GUEST POST: The Road to the '45

I'm delighted to have my first-ever guest blogger on Outlandish Observations! David McNicoll was born and bred in the Scottish Highlands, but now lives in New York where he runs Highland Experience USA, a travel company specializing in Scottish vacation packages, including an Outlander-based tour.

David contacted me recently to ask if readers of my blog might be interested in learning more about the historical background of the OUTLANDER series, with a particular focus on Scotland and Scottish history. Naturally I jumped at the chance. <g>  I hope you all enjoy this article as much as I did. And thanks very much to David for taking the time to share his knowledge and love of Scotland with us!

UPDATE 4/15/2011 7:38 pm:
If you find this article interesting, please check out the second post in the series, The Failure of the '45.

THE ROAD TO THE '45, by David McNicoll

The Jacobites 

Over the course of 1688/89 the so called ‘Glorious Revolution’ swept away the autocratic Stuart monarchy of James VII (II of England); and, replaced it with a fresh constitutional agreement laid out between the new king, William of Orange and his Parliaments. In England this new arrangement was called the ‘Bill of Right’, and in Scotland, the ‘Claim of Right’. It ushered in a new age, where the king was subject to his people and forced to defend the law, not arbitrarily create it.

Constitutional change was only part of the revolution, for at its heart lay religion. Great Britain was a Protestant nation with little stomach for a Catholic king, and certainly not one as arrogant as James VII. The defeat of James’ Scottish followers, known as Jacobites, at Dunkeld in 1689, and then of his main army in Ireland the following year, seemed to cement the Protestant succession and the new regime; but in reality the storm clouds were only beginning to gather.

Houses of Parliament
The Houses of Parliament
In 1700 a ten year old boy in London died of smallpox. This was not an unusual event by any means, but the victim was no ordinary boy. He was William Duke of Gloucester, second in line to the throne. William of Orange was ailing, and his heir Princess Anne, Gloucester’s mother, was unlikely to have any more children, so a solution to the looming succession crisis was required. James VII had three children – Mary, Anne and their half brother James (born amid the crisis in 1688); and with Queen Mary dead and Princess Anne childless, the natural choice in an ideal world would be Prince James. There was however one major impediment – he, like his father was a staunch Roman Catholic; and, neither the fiercely Protestant English or Scottish parliaments were prepared to go down that road.

So, in 1701 the English Parliament enacted one of the most important, and controversial legislative bills in British history: the Act of Settlement. The Act brought together all the ideas, beliefs and demands laid out in the Bill of Right, formalising on the statute the rights and prerogatives of the monarch. From here on, sovereignty in Britain would be expressed as the Crown in Parliament. It was a monumental shift of power, but this was only the start. At the heart of the new Act was the question of the succession; and fundamentally, the barring of Catholics from that succession:
“An Act for the further Limitation of the Crown, and better securing the Rights and Liberties of the Subject : And that all Papists, and persons marrying Papists, shall be excluded from, and for ever incapable to inherit, possess, or enjoy the Imperial Crown of Great Britain, and the dominions thereunto belonging or any part thereof”.
Thus, from that day to this the British monarch cannot be a Catholic or marry a Catholic. Furthermore, the Act outlined that on the demise of William and then Anne, the Crown would pass to Princess Sophia of Hanover (great-granddaughter of James VI of Scotland), and subsequently her heirs. The Act is specific that the senior living descendant of Princess Sophia will be king or queen, without proclamation and whether they wish it or not (it actually requires an amendment to the Act for a king to give up the throne); and this remains the law.

In 1707 the Treaty of Union was enacted between Scotland and England to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain, and Queen Anne was insistent that the Act be incorporated into the union to pave the way for a peaceful succession across her kingdoms. Her wish was not to be realised, and the chess pieces began to manoeuvre themselves around the ailing queen. Finally in 1714, Anne died and in accordance with the Act of Settlement the British crown passed to George of Hanover, the late Princess Sophia’s son; who was crowned in Westminster Abbey as George I. Despite being a Protestant he wasn’t exactly popular – he couldn’t speak English and would spend most of his time in Germany.

