The Jacobite Rebellions
On the morning of the 16th of April 1746 two armies, from completely different worlds faced each other across the bleak, rain-battered Culloden Moor. On one side the redcoat regiments of the British government mustered and fell in; on the other a force of kilted Highlanders, armed with little more than their ancestors had faced the Romans with, squabbled awaiting the order to advance.
The Highland Charge had for centuries been an almost irresistible weapon unleashed upon any army daft enough to venture into the hills. On this day it ran headlong into the modern, industrial age and was obliterated. Scotland, Britain and the world would never be the same again. The Jacobite Rebellions of the 17th and 18th centuries and their outcomes came to forge a nation; and we go in search of that history.
In June 1688 Mary of Modena, wife to King James VII of Scotland and II of England gave birth to a boy, James Francis Edward Stuart: the latest in a long line of Royal Stuart (Stewart) heirs dating back to 14th century Scotland. Unfortunately, his father was a terrible king; worse still he was a Catholic in a land that was staunchly Protestant. Although he had two older Protestant sisters – Mary and Anne – the baby boy stood ahead of them in the order of succession; a Catholic succession. Unwilling to accept this, the English establishment forced James and his family into exile and invited Mary, and her husband to accept the throne jointly. Her husband, William of Orange, enthusiastically accepted and was crowned king of England. It was known as the Glorious Revolution, but in Scotland things were not so clear cut.
Although Scotland and England shared a king, they were still independent nations; and in 1689 the Scottish parliament met to decide the fate of the Stuarts. It was the narrowest of margins, but they too invited William to be king; but not everyone was happy.
Led by the maverick genius John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, a loyal faction left Edinburgh in disgust and headed to the Highlands to formulate their plans. The Scottish Highlands in the 17th century were essentially lawless. Clan chiefs retained substantial private armies, feuds and squabbles were commonplace, limited resources led to almost constant fighting; and an age old distrust for government was inherent. Generally speaking the clan chiefs supported the exiled king, and it was to here that Claverhouse came to raise an army. The loyalists took their name from the Latin for James, and called themselves the Jacobites.
Backed by a significant force, they took control of the strategic Blair Castle in Perthshire. The Government army, led by General MacKay marched north to meet them and take back the castle. They met at the key Pass of Killiecrankie, where the first shots in anger of the Jacobite Rebellion took place. It was a total victory for the Highlanders; their charge was overwhelming and the Battle of Killiecrankie was a rout. Unfortunately for both the Jacobite army and the cause at length, John Graham was shot towards the end of the conflict and died inBlairCastle. He’s buried in the small ruined church of St Brides a few hundred yards away. Today, Killiecrankie, Blair and the old church are worth a visit – and here the story of Jacobites starts to take on flesh and blood, bricks and mortar.
Without their inspired leaded the first rebellion crumbled within weeks with a defeat at the beautiful cathedral city of Dunkeld. Dunkeld is a stunning place to visit, and the bullet holes from the battle there in August 1689 can still be seen. The town was almost completely burned during the fight, and the picturesque village-city you see today was rebuilt soon afterwards. The Battle of Dunkeld also saw old scores from the Civil Wars of the 1640s settled; and this would be a theme of the rebellion as it developed – Lowland versus Highland, clan versus clan, capitalism versus tradition, Whig against Tory, and of course, Catholic versus Protestant.
In 1700 this last issue reared its ugly head again. In London the second in line to the throne, William of Gloucester, a ten year old boy, died of smallpox. Neither his mother, Princess Anne, nor the king were likely to have anymore children which precipitated a serious succession crisis. The strongest claimant was Anne’s half brother, Prince James Francis Stuart, son of James VII; but he like his father was a staunch Catholic. So, the English parliament passed a law, which was incorporated into the Treaty of Union between Scotland and England in 1707 called the Act of Settlement. The chief purpose of this act was to prevent a Catholic succession. The next in line would be the highest placed Protestant on the order of succession. This happened to be Sophia of Hanover, great-granddaughter of James VI of Scotland.
