Monday, 27 May 2013
Jacobitism in Staffordshire
James II, who came to the throne in 1685, was the last Catholic King of England. By 1688 he had managed to alienate almost all the ruling elite. In November of that year a Dutch force led by William of Orange, James’s nephew and also his son-in-law, landed near Torquay and advanced towards London. James panicked and ran away to France, taking with him his baby son, another James; and William occupied the capital bloodlessly. This episode was known as the “Glorious Revolution”. William was proclaimed King, and an Act of Parliament, which is still in force today, decreed that henceforth the monarch and the heir to the throne must not be Catholics, or even marry Catholics.
Jacobites believed that the “Glorious Revolution” and everything that followed was totally illegal. The true king was still the deposed James II, and after his death his son James Stuart (“the Pretender” to his opponents); and the Act of Settlement of 1701, which named George of Hanover, a German who did not speak English, but a descendant of James I through his mother and, crucially, a good Protestant, as the heir to the throne, was without any validity. (The word “Jacobite” derives from the French for James: Jacques, or Latin: Jacobus). Politics of the time was dominated by two rival parties, the Whigs and the Tories, and the question of the legitimacy of the monarchy was a fundamental disagreement between them: the Whigs were all staunch Hanoverians, but some of the Tories were Jacobites.
These controversies featured strongly in politics at street level, particularly in Staffordshire. In the Black Country in the south of the county there was a strong Catholic community who were always likely to be Jacobite. The local landowning gentry, such as the Chetwynds, the Bagots of Blithfield and the Gowers of Trentham, were mostly Tory; though as we shall see the Gowers changed their allegiance, and the Ansons of Shugborough, who were increasingly important from mid-century, were strongly Whig. Jacobite demonstrations often took a symbolic form: the wearing of white roses or oak-apples, and celebratory clothes James Stuart’s birthday on June 10th, but wearing mourning on May 28th, the birthday of King George I. There might be ritual demonstrations, like burning or hanging an effigy of the king. But sometimes Jacobite protests took a violent form, with attacks on the chapels and meeting-houses of Dissenters (Presbyterians, Baptists or Quakers), since Dissenters were believed to be strong supporters of the Hanoverian monarchy and the Whigs.
August 1714 saw the death of Queen Anne, James II’s daughter and the last Stuart monarch, and George of Hanover was officially proclaimed King. The Jacobite leadership was in disarray and unable to do anything, and it was not hard for the Whig leaders to convince the King, who spoke no English and knew little about British politics, that all Tories were Jacobite traitors and not to be trusted. For the next 40 years, no Tory was allowed into government, the judiciary, or even the higher reaches of the church.
But there was widespread popular protest. A Dissenting chapel in Congleton was attacked by a mob, the Walsall meeting-house was destroyed, and arson reported in Newcastle, Burton, Coseley and Uttoxeter. There was further violence to mark the coronation of George I in October. An anti-Hanoverian mob gathered in Shrewsbury, crying “The Church for ever!”. They were mostly town artisans; a draper, a butcher, two tailors and so forth, but a Justice of the Peace was also involved.
In May 1715, “King James III” was proclaimed in Manchester. That summer there were riots in London, Oxford, Shropshire, Worcestershire and particularly Staffordshire, where there was more trouble than in any other county. Quaker and Baptist meeting-houses were burnt or wrecked. Of 500 rioters prosecuted nation-wide, for a variety of offences from murder to arson, half came from Staffordshire. The most alarming aspect for the government was the suspicion that landowners and urban elites were colluding with the rioters. The latter, as in Shrewsbury, consisted of craftsmen, shopkeepers and town labourers: people from the countryside were not involved.
There was trouble throughout Staffordshire towns in this year. In Newcastle-under-Lyme a mob described as “French and Popish” was headed by a local butcher, with one rioter climbing onto a chapel roof and shouting “God damn King George!” The rioters were said to have been encouraged in their activities by the former MP Ralph Sneyd of Keele, and by Mr Swann the Lord Mayor of the town. The local J.P.s made no attempt to stop the disturbances. A Staffordshire Grand Jury committed for Sneyd for trial, along with 40 locals and 200 others. Swann and two of the J.P.s were imprisoned to answer for their conduct. Meeting-houses were also attacked and gutted in Stafford, Lichfield, Leek, Uttoxeter, Stone, Dudley and Wolverhampton. In West Bromwich the Dissenters fought back, and several people were killed or wounded. In Coleshill the vicar, Dr Kettlewell, was deprived of his living for his Jacobitism, and Dr Thomas Jacomb was removed from his headmastership of the free school. These various disturbances led to the passing of the Riot Act, which proclaimed rioting to be a capital offence, and authorised magistrates to order troops to open fire on crowds that refused to disperse.
