Stories From English History: III - Alfred J. Church

The '15

The word "Jacobites" means "friends or followers of James." Many people thought that the Stuart family ought not to have been driven from the throne. They believed that a king had the right to reign whatever he might do, or whatever he might be. These were the real Jacobites. Then there were many who were ready to help them because for various reasons it suited them to do so. There were the Roman Catholics, for instance, who wanted to have a king of their own way of thinking. There were, again, the Scotch Highlanders, who did not like being under the rule of any but their own chiefs, and hoped, besides, to get something for themselves by a war, the country which they were going to invade being much richer than their own. And there were some people who, being very badly off, hoped to get some profit out of a change of Government. Some even of the great nobles who had had much to do with driving the Stuarts out of the kingdom, began to consider whether it would not be well to have them back again. They did not get as much as they wanted, or thought they ought to have, from the new King. Perhaps if they brought back the old one, he might give them more.

In the year 1700 Parliament passed what was called the "Act of Settlement." On July 30 the young Duke of Gloucester died, and there was then no one to come after Queen Anne. Accordingly it was settled by this Act that if, as seemed likely, the Queen should leave no children, the throne should go to the family of Sophia, wife of the Elector of Hanover. This lady was the daughter of Elizabeth, who, again, was the daughter of King James I. There were other persons who had a better right to succeed—the Duchess of Savoy, for instance, who was a grand-daughter of Charles I.; but the choice was a good one, one great reason being that the family were Protestants. But during the latter years of Queen Anne's reign, the Jacobites were very busy trying to set this arrangement aside. The Queen disliked the Hanover family very much, and would have been pleased that her brother should succeed her, anyhow if he would consent to become a Protestant. If she had lived longer, the Jacobites might have succeeded, but she died rather suddenly, and the Elector of Hanover, son of the Electress Sophia, was proclaimed King, with the title of George I., without any opposition.

Still, there were many people in the country who did not like the idea of having a German king, one, too, who could not speak a word of English, and the Jacobites were not willing to let the opportunity pass without trying to bring about a change.

The Queen had died on August 1, 1714. Some of the friends of the Stuarts were for proclaiming the Chevalier St. George as James III., but no one had the courage to do so, and for a time it seemed as if nothing would be done. But on August 2, 1715, the Earl of Mar, who the day before had congratulated King George on the anniversary of his succession, left London to raise an insurrection in the Highlands. A few friends went with him. They were disguised as sailors, and pretended to be part of the crew of a small collier. In about a fortnight's time he reached his house in Aberdeenshire, and from there sent out invitations for what was called a great hunting party, but was really a council of war. A number of Highland noblemen and gentlemen attended, and promised to raise all the troops they could collect. On September 6 Lord Mar raised the standard of "King James, Eighth of Scotland and Third of England," at the village of Kirkmichael. No more than sixty men were present, and these were much disturbed to see the gold ball at the top of the standard fall off. But this small band soon increased. Clan after clan joined it, and before the end of the month nearly all the country north of the Tay had risen for King James.

In the south of England, the Jacobites could do nothing at all. The Government put the chief men belonging to the party in prison, and so frightened the others that when the Duke of Ormond, who was to lead the insurrection in that part of the country, came over, he did not find a single person to join him. But in the north, where their party was much stronger, they rose, with a gentleman of Northumberland of the name of Forster for their leader. They were joined before long by a party from the southwest of Scotland, led by Lord Kenmure, and afterwards by two thousand men under a certain Brigadier MacIntosh. MacIntosh had been sent by Lord Mar to seize Edinburgh. This he was not able to do. Accordingly he marched south, crossed the Border into England, and joined his forces with those led by Mr. Forster and Lord Kenmure. It was but a small army, scarcely more than two thousand men in all. It defeated, however, almost without having to strike a blow, a hasty levy of ten thousand men, with which the Bishop of Carlisle and Lord Lonsdale sought to stop their advance. This was at Penrith. The army then advanced into Lancashire, where its numbers were greatly increased. The new-comers, however, were but poorly armed, some of them having neither swords nor muskets, but only pitchforks and scythes.

