensured that the House of Hanover would succeed in Scotland too and the Jacobite rebellion in 1715 was an attempt, originated by the Earl of Mar, to capitalize on discontent at the Union in general and the accession of George I (Sophia's son) in particular. What actually provoked the rebellion was the eclipse of Mar's political career on George 1's accession. The Whig party had convinced the king that Mar had Jacobite sympathies and the king had conspicuously snubbed Mar when he had appeared at court. In reality Mar was only interested in being in government, any government, with the power that gave him. He was quite prepared to change allegiance if that was what was necessary to maintain his power. He had been a supporter of the Treaty of Union and had helped ensure the easy transition of the monarchy to the House of Hanover in the person of George I. Rejected by George, his only hope of a political future was by switching his support to the exiled House of Stewart, the Jacobites. (His reputation for changing sides when it suited him earned him the sobriquet 'Bobbing John'.)

    In fact the Earl of Mar started the rebellion without the knowledge of the exiled Stewart court. The Jacobite standard was raised on 6 September 1715 in the north-east Highlands. There was wide support for the rebellion and the Jacobite forces initially vastly outnumbered the British government forces. If swift and vigorous action had been taken by the Earl of Mar then success would have been virtually certain. Unfortunately for the Jacobite cause, Mar was an administrator, not a soldier, and not given to taking advice from others. The corrupt and odious British political system, run by Whig extremists, was ready to be overthrown but Mar was not the man to do it. He moved south to capture Perth on 14 September but did not capitalize on this success. The Duke of Argyll, commander of the government forces in Scotland, had a much smaller number of men than Mar alone. Another Jacobite army in the south also wasted time and instead of attacking Argyll, marched into England with the intention of raising Lancashire. Their hopes dashed, they surrendered to government forces at Preston on 14 November 1715. The day before, at Sheriffmuir, Mar had finally taken on Argyll. The Duke, unlike Mar, was an experienced soldier and, though his troops were outnumbered four to one, the Battle of Sheriffmuir was inconclusive. It was a strategic disaster for Mar, however. He had failed to seize the moment. He was not the only one. The exiled Stewart 'king', James VIII, did not land in Scotland until 22 December by which time the government had regained the initiative. The Duke of Argyll had received reinforcements of battle-hardened Dutch troops. On 4 February 1716 James admitted defeat and returned to France.

  4. 1719....

    Jacobite plans for regaining the British throne continued. By 1719 they had managed to enlist the help of the Spanish for another military expedition. The precise reasons for the Spanish support were born out of complex European power politics. Surprisingly England's old enemy, France, and Britain (which in the main pursued the old English policies) had come to a peace settlement in 1713, which ended the 'War of the Spanish Succession'. Amongst other things the treaty required the 'Old Pretender' to move his exiled court from France. The Jacobites had therefore to cast about for support elsewhere. Spain had also signed a peace treaty with Britain but did not respect the provisions which excluded Spanish influence in Italy. By 1718 Spain had seized the Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia and planned to invade the mainland in the south. This was a direct challenge to Austria which had inherited Spain's Italian lands but it was also a challenge to Britain which was a guarantor of the Peace of Utrecht. The Royal Navy promptly smashed the Spanish navy near Messina. The Spanish knew that Britain's George I was involved in an expensive naval campaign in the Baltic (financed by Britain although it was in pursuance of aims associated with his Hanoverian territories) so they declared war on Britain. For Spain, as previously for France, the Jacobites were useful pawns in a war against Britain. Consequently the Jacobite Duke of Ormonde was invited to Madrid for talks about an invasion of England. This invasion was undoubtedly regarded by the Spanish as a merely a diversionary tactic to distract the British from the Mediterranean theatre of operations. This possibly made it easier for Ormonde to persuade the Spanish that there should be a two-pronged invasion of Britain, taking in Scotland as well as England.

