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.
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. 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. 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.
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.
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…
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.