This article was first published in the June 2011 issue of BBC History Magazine


The Jacobite movement began with a single desire: to restore James II and VII to the throne. It was born out of the fallout of what some historians refer to as the Glorious Revolution – when the Catholic James II of England (James VII of Scotland) was dethroned and forced into exile by his son-in-law, the future William III and II – and became an underground movement in each of the kingdoms of England, Ireland and Scotland. However, although the Jacobites were united by a common desire to restore the Stuart line, each held their own agenda.

“The real powerhouses for the Jacobite movement were Scotland and Ireland,” says Daniel Szechi of the University of Manchester. “Many devoutly Protestant Episcopalian Scots were antagonised by the Williamite regime’s imposition of Presbyterianism, the Scottish form of Protestantism, on the Scottish Kirk, and this moved them towards what we might today refer to as ‘nationalism’. The Scots Jacobites wanted James II and VII’s son, James Francis Edward Stuart, crowned king, but as a ceremonial monarch only, along with other constitutional changes.”

The Irish, three-quarters of whom were Catholic, were equally opposed to William’s regime but wished to disconnect political control of Ireland from Westminster. English Jacobites – the least numerous – wished simply for the restoration of the Stuart dynasty.

Jacobite plots fed on discontent of all kinds, and were encouraged by James Francis Edward Stuart. In August 1715, John Erskine, the Earl of Mar, raised the old Scottish standard, gathered an army and recognised James as James VIII of Scotland (and James III of England). Jacobite forces were soon flocking to the standard and rebellions broke out in Dundee, Perth and Aberdeen. Government troops under the Duke of Argyll rushed to the scene and, in November 1715, met the Jacobites in a battle at Sheriffmuir in Perthshire.

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Although the clash was inconclusive, Jacobite forces lost their faith in victory. Even the rather belated arrival of James VIII in December the same year did little to raise their spirits. As Scottish Jacobite forces retreated north, their leaders, including James, were forced to flee, rather ingloriously, to the safety of France.

However, while Jacobite troops were fighting in Scotland, expeditionary forces from the Highlands arrived in the Scottish lowlands to join with northern English Jacobites and strike into England. “The resulting battle of Preston was a resounding victory for the Jacobites,” says Szechi, “and a blow to the British forces.” Yet history was to repeat itself when the Jacobites suffered another crisis of confidence, finding themselves surrounded in Preston with no artillery or supplies. Their only choice was to surrender. Retribution on the rebels was swift but not as brutal as might be expected. Around 40 of the 1,500 prisoners taken were executed; the rest were sent to the American colonies and sold into virtual slavery.

The Jacobite rebellion of 1745 was to prove far more traumatic. As Szechi explains: “The interim years between 1715 and 1745 had seen more secret correspondence between the Jacobite underground in England and the French. And, with Britain and France on opposing sides in the War of Austrian Succession – which began in 1740 – an invasion of England seemed like a good idea.”

Unfortunately for the rebels, the plan never really got off the ground: French preparations for an assault on England in 1744 were wrecked by a storm, and the English Jacobites got cold feet about the planned uprising.

Yet Jacobite plans for an invasion of England weren’t shelved quite yet. The arrival of Prince Charles Edward Stuart (better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie), the grandson of James II and VII, in Scotland in 1745 with a tiny force of men and just one surviving ship set the wheels of rebellion in motion once more. First landing in Eriskay in July 1745, Charles spent three weeks persuading Jacobite leaders in Scotland to rebel with him. Using every power of persuasion in his possession – including claims that he possessed written assurances from the English Jacobites that they would rise with them – Charles succeeded in raising an army, which seized Edinburgh and inflicted a resounding defeat on British forces at Prestonpans in September that year.

The victorious Jacobite forces marched into England, entering Manchester in November 1745 before moving on to Derby, buoyed by Charles’s promises that the English Jacobites would soon be swelling their numbers. In fact, just 200 men joined the rebel army in Manchester, and when Jacobite officers demanded to see the letters of support from their English counterparts, Charles was forced to admit that he had lied. The Jacobite council consequently refused to march on London and voted unanimously to return to Scotland.

“The irony of the situation,” says Szechi, “is that while the Scottish Jacobites were ending their invasion of England, the French were desperately pulling together an army to join them.” Instead, the Scots retreated to Falkirk where they successfully fought off another British army. Yet their situation was far from promising. A further retreat into northern Scotland culminated in April 1746 in Culloden, the final battle of the uprising, and saw the outnumbered Jacobite force decisively beaten. Even so, the survivors were willing to fight on.

In the end, it was Charles himself who called an end to the fighting, fleeing to France to raise a new army and leaving his troops without a leader. With the French now unwilling to help, the Jacobite cause looked doomed and the British forces wreaked their revenge on the Highlands in an act that has been referred to by some historians, including Allan Macinnes, as verging on “ethnic cleansing”. The Jacobites never rebelled again.

