Spotlight: Jacobites - Scottish Jacobite Agents and Stuart Diplomacy, 1716-46

11 March 2022
In this new edition of Spotlight: Jacobites, Dr Stephen Griffin introduces us to some important diplomatic operatives for the exiled Stuart court during the first half of the 18th century, demonstrating the truly international aspects of Jacobitism.

Much has been written about domestic Jacobitism in Scotland, but it should also be remembered that Scots Jacobites played an important role in advancing Stuart interests abroad. [1] Along with their Irish counterparts, they played an essential role in soliciting diplomatic support for the Stuart court from any foreign powers that were at odds with Hanoverian Britain. 

In 1716 the Jacobite rising, which had begun at Braemar the previous year, had been defeated. James Francis Edward Stuart, known as James VIII and III to his supporters and the Pretender to his enemies, together with his minister John Erskine, Duke of Mar, had fled to the Continent. France had allied with Britain in October 1716 and, having been denied assistance from the French government, both James and Mar knew that they would need further foreign support if they were to return to Britain and Ireland. To secure help they would place their trust in English, Irish and Scots Jacobites to travel across Europe and promote their interests. Several Scots were granted powers to negotiate on behalf of the Stuarts at various times while others would play a more informal role in diplomatic endeavours. All of them may be found in the archives engaging in diplomatic activities in western, central, and eastern Europe with the Holy Roman Emperor, the tsars of Russia, and the King of Spain. 

The Hanoverian succession had seen James’s claim to the British throne ignored. In addition, it placed British interests within central and northern Europe where George I sought to expand his German territories and influence with British resources. This brought George into conflict with Sweden but also led to increased tensions with both Russia and the Austrian Habsburgs. In 1715 George seized the cities of Bremen and Verden, and in 1717 Britain had declared war on Sweden, joining Russia, Prussia, Saxony and Denmark, who were already at war with the Swedes. [2] The Jacobites had been in contact with Sweden since 1715 in an attempt to gain support for the rising. In July 1716, James dispatched Sir John Erskine of Alva to meet with the Swedish king, Charles XII. Alva was a cousin of Mar, had sat in the parliaments at both Edinburgh and Westminster and had subsequently joined the 1715 rising. Travelling via Brussels and Amsterdam, he reached Lübeck on the German Baltic but found he was unable to go any further due to the route being blocked by Russian troops. [3] 

Although Alva eventually returned to Amsterdam, he sent Sir Henry Stirling onward to his brother, Dr Robert Erskine, who was physician to Tsar Peter I and who was with the Russian monarch on campaign in northern Germany. Although they were allied together against Sweden, Russia and Hanover found themselves increasingly at odds as both attempted to secure pre-eminence in the Baltic and in northern Germany. Having contacted Dr Erskine, Stirling wrote that the tsar was favourable to James’s situation. Furthermore, it was reported that the tsar had spoken of his hatred of Hanover and the possibility of an alliance with Sweden. Negotiations with Sweden carried on in Britain and France through 1717 and much of 1718. [4] The death of Charles XII in November 1718 ultimately ended the Sweden’s flirtation with Jacobitism. This did not, however, end the association between Jacobitism and Russia. 

There had been numerous Scottish migrants and Stuart supporters in Russia since the end of the 17th century and this had accelerated following Britain’s domestic unrest in 1715-16. This diaspora played an important role in facilitating Russo-Jacobite relations. As Peter I grew increasingly dissatisfied with George I, he sought to secure an alliance with France from which Britain would be excluded and which the Jacobites could help him obtain. Irish Jacobites were sent to negotiate in Russia in 1723 and they delegated authority to Admiral Thomas Gordon upon their departure. Gordon had served in the Royal Navy before being forced to resign due to his Jacobitism. Having been recruited by Peter I in Paris in 1717, he had been in Russia ever since. [5] Although Peter I died in 1725, contact with the Russian court resumed shortly after when Sir William Hay was sent to Russia in 1725. Hay had been in the Russian service and had carried letters for the Jacobites in previous years. He was granted a warrant with powers for Admiral Gordon and was sent back to Russia. [6] In 1727, Gordon was appointed to be plenipotentiary of the Stuart court. Because he was stationed with the navy at St Petersburg, however, he was largely absent from the Russian court in Moscow. Authority was therefore left in the hands of James Fitzjames, Duke of Liria, the illegitimate grandchild of James VII and II and ambassador of the King of Spain. The decade following 1730 would see Russia experience good relations with Britain and there would be little room for Jacobite plotting. [7] 

