Category: Judicial

A Case of Mistaken Identity

A note about Edward Gibson, an important witness involved in prosecuting Jacobite prisoners

To reinforce our recent discussion of critical thinking about the historical data used within a project like JDB1745, this week’s post illustrates an example of that application in action. While looking through some of the published trial records related to government prosecution of the Manchester regiment, team member Bill Runacre found a data conflict that took a bit of detective work to iron out. In the 1816 trial transcript of Captain James Bradshaw, published in Vol. XVIII of Howell’s (or Corbett’s) State Trials, amongst the witnesses who took the stand against the Manchester officer was one Henry Gibson, allegedly a soldier in Elcho’s Jacobite cavalry troop. Some character notes about Gibson are described within the transcript:

Henry Gibson was also produced and sworn, who said, That he himself was unfortunately seduced into the rebel army, and entered into lord Elcho’s troop of horse-guards; that the prisoner, Mr Bradshaw, marched with them as a private man in the said corps; that the troop was drawn up at the battle of Culloden, and that he there saw the prisoner on horseback in the said troop, with pistols, and a broad sword by his side, and a white cockade, and that he continued with the said troop till he was taken prisoner by his royal highness the duke of Cumberland’s army.1

Much of Gibson’s testimony against Bradshaw sounds quite similar to that of dozens of other witnesses brought in to inculpate suspected Jacobite prisoners in the years following the failure of the final rising. Pertinent details which the government found most helpful often included firsthand descriptions of the defendant’s presence within the Jacobite army and specific duties in that station, persons of repute with whom they were seen conversing, and the identification of clothing and arms that were worn during their tenure in Jacobite service. The collective depositions by Gibson and those of at least eight other witnesses were enough to condemn James Bradshaw, and he was thus found guilty and subsequently executed in London on 28 November 1746. As it turns out, however, Henry Gibson did not actually exist.

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Points of Order

John Sharpe’s memorandum of various judicial processes to be completed, 20 January 1747

To-do lists are not only productivity tools for busy modern lives. They were also used extensively by eighteenth-century British government officials to keep pressing topics close in mind, and some even fashioned their memoranda as checklists to ensure they did not miss anything especially important. We see this practice in a document from the British National archives, where Sir John Sharpe, Solicitor to the Treasury during the Jacobite prosecutions after the Forty-five, lists a number of tasks to complete in the winter of 1746-7.1 It is a particularly interesting archival document because it gives us some idea of what critical topics of conversation concerning the prosecution of Jacobites kept government officials occupied. The fact that this task list was written nine months after the Battle of Culloden demonstrates just how much judicial red tape still existed well after the last rising itself had burned out.

Paraphrasing Sharpe’s list of to-dos, we may look in on numerous important points of policy as well as how Jacobite prisoners under charges of treason were processed and treated:

Item #1

Considering the method of how to send prisoners-of-war in French service back to France.

Sharpe notes that he needed to speak at length with Sir Everard Fawkener, the Duke of Cumberland’s secretary, about a peculiar issue: just how to discern which of the prisoners-of-war were really from France, and which were actually born within the Three Kingdoms. This was an important distinction because both the rights and the treatment of prisoners facing charges of treason were different depending on whether they were ‘subjects of the crown’ or legitimate foreigners under the protection of Louis XV. Perhaps unsurprisingly, more than a few of the captured Scottish and Irish soldiers in French service feigned foreign provenance in hopes that it might secure them a lighter sentence – or even freedom altogether. After the recapture of Carlisle by the British army, for example, a Jacobite adjutant in Lord Kilmarnock’s cavalry troop masqueraded as a French officer until a corporal from Hamilton’s Dragoons revealed him to be an Irishman with whom he had already been familiar.2 The Lord Justice Clerk Andrew Fletcher, however, saw no difference between those born in Britain or beyond, stating that anyone should be answerable to charges of high treason if they ever ‘had Residence in the King’s Dominions before the Rebellion’.3 

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