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The Jacobite Era:

Some Early Myths Debunked

About the Author:

Picture of Mark Sutherland-FisherMark Sutherland-Fisher has written about Scottish history and Genealogy for some 20 years and has been published in Family History and Clan Society publications around the world. Genealogist of both Clan Sutherland (of which he was President 1993-1996) and Clan Mackenzie, he is also the list owner of The Jacobites, a Discussion group on the Internet hosted by Rootsweb. A part-time Professional Genealogist, he owns and runs Highland Family Heritage, an Internet based family history, genealogy, and bespoke guided tour business. He lives in Easter Ross in the Scottish Highlands.

Approximate reading time:  22 minutes.  

Of all periods in Scottish history, there can be none, which has ever captured the hearts and minds of the people of many lands who consider themselves Scottish, so much as the Jacobite era. But what exactly is it and who were the people who became its main players? I originally set out to write this as one article, but thinking about the issues and events, it seems to be more appropriate to separate events into two sections, the background and events leading to Glencoe and then the events thereafter.

More romantic nonsense and half-truths have been written about this short space of history than of virtually all the rest of recorded Scottish history combined. Why? Probably because more people believe that the events occurring during this short period of time directly affected the fate of their own families more than any other. While there is certainly some truth in such a claim for many, for the majority, the supposed effect is far fetched and imagination and supposition vastly outweighs reality

So when was the Jacobite era and why was it so named?

The occupants of the thrones of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales have been the subject of much
debate, theory, and supposition over the past 1,000 or so years, since Alfred burnt his cakes and in so doing beat the Vikings to unify England and Alpin did something similar to largely unify Scotland. The two neighbours lived very uncomfortably with each other for the first five hundred years of the last millennium and at varying times, the larger of the two, England wreaked havoc on the Scots and on the two other Celtic nations, those of Ireland and Wales. However throughout this entire period, the blood of the ruling families of each flowed through the veins of each of the others, by virtue of peace treaties, war pacts, and dynastic unions. For example, the fact that they were brothers-in-law didn't seem to stop James IV of Scotland leading the disastrous invasion of Henry VIII's England, which led to the almost total destruction of the Scottish aristocracy on the field of Flodden. From time to time outsiders played a key role in what happened on these tiny islands of ours and almost certainly the most regular interferer was the Crown of France, almost permanently at war with it's cousin England and hence in alliance with Scotland.

This all changed
quite dramatically when, in 1603, the Virgin Queen of England, Elizabeth I died without an heir of her own body. That she had an heir, there was no doubt. She had them in bucket loads. Her father may not have produced many legitimate grandchildren but his two sisters, the Queen of Scotland and Queen of France who later became Duchess of Suffolk, produced heirs and lots of them. Henry VIII preferred his younger sister, Mary Duchess of Suffolk and for a while, Elizabeth had favoured her family as her heirs. However when she died, it was to a Scotsman that England turned and James VI of Scotland became I of England as well.

James was unusual in that no warrior, he was a skilled diplomat and preferred the power of the pen, to that of the sword. In addition, having been left a very poor country by his mother, Mary, the ill-fated Queen of Scots, he inherited what to him must have seemed like the Fort Knox gold reserves, the wealth of England. So overcome was James, that it is said he knighted virtually every gentleman who crossed his path between Edinburgh and London. James was infamous for at least
three things. Firstly he was mean and probably helped originate the reputation of Scots as canny or just downright tight-fisted, a reputation we do not deserve. Secondly, although the father of many children, he was homosexual, very vain and fell under the spell of one Villager, whom he later created Duke of Buckingham. Thirdly and most disastrously, like all Stewart kings, he believed he had been appointed by God and was only answerable to him, the notion of "the Divine Right of Kings," which was to cost his second son Charles both his crown and his head. James bred these notions into his family and it was these which began to cause the seeds to be sown which eighty-five [years] later would have such a dramatic effect on his family.

