The Early Jacobite Invasions of England



James II died a broken man in 1701, convinced his God had deserted him. His successor was his only legitimate son, James Francis Edward Stuart, whose birth in 1688 had been the pretext for the Glorious Revolution which had deposed his father. His supporters proclaimed him James III of England and Ireland and James VIII of Scotland. Louis XIV and Pope Clement XI formally recognised the Catholic monarch. The Pope offered James the Palazzo Muti in Rome as his residence and a life annuity of 8,000 Roman scudi. Such aid enabled him to organise a Roman Jacobite court.

The outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1701 renewed French support for the Jacobites. In 1708 James Stuart, the Old Pretender, sailed from Dunkirk with 6,000 French troops in nearly 30 ships of the French navy. His intended landing in the Firth of Forth was thwarted by the Royal Navy under Admiral Byng. The British pursued the French fleet, forcing them to retreat round the north of Scotland, losing ships and most of their men in shipwrecks on the way back to Dunkirk.

Following the arrival from Hanover of King George I in 1714, Tory Jacobites in England conspired to organise armed rebellions against the new Hanoverian government. They were indecisive and frightened by government arrests of their leaders.

The Treaty of Utrecht ended hostilities between France and Britain. From France, as part of widespread Jacobite plotting, James Stuart had been corresponding with the Earl of Mar. In the summer of 1715 James called on Mar to raise the Clans. Mar, nicknamed Bobbin’ John, rushed from London to Braemar. He summoned clan leaders to ‘a grand hunting-match’ on 27 August 1715. Early the following month he proclaimed James as ‘their lawful sovereign’ and raised the old Scottish standard. Mar’s proclamation brought in an alliance of clans and northern Lowlanders, who quickly overran many parts of the Highlands.

Mar’s Jacobites captured Perth on 14 September without opposition and his army grew to around 8,000 men. A force of fewer than 2,000 under the Duke of Argyll held the Stirling plain for the government and Mar indecisively kept his forces in Perth, waiting for the Earl of Seaforth to arrive with a body of northern clans. Seaforth was delayed by attacks from other clans loyal to the government. Planned risings in Wales, Devon and Cornwall were nipped in the bud with the arrest of local ringleaders.

A rising in the north of England early in October was more successful and grew to about 300 horsemen under the Northumberland squire Thomas Forster. They joined forces with a rising in the south of Scotland under Viscount Kenmure. Mar sent a Jacobite force under Brigadier William Mackintosh to join them. They left Perth on 10 October and were ferried across the Firth of Forth from Burntisland to East Lothian. They attacked Edinburgh, which was undefended, but having seized Leith citadel they were pushed back by the arrival of Argyll’s forces. Mackintosh’s force of about 2,000 then made their way south and met their allies at Kelso in the Scottish borders on 22 October. They wasted precious days arguing over strategy. The Scots wanted to fight government forces in the vicinity or attack Dumfries and Glasgow, but the English were determined to march towards Liverpool, claiming that there were 20,000 Jacobite recruits in Lancashire eager to fight.

The Highlanders resisted marching into England and there were some mutinies and defections, but the combined army pressed on with the second option. Instead of the expected welcome the Jacobites were met by hostile militia armed with pitchforks, and very few recruits. They were unopposed in Lancaster and found about 1,500 recruits as they reached Preston on 9 November, bringing their force to around 4,000. General Charles Wills was ordered to halt their advance and left Manchester on 11 November with six regiments, arriving on the 12th. The Jacobite leader Thomas Forster had intended to move on that day, but learning of Wills’ approach decided to stay and foolishly withdrew troops from a strong defensive position at Ribble bridge, half a mile outside Preston.

The Jacobites barricaded the principal streets and Wills ordered an immediate attack, which met with fire from the barricades and houses. The government attack was repulsed with heavy losses. Wills ordered the torching of houses in the hope that the fires would spread along to the Jacobite positions. The Jacobites retaliated with similar tactics, creating a minor inferno as night fell. Snipers on both sides took advantage of the light cast by the flames. In the battle, 17 Jacobites were killed and 25 wounded. Government casualties, killed and wounded, approached 300. But the Jacobites were in an impossible position and by the morning of Sunday the 12th many Jacobites had quietly left their positions.

