A Beginner’s Guide To The Jacobites

Let me start off this post with a caveat. If you are a serious scholar or indeed if you have ever read a book or even paid attention during a documentary about the Jacobite rebellions then best to move on – nothing to see here  – mind your step on the way out.

The reason I wrote this was to put together a newbies guide to what this period of history was all about, what started it and most importantly to dispel the misinformation that this was some Scotland V England struggle. Ive tried to keep it as light and simple as possible, I tested it on my 12 year old daughter last night and it made sense to her so fingers crossed here goes….

Charlie Tour T Shirt

Charlie Tour T Shirt

It all started with King James the VII as we called him in Scotland or James II as he was known in England. He was the second surviving son of Charles I

First, A bit of Background…

Charles I had a pretty difficult relationship with parliament and this led to the English Civil War, which, actually started in Scotland not England when Charles managed to also get on the wrong side of the Church as well and started the bishop’s war. Incredibly the Bishops war was started by Charles attempting to introduce a new prayer book so two sides who couldn’t agree on how to give praise to the same god started a fight which spilled over into Ireland and then into England like some sort of viral cowboy bar brawl and ended up creating the biggest armed conflict on British soil. Say what you like about the Scots we are damned good at starting a fight.

Charles lost the war and his head in 1649 which in turn led to Oliver Cromwell, the Protectorate and a ban on Christmas, singing and anything else regarded as mildly fun. When Cromwell died of a mixture of malaria and kidney stones he was succeeded by his son who couldn’t get the hang of ‘protecting’ at all and the Monarchy was restored, Charles II became King with much rejoicing and Cromwell was executed, yes I know he was already dead but they hung him again anyway just to make sure.

Charles II was known as the ‘Merry Monarch’ and his reign began with one massive party although it wasn’t all fun since his reign also included the great plague and the great fire of London. Charles II had one last laugh on his people though when he converted to Catholicism on his deathbed.

Now it would take more time than I have here and more pages than I’d like to fill to explain why the Monarchy and parliament had a bit of an issue with Catholicism so trust me, from around the time of the Tudors they most definitely did, it goes without saying that the Church of England were not huge fans, after all they were the competition in the business of eternal life and The Catholic church had some pretty good moves like ‘give us lots of money and we will fast track you through purgatory’ etc.

Charles’ late entry into the world of Catholicism before his exit from the world of the living was inconvenient to say the least but with no heir the next in line was his brother James and what wasn’t so well known was that James had been a practicing Catholic for some time. Like it or not Britain was about to get a Catholic monarch.

James VII takes charge (briefly)…

This led to a number of problems for James. For starters two rebellions kicked off, one led by Duke of Monmouth and another by Campbell of Argyll in Scotland, Argyll’s rebellion came to nowt as they say and his head was soon gracing the space formerly occupied by Royalist hero and shampoo model the Marquis of Montrose. Monmouth was a tougher nut to crack and James also had another issue to deal with, literally as he had quite inexplicably allowed his daughter to marry his protestant Dutch nephew William of Orange, a bit of an own goal as this handed the protestant supporters a ready made replacement..

The protestant nobles called on William and over he came in 1688 to take the throne, James legged it and in the process chucked the Great Seal of the Realm into the River Thames. He was captured before he could leave England but William, not keen to create a Stuart martyr sort of turned his back, whistled a bit and left the cell door slightly open and allowed James to escape. After a great deal of parliamentary debate it was decided that James throwing the Great Seal in the Thames like Dirty Harry throwing away his cop badge was really an act of abdication so that was good enough for them (don’t let anyone ever tell you there aren’t any seals in the Thames). They also quickly shored up the legislation to make sure there could NEVER be another Catholic monarch, a statute that has stood to this day, albeit recently amended.

So that was it. The Stuart dynasty that had ruled Scotland for nearly 300 years and latterly the whole of the newly United Kingdom was over, or was it?

