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The Jacobites and Britain 4: The '45 Jacobite Army was a Modern Army

'An Incident in the Rebellion' by David Morier

The David Morier painting may be the iconic image of Culloden but it is inaccurate.

Scottish nationalists like to portray the Jacobites as 'noble savages'; as fearless warriors who took on the more modern and clinical British government forces, at whose hands they faced a tragic and inevitable defeat on the moors of Culloden. The romanticism of this 'lost cause' is a central part of Scottish nationalist mythology, with its narrative of Scottish v English conflict in which Scotland perpetually plays the role of the oppressed underdog.

The previous three articles in our 4-part series have debunked Scottish nationalist attempts to frame the Jacobite Risings incorrectly as Scottish v English conflicts, Highland v Lowland, or Catholic v Protestant.

Our fourth article debunks the myth of the Jacobite army as some sort of backwards, anachronistic force, relying on martial prowess and a warrior spirit as they charged sword-in-hand against ranks of redcoat musketeers.

In fact the Jacobite army in the '45 was a well drilled and conventional military force which fielded mostly musket-armed infantry alongside horse and artillery, backed by a core of elite French troops and organised under a wealth of French and British military experience.

Ironically, the Scottish nationalist myths do a great disservice to the Jacobite forces!

An Organised and Conventional Army

The Jacobite army was a highly organised conventional force divided into regimental units with battalion majors, company commanders, company officers and so on.[1] It was not the Braveheart-esque rabble of Scottish nationalist myth. It had a staff organisation, implemented by Irishman Colonel Sullivan, that was as sophisticated as that of any 18th Century army.[2]

The famous painting above, 'An Incident in the Rebellion of 1745' (also known more commonly as 'The Battle of Culloden') by Anglo-Swiss artist David Morier, which depicts tartan-clad Jacobites charging against the British redcoat lines has become the iconic representation of the Battle of Culloden, yet it is widely inaccurate.

For example it depicts the Jacobites wielding swords and Lochaber axes, yet we know that muskets were far more widely used by the Jacobites at Culloden, and the Lochaber axe was entirely obsolete by the time of the '45 (it would be rather like depicting a WW2-era rifle in the 2003 Invasion of Afghanistan).[3]

It also depicts Jacobite soldiers as being large and burly, yet we know that the average Jacobite soldier was around 5'4" to 5'6", and fell short of the 5'7" regarded as the minimal accepted height for those wishing to enlist as regulars in the British Army.[4]

Despite lacking physical stature, the Jacobite army was a disciplined force. Under the command of Lord George Murray a drill was introduced, including an exercise and parade system which was enforced at their bases at Duddingston and Leith in the autumn of 1745. This was the routine of a regular army with drill and orders of the day, daily challenges and passwords.[5]

After French regulars started landing in November of that year, Nicholas Glascoe, an officer in Ogilvy's regiment, introduced conventional French battlefield tactics into the Jacobite army.[6] Even in the Highland (Gaidhealtachd) regiments there was a wealth of conventional military experience. Much of this came from Jacobites who had previously served in the government's independent Highland companies. For example John Cameron, a lieutenant in Lochiel's, was a Chelsea pensioner, while Alexander Robertson of Struan had been a colonel in the French army.[7]

French influence and military expertise was central to the organisation of the Jacobite armies. The French supplied auxiliary troops, and also many officers who acted as military advisers and instructors to the Jacobite military command.[8] It was an advanced structure typical of any national army of the time.

Colonel John William Sullivan, a professionally trained staff officer, served as the army's Adjutant General and Quartermaster General. Colonel Sir John MacDonald of Fitzjames' Cavallerie served as Inspector General of the Jacobite cavalry throughout the rising.[9] A good number of posts were held by Jacobites from the French Army's Irish Brigade and others of Scottish and Irish descent who had joined the French forces in exile. Their story of mixed Scottish-Irish and French heritage is evident in their names; for example Captain Jean O'Bryen of the Paris Militia and Captain Charles Guilliame Douglas of the Regiment Languedoc.[10]

A Well Armed Force

Despite the rather romanticised image of the Jacobite soldiers wielding sword and shield, in the days after Culloden only 190 broadswords were recovered from arms captures and surrenders of Jacobite soldiers, compared to 2,320 muskets.[11]

