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The Jacobites and Britain 3: Neither Highland v Lowland, nor Catholic v Protestant

Medal struck to commemorate the 1745 Rising. Note the Union Jack shield.

The photograph shows a medal struck to commemorate the '45. Note Britannia with a Union Jack shield. "Amor et Spes" means "The Love and Hope". Circa 1745-50. More info at National Portrait Gallery.

Scottish nationalists like to portray an over-simplified and romanticised picture of the Jacobite Risings. Tartan-clad, sword-wielding Highlanders are the classic depiction of Jacobite soldiers, and the Risings are framed crudely in terms variously of English-Scottish, Highland-Lowland and Catholic-Protestant conflict.

Our previous articles, written by John Provan, have debunked the notion of the Risings as English-Scottish conflicts by highlighting just how divided Scotland was along Jacobite and Hanoverian lines; and by exploring the rich history of English Jacobitism.

This article debunks two myths which are equally stubborn: that the Jacobite Risings can be reduced to either Highland v Lowland or Catholic v Protestant conflicts.

Highland versus Lowland?

It is true that the Scottish Highlands, isolated and remote as they were from central authority, raised some of the first forces for the Jacobite cause in each of the Risings.

For example, in the '45 the first force of 2,500 men to be mustered was composed chiefly of Highlanders. The only Lowland unit was the Duke of Perth's, which itself contained many men raised from across the Highland line.[1]

However it must be noted that the first battles to take place in 1745 were with government troops which were also entirely Highland in their composition. For example, at Inverurie on 23 December 1745 Jacobite forces, which were nine-hundred strong and included elite French and Irish troops, defeated the 500-strong government forces composed of local Independent Highland companies; an irregular militia raised from clans loyal to the Hanoverians.

This led to a curious situation where "the Jacobite victory may have led to more Highlanders being in prison in Aberdeen for supporting the Hanoverians than there were Jacobite Highlanders in the burgh".[2]

This composition changed sharply after the fiercely pro-Jacobite areas of the North East Lowlands began to rally for the Young Pretender, and these North East Lowlands became the chief source of Jacobite recruitment.

The burghs, rural communities and fishing towns of the North East Lowlands had long been the hotbed of Scottish Jacobitism: Angus and Kincardineshire; Forfar and Montrose.

In the 1715 Rising it is estimated that Scottish Jacobite forces were split roughly 60:40 along these Lowland/Highland lines. Since Lowlanders comprised the majority of Jacobite forces and combined with the fact they were joined by a substantial number of English Jacobites, Highland Jacobites were clearly a minority in the Jacobite army.[3]

It seems that as early as 1715 tartan was being adopted as a sort of Jacobite uniform, and this may in part explain misconceptions. For example, on 1 October 1715 the Jacobite army in Perth was described as being "all in Highland cloaths tho mostly Lowland men".[4]

The evidence gives a similar picture for the '45. Only one-third of Jacobite prisoners taken after Culloden were Highlanders;[5] the majority were Lowland Jacobites, not to mention elite French and Irish troops and even a small contingent of English Jacobites from the Manchester Regiment who had joined Bonnie Prince Charlie on his march southward to Derby.[6]

We can draw a clear dividing line in Scotland to demarcate pro or anti-Jacobite feeling, but it is not the Highland-Lowland line. The Forth-Clyde line is far more accurate.

Historian Murray Pittock observes that there was a pro-Jacobite bias north of this line (especially in the North East Lowlands), and strongly anti-Jacobite sentiment south of it.[7]

We have already demonstrated how remarkably poor Jacobite recruitment was in Southern Scotland.[8]

Why then were the North East Lowlands such a hotbed of Jacobite support and recruitment? That is an important question and it ties into the next myth that we must debunk: that the Jacobite Risings were somehow a case of Catholic-Protestant conflict.

Catholic versus Protestant?

Most Jacobite troops were Lowlanders, and they were also mostly Protestants. In the 18th Century Catholics are estimated to have accounted for just a single percentage point of the Scottish population; compared to two-percent in England and seventy-five percent in Ireland.[9]

Even a century earlier Catholic clans like the Macdonalds of Clanranald had become very much the exception.[10] By contrast, historians estimate Episcopalians accounted for between one-fifth[11] and one-third[12] of the Scottish population, and were heavily concentrated in the North East Lowlands.

