Anne Abernethy to Robert Forbes of Corse, 21 October 1745
Of the many archival sources relating to the last Jacobite rising that still survive, one category of documents that is noticeably thin is that of personal letters from rebel soldiers. This makes sense for a number of reasons. For one, the army led by Charles Edward Stuart was almost constantly on the march during its eight-month campaign in Britain, leaving little time to write to family back home. Literacy among the rank-and-file troops was not particularly pronounced, and this is borne out by the number of Jacobite prisoners who claimed they could not write, instead leaving ‘their mark’ on government documents in place of a signature. Postal service through the Royal Mail and by private couriers was indeed active during the crisis, but was notoriously unreliable due to poorly maintained roads through often difficult and remote terrain, as well as the fact that the kingdoms were in the midst of a civil war. Packets of sealed letters were regularly seized by agents on both sides of the conflict and were broken open in the search for seditious material and intelligence within. As a result, thousands of missives never made it to their final destinations.
The signature marks of numerous illiterate Jacobite prisoners and witnesses against them
This dearth of important evidence means that it can be a bit more difficult to study the context of the common people who were caught up in the rising, both within the Jacobite army and on the home front. Newspapers and magazines of the time were valuable for getting out basic (and sometimes pointed) information to the masses, but they are nowhere as intimate or revealing as the personal letters themselves. Thankfully, a few significant collections of these letters written by plebeian soldiers and their family members are still preserved in various archives, and they shed a fascinating light on what it was like for some of the ‘ordinary’ people in Britain who were involved – willingly or not – in Jacobite designs during such a tumultuous period.
Looking back on 275 years of Jacobite historiography since the end of the Forty-five alone, those of us who are interested in the subject truly are faced with an embarrassment of riches. Despite the dissonant, alternating cycles of Whiggish and sympathetic interpretation and the repeated calls for scholars to stop writing about Jacobites already(!), the broad narratives and fine details of this intricate and mythologized era continue to inspire, challenge, and entice both specialists and the wider public. For those who have recently found themselves drawn into the history of the Jacobite century (1688-1788), knowing just where to start can be overwhelming. Even experienced readers and researchers who are already familiar with the subject’s historiography might have missed some excellent titles due to restrictions on access, lack of availability, or simply not knowing that they are out there.
With this in mind, we present a series of short articles to help acquaint folks with finding sources that advance the discipline through rigorous, professional scholarship. This series of posts will cover a number of disparate categories of historiography, starting with academic monographs intended for readers who seek more ‘formal’ material concerning Jacobite studies. Other categories will include, for example, edited anthologies, popular history, antiquarian sources, journal articles, archival collections, and scholar spotlights.
What follows is one passionate historian’s list of ten scholarly works of Jacobite history – or, more accurately, works about historical Jacobitism – that are worth considering as ‘essential’ secondary-source references. A few notes about the formation of this list:
• The sources herein are presented in no particular order of value or importance.
• Most, but not all, of the following sources are monographs that focus on broad aspects of the Jacobite century.
• Representing a relatively modern phase of scholarship, books included here were published between 1971 and 2019.
• If a source has not been included in this list, this does not mean it is neither excellent nor worth your time.
• Readers are welcome to chime in with other choices in the comments as long as they are respectful and constructive.
• Keep in mind that this is only the first of a series of ‘essentials’ relating to Jacobite studies!
• A comprehensive (and growing) bibliography of historical Jacobite sources can be found in the JDB1745 Zotero Library.
David Tyrie’s letter to John Gordon of Glenbucket, 17 September 1745
I hope yew will not question my love and affection to ye good cause. Och for 20 years less age, and a little health, nothing should hinder me from assisting ye cause. Butt since I’m ane invalide and cannot doe good, I shall indeaver to advise all young men to Joyn.
There were a number of different reasons why someone might join the Jacobite army in the late summer of 1745, just as things were starting to heat up after the arrival of Bonnie Prince Charlie in the Western Isles of Scotland. Specific motivations to pick up arms or to help others to do so were as disparate and multi-layered as the individuals involved in the conflict, as were their levels of sustained commitment as the campaign progressed.
Some fought for the ancient claim of the Stuart monarchs, and some stood in opposition to the parliamentary union that bound together England and Scotland into a single kingdom. Many resented being forced to accept the authority of the presbyteries over the traditional Divine Right of kings, especially when it came bundled with oaths of fealty to a sovereign from Lower Saxony. Others reckoned that they would be better off without the influence of a comparatively liberal representative government, an establishment which to them symbolized the decay of traditional values – especially in certain long-established and autonomous regions of ‘North Britain’.