James had fathered two sons before he inherited the English throne. Henry Frederick was bright, athletic, and everything a Duke of Rothesay and future Prince of Wales should be. His younger brother Charles was quieter and not groomed for any matter of importance. When disaster struck in 1612 and Henry Frederick died, young Charles was catapulted into a role he never expected, that of heir apparent. He developed from the sickly
child who could hardly walk without sticks into a quite determined young man and at his side, was the Duke of Buckingham. With Buckingham's murder in 1628, Charles lost his strongest ally and aid and the next ingredient for the forthcoming troubles began to step forward into the limelight, the young Queen Henrietta Maria. A daughter of the King of France, she was Roman Catholic and while her husband never abandoned the Protestant faith, she kindled in her younger son James, feeling which would also return to haunt the dynasty. Charles was also dominated by another major influence in his life, his sister Elizabeth. This relationship was also to have a major effect on the future of the dynasty.

1612 not only saw Charles catapulted into the leading role, replacing the older brother he idolised, but it saw his beautiful sister Elizabeth leave and cross Europe to marry Frederick V, Elector Palatine and subsequently for a short while King of Bohemia. They had a large family but two of their children are significant for this tale. Prince Rupert of the Rhine was not only a beautiful young man, but as nephew to Charles I, played a romantic lead in what
became known as the English Civil War. A very brave though foolish cavalry officer, he led the Royalist cavalry at several of the great set-piece battles of the Civil Wars. It was however his sister Sophia who was to be the far more important player.

Frederick and Elizabeth had been "elected" King and Queen of Bohemia but within the space of one year were dethroned. After a dozen years of effectively wandering the royal courts of Europe as political exiles, Frederick saddened the already sad Elizabeth by dying and she then spent most of the rest of her life at the Court in The Hague, where her niece Princess Mary ruled. Elizabeth of Bohemia has been consigned to history as the rather sad figure evoked by the title "The Winter Queen", on account of the fact that like the snow of Winter, her throne in Bohemia melted away with the first warm rays of rebellion.

However I digress. As I said, Elizabeth, newly widowed, retired to the comfort of the Court at the Hague, where as I said her niece, Princess Mary, daughter of Charles I, was "Queen" as consort to the Prince of Orange, William of Holland. Meanwhile, without
the security of their father's throne, Frederick and Elizabeth's family had to find their own way in life. (This situation was almost exactly repeated by their descendants, the Greek Royal Family after the coup which saw H.R.H. Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark be almost made to wander the world like an orphan before being transformed by his uncle into Lieutenant Mountbatten before his marriage to H.M. the Queen). Elizabeth's daughter Sophia did the only thing a stateless Princess could do, which was to make a good marriage and she found herself the wife of the Elector of Hanover, a minor but nevertheless ruling, German Prince. I have never read whether Sophia ever visited her mother in The Hague, but you can be certain that she wrote and therefore there would have been family talk in each of the two Courts, in Holland and Hanover. The other thing they had in common, apart from being grandchildren of James VI and I, they were both Protestant Royal Families and Protestant branches of the House of Stewart, which by now was married into most of the Royal Houses of Europe.

Back in this Island, we saw James VI and I die in
1625 to be replaced by the LAST Scottish king, Charles I, born at Dunfermline in 1600. We all know that Charles was beheaded in 1649 and was replaced in name by his eldest son Charles II who replaced him in fact on the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660. Charles fathered many sons, but sadly none by his wife. His eldest son, born while he was in exile in Holland and France during the Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell, was John Stewart, afterwards 1st Duke of Monmouth. His father's favourite son, he was also to play a key, but tragic, role in the events to follow.

This tragedy really moves into full swing in 1685. Charles II has ruled this island of ours for 25 years. He has numerous bastard sons, especially his favourite, Monmouth but no legitimate heirs by his Portuguese wife, Catherine of Braganza. His heir is his brother James, Duke of York who gave rise to that wonderful nursery rhyme, "The Grand Old Duke of York." James had upset his parents by marrying a servant. Certainly she was no ordinary servant, but Anne Hyde's father plain Edward Hyde as he then was, had been Charles I's Secretary at
the time of the Civil Wars. Later knighted, Sir Edward Hyde was also a leader of the pro-Royal faction in Parliament just before the outbreak of the first Civil war in 1642. Sir Edward was later appointed Lord Chancellor, ennobled and became 1st Earl of Clarendon, but neither Sir Edward nor Queen Henrietta Maria approved of the 1660 marriage between the two, but then she was eight months pregnant!! The marriage was however very strong and Protestant. It produced two daughters, Princess Mary born in 1662 and Princess Anne born in 1665. However sadly the marriage was to end with Anne's death and in 1669, James caused consternation by declaring that he had become a Roman Catholic, not really surprising when you consider that his mother was French. James made matters worse when the following year. He married the Italian princess, Mary Beatrice of Modena, but at least there were no children!!!