More government forces arrived and Wills belatedly stationed troops to prevent the remaining Jacobites from escaping. Although the Highlanders wanted to fight on, Forster agreed to open negotiations with Wills for capitulation on favourable terms. He did not tell the Highlanders and when they learnt of it they were enraged and paraded the streets threatening any Jacobites who might even allude to surrender, killing or wounding several who disagreed. Another night cooled heads, however, and they grudgingly lined up with Forster’s men to lay down their arms in unconditional surrender. In all, 1,468 Jacobites were taken prisoner, 463 of them English. The Earl of Seton, the Viscount of Kenmure, the Earl of Nithsdale and the Earl of Derwentwater were among those captured and sentenced to death. Many of their clansmen were transported to America. The battle of Preston is often claimed to have been the last fought on English soil, but in fact there were further skirmishes over the next two centuries.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, at the Battle of Sheriffmuir on 13 November, Mar’s forces were unable to defeat a smaller force led by the Duke of Argyll. Mar retreated to Perth while the government army built up. Belatedly, on 22 December 1715 a ship from France brought the Old Pretender to Peterhead, but he was too consumed by melancholy and fits of fever to inspire his followers. He briefly set up court at Scone, visited his troops in Perth and ordered the burning of villages to hinder the advance of the Duke of Argyll through deep snow. The Highlanders were cheered by the prospect of battle, but James’s counsellors decided to abandon the endeavour and ordered a retreat to the coast, giving the excuse of seeking a stronger position. James boarded a ship at Montrose and fled back to France on 4 February 1716, leaving a message telling his Highland supporters to shift for themselves. What had briefly turned into an embryonic civil war across the north of Britain ended in ignominy and regal betrayal.

In the aftermath of the ‘Fifteen’, the Disarming Act and the Clan Act aimed to subdue the Highlands. Government garrisons were built or extended in the Great Glen at Fort William, Kiliwhimin and Fort George, Inverness, as well as barracks at Ruthven, Bernera and Inversnaid, linked to the south by roads constructed for Major-General George Wade. The government also attempted to ‘win hearts and minds’ by allowing the bulk of the defeated rebels to slip away back to their homes and committing the first £20,000 of revenue from forfeited estates to the establishment of Presbyterian-run, Scots-speaking schools in the Highlands. That was not generosity, rather part of a process aimed at eradicating the Gaelic language.

With France at peace with Britain, the Jacobites found a new ally in Spain’s Minister to the King, Cardinal Guilio Alberoni. His plan was first to land 300 Spanish marines to join up with rebellious clansmen under George Keith, the Earl Marischal and divert English forces while the main fleet of 27 ships and 7,000 men under James Butler, the exiled Duke of Ormonde, would disembark in south-west England or Wales, where Jacobites were believed to be abundant. The resulting alliance would march east to besiege London, depose George I and enthrone James Stuart.

Three weeks after leaving Cadiz, Ormonde’s fleet ran into a storm near Cape Finistere that dispersed and damaged most of the ships. Ormonde was forced to withdraw to several Spanish havens. By then, Keith had already left the Spanish port of Pasala and occupied the Isle of Lewis, including Stornoway where he set camp. On 13 April 1719, Keith’s Spaniards disembarked near Lochalsh, although the Highlanders did not join the ‘Little Rising’ in the expected numbers, mistrusting the whole enterprise and with bitter memories of Preston still fresh. Keith established his headquarters in the castle of Eilean Donan. They were joined by a few hundred Highlanders. Some days later, the main body of the troop went south to stir up the Highlanders, leaving a small garrison of less than 50 men at the castle. The Jacobite forces were to be led by the Earl of Seaforth. Their plan of action was to capture Inverness.

