Tag: finances

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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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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