The Jacobite Rebellions

Share This Page

Follow This Site

Follow SocStudies4Kids on Twitter

The Jacobite rebellions were a serious of revolts against the English throne by supporters of the Stuarts in the late 17th Century and on into the 18th Centuries. The risings had varying degrees of success, although none resulted in a change in monarch. The nominal leaders of the rebellions were James Stuart and Charles Stuart, the son and grandson, respectively, of the ousted King James II.

England's King James II

The first rising occurred in 1689. King James II had embraced the Catholic faith in 1669 and was very open about this as he ascended the throne. Tensions over religious beliefs had been high in England for nearly 200 years, after King Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church and declared himself head of the Church of England. James was not at all willing to declare the Church of England the effective sole faith of the realm. He wanted Catholics to have more rights and more of a public ability to worship the way that they wanted to. Parliament did not agree with such measures, and James dissolved Parliament. He then appointed known Catholics to high-ranking posts within the government and the military. He went a step further in 1687 by issuing a Declaration of Indulgence, which granted complete religious toleration.

James's first wife, Anne, who was Mary's mother, died in 1671. James married Mary of Modena, an Italian teenage princess. In June 1688, he and Mary had a son, named James. A group of Protestant nobles had had enough of James and his favoritism toward Catholics, and they saw in the king's son a succession of Catholic monarchs. The solution, as these nobles saw it, was to find another monarch, one who wasn't Catholic. The solution that these monarchs arrived at was to embrace James's daughter Mary (an Anglican from birth) and, more importantly, her husband, the Protestant William of Orange, as the new monarchs.

William of Orange sailing to England

William accepted the invitation, gathered a large force of soldiers, and landed in Torbay, in Devon, England, on Nov. 5, 1688. The Dutch force was rather large: More than 400 ships brought more than 15,000 soldiers. Technically, James was able to lay claim to a force of about 25,000 soldiers. However, he had so alienated the English army by this point that most of those soldiers pledged their allegiance to the "invader," William and effectively refused to defend their king and country. James, at this point, fell ill himself and was in no position to fight. He also discovered that his other daughter, Princess Anne, had throw in her lot with her sister and so had her husband, the Prince of Denmark. On December 11, James fled the realm.

James still thought that he should be king and had several prominent and powerful people, including France's King Louis XIV, who agreed. In an attempt to regain his throne by force, James landed in Ireland and issued a call for sympathizers to join him. The Jacobite force attacked a handful of Protestant strongholds, without success. Louis XIV sent a few thousand French soldiers to fight alongside James, and England's King William III decided to head up his country's army in response.

William and a large armed contingent landed in Belfast and marched toward Dublin. James's army marched from Dublin north and set up a set of defenses along the south bank of the River Boyne, just west of the town of Drogheda. The battle took place on July 11, 1690.

Battle of the Boyne

As things stood, James's force had the upper hand, even though they were outnumbered 36,000–24,000. If the English moved forward, they would have to cross the river while dodging cannon fire and gunfire. William ordered a frontal assault, but only after ordering a diversion. What looked to be a sizable part of the Dutch-English force moved to cross the river at a different point, to the west, a few miles away from the main army. James, wanting to prevent a flanking maneuver, sent a large part of his army to intercept. In reality, William had sent only 7,000 men to the west; the main army remained where it was. William's main army then crossed the river, advancing in the face of attacks from infantry and cavalry, and forced the defending Irish to fall back. Meanwhile, the diversionary force and its Irish counterpart were starting at each other over an impassable ravine; neither army could cross, so no attacks were made and no shorts were fired. James, hearing that the Dutch-English force had successfully crossed the river, ordered a retreat. The rear-guard action protecting that retreat was particularly successful, and the vast majority of the Irish and French troops made it out alive.

Casualties resulting from the Battle of the Boyne were quite low, all told, numbering about 2,000 (including both sides). Nonetheless, the Irish and French retreated from the field of the battle, and so the victory was William's. Even moreso, James fled again to France. The remnants of his army fought on in his name for another year, but James never returned.

Support for James to return to the throne was also strong in the north of England and in Scotland. John Graham, named Viscount Dundee by James II, assembled an armed force of primarily Highlanders that soundly defeated a force of English troops under Gen. Hugh Mackay at the Battle of Killiecrankie, on July 27, 1689. The Jacobite army was quite strong by this time, number 5,000. However, a much smaller force sent at the behest of the king and queen overwhelmed the Highlanders at Dunkeld, on August 21, ending the uprising.

The Old Pretender

The next uprising occurred in 1715. It is often referred to as "The Fifteen" or as Lord Mar's Revolt. By this time, both English monarchs had died and been replaced by a Hanoverian, George I. The figure at the head of the 1715 uprising was James Stuart, son of James II. This James later came to be known as the "Old Pretender."

James had in March appealed to Pope Clement XI to support his claim. He then set about rounding up other supporters. John Erskine, Earl of Mar, without waiting for James, declared himself in charge of the military effort and called a council of war at Braemar on August 27. A small group of 600 supporters grew quickly, gathering force and momentum as the Jacobites seized control of Inverness, Aberdeen, and Perth. Still without James personally onshore, Mar's forces marched on. With their goal taking Stirling Castle, they met an English force under the Duke of Argyll at Sheriffmuir on November 13. Despite superior numbers and positioning, Mar did not press his case toward the end of the battle and instead decided to retreat, to Perth. The twin of that battle was the one at Preston, which lasted three days and resulted in a Jacobite defeat.

Jacobite rebellions map

James chose to land in Scotland in the middle of winter and promptly fell ill. He set up a pretender court at Scone Palace in January 1716. By this time, Mar's force was down to 5,000 and the Hanoverian force was on the ascent. Mar ordered some of the countryside, including a couple of villages, burned in order to prevent the advancing government troops from gaining supplies. Hearing that English troops were on the way, the Old Pretender fled again to France.