Mar Forest
Mar Forest, Scotland
The Earl of Mar and the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715

John Erskine, Earl of Mar was snubbed by the new king, and taking umbrage he decided to become a revolutionary. The original Jacobite rising of 1689 was led by a maverick genius, John Graham of Claverhouse; who would die spectacularly at his moment of victory at the Battle of Killiecrankie, and it was a hard act to follow – and to be honest Mar simply wasn’t up to the task. There was plenty of Jacobite sympathy in the Highlands, where clan chiefs tended to follow their own instincts rather that the wishes of the Westminster mandarins; although the sympathy for the Catholic faith and the autocratic Stuart family wasn’t as strong. Indeed, plenty of the chiefs were simply looking out for their own interests: it just so happened that armed rebellion was one way to achieve those interests. It was an age-old pastime for the warlords and robber barons that ruled the Highlands.

The Earl of Mar’s Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 began amid a fanfare of pipes and banners on the slopes of Braemar: he gathered a fair sized force of heavily armed clansmen and headed south. His rhetoric was good, and his retinue impressive enough that the exiled “king”, James Francis Stuart, made preparations to come to Scotland and claim his birthright. The Government were always a step ahead, and they dispatched the experienced Duke of Argyll to meet the Jacobite army before it reached the Lowland stronghold of Stirling. Argyll, chief of Clan Campbell was known to his followers as Red John of the Battles (Iain ruadh na fechdainn), and a seasoned campaigner of the European theatre of war.

The two armies met on the cold, frozen morass of Sheriffmuir above Dunblane; and, while the battle was fairly inconclusive in itself John Campbell had stopped Mar and his wild Highlanders in their tracks. The Rebellion was over before it began. Then James Francis arrived (well, after a bout of chicken pox and horrific sea-sickness). His timing was awful, and his supporters were unable to even get him to Scone for a ‘coronation’.

James Stuart
never had an opinion on anything, he spent his whole life sitting on the fence and lacked the kind of spirit and devil-may-care attitude that a rebellion needs in a leader if it is to succeed. Realising the jig was up; James simply slunk away, and devoted the rest of his days to cultivating languid exile. The ’15 was over, Jacobite sympathy was on the wane and the mercantile classes in Edinburgh and Glasgow were aligning themselves with their ilk in London. These money men would make sure nothing would disrupt the flow of wealth. Politics was changing too – with an often absent king who couldn’t speak English, actual day to day power was shifting to his ministers; and in particular the new office of Prime Minister. These men, like the merchants, were in no mood to surrender their new found power to a failed, autocratic and Catholic dynasty.

The Stewart (Stuart) dynasty, which had ruled Scotland for over 350 years, was crumbling; the exiled court moved from France to Italy as guests of the Pope and into cloistered retirement. Jacobites at home in Scotland, trying to take advantage of the wars raging on the continent, attempted another rising in 1719, which got no further than Glen Sheil; and the Government tightened its grip. Many of the Jacobite chiefs had their lands and titles forfeited; and under the auspices of General Wade, the army constructed a number of fortresses across the Highlands linked together with a new road system to improve communications between them. The Scottish Highlands were under lock and key. The Stuarts never had unanimous support from the clans, but by the 1730s Jacobites were in the minority, and the cause seemed to be over: but, a new star was on the rise in far distant Italy.

Charles Edward Stuart and the '45

Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the eldest son of James Francis, was a real live wire in his youth; an emotive lad, he’d been brought up amid the disappointment of the Stuart demise and exile – and the denial of his ancient blood-right, stirred a passion in him. Born in Rome in 1720, the man who would be immortalised as Bonnie Prince Charlie was a bright spark amid a melancholy world of lost dreams; and he grew up hearing the tales of brave clansmen with unflinching loyalty. So, when in 1743 his father made him Prince Regent in exile, with plenipotentiary powers, a seed was sown. He pawned his mother’s fabulous jewellery (the famous Sobieski Jewels), borrowed money from the Pope and the King of France and began setting in motion his plan for invasion and recovery of the throne.

