Monday, September 24, 2018

The Jacobite Rebellion of 1715

by Morag Edwards

James II of England and VII of Scotland had two Protestant daughters with his first wife but following his second marriage to the teenage Mary Beatrice of Modena, the birth of a son in 1688 meant that there was now a Catholic heir to the throne. The baby was sickly and expected to die, but his survival led to rumours that the royal baby had been swapped for another in a warming pan.
James’ inconsistent domestic and foreign policy meant that friends and foes were suspicious of him. Louis XIV of France, who should have been his greatest ally, was puzzled by his vacillating support for France and had never forgiven James for agreeing to a marriage between his eldest daughter Mary and William III of Orange, instead of to the dauphin.

James II by Peter Lely - Public Domain Image

William of Orange had been preparing to invade England since June and invited by parliament, he landed with his army in Devon in November 1688. James made a half-hearted attempt to resist but distraught that his son-in-law would take such action against him and deserted by his other son-in-law, Prince George of Denmark, he returned to Whitehall. Determined to save his young wife and baby son, he sent them to France, into the protection of an unprepared Louis XIV. James tried to follow and was captured but he was allowed to make a second successful escape to France. To all but his most loyal supporters, he was widely regarded to have willingly renouncing his right to rule, in other words to have abdicated.

Had he been more astute, James could have saved the Stuart dynasty in Scotland, as Scotland did not have to accept the new English monarch. The Scottish Convention of Estates asked both candidates to promote their suitability by letter. William of Orange promised the Scottish people that he would respect and maintain the Protestant faith, while James’ appeal was considered arrogant and threatening. The Convention invited William and Mary to accede to the Scottish throne.

William & Mary Engraving

The exiled court of James II settled at the chateau of St. Germain-en-Laye, just outside Paris, as guests of Louis XIV. Louis’ relationship with the exiled court was courteous and hospitable but often tense. Numbers varied from 1,000 to almost 2,000 residents, who had to be supported financially by the French king. Louis XIV had great concerns about the unreliability of the Jacobite court and maintained high levels of surveillance of their movements and communications. Privately, Louis felt that few men of ability had joined the court in exile. Mary Beatrice of Modena had considerable influence on Louis XIV through her lively intelligence, her social confidence and her beauty. Despite the tension between the men, the royal families met often.

Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye Attribution Link

Frustrations arose on both sides as James II continued to pursue unrealistic ambitions to regain his throne, while Louis XIV used the Jacobites’ hopes to support French interests. James pressed for an invasion of England or Scotland, while Louis thought that a Jacobite presence in Ireland, supported by French military strength, would divert English attention from the French. James’ reluctant expedition to Ireland to fight the Williamite forces was financed by the French and ended in a rout at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. James II fled the battlefield and once back in France he asked Louis to support an immediate invasion of England. Louis refused, maintaining that a rebellion must already be underway in England before he would agree.

In 1692, Louis was finally persuaded to support an invasion of England as James’ sources reported rising Jacobite support in England and it was believed that Admiral Russell of the English fleet would desert to the French. However, news of the invasion leaked and at the same time James II published an ill-timed proclamation that destroyed public support for him in England. When James reached Cherbourg, he found the French fleet damaged by a storm. Tourville, the commander of the French fleet, advised against the attempted invasion but was ignored. In May 1692, the French fleet was destroyed at Cap La Hogue by a combined Anglo-Dutch fleet, the greatest military disaster of Louis’ reign. Preoccupied by the birth of his baby daughter, James made an error of judgement in sending the insensitive Earl of Melfort to account for the failure of intelligence. Louis was furious and in 1693, the French recognised William III as king of England. Thereafter, there were fewer social contacts between the courts.

James planned another invasion in 1696 but Louis remained adamant that there would only be French support if there was an active rebellion in England. At the same time, the Jacobite conspirators hoped the landing of a French army might awaken the English people to their cause. Unfortunately, the conspiracy was uncovered and linked with a plot to assassinate William III. The plotters were arrested, and both James II and Louis XIV were implicated. Louis was again enraged and his relationship with the exiled court became even more distant. He let it be known through his wife Madame de Maintenon that he would never again rely on intelligence from the Jacobite court. The remaining years of James II’s life were dominated by failing health and there were no further invasion attempts.

James II died in 1701 and Louis recognised his son, James Francis Edward Stuart (later nicknamed The Old Pretender) as the true heir to the English throne. However, there was little enthusiasm in England for a boy who had been raised in France and was a stranger to his native land.

For the Scottish people, the end of the Stuart dynasty had brought a decade of natural and political disasters. There were ten years of failed harvests and the struggle between France and England for dominance in Europe, severely affected Scottish exports. Young men were drafted from the fields to supply the Scots regiments fighting the wars in Europe, depleting Scottish agriculture of men to work the land. The failure of the Darien Scheme contributed significantly to Scotland’s financial ruin, since half the nation’s capital had been invested. Originally, the scheme was a joint English/Scottish enterprise to establish new trading colonies in Caledonia and the English were widely blamed in Scotland for the failure of the project.

