Old Pretender and the "15"

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The Old Pretender & the "15"

The Act of Union was meant to settle differences between Scotland and England - but the ink was hardly dry on the treaty before the old tensions and bitterness started to resurface.

Scots immediately suspected that the union between the two countries was more of a takeover than a merger, and that they were ending up as the losers.

Their anger at the way they were treated by the new British government helped to once again fan the flames of Jacobitism and led to a remarkable attempt to snatch the British throne which could very easily have succeeded.

The Treaty of Union was breached almost as soon as it had been signed. One of its most important provisions was the payment of an Equivalent - a cash sum of nearly £400,000 to be paid to Scotland for taking its share of England's £14 million national debt.

However, the money was paid three months late and caused huge antagonism on both sides of the border. The English were furious that Scots were getting their gold, while the Scots were convinced that the wily English weren't going to give them the money at all.

Other moves, too, served to reinforce the suspicion between the two newly merged countries. In 1708 - again, against the spirit of the treaty - the Scottish Privy Council was abolished, and a year later the harsh English Treason Act came into effect north of the border.

The tensions were also evident at the new British parliament at Westminster. Scottish MPs were often ignored and mocked because of their accents by the vastly superior army of English MPs, many of whom had no experience of their new partner country to the north and regarded their own culture as vastly superior. Unsurprisingly, the Scots politicians quickly became fed up.

As the problems continued to grow, so the strains on the new relationship mounted. The use of English liturgy in Scots Episcopalian services, the quashing of measures to boost the Scottish linen industry and the decision to apply an English malt tax to the Scots all caused anger in Scotland. For a time, the new union seemed to be in very real danger of collapse.

Across the water in France, the exiled Stewarts saw their chance. The ousted James VII and II died in 1701 and his successor to the throne, William of Orange, was killed in an accident the following year. William's sister-in-law Anne became Queen, while James' son, also James, became the new Stewart pretender.

If the new Stewart heir, who would have been James VIII and III, had been well organised, he could have seized his chance when William died as - despite the fact James was only 14 - his claim to be the legitimate monarch might have been accepted. But he did not move quickly enough, and the chance was lost.

An attempt by the French to put James back on the throne by invading Scotland was launched in 1708, but he suffered badly on the sea voyage and caught measles and - despite his pleas to be landed - the French naval forces were chased away.

James was to wait six years - until the death of Queen Anne - for his next chance. With the throne set to pass to the House of Hanover and with a German King, George I, who couldn't even speak English, plenty of support for the exiled Stewart cause could be found.

In August 1715, the rebel 6th Earl of Mar drew up secretly plans for an uprising in favour of James. The following month, the standard of King James VIII was raised at Mar's castle in Braemar and an army began to march south.

The rebellion struck a national mood in England as well as Scotland. Within days, Mar's 10,000 strong force had seized Perth and he decided to base his headquarters there. Another force was raised in Northumberland by an English MP, Thomas Forster, who was a Jacobite sympathiser. Yet another rising had taken place in the south of Scotland.

Mar's problem was one of communication. Despite having perhaps double the number of men of the Duke of Argyll, who controlled government troops in Scotland, Mar did not know that other Jacobite risings were breaking out. He ignored the advice of his own soldiers and refused to move on.

The delay provided Argyll with a chance to assess his strategy. It also meant the rebels failed to unite. Instead of coming north, Forster's troops marched south into Lancashire, where they hoped to win more support but ended up being defeated at Preston. Another force was ordered to attack Argyll from the south but wasted time trying to take a fiercely resistant Edinburgh.

Mar knew that he had to move against Argyll or run the risk of losing everything. He still had massively superior numbers to the government forces, but was badly hampered by his own inability to come to sound military judgment and by the fact that the Jacobite leaders disliked each other almost as much as they hated the Hanoverians.

The clash finally came at Sheriffmuir, not far outside Perth, on 13 November 1715. It was a messy, indecisive battle which neither side won. But Argyll had faced a force four times bigger than his own, and had not decisively lost. That, in effect, meant it was a huge psychological victory for him, and a defeat for the Jacobites.

The following month, the Pretender, James VIII and III, finally arrived in Scotland, landing at Peterhead after his long awaited journey from France. He had come too late. If he had been even a matter of weeks earlier he might have provided the leadership and morale necessary to beat the poorly resourced government forces, but they now had the initiative.

James' troops, already depressed by their failure to beat Argyll, were further demoralised by the news that 6000 crack troops were on their way from Holland to reinforce the government army.

Only six weeks after he arrived, James, who had never got any further than Perth, decided to cut and run. He left for France from Montrose with the leaders of his army, including the Earl of Mar, never to see Scotland again.

The whole affair had been a disaster. If Mar had been more decisive, and if James had arrived in Scotland earlier, then the rebellion might well have succeeded, as many people in both Scotland and England had no real love for George or the Hanoverians and there was still plenty of disenchantment with the Act of Union.

With the rebellion over, the government moved quickly to stop further problems. The ringleaders who had not fled the country were taken to London and imprisoned, although some escaped and at the end of the day only two, the Earl of Derwentwater and Viscount Kenmure, were executed.

Others who were involved in the campaign were taken to Carlisle. A large number were sentenced to death, though most were pardoned the following year. The British government had decided by then that most of its sanctions against the rebellious Scots were to be economic, rather than judicial. The estates of those who were involved in the uprising were confiscated and sold.

The collapse of the campaign did not quell Jacobite anger: if anything, it was only fuelled by it. In 1719 another rebellion, this time with the help of Spain, was organised, and two fleets sailed for Scotland.

Only one made it - the first was driven back by storms - and the campaign was immediately hampered by the fact that its two leaders, the Earl Marischal of Scotland George Keith and the commander of the forces lord Tullibardine, hated each other so much that they would not even pitch camp together.

Once again, the rebellion was a disaster, though this time it never had even the faintest hope of success. In a battle at Glenshiel, the government forces pounded James's troops, and the uprising quickly collapsed.

At last, the government was waking up to the very real threat Jacobitism was causing. It was determined to quell the movement once and for all. It banned Highlanders from carrying arms, and started to make plans to fortify the Highlands, the natural stronghold of the Jacobites, and show that the Hanoverian government meant business.

All these moves did, however, was to reinforce English arrogance over the Scots and start a chain of events which led to the biggest Jacobite rising of all the legendary '45.


Meanwhile...

  • 1708 The first Russian prisoners are sent to Siberia
  • 1715 Vaudeville musical comedies begin in France
  • 1716 John Law founds the joint-stock bank of Paris which later becomes the Royal Bank of France

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