Dana Huntley takes us through the rise and fall of Bonnie Prince Charlie's rebellion
The recent popularity of Outlander and indeed the whole premise of season two reflects the vigor in the Scottish nationalist movement. It’s hardly a new phenomenon. Scottish patriotism runs deeply in the kingdom’s history; fueled by legends and lore of William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, Flodden Field. And the countless skirmishes of history between Scotland and its larger, richer, stronger neighbor to the south. Staying free from the overlordship of the English king was a principal theme of Scottish history for centuries.
The Stuart monarch
Then, in 1603, God delivered England into the hands of the Scottish king. The Stuart monarch, King James VI (the ninth Stuart king since 1371), inherited the English throne upon the death of Queen Elizabeth I. Many Scottish courtiers followed the new King James I of England south from Edinburgh to London. Unhappily for Scotland, once the new monarch of a united Great Britain got to London, the king abandoned his own nation almost completely for the more powerful, prestigious and richer stage of England.
Over the next few decades, James I and (after 1625) his son Charles I attempted to coerce and then force the Scottish Presbyterians to accept the hierarchy of the English Anglican episcopacy. Ultimately, they took arms against their countrymen in actions peripheral to the English Civil War of the 1640s. Neither man ever returned to Scotland.
The Glorious Revolution
After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, King Charles II partied in London, and his brother and successor, James II, converted to Catholicism. The English Parliament would have none of it, and with what is called the Glorious Revolution in 1688 awarded the throne to James II’s daughter - married to the Protestant prince William of Orange. They reigned together until William’s death in 1702, when the crown passed to Mary’s sister, Anne. During Queen Anne’s monarchy, the Acts of Union in 1707 formally dissolved the Scottish parliament and completely merged the government of the kingdoms into Great Britain - with the power, Parliament and court in London.
On Queen Anne’s death without issue in 1714, however, it had already been determined that Roman Catholics could not accede to the English throne in the Act of Settlement of 1701. That Act had named Sophia of the Palatinate as the heir apparent - the closest Protestant descendent of James I. Since she predeceased Queen Anne by several weeks, Sophia’s son, George, the Duke of Brunswick-Luneberg and Elector of the small German state of Hanover, came to Britain and was crowned King George I. He became known as German Geordie, and never bothered to learn the English language. The Stuart monarchy was gone, and the royal dynasty was now the Hanoverians.
The Old Pretender, the legitimate king of Britain
Meanwhile, across the Channel in France, King James II died in 1701, to be succeeded in the Stuart line by his own son James, who became known as the Old Pretender. The Stuart monarchy was down, but far from out. James II never lacked passionate supporters - Scottish highlanders, English Roman Catholics and families with personal loyalties to the Stuarts on both sides of the border. For ardent supporters, James the Old Pretender was the legitimate king of Britain, and certainly of Scotland. His followers were known as Jacobites.
The next year, a hastily organized, ineffectual insurrection (“the Fifteen”) was quickly put down. Though the Pretender never specifically authorized it, the Earl of Mar raised the Pretender’s standard and held a council of war. The Jacobite rebels successfully managed to take control of northern Scotland. Elsewhere, they didn’t fare so well. An army of English and Scottish Jacobites drove south into England as far as Preston (Lancashire), where they were soundly defeated at the Battle of Preston. James the Pretender landed in Scotland two months later, but it was too late. The Jacobite army had withered and the rebellion faded away. Many participants were tried for treason, and James slipped back to France after just a few weeks.
The Jacobite dream
The passionate Jacobite dream went underground, but it did not disappear.
A generation later, the Stuarts and their followers tried again, this time under the active leadership of Old Pretender James’ son. In 1743, France and England went to war as a part of the European-wide War of the Austrian Succession. Most British battalions of soldiers were sent to the Continent; French King Louis XV was partial to the cause of the Catholic Stuarts. The time was ripe for the Stuarts to claim their hereditary Scottish throne and to claim independence from the Union with England, and hopefully take its crown, too, in the process.
When an invasion of England by a French expeditionary force was detected and abandoned the next year, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, “The Young Pretender” was advised to forestall his plans. “Bonnie Prince Charlie” (only 24 at the time) insisted on going to Scotland. In July 1745, he landed first on the Isle of Eriskay with seven companions and a ship’s hold loaded with muskets and broadswords.
