Category: Financial

Fit To Be Tried

Henry Masterman’s observations of Jacobite prisoners as witnesses

In the spring of 1746 on a journey that lasted over two months, Henry Masterman and his clerk, Richard Wright, visited a number of jails in Lancaster, Chester, York, Lincoln, and London. There, these men interviewed Jacobite prisoners and took notes on their characters to assess their level of guilt and their willingness to testify against fellow inmates as witnesses for the Crown.1 Masterman was known for his experience with criminal prosecutions and for his great ‘fidelity’ to the government, borne out through his service in a similar capacity in the wake of the 1715 rising.2 Thirty years later he was once again asked to determine in what ways these suspects were involved in the Forty-five, including those who had ‘in any way fomented and encouraged it, as [well as] those who were actually in arms’.3 Masterman’s letters recount a tedious process fraught with the intransigence and dishonesty of many of the captives, in some places around half of which required a translator who could understand the language ‘universally Spoke in much ye greatest part of ye Highlands’.4

By the beginning of the new year in 1746, the British government once again found itself deeply mired in a civil war, as what would prove to be the final Jacobite challenge played itself out across Scotland and England, with France seemingly waiting in the wings. The Jacobite army had only recently recrossed the Scottish border after turning back at Derby, and just four months later its martial campaign would be ruthlessly crushed by British forces under William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland, on Culloden Moor in the Highlands of Inverness-shire. Even in the midst of the crisis while both armies were still in the field, many hundreds of alleged Jacobite soldiers and civilians who were captured in the preceding months were already being examined and processed by agents within the Hanoverian government. After over half a century of dynastic and political contention that repeatedly manifested in clandestine plots and active Jacobite risings, these agents were sharply focused on creating a plan to punish treasonous activity that would ensure this was the very last time they would have use for one.5

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The Forest for the Trees

Memorial for George Murdoch, tacksman in the Wood of Mugdock, Stirlingshire

Sometime during or shortly after the Jacobite conflict in 1745-6, a tacksman of the 2nd Duke of Montrose named George Murdoch penned a troubled memorial to his laird. Within this missive, he explains that it would be impossible this year to honor his contract of tenancy, wherein Murdoch was to provide 8000 merks over a period of seven years as rent, capitalized by the cutting and sale of timber from Mugdock Wood in the Stirlingshire parish of Strathblane.1 The problem, he cites, is that the normal operations of business had essentially ground to a standstill on account of disruptive Jacobite activity in the region.

Murdoch’s contract, which had been worked up by Montrose’s factors in February 1744, contained the usual ‘salvo’ or contingency for disasters that might impede the regular course of trade. These included cases of war, pestilence, or famine – the most common uncontrollable misfortunes that could affect the timely payment of rent. The ‘publick calamity’ occasioned by the presence of Jacobite recruiters and soldiers on the loyalist estate of Montrose should be counted among these, claims Murdoch, and he asks for ‘prorogation’ or extension of the contracted time to exclude this unfortunate period of stale business:

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