Where: Scotland, England and France
Who (Major Actors): Charles Edward Stuart (“Bonnie Prince Charlie), James Francis Edward Stuart (“The Old Pretender”), King George II, and Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland
Why (Goals): Overthrow the Hanoverian dynasty and restore the Stuarts as Great Britain’s royal family
The “Resurgence” of Scottish Nationalism
Though the Scottish have long exhibited a strong sense of national pride, the referendum on national independence in 2014 and the release of Starz’s television dramaOutlander has sparked a renewed interest in Scotland’s Jacobite Rebellion. The efforts of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Highlanders mark one of the most important—and ultimately tragic—moments in Scottish history. Nevertheless, many Americans are unfamiliar with the event. Here’s what you need to know about the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745.
Background to the Jacobite Rebellions
The origins of the Rebellion date back to 1603, with the ascension of James I to the English throne. Formerly the king of Scotland, the Stuart monarch traveled south to London to rule over the newly-united Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland after the death of the childless Queen Elizabeth—known as the “Virgin Queen” for her life-long chastity. Unfortunately for many of James I’s Scottish supporters, the king turned his attentions away from his homeland once he reached London. He assumed the title “King of Great Britain” and pushed for the complete unification of three realms. James I—and after his death in 1625, his son King Charles I—even sought to force the English Anglican episcopacy’s hierarchy on the Scottish Presbyterian Church. Anger in Scotland over such reforms resulted in armed conflict in the 1640s. The Stuart Kings, it seemed, had abandoned their Scottish roots.
The next stop on the road towards the Jacobite Rebellion took place after the English Civil War and the restoration of the monarchy. When Charles II died in 1685 without a legitimate heir (though the “Merry Monarch” reportedly bore 12 illegitimate children!), his brother, James II, took the throne. James II, however, was a converted Catholic, and the English Parliament would not allow a “popish” monarch to rule over Protestant England. After a mere three years as king, Parliament and a group of Protestant nobles overthrew James II and awarded the crown to his protestant daughter, Mary. Alongside her husband, William of Orange, Mary ruled until 1702. For his part, James II fled to France; yet he held onto his claim to the English throne until his death in 1701. Those who supported his claim became known as Jacobites—from Jacobus, the Renaissance Latin spelling of James.
After William’s death in 1702, Mary’s sister, Anne, took the crown. Queen Anne oversaw the Acts of Union in 1707: an agreement that completely combined England and Scotland—theretofore separate states with the same monarch—into one country, Great Britain. For many Scots (much like James I and Charles I’s “abandonment” of their homeland a century prior) the Acts of Union were yet another attack on Scottish self-rule. Not only did the Acts merge the Scottish Kingdom into Great Britain, they also dissolved the Scottish Parliament and transferred all legislative power to London.
Queen Anne died without an heir in 1714. Due to a prior act of Parliament denying the throne to any Catholic, the protestant Sophia of the Palatinate (modern-day Germany) was predetermined to become the next queen of Great Britain. Sophia, however, died shortly before Anne, and the throne went to her son, George, Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg and Elector of Hanover. King George I became the first of the Hanoverian kings—the reign of the Stuarts was over.
The First Jacobite Rebellion: the “Fifteen”
Across the Channel in France, James II’s son and heir apparent, James (who became known as the Old Pretender), was not pleased to hear about King George I’s ascension—George never even bothered to learn the English language! The Old Pretender was certainly not alone in his discontent: many Scottish Highlanders, English Catholics and noble families devoted to the Stuart cause were unhappy to see a foreigner ruling over Great Britain. In 1715, the Earl of Mar—a Scottish nobleman—led a hasty insurrection meant to overthrow the monarchy. In what became known as the “fifteen,” the Earl and his followers took Inverness (for youOutlander fans, where Frank and Claire Randall take their second honeymoon after the War) and most of northern Scotland. When news of the Jacobite successes reached the Old Pretender in France, he traveled to Scotland to take part in the uprising. By that time, however, the Jacobites had been soundly defeated at the Battle of Preston as they marched south to London. Many of the rebels were tried for treason and executed after the battle—the Jacobite cause was down, but certainly not out.
