Category: Vignettes

State of Distress

Donald Campbell of Airds’ scheme for ‘civilizing’ the Cameron lands, 3 October 1746

Much of the enduring memory and emotion of the final, failed Jacobite challenge blooms from the British government’s retributive and bloody response in the aftermath of Culloden. In what Allan Macinnes calls the ‘exemplary civilizing’ of remote areas of Scotland, a calculated campaign of violent suppression was waged upon recalcitrant communities whether or not they were directly involved in active rebellion.1 Whether tantamount to genocide, as some scholars have argued, the cantonment schemes established in Culloden’s wake and the retaliatory expeditions against communities singled out by government intelligence networks undeniably had a disastrous effect upon ‘Scottish Highland’ culture, though these depredations were not by any means meted out only in the Highlands.

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A Game of Dress-Up

Alexander Robertson’s report of impressment on the Airlie Estate, 9 December 1746.

In early December 1746, well after the active threat of the last Jacobite rising had waned, the British government was still collecting intelligence regarding known rebels who had not yet been apprehended. The report of Alexander Robertson of Straloch from that month, presumably sent to the Duke of Newcastle, is especially interesting for two specific reasons. First, it explicitly calls out the forceful tactics of impressment used against unwilling tenants on David Ogilvy, 6th Lord Arlie’s estate. Second, within it Straloch proposes an elaborate plan to trick lurking Jacobites into revealing themselves – a plan that is both impressively calculated and devious.1

Known informally as Baron Reid, Alexander Robertson of Straloch was a gentleman from the Strathardle area of Perthshire whose family had long been aligned with the house of Argyll and the Hanoverian government. He was a vassal of James Murray, the loyalist Duke of Atholl, and he spent much of the rising assisting the government by providing intelligence reports and offering counsel regarding methods to suppress the rebels.2 Straloch was evidently quite well connected during the Forty-five, corresponding directly with Newcastle – the secretary of George II – and Duncan Forbes of Culloden, the Lord President of the Court of Session. To these officials he sent a series of bulletins between 1745 and 1747 leveraged from the network of Presbyterian ministers in Perthshire and the north-east who received and conveyed useful intelligence about Jacobite movements.3 Straloch was effective enough as an informant to warrant a mandate for capture from Atholl’s brother William, the Marquess of Tullibardine and titular Jacobite Duke of Atholl.4

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The Cost of Battle

Account of Sick and Injured Confined in Stirling Castle, 3 February 1746

Though it is easy to get lost in the romantic historical record of a conflict like the Jacobite risings, occasionally a document comes to light that viscerally describes the dreadful effects of civil war from a time long past. Jail returns like this one, which registers some of the sick and wounded who were confined in Stirling Castle during the spring of 1746, tell us a number of things about the cost of battle in eighteenth-century Britain – both literally and figuratively. This particular return from the National Library of Scotland lists the names and conditions of twenty-six men held at the castle and treated by the doctor there, and some of the language used to describe the wounds of these men truly brings the past alive in a horrific manner.1

Not all of these prisoners were Jacobite soldiers. Only six on the list are specifically noted as ‘rebels’, though three others are recorded as having been in league with Lord John Drummond’s troops in French service, who came to Scotland in the winter of 1745 to fight in the Jacobite army. A further three individuals are simply described as ‘Highland men’, but the implication is that they were also in prison for treasonable acts. At least two of the men appear to be deserters from British army regiments, and the other dozen are not identified by their crimes. Nonetheless, the grisly conditions recorded about many of these prisoners tell of their adversity.

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Gimme Shelter

CampbellNote

General Humphrey Bland to Captain James Campbell, 24 August 1746

As Sheilings are only Sheds made in the hills to Herds, for herding Cattle in the Summer time, and not habitable in the Winter; consequently they are of no Importance; therefor it is required they may be destroyed and thrown down by the owners, so as they be no shelter to the Rebels; and that the owners may not plead Ignorance thereafter, and what ever houses have been burnt and destroyed are not to be rebuilt, without a Sign’d Order from the General or Commander in Chief. 1

Within the extensive annals of the Montrose Muniments at the NRS are three bundles of extremely interesting letters and lists that collectively provide a visceral, microcosmic snapshot of the last Jacobite rising in Scotland. After seeking permission directly from the standing duke of Montrose, for the past seven years I’ve been taken with transcribing the contents for inclusion within the database. During that time, the content has also provided some poignant content for my doctoral thesis, numerous lectures, and a forthcoming journal article.

