On 19 December, 2016, the Centre for Scottish and Celtic Studies, jointly with the Scottish Centre for War Studies, welcomed Daniel Szechi (Manchester) to discuss ‘The Long Shadow of 1715. The Great Jacobite Rebellion in Jacobite Politics and Memory – A Preliminary Analysis’. Below is this listener’s brief summary of the lecture.
Daniel explained that his work has focused on determining how the Jacobite loss in 1715 was perceived by the subsequent generation of Jacobites, those who took part in the uprising in 1745. He has studied the Jacobite mind through a close reading of texts from the period, especially those that had been recorded by veterans of the 1715 uprising. These sources lamented the failure of the 1715 uprising and blamed their defeat on various factors, although these usually fell into three categories: Secular (placed the blame on human actions or luck), Conspiratorial (blamed on betrayal by certain parties), or Cosmic Plan (God’s will, punishment for driving out Mary Queen of Scots, etc.). Daniel’s talk focused on the secular scapegoats.
Much blame was placed on John Erskine, the Earl of Mar. While his accomplishments in administration kept the Jacobite army paid and fed throughout the 1715 uprising, he lacked military experience. Many of the sources declare that he was unfit to be the leader of the rebellion. Blame was also placed on the English Tories and Jacobites. The original plan had been for the rebellion to start in England first, but the plot had been discovered. Thirdly, the French did not provide the supplies that they had promised.
Several battles were considered to have been key and could have been turning points for the Jacobite army. Many authors claimed that the Battle of Sherrifmuir should have been won, but that several opportunities were not taken by the commanders. The Battle at Preston was heavily criticized, especially by Reverend Patten who wrote a memoir about what took place. He mentions how the bridge over the Ribble could have been barricaded in advance, or that they could have fought outside of the town of Preston. In most accounts, Thomas Foster and his actions were disapproved of in several accounts. Finally, the disunity prevalent throughout the army was blamed. Although no particular incidents are blamed, all accounts recall the officers arguing and senior officers who failed to bring the army to discipline.
Understandably, listening to their veteran fathers rue these various factors affected the Jacobites of 1745. Many were hesitant to follow a leader without military experience, wanted assistance from the English Jacobites and European powers, and traveling through Preston caused them particular apprehension. Overall, the Jacobites who took part in the uprising of 1745 learned from the mistakes made in the past, although there was still division within the army. As a result, they were more effective militarily than the army in 1715, and it appears that this improvement may have been due to a member of the royal family being present, which lent additional authority to the decisions made. While the Jacobite interpretation of what went wrong in 1715 was selective, and they did not appear to consider factors beyond their control, the lessons they learned from their defeat allowed them to be more successful in later rebellions, even if they were not successful in the end.
Summary by Megan Kasten (PhD researcher)
Our seminar series for this semester continues on the 26th of January with Chris Whatley (Dundee), ‘Manufacturing Robert Burns, 1859-1896: George Square to Irvine Moor’ [jointly with the Centre for Robert Burns Studies]. This will be held in Room 412, Lecture Theatre B in the Boyd Orr Building at 5:30 pm.