    There were delays in mounting the expedition, giving the British ample time to prepare militarily, so that when the expedition set sail from Cadiz in March 1719 with a mere 5,000 soldiers it had virtually no chance of success. In the event, before the fleet of twenty-nine ships reached Corunna, where the Duke of Ormonde was to join it, it was substantially destroyed in a storm. The British heaved a sigh of relief believing an attempted invasion in 1719 now impossible. They were wrong. The Spanish still wanted a distraction for the British. They recognized that there was no chance of success before the start, but the main force was defeated by the weather again and did not reach England. A tiny diversionary force of two frigates and just over three hundred Spanish infantrymen which was to have distracted British forces from the target of the main expedition, England, reached Scotland. This force was joined by a group of Jacobite exiles from France. Squabbling soon broke out among the leadership. When they received the news that the main force would not reach England there was argument for and against returning to Spain, the logical thing to do given that their small force was now meaningless. The faction which was for fighting anyway won the day. There was little support from the clans, though the famous Rob Roy Macgregor appeared with a handful of men. In all about a thousand or so men made up the Jacobite army which faced a British government force of about the same size, which had marched down from Inverness to meet them. On June 10th they fought in Glenshiel, where the Jacobites had erected rough defences. In a forewarning of what was to happen 27 years later at Culloden the government force brought artillery to bear on the enemy before routing them. The Jacobite clansmen disappeared into the Highlands; the Spaniards surrendered. The farcical 1719 'invasion' was over.

    In the years following, the exiled Jacobite court engaged in plotting and planning which became increasingly divorced from reality. The court had been comprehensively infiltrated by British spies but Jacobite security arrangements were so laughably amateurish that the spies were scarcely needed. Correspondence between Jacobite sympathisers in England and on the mainland of Europe was often sent through the ordinary postal service. The British government was known to open letters and even had a deciphering department to break such rudimentary codes as were used by conspirators. Scare stories of possible Jacobite invasions were not so much real as Whig propaganda to divert public attention from their own corrupt regime. It is a common enough ploy for governments to exaggerate the threat from a supposed enemy for domestic consumption. Support for the Jacobite cause in England went into terminal decline, its only real expression being verbal protest against the corrupt and repressive government. More support remained for the cause in Scotland but more as a philosophy than as a hope for a restoration of the Stewart monarchy. Even here the Jacobites failed to capitalise on the great unpopularity of the London based Whig government.

    The British knew that there was no possibility of an effective Jacobite invasion without substantial financial backing from a foreign power, which in practice meant France or Spain, and while Britain was at peace with these two countries this would not be forthcoming.

  5. 1745....

    While, as far as foreign powers were concerned, in time of war the Jacobite cause was a useful stick with which to irritate and distract Britain, this cut both ways. If Britain was not at war she was able to maintain a large standing army at home, well able to resist a few thousand troops which was as many as the Jacobites could be expected to muster. If the Jacobites were to hope for a successful invasion of Britain they therefore required Britain to be at war, since she traditionally denuded her home forces in order to wage war abroad, trusting to the navy to repel invaders. Years passed and it wasn't until the late 1730s that war began to rear its ugly head. For reasons of European politics Britain and France were gradually sliding into open conflict until in 1743, with a change in the French government, there came a radical change in policy towards Britain. France was well aware of the benefits which came from being at peace with Britain, after all they had experienced these since 1716. The problem was that the king of Britain was also Elector of Hanover and he conducted Britain's European policy more with Hanover in mind than Britain, often at the expense of France. The solution to the French was a restoration of the Stewart dynasty to the British throne. Not only would Britain's European policy no longer be driven by anti-French Hanoverian considerations but the suitably grateful Stewarts would adopt a pro-French stance. An invasion of Britain was planned to restore the Stewarts early in 1744 and it was a serious force which was assembled: 10,000 French troops of the regular army. Prince Charles Edward Stewart,'Bonnie Prince Charlie', the Jacobite 'Prince of Wales', was secretly summoned to France to embark with the invasion fleet and act as Regent for his father. With a cunning political plan, amongst other things reassuring the British that the French invasion was a short-term mission merely to restore the Stewarts, the French would probably have achieved their objective if they could have got their seasoned troops across the English Channel. After all, the British Whig government was unpopular and the king was from a foreign dynasty. Not for the first time in the history of the Jacobites, though, delays in invasion plans allowed British spies in Europe to discover details of what the French intended. Not for the first time either did the weather play a hand. As the invasion fleet was about to sail in February 1744 a gale blew up which dispersed the warships which were to protect the ships transporting the troops. The transports were themselves damaged in Dunkirk harbour. The initiative had been lost and the British had the chance to bring reinforcements over from Holland.

