Royal rebel on a ram­page

En­joys a witty and pyscho­log­i­cally acute ac­count of Bon­nie Prince Char­lie’s up­ris­ing

Country Life Every Week - - Books -

THe story of Charles Stuart’s whirl­wind plunge for the thrones of his an­ces­tors is one of the great mythic dra­mas of Bri­tish his­tory. Read­ing Jacque­line Rid­ing’s witty re-cre­ation of that hec­tic odyssey, our own con­cerns—about the Union, Bri­tain’s re­la­tion­ship with europe, ter­ror­ism threats—are fas­ci­nat­ingly re­fracted through her im­pec­ca­bly re­searched yet vig­or­ously paced book. Ja­co­bites deals with the tense, 14-month pe­riod between Charles’s de­ci­sion to in­vade Bri­tain and his furtive es­cape to France af­ter Cul­lo­den.

To uni­ver­sal as­ton­ish­ment, the Ja­co­bites had all Scot­land within their reach just weeks af­ter Charles landed. They could have re­mained in ed­in­burgh to con­sol­i­date their gains and pre­pare to in­vade eng­land, but this would have bro­ken the Union, as Charles re­con­vened a Stuart Court and ed­in­burgh­based Scot­tish govern­ment.

Many of the Ja­co­bite elite, the tra­di­tional Scot­tish rul­ing classes, wanted pre­cisely that, in part be­cause of the ‘frankly un­in­ter­ested, Lon­don-cen­tric’ West­min­ster po­lit­i­cal elite’s ‘at­ti­tude to­wards ed­in­burgh and Scot­land’—il­lus­trated, as the author points out, by the ne­glected state of Holy­rood­house, abbey and its en­vi­rons.

Dr Rid­ing also places the re­bel­lion in the con­text of Bri­tain in europe. As she says, men like Pitt the elder fiercely ‘op­posed sub­si­dies sent to as­sist Hanover dur­ing the War of the Aus­trian Suc­ces­sion’. Sus­pi­cions about their Ger­man king’s in­volve­ment of Bri­tain in Con­ti­nen­tal europe in­spired many a Ja­co­bite toast through­out the UK. From Ver­sailles, Louis XV sup­ported the Stu­arts only in as far as it aligned with France’s aims. This was al­ways the prom­ise and limit of Bour­bon sup­port for their Stuart cousins.

Then there is the ques­tion of the Ja­co­bites be­ing ‘a mere par­cel of des­per­a­does’, as one english cler­gy­man loftily dis­missed them. We labour un­der no il­lu­sion now as to what ‘a mere’ guer­rilla, or in­spired ter­ror­ist group, might achieve. Bri­tish mil­i­tary lead­ers lamented the ex­haust­ing, en­er­vat­ing months play­ing catch up to a nim­ble, un­pre­dictable, in­sur­rec­tionary force. This fine new his­tory of the ’45 re­bel­lion shows us how all these is­sues played out.

Dr Rid­ing has mined the archives to re­trieve lost voices and her panoramic vi­sion lets us hear the evo­lu­tion of a na­tional dis­course—from dis­dain, to un­cer­tainty, to pan­icked fan­ta­sy­ing about can­ni­bal High­landers, to con­fi­dence, in the words of peo­ple like us. We hear them in con­cert with the big state­ments on tac­tics and strate­gic goals com­ing from the main ac­tors in the tragedy— men such as Lord George Mur­ray, the Duke of Cum­ber­land and Prince Charles him­self.

About the Bon­nie Prince, she is psy­cho­log­i­cally acute. His youth­ful con­vic­tion and charm car­ried more ex­pe­ri­enced, cir­cum­spect heads on a tri­umphant charge from the western High­lands to Derby.

The author hints that a greater, more solid char­ac­ter might have fought his way back from the catas­tro­phe on Dru­mossie Moor to force at least mercy, if not ter­ri­to­rial con­ces­sion, from the Bri­tish govern­ment. Charles was not that man and he con­demned his fol­low­ers to ‘paci­fi­ca­tion’ of the most vi­o­lent, thor­ough-go­ing kind, from which most never re­cov­ered.

The end of the road: the Bat­tle of Cul­lo­den sig­ni­fied the end of the Ja­co­bite ris­ing of 1745

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