28 February 2020
Interview with Euan Macpherson, author of 'The Last Jacobite Heroine', the amazing story of 'Colonel' Anne Mackintosh.
The Last Jacobite Heroine is a work of historical fiction that tells the story of Lady Anne Mackintosh (1723-87), a staunch Jacobite who was married to Angus Mackintosh, chief of Clan Mackintosh.
When Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) landed in Scotland in 1745, Anne raised a regiment of around 500 men from Clan Mackintosh and the confederation of Clan Chattan in support of the Prince.
In this interview, Euan talks about his research into the life of Lady Anne and the challenges of writing about the Jacobite risings.
How and when did you first become aware of Lady Anne?
It was about 20 years ago. I was writing articles (on a historical theme) for a magazine called Highlander which is published in Chicago and is aimed at the ex-patriot Scottish community in America. Angus Ray, editor, asked me for more stories about women.
I had the whole 1,000-year history of Scotland to choose from but the Jacobite period seemed like a good starting point. I started browsing through history books (such as histories of the Jacobite period by professional historians and biographies of Bonnie Prince Charlie), looking for an interesting woman to write about. Some books made passing references to Anne; this is where I first learned about her.
Once I had gathered as much material about her as I could from history books, I went to visit John Mackintosh, Chief of Clan Mackintosh, in Moy Hall [part of the current-day hall is pictured below]. He answered a lot of my questions and showed me a portrait of Anne on which I based my physical description.
Eventually, I had enough material for a 2,000-word article for Highlander.
What were the main challenges in researching this period of Scottish history?
Firstly (and this is not unique to the Jacobite period) buildings have been demolished, moved and rebuilt. Fort George was demolished and a new fort was built outside Inverness. The Fort George that existed in 1745 is not the same place as the Fort George that exists today. In reading historical references to Fort George, it would be an easy assumption to make that it stands on the same site as the Fort George we know today. Edinburgh Castle is in the same place as it was in 1745; so is Ruthven Barracks. So why not Fort George? Likewise, Moy Hall has been demolished and rebuilt. Hence, buildings which appear to be authentic buildings from the period may not be.
Secondly (and again this is not unique to the Jacobites), other buildings were burned down or destroyed (including whatever evidence they contained). Bridges have been knocked down and rebuilt. The road from Inverness to Moy has been redirected and covered in tarmac. Incriminating documents have been destroyed. A lot of evidence is missing (as you might expect of events which occurred nearly three centuries ago).
Thirdly, a lot of published information is inaccurate and some history books cannot be trusted. Stories get passed down through word of mouth and are maybe not written down till long afterwards. The problem mainly arises with books which are not written by professional historians (of which there are many).
For example, the official history of Clan Mackintosh records that Sir Everard Fawkner arrested Anne after the Battle of Culloden. Fawker was the Private Secretary to H.R.H. The Duke of Cumberland. He was also 71 years old. Immediately after the battle of Culloden, Prince Charles Edward Stuart was Public Enemy No. 1 but Public Enemy No. 2 was Anne Mackintosh. How likely is it that Cumberland would send his 71-year-old private secretary to arrest one of the most dangerous captains in the Jacobite Army?
John Prebble, in Culloden, states that Colonel Thomas Cockaye of Cobham’s Regiment was the person who arrested Anne. This is much more plausible. What seems likely is that Fawker wrote out the arrest warrant and that this is where the mistake arose.
Also, in the clan histories, you will read that Anne danced a waltz with the Duke of Cumberland in London in 1748. The problem here is that the waltz did not come to Britain till 1791. So what happened? They probably danced but the story was passed down by word of mouth and did not get written down till the 20th century by which time a minuet has become a waltz.
If we faithfully follow the clan histories, we would have Anne being arrested by Fawkner and then dancing a waltz with Cumberland. These are the traps we have to avoid.
What were the main differences between Lady Anne and other Jacobite women whose stories have come down to us through the ages?
This is a very difficult question! I do not want to be rude to other brave women. Flora MacDonald (made famous by David Niven in the film Bonnie Prince Charlie) risked her life to take Bonnie Prince Charlie across the sea from South Uist (the Outer Hebrides) to the Isle of Skye in a rowing boat. I would not like to make that journey and, remember, Flora did it in a raging storm. The storm was an important part of the story because it prevented the soldiers following in pursuit.
Flora made a more passive role model – she dressed Charles as her maid and led him to safety. She was about the same age as Anne (one year older) and equally beautiful. Flora was responding to events: the king was in danger and it fell upon her to save his life.