So we reach 1685. Protestant Charles II is heaving his last sigh and breathing his last breath in London. He had numerous bastard sons including the adult Monmouth in Holland but no lawful ones. His heir was his brother James, now a Roman Catholic, married to a Roman
Catholic and with two Protestant daughters, Mary married to her first cousin, the Protestant William Prince of Orange, son of James' sister Mary and Anne recently married to Prince George, younger brother of the equally Protestant King of Denmark. Also in the wings was the third branch of the family important for this story. James' first cousin Sophia of Bohemia was of course also married to another staunch Protestant, the Elector of Hanover and their son George born in 1660 was in the same age group as his cousins Mary, Anne, and William.

Charles II died and his brother James, Duke of York and his Italian wife were proclaimed King James VII and II and Queen Mary Beatrice. A group of Protestant lords and other fools thought they could oust James and put Monmouth in his place. This failed but in July 1685, Monmouth invaded England, landing in the West Country and called on all England (it was assumed Scotland would just do as it was told) to rally to him. Unfortunately for him, the Army remained loyal to James and under the command of the likes of John Churchill, later 1st Duke of Marlborough, he defeated Monmouth's army comprising
a few well-trained professional soldiers and mercenaries but mainly hundreds of poorly armed farm servants. The "Bloody Assizes" presided over by Lord Chief Justice, Lord Jeffries, painted into the history of England, one of it's most infamous chapters, with hundreds of innocent men, women, and children either executed or shipped off as slaves to the American colonies, depicted by Errol Flynn in that great black and white classic "Captain Blood".

Everyone lived a relatively tense lifestyle for almost three years and then drama, Queen Mary Beatrice was pregnant. This is the first great myth to be debunked. Prince James Francis Edward Stewart, Prince of Wales and afterwards known to history as "The Old Pretender" was born on 10th June 1688 in London. He was not a Scot and his father was not a Scot. His grandfather Charles I was a Scot (but only just!) The second myth to be debunked is the story surrounding his birth. Hanoverian publicists for almost three centuries referred to him as "The Baby in the Warming Pan." Being born after his parents had been married for eighteen years, suspicion was inflamed among the people and it was suggested that the Queen had miscarried and a
servant woman's child had been smuggled in to replace the dead child, in a warming pan. The only problem with this idea is what happens at Royal births. Even until relatively recently, when a Queen or Princess of the Blood Royal went into labour, the birth of the child was attended by around 20 people who were either actually present in the room or in an ante chamber through which anyone would have to pass. A live baby could not have been smuggled in to replace a dead one without someone realising what had happened. It also ignores the fact that after fleeing into exile, Queen Mary Beatrice had at least one more child, a daughter.

What is certain is that in October 1688, the British establishment had had enough of Roman Catholic James and the same men who three years earlier had so cruelly defeated his nephew Monmouth, now welcomed his daughter Mary and son-in-law (and nephew) William, Prince of Orange who landed on 5th November. James and his family fled with their supporters to France. Mary Beatrice took the infant James away from Whitehall on 9th December, disguising herself as a Laundress and the child as a bundle
of washing. The Jacobite era had begun. Jacobite of course just means "of Jacobus" meaning "of James".

William and Mary meant well but Mary, who was by far the more popular of the two died in 1694. William was no benign Monarch but the Protestants accepted him because he accepted the rule of Parliament, which his uncle/father-in-law had not. William however thought Scotland was only good for providing his armies with fresh men to fight the French in the Low Countries. He allowed himself to be advised by such ambitious men as the Viscount, later Earl of Stair and Earl of Breadalbane. He was merciless towards the Jacobites who rose against him in 1689 and whom he decided to make an example of in 1691/2.

Now for the third, fourth and fifth myths, the Massacre of Glencoe. That there was brutal cruelty and a breach of every kind of rule about Highland hospitality is not in any doubt. That it was the settling of an ancient score by the Campbell's against their sworn enemies the Macdonald's is total fiction. The real culprit for the events of late 1691/early 1692 is an "honour" shared by uncle and nephew. In London, William
III decided to use a soldier's style of brutal example to reel in the rebel Highlanders. In Paris, James II was too preoccupied with his mistresses and other vices. William had issued an Offer of Pardon and Immunity to all Highland Chiefs taking an oath of allegiance to him by 1st January 1692, William being in Flanders at the time. James took so long to decide to permit the Chiefs to relinquish their oaths to him that his messenger Duncan Menzies of Fornooth only arrived back in Edinburgh on 21st December. That only one chief hadn't been able to hear the permission and make his oath within ten days is a miracle. Historians rarely blame James for what happened, they should.

