Spotlight: Jacobites - Underhand Dealings and Villainous Treachery

27 May 2022
In the newest essay for our regular Spotlight: Jacobites column, William Runacre discusses the founding of the Jacobite Royal Ecossais regiment and the convoluted search for its second-in-command by the French government and the exiled Stuart Court.

Lord John Drummond's Royal Ecossais regiment was formed in France in the summer of 1744 at a time of increasing optimism in Jacobite circles. Britain and France were at war, and Charles Edward Stuart was actively seeking a way to restore his family to the thrones of England, Ireland, and Scotland. Having already tried to invade England and restore the Stuarts at the start of the year, there was a possibility that the French would attempt to do so again, and prominent Tories were promising to welcome them if they did so. [1] But behind the scenes everything was far from rosy. The process of raising the first Scottish unit for service in the French army in more than fifty years was fraught with tension and controversy; so much so that Charles Edward even predicted that it could result in Drummond’s murder.

The raising of the Royal Ecossais aroused the interest of many, including the Stuart claimant at Rome, the titular James III of England and VIII of Scotland, as James hoped to use this opportunity to further the careers of some of his adherents. One of these was Sir Hector Maclean, 5th Baronet of Morvern and 21st Chief of the Clan Maclean. Born at Calais in northern France on 31 October 1703 to Jacobite parents, Maclean became a prominent Freemason, co-founding and serving as Grand Master of the Paris Lodge. [2] James thought well of Maclean, raising him to the peerage and providing him with financial assistance on a number of occasions, including when Maclean was imprisoned for debt in 1734. In the same year James tried unsuccessfully to obtain a commission for Maclean in the Irish Brigade of France, and now ten years later he asked Drummond to make Maclean Lieutenant-Colonel of his new regiment. [3] There was just one problem: Maclean was probably totally unsuitable for the role.

The View from the Rank and File

'He is a little man, between forty & fifty & lame of the leg, wears his hair and that if he saw him again is sure he should know him.’

– William Inglis's description of Maclean [4]

The French Court gave Drummond the right to nominate his own officers, and he was obliged to treat James's request seriously, especially if he hoped to continue benefiting from James's patronage to further his own military career. He therefore initially allowed Maclean to serve, at least unofficially, as Lieutenant-Colonel. [5] The evidence for this comes not from military records or correspondence, but from the rank and file, as numerous deserters from the regiment provided the British authorities with information about it. One of these deserters, William Inglis, explained that the regiment had been reviewed at Saint-Omer in northern France on 24 September 1744 at which ‘Sir Hector passed the Muster that day as Lieut. Colonel’. [6] Inglis's account was corroborated by Alexander Teviotdale, who added that it was at this review that they were told the regiment had been granted the title of Royal Ecossais. [7] Another deserter, Alexander Fraser, agreed that Maclean was at first unofficially 'lookt upon as Lieutenannt Collonel of the Regiment', but he subsequently left it after falling out with Drummond. [8]

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The Cause of Conflict

As the common soldiers knew, Maclean's desire to be made Lieutenant-Colonel had been frustrated. Both King Louis XV of France and the French Ministry of War had to approve Maclean's commission, and Drummond told Maclean that despite his efforts the Ministry had obstructed his candidacy. The reasons were twofold: first, Maclean had no title, because his Jacobite peerage was a secret and his baronetcy did not count for anything in France; and second, he had no previous experience of service in the French army. Nevertheless, Maclean soon came to believe that he had been lied to, and that the real reason for his being refused a commission was due to something else entirely. [9]

'It’s impossible for anybody to imagine how far he has carried falshood with regard to his majesty, the Prince, to me and to all th[e] world.’

