The Jacobite Rebellions
5th November 1605 , Guy Fawkes hatched an audacious plot to kill King James Stuart I of England; 73 years later King James Stuart II was the subject of a Machiavellian plot that would see England adopt a foreign monarch to end the Stewart line of succession. What drove the English parliament to such drastic measures was the rampant paranoia that the Stewart Kings would present an uncontested line of Catholic monarchs. This fear that Catholicism may be resurrected was amplified in the Restoration years. King Charles II failed to produce a male heir to the throne. His younger brother, a passionate Catholic convert, James was the next in line. James had all the zeal of a convict and panic set in amongst English nobility. They were desperate to cement Protestantism as the country’s religion, with the monarch head of the church.
As William Of Orange arrived from his native Holland, James fled. Setting sail for France on the 23rd December 1688, he presented the English Parliament with an opportune moment to declare James’ abdication from the throne. Welcoming William Of Orange as King William III , a group of politicians had altered the course of history, hi-jacking the legitimate line of succession for both Scottish and English crowns.
But the country would not have to wait long for an insurgent movement to rise; it arrived in the form of the Jacobites, who bristled at this illegitimate king. From the inception of the Jacobite movement in 1689, to its bloody end on the fields of Culloden , near Inverness , in the cataclysmic end to their 1745 rebellion, a variety of grievances were contested under the Jacobite banner.
Jacobitism, at its crudest, was the reawakening of old rivalries: Scotland against England. Indeed, The Battle of Culloden , 1745, was the death knell of an armed campaign for Scottish Nationalism. But Jacobitism was a movement that concerned the whole of Britain, not just Scotland. Jacobitism encompassed a religious dynamic too – after all, political tumult never excluded religious dissent in the 17th and 18th Centuries. It would be too simplistic to conclude that Jacobitism set Catholics against Protestants in the a literal, explicit fashion. Yet it attracted many Catholic supporters, in particular those in the Highlands who were never converted to the Presbyterian Protestantism of the Lowlanders. Partisan nationalism; sense of duty; religious tolerance: these were all represented by the Jacobites’ White Cockade. And all were believed to have been best served by restoring the Stuart kings to the throne.
Jacobitism’s first rebellion in 1689 was brief and chaotic. Its marginal success and sustained sense of failure was a portent of things to come. Their victory at the Battle Of Killiecrankie , 27th July 1689 was the work of an agitator and cursed enemy of the Scottish Covenanters, John Graham Of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee . He was livid at the usurping of James II, declaring war under the Stewart standard he left his hometown with a confederacy of Highlanders and Irish Guards. At Blair Atholl , after tentative manoeuvring, Ewan Cameron’s Highland men absorbed General Hugh McKay of Scourie’s attack and countered with the famed Highland charge. It was a decisive manoeuvre in a brutal encounter. Thousands died. The Jacobites were the last men standing, of whom, Dundee was not one. He died in battle and the Killiecrankie momentum was evaporated at the Battle Of Dunkeld , where government troops defeated a rudderless Jacobite army under the shadow of Dunkeld Cathedral , on the North bank of the River Tay.
Like the cathedral, Jacobitism was still standing. But the 1689 rising was finally silenced at the Haughs Of Cromdale, in May of 1690. Jacobitism, as a military campaign, went into cold storage. At least on the mainland. In Ireland, William Of Orange was defeating the Irish at the Battle Of The Boyne . Ireland was now wrenched from James’ grasp.
The Jacobites hibernation would be disturbed in the winter of 1692. William III had offered clemency to the Highland clans on the condition that they swear allegiance to him by the 31st December 1691. The Highlands were considered an untamable beast; government men in Whitehall viewed the clan system to be a wellspring for the Jacobite movement and were keen to bring the Highlanders to heel. Loyal to the exiled James II, the clans sought his permission. The exiled king’s prevarication colluded with dreadful weather; the MacDonalds missed the deadline. It proved to be a fatal error. The MacDonalds a victim of bitter circumstance and government anger at Highlander support for the 1689 Jacobite rising.
In the small hours of the 13th February 1692, 38 of the clan were slain by their guests, men under the command of Captain Robert Campbell. Their township was razed; their livestock stolen. Woman and children were cast out to die in the glen. The order came from John Dalrymple , Master Of Stair. It was an atrocity which cut deep to the heart of Highland sensibilities: to kill someone who has offered you hospitality, as was the case with Glencoe, was a crime worse than murder. For the Jacobites, it was a highly emotive propaganda tool. To this day the Campbell name is tainted by the Glencoe Massacre . Though the Campbells shared an antipathy with the MacDonalds, Glencoe transcended such rivalry. It was a clear message from the government, that this was the comeuppance that would befall any insurgent clans.
The Glencoe Massacre was also a gory example of the Highlanders’ alienation from the Lowlands – let alone London . Government policy chronically failed the Highlander. But this sense of political alienation was not restricted to those north of the Boundary Fault; there was a prominent logic that dictated England was pressing forward without a care to Scotland. The Scots’ confidence was emasculated after a succession of failed harvests, poverty, famine in the Highlands. Food riots were common place as Glasgow and Edinburgh shouldered the burden of poverty. The collapse of the Darien Venture would exacerbate Scotland’s economic woes and undermine her confidence as a nation. Thousands emigrated.
There was a polarisation of political thought once William III was succeeded by Queen Anne . In endorsing the Act Of Settlement , she extended the line of succession to the Hanoverian House. The 1707 Act Of Union was passed; the overpowering whiff of corruption was unavoidable. Bribes of land, influence and lucre persuaded Scottish nobility to vote yes to the union. There were more riots. No sooner had Scotland accepted a legal binding with England, had it ideology divorced itself.
