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Friday, April 27, 2012

"Ye Jacobites by Name...."

is a folk ballad adapted by Scotland’s Bard, Bobby Burns, to commemorate the mixed emotions felt by the Scottish people during the Jacobite Rebellions that took place during the British Isles during the 17th-18th centuries. Whether singing popular rebel songs or purchasing a Scottish shortbread tin with a portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie on it, most of us today have also been touched in some way by the heritage these struggles for the British throne. They continue to capture the public imagination through the colorful cast of characters that took part in them, and embellished as they have been by years of yarn-weaving, rival the creations of the best fiction writers.

     James II, Bonnie Dundee, James Francis Stuart, Lady Nithsdale, Lord Derwenwater, Charles Edward Stuart, Gentle Lochiel, Lord George Murray, Lady Anne Farquharson McKintosh, Flora McDonald, and many more stand out as striking examples of courage, devotion, self-sacrifice, and patriotism. For this, we are naturally drawn to them and often become their secret confederates. This is innocent and understandable, in and of itself. However, there is a tendency among some sentimental historians and crafty politicians to twist the complex causes of the Jacobite Rebellions to suit their own agendas, even if the reality gets lost in the translation. Some seek to touch an emotional chord with their listeners, while others wallow in the chasm of never-ending historical "what-ifs".

    The following summaries highlight a number of the more popular two-dimensional interpretations:


    1. The Jacobites who supported the Catholic House of Stewart in their ongoing contest against the Protestant House of Hanover where Catholics who wanted to regain their religious freedom by restoring a Catholic to the throne of Britain. If the Stuart claimants, particularly Charles Edward "Bonnie Prince Charlie" Stuart, had succeeded in regaining the throne, it is probable that the British Isles would have been restored to Catholicism and that Britain and France, the country supporting the Stuart claim, would not have gone to war in the following years. If they had not gone to war, then the American Colonies would not have been directly taxed and probably would not have rebelled against British rule. If the Americans had not launched their Revolution, then it is probable that the French Revolution would never have occurred, nor even perhaps the Bolshevik Revolution, etc., etc.

    2. The Jacobites who supported the Scottish House of Stuart in their ongoing contest with the English House of Hanover were Scottish patriots seeking to rid themselves of English oppression. With this logic in mind, the Jacobite Rebellions can be summarized as Anglo-Scottish Wars, successors of the battle fought by Wallace and Bruce against the two Edwards for control of the land. Therefore, the English can be held solely responsible for the destruction and slaughter unleashed on the Scottish people in the aftermath of their failed rebellion against the English tyrant, George II. If the Stuart claimants, particularly Charles Edward Stuart, had regained the throne, it is certain that Scotland would be "free" and "independent" today rather than "under the control" of the UK. She would be a powerful force standing on her own two feet. She would "be a nation".

    3. The Jacobites who supported the organic House of Stewart in their ongoing contest with the organized House of Hanover were Celtic warriors who sought to preserve the simple liberty and democracy of their traditional way of life. They were being threatened by an imperialistic enemy with a land-hungry government and a racist army who wanted to crush every aspect of their indigenous existence and swallow them up into their heavy-handed civilization. If the Stuart claimants, particularly Charles Edward Stuart, had regained the throne, it is probable that the pure democracy that flourished in Celtic society and the customs of the people would have continued to thrive to this day. The world we live in would be a different place, inhabited by people who take delight in the joys of nature and folk culture and who settle all their conflicts through the medium of rustic democratic means.    


    The truth, in fact, is a combination of all three of these assessments, minus some misguided emotional implications. While some of the Jacobites were indeed Catholics who sought to regain their freedom of religion by restoring a Catholic monarchy, a large portion of them were Protestants seeking to restore the Stuarts for political or social motives. Furthermore, even if Charles Edward Stuart had regained the throne for his father and come to the throne in his own right, there is no reason to believe that he would have been able to alter the religion of his kingdom(s) by merely snapping his fingers.

    Protestantism had gained a strong hold on the people of the British Isles (Ireland being the notable exception), and by 1745, the year of the Second Jacobite Rebellion, the British Parliament was completely Protestant and in a definite position of power over the reigning monarch. If Charles Edward had tried to meddle in the affairs of Parliament or alter the highly anti-Catholic laws, it would have probably unleashed a massive civil war. Considering the ill-fate of his overthrown predecessors, there is no strong reason to believe that the throne was any more tenable for the Stewarts at this late date.

    Also, to suppose that France and England would have remained in a perpetual state of peace because of the Franco-Stuart alliance is naive at best. Due to colonial expansion and various other components, alliances were prone to change in the fast-paced European political stage. Besides that, the issue of whether or not the American Colonies could be directly taxed by Parliament would to come up sooner or later, with the French or without them. In fact, it was James II, who was ousted during The Glorious Revolution, who almost caused an early revolution in the colonies thanks to his high-handed administration.

    Moving along, the Jacobite Rebellions were far from "Anglo-Scottish" wars. In fact, more Scots fought for the Government than for the Jacobites. It is true that many Scottish Jacobites were seeking to sever the union of Scotland and England which they saw as a loss of their independence and the cause of a new flow of taxes from Westminster. However, many Scottish Hanoverians saw the benefits of being unified with England involving trade and power on the world stage, and they were determined to preserve it. So the conflict was clearly a nation-wide Civil War, not another Robert de Bruce type war for Scottish Independence. Furthermore, Jacobitism was far from a local phenomenon in Scotland. There were pockets of Jacobites all over the British Isles, including England, Wales, and Ireland, as well as supporters in Continental Europe.