The government deployed sea power. At the beginning of May, the Royal Navy sent five ships to the area for reconnaissance: two patrolling off Skye and three around Lochalsh, adjacent to Loch Duich. Early in the morning on Sunday 10 May, the latter three, HMS Worcester, HMS Llamborough and HMS Enterprise, anchored off Eilean Donan. A boat went ashore under a flag of truce to negotiate, but when the Spanish soldiers in the castle fired at it, all three warships bombarded the castle for an hour. Only a fresh gale prevented utter destruction. The next morning, acting on intelligence from a Spanish deserter, Captain Boyle of the Worcester sent the Enterprise up the river to capture a house being used to store gunpowder but the rebels on the shore set it on fire as the ship approached. The other two ships resumed the bombardment while a landing party was prepared. In the evening, under the cover of an intense cannonade, the ships’ boats went ashore and captured the castle against little resistance. Inside they found ‘an Irishman, a captain, a Spanish lieutenant, a sergeant, one Scots rebel and 39 Spanish soldiers, 343 barrels of powder and 52 barrels of musquet shot’. The government troops burnt corn stored in several barns, demolished the castle with 27 barrels of gunpowder over the next two days and sent the Spanish prisoners to Edinburgh.

After a month of aimless wandering the main body of Spaniards realised that Ormonde would never come. Despite that, they attracted some more clansmen and prepared for one last battle with a force of barely 1,000 men. On 5 June, government forces composed of both English and Scottish soldiers under General Joseph Wightman came from Inverness to block their march. They consisted of 850 infantry, 120 dragoons and 4 mortar batteries. They confronted the Jacobites and Spaniards at Glen Shiel, just a few miles from Loch Duich, on 10 June. The Galician regiment occupied the top and the front of a hill, while the Jacobite Scots manned barricades on the sides. The great natural strength of the Jacobite position was increased by hasty barricades across the road and on the north side of the hill.

The Battle of Glen Shiel began before 0600. The left wing of the government army advanced against Lord George Murray’s position on the south side of the river after the Jacobite line was softened up by mortar fire. Resistance was initially stubborn, but Murray’s men were unsupported and forced to retreat. Wightman ordered his right wing to attack the Jacobite left commanded by Lord Seaforth, which was sheltered by rocky outcrops. It proved a hot fight and Seaforth was reinforced. But before a second body under Robert Roy MacGregor could reach him, a government surge took the position. Wightman concentrated his troops on the flanks, while the mortars battered the Spanish positions. The Spanish regulars stood firm until their Scottish allies deserted them. They retreated uphill and finally surrendered that evening, three hours after the first shots. The Jacobites who escaped were low on provisions and most of their ammunition was spent. Spirits fell, the rising was abandoned and the lucky ones got home.

Three of the Jacobite commanders, Lord George Murray, William Mackenzie, the Earl of Seaforth, and Robert Roy MacGregor, were badly wounded. John Cameron of Lochiel, however, after hiding for a time in the Highlands, made his way back into exile in France. George Keith, chief of Clan Keith and the last Earl Marischal, fled into exile in Prussia. In spite of a later pardon, Keith never returned to Britain and became the Prussian ambassador to France and later, to Spain. The 274 Spanish prisoners were reunited with their comrades in Edinburgh and by October, negotiations allowed their return to Spain.

In 1725 General Wade raised the independent companies of the Black Watch as a militia to keep peace in the unruly Highlands, but in 1743 they were moved to fight the French in Flanders. Their commander at the Battle of Fontein in May 1745 was the Duke of Cumberland, soon to earn the epithet ‘Butcher’.

The War of the Austrian Succession drew Britain and France into unofficial hostilities. Leading English Jacobites made a formal request to France for armed intervention and the French king’s Master of Horse secretly toured southern England meeting Tories and discussing their proposals. In November 1743 Louis XV authorised a large-scale invasion of southern England scheduled for February 1744. It was to be a surprise attack: troops were to march from their winter quarters to hidden invasion barges which were to take them and Charles Stewart to Maldon in Essex, where they were to be joined by local Tories in an immediate march on London. The Young Pretender was in exile in Rome with his father and rushed to France. As late as mid-February, the British were still unaware of the invasion plans. But on 24 February one of the worst storms of the century scattered the French fleet, sinking one ship and putting five out of action and wrecking many barges as they embarked 10,000 troops. Some of the latter were sunk with all hands lost. The invasion was cancelled.


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