That MacIain of Glencoe was some sort of bandit is not entirely true. That he was hated by the Campbells is definitely not true. One Campbell hated him, Sir John Campbell of Glenorchy, also known as Iain Glas and later as 1st Earl of Breadalbane, was power mad and very jealous. He was jealous of the power his cousin, the Duke of Argyll, Chief of Clan Campbell wielded, both at court and in his homelands. On word reaching Argyll
that William intended to land, Argyll seized Glasgow and the West of Scotland and declared for William. At the same time his friends like the Earl of Sutherland also acted, in his case seizing Inverness and declaring for William. Breadalbane was outmaneuvered by his cousin again. He wanted to become the top Campbell dog in the kennel. He also intrigued and became very close to a cunning and ambitious lawyer, Sir John Dalrymple, Master of Stair. Stair's father had returned from exile with William and was created a Viscount. His son wanted more and in 1691 became sole Secretary of State for Scotland, which made him the most powerful man in Scotland, and at his side was Breadalbane. Breadalbane was also jealous of the lands his cousin, Argyll, controlled and he started eying up the lands of others. He wanted to expand his sphere of influence within the western part of Scotland, north of his cousin Argyll's lands and this meant Northwest Perthshire and south west Inverness-shire as well as that fringe of Argyllshire not fully controlled by the Duke.

There were already several Lairds, Chiefs, and Chieftains prominent in that area. The grandest was of course the Great Lochiel,
Chief of Clan Cameron. From his base in Achnacarry, he ruled much of what today forms Lochaber District and such was the threat of his strength and power, that the London based Government was to rebuild and garrison the old fort at Maryburgh, now known as Fort William, among a number of other forts in that part of the western Highlands. Another man of influence though little land was MacGregor of Glengyle. The problem here though was that MacGregor's wife Margaret was Breadalbane's own first cousin, sister of the next key player, Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon. History has painted Margaret Campbell of Glenlyon not as one of those nasty dastardly Campbells, but as the heroic mother of a heroic son. Yes Rob Roy MacGregor was more Campbell than anything else and through his mother claimed close ties of blood to the two great Campbells, the Earl of Breadalbane and the Duke of Argyll. He was to hide behind his Campbell cousin's veil of protection many times during his adult life, when the going got too tough and he was a wanted man.

A third man of influence in the area was Margaret Campbell's brother, Captain Robert Campbell, 5th Laird
of Glenlyon. A poor pale remnant of the man he had once been, drinking and gambling, as well as unwise investments, had seen him dissipate his inheritance as a major Chieftain within Clan Campbell and more and more he began to rely on the financial handouts of his "generous" cousin Breadalbane. Never could he have envisaged the effects both on him and his clan, when the "pay-back" came!

The fourth character of major importance here was Alasdair MacDonald, 12th of Glencoe. Known to history as "Red Alasdair" or MacIain, he was the Chieftain of a little, but fiercely proud part of that formerly great Clan MacDonald, Lords of the Isles, who had watched as piece by piece, through Royal intrigue and mistaken judgment, it had been pushed back to the mere fringes of it's former "realms." The main beneficiaries of the MacDonald fall from grace had been, the Campbell Earls of Argyll!

Back to 1692. William of Orange wanted men for his armies and he couldn't risk the Catholic elements in Highland Scotland rising to support his father-in-law's still active claim for Restoration to the British throne. Although both the Scots and English Parliaments strongly supported William, he wanted something
to act as a show of force. Stair and Breadalbane saw this as their chance to strike and gain favour. I have mentioned the Oath and Pardon, which accompanied it. Stair wanted to make an example of someone, regardless of whether the oath was taken by all clans or not. MacIain provided him with his victim. Having failed, through a combination of wrong information and bad advice to take the oath on time, MacIain was sitting like a dead duck in the water, waiting to be shot down. Stair and Breadalbane were ready to strike. It is believed that Breadalbane put the idea of the Massacre into Stair's head. Breadalbane was desperate to prove his loyalty since rumours had said, probably correctly, that he had been flirting with The Jacobite cause. Certainly he had entered into talks with the Jacobite chiefs after the failed Risings of 1689.