– Sir Hector Maclean on Lord John Drummond [10]

During his time at Versailles in March 1745, Maclean learned that Drummond had been carrying out what he referred to as 'underhand dealings' against him. [11] It transpired that Maclean's commission had actually been refused because Drummond had privately told the Minister of War that he did not really want Maclean as his Lieutenant-Colonel. Maclean was upset by this, and he complained that Drummond's duplicity would have a negative effect on recruitment as it would discourage the clans from sending men to join the regiment. Disregarding the fact that Drummond did not want him, Maclean still desired the position and intended to mobilise the Scottish diaspora in France to help him pressure the Ministry directly for it. [12]

The Jacobite Reaction

‘He is dayly affrunting people and doing durty things, and is generally heated [hated].’

– Charles Edward on Lord John Drummond [13]

This drama caused a stir in Jacobite circles, with Charles Edward taking a dim view of 'the little regard and respect' Drummond had shown for James's orders. The anger this had caused led him to conclude that Drummond's behaviour made it 'impossible he can eskepe sooner or later from having his throte cut'. [14] Francis Sempill, 2nd Jacobite Lord Sempill, felt similarly, admitting that although he had been against 'meddling in this affair' he now felt 'that the respect due to our Sovereign and the good of his Service' made it imperative that they support Maclean. According to Sempill, even though everyone knew that Drummond had blocked Maclean's commission, Drummond was still dishonestly blaming the French. [15]

Yet there was more to this affair than Maclean had let on. Daniel O'Brien, James's agent in Paris, gave Drummond a dressing down for his treatment of Maclean, but Drummond defended himself, sticking to his original story wherein the Minister of War had refused to grant Maclean's commission due to his lack of military experience. Maclean had also allegedly threatened to cut Drummond's throat if he were not made Lieutenant-Colonel, and in view of this unreasonable and threatening behaviour, Drummond was not prepared to do anything further for him. [16]

In an attempt to see James's orders on this subject fulfilled, O'Brien then approached the Minister of War directly on Maclean's behalf. The Minister in turn presented O’Brien’s arguments and James’s letter in favour of Maclean to the King of France. O'Brien was informed that although Louis XV wanted to agree to what the Chevalier de St Georges (as he called James) desired, he could not allow a position of such importance to be given to an inexperienced officer. Thus the official French line matched Drummond's. Instead of Maclean, Louis suggested that the position be given to a Major Leslie, an old and very highly recommended Scottish gentleman who was serving in the Royal Suedois [Swedish] regiment. [17]

By the beginning of May 1745, Maclean was coming to accept that Drummond's 'villanous treachery' meant that he was not going to become the regiment's Lieutenant-Colonel. Instead Maclean hoped to be given permission to raise and command a second battalion of the Royal Ecossais. He had already used his own contacts to overcome the Ministry of War's complaint that they did not have the money to finance another battalion. Now all that was needed was for James to solicit the Ministry of War for this second battalion to be raised. But Maclean was doubtful of this working out as no one was available at the French Court to do this, and he was himself going to be away for a while attending to other affairs. [18]

Charles Edward had intervened to reduce the risk of further conflict on this issue by persuading Maclean to deliver some letters to leading Jacobites in Scotland, thereby distracting Maclean from continuing to seek a commission in the regiment. Charles Edward wrote to his father on 1 May 1745, explaining that ‘I have at last got rid of Sir Hector Maclean, and prevented mischief’. [19] With James's candidate out of the picture and the tension defused, the process of appointing a Lieutenant-Colonel to the Royal Ecossais now moved forward.

Even though he had Louis XV’s recommendation, it was not Leslie of the Royal Suedois who became Lieutenant-Colonel, but Louis Drummond de Melfort. 'Reckoned one of the tallest and handsomest Men of the Age’, Melfort had been an officer in the Irish Brigade of France since 1734 and therefore possessed the military experience that Maclean lacked. Melfort came from a Scottish noble family with loftier titles and connections than did Maclean, his father being the 2nd Duke of Melfort, and he was also related to Lord John Drummond. Appointed Lieutenant-Colonel on 15 June 1745, Melfort went on to lead the regiment during the Forty-five, surviving the campaign and subsequently rising to the rank of Lieutenant-General in the French army. [20]


‘I am sorry to find that Lord John’s behaviour has been altogether unworthy of his name and Family.’