No further battles ensued. Government forces rounded up what Jacobites they could find and fined and/or imprisoned them. Many of those imprisoned were sentenced to death. The king and Parliament showed leniency with the Indemnity Act of 1717, pardoning all who took part in the uprising except for Clan Gregor, one of whom was the famous Rob Roy MacGregor.

The Jacobites hadn't given up, and they found a new ally in Spain. A 1719 invasion, occurring during the War of the Quadruple Alliance, fell afoul of the weather, which prevented most ships from landing. The ships that did land sent Spanish soldiers to fight alongside Scottish soldiers, but England still prevailed, at the Battle of Glen Shiel. The target for the combined Scottish-Spanish force was Inverness, which the Hanoverian forces had captured in May. The battle took place on June 10. In one of the few conflicts in which the Jacobites did not employ the Highland Charge, the English manpower and munitions prevailed. The British forces made particular use of mortars that their opponents had not seen before. After a hard of fighting in which several dozen died on both sides, the Scottish force melted into the night and the Spanish force surrendered the following morning.

James had been briefly excited the year before, when Sweden's King Charles XII of Sweden had offered 10,000 troops to put at James's disposal; however, the death of the Swedish king during the final negotiations for that troop disbursement brought a new monarch to the Swedish throne and the ending of yet another Jacobite dream.

One of the things that sustained much of the fighting during the various Jacobite rebellions–and perhaps explains why James and Charles could count so much on support and sympathy from the Highlanders and others in the far north–was that many people in Scotland resented the Act of Union 1707, which wedded England and Scotland together in a way that the ascension of Scotland's King James VI to the throne of England as James I hadn't done. That resentment drove many in Scotland to take up arms against England (which, for much of the two countries' existence, was a proud tradition) or otherwise made it difficult for England to rule. This resentment was perhaps strongest in the 1715 and 1719 Jacobite rebellions, when numbers in the Jacobite armed forces were large, but it was still there in 1745.

From a very young age, James's son, Charles Stuart (known as the "Young Pretender" and "Bonnie Prince Charlie"), had heard stories of his father's attempts to reclaim his birthright. Charles's first real attempt in this regard was at the head of an invasion fleet based in France in 1744. Like so many other invasions before it (the Spanish Armada being perhaps the most well-known example), this fleet was wrecked by storms in the English Channel before it ever got to England.

Undeterred by the weather-plagued naval result, Charles set about planning another invasion. Securing the services of two ships, one a 66-gun man-of-war, Charles sailed to England in July 1745. Again, a storm reared its head. The rest of the invasion fleet never appeared. Charles himself managed to make it ashore with six other supporters. It was a start.

He marched to Glenfinnan and raised his father's standard. Word went round Charles the Young Pretender Scotland, and a large number of Jacobites rallied to his cause. Charles and his force marched on Edinburgh, whose leader surrendered. On September 21, the Jacobite force engaged an English army at the Battle of Prestonpans. The result was a stunning Jacobite victory and a further march south, with Charles heading up a force of 6,000 troops.

The Jacobite force took Carlisle and made it into Derbyshire before they decided to turn back, after hearing of the approach of a large English force under Prince William, Duke of Cumberland. A token victory at the Battle of Falkirk Muir did little but sustain the Jacobite morale. They had spent two months besieging Stirling Castle, with nothing to show for it. The English force arrived nearby in April 1746.

The two sides engaged each other at the Battle of Culloden, on April 16. The night before, the English had camped at Nairn and had celebrated the birthday of the commander, the Duke of Cumberland. Hoping for a surprise, a number of Jacobite soldiers stole through the dark with hopes of taking the English unawares. The more the Jacobites scurried through the boggy ground, the more they slowed down or got separate from one another. The ones who did return to their own lines had nothing to show for their efforts and had to go into battle the next day having had no sleep and few rations. This exacerbated an already stressful situation with the ranks of commanders, each of whom seemed to have his own theories as to what "Bonnie Prince Charlie" should be doing in order to secure the throne for his father.

On the day, the English had superiority all across the board–in men, firepower, and military experience. Charles made a number of mistakes Battle of Cullodenbefore and during the battle, and the result was a devastating defeat, one that came relatively quickly, all things considered. The vaunted Highland Charge–a wall of shouting, arms-waving Jacobites running at top speed straight at the enemy–found the boggy ground on the battlefield every bit as taxing and bewildering as the night before. The charging Jacobites reached the English and Hessian lines and a fierce hand-to-hand combat ensued. The English and Hessians, well fed and well rested, proved up to the challenge, and the Jacobites retreated from the field. Losses on both sides were high, and atrocities were reported by many who fought that day. Charles escaped and led his English pursuers a merry chase through the Scottish moors, aided by a number of Highlanders who had no love for England. He escaped to the Isle of Skye by posing as a maid to a woman named Flora MacDonald, of a clan loyal to the Jacobite cause. A French ship, L'Heureux, eventually rescued him, and he returned to the Continent in September. He never again raised an invasion force.

James Stuart, the "Old Pretender," died in 1766. Charles Stuart, the "Young Pretender," died in 1788. Both had accepted the defeat at Culloden as the death knell of the Jacobite cause. The last remaining Stuart, James's second son, Henry, was a Cardinal in the Catholic Church and had no interest in reclaiming the birthright of his father or anyone else. Henry died in 1807, and the Royal House of Stuart was no more.

Search This Site

Custom Search

Get weekly newsletter

Social Studies for Kids
copyright 2002–2019
David White