Sweden and Russia were not the only nations that had experienced tensions with Hanoverian Britain. Hanover’s rise in status ensured that it was no longer willing to simply act as a vassal of the Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna, Charles VI. Moreover, Britain’s alliance with France (the traditional rival of the Austrian Habsburgs) was believed to have alienated the emperor. In December 1716, the Stuart court dispatched John Walkinshaw of Barrowfield to Vienna. Walkinshaw had been taken prisoner in the ’15 before eventually escaping to the Continent. In Vienna, he complained of the bad weather and found that there were few Scots and Frenchmen in the city and did little to endear himself with other members of the Scottish and Irish diasporas there. [8] One of these emigrants, William Leslie, Bishop of Waitzen (modern-day Vác in Hungary), complained of Walkinshaw’s manners and his lack of patience. Upon meeting with the ministers of the Holy Roman Emperor, Walkinshaw was informed that the Jacobites could not expect any assistance. Once this was reported back to James, it was decided that he should be recalled. Leaving Vienna in March 1717, John Walkinshaw’s diplomatic career appears to have ended thereafter. Granted amnesty by the British government, he returned to Scotland, but some members of his family were not finished with the Stuarts. His daughter, Clementina Walkinshaw, would become well-known as the mistress of Charles Edward Stuart. [9] 

There would not be another Scottish Jacobite agent in Vienna until John Graeme arrived there in October 1725. The son of Sir James Graeme, Solicitor-General of Scotland in 1688, John Graeme was known as a supporter of John Hay of Cromlix, the court favourite of James Stuart. Austria and Spain had concluded peace treaties in the spring of 1725 and, as they emerged in opposition to the alliance of Britain and France, there were immediate rumours that the ‘Allies of Vienna’ would support James’s restoration. Graeme’s diplomatic role had been to support and act as secretary to Philip Wharton, 1st Duke of Wharton, who had been negotiating with the Habsburg court in July 1725. [10] Graeme kept watch on the rakish Wharton for the next few months believing that the duke had embellished his reported dealings. When Wharton left to travel to Rome in January 1726, Graeme was appointed to take his place. Frustrated by the slow pace of the court in Vienna and by Austria’s cautious foreign policy, Graeme wrote of feeling used in his meetings with the ministers of the emperor. [11] He would remain in Vienna until 1727 when he was recalled to Rome to become Secretary of State to James, a position he held until 1728. Graeme served both of James’s sons in the 1740s; he was with Henry Benedict in France during the 1745 rising before switching to Charles Edward’s service when Henry became a cardinal. In 1748 he then journeyed to Berlin on behalf of Charles Edward to request a residency for the prince. His presence in the Prussian capital was a source of embarrassment to King Frederick II, who ordered Graeme’s dismissal from his lands. Following another period as James’s secretary (1759-63), Graeme retired to Paris in 1770 where he died at the Scots College in 1773. [12] 

Spain was one of the most supportive Continental powers of the Jacobites in the early 18th century. The conclusion of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714 resulted in the Spanish monarchy being greatly reduced in Europe, and in the years thereafter its expansionist policies in the Mediterranean were vigorously opposed by Britain. [13] James Butler, 2nd Duke of Ormonde, had travelled to Madrid in 1718 with the intention of securing Spanish aid for a Jacobite restoration. Ormonde met with Cardinal Alberoni, the king of Spain’s first minister, and the two men decided that Ormonde would land in western England to launch a rising while George Keith, Earl Marischal, should lead an invasion of the Scottish Highlands. Bad weather prevented the main invasion force under Ormonde from embarking, but Keith nonetheless sailed from Spain with a small force of 300 men with arms and ammunition, arriving on the coast of the Western Highlands in March 1719. The rising quickly ended in defeat at the Battle of Glenshiel, and the Earl Marischal returned to the Continent. [14] 

Keith was once again called upon to represent James in 1733 and he departed for the Spanish court at Madrid. The Excise Crisis in Britain had led to strong opposition towards the government, and James sought to exploit this by obtaining foreign aid for another rising. Keith was instructed to seek an audience with the king and queen of Spain, where he could encourage them to support a Stuart restoration and explain to them the benefits of forming an alliance with France. [15] Problems arose almost immediately. Keith reported that King Philip V of Spain was experiencing an attack of depression and would not grant audiences or deal with affairs of state. Keith was therefore unable to obtain an audience with the Spanish monarchy. [16] By March 1734, Keith did not see any value in remaining and requested to depart from the Spanish court. In July 1734 he withdrew to Valencia, but not before he had received an appointment as Lieutenant- General from James in Rome. [17] In 1740, Keith made one last unsuccessful effort to obtain Spanish aid, travelling with Ormonde to seek support for an invasion. In the years that followed, he became increasingly disillusioned with Charles Edward Stuart, for whom he bore a strong dislike. Entering Prussian service in 1747, the Earl Marischal served Frederick II thereafter and died in Potsdam in May 1778. [18] 