– Francis, Lord Sempill [21]

Rather ironically, Drummond and Maclean's falling out may have indirectly helped the Jacobite cause. Their conflict having been the prime reason for Charles Edward sending Maclean to Scotland, his capture there in June 1745 led John Hay, 4th Marquess of Tweeddale and Secretary of State for Scotland, to conclude that Maclean's arrest 'will put a check to any that there is but little ground to be alarmed for any Insurrections in those parts at this time'. Thus Maclean's arrest potentially could have acted to lower the British state's guard only a few days before Charles Edward set out on his historic voyage to Scotland in the summer of 1745. [22]

Perhaps this was also fortunate for Maclean, because he survived the turbulent events that followed, something he might not have done had he instead served with the Royal Ecossais during the rising. After being released from prison in 1747 he returned to France, dying there in 1751. Allan Maclean, his cousin who inherited his Jacobite peerage, had actually served in the Argyllshire Militia against the Jacobite army during the Forty-five. [23]

'The affront done his majesty is vastly more sensible to me than my own'.

– Sir Hector Maclean on Drummond's disloyalty [24]

The inability of the Stuart Court to have their candidate confirmed as Lieutenant-Colonel of the Royal Ecossais highlights the challenges the Stuarts faced in attempting to influence decisions affecting the administration of Jacobite regiments in France. Their failure to convince the French Court to appoint their candidate is perhaps understandable, for this regiment was paid for by the French and therefore under French jurisdiction. This case does, however, expose the limits of Stuart authority over their own subjects in France, proving that James's influence was not boundless, even when dealing with such a committed Jacobite as Lord John Drummond.

It is quite possible that Drummond simply did not consider Maclean fit for the role and felt unable to openly oppose James's wishes. If Maclean really did threaten to cut Drummond's throat – and Charles's use of similar words implies that he did – it suggests that Maclean was not the emotionally stable person that Drummond would have wanted for such a responsible position of command. It is also rather extraordinary that someone with no military experience was even being considered for such an important post in the regiment. So while this incident did reflect badly on its two main protagonists, James's patronage of Maclean also suggests a lack of sound judgment on his part. That issue, however, was soon to be overshadowed by more momentous events as the final Jacobite rising began in Scotland. During the campaign that followed, much greater controversy ensued due to Charles Edward's reliance on Irish advisors and the antipathy this created had a negative effect on Jacobite military fortunes. Both James and Charles Edward therefore triggered dissension through some of their choices for positions of command, but while the former's ultimately did the Jacobite cause no harm, the latter's hindered it, and the impact this had on the ultimate failure of the Forty-five is still a matter of debate to this day. [25]

About the author

William Runacre is an independent researcher with a strong interest in the Jacobite diaspora, especially in the military services of English Jacobites in France and Spain. He is also Lead Designer at Fury Software, makers of the Strategic Command series of historical turn-based strategy games.

Archival leads

• British National Archives, Secretary of State Papers, Domestic 36/71
• British National Archives, Secretary of State Papers, Scotland 54/25
• Royal Archives Windsor, Stuart Papers Vols. 169, 172, 260, 263, 264 & Misc. Vol. 39

Further reading

• Christopher Duffy, Fight for a Throne: The Jacobite '45 Reconsidered (Warwick, 2015)

• Thomas Hindley, ‘Le régiment Royal Ecossais durant la campagne d’Ecosse, 1745-1746’ (Mémoire de master, Paris, 2014)

• A. Kervella, La Maçonnerie Écossaise dans la France de l’Ancien Régime (Monaco, 1999)

• Helen McCorry, ‘Rats, Lice and Scotchmen: Scottish infantry regiments in the service of France, 1742-62’ in Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research (297: 1996), pp. 1-38


1 These included Sir Robert Abdy, 3rd Baronet of Albyns, and James Barry, 4th Earl of Barrymore, see F. J. McLynn, France and the Jacobite Rising of 1745 (Edinburgh, 1981), pp. 17-18.

