I am not going to contribute to the debate on what might have happened had the highland army not turned back at Derby in December 1745, or add to the immense literature on the disaster at Culloden the next year. Instead I am attempting to place the Jacobite revolt into its context of British politics and foreign affairs. I initially wrote this for a cousin who bears the proud Jacobite name of MacPherson, so I have focused on the part that the clan chief, known as Cluny, played in the rising.
(A note on dates. Until the reform of the British calendar in 1752, dates in Britain were 11 days behind those on the continent. Thus, for instance, the skirmish at Clifton took place on December 18th or 29th, depending on which system is used. The dates used here are in the British reckoning, called by historians “O.S.”: Old Style. The other problem is that until 1752 the British year changed not on January 1st but on March 25th; the Feast of the Annunciation. Historians always follow the modern usage in this case)
The word “Jacobitism” is derived from the name “James” (in Hebrew, “Jacob”, Latin “Jacobus”, French “Jacques”). It refers back to the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 when James II, the last Catholic King of England, ran away before the forces of William of Orange, his nephew and son-in-law, and took refuge in France along with his baby son James Edward Stuart. William occupied London without a shot being fired, and summoned a Parliament which proclaimed him King. This coup was bloodless in England, though serious fighting followed in both Scotland and Ireland, and war was declared on France in 1689. The Protestant Succession in Britain was perpetuated by the 1701 Act of Settlement, which passed over the claims of James Edward Stuart and awarded the inheritance of the crown to the Hanoverian line. This was achieved in 1714 when George of Hanover succeeded without any resistance as King George I. Jacobites were therefore people who believed that all this was wrong, and that James Edward Stuart was the true King.
Various groups might have an incentive to become Jacobites. Any nation hostile to Britain would find it easy to stir up trouble by giving the exiles who clustered round James some funding, or the promise of military support. The nation most likely to do this, of course, was France. But the long series of wars between Britain and France ended in 1713 with the Treaty of Utrecht, which specified that James Edward Stuart (known to Hanoverians as “The Pretender”) must be expelled from France. Catholics, of course, would have preferred a restoration of the Catholic Stuarts, but there were few Catholics in England, and they took no part in politics. So might the Tory party, which was kept out of power for a whole generation after 1714, but Tories were also strong supporters of the Church of England, and would have qualms about supporting a Catholic claimant. Then there were the “Non-jurors”: Anglicans who had followed Archbishop Sancroft in refusing to recognise William III as Head of the Church of England. The Non-juring church continued in existence throughout the 18th century, and its members were of necessity Jacobites. After the fall of Walpole’s ministry in 1742, many Tories hoped for serious constitutional changes. But within a year or so it became clear that no such changes were in prospect, so they might have begun to consider the revolutionary alternative.
All sensible Jacobites knew that any rebellion was unlikely to succeed without foreign help, probably from France, but this would have meant allying themselves with the national enemy, and in any case the decades after the Utrecht treaty generally saw amity between Britain and France.
The situation in Scotland was rather different. The revolution of 1688 had led to the Presbyterian church becoming the official church of Scotland, which was much resented by Catholics and Episcopalians, of whom there were large numbers amongst the highland clans. The Campbells of Argyll, previously regarded as dangerous rebels (two successive Earls of Argyll having been executed as traitors) now became the government’s main support in Scotland. The Act of Union with England in 1707 was widely resented. In 1708 a French expedition, with James Edward Stuart on board, approached the east coast of Scotland, but did not manage to effect a landing.
Until the 17th century the peoples living north of the “highland line”, which ran roughly from Dumbarton to Inverness, had played little part in Scottish history. People in the lowlands regarded them as barbarians and cattle-thieves, and would have been astonished to learn that modern Scotland has made totems of such items as the tartan, the kilt and the bagpipes, which in early modern times would have been associated purely with those robbers from the north (insofar as they were not simply inventions of sentimental Victorian antiquarians, which in great part they were).