When William of Orange died in 1702, his successor Queen Anne pushed hard for parliamentary union between England and Scotland. The view from Westminster was that the Scottish parliament was beyond control. A joint Anglo-Scottish parliamentary commission drew up a draft Treaty of Union in 1706 but the union was opposed by both the Jacobites and the Church of Scotland; an uncomfortable political liaison. The Jacobites feared that political union would end the dream of a Stuart restoration and the church feared the undermining of Scots Protestant tradition. The Act of Union was ratified in 1707, through a combination of reasoned argument, bribery and political coercion but was universally unpopular with ordinary people.

Queen Anne Public Domain Image

The Jacobites’ exploited Scottish unrest following the Act of Union and promoted their cause as one of Scottish nationalism. The words ‘No Union’ now appeared on their banners. In 1708, mindful as ever of the possibilities of using the Jacobite cause to distract the English government from the campaign in Europe, Louis XIV financed another attempted invasion of Scotland. A combination of young James’s ill health, bad weather and navigation problems meant that the French fleet could not make land and the conspirators were arrested long before the French ships appeared in the Firth of Forth. The English parliament believed that the Scots failed to adequately punish the conspirators and a series of provocative legislative acts were passed that threatened to undermine the promises of the union. Huge taxes were exacted on key Scottish exports such as linen, salt, cattle and Scotland was forbidden to trade with the English Colonies. In England too, there was little enthusiasm for their difficult neighbours to the north and in 1713 an attempt to repeal the Act of Union was defeated by only a narrow margin. Had it been successful, the political fervour that led to the Jacobite uprising of 1715 might have been avoided.

George of Hanover came to the throne in 1714. John Erskine, the Earl of Mar had been Secretary of State for Scotland under Queen Anne and had played a key role in preparing the Articles of Union. He anticipated a similar political role under George 1st and when this was not forthcoming, he became a militant Jacobite almost overnight. This sudden change of heart, combined with a cautious and indecisive nature, earned him the nickname ‘Bobbing John’.

Earl of Mar - Pubic Domain Image

In September 1715, Mar called together the clans and lowland lairds of Scotland on the pretext of a hunting party. The Stuart standard was raised on the Braes of Mar and war declared on the union. It was estimated that Mar had control of 10,000 men, the strongest ever Jacobite force, formed from an extraordinary alliance of Catholics, Episcopalians and Presbyterians, Lowland lairds and Highland chiefs. The support of peers from the English border regions, represented by the Earl of Derwentwater, was crucial.

The Jacobite force remained in Perth and Inverness until October 1715, allowing the government forces ample time to arm, while Bobbing John waited for support from the French. Finally, he sent two thousand men south under the command of an experienced soldier, Mackintosh of Borlum. Borlum reached Kelso and Jedburgh where he was joined by a few hundred English soldiers led by Thomas Forster, MP for Northumberland. Forster wanted to head for Liverpool, where he believed there was popular support, but disagreement led to further delays and prevarication. The force did eventually aim for Liverpool but they met nothing but hostility on their way. By the time they reached Preston, five hundred clansmen and borderers had gone home. On November 12th, the Jacobite army fought with great bravery and held Preston against the Hanoverian battalions. The next day, facing a reinforced Hanoverian army, Forster surrendered. Nineteen Scots and two English peers were arrested and condemned to death.  Twenty-two ordinary soldiers were hung at Preston and hundreds more soldiers and officers transported to the colonies.

John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll 

On the same day as the defeat at Preston, the Earl of Mar fought against the Duke of Argyll’s force at Sherriffmuir. Despite Mar’s military superiority the outcome was inconclusive, and Mar retreated to Perth. There, he waited until December 17th when James, once again in poor health, landed at Peterborough. Although James marched in triumph into Perth and Dundee, faced with the Duke of Argyll’s advancing army, he gave the order to burn all the land, animals and homes ahead of Argyll’s troops, leaving ordinary people to starve through the Scottish winter. James retreated to Montrose and left for France in February 1716, his reserved and aloof manner having disappointed all who met him.  The Jacobite cause fell silent for thirty years until the young Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) attempted a second Jacobite rebellion in 1745.

[all images Public Domain unless otherwise stated]

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After trying many different forms of writing, in 2005 Morag Edwards decided to focus on the novel and took a leave of absence from her work to do a full-time M.A in creative writing. The Jacobite’s Wife is her first published novel and is a fictionalised account of the life of Winifred, Countess of Nithsdale from the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 to the aftermath of the Jacobite uprising of 1715. Winifred aided her husband’s escape from the Tower of London on the eve of his execution in 1716.

Researching Winifred’s life story revealed a headstrong, impulsive and ultimately wise woman whose turbulent life story needed to be told. As a child psychologist, Morag used her knowledge of child development and adult relationships to try and understand what drove Winifred but there remains much room for conjecture. She looks forward to hearing the views of readers!

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