The autumn of 1715 saw Jacobite armed risings in Scotland and the north of England, but both were miserable failures. No military action got anywhere near Staffordshire, though it was reported by government spies that two Birmingham iron-merchants had undertaken to raise 6000 men for the Pretender. But despite this fiasco, the county remained a focus for discontent for the next few years, and often influential local people were involved. In 1718 there was an election riot at Lichfield, where William Sneyd’s Jacobite supporters wore white roses. J.P.s at Burton were said to be holding seditious meetings, and there were reports of anti-government military training on Cannock Chase. Serious riots occurred in Newcastle, Stafford, Lichfield, Burton, Walsall and Wolverhampton. By contrast, Francis Eld of Seighford was always a staunch Hanoverian, and so was Oswald Mosley of Rolleston Hall, who was created a baronet by a grateful monarch in 1720.
In 1724 John Dolphin, M.P. for Stafford, died, and the subsequent by-election Francis Eld, standing in the Whig interest, defeated Walter Chetwynd, a Tory; but next year Eld was expelled from the Commons for corruption and Chetwynd seated in his place. On the face of it, it seems surprising that the Whig government of Sir Robert Walpole did not do more to support Eld; but Eld was regarded as a protégé of the notoriously corrupt Lord Chancellor, Lord Macclesfield, whom Walpole dumped from the government in 1725. (It was Eld’s nephew, another Francis, who years later caused James Boswell to express surprise at meeting a Whig in Stafforshire; to which Doctor Johnson growled, “Sir, there are rogues in every county!”)
Over the period 1715-20 there were many more prosecutions for seditious libel, riot or attacks on troops in Stafford, Stone, Newcastle, Burton, Stoke, Leek and many other places in the county. There was more damage to property in Staffordshire than in any other county, and more people killed by the troops. In the Newcastle election of 1734, local colliers threatened to “Wash their hands in the heart’s blood of the Whig candidate”.
Because of the endemic trouble, Staffordshire was strongly garrisoned, and the presence of troops was always an irritant. Burton, Uttoxeter, Stafford, Newcastle, Walsall and other towns had soldiers billeted on them for the next 40 years, leading to constant tension and occasional violence. It must be remembered that at this time there were no barracks, and the soldiers would mostly be billeted in local inns - hardly an ideal arrangement. (Billeting was to be one of the main complaints of the American rebels a generation later). William Chetwynd warned there would be more trouble, “In a county where the army is not in the best odour, if prudent measures are not speedily taken to moderate the spirit and fury raised hereby in the common people.”
There was a greater level of peace and quiet in the late 1730s, so the events of 1745 came as a shock. As war loomed between England and France in the early 1740s, French spies reported hopefully on the situation in Staffordshire. Many of the richest and most influential families in the county, the Bagots, Chetwynds, Gowers, Wolseleys and others, were said to be ready to join in a Jacobite rising, if it could be linked to a French invasion of England. But the planned French invasion, with an amphibious force assembled around Boulogne in early 1744, failed, because of a combination of irresolution and violent storms in the Channel. Francis Eld had always feared mob violence more than an invasion, and by autumn 1745 he no longer believed there would be any rising in Staffordshire. He helped sponsor an official address from Staffordshire to the King, stressing the county’s loyalty.