    The French King, Louis XV, got cold feet. He had never been confident of the success of the invasion plan. It is at this point that the 23 year old Prince Charles Edward Stewart,'Bonnie Prince Charlie', comes into his own. There are two main schools of thought about Prince Charlie, one pro, the other con. To some he was a noble and romantic hero who initiated a glorious, if unsuccessful, adventure. To others he was an egotistical personality, rash, vain and irresponsible. Both views have elements of truth about them but real life is too complex to be summed up so superficially. His brief period of glory was followed by a long period of embittered and drink-sodden exile. Let us examine only the brief period of glory.

    It used to be thought that Prince Charlie was entirely responsible for instigating the 1745 Jacobite rebellion. It certainly would not have happened without him but the French government played a significant part which they were very successful in covering up later. In late 1744 Charles was introduced to a group of Franco-Irish privateers who operated out of northern French ports. They had Jacobite connections e.g. Antoine Walsh was the son of Philip Walsh whose ship had taken James II to France after his defeat at the Battle of the Boyne. Philip became rich through building naval ships and in the slave trade. Antoine also engaged in the slave trade and added privateering to his accomplishments. Privateering was the practice of privately owned and operated ships sanctioned by their government attacking the ships of hostile nations. Great fortunes were made this way. In addition to their Jacobite sympathies a landing in Scotland was appealling to the group of privateers since it would distract the British navy into decreasing their ability to protect British merchant shipping. In other words, commercial advantage encouraged political loyalty. The French government's involvement was even more cynical: the sacrifice of Scots for French advantage in Europe. After the failure of the rebellion they naturally did not wish to broadcast this and Charles was happy to be portrayed as solitary hero.

    The 1745 rebellion did not start well. Charles had only been able to put together a small expedition with only two ships, one a light frigate, the "Du Teillay", the other a much larger French naval vessel of 64 guns, the "Elisabeth", chartered from the government. These two ships set sail from the Loire on 22 June 1745. On 9 July they encountered the British 54 gun HMS 'Lion' which damaged Charles' larger ship so badly it had to return to France. Since it was carrying most of the arms and ammunition for the Prince's force this was a severe blow. Nevertheless he continued on to Scotland, landing on the island of Eriskay on 23 July 1745 at what is still known as Cladach a'Phrionnsa (the Prince's beach). Charles' first meeting, with Alexander Macdonald of Boisdale, in South Uist was a shock. He told the Prince that he could expect no support for his rebellion and advised him to go home. Charles supposedly replied "I am come home, sir." It was almost the shortest of visits since his entourage were soon quarrelling. They had heard of the arrest by the government of the chief of the Macleans of Mull as a Jacobite plotter. Only Antoine Walsh and Charles argued that the rebellion should continue. Growing paranoia led to the "Du Teillay" sailing for the safety of the sea lochs of the mainland. Charles set foot on the mainland at Loch nan Uamh on 25 July. Meetings with other important clansmen were as discouraging as that with Alexander Macdonald had been. They were Jacobite supporters but also realists. They knew the likelihood of success was negligible and that failure would spell disaster for their clans. Charles refused to listen to any advice and gradually assembled a few local supporters. He secured the support of Cameron of Lochiel, who had also been pessimistic about the outcome of the rebellion, by sneering that Lochiel could stay at home and learn of the Prince's fate in a news sheet. Lochiel's support and the men he could put in the field were vital if the rebellion was to proceed. Charles sent letters and messengers from his HQ at Borrodale summoning support and he decided on Glenfinnan as the place where he would first assemble his army. On Monday 19 August the Jacobite standard was raised there. Of the approximately 1200 men who gathered at Glenfinnan about 700 were Lochiel's Camerons. All the same, Lochiel's faith in the rebellion can perhaps be judged by the fact that he sought and received a promise from Charles that he would not suffer financially if the rising did not succeed.