The Jacobite cause was typically tentative when Queen Anne died in 1714. The Jacobites looked to France to reprise the Auld Alliance; the French offered hope if nothing else. With the potential support of French troops, there was talk of another armed insurgency. In 1715, the Jacobites formed an army under the leadership of the most unlikely of sympathisers, John Erskine , 6th Earl Of Mar. Given that Mar had jotted his signature on the Act Of Union, then swore allegiance to the newly crowned King George I , he more than deserved his nickname, ‘Bobbing John’. Here was a man whose loyalties were perishable. But more to the point; his abilities as a general were still not emphatic enough to wrangle victory over an outnumbered government army.
The Battle Of Sheriffmuir , 13th November 1715, involved Mar’s 12,000 strong army of Jacobites against a government army under the command of John Campbell, 2nd Duke Of Argyll . The confident rhetoric espoused by Mar when he raised the Stuart standard at Braemar , and marched on Perth was lost in a battle where no-one won, yet somehow the Jacobites lost. They lost momentum – this was their achilles heel through out their campaign. At Sheriffmuir, Mar should have struck a victory. But Campbell was too smart, his army too experienced, and they managed to repel the Jacobites.
A few miles from Dunblane , in the cradle of Scottish Nationalism, Sheriffmuir saw hundreds of men die and another chance spurned. Victory would have secured the path to Stirling , the gateway to the Lowlands. Mar fled to France after Sheriffmuir. Jacobitism again would resurface four years later to little effect. It’s not that Jacobite sentiment had dissipated, on the contrary; the Malt Tax of 1725 caused rioting, and ill-feeling was high in Scotland. But the Government were doing a sterling job in quelling organised dissent.
They built garrisons in Fort William , Inverness, and all across the Highlands. The roads cutting swathes through Tyndrum and Inverlochy were major supply routes for the government troops. Under General Wade, hundreds of miles of bridges and roads were built. Some, like the bridge over the River Tay , are still in use to this day. With military force, Jacobitism was smothered. It wasn’t until Charles Edward Stuart, Bonnie Prince Charlie , landed on Scottish shores, 30 years later, that the rebellion would draw breath for one final campaign.
Born in 1720, Bonnie Prince Charlie was James II’s grandson. Known as The Young Pretender and raised in France, he landed on Eriskay, 2nd August 1745, amidst a backdrop of Tory plotting with the French. Jacobitism was enthusiastically supported by the French – in theory at least. They certainly delivered funds and offered troops. Charles road across the Highlands to rouse rally the clans and was largely met with apathy. But his moment came in the picturesque calm of Glennfinnan , at the head of Loch Shiel, where he raised his grandfather’s standard in front of over 1,000 clansmen. He headed south with this modest army of men from the Clans MacDonald, Glengarry and Cameron. By the time Charlie’s men claimed Perth they numbered some 3,000.
This was an opportune moment; in Scotland, government troops numbered only 4,000. Striding purposely south, the Jacobites seized Coatbridge . Edinburgh was next. Claiming the capital opened up the strategic port of Dunbar, to the city’s east. The Cameron charge was enough to breach Edinburgh’s city gates. They declared James VIII King Of Scotland, and gathered an inertia that would prove difficult for Cope’s Hanoverian army to reverse. Argyll, that government veteran from the 1715 campaign was right; he resigned with the belief that Jacobitism could only be killed with politics, rather than the militarisation of the Highlands. 30 years on, the Jacobites were making great strides on government roads. Lord George Murray’s victory at the Battle Of Prestonpans , 21st September 1745 was the Jacobite’s first great victory, and exposed England to the threat the Jacobites could test an army stretched to breaking point with war in mainland Europe. Cope could not help but feel concern.
The French promised support. More than that, they promised a long-awaited invasion. And it was needed too. The Jacobite army, for all its success, did not attract volunteers in their droves. The further south they travelled, the further they entered areas loyal to the government. Marching through England, Charles relationship with Murray was growing fractious. There were desertions among the rank and file. Morale was low. Charles’ men were hungry and tired. So too their leader, as Charles suffered from pneumonia. In hindsight it would have been more prudent of the Jacobites to have secured their presence in Scotland before invading England.
Upon reaching Derby Charles received some dreadful news: a vast Hanoverian army was billeted at Finchley , North of London. The news was devastating. How could a malnourished and fatigued army defeat such a foe? Retreat was the only option. Retracing their steps from the East Midlands, the Jacobites were a despondent army, whose leader had gambled and lost. Consolidating their campaign when they reached Scotland would not be so easy. Making their way north, the Jacobites repelled patrols of government dragoons. Victories at Falkirk were followed by failure at Stirling and Inverness. Though undefeated, Charles’ men could no longer eek out a victory. Springtime in the Scottish Highlands would prove to be decisive. And that dreadful news that the Jacobites received in Derby , was made all the more deflating given that it was false: though London was heavily defended, there was no massive army at Finchley.
The prelude to the Battle Of Culloden, 17th April 1746, could not have been more different. The Redcoats, under the command of the William Augustus, Duke Of Cumberland were well rested, having been billeted at Nairn , the picturesque town on Scotland’s north-eastern shoulder. The Jacobites were knackered. All their previous failures would conspire against them. At Culloden, the going was heavy underfoot. The Highland Charge was rooted to the moorland. Cumberland could not have wished for better conditions, his dragoons picked off the Jacobites with musket fire. It was a slaughter. One which Cumberland relished, earning the nickname ‘The Butcher’.
Charles escaped the carnage and, like so many Stuarts before him, fled to France. The Highland clans who supported the Jacobites were heavily censured. Estates were forfeited as the clan system was dismantled. Not all Highlanders supported the Jacobites, but the government’s actions – banning bag pipes, weapons and the wearing of plaid – punished them all. The age of the Jacobite was over. The Stuart line was finished.
More British History here
On this day: