Spotlight: Jacobites - Begging Your Pardon


10 December 2020
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In the launch of our new column on Jacobite history, Dr Darren S. Layne takes us to Edinburgh in October 1745 by examining some of the behaviour of Jacobite soldiers and their commanders while the army was encamped in Scotland’s capital.

After a handful of Donald Cameron of Lochiel’s men slipped through Edinburgh’s grand, turreted Netherbow Port virtually unopposed, the capital of Scotland, excepting its imposing castle, was firmly in Jacobite control for most of the late summer and autumn of 1745.

From 17 September to 31 October, high-ranking soldiers and officials under the leadership of Charles Edward Stuart consolidated their provisional government in ‘North Britain’ at Holyrood House, and in the fields around Duddingston Village they bolstered both the numbers and training of the men who formed the military arm of the Jacobite cause.

This distinctly irregular army was essentially the crowbar with which Charles Edward would attempt to pry George II off the thrones of the Three Kingdoms while advocating for his father, James Francis Edward, who was proclaimed at the mercat cross as James VII of Scotland on the very same day the burgh was taken. Cobbled together in fits and starts before the capture of Edinburgh, it was never a sure thing that enough support would materialise or that the enthusiasm it bore would translate to success on the battlefield when open conflict eventually came.1

The lightning-quick and overwhelming Jacobite victory at Prestonpans in the early morning of 21 September boosted the confidence not only of Charles Edward’s Council of War but also that of many of the common soldiers across the ranks. Now that this army had faced seemingly the best that the British government had to offer, the zeitgeist of the mission was astir and word quickly spread to the surrounding localities that this revolution, long-desired and attempted on numerous occasions before, might really happen this time. Recruiting drives marshalled in places like Perthshire and the north-eastern counties, like Aberdeenshire and Forfarshire, eventually secured valuable additions to the nucleus of Highland Jacobite troops in Edinburgh, with numbers swelling from around 2500 to nearly 6000 men through the month of October.2

Elites of significant esteem arrived at Holyrood with tenants, servants, and other adherents in tow, prepared to gamble their estates and their lives in favour of the promise of a Stuart restoration. Renowned Jacobite personalities like Lord Ogilvy, John Gordon of Glenbucket, and Alexander Forbes of Pitsligo entered Edinburgh in the first week of October with as many as 1400 men between them, demonstrating the popularity of Jacobite aims in the markedly Episcopalian north-east.

These troops joined with the others and were fashioned into proper regiments, and they were subsequently drilled as regular soldiers upon Edinburgh parklands like Duddingston and Leith Links. Jacobite officers requisitioned supplies from the capital’s merchants and by 20 October the army had commissioned over 5000 pairs of shoes from the workshop of a single cordwainer, Walter Orrock, who was politically sympathetic to the cause.3

Yet even during this early stage of the rising when soldiers were joining the army in large numbers, at its apex of optimism and morale, Jacobite officers were faced with the nagging problem of desertion and how to discipline the men in order to prevent it. Though alternately exaggerated and marginalised in the historiography of the event, the damage done to martial cohesion by both intermittent and large-scale desertion within the Jacobite army was something that comes up repeatedly in archival documents from both sides of the conflict, including intelligence reports, court depositions, and regimental orderly books.

The most common periods for significant desertion through the campaign were those immediately following a battle; one account of a military review undertaken a few days after Prestonpans claims that as many as 1000 men had gone absent from the camp.5 It is no wonder why soldiers sometimes returned home after facing injury and death in pitched battle, though we must also consider the terms stipulated in contracts of military service that were common amongst tenants in Scotland, some of which took into account the agrarian maintenance of planting and harvest. Other recruits who were forcefully conscripted

into the Jacobite army, or who felt that the terms of their contracts of servitude had been broken or violated, might have considered themselves justified in picking up and leaving, especially just after putting their lives on the line.6

During the Jacobite occupation of Edinburgh, we see some direct evidence of consequential desertion in James Drummond’s company, a unit that served through the opening months of the rising within the Duke of Perth’s regiment. Tallied at the end of September just nine days after Prestonpans, its muster roll lists ten soldiers who had left the camp without permission, including two who appear to have had taken it upon themselves to join another regiment, presumably to seek better conditions or serve more closely with friends or relations. These ten men are distinguished from another twelve who were absent on furlough, a practice that is now sometimes erroneously conflated with desertion but that was clearly distinct to the regimental command in the moment. The presence of furloughs suggests the tolerance of some Jacobite officers in allowing their men to come and go as required, though Drummond himself complained to Colonel John O’Sullivan that he was forced to let his dozen return home and had struggled to come up with the money to pay them before they left.These deserters and furloughs together amounted to fully a third of the enlisted men in Drummond’s company.

A little over a week later on 9 October, a court martial was carried out at Holyrood to punish seven men who had deserted from Cameron of Lochiel’s regiment – those among the first to enter the burgh. Named and condemned by six regimental officers and Colonel Francis Strickland, the deserters, who had been turned in by two of Lochiel’s ensigns and captured about four miles from the capital, were set to be publicly executed in front of the army by firing squad on the following day. In a demonstration of considerable restraint and clemency, however, Charles Edward reprieved all seven men on account of having ‘behav’d themselves well’ at the Battle of Prestonpans. The condition of their release was that they renew their oaths to

Jacobite service and never ‘fall again into ye like Heinous Crimes for which there will be no further Hopes of Pardon’.8

While the army was in Edinburgh, Charles Edward did indeed order and carry out the executions of two men from Lord Ogilvy’s Forfarshire regiment, Robert Monro and Daniel Smith, but these were allegedly reprisals for theft rather than punishment for desertion. After all, citizens in the capital were highly sensitive to the behaviour of an occupying army that ultimately needed to rouse the ‘hearts and minds’ of the general populace to be successful.

