History Scotland

Spotlight: Jacobites

Personal stories of the rank and file combatants who fought at Culloden 275 years ago


If you had been able to walk the lines at Culloden around noon on 16 April 1746, about an hour before the Jacobite cannons opened up, with enough time to ask a few questions about why the rebel soldiers were ranked up there on that frigid and rainy day, you might have got a number of different answers. It could be somewhat difficult to understand some of the responses, as representa­tives of numerous countries and localities were present on the field, including many native Gaelic-speakers from the rural Highlands and Islands.

Murdoch Shaw, standing at the centre of the Jacobite frontline, would tell you that he was brought to Culloden by his master, Alexander Macgillivr­ay of Dunmaglass, who served as a leader of Clan Chattan in the ‘45. On the left flank of the Jacobite vanguard, Donald Bain Grant huddles with men from the different clans serving in Macdonell of Glengarry’s regiment. He might describe to you how he was taken forcefully from his home in Corrimony by desperate Jacobite recruiters just the day before, and that he was quickly rushed to Inverness in anticipati­on of the coming engagement.

The highland army?

Amongst the clans, hereditary authority largely dictated support for the Stuart dynasty, but this was most often germane to the specific fortunes and well-beings of the clan chiefs themselves. It was part and parcel of the clan system to come out for one’s chief or landlord during times of war, regardless of the reasons for it. Many went willingly; some did not. Thousands of highlander­s joined the army of Charles Edward Stuart in the early months of the rising, but it became more difficult both to enlist and to retain Jacobite soldiers as the campaign wore on, necessitat­ing harsher measures and even bribes by recruiting officers. Coll Macdonell of Barrisdale’s enlistment drive in Sutherland was supplement­ed by copious amounts of whisky, which he foisted upon the local populace as enticement for joining the prince’s army.

For those who joined their superiors, their contracts of military servitude were seen in similar terms as those of contractua­l farming, set for a general period of time usually based upon the harvest cycle.The great swathes of desertion within the Jacobite ranks during the autumn harvest and spring plantings bear out the fact that community subsistenc­e and the local economy were the ultimate priorities for many clansmen-in-arms.

Other Gaels were there at

Drumossie Moor to preserve their local communitie­s and the very system of clanship itself, which were commonly seen as far more immediate motives than broader patriotic or dynastic causes. Some chiefs were tradition-bound to restore the Stuarts to the throne of the three kingdoms, and the lineage of Jacobitism ran deeply within particular clans. But practical matters were almost always a more vital determinan­t of Jacobite support within clanship, and over one-third of the principal Highland clans abstained from rising at all in 174546, while many that did ‘come out’ for the Jacobites were divided.

A significan­t number of those present would have been from the north-east of Scotland, and not associated with any particular clan. James Gordon, who lived in Banffshire, would admit to you that he was uninterest­ed in the ideologies of Jacobitism, but that he had great regard for men of local stature who were passionate­ly dedicated to their politics.

An Aberdeensh­ire minister recorded in 1746 that ‘almost all the common people’ in the north-east were inclined toward Jacobitism due to the financial restrictio­ns imposed upon farming and brewing by the malt tax in 1725, as well as the legal constraint­s placed upon non-juring Episcopal congregati­ons prevalent in places like Banffshire, Aberdeensh­ire and Angus. Indeed, the north-eastern counties provided more than half of all martial and civilian Jacobite support during the ‘45.

The lowlands were also well represente­d. Haddington resident Joseph Forbes, the nephew of an Episcopali­an minister, would tell you that he was heavily influenced by his uncle’s wishes. Glasgow veteran of the 1715 rising, James Stirling, had been too infirm to again join the Jacobite army. Instead he had travelled to Edinburgh, where he had presented his two sons directly to the Bonnie Prince for use in Lord Elcho’s troop. And now, at his insistence, they stood upon the moor in their father’s place. Glasgow might have been mostly loyal to the government, but the Stirlings clearly held to a familial tradition of Jacobite support.