At length, in 1714 Queen Anne, the last Stuart monarch died. In accordance with the act the crown of Great Britain passed to George of Hanover, son of Princess Sophia. To the Jacobites and their supporters this was unacceptable, and with an awkward transition to a non-English speaking, foreign king, they saw a chance. So, in 1715 they launched a second rebellion, led by the Earl of Mar. Raising the standard on the slopes of Lochnagar in Deeside, Mar mustered a considerable force, and marched south to take the strategic Lowland cities.
Mar however, was not as mercurial as Dundee had been and the rising fizzled out on the slopes of Sheriffmuir near Stirling. The Government army was led by the Duke of Argyll, chief of the Clan Campbell and one of the ablest commanders of the day. The Campbells had long been thorns in Jacobean sides, and this simply added insult to injury. The battle was essentially a draw, but Argyll had prevent Mar from crossing the River Forth and brought the ’15 to an end before it had even started. Little survives today of the fight, although the moorland remains much the same as it would have. It makes for a very scenic drive north out of Dunblane.
Following the end of the rebellion the government imposed severe restrictions in the Highlands; and sought to control this wild corner of the country. General Wade was commissioned to build forts and connect them with a series of roads, many of which have evolved into our modern network. You can still find some of his original roads and bridges. Aberfeldy is famous for its Wade’s Bridge; which stands next to the Black Watch Monument, a regiment raised for the purpose of keeping the peace in the mountains. Both are visible reminders of the days when Scotland was placed under lock and key.
Scotland, and the Jacobite cause, remained pretty quiet through the 1720s and 30s. There was steady economic growth, agricultural reform, increase in industrial output and the development of constitutional and political structures we’d recognise today. Increasingly, the Stuart cause seemed outdated and out of step with the march of progress. Still, it would have one last hurrah.
In 1745, Princes Charles Edward Stuart, son of James Francis, landed on the west coast of Scotland, with little more than youthful enthusiasm. He was able to convince some of the principal chiefs, mainly Cameron of Lochiel to rise once more for his father. Although support for the Stuarts was a shadow of what it had been in 1689, at Glenfinnan he raised an army of over 4000 and marched on Edinburgh, taking it without a shot fired. The authorities were slow to react, and when the government commander, General Sir John Cope finally met the Jacobites in open battle at Prestonpans, 10 miles east of the capital, they were annihilated. Today a small hill with a flag marks the spot of the famous rout.
Punch drunk on the scale of the victory, the Jacobite high command made the ill-fated decision to invade England. Initially they made huge inroads, with town after town across the Northwest and Midlands falling, until they were 100 miles from London. At Derby the chiefs got cold feet; and convinced a massive army lay between them and the capital, they stopped and turned around. We may never know what would have happened had they continued, but the momentum was now lost as they began the trek north. Behind them however was a large professional army led by the most ruthless of commanders, William Duke of Cumberland.
After a skirmish at Falkirk the two armies finally met at Culloden near Inverness on that fateful day in April 1746. The outcome was a foregone conclusion: over 2500 Jacobites were killed for around 50 in reply. The Prince was able to escape, and you can trace his fugitive summer around the hills until he finally hopped on a ship and returned to France. Today Culloden is worth the visit, from the strange haunting sense out on the battlefield itself to the modern visitor centre bringing it all to life. The story of the Jacobite wars takes us all over Scotland, and many of the places, buildings and remains are as tangible now as they were then. You can sense the history.
And as such, the last civil war in the British Isles has made for great story telling, from harrowing events like the massacre of Glencoe to the romantic flight of the prince in the heather. Countless books, like Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, have been written on the subject, and plenty of films have engrossed audiences; but there is nothing to compare with actually walking in the footsteps of history and creating a Jacobite Tour of Scotland.
Written by David McNicoll, who runs www.vacationscotland.biz – A tour company specialising in tour packages and vacations toScotland: including Jacobite tours and Outlander Tours.