Much of what is contained within these bundles highlights the uncomfortable predicament in which the then 2nd duke found himself: trying to maintain and defend the lives and homes of his contracted tenants – whether Jacobite or not – while upholding his duties and loyalties to the Georgian government of Britain, even through its heavy-handed tactics of rebel-purging after Culloden. In addition to some extremely tense back-and-forth correspondence between Montrose’s estate of Buchanan and the British military authorities based in Fort Augustus, the collection also contains lists of suspected rebels, declarations both for and against accused persons, and records of depredations carried out by King George’s troops throughout Montrose’s lands in the summer of 1746.

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Something Rotten?

MitchellNote

Hugh Blair to Colin Mitchell, Edinburgh, Tuesday, 26 September 1745

One of the benefits of working with a prosopographical database for historical research is being able to find commonalities in large amounts of data hitherto disconnected and, therefore, often unnoticed. A most intriguing example of this within my studies is the discovery that about one-half of the active goldsmiths, or ‘hammermen’, in Edinburgh during and just after the Jacobite Rising of 1745-6 gave evidence against the other half, citing rebellious activities to the government authorities. That the extent of this strange web of blame occurs nowhere else and within no other occupation with such frequency is striking, and while there is no direct evidence yet uncovered that marks this as anything other than a curious coincidence, one gets the feeling that there might be something more to the story.

                                               I beg the
favour you will come to my house this
day att half an hour after two precisely
about a piece of Necessary business. I am
                                                  Dr Sir
                                              Yours
                                                   Hugh Blair 1

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Soothing the Savage

BrodenNote

Treasury Board Papers, Evidence Against Rebels in Newgate Prison, Likely Spring/Summer 1746

According to the testimony of Joseph Bruoden, a musician in Manchester at the time of the Jacobite army’s arrival there in late November of 1745, he was bullied into joining the rebels at gunpoint. This was not an infrequent claim from those captured by the government during and after the final rising. When faced with the charge of high treason in the London courts and its consequential punishment by death, it only makes sense that terrified prisoners would swear they were compelled by force to pick up arms against the Hanoverian king. It was, in essence, a Hail Mary in favour of their very survival.

So many had claimed impressment, in fact, that most scholars strongly marginalize the significance of its presence, holding to the traditional maxim that such claims were not only the norm and therefore are patently untrue, but that they exacerbate the perceived severity of the Jacobite army’s recruitment tactics. After extensive collation and analysis of both impressment claims and cases during the rising, my own findings contradict this marginalization, instead suggesting that the last Jacobite effort was effectually decentralized and hardly popular, and the need for armed supporters was so great that coercion – by fire and sword, through financial or emotional manipulation, or simply at gunpoint – was markedly rampant during the affair.1

He was with some Players at Manchester when the Rebells
came there and he was sent to by some of the Princes (Privt?) Rebells & asked
if the Company could play Gustavus Vasa and the Witness saying no &
going away from ‘em when Colo Grant who knew the Witness at
Dunkirk asked him to go with him and said his Compa was all
Frenchmen and he wod be an Interpreter to them but the Witness
refusing Collo Grant threatened to Shoot him if he did not go with him
and took him under a Guard of Highlanders to Derby and back to Carlisle…2

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Never Going Back

ReadNote

Treasury Board Papers, Account of State Prisoners at Marshalsea, 12 July 1746

Amongst the thousands of Jacobite prisoners taken during the Forty-five, a body which reflects the diversity of the movement both internationally and pan-culturally, a significant portion of these were regular or professional soldiers in the service of other countries. In the middle of the eighteenth century, the nation that made the largest non-British contribution to the Jacobite army, as would be expected, was France. Though it was already fighting a frustrating war on the Continent against its old enemy Great Britain, maintaining a good relationship with the Scots on the northern border of the ‘Atlantic Archipelago’ made sound strategic sense and was seemingly worth the questionable support and, at least, lip-service to the Stuart cause.

In addition to harboring elements of the exiled Stuart Court since the Revolution, Louis XIV and Louis XV were de facto enablers of the Jacobite cause, maintaining l’Auld Alliance not only to suit their own needs. France was in on Jacobite designs since at least 1701 (a year which featured the double-catastrophe of the War of Spanish Succession and the death of James II and VII), and it lent a significant force of soldiers and materiel to aid the attempted Jacobite invasions of Britain in 1708, 1715, and 1744-6. The only French troops that ever really saw significant fighting on British soil in the eighteenth century, however, were those companies and regiments – mostly made up of men from Scotland and Ireland – in service to the two Louies.

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