Ideologies and practicali­ties

Just as Cumberland’s rearguard troops arrive from their camp at Balblair, some of Thomas Drummond of Logiealmon­d’s men whisper to you that they have no choice but to stand here, ankle-deep in muddy water. Their own landlord’s factors had ordered every third tenant to ‘use Arms in Support of the Present Rebellion’. Their beasts of subsistenc­e had been driven to the next town, where the officers waited to gather the prospectiv­e soldiers. Those who arrived late were made to pay a shilling for each horse and sixpence for every head of cattle that was ‘borrowed’. And here they now were, perhaps without personal stake in the Jacobite fight, but fighting nonetheles­s.

William Govan of Drumquhass­le flatly disliked the present government, calling them ‘scoundrels’, and the Lancaster shoemaker Jeffrey Battersby states with vigour that ‘no Hanoverian had any right to the Crown of England’. Perthshire gardener William Greenhill is heard declaring that King George was ‘an usurper and Adulterer’, but dynastic loyalty had slowed from being the vital talking point in popular circles well before the ‘45, however still common it was for pro-Stuart exclamatio­ns to be heard amidst protesting crowds.

On the field, eighteen-year-old Andrew Johnstone shrugs and says that he had already enlisted in the Scots Greys for service to the government, but his father ‘with Threats and Menaces obliged him to quit’ and instead join up with the Jacobites. Robert Randall, an outof-work government excise officer from Edinburgh, tells you that he hadn’t held a job in three years, and the sixpence per day he sometimes got for his service to the rebels was just enough to keep him from starving. Samuel Weaver, the servant of a linen-draper from Worcester, was left ill in Nairn by his master, whereupon he was robbed by some of the Jacobite soldiers there. Also reduced to starving, he describes to you pitifully how he then ‘crawled to Inverness and agreed to serve the Rebells for necessary Subsistenc­e’.

Soldiers from the piecemeal Franco-Irish regiments and Royal Ecossais formed no less than seven per cent of the total Jacobite army, and were arguably the only wholly profession­al units present at Culloden, sent on loan from King Louis to help distract Britain from its Continenta­l focus in the War of the Austrian Succession. Many had volunteere­d to journey to Scotland ostensibly to support the Jacobite cause, but they, too, had a number of different reasons for actually crossing the Channel. Traditiona­l Jacobite ideologies, then, were represente­d on the field along with the practical realities of civil strife both domestic and foreign.

And so we have the words of numerous ‘regular folk’ hailing from disparate areas who were now facing down the British army at Culloden. They all had their own motivation­s for being there, and this illustrate­s the deep complexity of the Jacobite movement and the different inspiratio­ns carried under its shared aegis. At its end in mid-April 1746, the Jacobite army at Culloden, much depleted from its zenith only three months earlier at Falkirk, consisted of less than 6,000 people from Scotland, Ireland, England, France and elsewhere. Its ranks were made up of both elites and plebeians together in the same regiments; they were all Jacobites, but rather than being united under a clear, singular cause, most were there in the name of the causes most relevant to them personally and communally. Just as we walk the field today with complicate­d feelings, politics, and dreams, so, too, did the common soldiers who fought and died at Culloden.

Darren Scott Layne received his PhD from the University of St Andrews and is creator and curator of the Jacobite Database of 1745, a wide-ranging prosopogra­phical study of people who were involved in the last rising. His historical interests are focused on the protean nature of popular Jacobitism and how the movement was expressed through its plebeian adherents. He is a passionate advocate of the digital humanities, data cogency, and accessible, open research for all.

Complete footnotes with full citations can be found accompanyi­ng the unabridged online version of this essay on the History Scotland website: http:// scot.sh/tales

 ??  ?? It was part and parcel of the clan system to come out for one’s chief or landlord during times of war, regardless of the reasons for it
It was part and parcel of the clan system to come out for one’s chief or landlord during times of war, regardless of the reasons for it

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