Category: Analysis (page 1 of 4)

How to Take a Town

Instructions to Cameron of Lochiel upon entering Perth

Depending upon which contemporary account one reads, descriptions of the Jacobite army’s behaviour during the 1745 rising can paint a number of strikingly different pictures. Embellished narratives and biased propaganda on both sides of the conflict alternately portray Bonnie Prince Charlie’s troops as infantophagic savages who carved a trail of rapine and destruction through Britain, and a benevolent cadre of altruistic revolutionaries who only took what was freely given, while charming inhabitants in both village and burgh. The reality is, of course, somewhere in between, and eyewitness descriptions provide some validation to both characterisations, which are slanted according to who is telling the story.1 Less commonly explored, however, are the operational accounts of how the Jacobite army conducted itself administratively as it moved through towns in Scotland, solidifying control of ‘North Britain’ in the early months of the last rising. Some of these records, which feature guidelines and orders from Charles Edward Stuart himself about how to orchestrate an occupation, lie in numerous London archives amongst swathes of captured and intercepted Jacobite correspondence.

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Culling the Herd

Some names of the Jacobite prisoners taken up by British army troops around the time of Culloden

To effectively quell the martial threat of the last Jacobite rising in 1745-6, Hanoverian government officials and British military personnel worked together to wage a systematic campaign of disarmament, capture, and prosecution against a mercurial enemy. Their goal, of course, was to identify and punish the most notorious and active rebels for sedition and high treason against the Crown. But it quickly became apparent that there was no possibility enough prison space could be requisitioned to hold the sheer number of alleged Jacobites, both soldiers and civilians, who were brought in upon suspicion or in active rebellion during the nine months of the conflict. British gaol keepers were similarly beleaguered in the aftermath of the 1715 Rising, when as many as 2000 prisoners needed space and subsistence while the process of prosecution played out. In 1745-6, the Jacobite army was significantly smaller, yet well over 3500 suspected persons were immured within a prison system that had not been notably improved or expanded in the preceding thirty years.1

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A Snag in the Weft

Embroidered canvas on display at NTS Culloden

Despite the recent, lively debate about the value of the work undertaken by historians, we can agree that many of them generally spend the tenure of their careers involved with research, analysis, and output. Depending upon the era of study and subject matter, dutiful historians will go back to the primary sources when at all possible and critically address the lineage of information as well as its context. Following and challenging that data lineage is something about which I have repeatedly written, and this pursuit represents a significant role in the methodology of my everyday work, as I believe it is necessary in order to produce informed and precise history.

Precise historians will familiarize themselves with as many sources as possible and determine which are most relevant, accurate, and valuable to the arguments which they are asserting. Concurrently, sources that challenge those assertions must also be consulted and may lend valuable perspective to or even transformation of the historian’s original assertions. The honest scholars will admit those changes and influences along the way by showing their work while being as deliberate and precise as possible. Preciseness is not just the end goal, it is absolutely integral to the process. In that way, scholarly history follows a course that rightfully marks it as a social science.

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