The Jacobite Rebellion

The Jacobite Rebellions are often portrayed today as yet another example of poor little Scotland being pushed around by the dastardly English. This modern vision is completely misguided; in fact these were British civil wars with both Scots and English on each side. It is also untrue to suppose that most of Scotland supported the attempts by the Stewarts to regain power - most of Scotland, including virtually the entire population of the south-west, were bitterly opposed to any return to Catholic rule. London newspapers at the time did not usually refer to the Jacobites as being Scottish; they simply called them 'The Rebels'.

The attempts by the old Stewart Monarchy to impose Episcopalism upon the people of Scotland were still fresh in people's memories. The brutal persecution of people's religious freedom and the 'Killing Time', as it became known, that defined the Covenanting period left the people of Lowland Scotland appalled at the very suggestion of the Stewarts regaining the throne. 

There were of course exceptions. The union between Scotland and England had always been deeply unpopular throughout Scotland and some thought that by lending support to the Jacobite cause they could engineer a platform from which they could advocate separation. A few Jacobite swords still exist carrying the inscription 'For Scotland and no Union'. These were undoubtedly carried by men from the Lowlands as most Highland inscriptions were in Gaelic. It is doubtful that any Stewart ruler would have been any more sympathetic to this cause than a Hanoverian one. Also, a few gentlemen from influential Catholic families from both Scotland and England, who had seen their status reduced under the Hanoverian Government, saw it as an opportunity to re-establish prominent positions within the community. 

Others were adventurers, who saw it merely as a means of financial gain. One such man was the 4th Earl of Kilmarnock who was a Presbyterian. The Earl had fallen on lean times and took the political gamble of joining the rebellion led by Charles Edward Stewart in 1745 as a way of restoring his family's fortunes. His attempt to raise troops in his home town of Kilmarnock is a good indicator of the feelings towards the rebellion in south-west Scotland. Thirty years earlier his father, the 3rd Earl, was one of the main commanders on the Government side against the earlier Jacobite uprising of 1715. Tasked with raising troops he mustered over 500 men, including 220 infantry and 120 horses in Kilmarnock - second only to Paisley in number. When his son attempted to do the same in 1745, this time for the Jacobite cause, he didn't even raise an eyebrow let alone any troops. He then tried to recruit from his lands near Falkirk where he only managed the support of his youngest son (his elder two sons already had commissions with the Government forces, one in the Dragoons, the other in the Navy), his two gardeners, his wig maker, his coal-hewer, one fourteen-year-old drummer boy and a couple of his own tenants who owed him rent. Another good indicator of people's anxiousness about the Jacobite advance was the reaction of the town of Dumfries upon learning that the rebels were heading their way. Rather than welcome the rebels the residents, fuelled by Government propaganda and some accurate accounts of Jacobite pillaging, fortified their town and armed themselves with pikes, bills and muskets ready to fight. 

The Jacobite defeat and the brutal pacification of the Highlands caused tremendous hardships and divisions in the north of Scotland. In contrast, the Lowlands experienced their first real period of stability for decades. New farming methods were implemented, education became more widespread and new industry boomed. The area became the most literate in Europe and the deconstruction of the Highland clan system and its traditions meant an influx of ready labour as dispossessed Highlanders migrated south. So where did the modern view of the Jacobite Rebellion spring from? 

It probably began quite soon after the events. The newly enlightened Lowlanders must have heard many stories about the atrocities carried out in the north by the Government troops and about the plight of many highland families. Ordinary people then saw wealthy landowners getting fat off the back of the clearances that followed. Entire communities in the Highlands were turned off their land and forced into emigrating abroad to make way for more 'profitable' sheep. Robert Burns, writing soon after the rebellion, expressed admiration for the rebels. He also took the side of the French Revolutionaries and the Americans in their War of Independence. He saw the French Revolution as a class struggle and a victory for many of the ideals he himself adhered to. In the American War, he saw parallels between it and the Scottish Wars of Independence for which he often expressed romantic notions. His support for the Jacobites is harder to explain, he may have been simply having a go at the policies of the Government of his day - as many people still do - and he never showed any love for the Hanoverian Monarchs who he referred to as "an idiot race to honour lost". He also held some degree of contempt for some of the stricter elements within the Presbyterian Church within southwest Scotland which they had helped establish. 

Sir Walter Scott's portrayals of the Highlands in his nineteenth century novels such as 'Rob-Roy', have a lot to do with the romantic take on eighteenth century Scotland now widely held. His gripping adventure stories full of swashbuckling, kilted heroes defying the odds proved so popular that they came to represent how people viewed the Scots as a nation. Queen Victoria's 'love of all things Scottish' also contributed to this false impression as images of her surrounded by tartan-swathed servants circulated the world. This 're-invention' of Scotland became so complete that it is now the image of themselves and their heritage that many Scots, both Highland and Lowland, share. 

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