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19 September 2014
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Jacobites and the Union

James VIIIThe Union of 1707 between Scotland and England was highly unpopular with the vast majority of the population in Scotland. Several articles of the Act of Union agreement were economically favourable to landowners in Scotland, but failed to deliver any economic advantages to the majority of the population for over thirty years. Discontent was widespread and food riots occurred in the east coast burghs as the effects of famine were compounded by union taxes. Although the situation induced resistance to union-economics, it didn’t translate as universal support for the Jacobite cause of keeping the Stuarts on the throne in London. Many in Scotland now associated the Stuarts with Catholicism and suppression of the Protestant Kirk. The Union was designed to put an end to Jacobite hopes of a Stuart restoration by ensuring the German Hanoverian dynasty succeeded Queen Anne upon her death. However, the Stuarts did still command a lot of loyalty in Scotland, France and England - the British Union did inevitably re-ignite the Jacobite cause.

In 1708 the Jacobite claimant to the throne, the putative James VIII, and his French allies had attempted land in Scotland to incite a rising, but were foiled by adverse weather and outmanoeuvred by the Royal Navy. Six years later a motion in the House of Lords to dismantle the Union only just failed by four votes. Then, in the same year, Queen Anne died and was succeeded by George I of Hanover. The controversial question of succession intensified and the following year many nobles and Tories, disaffected with their lot within the union, rose in favour of a Stuart monarchy.

The 1715 Jacobite Rising

The ’15 rising was led by John Erskine, Earl of Mar - a man who had voted for the Union originally and had been Secretary of State until 1714. He drew most of his support from north of the River Tay, in the north-east and Highlands of Scotland - areas where landowners had not benefited much from the Union and where Episcopalianism (which viewed the Stuarts as head of their church) was dominant.

However, the Earl of Mar proved to be no great military leader. He fought a badly commanded battle at Sherriffmuir, where the Jacobites outnumbered the Hanoverian forces under the Duke of Argyll by two to one, but failed to win a decisive victory. Not even the arrival and coronation of James Stuart as King James VIII could reverse Jacobite fortunes. Eventually the rising fizzled out when 6000 Dutch troops landed in support of the Hanoverian government and the forces of King James scattered under the pressure of bad leadership and lack of foreign aid.

Fortress Scotland: The Military Solution

General Wade's Bridge over the TayThe ‘15 led to the dismissal of the Duke of Argyll, the Government’s commander north of the border, after he complained that he had lost control of Scotland north of the River Forth and trusted few south of it. Argyll along with many other Scots viewed Jacobitism as a political problem which could be resolved through political means by persuading the Jacobite nobles of the benefits of a regime in London. The Government in London saw things differently, viewing Jacobitism as a military problem which required a military solution.
Like Cromwell before them, they opted to garrison the Highlands, building barracks like Ruthven to quash further rebellion and constructing a system of roads and bridges, under the command of General Wade, in order to supply the new system of forts and allow the rapid deployment of troops. Wade oversaw the construction of over 250 miles of road and numerous bridges which are in use to this day. It was a hugely expensive operation which was scaled down by the early 1740’s when the Jacobite threat appeared to have receded, but it showed how seriously the House of Hanover took the Jacobite threat.

The 1745 Jacobite Rising
The final threat to the Union came with the 1745 Jacobite Rising when Charles Edward Stuart, or Bonnie Prince Charlie as he was known, disappointed at French unwillingness to invade in 1744, decided to finance his own rising. Initially it was a startling success, once again drawing most of its support from the north-east and the Highland clans. The Jacobite army rapidly broke out of the Highlands, capturing Edinburgh, courtesy of Wade’s roads, and advancing as far south as Derby in England. However, with no sign of French support, the army retreated back to their stronghold in the Highlands and was finally defeated at Culloden Moor near Inverness in 1746.

After the ‘45
Bonnie Prince CharlieIn the aftermath of the ’45 uprising the government decided to end the Jacobite military threat once and for all. Determined to bring the Highlands to heel, the army showed little mercy. Jacobites were rounded up, imprisoned or executed. Estates were forfeited, the clan system dismantled and weaponry, plaid and pipes were outlawed. For Highland culture it was a disaster.

However, it was not an unmitigated disaster for the whole of Scotland. For the Lowland Presbyterians the defeat of the Jacobites was a cause for celebration. The Union and the Presbyterian system of church government were safe. In the south economic progress was increasingly viewed as the way forward, and if that future wasn’t to be Scottish then it was to be through the British Union and access to the trade routes of its empire. The failure of the ’45 rising was nothing less than the passing of a way of life which is now romanticised and celebrated all over the world as the spirit of Scottish culture, yet what few people recognise today is that there were many people living in Scotland at the time who, for religious or economic reasons, wanted this passing.

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