15 September 2009

More about Jacobites than you ever wanted to know

In Scotland, as soon as you hear the word "Jacobite," you can kiss the next twenty minutes goodbye. (Don't worry, I'll try to have you out in under ten.)

I was thinking yesterday about how to parcel out the remaining posts on our recent trip to the Highlands, but I couldn't find an easy way around the Jacobite problem--that is, the fact that you can't spit in Scotland without hitting some part of Jacobite history, and no single episode in that history makes a lick of sense if you don't know the whole (very complicated) tale. So in the interests of our American readers, here's a brief introduction to the history of the Jacobite cause.

It all started with the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603 (Shakespeare's time--I told you this was a long story). Her successor was James I of England and Ireland, who was also King James VI of Scotland, and who ruled as the joint monarch of both nations. This was the beginning of the Stuart dynasty.

James's son Charles I made the regrettable mistake of crossing both Parliament and the Protestants--the latter with his Catholic-style reorganizations of the nominally Protestant Anglican church, the former with his dictatorial style of government. Thus the English Civil War, which ends with Chuck getting his head lopped off by Oliver Cromwell and company, who established a Protestant dictatorship under the guise of a republican "Commonwealth."

(Still with me?)

The Scots, however, didn't recognize Cromwell as their ruler, and instead crowned Charles II King of Scotland, but Cromwell quickly drove the new Scottish king into exile. Charles II had the last laugh, though, as after Cromwell's death in 1658, the Commonwealth collapsed, and Charles II was invited back to the throne (albeit with many of the old royal powers now delegated to Parliament) in the Restoration of 1660.


Charles was a controversial ruler, though, who tried to take back the powers given to Parliament in 1660 and who converted to Roman Catholicism on his deathbed. This didn't sit well with most folks in Britian, who hadn't fought long and hard to establish Protestantism for nothing.

Oh, the Scottish Covenanters also rose up in rebellion against Chuckie II around this time.

Charles' successor, James II/VI, was a Catholic, and even worse, he was even more of a wannabe dictator than Charles. The last straw, though, was the fact that he produced a Catholic heir, whom the Jacobites (Latin: supporters of Jacobus, aka James) would refer to as James III/VII, and others would call the Old Pretender.

(Deep breath.)

So the English kicked James II/VI out in favor of her Protestant daughter, Anne II, and her Dutch husband William of Orange (the namesakes of William and Mary College in Virginia). This event, the Glorious Revolution of 1688, also established Parliament, not the monarch, as the main source of power in Britain.

And here's where all heck breaks loose. The Highland Scots, many of whom were still Catholic, plus various groups of Catholics and conservatives throughout the British Isles (most notably the Irish), didn't recognize William and Mary or any members of the succeeding Hannoverian dynasty. Instead, they thought Jimmy 2-6's son, James III/VII (the Old Pretender), was the rightful king, and spent several decades, with the help of England's enemies abroad, trying to restore him to the thone. (Rob Roy MacGregor, made famous in the US by a film starring Liam Neeson, was loosely associated with the cause.)

Luckily for the English, the Old Pretender was pretty comfortable living it up down in Italy with his wealthy Polish wife. But Jimmy 3-7's son Charles Edward Stuart (aka Bonnie Prince Charlie, aka Charles III) was another matter. He brought his big ego and his inflated sense of honor to Scotland in 1745, where he orchestrated a massive uprising of Highlanders, which after a brilliant start fizzled out very quickly, finally ending with the brutal defeat of the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden (near Inverness) in 1746.

1745 is as big a date in Scottish history as 1776 is in US history. It was the last time any group of Scots rose up for independence, and it was the beginning of the end for the old Highland way of life. In the immediate aftermath of the battle, the government troops ransacked the Highlands, and things there were never quite the same. Many former Jacobites fled to the US and Canada (the McKinnons, for example, helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape the mainland, and paid dearly for it, hence their exodus to North America), as well as to Australia and New Zealand.

Lately, the Jacobite cause has been resurrected as part of the growing push for Scottish independence. The 1745 uprising, however, is not nearly so black-and-white as it seems--there were, for example, more Scots fighting for the government than there were for the Jacobites--a fact which I hope will become clear in our next several posts.

Anyway, there's the quick-and-dirty version of the Jacobite story. More than you probably ever wanted to know about it, and I doubt I brought it in under 10 minutes--but enough, I hope, to make sense of what's to come.


  1. So for "Jacobites" should we read "Jamesites?"

  2. I read one sentence and just knew this was one of Justin's posts!

    I read the whole thing and I think I could explain it to someone else now... I do have a 50/50 shot of getting the monarchs' names right as long as I pick James or Charles.

    History rules!