Reading the Collections, Week 30: A Jacobite Declaration, 1715
Today, 6 September, is the 300th anniversary of the raising of the Standard of the Jacobite army at Braemar by John Erskine, 6th Earl of Mar: “in presence of the assembled thanes, the standard of the Pretender – the flag of insurrection – was planted ‘on the braes of Mar’.” (History of the Late Rebellion, written ‘by a Lover of the Prosperity and Peace of Great-Britain’ [Reverend Peter Rae, minister of Kirkconnell in Upper Nithsdale] and printed in DRUMFRIES in 1718 by his brother Robert). This launched the first Jacobite Rebellion or “the Fifteen”.
Jacobites were supporters of the exiled catholic King James II and VII and his Stuart descendants. He had fled to France after the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 brought protestant William and Mary to the thrones of England, Ireland and Scotland. At his death in 1701, Louise XIV of France recognised his son, James Francis Stuart, born in July 1688, as King James III and VIII. The rebellion of 1715 was launched to reinstate the Stuarts to the British throne, by supporting the claim of James III/VIII, later known as ‘the Old Pretender’.
This declaration, made by James III/VIII to his subjects of England and reprinted in Perth in 1715, protests against ‘the Foreign Family, Alien to Our Country, distant in Blood and Strangers even to Our Language’ who have ascended the throne. It protests against the ‘unjust and illegal Settlement’ and cites the example of Charles I ‘our Royal Grandfather who fell a Sacrifice to Rebellion’. James promises to appeal to Parliament, promising a full, free and general pardon to his subjects, as their only Rightful and Lawful Sovereign. It is dated in France ‘in the 15th year of Our Reign’, dating from the death of his father. Note that he also claims to be King of France!
The death of his half-sister Queen Anne in 1714 without living children and the implementation of the 1701 Act of Settlement which sought to ensure the Protestant succession of the House of Hanover led to political turmoil and even riots in England. This encouraged the Jacobites to believe that the time was right for an uprising. However, ‘James’ French allies failed to give assistance, the British government had plenty of warning, diversionary risings in England fizzled out, and Mar’s troops began to desert after an indecisive battle at Sheriffmuir in November 1715’ (See here for more).
James himself left for France in February 1716 and the Jacobites disbanded. This letter from our manuscript collection was written by the Old Pretender, signing himself ‘Jacques R’. It is dated from Avignon in May 1716. He was not welcome in Paris since Louis XIV had made peace with England in 1713. He subsequently moved to Bologna before settling in Rome where he married in 1719. His son Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie or the ‘Young Pretender’) was born in 1720.
The University had produced some committed supporters of the Jacobite cause. Alexander Robertson of Struan had been a student here and the Chancellor’s son, Tulliebardine, was out in 1715 and unfurled the Prince’s flag at Glenfinnan in 1745. The College of St Leonard had a reputation for being a hotbed of radicalism and many Jacobite sympathisers. On the day that the Pretender was proclaimed, they forced their way into the college steeple and rang the bell by way of celebration (Cant, 100).
One of the University’s staff, Alexander Scrimgeour, was suspended from his Chair of Ecclesiastical History due to his Jacobite sympathies. These lecture notes were taken down from his dictates when he was a regent in the University earlier in his career. The University was clearly conscious of its public position, although the Senatus minutes have a gap from the vital period in 1715-16.
Below is a copy of an undated draft of an address to be sent to the King which attempts to set the University back in Hanoverian good books which may date from 1715.
The Hay Fleming Collection which can be relied upon to provide commentary on most religious disputes, contains some interesting tracts representing both sides in the ’15 including the snappily-titled ‘The Declaration, protestation and testimony of a poor wasted, desolate, misrepresented and reproached Remnant of the Suffering Anti-popish, Anti-Prelatick, Anti-erastian, Anti-sectarian, true Presbyterian Church of Christ in Scotland, united together in Truth and Duty, published against the Proclamation, Accession and Establishment of George D. of Hanover to be King in these Lands, and all his Abetters and Supporters, in Aprile 1715’ and ‘A Short History of the late Rebellion and of the conduct of divine providence: together with the Consequences if it had succeeded’, which talks of the ‘time of the late Rebellion,when Danger was at your Door, first from your Nighbours, and a Visit expected next at your Gates by a little Highland Hannibal’.
Finally, it isn’t possible really to talk about the ’15 without reference to the ’45, so here’s another conveniently dated document from our collections. This is a commission by Bonnie Prince Charlie (styling himself Charles Prince of Wales and signed ‘Charles PR’) which is issued to an unnamed individual to serve as a Lieutenant in the Regiment of Euan McPherson of Clunie in the Jacobite Army, issued at Perth on 7 September 1745, 270 years ago tomorrow!