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 explains the origins of the risings.
The word ‘Jacobite’ stems from Jacobus, the Latin version of James. The Jacobites were a group in the late 17th and 18th centuries, who believed that the Catholic James VII of Scotland (James II of England) and his Stuart descendants should be restored to the throne of Scotland and England. The political importance of the Jacobite movement extended from 1688 until at least the 1750s.
The internal strife
The mid seventeenth century had seen the British Isles engulfed in a series of internal conflicts called the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. Religion was a significant factor with both Scottish and English factions’ strong resistance towards Catholicism. The wars ended with Oliver Cromwell taking charge, but Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660. When he died without a legitimate heir, he was followed by his Catholic brother James II.
The king’s initial promises to defend the existing government in church and state reassured many of those worried by his personal faith. James was well off financially, with significant tax revenue. The manipulation of borough charters in the last years of Charles II’s reign ensured that James’ first parliament was dominated by loyal Tories. Initial support for the king ebbed away as it became clear that he wished to secure not only freedom of worship for Catholics, but also the removal of the Test Acts so that Catholics could occupy public office. James also started to establish some laws and regulations that were lenient towards Catholicism. The test case of Godden vs. Hales (1686) established James’ right to suspend the provisions of the Test Acts, thereby allowing the king to appoint a number of Catholic peers to his Privy Council. In April 1687, James issued a declaration of indulgence that suspended penal laws against Catholics and granted toleration to some Protestant dissenters.
These measures were met with immense opposition. The Protestants began questioning James’ legitimacy to hold the Crown and feared a Catholic takeover.
Rebellion and revolution
Two factors moved James II’s opponents to urge William, the Prince of Orange (the Stadtholder in the Dutch Republic), to intervene militarily. Firstly, after years of trying, James’ Catholic second wife finally became pregnant. The birth of a healthy male heir, James Edward Stuart (the Old Pretender), on 10 June 1688, dashed hopes that the Crown would soon pass to James’ protestant daughter Mary. Secondly, William’s co-conspirators believed that the parliament James planned to summon in the autumn would repeal the Test Acts.
Faced with a potential enduring Catholic dynasty, in 1688 many senior English magnates invited William of Orange to invade and overthrow the Catholic King. William landed with his army on November 5, 1688 at Brixham, southwest England which started a popular uprising against the king. The widely unpopular James was then deposed by the Protestant-leaning parliament in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and forced into exile. William and his wife Mary (the Protestant daughter of James II) jointly assumed the throne and put Britain back into Protestant rule.
Whilst Protestant England embraced the new monarchy, the reaction in Scotland was mixed. Although Scotland supported King William, amongst both Protestant and Catholic circles there was reluctance to displace the Stuart dynasty which had ruled Scotland for over 300 years.
The Jacobites and their rebellions
John Graham, the Viscount of Dundee, was a strong supporter of James II. In 1689 he defied Parliament, marched out of Edinburgh with his followers, and began gathering Jacobites to rebel against the Protestant Crown. From mid-April 1689 until the summer, Graham was gathering clansmen. By summer James was in Ireland, promising reinforcements to John Graham; but all that arrived was a troop of three hundred poorly armed and badly disciplined Irish men. Graham felt that if his Highlanders were to be kept together at all, a blow must be struck. He found his opportunity at the pass of Killiecrankie on July 27, 1689. The Highlanders burst upon the regular soldiers with one irresistible charge and scattered them in a total rout; but a bullet killed the Viscount as he was dashing forward at the head of the small troop of the Jacobite cavalry. The victory itself was complete, but the Viscount’s fall made it entirely useless. At the Battle of Dunkeld in August 1689, the Jacobites were defeated by government forces and the military danger in Scotland was effectively at an end. Even if Graham hadn’t been slain, he couldn’t have done anything more than maintaining a state of alarm and unrest, unless he had received stronger reinforcements.
In 1696 the revival of Jacobite hopes was signaled by an assassination plot. The French, who were at war with Britain, suddenly saw an advantage to be gained from an alliance with the Jacobites. They would land the new Jacobite heir, James III 'The Old Pretender', in his ancestral kingdom and start a rebellion. For the French it was an excellent opportunity to invade Protestant England and as for the Jacobites, they could put Britain back under Stuart rule and defeat all opposition. A legitimate Jacobite design was formed for an invasion of England by French troops. The young Duke of Berwick, an illegitimate son of James, was sent over secretly to agree measures with the English Jacobites. The plot fell through because the French required an English Jacobite rising as a preliminary step to the actual invasion. However, it then emerges that there was an unauthorized plan for the assassination of King William when hunting at Richmond. This was the plan of one of the Jacobite agents, Sir George Barclay. Some of the conspirators were arrested while William carefully abstained from pushing inquiries. Only those who were palpably connected with the plan of assassination were punished; the mere fact that many suspected persons were allowed to go free caused them to be viewed with suspicion by their fellow conspirators. After the detection of the plot, neither a rising nor an invasion was possible.
It is evident that ever since the removal of King James in the Glorious Revolution, there were various devious plots and plans devised by the former King and his supporters in order to restore Catholicism back to the British thrown. However, those plans, and battles became tiring and it seemed as if the supporters of Protestantism were on the winning side.
The Jacobite recognition
On William of Orange’s death in 1702, Anne succeeded him. The passing of the Acts of Union by both the English and Scottish Parliaments led to the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain on May 1, 1707. The Parliament of the United Kingdom met for the first time in October 1707.
Tensions were high in places following the 1707 Union, which was not fully supported across the country. To make matters worse, George I became King of Britain in 1714. He was a German from Hanover who could not speak English and managed to alienate many people, hence making some people more willing to try to return a Stuart to the throne.
The Earl of Mar had initially been an enthusiastic supporter of George I, but after being publicly snubbed by the new King, Mar decided to back a different horse. In March of 1715 James III ‘the Old Pretender’ petitioned the Pope for money and military aid for a Jacobite uprising to capitalize on this tension. The plan was for two Jacobite uprisings to happen in England. Once the British Army had rushed north to deal with a diversionary uprising, the main uprising in the south of England would start. However, matters soon got complicated. In August, the Earl of Mar returned to his estate in Scotland after failing to convince King George that he was not a Jacobite sympathizer. There he held a council of war with leading Jacobites apparently unaware of James’ plans. On September 6, Mar and other local Jacobites raised the standard at Braemar and caught everyone by surprise. The timing of Mars’ rising was fatal to James’ plans. It pulled parts of the British Army north before the planned diversionary rising. Mars’ Jacobites took Inverness, attempted to take Edinburgh and then headed south to catch up with English Jacobites in northern England. All the action had led to the Jacobites in southwest England being arrested by the government which effectively halted the plans for a main rising in the south.
The Jacobite cause was down but certainly wasn’t eliminated. By 1715, Jacobite actions were steadily becoming stronger, but it would be many decades until they reached their peak.
Part 2 is available here and part 3 here.
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