In meetings with clan chieftains, the young Prince lobbied hard and bit by bit won the support of the Western clans. In early August, the Prince disembarked with arms on the mainland at Kinlochmoidert. They were transported with Charles to Glenfinnan for a meeting with the clan chiefs; the Clanranald MacDonalds, the Camerons, the MacDonell’s of Keppoch, the Marquis of Tullarbardine. There, on August 19, 1745, the Jacobite standard was raised and a Declaration of King James was read. The Jacobite uprising had begun.
In London, the British government put a 30,000 pound bounty on the capture of Prince Charles. With a swelling force of Highlanders, and Prince Charles at their head, the Jacobites reached Edinburgh on September 15th. The gates were opened and the Prince was greeted by 20,000 cheering citizens. King James VIII was proclaimed King of Scotland, and Charles held court as his Regent at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
At the beginning of November, Charles led his Jacobite army south into England, with its aim to restore the Stuart throne in London as well. In mid-November they laid siege to Carlisle and entered the city with 5,000 infantry and 500 cavalry troops. They plundered the city for gunpowder, muskets and horses. Then, the Jacobite force continued south. The defense of Manchester was abandoned; Prince Charles entered Preston to cheers of acclamation, and the North fell easily before him.
The Hanoverian government of George II was not idle; the threat was serious. In late October, the king’s brother, William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, returned from France to assume the home command. With a score of infantry battalions, cavalry and artillery, the Duke prepared to pursue the Jacobite invaders.
The Young Pretender’s army reached Derby at the start of December. By then, however, Cumberland’s army was on the move. Another army under Field Marshall George Wade took the field from the Midlands. Duke William planned a pincer movement to trap the Jacobite rebels. Prince Charles’ force was in a precarious position. The groundswell of support from English Jacobites rallying to his side that had been confidently predicted had failed to materialize. The competent Jacobite general, Lord George Murray, realized that the Prince’s army would be seriously overpowered by Cumberland’s numbers and arms. After much debate in the Prince’s Council, the decision was taken to retreat.
Defeat at the Battle of Falkirk Muir.
Morale was high in the Jacobite ranks. What opposition they had seen had been easily overcome. If they had raced on to London, could they have succeeded? Would Jacobite sympathizers have risen to his support? These are among the unanswered questions of history. In the event, Lord Murray planned a measured withdrawal north back to Scotland with the redcoat regiments of Cumberland in pursuit.
By the time the Jacobite army reached the Borders, there was nowhere to escape and regroup. The Highlanders reached Glasgow on Christmas Day, reprovisioned and rearmed, and defeated a government army under General Hawley at the Battle of Falkirk Muir. Cumberland landed in Edinburgh in January to take field command and marched his army north along the coast to Aberdeen. Prince Charles and his force were spent. They lost men and vigor as they were pressured north and up the Great Glen toward Inverness.
The armies met in the rain at Culloden Moor to the west of Inverness on April 16, 1746. The well-rested, well-supplied, disciplined redcoat army of the Hanoverian government advanced two miles across open moorland toward the exhausted, ill-equipped Jacobite clansmen. After Government artillery battered the Jacobite lines for nearly an hour, the Bonnie Prince ordered a charge. The battle was decided quickly, as the clansmen armed with flintlocks and blade weapons charged into disciplined lines of redcoats. In volleys of musket fire and artillery grapeshot they fell.
The end of the clan system
Jacobite casualties from the battle numbered roughly 2,000, while the Government suffered some 300 dead and wounded. Cumberland’s dragoons chased the fleeing clansmen into the Western Highlands, inflicting lethal punishment where they were caught. Hundreds of Jacobite supporters were rounded up as prisoners and subsequently executed or transported to the colonies. It was the last pitched land battle fought on the British mainland. Culloden ended the clan system and the social order of the Scottish Highlands that had existed for a millennium.
As for Bonnie Prince Charlie, he fled with a few companions into the evergreen mountains back toward the Western coast, abetted by trusted loyalists along the way. He sent out orders to remaining Jacobites that the cause was lost, and disbanded the army. Reaching Arisaig on April 20th, the Prince set sail in a small boat for Benbecula and spent the next months on the move through the Hebrides evading capture.
Back in London, the Hanoverian government imposed grim law against the rebellious Scots, banning the wearing of the tartan and forbidding men from wearing the kilt. William, Duke of Cumberland, returned from his campaign a celebrated hero. Among the many honors accorded him, as the story goes, a flower was named in his honor. We know it today as Sweet William. In Scotland, the contemptuous plant is called Stinking Billy.
Finally in September, Bonnie Prince Charlie and his small entourage boarded a small French ship in Borrodale and sailed for France. The unhappy Stuart Prince not would return to Scotland.