The Jacobite Risings were a stormy period from the late 17th century to the first half of the 18th century in Britain. They involved many plots and battles between those who wanted Britain to remain ruled by Protestants and those who wanted the Stuart Catholics to return to the British throne. Here, Jamil Bakhtawar follows from his introduction (here) and explains the risings of 1715.

 George I with his family. Painting by James Thornhill.

George I with his family. Painting by James Thornhill.

Across the Channel in France, James II’s son and heir apparent, James III (the Old Pretender) was not pleased to hear about King George I of Hanover’s ascension. The Old Pretender was certainly not alone in his discontent; many Scottish Highlanders, English Catholics, and noble families devoted to the Stuart cause were unhappy to see a foreigner ruling over Great Britain.

The premature death of Queen Anne in her late forties (on August 1, 1714) disappointed the vague hopes of James III. The English Tories feared moving for a Roman Catholic claimant, and preferred to assume that a Hanoverian dynasty would immediately collapse. James III countered George I's accession with no more effective measure than a proclamation; on August 29, 1714, he asserted his hereditary right.

 

Prelude

When George I began his reign by unceremoniously setting his face against the Tories and dismissing the Earl of Mar, he supplied the Jacobites with a leader. This was not a backward rural people rising for archaic notions of loyalty to the king over the water; rather, there was strong support for the Jacobite cause in the trading burghs of north-east Scotland, as well as in the Highlands. Historian Bruce Lenman characterized the backbone of the risings as 'Patriotic Scots and Disgruntled Britons'. The Union was, thus, in impending danger.

In September 1715 the Jacobite leader, Earl of Mar, raised the Stuart standard at Braemar Castle. Just eight days later, he captured Perth and gathered an army of over 10,000 men, drawn mostly from the Episcopalians of north-east Scotland and from the Highlands.

 

The Battle of Sheriffmuir

Jacobite sentiment and hatred of the Union had been the real forces behind Scotland’s support for James III. The Earl of Mar raised James III’s standard in the north of Scotland, where he met with a group of Highland chiefs on the pretext of a great hunt. The government was, however, reluctant to start a revolt. Prompt and vigorous action on Mar's part might have given him an advantage and made the insurrection exceedingly formidable. But ‘Bobbing John’, as he was nicknamed, was incapable of promptitude or vigor. While he sat still and did little, the Duke of Argyll, a soldier and statesman of considerable distinction, was dispatched to Scotland to suppress the insurrection. On November 13, 1715 the armies of Argyll and Mar met and fought at Sheriffmuir. The battle was characteristic in its futility.

Both the left wings broke and ran; some ran without any reason, and on the whole the Jacobites ran most effectively. To have called the fight a victory for either party would have been absurd; some five or six hundred appear to have fallen on either side. But the practical result was that when the running was over, Mar retreated and Argyll did not. The advancing of the insurgents had stopped, and all the heart that had been in the rebellion was taken out. When Mar had raised the standard of James in the North, the English Jacobites ought to have risen simultaneously.

 

The Battle of Preston

Insurrection in the Scottish Highlands was a much simpler matter than in England, where there were no solid Jacobite districts and the government troops could move with comparative ease. The news of the Scottish rising was immediately followed by the arrest of half-a-dozen English Jacobites. In the north of England, however, several Jacobite squires collected together under the leadership of the Earl of Derwentwater and Sir Thomas Forster, who was a General. Over the border, Lord Kenmure, along with Lords Nithsdale, Carnwath and Wintoun declared for James III, were joined by Brigadier MacIntosh with a few Highlanders from Mar's force.

These two companies united at Kelso. But the Englishmen would not march north to help Mar against Argyll, and the Highlanders would not march south to strike at the small government force commanded by General Carpenter. While they tried to make up their minds on a plan, government troops were assembling. The English insurgents were determined to invade Lancashire, while the Highlanders had returned home. The rest, some fifteen hundred strong, marched through Cumberland southwards collecting miscellaneous recruits along the way until they got to Preston in November 1715 where they were attacked by Carpenter and Wills. If led intelligently, they should have been able to rout the government troops, but after having repulsed an attack their commanders were bluffed into surrendering. 

Thus, the rising in England collapsed. In Scotland, it dragged on a little longer. James himself arrived on the scene with the idea that his presence would give heart to his followers. But the former king suffered from an inveterate melancholy which would have dampened the enthusiasm. Argyll was in no hurry to strike home, but the Jacobites had lost the power of striking at all. Their forces diminished day by day, James in despair withdrew from the country, and the once threatening Jacobite conflagration guttered dolefully out.

 

Aftermath of the Risings

The risings of1715 were like no other Jacobite rising since Killiecrankie: they had not started from abroad. It was also the only occasion when a sizeable rebellion also broke out in England - in heavily Catholic and financially broke Lancashire.

Most of the Jacobite leaders fled to France and some were retained. Of the prisoners taken at Preston, some who had been army officers were shot, some were condemned to be beheaded and several of the leading commoners were hanged. Some succeeded in breaking prison and only Kenmure, Derwentwater, and twenty-six commoners were actually put to death.

In not a few families, one or two sons had been allowed to join the risings to demonstrate the family's loyalty to the Stuarts, while the head of the house had remained at home to demonstrate its loyalty to the Hanoverian Succession. The nation at large sat still in scarcely disturbed apathy. The supreme question of the day was settled by two or three thousand regular troops, a mob of fox-hunters, a few broken adventurers, and some Highland clansmen, most of whom cared more about clan feuds than the genuine issues that were at stake. A few forfeitures, the construction of some military roads in the Highlands, and an ineffective measure of disarmament were the principal outcome of the Fifteen.

The uprisings of 1715 are widely considered to be the Jacobite uprisings that should have worked. They had a large amount of support, across both Scotland and England, but failed largely because of poor management and organization. The uprising, seen in this light, was the climax of a struggle for Scotland’s national and political identity.  Both sides had their part to play. In the Hanoverian corner, never forgetting the pounding they had taken between 1660 and the Glorious Revolution, these new defenders of George I were revealed as increasingly urgent, coherent and aggressive, unprepared for a counter-insurgency that would impose their own settlement on the Scottish nation. Nevertheless, the matter remained unsettled after a lengthy stalemate, and the Jacobites soon began advancing towards more rebellions and battles. To them the dye had been cast after the ascension of George I; now the plan had to be to overthrow George I.

 

If you missed it, part 1 in the series is here and you can read on to part 3 here.

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