The Jacobites, those loyal to the deposed James II, just wouldn’t go away. James had died in 1701, and support switched to his son, James Francis Edward Stuart, ‘the Pretender’ (not to be confused with “The Great Pretender”, which was a hit for the Platters in the 1950s and later covered by Freddie Mercury. Oh yes!). Notwithstanding the Act of Settlement which put George I on the throne, many hoped that James, exiled in France, could somehow become king after Anne died in 1714.
It is a common mistake to interpret the Jacobite rebellions as a simple conflict between Scotland and England. There were Jacobites nationwide, albeit in a minority, which created a certain climate of conspiracy. Supporters of the Jacobite cause in England could be found amongst Catholics and those who simply didn’t like the idea of a Hanoverian king. And though the Union of England and Scotland was unpopular with many Scots, the Catholic Stuarts were viewed with suspicion by Scottish Presbyterians.
In the summer of 1715, there was actually some potential for a rebellion in south-west England. But it is true that support for the Stuarts ever gravitated toward Scotland, and the Highlands in particular. John Erskine, the 6th Earl of Mar, raised the standard for revolt in Braemar during the autumn of 1715, declaring James King of the Scots. Rebel opinion was divided, however, as to the best course of action thereafter – and some considered the timing was premature. Be that as it may, a small rebel army of 3,000 headed into northern England, expecting to gather sympathisers as it marched through Brampton, Appleby, Kendal, Kirkby Lonsdale and Lancaster. By the time it arrived in Preston in early November it had only recruited about 1,000 additional men and a smaller government force stood in its path. The resulting Battle of Preston saw fierce fighting, but many in the Jacobite army gradually drifted away and the remainder eventually surrendered unconditionally to the Government. At the same time, the Battle of Sheriffmuir near Dunblane, between Mar’s rebels and a government force under the Duke of Argyll, halted the northern Jacobite army – though the battle itself was pretty much a draw. The ’15 Rebellion – often known simply as the Fifteen – petered out largely due to the incompetence or lack of purpose of its commanders. Its leaders were sentenced to death (though some staged spectacular escapes) and other supporters were deported to America – though many were also pardoned.
The focus of all the fuss, James ‘the Pretender’, only landed at Peterhead on 22nd December, but there was no realistic prospect of success and, by February, he was back in France.
One consequence of the failure of the Fifteen was the Government’s decision to build a network of roads and bridges throughout Scotland, to make it easier to move troops around. Much of this infrastructure, constructed under the command of a General Wade, is still there.
A smaller rising in 1719, this time with Spanish support, resulted in the Battle of Glenshiel – and a further defeat for the Jacobites.
Of more significance than “the ’15” was “the ’45” – which, yes, you’ve guessed, was a rising that took place in 1745. With some modest private backing in France, on 23rd July 1745, Charles Edward Stuart, son of James Francis Edward Stuart and grandson of James II, anchored off the Island of Eriskay in the 16-gun frigate La Doutelle. Charles is better known to history, rather sweetly, as “Bonnie Prince Charlie”, or “the Young Pretender” – to distinguish him from his dad, “the Old Pretender”. Things did not get off to a good start. Charles had lost 700 troops after an engagement with HMS Lion off the coast of Cornwall and landed with a just handful of companions – later known as ‘the Seven Men of Moidart’. His urgent desire to raise an army from the Highland clans met with little initial success. But, eventually, he was joined by the Macdonalds and the Camerons. Avoiding the government troops sent against him, he entered Edinburgh on 17th September, proclaimed his father King James VIII of Scotland and installed himself at the Palace of Holyrood.
In the early hours of 21st September, the Jacobite army fell upon a government force at Prestonpans. The redcoats, many inexperienced and most barely awake, were overwhelmed by the Highlanders. It was an emphatic rebel victory. The Government in London recalled regiments from fighting in France and dispatched 10,000 more troops to the north. Meanwhile, the Jacobite camp argued over what to do next. Charles was keen to swiftly exploit his victory and invade England; others had no interest in the English crown. In the end, a Jacobite army of about 5,500 crossed into England on 5th November, taking Carlisle and reaching Manchester on 28th. Like his father’s army 30 years before, Charlie hoped to attract more recruits from the English; once again, whilst there was little resistance to the invading army, the number of Jacobite recruits was disappointing.
On 5th December, Charles reached Derby, just 130 miles from London. Rumour has it that the government was in a bit of a state at the thought of marauding Jacobites whooping their way through the capital, and King George II allegedly started packing his bags and checking out the price of tickets back to Germany. But Charlie’s army did not enjoy unified command. The Prince, confident of French support, was keen to carry on; others, less certain, wanted to retreat. Then news was received that 9,000 regular troops blocked the road to London at Northampton and that clinched it; the Jacobite troops turned round and went back the way they had come. Actually, there were no troops at Northampton – this was misinformation fed to the Jacobites by a spy, Dudley Bradstreet. And the French might well have invaded, had the rebels not retreated.
The Prince’s army was pursued north by a redcoat army commanded by the Duke of Cumberland, second son of George II. Cumberland’s vanguard caught the Jacobite rearguard at Clifton Moor near Penrith and a fierce skirmish, which the Jacobites won, slowed the Duke down. By 19th December, though, Carlisle had been retaken for the government.
On 17th January, the Jacobites beat a Hanoverian army near Falkirk but, once again, the command was divided over what to do next. Forces were split to undertake minor tasks until, on 16th April 1746, the whole sorry tale ended with the final and decisive defeat of the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden, near Inverness. The rebels were tired, hungry and both technically and tactically inferior to the (on this occasion) better disciplined British troops. It was all over in about an hour. Afterwards, Cumberland’s troops massacred surviving Jacobites, including the wounded. The ’45 was over, but Cumberland relentlessly sought out any signs of resistance or Jacobite sympathies and brutally repressed them, earning him the well-deserved nickname of ‘Butcher’. The Government also dismantled the clan system and outlawed tartans and bagpipes. Many clan chiefs lost their lands, some lost their heads and some went into exile. Authentic Highland culture perished on the lonely field of Culloden – the last pitched battle on British soil. Charlie spent six months on the run before making a romantic escape into exile and died an alcoholic in Rome forty years’ later.
To add to Highland misery, from the 1750s onward Scottish landlords set about the forced clearance of land occupied by generations of people, replacing them with sheep – which were felt to be more profitable. Entire communities were fractured and disappeared, with folk emigrating to Britain’s growing overseas colonies, or the growing urban areas of Britain, in the hope of finding a viable alternative way of life. The Highland clearances were a cruel episode in British history and continued well into the late 19th century. You can see the remains of deserted settlements to this very day.