Jacobitism has often been viewed as historically irrelevant. The Jacobites were defeated, the Stuarts did not return, and some scholars have argued that their support was largely sentimental. [19] Indeed, when examining the various plots above in which Scottish Jacobite diplomatic agents involved themselves, it is clear that they were unsuccessful endeavours. Nonetheless, Daniel Szechi has highlighted that the Jacobites of the early eighteenth century were familiar with 17th century concepts of politics and statecraft. Domestic risings could destabilise rival governments in times of war and agents were needed to establish contact with prospective support. Diplomatic treatises of the 17th and early 18th century suggested that best practice dictated maintaining an active representative for an extended period of time so that an individual would always be ready to begin negotiations immediately. As one 17th-century statesman, Cardinal Richelieu of France, wrote in his Testament Politique: ‘He who negotiates continuously will finally find the right instant to attain his ends, and even if this does not come about, at least it can be said he has lost nothing while keeping abreast of events in the world’. [20] 

About the author

Dr Stephen Griffin received his PhD from University of Limerick. He was a Richard Plaschka pre-doctoral fellow, with residency in Vienna, in 2017-18 and received the Rev. Liam Swords Foundation Bursary, with residency in Paris, in 2019. He has been published in History Ireland and the Bulletin du Centre de recherche du Chateau de Versailles. He has a number of forthcoming publications on the nature of Stuart diplomacy in exile.


Further reading

W.K. Dickson, The Jacobite attempt of 1719 (Edinburgh, 1895).

Bruce Lenman, The Jacobite risings in Britain, 1689-1746 (Edinburgh, 1980).

Steve Murdoch, Network north: Scottish kin, commercial and covert associations in Northern Europe, 1603-1746 (Leiden, 2006). 

Daniel Szechi, The Jacobites: Britain and Europe, 1688-1788 (2nd ed., Manchester, 2019).

Rebecca Wills, The Jacobites and Russia, 1715-1750 (East Lindon, 2002). 


1. For a helpful overview of the Scottish Jacobite diaspora, see, Calum Cunningham, ‘“Rebels Without a Cause”: the External Jacobite Diasporas, 1688-1788’ in The History Teaching Review Yearbook (2020), pp. 1-19; also see Rebecca Wills, The Jacobites and Russia, 1715-1750 (East Linton, 2002); Steve Murdoch, Network north: Scottish kin, commercial and covert associations in Northern Europe, 1603-1746 (Leiden, 2006), pp. 313-48. 

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2. Brendan Simms, Three Victories and A Defeat: The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire (London, 2007), pp. 107-8; Robert I. Frost, The Northern Wars: War, State and Society in Northeastern Europe, 1558-1721 (Harlow, 2000), pp. 295-6. 

3. John Erskine to Mar (26 July 1716), John Erskine to Mar (8 August 1716) reprinted in HMC Stuart Papers, ii, pp. 311, 334; John J. Murray, ‘Sweden and the Jacobites in 1716’ in Huntington Library Quarterly, 8:3 (1945), pp. 259-76; Daniel Szechi, The Jacobites: Britain and Europe, 1688-1788 (2nd ed., Manchester, 2019), pp. 180-3; D.W. Hayton, ‘Erskine (Areskine), Sir John’ in History of Parliament

4. Erskine to Mar (30 September 1716) reprinted in HMC Stuart Papers, ii, p. 495; Stirling to John Erskine (22 September 1716), Gyllenborg to Gyllenborg (17 November 1716) reprinted in Rev. Robert Paul, ‘Letters and Documents Relating to Robert Erskine: Physician to the Czar, 1677-1720’ in Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, lxiv, (Edinburgh, 1904), p. 420; Frost, The Northern Wars, pp. 295-6. 

5. Wills, Jacobites and Russia, pp. 49-55, 68-72; Steve Murdoch, ‘Soldiers, Sailors, Jacobite Spy: Russo-Jacobite Relations, 1688-1750’ in Slavonica, 3:1 (1996), pp. 7-9. 

6. John Hay to William Hay (10 October 1724) RA SP Main Box 77 f. 73; William Hay to John Hay (6 November 1724) RA SP Main Box 77 f. 46; Warrant or Writ to Captain William Hay (24 February 1725) RA SP Misc 20, f. 165-7. 

