In 1688, in an act that was immediately hailed as a ‘Glorious Revolution’, Parliament and an overwhelmingly Protestant political nation deposed the Roman Catholic King James II. His arbitrary actions and fostering of a powerful standing army had appeared to presage the establishment of an absolute Catholic monarchy.
James’s Protestant daughters from his first marriage, Mary and Anne, reigned after him. But when Anne died in 1714 leaving no heir, Parliament replaced the Stuart dynasty with their German cousins, the Hanoverians. The claims of James II’s Catholic son, James Francis Edward, the so-called ‘Old Pretender’, were ignored.
On 25 September 1715, John Erskine, 6th the Earl of Mar, raised James’s banner at Braemar. The previous year, Mar had supported the accession of the Hanoverian King George I, but soon found himself out of favour. He hoped to restore his prestige and influence by supporting a Jacobite rising. He soon had an army of 6,000 men. Other Jacobite forces formed elsewhere in Scotland and the north of England.
Plans to reduce the size of the British Army following the end of the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-13) had to be shelved, and new regiments were hurriedly raised. Even so, government forces in Scotland were initially too few in number to contain the rising. Many soldiers were still on the continent.
A Jacobite force then invaded England. Instead of the expected welcome the Jacobites were met by hostile militia and won only a few recruits to their cause. Their invasion got as far as Preston before being defeated by Lieutenant General Wills on 12 November 1715.
Back in Scotland Mar had been more successful. Having the advantage of greater numbers he was able to defeat government forces at Sherrifmuir, near Dunblane, on 13 November 1715. Yet he failed to follow this victory up and fell back towards the Highlands. He was pursued by John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll, who was now being steadily reinforced while Mar’s force shrank through desertion.
Not even the arrival of 'the Old Pretender' himself by ship from France on 22 December 1715 could rouse his followers. The rebellion eventualy petered out in February 1716, when James returned to France, leaving his Highland followers to fend for themselves.
A second attempt by James Stuart to seize power took place in March 1719. An invasion force of 27 ships carrying 5,000 soldiers set sail from Spain to land in Scotland and raise the clans.
Most of the ships were dispersed by storms. In the event only 300 Spanish troops landed near Eilean Donan Castle on the west coast of Scotland.
The Jacobites established their headquarters there only for the castle to be destroyed by Hanoverian warships a month later.
The attempt to call out the clans yielded only about 1,000 recruits and on 10 June 1719 the Jacobites were defeated at Glenshiel by a force led by General Joseph Wightman.
Over the next 20 years the government tightened its hold on the Scottish Highlands. General George Wade built roads to open up inaccessible areas, Fort William was strengthened and other forts were constructed.
Independent Companies of Highlanders were raised from clans loyal to the government to police the region. The most famous of these was 'The Black Watch'.
In July 1745 James’s son, Charles Edward Stuart, or ‘The Young Pretender’, landed in the Hebrides from a French frigate. On 19 August he raised his standard at Glenfinnan. About 2,000 Highland clansmen rallied to his cause and on 17 September he entered Edinburgh and proclaimed James III King with himself as Regent.
At the time, most of the British Army was fighting on the continent in the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48), so the government initially had to rely on inexperienced troops. On 21 September 1745 General John Cope’s soldiers were defeated by the Jacobites at Prestonpans.
In early November Charles’s army, now nearly 6,000 strong, crossed the border. He captured Carlisle and marched south through Lancashire in the hope of attracting English support.
The Duke of Cumberland was recalled from the Continent with many of his battle-hardened regiments to deal with the crisis. The Militia was also called out and new volunteer regiments were raised. Nevertheless, on 4 December 1745 Charles entered Derby.
He was now only 200 km (125 miles) from London but his army was tired and weakened by desertion. Few Englishman had joined him and the French invasion he had hoped for had not materialised.
His generals were concerned that that they were in danger of being trapped by the Government’s forces. Charles reluctantly agreed to retreat and by late December his army was back in Scotland where it received reinforcements, including some French troops.
On 17 January the Jacobites defeated General Henry Hawley at Falkirk but were eventually forced to retreat towards Inverness, pursued all the way by Cumberland.
On 16 April 1746 the two armies faced each other at Culloden, to the south west of Nairn. Pounded by artillery, the outnumbered Jacobites launched a fearsome Highland sword charge. Although Cumberland’s left came under heavy pressure, his soldiers held firm with their bayonets.
Charles’s army was routed and the 'Bonnie Prince' was forced to make a dramatic escape to France. Many Englishmen and Lowland Scots regarded the Highlanders as savages, to whom the rules of civilised warfare did not apply. After Culloden, wounded Highlanders were bayoneted where they lay and Charles’s fleeing soldiers were ruthlessly hunted down.
The battle was followed by a period of severe repression in the Highlands. Cumberland’s men employed tactics already used against the Maroons in Jamaica. They executed prisoners, burned settlements and seized livestock, earning their commander the nickname ‘Butcher’. Highland culture was repressed and the clan system dismantled.
The Hanoverian victory ended Jacobitism as a serious political force. It also brought long-lasting stability to British politics and, by depriving the French of the opportunity of causing trouble for the Government in its own back yard, paved the way for global expansion.
Many Lowland Scots celebrated the defeat of the Highland Jacobites for religious or economic reasons. The Union and the Presbyterian system of church government were safe. Economic progress came to the Lowlands through the Union and access to the trade routes of its empire.
Ironically, Charles' defeat also led to an influx of Highlanders into the British Army. Many saw service against the British Empire's enemies in North America and elsewhere as a way of reviving their fortunes.