Words: Charlotte Hodgman. Historical advisor: Daniel Szechi of the University of Manchester.

Where history happened: 8 places connected to the Jacobites


Brixham Port (Torbay, Devon)

Where William of Orange began his invasion of England

On 5 November 1688, the Dutch prince William of Orange and 14,000 troops landed at Brixham, Torbay, for an invasion of England. William, who married James II and VII’s daughter and heir, Mary, in 1677, had been persuaded to invade the country by powerful English Protestants who were alarmed by James II and VII’s Catholicism. The arrival of a male heir, James Francis Edward Stuart (later hailed as James III and VIII), in June 1688 created a potentially enduring Catholic dynasty and effectively excluded Mary from becoming the country’s future Protestant queen. This provided a strong incentive for William’s invasion in 1688.

William was warmly welcomed in south-west England, gathering supporters who marched with him through Exeter towards London. James II and VII and his army confronted William near Salisbury but the expected battle never happened: shocked by the defection of some of his closest allies, James suffered an apparent nervous breakdown, and fled to London. William and Mary were eventually crowned king and queen of England on 11 April 1689. A statue of William III now stands on Brixham quayside marking the spot where he allegedly first set foot on English soil.


City walls (Londonderry/Derry)

Where 12 apprentice boys made a stand

Following William's capture of London in 1688, James II and VII was forced to flee to France, but the battle for power was far from over. In March 1689, James II and VII sailed to Ireland full of hope that he could regain the throne with the help of his Jacobite supporters in France, Ireland and Scotland. Predominantly Protestant by religion, Londonderry’s townspeople did not take well to James sending a Catholic regiment to garrison the city and, as legend has it, 12 apprentice boys seized the initiative and slammed the city gates in the faces of the marching Catholic soldiers.

Derry successfully defended itself from the ensuing three-month Jacobite siege, which included a blockade of the city. The city walls, although not designed to withstand a long siege, held strong, despite being continuously bombarded by James’s forces.

Cannons and mortars caused a great deal of damage, mostly to the section between Bishop’s Gate and Butcher’s Gate, which received the brunt of the attacks. In order to reinforce the bulwarks, the city’s defenders used barrels filled with earth to replace the smashed parapets. Relief finally came on 28 July after the Royal Navy broke through the blockade and got essential supplies to the city. The Jacobites, realising they were fighting a losing battle, retreated, and the city was safe.

The Great Siege, as it is known in Ireland, is still commemorated on two occasions by the Apprentice Boys of Derry: The ‘Shutting of the Gates’ parade is celebrated in December and the ‘Relief of Derry’ parade is held in August. The city walls that defended Londonderry’s residents still stand and the keys to the gates are held in the city’s cathedral.


Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre (Oldbridge, Drogheda, County Lough)

Where the Jacobites were defeated by the Williamite army

The battle of the Boyne was one of the most crucial clashes fought during the Irish civil war between William and James (often referred to as the Williamite War or the Cogadh an Dá Rí – War of the Two Kings) between 1689 and 1691. James II and VII, who had already landed in Ireland, met William's forces at the river Boyne on 1 July 1690.

William, who was heading an army of 36,000 English, Scottish, Dutch, Danes and Huguenots (French Protestants), camped on the north side of the river. Meanwhile, James and his army of 25,000 – mainly Irish Catholics with some French regiments loaned by Louis XIV – took the south side. Although William’s plan to outmanoeuvre James’s forces by using a pincer-like technique failed, he still defeated the Jacobite army which retreated and regrouped beyond the Shannon to continue the war. James, however, fled to France where he lived in exile until his death in 1701.

The Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre stands at the edge of the battlefield, and self-guiding walks are available through the core battle site, with orientation panels and maps located at various points.



Aughrim battlefield, Galway

Where more than 7,000 lives were lost on the battlefield

Just over a year after the Jacobite defeat at the battle of the Boyne, the two armies came head-to-head once more in one of the bloodiest battles ever fought on Irish soil and one which effectively saw the end of the Jacobites in Ireland.

William was no longer in Ireland, having passed command over to Dutchman Godert de Ginkel. Having rejected an offer to surrender, the re-formed Jacobite force, under the command of Charles Chalmont, Marquis de St Ruth, met the Williamite army near the small village of Aughrim. The Jacobites put up a good fight and had the advantage of being able to choose the location of the battle. Indeed, the solid limestone plain where the battle was fought was surrounded by a bog, in which many of the Williamite army were caught and slaughtered. William’s camp eventually emerged victorious, but a total of over 7,000 lives were lost in the battle.