James was determined for a rematch and his campaign began and pretty much ended in Ireland with defeat at the Battle of the Boyne, an event that has been celebrated by the Orange Order to this day, mostly by people in bowler hats parading with flute bands round small towns in Northern Ireland and Lanarkshire.

If anyone wants to discover what is essentially wrong with Scotland then you have to look no further than the petty sectarian nonsense that has plagued this country since then. Where we have become a country divided by tribal lines mostly based on which Glasgow based football team you support, insular, inward looking and regressive.

But enough about that back to the Jacobites…

The Old Pretender…

James may have been done with the throne of Britain but his progeny were not. His second daughter, Anne became queen in 1702. Queen Anne gave us many things including the Act of Union and bow legged furniture (considering she had 17 pregnancies during here reign you can see where they got the idea from).

When Anne died in 1714 succession fell in a rather oblique way to George of Hannover, a German and grandson of James VI(and I) as the nearest non Catholic everyone could agree on. (there were 50 more eligible Catholics in the way which the Act of Settlement conveniently ignored).

A year later in 1715 the Whig party won a majority to become the new government defeating the Tory party. Many rebels in the Tory party were Jacobites (from ‘Jacobus’ the Latin for ‘James’) and supported the return of the Stuart Dynasty. James VII was long dead but his son James Francis Edward Stuart was very much alive and in exile in France. Although the support for his claim sprouted in the Tory rebellion in London it really took root in Scotland. There was still a strong Catholic contingent in Scotland and James was able to get support from them. He arrived in Scotland in 1715 to start his campaign to regain the throne but it didn’t go at all well. James (the Old Pretender) was timid, didn’t like crowds and couldn’t handle cold weather, not ideal traits for fighting battles in Scotland!

He abandoned the whole idea in 1716 and headed back to France where he was welcomed with… folded arms. And sent off to Italy to bother someone else.

In 1719 he married Maria Clementina Sobieska a Polish princess and they had two sons, the eldest being Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart (I’d hate to have been the one icing his birthday cakes), fortunately he was more commonly referred to as Charles Edward Stuart or ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Charlie was a very different man to his father. Born in Italy he was determined to restore the Stuarts to the throne so his father named him regent in 1743 and his adventures began…

Bonnie Prince Charlie and the ’45…

Charlie managed to get some support in kind from France and was given a pair of well fitted out ships. His hopes of getting some well fitted out men too were less successful but nevertheless he set off for the West of Scotland, preferring his fathers recruiting ground to the North. The Jacobites still had much support from the Northern Clans mostly, but not exclusively Catholic, he also had Jacobite support from Ireland and places like Carlisle and Manchester in the North of England.

Resistance to the Jacobites came not just from England (who made up the bulk of the UK population and still do) but also from Scotland and Ireland.

As everyone probably knows by now the second Jacobite rebellion made it as far south as Derby before turning back when they picked up far less support along the way than they were expected, the additional French troops didn’t turn up and the Scots army were frustrated at the lack of square sausage and irn bru.

They headed back for Scotland, managing a last hurrah at Falkirk before the whole thing came to a sticky end on Culloden Moor in 1746. Bonny Prince Charlie fled the field and pursued by redcoats managed to hide in every cave in Scotland if tourist brochures are to be believed, disguised himself as a woman and high tailed it back to France, where after numerous affairs, not the least of which was with the bottle, he died in Italy.

The reason I was inspired to write this really is because all too often I see Culloden mentioned as some sort of romantic defeat where the dastardly English dashed Scotland’s hopes. This is sentimental rubbish. If you really want to understand Culloden and the Jacobite rising all you need to do is memorize this Sentence:

“Culloden was a battle between an army of Scots, English and Irish led by an Italian against an army of Scots, English and Irish led by an Englishmen with a German dad representing a German king over the throne of the United Kingdom.”



About rodger moffet

Rodger is the Director of ScotClans. Expert in all things clan and tartan.

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One thought on “A Beginner’s Guide To The Jacobites

  1. Sharon

    Awesome… Thanks so much for the clarification… Not a scholar of England or Scotland, I became very confused trying to sort it all out… Again thank you.


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