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.
From most accounts of the treatment of prisoners-of-war in foreign service (in contrast to British subjects accused of treason), the chances of getting back home relatively unscathed were quite good. So good, in fact, that a considerable number of prisoners attempted to claim French provenance without substantiation, only to be tried and convicted in the normal manner that traitors are. Officials of both nations took great care to investigate each case, having it in their interests to uncover the details of their respective subjects’ situations. This dance of metadiplomacy between the Duke of Newcastle and France’s secretary Carpentier must have been a tense one, as their lists did not always match up.
Instead of the usual methods of punishing captured rebels – i.e. transportation, banishment, recruitment, execution, etc. – most soldiers in foreign service were eventually ‘liberated’ or, at the very least, exchanged for their captured British counterparts, financial restitution, or both. After a sometimes lengthy parole within civilian communities (captivity zones), most French, Irish (in French Service), and Spanish prisoners who were professional soldiers were simply returned home to ultimately resume their duties. Even Scottish nationals in foreign service were sometimes given conditional pardons for exchange, as long as they were not also previously deserters from the British army. Under government policy, ‘natural-born subjects’ of George II were allowed to choose to stay in Great Britain, providing they were not Catholic; after waging war upon their homeland and drawing the ire of the authorities, however, it is understandable that not many did so.
John Read at Arne near Port Glasgow prayed to may never be sent again to France being forced into that Service to save himself from a Lingring death for want of victuals
Private Man taken in the Soliel Privateer and Committed 25th Janry 1745 1
John Reid’s case, as detailed in the above document, is exceptional. Not only did he claim that he was pressed into service by a foreign country, but that he was so fearful of starvation in the employment of France that he would rather stay and face the consequences than be sent back to his rank. Reid was likely a Scotsman, so those consequences probably involved transportation to the New World colonies, where plainly waiting for him was absorption at best and servitude or death at worst. He was not the only one who asked to not be sent back to France, but the institution of his original employment in the French military, usually a voluntary affair, must have been uncomfortable enough to stir him to such a state. More research obviously needs to be done on the quality of life of mid-eighteenth-century British subjects in foreign service, and especially that of recruitment conditions while either at home or abroad.
Darren S. Layne received his PhD from the University of St Andrews and is creator and curator of the Jacobite Database of 1745, a wide-ranging prosopographical study of people concerned in the last rising. His historical interests are focused on the mutable nature of popular Jacobitism and how the movement was expressed through its plebeian adherents. He is a passionate advocate of the digital humanities, data and metadata organization, and Open Access.