Eld’s optimism proved to be justified in the event, though it was a very close call. The person most disappointed by the invasion fiasco was James the Pretender’s son, Charles Edward Stuart, also known as the “Young Pretender”, or, in Scotland, “Bonnie Prince Charlie”. He was aged just 25 and eager to have a go on his own, in the hope of stimulating the French into more action. At the end of July 1745 he landed in Scotland with just a handful of followers, and persuaded the Jacobite clans of the west, the MacDonalds of Glengarry and Clanranald, the Murrays of Atholl, the Camerons, MacPhersons and MacGregors, to join him. Britain was now at war with France, and most of the army was away fighting in what is now Belgium, and Charles’s little army of highlanders was able to occupy Edinburgh on September 17th. But there was then a fatal delay of almost two months before an advance into England, enabling British forces to be withdrawn home. On November 18th Carlisle fell to the Jacobites, who then advanced unopposed down through Lancashire. On November 30th the Jacobite forces entered Manchester. Manchester was not yet the vast cotton-manufacturing city it would become in the next century, but its fall was still a serious blow to the morale of the government. The advance continued to Macclesfield on December 1st. The intention was probably to continue south through Birmingham and Oxford, where the university was a hotbed of Jacobitism but by this time a government army was in position in Staffordshire: a force of over 12,000 men, of whom more than half were experienced troops and the remainder freshly-raised levies; commanded by the Duke of Cumberland, King George’s second and favourite son, who was incidentally the same age as Charles. So instead the small Jacobite cavalry contingent was sent through Congleton towards the Potteries, to immobilize Cumberland by confusing him about their intentions, while the bulk of the infantry headed eastwards across the moorlands, through Leek and reaching Derby on December 4th. There they halted, and two days later the famous and much-disputed decision was taken to turn around and retreat to Scotland, which surrendered the initiative to the British government.
They had now effectively sidestepped Cumberland, and in a race for London, they would win. But what was awaiting them further south? None of them knew. And if they were stopped, Cumberland and General Wade (who was slowly moving southwards through the East Midlands) could now prevent any retreat to Scotland, and not a man of them would escape. Charles had promised them support from France: where were the French? the clan leaders wanted to know. Charles could not tell them. Or could Charles produce even one single letter from a prominent Englishman firmly promising to join the rebellion? He could not. It is not known precisely how many men had joined Charles in England (probably a few hundred: government propaganda was obviously keen to minimise the numbers, and imply they were mostly desperate cases from the slums of Manchester), but what is certain is that no Englishman of any prominence had joined: not one single Lord, Member of Parliament or major landowner. Lord George Murray, the best commander in Charles’s highland army, had always been doubtful about the wisdom of invading England. Now, in the absence of any hard evidence of support, and fearing that, even if they reached London intact, their little army of 5,000 infantry and a mere 500 cavalry would simply be swallowed up in the city of ½ million people, the clan chiefs, to Charles’s intense disgust, voted unanimously for a retreat. (We now know that the French were preparing an invasion force, but once again were too slow off the mark: no invasion would be possible before Christmas, and by then it was much too late, for the Jacobite army was by then back in Glasgow)
Not one single Staffordshire man of any importance joined the Prince: not Bagot, not Chetwynd and certainly not Gower! Lord Gower as a young man was said to have been on the point of riding out to join the rising of 1715, but now he committed the ultimate betrayal: he changed sides and joined the government! He raised 800 troops at his own expense, and was soon after rewarded with an Earldom. Gower’s treachery to the cause was long remembered. Years later Dr Johnson, a Lichfield man, a Tory and a Jacobite, discussing his great dictionary, said that when he defined the word “renegade” as “one who deserts to the enemy”: “I added, “Sometimes we say a Gower”, but the printer struck it out!”
After the highlanders had retreated, 14 men and one woman were held in Stafford gaol on a charge of treason. Amongst these was a Welsh lawyer, David Morgan, aged about 50, who was to be hanged in London six months later. The atmosphere in many Stafford towns seems to have been one of sullen discontent, and Francis Eld was still concerned about the attitude of certain of the landowners. One of Cumberland’s guards called Stafford, “A damned Popish town: the people here make no bones of telling us they would rather see the highlanders among them than the king’s troops; the rogues use us very ill, but we will be even with them.”
The events of 1745 were still fresh in local minds at the general election two years later. Staffordshire returned 10 M.P.s to Parliament at this time: two for the county and two each for the boroughs of Lichfield, Newcastle, Stafford and Tamworth. Voting was “open” (a secret ballot did not come in until 1872!): instead voters had to prove their identity and declare their preferences before a polling clerk, who recorded their votes in a book, with the candidates and their agents looking on to prevent any cheating. Each borough had a few hundred voters, and the county perhaps as many as 5,000; but electioneering was an expensive business, and candidates who found they had little chance of winning often dropped out before the poll.
