Scottish History Online - Bonnie Prince Charlie - His Jacobites, Scotland

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Author and Historian Simon Hill writes for Scottish History Online about Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobites

Battle of Culloden - Jacobites - Goverment Troops


 Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites  

By: Simon Hill  (SHO) 

Jacobite was the name given to supporters of King James VII of Scotland and II of Britain who fled from the country in 1689 to escape an invading army led by William of Orange (also known as King Billy). There was fear throughout Britain that James would re-instate Catholicism as the national religion so the parliaments invited his daughter Mary and her Protestant husband William to take over the throne. The decisive battle of the Boyne in Ireland saw James completely defeated and he left the British Isles.

His son was born in 1688, James Francis Edward Stuart (the Old Pretender) was to have been James III of Britain. However the flight of his father meant that he grew up in exile. He took part in the aborted invasion of 1708 with French assistance and went on to lead the 1715 uprising which also ended in failure. Although brave and honourable James was largely ineffectual and continually suffered from bad luck earning him the nickname 'Old Mr. Misfortune'. The Old Pretender had two children, Charles and Henry. Charles went on to become known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, while Henry became a Cardinal in the Catholic Church. Both were raised in Rome and protected and supported by the pope, particularly in their later years.

The Old Pretender - Prince James Edward Stuart
Prince James Francis Edward Stuart

'The Old Pretender',

The Stuart's Catholicism prevented many would-be supporters who were Protestant from joining the cause. Although some Protestants did become Jacobites the fear in Britain that the Stuarts would re-introduce Catholicism as the official faith dealt a blow to their restoration efforts. The Jacobite court settled in Rome in 1719 and was protected and partially funded by the pope from then until the death of Henry in 1807. Many countries wanted to support the Jacobite cause and return the Stuarts to the throne so they would be treated favourably by Britain, or because they disliked William of Orange. The Stuarts always looked to France first for aid as it was the strongest Catholic power, it had a long rivalry with England and it was close. Louis XIV of France supported James VII until 1713 when he repudiated the Jacobites and expelled the Old Pretender. Once again in the 1740's the French prepared to invade but were prevented by poor weather and the 1745 rising failed.

Charles fled to France after the defeat but was expelled so the French could make peace with Britain. King Charles XII of Sweden also proposed to help the Jacobite campaign by  providing 10,000 troops, however  negotiations  broke down in  1718  because  the

Swedish king died. Sweden remained on good terms with the Jacobites and even sent a secret regiment for unacknowledged service in Scotland in 1745. Other offers of help from Spain and Russia broke down due to problems in negotiations and the weather prevented the Spanish armada from assisting the 1719 rising.

Many of these negotiations for foreign support were not helped by the manners of Bonnie Prince Charlie. He was a heavy drinker and became angry when things did not go his way. The Prussians withdrew support after Charles had become extremely drunk and insulted them publicly. Jacobites had their own material culture and an underground society. They wore secret symbols to illustrate their allegiance to the Stuarts and often met in Jacobite taverns to sing seditious songs or to drink to the king over the water. Many songs were popular amongst the Jacobites and some have survived through to the modern day, 'The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond' for example. People would wear a white rose to celebrate the Old Pretender's birthday or a white cockade on their hat to show their support of Jacobitism. Jacobites are also often associated with tartan; of course the Highlanders who fought for the Stuarts were mostly clad in their clan tartans.

Also in the 1740's another way of displaying Jacobite sympathies was to wear a tartan waistcoat. A prominent English Jacobite had an entire tartan suit made and it can now be seen on display at the National Museum of Scotland, in Edinburgh. The traditional kilt was banned for a time after the defeat of the Jacobites because of its rebel associations. There were several military campaigns in Britain in support of the Jacobites but all of them were flawed either in planning or execution and sometimes in both. Risings took place in 1715, 1719 and most famously in 1745, not to mention the aborted rising planned in 1708. The earlier risings included Highland and Lowland Scots, English and French but in 1745 the Jacobite force was almost exclusively made up of Highlanders. Prince Charles landed on the small island of Eriskay and gathered the loyal clan Chiefs before advancing on Edinburgh.

The Jacobite army took Edinburgh without much resistance and defeated a government army at  Prestonpans by cleverly sneaking across  a marsh  in the  mist 

Prince Henry Benedict Stuart

Prince Henry Benedict Stuart

later Cardinal York

and surprise attacking them. The Highlanders only wanted to take Scotland, but Prince Charles was greedy for the English throne and convinced the army to push on southwards. He lied and told them that English Jacobites would meet up with the Highlanders further south, in fact the English Jacobites had decided not to join the uprising. They advanced to Carlisle then Manchester, and eventually as far south as Derby. It was here with three armies lining up to fight them that they discovered Charles had been lying and made the long retreat home. A sulky Bonnie Prince Charlie accompanied them home, drinking and moaning all the way.

Prince Charles Edward Stuart
Prince Charles E.Stuart

'Bonny Prince Charlie'

Eventually the weary Highlanders were cornered at Culloden and slaughtered as Charles made his escape.

The Jacobite struggle has been romanticised ever since and helped create the image of the Highlander as the loyal and brave soldier. Much of the romanticisation of the Jacobite uprisings especially in 1745 is unjustified. There are several misconceptions surrounding this area of history. Firstly the Jacobite cause was not about Scotland versus England there were people of each nationality on either side. Secondly Bonnie Prince Charlie, although highly charismatic, was no hero, he could be viewed as a spoilt alcoholic aristocrat who had no problem leading loyal men to their graves for his own personal ambitions. Thirdly Jacobitism did not really stand for a noble cause, it sought to put the Stuarts back on the throne and they stood for the 'divine right of kings' which meant they believed the king was chosen by god and should have absolute authority.

The Stuarts also advocated the Catholic religion (which many Scots were against). Ultimately it seems strange that the Jacobites have been immortalised on shortbread tins as a symbol of Scotland. Whatever the reason, the Jacobite cause has been remembered by Scots, and appropriated as a nationalist symbol. The memorial at Culloden on the anniversary of the battle still attracts huge crowds today.


Prince Charles Edward Stuart, portrait by John Pettie, copyright Royal Collection.  Culloden, by David Morier, copyright Royal Collection.   Prince Henry Benedict Stuart, later Cardinal York, by Blanchet, copyright Royal Collection.   Prince James Francis Edward Stuart, 'The Old Pretender', copyright Blairs College. Author: Simon Hill, Edinburgh for Scottish History Online

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Bonnie Prince Charlie - Jacobites, Scotland