    If the rebellion had not started well the fact that it began to flourish was largely the fault of the British government. With their customary disregard for Scotland they had left the country inadequately defended. Even the locally raised troops in the Highlands, the Black Watch, told originally that they would only serve in their own land, had been marched down to England in 1743. This was in spite of (perhaps because of) the known plans for a French invasion in 1744 (see above). In addition, Clan Campbell, traditionally militarily strong and allied to the government, had been very much weakened as a military force because of structural changes the Clan chief had made. As a result Charles was able to march from Glenfinnan to Edinburgh, taking Perth on the way, virtually unopposed. A government force under General Cope had marched north but avoided engagement believing the Jacobite force to be larger than was the case. He had received very little support in Scotland because of the London-based government's great unpopularity. After marching to Inverness to get supplies, he marched to Aberdeen from where his force sailed down the coast to land ahead of the Jacobites, who were at Edinburgh, at Dunbar. On 21 September 1745 General Cope's force was routed by the Jacobites at the so-called Battle of Prestonpans. This engagement lasted no more than 15 minutes before the government forces lost their nerve and ran away. Incidentally, the small forces on either side at the battle (approx.2,500 men) indicate what a small-scale uprising, despite its great fame, the '45 really was. Be that as it may, Charles was now, however temporarily, master of Scotland. The government in London had expected the rising to fizzle out at the first show of force. Now they began to take it more seriously.

    Despite the reluctance of major figures to support him and despite the lack of willing volunteers (attempts to raise a regiment in Edinburgh had failed), Charles managed to muster a force of about 5,000 for his invasion of England. His officers, including his most experienced general, Lord George Murray, advised against it but Charles was adamant that he would receive massive support in England. In the event he was wrong. His force got all the way to Derby without any more than about 200 Englishmen joining his cause. By that time the cause was lost. The Prince was keen to continue the march to London where there was some panic but the British military held firm and, with the return from Europe of troops, vastly outnumbered Charles' force. Three government forces, two bigger than his own, now faced him. He reluctantly agreed to retreat to Scotland. The march back began on 6 December 1745. At Charles' insistence a garrison of about 400 were left behind when the Jacobites passed through Carlisle. They subsequently received harsh treatment at the hands of King George II's 25 year old third son, William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland ('Butcher' Cumberland): the officers were hanged and the men transported to the West Indies.

    On Christmas Day the Jacobite army entered Glasgow and stayed for 10 days while the strongly pro-government city was reluctantly forced to refit it. Though time was running out the Jacobites had still not been defeated and they won another battle at Falkirk on 17 January against a government force led by the brutal General Henry Hawley. Hawley blamed his men for the defeat and executed about 60 men for cowardice. The Jacobites continued north pursued by a force led by the Duke of Cumberland who was a seasoned soldier, having had experience in the War of the Austrian Succession. As Scotland became increasingly lost to Charles he needed funds from elsewhere to keep his troops in the field. France, which had given little help, sent a ship with 12,000 in gold. Crucially it was captured by (Scottish) forces loyal to the government.

    The end came for the Jacobite cause on Wednesday 16 April 1746 at Drummossie Moor near Inverness. The Prince mistrusted his most able general, Lord George Murray, and rejected his advice as to where to establish the Jacobite base. Instead he was persuaded to choose an open moor which was military insanity. For the first time Charles took personal charge of his force. In less than an hour the fresh, well-fed government force, which outnumbered the tired half-starved Jacobites two to one, defeated them for the first and last time. The key to their success was the effectiveness of their artillery, which they had in abundance, and used to pulverize the Jacobites who were not ordered to charge by their commanders until many had been killed or wounded. Jacobite artillery was virtually non-existent and ineffective. Charles fled the field before the battle was over and spent months in hiding in the Highlands before escaping to France.

[More info on the Jacobites coming later.]

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The Jacobites by Robert McCallum










Copyright 1996-2012 Len Nicholson


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