(Every election inevitably brought accusations of bribery, intimidation and impersonation. As an example of the shenanigans that sometimes went on at elections: at Lichfield in the general election of 1761, the Gower interest was represented by Hugo Meynell, a member of a rather disreputable Derbyshire family: Meynell’s father had built up a large fortune by allegedly cheating at cards, and Hugo Meynell himself was distinguished only by being esteemed the best foxhunter in the kingdom. Many people in Lichfield did not like Meynell and resented the dominance of Earl Gower, and a local lawyer called John Levett was put up to oppose him. Meynell defeated Levett by two votes, but then the sheriff disqualified seven of Meynell’s voters and declared Levett elected! Meynell petitioned against this result, and the House of Commons voted to overrule the sheriff, expelled Levett and declared Meynell elected. Meynell withdrew from Lichfield at the 1768 election, but then represented Stafford 1774-80).
In 1747 there occurred only the second contested election for the Staffordshire county seats in the whole of the 18th century, and the old Tory Sir Walter Bagot triumphantly topped the poll. William Chetwynd and a lawyer, John Robins, were put up as candidates for the two seats for Stafford borough, with no-one caring to undertake the trouble and expense of standing against them. But this did not mean there was peace in the town; quite the contrary. Chetwynd House in Stafford was attacked on July 1st by over 150 rioters armed with sticks and clubs. The house was besieged for over an hour and the windows smashed while the occupants cowered upstairs. A Chetwynd supporter, named Thomas Smallwood, was dragged out and savagely beaten. The leaders of this outrage were named as Alderman Joseph Loxdale and Richard Dyott, described as a “gentleman”. 18 men were arrested in consequence, but rioters threatened to pull down the town gaol if any of their people were locked up! The rioters were eventually sent for trial at the Old Bailey, but, in the words of one local writer, “Mr Chetwynd forgave them, which was probably wise”. There were disturbances elsewhere in the county. In Lichfield, Gower found the voters “insolent to a degree you cannot conceive”, and appealed to the government to send in troops. In Burton, twelve men beat up a soldier, but were acquitted at their trial. Huge riotous demonstrations by Jacobite supporters marked the Lichfield races that year, with many wearing tartan to show sympathy with the Scots rebels: Gower’s son was beaten up, and his friend the Duke of Bedford was attacked with a horse-whip. Great play was made of having a fox, dressed in a miniature army redcoat, hunted by hounds in tartan.
Trouble continued in Stafford: on a weekend in June 1749, people marked the anniversary of the accession of George II by wearing the Jacobite badge of the white rose. Troops tried to remove these provocative symbols, but a riot developed, the soldiers opened fire on the crowd and attacked them. After an incident when an exciseman was beaten “almost to a jelly”, soldiers entered houses with drawn swords. A local man was later charged with assault, but a Stafford jury acquitted him. Five days after the incident, crowds assembled shouting, “Prince Charles for ever, damn those others; they make soldiers of monkeys!” and demanding that the troops be expelled from their billets.
In 1750 there were more riots, and on Cannock Chase people came from miles around to slaughter 15,000 of Lord Uxbridge’s rabbits, singing Jacobite songs as they did so. The authorities were powerless to do anything. In the same year a Jacobite riot in Walsall, where an effigy of King George II was ceremonially burnt, had to be suppressed by dragoons. A meeting-house in the town was repeatedly attacked in 1751-2, and the rioters, who were led by a certain Thomas James, were taken to London for trial, convicted, and sentenced to stand in the pillory. There were also seditious meetings, which led to an Anglican clergyman, the reverend John Taylor, being sentenced at Stafford assizes to two years’ imprisonment and the very substantial fine of £300.
Jacobitism was not entirely dead even by this time, but slowly the trouble died down. The movement in Staffordshire had really never been more than a nuisance to the government, and the leading men of the county completely failed to help the Pretender when the occasion arose. Modern historians suggest that the rank and file rioters were motivated less by national political questions than by social and economic grievances (enclosure of fields, closed urban corporations, billeting of troops etc), and that the movement was actually paid for and organised by the local Tory gentry in their campaigns against the Whig government. The Staffordshire Tories might grumble, but they never had any serious intention of risking their lives and estates by turning out to fight. Prince Charles summed up the English Jacobites well enough when he said, “I will do for them what they did for me: I will drink their health!”