2 A. Kervella, La Maçonnerie Écossaise dans la France de l’Ancien Régime (Monaco 1999), pp. 151-2.

3 A. Kervella, Le Mystère de la Rose Blanche (Paris, 2009), p. 107; Marquis of Ruvigny & Raineval, The Jacobite Peerage (Baltimore, 2003), pp. 101-2; James to the Duke of Berwick (16 March 1734), RA Stuart Papers, 169/1; Sir Hector Maclean to James Edgar (8 August 1734), RA Stuart Papers, 172/67; RA Stuart Papers, Misc. Vol. 39/30-5.

4 Deposition of William Inglis (10 October 1745), TNA State Papers, Domestic 36/71 ff. 75-6.

5 Drummond asked the Stuart Court for help in obtaining a Colonel's commission in the French army in 1737, and in 1744 he obtained a Jacobite commission as Brigadier. See Lord John Drummond to James (15 March 1737), RA Stuart Papers, 194/159; James to Lord John Drummond (22 December 1744), RA Stuart Papers, 261/18.

6 Deposition of William Inglis (10 October 1745), TNA SPD 36/71 ff. 75-6.

7 Declaration of Alexander Teviotdale (10 October 1745), TNA SPD 36/71 f. 77. The official name of the regiment was Royal Ecossois, French for Royal Scots. The spelling Ecossois only changed to Ecossais at the end of the eighteenth century, while the pronunciation remained the same.

8 Statement of John Macleod (14 August 1745), TNA State Papers Scotland 54/25 f. 69C. Alexander Fraser’s deposition is also included here.

9 Sir Hector Maclean to James Edgar (14 December 1744), RA Stuart Papers 260/151.

10 Sir Hector Maclean to James Edgar (22 March 1745), RA Stuart Papers 263/131.

11 Sir Hector Maclean to James Edgar (8 March 1745), RA Stuart Papers 263/55.

12 Sir Hector Maclean to James Edgar (22 March 1745), RA Stuart Papers 263/131.

13 Charles Edward to James (1 May 1745), RA Stuart Papers 264/124.

14 Ibid.

15 Francis Sempill to James (22 March 1745), RA Stuart Papers 263/134.

16 Daniel O’Brien to James Edgar (15 March 1745), RA Stuart Papers 263/87.

17 Comte d’Argenson to Daniel O’Brien (13 April 1745), RA Stuart Papers 264/59. The Royal Suedois was really a German regiment, though a small number of Swedish (and Scottish) officers served in it.

18 Sir Hector Maclean to James Edgar (1 May 1745), RA Stuart Papers 264/123.

19 Charles Edward to James (1 May 1745), RA Stuart Papers 264/124.

20 Marquis de Saint-Allias, Nobiliaire Universel de France; ou Recueil Général des Généalogies Historiques des Maisons Nobles de ce Royaume (Paris, 1840), xix, pp. 77-9; Manchester Mercury (Tuesday, 27 January 1767), p. 2; Ruvigny & Raineval, The Jacobite Peerage, pp. 116-18.

21 Francis Sempill to James (22 March 1745), RA Stuart Papers 263/134.

22 Tweeddale to Harrington (12 July 1745) TNA State Papers, Scotland: Letter Books 55/13 f. 165.

23 Ruvigny & Raineval, The Jacobite Peerage, p. 102. Given the secrecy with which Jacobite peerages were issued, it is possible that Allan Maclean did not know that he was, at least in name, the 2nd Lord Maclean.

24 Sir Hector Maclean to James Edgar (1 May 1745), RA Stuart Papers 264/123.

25 For an analysis of the disputes between Lord George Murray and John O'Sullivan triggered by Charles Edward's promotion of the latter, see M. Scott, The Case of General Sir John O'Sullivan Beare or From the Tribulations of a Wild Goose to the Difficulties of Celto-Celtic Understanding (London 2002).