18th Century British politics was complex, interwoven and aristocratic. Political parties were embryonic, titles and money ran the show: control of the Crown lay with ruthless career politicians; the nobility; and the rich merchant classes. This was the real mountain Charles had to climb, and he had no idea it was ahead of him. Closeted away, he saw a counter-revolution as a romantic part religious, part dynastic campaign – not until it was too late did he see the big picture, and how woefully na├»ve and inadequate his attempt really was. But, all that was a long way off as spring turned to summer in 1745.

He sent spies to Britain to gauge the potential support for his cause. The Scottish Jacobites would be the core of his following, but it seemed that many Tories north and south of the border secretly supported him, and would rally to his standard if the time came. The French king was also hinting as the possibility of major financial and military support, should a rising gain the success the Prince was hoping for. This fact alone probably lost the Prince much needed support – in this lay the possibility of turning the clock back to the days of the autocratic Stuarts governing without Parliament, financed with French money. Too many important people in Britain had too much to lose, for this ever to be a possibility. The Prince was kept in the dark about all this – and so, buoyed up with the promise of genuine support he launched his campaign.

With French money and arms, Charles fitted out two ships – the Elisabeth and the Doutelle, and set sail from Brittany to Scotland. The Elisabeth, the larger of the two and containing most of the gold, men and weapons was near sunk by the Royal Navy and limped back to France; while the Doutelle managed to evade the British ships and landed on the Island of Eriskay on the 23rd of July 1745. He was met by Alexander MacDonald of Boisdale (younger brother of the Clan Ranald Chief), who, despite being a staunch Jacobite, saw nothing but failure and disaster in this latest Stuart enterprise. The Government had warned the Highlanders to expect severe repercussions should they support a rebellion. He told the prince to go home, to which Charles famously replied “I am come home”.

He was able to garner a few supporters and sailed on to the Mainland, arriving in Glenfinnan (pictured above) in mid August. There he met with a couple of other chiefs, but principally Cameron of Lochiel. If the mighty Cameron refused to join his adventure then the whole scheme was sunk, so the prince mustered all his bargaining and charm to convince Lochiel to join. Finally, he appealed to the one weakness all chiefs suffered from – vanity. On the 19th of August, Donald Cameron agreed to follow his prince and rally his clan. The Royal Standard was raised, the pipes skirled across Loch Sheil and the ’45 Rebellion was born.


Cynthia H. said...

Very interesting article, David. Thanks for posting, Karen. I love reading examples of Diana's weaving true historical events into her stories.

Deniz Bevan said...

Thank you for this informative post! I love learning history through fiction.

Karen Henry said...


First of all, thanks again for such an interesting and informative article! I enjoyed it very much. I have a couple of questions:

1) You mentioned that "under the auspices of General Wade, the army constructed a number of fortresses across the Highlands linked together with a new road system to improve communications between them." Am I right in thinking that Fort William (the infamous location of Jamie Fraser's flogging at the hands of Black Jack Randall) was one of those fortresses? Seems to me I read that somewhere, probably in Jennifer Roberson's novel LADY OF THE GLEN, but I could certainly be wrong.

2) You mention the promise of French financial support for Charles Stuart. Is the rumor of the "Frenchman's gold", a treasure sent at the last minute (far too late to do any good) to aid the Jacobites, just something that Diana Gabaldon invented for her books, or does it have some basis in historical fact? (Just wondering.)

I liked the way you pointed out that the whole succession crisis was triggered by the death of the ten-year-old prince from smallpox. I hadn't known about that before.


Anonymous said...

WELL DONE.....even to the photo of the monument commemorating the raising of the standard beside the lake at Glenfinnan. Thank you!

Carla...of part Scots descent

McIpedia said...

Hi guys

Thank you for your comments, much appreciated.
Karen -

Fort William was originally Inverlochy Fort and built by Oliver Cromwell. It was refortified after the 1689 rebellion and re-named Fort William. It was then strengthened after the 45 Rebellion, and re-dedicated for William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland (but without the need to actually re-name it).

The French king had fed Charles Edward a line right from the start - promising the earth, but constantly moving the goalposts. It is unlikely that the French were ever prepared to invade really. French agents may well have been willing to smuggle gold into the UK, but it never materialised.

Princess Anne was pregnant over 20 times, and William, Duke of Gloucester was the only one who survived infancy - a personal tragedy, as well as a national one

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