The Duke of Argyll.
Known disparagingly as Bobbin Jock
Sir John Erskine, 23rd Earl of Mar
(1672 – May 1732)
The Jacobite standard was raised by the Earl of Mar on 6 September 1715 at Braemar. The dignity of the ceremony itself was upset when the gilt ball on top of the standard fell to the ground, an event considered to be an ill omen by the watching Highlanders. Mar made a speech, regretting his own part in pushing through the Act of Union in 1707 and now admitting it to be a mistake.
At Westminster, the Parliament passed an Act for Encouraging Loyalty, often known, quite mistakenly, as the Clan Act. This required all `suspected . . . persons, whose estates or principal residences are in Scotland, to appear at Edinburgh, or where it shall be judged expedient, to find bail for their good behaviour’. Twenty-one peers and forty-one gentry were summoned but, of these, only two surrendered themselves, whereupon they were promptly arrested. This action hardly encouraged loyalty to the Hanoverian regime, forcing those remaining at liberty into the Jacobite camp, including the eighty-year-old John Campbell of Glenorchy, Earl of Breadalbane. He persuaded a doctor and a minister to sign a medical certificate, claiming that he was too ill to travel to Edinburgh, as he suffered from an alarming array of illnesses, such as `coughs, rheums, gravels, stitches, defluxions and disease of the kidneys’. Nevertheless, he managed to join Mar at Perth on 20 September 1715. Others made similar excuses or simply ignored the summons.
By now, the government in London was seriously alarmed. It had already ordered three regiments of infantry from Ireland which had arrived in Edinburgh on 24 August. Meanwhile, Major-General Joseph Wightman, as the commander-in-chief in Scotland, had ordered all the regular troops in Scotland to Stirling, where they had begun to muster towards the end of August, amounting to barely 1,000 men. Then John Campbell, second Duke of Argyll, was ordered north to replace Wightman as commander-in- chief of the government forces in Scotland. Argyll wrote back to London, assessing the deteriorating situation thus: `If the enemy think fit to act with the vigour that men of commonsense would, in their circumstances, the handful of [Hanoverian] troops now in Scotland may be beat out of the country.’ Indeed, Mar was now ready to march south from Braemar and his forces would soon capture Perth.
On the night of 14 September, Argyll reached Edinburgh where a botched attempt to seize the castle for James Edward Stuart had failed a few days previously. He inspected its defences and then spent the next week calling up all the forces he could muster. But, by the end of his first week in Scotland, he still had only 1,600 men, mostly ill-trained and poorly equipped. Against them was a Jacobite army apparently consisting of several thousand of men. By 21 September, Argyll thought the situation so dangerous that he wrote south to say that he was surprised that:
his Majesty’s Ministers still persist to think this matter a jest, and that we are in a condition to put a stop to it. Give me leave to say, Sir, that if all of us who have the honour to serve his Majesty here are not either knaves or cowards, we ought to be believed when we tell you that this country is in the extremest danger.
Three days later, he wrote again, begging for yet more troops: `I must end with insisting on considerable reinforcements, for without it, or a miracle, not only this country will be utterly destroyed but the rest of his Majesty’s dominions put in the extremest danger.’ Only sheer incompetence on Mar’s part seemed likely now to stop the Jacobite cause from triumphing in Scotland.
Highlanders retreating from Perth 1715.
In mid-September, Mar had marched south from Braemar, passing through the Spittal of Glenshee before reaching the village of Kirkmichael in Strathardle, where he halted for a day or two. At this point, he probably commanded only a few hundred men under John Farquharson of Inverey, together with a party of Gordons under the young Earl of Aboyne. However, numbers were growing quickly. At Kirkmichael, they were reinforced by 300 cavalry under the joint command of the Earl of Linlithgow and Lord Drummond, together with 500 foot soldiers from Atholl (mostly Murrays, Stewarts and Robertsons). They were commanded by William Murray, Marquis of Tullibardine, whose father, the Duke of Atholl, remained loyal to the government, while his two younger brothers Charles and George Murray and his uncle Lord Nairne, sup- ported the Jacobites. Whether this actually reflected a real division in loyalties or simply a family arrangement intended to preserve the Atholl estates whatever happened is a matter for debate. Many other families were similarly divided with their younger sons joining Mar’s army, while the eldest son and heir remained at home, giving his nominal support to the government.
Meanwhile, the city magistrates in Perth were sufficiently alarmed by the proximity of Mar’s forces at Kirkmichael, only thirty-five miles north, to appeal for help to the Duke of Atholl who sent 200 men to defend the city. They also turned to the Earl of Rothes, Sheriff and Lord Lieutenant of Fife, who started to raise a local militia. However, Colonel John Hay of Cromlix now seized the initiative for the Jacobites. While recruiting in Fife, he was approached by Jacobite sympathisers from Perth, who offered to deliver the city to him. On 14 September 1715, Hay entered the city from the north with around 200 horsemen, after crossing the River Tay. The Athollmen promptly switched sides and the local militia from Fife, hearing of the city’s capture, `threw down their arms and ran’. On 22 September, the Jacobite forces in the city were strengthened by a party of Robertsons under their chief, Alexander Robertson of Struan. The scale of the Jacobite uprising under Mar now became apparent as James Edward Stuart was proclaimed king throughout the north-east of Scotland at places as far apart as Inverness, Forres, Gordon Castle, Aberdeen, Brechin, Montrose, Dundee, Perth and Dunkeld. Mar finally entered Perth itself on 28 September 1715, after a leisurely journey from Kirkmichael by way of Moulinearn and Logierait. He had apparently spent much of the intervening time writing a `barrage of letters, declarations and manifestoes to all and sundry’.