At Falkirk, Jacobite volley fire broke the charge of government dragoons, while the Jacobite horse regiments – MacDonell of Glengarry's, Keppoch's and Clanranald's – broke the government lines by rushing to within close range and discharging their pistols. These horse regiments further contradict the myth that Jacobites, and in particular Highland Jacobites, were crudely armed infantrymen relying on sword and shield.[12]

In addition to their regiments of horse, the Jacobites also fielded a notable number of artillery, thirty pieces of which were captured by Cumberland after Culloden.[13] Many artillery pieces employed by the Young Pretender's army had been captured from General Cope's army after Prestonpans, or had been shipped to them by the French who had been able to break the government blockade.[14]

Colonel James grant, a well-regarded officer in French service, was placed in charge of the Jacobite artillery and brought twelve gunners with him to train the Jacobites. Two French artillery officers by the names of d'Andrio and Bodin surrendered after Culloden, as did an engineer officer by the name of Du Saussey who had commanded a gun during the battle.[15]

'The Pretender's Troops Entering Altrincham at Dawn, 1 December 1745'. It is by Tom Colley.

The painting depicts a scene in the winter of 1745 near Manchester, and is entitled 'The Pretender's Troops Entering Altrincham at Dawn, 1 December 1745'. It is by Tom Colley (1865–1902).

Elite Jacobite Troops

Some very elite French troops served in the Jacobite army during the '45. The Royal Ecossois was a single-battalion regiment formed from various Irish regiments in French service which landed at Montrose on 26 November 1745. This elite regiment contained a grenadier company and a fusilier 'picquet' (detachment). They fought at Inverurie on 23 December, less than a month after arriving in Scotland. They would fight also at Falkirk and at Culloden, by which time the regiment was around 350 men strong.[16]

Other elite units include Fitzjames Cavallerie, who were impressively armed cavalrymen equipped with the finest armour. Their breastplates afforded significant protection in melee without sacrificing any of their mobility.[17]

One surprising detail is that the Jacobites had their own redcoats! The Irish Picquets provided some of the best-quality troops in the Jacobite army. These were mostly Irish and Scottish Jacobites who found themselves exiled in French service after the previous risings.

One picquet from each of the six Irish regiments was embarked in French service, although only three of those – those of Dillon, Rooth and Lally – made it to Scotland to participate in the Rising.

Around 60% of these Irish Picquets were former British soldiers, as were some of the Duke of Perth's regiment, and they wore their old red uniforms while in Jacobite service. They were highly active in the key battles of the '45, and accounted for a considerable number of the prisoners taken after Culloden.[18]

Other Jacobite 'redcoats' included government turncoats. Jacobite orderly books refer to "the redcoats of Perth's and John Roy Stuart's", which included 160 prisoners of the government army after the Jacobite victory at Prestonpans.[19]

Although not 'elite' troops, another aspect to the diversity of the Jacobite army comes from English Jacobites who joined the Young Pretender's forces before his retreat north from Derby. Manchester raised a 300-strong regiment for 'Bonnie Prince Charlie'. Many were captured on the retreat north at Carlisle, although some endured to serve at the final defeat on the moors of Culloden.[20]

This article has demonstrated that the Jacobite forces were not the sword-wielding Highland rabble – the 'noble savages' – of Scottish nationalist myth.

In the '45, the Young Pretender's forces were organised as a modern conventional army composed of mostly musket-wielding infantry alongside regiments of horse and artillery. They were well-drilled under a professional military command. The presence of French officers, elite French troops and a substantial number of 'redcoats' in Jacobite service further consolidated their composition as a highly organised and disciplined military force.

Our 4-part series has demonstrated that the crude and romanticised version of Culloden and the '45 as told by Scottish nationalists simply does not stand up to scrutiny!


[1] Pittock, M., 'The Myth of the Jacobite Clans, The Jacobite Army in 1745' (Edinburgh University Press, 2009, 2nd ed.), p.93

[2] Reid, S., 'The Scottish Jacobite Army 1745-46' (Osprey Publishing, 2006), p.43

[3] Pittock, p.16

[4] Ibid., pp.16-7; p.95

[5] Ibid., p.96

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Reid, p.30

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Pittock, p.166

[12] Ibid., p.99

[13] Ibid., p.100

[14] Reid, p.41

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., p.32

[17] Ibid., p.63

[18] Ibid., p.31; p.63

[19] Ibid., pp.12-13

[20] Ibid., p.23

Our Jacobites and Britain Series

4. The Jacobite Army was a Modern Army

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