The Battle of Aughrim Interpretative Centre, situated in Aughrim village, overlooks the battlefield and offers guided tours and information for visitors.



The Treaty Stone (Limerick)

Where the Treaty of Limerick was signed

Following its shattering defeat at Aughrim in July 1691, the crushed Jacobite army in Ireland was offered free passage to France in exchange for the surrender of the last Jacobite stronghold: Limerick.

Though he was effectively allowing the Jacobites to join England’s enemies on the continent, William’s acquisition of Limerick enabled him to free up resources in Ireland and return to the task of defeating the French. The Treaty of Limerick was made on 3 October 1691 and was signed on a stone in the sight of both armies at the Clare end of Thomond Bridge, according to tradition. The stone can still be seen and has rested on its current plinth since 1865.


Massacre at Glencoe memorial (Glencoe, Highlands)

Where more than 30 clansmen were murdered

By 1691, with expeditions north of the border successfully subduing the uprising, and rebel forces still reeling from defeat at the battle of Aughrim, the government was able to impose a ceasefire on the Scottish Jacobites. One of the conditions of the agreement was that Scottish clan leaders formally present themselves to government garrisons and submit themselves to the new regime.

James II and VII at this time was in France and his Scottish supporters were unwilling to agree to the ceasefire without his consent, so messengers were swiftly dispatched to France to seek his permission. James agreed, but with time against them and a delay of two weeks following arrests in London, many of the messengers were forced to ride flat out to ensure the clan leaders received their king’s permission to submit before the deadline. The MacDonalds of Glencoe, however, failed to receive the message in time and missed the deadline by a few days.

Determined to punish the rebels, government officials in Scotland decided to make an example of the clan and issued a commission of fire and sword. On 13 February 1692, government troops, led by Captain Robert Campbell, murdered more than 30 MacDonald men and boys in their own homes. Women and children were forced out into the Highland snows where many more perished.

Today, a memorial to what is commonly known as the Massacre of Glencoe stands in Glencoe village and an annual commemoration and church service marks the anniversary of the event every February.



Prestonpans battlefield, East Lothian

Where Bonnie Prince Charlie led his forces to victory

The battle of Prestonpans, the first significant clash in the third Jacobite rising, took place in the early morning of 21 September 1745 and was reportedly over in less than 15 minutes. The Jacobite army, led by James II and VII’s grandson Charles (Bonnie Prince Charlie), achieved a stunning victory over the British forces, with hundreds of government troops killed or wounded and some 1,500 taken prisoner as they fled the battlefield.

According to a contemporary source, government troops commanded by Sir John Cope – who was under orders to put down the Jacobite risings – were confronted by some 1,400 Highlanders charging through the early morning mist with “wild Highland war cries and with the bloodcurdling skirl of the pipes” – surely a terrifying sight to behold. Their defeat was a huge blow to government forces and meant that most of Scotland was now in the hands of Charles. Word reached London and panic ensued; Jacobite fortunes looked to be on the rise.

Much of the battle landscape still survives and can be seen from the top of a viewing mound at Meadowmill. Self-guided walks can be downloaded from the battle of Prestonpans website.



Culloden battlefield visitor centre (Culloden Moor, Inverness, Highlands)

Where the Jacobites fought, and lost, their final battle in just one hour

The battle of Culloden in April 1746 was to be the last of the Jacobite era and a bitter defeat for the rebels. After learning that the promised support from English Jacobites wasn’t going to materialise, the Scottish forces left Derby – to where they had advanced following their victory at Prestonpans – and retreated back into northern Scotland. Charles was furious but the Jacobite council had voted to return, unaware that the French were raising an army to help them. They were met by government forces under the Duke of Cumberland at Culloden where, outnumbered, starving and exhausted, they were defeated in just one hour.

Culloden Moor was boggy and the Jacobite forces were unable to strike quickly in hand-tohand combat, which was their preferred method of fighting. Around 1,500 Jacobites were killed or wounded and the survivors retreated into the Highlands. Clan leaders were keen to regroup and continue fighting, to try and force an amnesty from the government, but ultimately it was Charles who called an end to the rebellion, abandoning his army to try and escape to France just four days after the battle.

The aftermath of Culloden was brutal and bloody; the Duke of Cumberland determined to eliminate the Jacobite threat once and for all and the structures of Highland society were swiftly dismantled. Chiefs were deprived of their legal powers and clansmen of their weapons. Prisoners were taken, homes burned, women assaulted and civilians murdered. Jacobite estates were seized by the crown, and kilt and tartan were banned.

The battlefield can still be visited today and features a 20-foot cairn, erected by Duncan Forbes in 1881. Headstones lie on either side of the road through the battlefield, bearing the names of dead clan members, while information on the battle can be found at the visitor centre.