Category: Policies

Begging Your Pardon

Results of the court martial held against seven Jacobite soldiers for desertion, 9 October 1745

After a handful of Donald Cameron of Lochiel’s men slipped through Edinburgh’s grand, turreted Netherbow Port virtually unopposed, the capital of Scotland, excepting its imposing castle, was firmly in Jacobite control for most of the late summer and autumn of 1745. From 17 September to 31 October, high-ranking soldiers and officials under the leadership of Charles Edward Stuart consolidated their provisional government in ‘North Britain’ at Holyrood House, and in the fields around Duddingston Village they bolstered both the numbers and training of the men who formed the military arm of the Jacobite cause. This distinctly irregular army was essentially the crowbar with which Charles Edward would attempt to pry George II off the thrones of the Three Kingdoms while advocating for his father, James Francis Edward, who was proclaimed at the mercat cross as James VIII of Scotland on the very same day the burgh was taken. Cobbled together in fits and starts before the capture of Edinburgh, it was never a sure thing that enough support would materialise or that the enthusiasm it bore would translate to success on the battlefield when open conflict eventually came.1

The lightning-quick and overwhelming Jacobite victory at Prestonpans in the early morning of 21 September boosted the confidence not only of Charles Edward’s Council of War but also that of many of the common soldiers across the ranks. Now that this army had faced seemingly the best that the British government had to offer, the zeitgeist of the mission was astir and word quickly spread to the surrounding localities that this revolution, long-desired and attempted on numerous occasions before, might really happen this time. Recruiting drives marshalled in places like Perthshire and the north-eastern counties, like Aberdeenshire and Forfarshire, eventually secured valuable additions to the nucleus of Highland Jacobite troops in Edinburgh, with numbers swelling from around 2500 to nearly 6000 men through the month of October.2

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Home and Away

List of the persons in Appin and Glencoe who were either at home or abroad during the Forty-five

In the days and months after the bloody defeat of the Jacobite army at Culloden, the British government scrambled to obtain evidence of anyone and everyone who might have taken part in the rising. In addition to calling upon the extensive network of Presbyterian clergy spread across Scotland to be their eyes and ears, British officials instructed both local administrators and individual landholders alike to create rosters of those known to have refrained from treasonous behavior. A cagey measure that was no easy task for either regional authorities or private factors to accomplish, this method of information gathering would nonetheless yield a significant number of names for government prosecutors, in turn giving them a robust pool of leads into which to launch their investigations. Indeed, anyone not recorded in these lists of certified abstainers was essentially fair game.1

In addition to soliciting lists of those who were thought to be ‘safe’, customs officers at both major and minor Scottish ports were required to tally registers of travelers known to have Jacobite inclinations, as well as those who were believed to have actually carried arms in the rising.2 Despite their appearance in writing, of course, not all of the included names were of men and women who were actually involved. A great many were jotted down by authorities and subsequently hauled in on suspicion alone, but most of these were soon set free due to lack of evidence or other exculpatory testimonies. Others were included due to faulty evidence from witnesses who simply got it wrong, and some were falsely implicated by those with distinct agendas. After all, what better time to strike at a personal enemy than during the chaos and confusion of civil war?3

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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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