North of the highland line was a region largely outside the writ of central government. It was a lawless land, torn by feuds and private wars. Under these circumstances, people banded together in clans for self-protection. The economy was primitive, based on raising cattle, and the great bulk of the people were extremely poor peasants. In such a society, what determined a chieftain’s importance was not gold or land in themselves, but how many men would turn out to fight for him in a crisis. The government in Edinburgh would try to control the situation by allying with some clans against the others; and after 1688 it was the Campbells of Argyll who fulfilled this role. Many clan chiefs retained the ancient “right of pit and gallows”: the right to imprison or even execute criminals on their territory without any reference to the king’s judges These were known as “Heritable Jurisdictions”.
(The picture shows Andrew Macpherson of Cluny; clan chief in the 1660s. Note that there is no single tartan pattern in his clothes!)
We cannot imagine such a society surviving into Victorian times, and already by the 18th century things were changing. The lure of civilisation was proving hard to resist, as it always does. Already many of the clan chieftains were spending part of the year in Edinburgh, London or even Paris, where they would live like 18th century gentlemen, and then in the hunting season they would return to their glens and once again become barbarian tribal chiefs. It is obvious which tendency would win in the end. But to live the life of a civilised gentleman required money, and for this their clan lands would have to be farmed differently, to produce a financial profit, not large numbers of fighting men. After the failure of Jacobitism this is what happened, as the common clansmen were evicted from their holdings to make way for sheep. It has long been debated how far the Jacobite revolts should be viewed as “the last kick of a dying society”: certainly the traditional clan society did die soon afterwards.
Scottish Jacobitism therefore always had a mish-mash of different motivations: nationalism, resentment from Catholics and Episcopalians, and hatred of the Campbells from their traditional clan enemies, such as the various MacDonald septs.
Although the Jacobites were unable to do anything to prevent the accession of George I, the next year, 1715, saw serious risings in both Scotland and the north of England. The latter was ignominiously defeated at Preston, and the Scottish rising, which attracted widespread support amongst the highland clans, was brought to a standstill at the battle of Sherrifmuir outside Stirling by John Campbell, Duke of Argyll, and then rather feebly retreated northwards. James Edward Stuart did not arrive in Scotland until after this, proved to be an uninspiring leader, and returned to France having achieved nothing. There was another attempt in 1719 when, in consequence of an undeclared war between Britain and Spain, a body of Spanish troops landed in western Scotland and attracted some local support from the clans of the region, but was soon defeated by British regulars. The last kick of this phase of Jacobitism was a purely English affair; the so-called “Atterbury Plot” of 1722, when the prominent Tory Bishop Atterbury was accused of plotting ands forced to flee the country.
Over the next two decades there were occasional outbreaks of discontent. The imposition of the Malt Tax led to serious riots in Glasgow in 1725, when General Wade led a strong military force into Glasgow to crush any trouble. Then there were the Porteous riots in Edinburgh in 1737. There had been tumultuous disturbances after the hanging of a smuggler; Captain Porteous, commander of the Edinburgh garrison, had ordered his troops to open fire, and people had been killed. But the order to fire had apparently been given without proper authorisation from the magistrates, so Porteous was arrested and condemned to death. (This episode illustrates the widespread hatred with which the army was viewed in the 18th century: see also the “Boston Massacre” of 1770) But Porteous’s execution was postponed by royal authority. Suspecting, probably quite rightly, that he would be acquitted, an infuriated mob stormed the Tollbooth, took out the unfortunate captain, and lynched him. (This incident forms a dramatic scene in Walter Scott’s novel: “The Heart of Midlothian”) The Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, responded with a collective punishment of the city of Edinburgh; as a result of which the Duke of Argyll flung his considerable political influence against Walpole at the next election.
The highlands were left largely untouched after the failures of the “15” and the “19”. The clans were ordered to disarm, but no serious attempt was made to enforce it, and the Jacobite clans simply hid their weapons and waited. Scotland remained effectively under the rule of the Duke of Argyll and his Campbells, but the great Duke himself died in 1743 and his successors were men of lesser calibre. A “leadership gap” developed.