Anne was more active. She did not wait to respond to events, she acted under her own initiative. Anne raised an army and went off to fight. Like Flora, Anne saved the prince’s life but she did it by fighting off 2,000 regular infantry! Anne is an Amazonian warrior like Bouddica or Cleopatra; Flora represents the more traditional (more Victorian?) image of female heroism.
But let us not trivialise what Flora did. Her actions were, perhaps, not as spectacular as Anne’s but she risked her own life to save the prince – she did everything that was asked of her.
How did you go about portraying characters who struggle with conflicting loyalties?
Anne raised an army of 500 men. These were men of fighting age so perhaps there were about 1,000 men who owed allegiance to the Chief of Clan Mackintosh. Add the women and that gives us about 2,000 people whose lives would be affected if Angus took the wrong decision.
I have never been in a position where I had that kind of responsibility weighing on my shoulders. But we all find ourselves in situations where we have to take decisions and choose sides. These incidents can be trivial by comparison but they put us in situations where we are forced to think about our feelings. We all have personal experiences we can draw upon based on incidents involving family, friends or work colleagues where we have had to choose sides or where we have experienced conflicting emotions.
A writer (like a method actor, perhaps) has to have empathy for the people he or she is writing about. I would think about the situation Angus found himself in and then try to think about how I would feel. As a writer, I see myself as being on the same side as the protagonists and trying to understand how they would feel.
Whether it’s about family, friends or work, we all find ourselves in situations where loyalties can be tested. I have never had to make life-or-death decisions which will have an impact on the lives of 2,000 people. But I have done things like support a student in a dispute with a lecturer or support a neighbour in conflict with my mother.
So who was I thinking about when I was writing about Angus? I was thinking about myself and how I have felt during the minor (very minor, by comparison) conflicts I have been involved in. This gives me a starting point from which I can write about Angus’s situation.
The weather plays a key role in the narrative. How important was this aspect of the story to you when crafting this historical novel?
The weather was very important mainly for the reason that we have to try to understand the world that Anne and Angus lived in. They did not have railways or aeroplanes so snow blocking a glen, for example, was a serious impediment.
Bonnie Prince Charlie raised the Jacobite standard at Glenfinnan [below] in August, 1745. The Battle of Culloden took place in April, 1746. The events described in the story take place across three seasons: autumn, winter and spring. Changing weather conditions were part of the story.
Have any other novels about Lady Anne influenced your work?
No. I had never heard of Anne until Angus Ray invited me to look for stories about women from Scottish history. Around 2006, Janet Paisley published a book called White Rose Rebel. I did not read it because, if I did, it would be impossible not to be influenced by it (even subliminally). I wanted to do my best with this story which means the story had to evolve naturally through me without outside interference. If I read other books, I would then find myself trying to do something different. It was important to write it naturally and to the best of my ability. I used history books as my sources, not historical novels.
Also… the title of Janet’s book (White Rose Rebel) worries me. Today, looking back from the 21st century, we might think of Anne as a rebel but she would have disagreed with that vehemently! When writing a book like this, I think it is important to try to get inside the heads of the protagonists. A rebel overthrows the legitimate authority. From Anne’s point of view, King George II was not the legitimate authority – Prince Charlie was! This was not a rebellion against a bad British government; it was an uprising on behalf of the only true king.
Why did you write a novel instead of a factual biography?
Firstly, it has been an ambition of mine since childhood to write a novel: hence, it was something I wanted to do. Secondly, I have always seen this story as something with tremendous film potential. A film needs a script and the script, in turn, needs dialogue. So it always made sense for me to write the novel. Thirdly, when we are writing about historical events, there are always gaps in our knowledge. The novelist can fill in the gaps with fiction but the historian cannot.
The Last Jacobite Heroine
The Last Jacobite Heroine by Euan Macpherson is published by Menzies and Wood Publishing at £9.99 paperback/ £5.99 Kindle. (ISBN 9781912750009). Get your copy here.
About the author
Euan Macpherson lives in Dundee, having studied English and Scottish Literature at the University of Stirling. Since 2007, he has worked as an English lecturer at Dundee and Angus College. Married, divorced and remarried, he has a son who works as an English teacher in Hong Kong. Euan was born in Arbroath on the coastal plain but it was during trips into the mountains with his father that he discovered a deep love for the Scottish Highlands. That, combined with a love of history, drove him to write The Last Jacobite Heroine.