    Touching back on the British Union, would the results of splitting it really have been as merry as modern-day Scottish Nationalists would like to believe? Strong evidence indicates the contrary. An independent Scotland would probably have stayed a backwater country on the fringes of Europe, susceptible to continued quarreling and skirmishing with the more powerful England and, even worse, to foreign invasion. The Union not only bolstered the defensive and offensive military power of England and Scotland as a joint force, but it also provided a jettison for Scottish economists, scientists, soldiers, politicians, and businessmen of every type to have an effect on the course of world history. 

    Finally, we come to the final assumption that the Jacobites were heroes of democracy and the simple joys of a nature-based existence, free from the chains of tyrannical organization. This theory holds a special place in the hearts of modern Celtic enthusiasts who have gone "back-to-nature", sitting cross-legged in the center of a moss-covered stone ring that “the race that no one knows” erected thousands of years ago for reasons beyond our ken. Getting back to reality, the Highland way of life was far from a paradise of egalitarian ponderance. Highland Clans battled each other constantly for dominance and survival, raiding cattle, pillaging homes, and murdering their fellow Scots. The Lowland "homestead Scots" were terrified of the lawless ways of the Highland "wild Scots", and each side had no qualms about helping the English to fight the other during numerous conflicts.

    Granted, the Celtic language and traditional customs were held in contempt by the English and Lowlanders and many used the Jacobite Rebellions as an excuse to carry something of an “ethnic cleansing”. However, the active contributions of Lowland Scots precludes a neat narrative of English devilry, and the Highland "way of life" as it was in 1745 could not have continued unchecked and dreaded organization with its hard, cold laws was desperately needed to keep order. While the British government was often riddled with corruption and its laws were often manipulated by self-serving agents, it provided some semblance of the supremacy of law and overriding national authority as opposed to the local, scattered authority of the clan chiefs.

    I am not trying to disregard the great sufferings Jacobites endured, nor am I trying to condone the monstrous atrocities committed by the Hanoverian troops in the aftermath of the failed rebellions. As a Catholic, I naturally sympathize with the cause of trying to restore religious freedom to the suppressed Catholics in Georgian Britain and greatly admire the loyal of men and women who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the cause in which they believed. However, history has many facets, and in the case of the Jacobite Rebellions, it paints a more three-dimensional picture then the average spin-doctor can produce. Balance should be a key player in all historical studies, but unfortunately, both in the past and in our modern world, it is often in short supply.

Ye Jacobites by name, give an ear, give an ear
Ye Jacobites by name, give an ear!
Ye Jacobites by name, your faults I will proclaim
Your doctrines I must blame, ye shall hear!

What is right and what is wrong by the law, by the law
What is right and what is wrong by the law?
What is right and what is wrong, a short sword and a long
A weak arm and a strong for to draw?

What makes heroic strife famed afar, famed afar,
What makes heroic strife famed afar?
What makes heroic strife, to whet the assassin's knife
Or hunt a parent's life with bloody war?

Then leave your cares alone in the state, in the state
Then leave your cares alone in the state
Then leave your cares alone, adore the rising sun
And leave a man alone to his fate

(A variation of this article later appeared on "Open Unionism":


The Battle of Culloden, 1746



  1. Thanks for your post, which I really enjoyed reading, having just discovered your blog. I haven't look far down your post archive yet, but am hoping to find out where you might be studying at the moment. Did you come up with this analysis of interpretations of Culloden yourself, or is it a summary of reading you have done?

  2. Thank you for reading, Elizabeth. I'm glad you found the article to be interesting. How did you stuble across the blog?

    I am currently taking courses from home. Are you a student yourself?

    My analysis of interpretations of the Jacobite Rebellions came from various books, magazines, and websites I have read on the subject. Many of the sources were determined to project "their" version of events, and they often overemphasized one point and ignored the others each other in order to forward their own religious or political agendas.

    If you have any other questions, please let me know.

    God Bless,

  3. I think your analysis shows both knowledge and thought. Unfortunately most people in Scotland know very little about the real history of this period. Just myths and propaganda. I've found that it pays not only to read history books, but also to read literature about the period, especially the novels of Walter Scott, which were written soon after. He expresses the complexity of how Scots in the early 19th century reflected on the Jacobites. Of course, almost no one in Scotland now reads Scott, as he is considered far too difficult.
    Thanks for your kind words and prayers. They are much appreciated. May God and his saints bless you too.


  4. Thank you, Effie, for reading and commenting.

    It's a real shame that more Scots and Brits in general don't take the time to study the complexities of their history. I think it would make everyone more balanced and more appreciative of their country. It seems as if nowadays, people view patriotism as some sort of weird disease, which frightens me.

    I'm afraid I'm a little far behind with my classic literature reading. I've read a couple of things, like the first two books in "The Scarlet Pimpernel" series and Dickens's "A Tale of Two Cities." I also started reading "The Children of the New Forest" after watching the BBC adaptation, but have yet to finish it.

    Anyway, a friend suggested that I read "Kidnapped" by R. L. Stevenson. A film adaptation of it came out not too long ago, so I plan on watching it to get the feel for the plot. Have you read or watched these? Also, which Walter Scott books would you suggest to me? Scott seems like a person who would have been fun to have for a really quirky yet cool relative - even if he was a wee bit hard tae understand!

    Your most welcome for the prayers, and thank you for yours, as well. It's so good to know there are some real British people left - both sides the Tweed!

    God Bless,

  5. I just read your post. You have some interesting possibilities for what could have been. It was well thought out and researched and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I agree with a lot of it and you are right on issues of people not being informed enough of their own history. I know plenty that are including some a lovely Wallace lass, but alas I cannot speak for all. Very entertaining....................K