After the Malt Tax riots of 1725 it was decided to raise six “Independent Companies” of Highlanders. These were later increased in numbers and paid as regular troops, forming the famous “Black Watch” in 1739 (the 43rd Regiment of the line, later the 42nd: “the gallant forty-twa”).
Preparations for the ‘45
By the 1730s James Edward Stuart was no longer politically active, but his eldest son, Charles, born in 1720 and to be known to posterity as “Bonnie Prince Charlie” or the “Young Pretender”, was eager for some action. The opportunity arose in the early 1740s.
For years there had been no wars, and only a few serious international crises, in western Europe. Sir Robert Walpole and his French counterpart, Cardinal Fleury, were both anxious to avoid conflict, and for this reason the Jacobites received little encouragement. But Fleury was now in his late eighties, and a younger generation of French leaders were itching for a more assertive policy. In 1739 Walpole was hustled, much against his best judgement, into war with Spain (the memorably-named “War of Jenkins’ Ear”), and Jacobite hopes began to revive. Then in 1740 the death of the Emperor Charles VI led to the outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession, which was to continue on and off until 1748. Walpole was defeated in Parliament in early 1742, resigned, and was replaced by a new government committed to an anti-French policy. Although there was no formal declaration of war yet, British money financed a largely mercenary army which King George II led personally to western Germany and defeated the French at Dettingen in June 1743.
There was now every incentive for Franco-Jacobite co-operation. Agents and spies became active, and an “Association” was formed in Scotland, involving, amongst others, Cameron of Lochiel, Simon Fraser (Lord Lovat) and the titular Duke of Perth, promising a rising if the French could provide military support. English Jacobite leaders were also in contact with Versailles, and French spies compiled lists of Jacobite nobles and landowners in each county (none of whom actually joined Charles when it came to the crunch!). Then in January 1743 Fleury died, but he was not replaced as Prime Minister: instead King Louis XV announced that he would lead the government himself. He proved to be most unsatisfactory in the job, being timid and indecisive and preferring to consult with individual ministers without informing the others. For the next few vital years there was to be no coherence at all in French policy-making and direction.
In late 1743 the French drew up an invasion plan, under which 10,000 French troops, supported by the battle-fleet from Brest, were to sail from Calais and Dunkirk, land on the south coast of England, and advance to London. It was expected that this force would be supported by a major Jacobite rising. James and Charles, in Rome, knew about French intentions, but were not consulted about the plans. They issued a rather vague and general manifesto, promising such things as a “free Parliament”, and end to corruption, and full religious toleration; though the fact that they were both Catholics would be likely to be a major stumbling-point for uncommitted people in Britain. The French government did not want them to enter France, since their movements were always closely monitored by British spies. But in January 1744 Charles lost patience, left Rome in disguise, and reached Paris on February 8th.
Up to this point the British government knew nothing of French plans. It may well have been the arrival of Charles in France that alerted agents that something was afoot, and on February 14th a spy, Francois de Bussy, was able to inform the British government of the plans. An emergency was announced in Parliament and the English Jacobite leaders were intimidated into silence, though not arrested. Admiral Norris was sent to patrol the Channel, awaiting the French fleet from Brest. Battle lines were forming off Dungeness when a violent storm swept down the Channel. Two days later, as it lifted, Norris’s fleet was still more or less intact, but the Brest fleet had been scattered, and the French transports in Dunkirk left badly damaged. The French commander-in-chief, Marshal Saxe, who had never been enthusiastic about the invasion plan, called it off, considering that his forces were better employed in the Austrian Netherlands (now Belgium). On March 30th war was formally declared between Britain and France.
The person left most bitterly disappointed by the fiasco was Charles, who was still resolved to make some attempt on Britain. Jacobite agents, such as Murray of Broughton, continued to lobby for the cause in Paris, and to give Charles optimistic reports on the situation in Scotland. But how could anything be done without French help?
(The next part of this essay will deal with the course of the 1745 rising)