Much more similar in their worship and organisation to the Church of England than the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, these Scottish Episcopalians had long been loyal to the Stuarts and opposed to the Presbyterian settlement which had been ushered in with the Glorious Revolution and encoded in the 1707 Act of Union.

Although the Revolution had brought about toleration for almost all Protestants in England; in Scotland the Presbyterian Kirk was rigidly enforced. Episcopalian clergy were expelled from their parishes, while Presbyterianism was enforced on pro-Episcopal congregations.[13]

Although this was relaxed from 1711 due to the influence of Scottish Episcopalian MPs at Westminster, resentment lingered and was bound up with support for the Stuarts and opposition to the Union. The restoration of Episcopacy and the restoration of the Stuarts went hand-in-hand.

Nonetheless, sizeable numbers of Presbyterians and even some Protestant dissenters ended up in the Jacobite ranks. For example, the Quaker lairds of Brux fought for the Jacobites. They appear to have been rather uncharacteristically violent Quakers. Jonathan Forbes remarked of his father the 10th laird that he had "let daylicht into three of the English deevils" at Culloden".[14]

It is an unusual case and an interesting statement which does indicate an anti-English sentiment in the Scottish Jacobite forces; which was presumably not extended to their compatriots in the Jacobite Manchester Regiment which was also present at Culloden!

Historian Daniel Szechi notes that the bedrock of Jacobite support came from three religious groups. The first we have observed are Scottish Episcopalians.

The remaining two are English Catholics and Nonjuring Anglicans.[15] ['Nonjuring' means not taking the oath of allegiance.]

Their loyalty to the Stuarts stretches back to the Glorious Revolution, and their refusal to accept the legitimacy of William and Mary. Some 400 Anglican clergy, including prominent bishops and even the Archbishop of Canterbury William Sancroft refused to take oaths of allegiance to William and Mary.

Nonjuring Anglicans gave an important parliamentary voice to Jacobitism through the traditionalist fringe of the Tory Party, which never could quite come to terms with the new Hanoverian dynasty of George I, after 1714.

Some of the most high profile Jacobite plots were led by Protestant English Jacobites, who were often courtier-aristocrats like Ailesbury and Middleton. Another high-profile English Jacobite was the Protestant Tory MP Sir John Hynde Cotton, who famously wore a tartan suit while sitting in the Commons (it was recently on display in Edinburgh at the National Museum of Scotland - see our article on English Jacobitism).[16]

The Jacobite forces raised in Northern England during the 1715 Rising under the command of Protestant Tory MP Thomas Forster were split almost half-in-half along Protestant and Catholic lines.[17]


It is clear that the Scottish nationalist myths do not hold up to scrutiny. Just as the Risings should not crudely be characterised as English-Scottish conflicts, neither can they be reduced along Highland v Lowland or Catholic v Protestant lines.

Jacobitism was a complex cause with different motivating factors that varied across place and time, and each Rising had its own distinct character. More Scottish Lowlanders filled Jacobite ranks than Highlanders, and in so far as any religious dynamic was relevant, they drew chiefly on Protestant groups like Scottish Episcopalians and English Nonjuring Anglicans for support.

Our next article will dispel the crude stereotypes related to the Jacobite Army of 1745 and the extent to which Scottish nationalists myths do a disservice to the Jacobite forces.


[1] Reid, S., The Scottish Jacobite Army 1745-46, (Osprey Publishing, 2006), p.5

[2] Pittock, M., The Myth of the Jacobite Clans, The Jacobite Army in 1745, (Edinburgh University Press, 2009, 2nd ed.), pp.71-2

[3] Ibid., p.55

[4] Ibid., pp.39-40

[5] Ibid., p.78

[6] We examined this in our second article The Extent of English Jacobitism.

[7] Pittock, pp.22-3

[8] Our first article These were not Scottish v English Conflicts examined this area.

[9] Szechi, D., The Jacobites: Britain and Europe, 1688-1788, (Manchester Univeristy Press, 1994), p.18

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., p.67

[12] Pittock, p.50

[13] Szechi, p,67

[14] Pittock, p.120

[15] Szechi, p.18

[16] Lord, E., The Stuarts Secret Army: The Hidden History of the English Jacobites, (Routledge, 2014) p.166

[17] Gooch, L., The Desperate Faction? The Jacobites of North-East England 1688-1745, (CASDEC, 2001), p.60

Our Jacobites and Britain Series

3. Neither Highland v Lowland nor Catholic v Protestant

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