And so, 47 years and 3 days after Claverhouse first raised the Royal Standard on Dundee Law to initiate the military attempt to restore the Stuarts to the throne of their fathers, the last such efforts were crushed at Culloden Moor.
During this period there were five unsuccessful efforts to bring about the Stuart Restoration. Some of them, such as in 1708, barely got off the ground. Others, such as 1745, achieved enough sustained success over a period of months to create genuine grounds for optimism as to their possible success. But none of them really came close.
There are questions that we might ask concerning the entire adventure: was there ever, realistically, any hope for success? In the light of the huge sacrifices that were made over the years by those who strove to bring about the second Restoration, might greater efforts have been made in the first place to avoid the need? If success had been achieved would the world be a better place now? And, given that in the end the whole thing crashed and burned so disastrously, what are the positives that can be taken from it?
Was there any chance of success? Of course there was. But it would have needed a lot of ducks to line up nicely and a strong following wind. When Claverhouse kicked it all off on 13 April 1689 the prospects were slim. All the principals in England had repudiated James and signed up in support of William as king. Both English and Scottish Parliaments had deemed James to have absconded and anointed William and his wife in his place.
So the only remaining hope for those who wished to see James restored was with the common folk in Scotland and Ireland. Claverhouse followed a path that had been trodden so successfully by his kinsman Montrose a generation previously and forged an army from highlanders who, whilst among the finest fighting men in Europe at that time, were led by chiefs who were constrained by the most idiosyncratic mores that even the greatest of history’s military commanders would have struggled to assemble them together on a single battlefield. Assembling and preparing such an army in the first place was probably a greater achievement by Claverhouse than leading it to victory at Killiecrankie.
With his death during the battle that powerful, unifying, commanding force was gone and with it any prospects of success. But what if he’d survived the fighting? There was no point in heading south as any support there was for James was fragmented and subdued. The choice would have been to ship the entire army to Ireland to join with James’ army there or to hold Scotland and await James’ arrival following his victory over William’s forces at the Boyne. And we know how that one turned out.
The 2nd Rising in 1708, when enthusiasm was re-ignited by the heavily opposed Union of Parliaments of 1707, was the only one of the five where no battle was fought and was also the only one where the sovereign-in-waiting turned up to participate in the process. However, it was a disappointed James (VIII/III) who sailed away from Montrose on a cold, wet night in February 1708.
In 1714 Queen Anne died without issue and the unified Parliament cast around Europe seeking a suitably Protestant candidate to be shipped in, declining the credentials of some 64 possible candidates before determining that Sophia, Electress of Hannover was sufficiently non-Catholic for their purpose. This pantomime re-ignited the process and the Earl of Mar raised the Standard to initiate the 1715 Rising.
Controversy still surrounds the major field action of that campaign, the Battle of Sheriffmuir. A cold and clinical assessment of that day, however, would decide that King George’s man, the Duke of Argyll, in preventing Mar’s army from heading south into England and joining forces with the Jacobite Army there, was clearly the day’s victor.
And it was here on Sheriffmuir, 13 November 1715 that hindsight would suggest the possibility of success came closest. That if Mar had not been Mar, but had been of the mettle of Claverhouse or even Lord George Murray, field commander during the ’45, that a proper, decisive effort would have been made. An effort worthy of those who fought and died through all of those campaigns, which would have seen Argyll’s army driven from the field.
But with the English end of the operation losing the Battle of Preston in shameful fashion at virtually the same time, those prospects would have become dimmed once more.
The 4th effort in 1719 saw often-promised foreign support materialize for the first time with Spanish Grenadiers participating in the only field action fought at Glenshiel. However, defeat was again the order of the day. And even victory would have left a small army isolated and far from where the key decisions needed to be made.
The ’45 is often portrayed as the closest that the Jacobites came to achieving the dream of a second Restoration. And with outstanding military victories over formidable, experienced redcoat formations at both Prestonpans in September 1745 and Falkirk in January of the following year, there were real grounds for optimism. Notwithstanding the decision to retreat back to Scotland when at Derby, some 71 miles north of London.
Once again, however, lack of support in England for the whole notion critically undermined the operation. And when Bonnie Prince Charlie, egged on by his sycophantic fellow-exiles decided that removing overall military command of the operation from Lord George Murray, who had masterminded the two earlier victories and taking that role on himself with all his palpable lack of military experience and understanding of the nature of the men at his command, was the best course of action then the die was cast.
When that last Jacobite Army lined up in the sleet on Culloden Moor that April morning, only hours after failing in the unsuccessful night march on Nairn and with one third of their number still engaged in foraging supplies far from the battlefield, the possibility of success grew slimmer with each passing hour.
Defeat was by no means inevitable but the lack of clear leadership then proved to be the decisive factor as the rank and file had to take it upon themselves to determine the best way forward.
And so it ended. And with the commencement of the Industrial Revoluton in Scotland some 14 years later with the opening of the Carron Ironworks, the Jacobite Risings passed into history.
If there had indeed been any prospects of success they were so slim as to be deemed, from our perspective, impossibly marginal. Better by far if away back in the dog days of 1688, James VII/II had taken it upon himself to become a leader of men and not a spineless oaf, and had led an army to threw William back into the sea. Then things would be different.
IF somehow any of these individual campaigns had succeeded, would we be any better of? Given what we know of the manner in which the early Stuarts engaged so enthusiastically in their pursuits of British interests then that would seem unlikely.
If the result had been to undo the disaster of parliamentary union then that would have been a step in the right direction. However, that would only have led back to the ridiculous and unsustainable situation with a single head of state and two parliaments of two nations with disparate and conflicting interests.
Are there any positives to take from it other than a host of images for shortbread tins and the basis of a healthy tourist industry today? Of course there are. Not least that all of this process did a little to sustain the notion that the interests of the people of Scotland are best served when they are controlled by the people of Scotland working with people everywhere else to make the world a better place. A debate which today takes place anew. Time will tell how this one works out.