The end of this expedition was very inglorious indeed. The Jacobites took up their position at Preston, and if they had been under a capable leader, they might have made a long resistance. But Mr. Forster, who was in command, seems to have had no skill in war, and no courage. He did nothing to defend the approaches to Preston, especially the bridge over the Ribble. This was so important that when the English general saw that it was not occupied, he felt quite sure that the Jacobites must have left the town. Even then the place was not easily taken. The English troops—there were not more than a thousand of them—attacked it, but were beaten back. In spite of this success, Forster insisted on treating for surrender. The next day the army laid down their arms. Many had taken the opportunity of escaping, but 1400 prisoners gave themselves up. This took place on November 13.

On the very same day the insurrection in Scotland also came to an end, though this end was not quite so discreditable. The English Government had given the command here to the Duke of Argyll, chief of the powerful clan of the Campbells, and a man of great ability. Lord Mar, on the contrary, was about as poor a general as Mr. Forster. He stopped in Perth doing nothing; whereas, if he had only bestirred himself, he might, it is possible, have gained over the whole of Scotland. At length, on November 10, he marched southward. More men joined him as he went, till he had about ten thousand in all, but they were a very mixed and rough multitude, ill-armed, and with little or no discipline. The Duke of Argyll, on the other hand, had between three and four thousand men, but they were all regular troops. The two armies met on a tract of open country, near Dumblane, known by the name of Sheriffmuir.

The Duke of Argyll was on the right wing of the loyal army. The enemy opposite supposed themselves to be protected by a marsh that lay between the two armies, but the Duke reckoned that the ground would be hardened by the frost that had happened in the night, and sent some of his cavalry across it. He followed with the rest, and charged the Jacobites so fiercely as to break their line. They gave way, and were forced back to the river Allan, which was three miles in their rear; many were drowned in attempting to cross the stream. This part of the Jacobite army was nearly destroyed.

Meanwhile things had been going very differently on the other side of the field. The Highlanders under Lord Mar, enraged by the death of the Chief of Clanronald, who had fallen by the first volley fired from the English ranks, made a furious charge. They thrust aside the soldiers' bayonets with their targets or shields, struck fiercely with their broadswords, and in a few minutes completely routed the English left wing. The English general fled from the field as fast as he could gallop, and did not stop till he found himself in Stirling. If the victorious Highlanders had followed up their success, they might have gained a complete victory. But there were divisions among them. What remained of the centre and left of the English army was able to join the Duke. Even then, as Argyll was leading his troops in view of the rebel army, they might have been scattered by a single charge. But Mar did nothing, and even retreated. The Duke, on the other hand, remained on the field of battle, and had some reason to claim the victory.

But whoever it was that won or lost this battle, there was no more fighting. The Pretender himself, it is true, landed in Scotland on December 22. He bestowed some honours on his followers, named a council, issued some proclamations, and fixed a day for his coronation. But his cause was really hopeless. It had been expected by his followers that he would bring an army with him. But he came almost alone. Louis XIV., who had promised to help him, had died a few months before, and the French Government was not now friendly to him. He had himself expected to find a great number of men ready to follow him, and he saw only a few hundreds. It was clearly useless to do anything more. On February 4 he left Scotland. A few days afterwards, what was left of the army dispersed. The leaders and officers fled from the country—Lord Mar had gone with the Pretender—the soldiers returned to their own homes.

Tower of London


The English Government did not behave with any great severity to its prisoners. The most important of these were the noblemen who had surrendered at Preston. Six of these pleaded guilty. Of the six, three were reprieved; two, the Earls of Derwentwater and Kenmure, were executed, and one, Lord Nithisdale, escaped from the Tower of London, through the courage of his wife. This lady had tried in vain all possible means of obtaining mercy for her husband. On the evening before the day appointed for his execution, she visited his cell, taking two women with her, to bid good-bye, as was supposed, to the condemned man. One of them had upon her a second set of clothes. In these the Earl was dressed; his face and hair were disguised; and he passed out unsuspected by the guard.

Of the other insurgents but few were executed, and among these were certain half-pay officers, who were considered, not without reason, to be specially guilty.