The first piece of treachery came with the choice of Commander. In December 1645 and June 1646 and again in 1655, the MacDonalds of Glencoe had participated in raids on Breadalbane, raids which both offended the pride and pocket of the Campbell of Glenorchy. However the 1655 raids also took place in Glenlyon.
Iain Glas had waited a long time for revenge. What better way than to organise the slaughter of MacIain and his brood. That Glenlyon was a willing participant is highly unlikely. Glenlyon may have had no love of the Glencoe MacDonalds, but he was closely related to them. The fact that Breadalbane was equally closely related seems to have weighed little with him. Breadalbane's father, Sir John Campbell, 10th Laird of Glenorchy had a sister, Jean. She is probably the central figure in this entire story, or rather her marital habits are!

Jean Campbell of Glenorchy was both unlucky in her choice of husband and through those choices, the central figure, as I have said. Her first husband quite naturally came from within her Campbell family. She married Archibald Campbell, Heir to Glenlyon and that marriage produced the ill-fated Captain Robert Campbell, 5th of Glenlyon and his heroic sister, Margaret MacGregor of Glengyle, thus also making her Rob Roy's maternal grandmother. Archibald died in 1640 so she moved on to husband number two, Patrick Roy MacGregor of Roro and this took her slap bang into the middle of the Clan her daughter was subsequently also to marry into. She didn't
wait long until she was widowed again but still had time for another husband and this time it was Duncan Stewart of Appin, another family which was to play a leading role in the Jacobite saga to follow as anyone who has read Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson will know. I know that was a work of fiction, but the alliances and many of the people referred to did live, but under another identity. Jean Campbell, aunt to Breadalbane, mother of Glenlyon and grandmother of Rob Roy, managed to bear 15 children between her first two husbands but still had time to provide Duncan Stewart, 3rd Laird of Appin with one as well. Their daughter married yet another Campbell, a Campbell of Lochnell and a daughter of that union, Sarah Campbell of Lochnell married Alasdair Og, second son of MacIain of Glencoe. Thus by virtue of her multiple marriages and off-spring, Jean Campbell of Glenorchy made Sarah MacDonald of Glencoe the first cousin once removed of Breadalbane, the niece of Glenlyon and the first cousin of Rob Roy. Confused? You should be!

IT is quite clear that at the time Glenlyon led his two Companies of men into Glencoe, he
didn't know what was to happen. In December 1691 and January 1692, Breadalbane and Stair wrote via General Sir Thomas Livingstone and Colonel John Hill to Lowland officers Lieutenant-Colonel James Hamilton and Major Robert Duncanson of Fassokie, clearly stating that he wanted the MacDonalds of Glencoe wiped out. Hamilton and Duncanson planned the Massacre. There is no doubt that Breadalbane suggested Glenlyon as the fall guy and given his financial dependence on Breadalbane, Glenlyon had the impossible choice of breaching the Highland code of Hospitality by killing MacIain and his people, including potentially his own niece Sarah, or disobeying a military order and at the same time betraying his duty of allegiance to his cousin and financial backer, Breadalbane. He only received the orders on the 13th February 1692, the day of the Massacre, issued the day before by Duncanson. We all know what decision he took and it ruined both the rest of his life and his clan's name in Scottish history. The unanswered question remains, why were so few murdered and so many escaped? Was it perhaps that neither Glenlyon nor the few Highlanders within his command could really stomach their orders and turned a blind eye to many MacDonalds escaping.

The last myth to be debunked in part one of this tale is the Campbells doing the slaughter. It is recorded that out of 135 men thought to be present and participating in the slaughter, there were 15 Campbells including Glenlyon and the other Campbell officers, hardly a majority or even a large minority. Maybe one day an old document will be discovered in some long abandoned attic somewhere in the Highlands and the recollections of someone present, written all those years ago will come to reveal the real heroes and villains. Until then all we can do is speculate but we must leave the myths and false claims to Hollywood.

Bibliography:A Pageant of History published 1970 by William Collins and Son, Glasgow' Glencoe published 1966 by John Prebble, Rob Roy MacGregor published 1982 by W.H. Murray, Dynasty: the Royal House of Stewart published 1990 by The Royal Galleries of Scotland