7. Gordon to James (10 March 1728) RA SP Main Box 114 f. 144; Wills, Jacobites and Russia, pp. 143-4. 

8. Mar to Jerningham (26 October 1716), Walkinshaw to Paterson (2 December 1716), Walkinshaw to Mar (16 December 1716) reprinted in HMC Stuart Papers, iii, pp. 140, 280, 317-8; Joachim Whaley, Germany and the Holy Roman Empire Volume II: the Peace of Westphalia to the Dissolution of the Reich, 1648-1806 (Oxford, 2021), p. 150; Daniel Szechi, 1715: the Great Jacobite Rebellion (Yale, 2006), p. 202; Rev. A.W. Cornelius Hallen, ‘The Walkinshaws of Barrowfield’ in The Scottish antiquary, or, northern notes and queries, vii (1893), p. 136. 

9. Walkinshaw to Paterson (1 March 1717), Walkinshaw to Mar (15 May 1717) reprinted in HMC Stuart Papers, iv, pp. 89, 245; Leslie to James (12 April 1717) reprinted in HMC Stuart Papers, vi, pp. 599-600; Frank McLynn, Bonnie Prince Charlie: Charles Edward Stuart (Oxford, 1991), p. 206; David Worthington, ‘Leslie, William’ in ODNB

10. George Lockhart, The Lockhart Papers (2 vols., London, 1817) ii, p. 338; Melville Henry Massue, Marquis de Ruvigny et Rainval, The Jacobite peerage, baronetage, knightage and grants of honour (London, 1903), p. 6; Ragnhild Hatton, George I: Elector and King (London, 1978), p. 271. 

11. Graeme to Hay (3 November 1725) RA SP Main Box 87 f. 49); Graeme to Hay (6 April 1726) RA SP Main Box 92 f. 110. 

12. Ruvigny et Raineval, Jacobite Peerage, p. 6; Frederick to Mardefeld (25 & 29 May 1748) reprinted in Johann Gustav Droysen, Politische Corespondenz Friedrich’s des Grossen (Berlin, 1881), vi, pp. 125, 127; James Dennistoun, Memoirs of Sir Robert Strange, and of Andrew Lumisden (London, 1855), ii, p. 149; Edward Corp, The Stuarts in Italy, 1719-1766: A Royal Court in Permanent Exile (Cambridge, 2011), pp. 184, 199. 

13. Jeremy Black, British Foreign Policy in the Age of George I, 1714-1727 (London, 2014), p. 95-9; H.M. Scott and Derek McKay, The Rise of the Great Powers, 1648-1815 (Harlow, 1983), pp. 101-2, 112-6. 

14. Ormonde to Keith (8 December 1718), Keith to Alberoni (13 February 1719), Ormonde to James (22 March 1719) reprinted in W.K. Dickson, The Jacobite Attempt of 1719 (Edinburgh, 1895), pp. 9, 60-2, 94; Bruce Lenman, The Jacobite Risings in Britain, 1689-1746 (London, 1980), pp. 190-4; Edward M. Furgol, ‘Keith, George, styled tenth Earl Marischal’ in ODNB

15. James to Keith (27 February 1733) RA SP Main Box 159 f. 159.

16. Keith to James (27 May 1733) RA SP Main Box 161 f. 139; Keith to James (28 June 1733) RA SP Main Box 162 f. 174; Henry Kamen, Philip V of Spain: The King Who Reigned Twice (London, 2001), pp. 189-90. 

17. Keith to Edgar (27 March 1734) RA SP Main Box 169 f. 49; James to Keith (13 June 1734) RA SP Main Box 162 f. 82; Keith to O’Brien (5 July 1734) RA SP Main Box 171 f. 96; Keith to Edgar (8 July 1734) RA SP Main Box 171 f. 108. 

18. J.Y.T. Greig, ed., ‘Two fragments of autobiography by George Keith, 10th Earl Marischal of Scotland’ in Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, xxi, (1933), p. 362; McLynn, Bonnie Prince Charlie, p. 96. 

19. Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837 (London, 1992), pp. 72-85; Paul Langford, A Polite and Commercial People: England, 1727-1783 (Oxford, 1989), pp. 200-2.

20. Szechi, The Jacobites, pp. 178-80; François de Callières, The Art of Diplomacy (trans., H.M.A. Keens-Soper and Karl W. Schweizer, London, 1983), p. 69; Armand-Jean du Plessis, Cardinal Richelieu, The Political Testament of Cardinal Richelieu (trans., Henry Bertram Hill, Madison, 1961), p. 95. 


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