The paper trail indicates that Charles faced a difficult choice with regard to capitally punishing his men. While the need to maintain discipline and operational cohesion would have been of paramount importance in a revolutionary army consisting of mostly non-professional troops, reducing even a small number of its much-needed manpower was itself a threat to the needs of the campaign.

This perhaps explains more compellingly why little evidence remains of exemplary executions being carried out within the Jacobite army than the suggestion of unimpeachable discipline across its ranks.10 Though at least some desertions were excused by pardon in the early days of the last Jacobite rising, looting was apparently a transgression that the Jacobite commanders were unwilling to forgive.

Jacobite Q&A

Do you have a question about Jacobite history that you would like to have answered? Feel free to get in touch with the Spotlight: Jacobites team and we’ll do our best to respond in our online Q&A section, which is released along with each issue of History Scotland. Send your non-genealogy questions by e-mail here and we’ll consult experts in the field of Jacobite studies.

Links to more information:

• The Jacobite Database of 1745 
• Little Rebellions, the JDB1745 Research Blog

Archival leads:

Royal Archives, Cumberland Papers (Captured Stuart Papers) Main Box 5-6

British National Archives, Secretary of State Papers, Scotland 54/26

National Library of Scotland, Fletcher of Saltoun Papers MS 17526

Further reading:

• Walter Biggar Blaikie, Edinburgh at the Time of the Occupation of Prince Charles (Edinburgh, 1910)

• John S. Gibson, Edinburgh in the ’45: Bonnie Prince Charlie at Holyroodhouse (Edinburgh, 1995)

• Darren S. Layne, ‘Spines of the Thistle: The Popular Constituency of the Jacobite Rising in 1745-6’ (PhD thesis, University of St Andrews, 2016)

• Andrew Mackillop, More Fruitful Than the Soil: Army, Empire and the Scottish Highlands, 1715-1815 (East Linton, 2000)

• Allan I. Macinnes, Clanship, Commerce and the House of Stuart, 1603-1788 (East Linton, 1996)

• Bruce Gordon Seton & Jean Gordon Arnot, eds., The Prisoners of the ’45 (3 Vols., Edinburgh, 1928)

• Bruce Gordon Seton, ed., The Orderly Book of Lord Ogilvy’s Regiment in the Army of Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Heaton Mersey, 1923)

1 Compelling evidence of this is on display in the large number of missives sent from Charles Edward to various personalities in the Western and Central Highlands from August to October, repeatedly requesting their service and requiring their presence in the Jacobite army, RA CP/Main Box 5-6 (Captured Stuart Papers).

2 Returns of the Jacobite Army (10 September to 31 October 1745), TNA SP 54/26/16b, 67, 72b.

3 Turnbull to Ramsay (9 October 1745), NLS MS 17526 f. 201; Inventory of Shoe Orders (20 October 1745), RA CP/ Main Box 6/237.

4 D.S. Layne, ‘Spines of the Thistle: The Popular Constituency of the Jacobite Rising in 1745-6’ (unpublished PhD thesis, University of St Andrews, 2016) pp. 161-71; Bruce Gordon Seton & Jean Gordon Arnot, eds., The Prisoners of the ’45 (3 Vols., Edinburgh, 1928), i, pp. 283-4.

5 Walter Biggar Blaikie, Edinburgh at the Time of the Occupation of Prince Charles (Edinburgh, 1910), pp. 38-9.

6 For examples, see Andrew Mackillop, More Fruitful Than the Soil: Army, Empire and the Scottish Highlands, 1715-1815 (East Linton, 2000) and Allan I. Macinnes, Clanship, Commerce and the House of Stuart, 1603-1788 (East Linton, 1996) Regarding justifications for desertion, see Andrew Mackillop, ‘For King, Country and Regiment?: Motive & Identity Within Highland Soldiering, 1746-1815’ in Steve Murdoch and A. Mackillop, eds., Fighting for Identity: Scottish Military Experience c. 1550-1900 (Leiden, 2002), pp. 205-7.

7 Drummond to O'Sullivan (30 September 1745), RA CP/Main Box 5/325.

8 Pardon by Charles Edward Stuart (9 October 1745), RA CP/Main Box 6/205.

9 Bruce Gordon Seton, ed., The Orderly Book of Lord Ogilvy’s Regiment in the Army of Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Heaton Mersey, 1923), p. 5; Blaikie, Occupation, p. 38; Layne, 'Spines of the Thistle', p. 146.

10 As forwarded in Seton, Orderly Book of Lord Ogilvy’s Regiment, p. 5. Other serviceable studies of Jacobite discipline are found in Christopher Duffy, Fight for a Throne: The Jacobite '45 Reconsidered (West Midlands, 2015), pp. 324-330; Stuart Reid, Like Hungry Wolves: Culloden Moor 16 April 1745 (London, 1994), pp. 40-48.

Darren S. Layne, The Jacobite Database of 1745: www.jdb1745.net