The Bonnie Prince and the Rebellion of 1745
The Jacobite dream of ruling Great Britain flared up again a generation later, under the leadership of the Old Pretender’s son, Charles. Known as “Bonnie Prince Charlie” or simply “the Bonnie Prince,” the young Stuart claimant began plotting an invasion of Great Britain in 1743. In his eyes, the time was ripe for rebellion. England had recently become embroiled in a global conflict known today as the War of the Austrian Succession; British forces were deployed on the European continent, while colonists took up arms in faraway places like the North America, the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent. With all of Great Britain’s concerns overseas, the Bonnie Prince reasoned, they would never expect an uprising at home.
Charles cultivated long-distance relations in the Scottish highlands (with the real-life versions Outlander’s Jamie Fraser and Clan Mackenzie) and amongst England’s Catholic nobility. In July 1745, he sailed to the Scottish Isle of Eriskay, from which he rallied more clan chieftains to his cause. By August he had traveled to Glenfinnan in the Highlands and raised the Jacobite standard—the last of the Jacobite rebellions had begun.
On September 15th, 20,000 cheering citizens greeted the Jacobite army in Edinburgh. The Old Pretender was declared King James VIII of Scotland, and Charles planned his invasion of England. Meanwhile, in London, the British government put a £30,000 bounty on the Young Pretender’s head. The invasion began in early-November, when the Bonnie Prince led his army into northern England. Charles laid siege to Carlisle in mid-November and later entered the city with 5,000 infantry and 500 cavalry troops. After gathering all the ammunition, arms and horses they could from Carlisle, the Jacobites continued south. Charles then took Manchester with ease. Moral inside the Jacobite ranks swelled, and the English throne seemed within grasp.
The Hanoverians, however, would not go down without a fight. King George II (the son of George I) recalled his brother, the Duke of Cumberland, from the front lines in France to quell the rebellion. With ample men and resources, the Duke pursued the Jacobite invaders. The army of Field Marshal George Wade, who joined the pursuit from the Midlands, aided the Duke’s forces. Charles, who had recently taken Derby, found himself being converged upon by two armies. The Bonnie Prince decided to flee north to the safety of Scotland.
Pursuing English soldiers harried Charles and his troops all the way back to Scotland. The Jacobite army reached Glasgow on Christmas Day. Once re-provisioned and rearmed, they were able to defeat a British army at the Battle of Falkirk Muir. Yet the British pursuit continued. The Duke of Cumberland and his army landed in Edinburgh in January 1746 and marched on the Jacobites. An already exhausted Jacobite army was forced to retreat into the Highlands towards Inverness. The Jacobites made their last stand at Culloden Moor on April 16th. Superior British artillery battered the Jacobite lines for nearly an hour. The Bonnie Prince ordered one last desperate charge, and his Jacobite clansmen—armed with flintlock muskets, blades and daggers—were cut down.
The Aftermath of Culloden
The Jacobites lost around 2,000 men at Culloden, while the British suffered a mere 300 casualties. The Duke of Cumberland’s dragoons (think of the Outlandercharacter Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall) chased fleeing Jacobite clansmen into the Western Highlands, executing many of those they caught. Those clansmen who were not executed were often transported to the colonies, ushering in the first wave of large-scale Scottish immigration to North America. The British government also banned the tartan and kilt. The clan system—the social order that had existed in the Scottish Highlands since before the days of William Wallace—was lost to history.
Bonnie Prince Charlie fled to the safety of Scotland’s rugged western coast after the defeat. He spent the following months evading capture in the Highlands and the Hebrides. Always able to stay one step ahead of his pursuers, Charles’ flight from Culloden has become the stuff of legend and is commemorated in the popular folk tune, “The Skye Boat Song.” In September 1746, the Young Pretender abandoned the rebellion and set sail for France aboard the frigate L’Heureux—which, ironically, means “the happy one” in French. Charles contemplated another invasion in 1759 during the Seven Year’s War, but the Jacobite dreams were dashed. The Bonnie Prince would never step foot in his ancestral home of Scotland again. He spent the rest of his life in exile, dying on January 31st, 1788 in Rome, Italy. Ever the good Catholic, Charles Edward Stuart was laid to rest in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.