Tag: british army

Believe It or Not

Examination of John Bruce, allegedly a soldier in Lord Sempill’s Regiment, 30 April 1746

Deceptions and mistruths in eighteenth century judicial cases are rarely different from those in the modern day. The indicted have always lied to save their own skins or to provide cover for people and institutions they wish to protect. Though overloaded with prisoners and casework by the end of the last Jacobite rising, the British justice system was fundamentally sound enough to make the necessary adjustments to expedite an effective method of processing that massive influx of suspected persons. Many of those lessons were learned in the aftermath of the Fifteen, wherein the first Georgian administration sought to balance victory and clemency, hoping to establish an indelible hallmark upon the nascent regime.1 Thirty years later, the system was much the same, and though the categories of punishment scaled with an increased number of prisoners taken from a significantly smaller number of total participants, a fair and accurate penal process was again pursued by many of the Hanoverian ministers who were in charge of prosecution.2

A handful of high-profile Jacobite trials have since been published, offering readers a glimpse into the legal mechanics of treason cases against the Crown, but these are especially focused on prominent characters who were singled out to be made examples of.3 The best way to learn more about the regular folks who were involved in the last Jacobite rising is to go through the plethora of original documents housed in archives across Scotland and England, and sometimes further afield. The paper trails of these individuals are often fragmented on account of them facing examinations in the different places they were held, and subsequent prison transfers and other movements can sometimes make tracking them quite difficult. Nonetheless, the raw information left behind by the accused and by the witnesses in favor of or against them can shed valuable light on both the large and small events of 1745-6. It is worth the time spent piecing together these archive-driven stories, which is a focal objective of the JDB project.

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State of Distress

Donald Campbell of Airds’ scheme for ‘civilizing’ the Cameron lands, 3 October 1746

Much of the enduring memory and emotion of the final, failed Jacobite challenge blooms from the British government’s retributive and bloody response in the aftermath of Culloden. In what Allan Macinnes calls the ‘exemplary civilizing’ of remote areas of Scotland, a calculated campaign of violent suppression was waged upon recalcitrant communities whether or not they were directly involved in active rebellion.1 Whether tantamount to genocide, as some scholars have argued, the cantonment schemes established in Culloden’s wake and the retaliatory expeditions against communities singled out by government intelligence networks undeniably had a disastrous effect upon ‘Scottish Highland’ culture, though these depredations were not by any means meted out only in the Highlands.

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