The First Jacobite Rebellion
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
The Hanoverian Succession confirmed and extended the principles of the Revolution; it was absolutely irreconcilable not merely with the doctrine of divine right but with any very elevated conception of monarchy. The Revolution itself had been brought about by the determination to put an end to government by a king who. had made himself intolerable, and to provide security against a like mis-government on the part of his successors.
The Social Contract argument
A legal justification was required to satisfy the English conscience; it was found in the doctrine of the Social Contract as expounded by Locke, in the elective character of the early English monarchy, and in the parliamentary title of Henry IV and Henry VII. But the Revolution had been carried out successfully because Mary and Anne were conspicuously English princesses, and Mary's husband, though a Dutchman and a Calvinist, was still grandson of King Charles the Martyr, and a man indubitably fit to play the part of a king. He was, in fact the man of whom England stood in need at the moment.
But now every living descendant of King Charles was a Romanist, barred from the succession by religion. What Great Britain wanted was not a king but some one to sit on the throne and prevent it from being occupied by a Roman Catholic. The nearest representative of the blood royal who would answer the purpose happened to be a rather elderly German prince whose grandmother had been a daughter of James I.
Now William had been made king upon conditions, but the conditions did not make him into a dummy. He was a king in fact as well as in name, because England needed him quite as much as he needed England. Now, however, England needed not George in particular, but merely some colourable imitation of a king to occupy the place of James Stuart. George and his son would have gained nothing by threatening to go back to Hanover. They were kings on condition of good behaviour.
Neither their talents nor their characters procured them the respect or affection of their British subjects; if the country was loyal to anything it was not to the person of its kings but to the principles of the Revolution. The Hanoverians had no choice but to place themselves practically without reserve in the hands of the dominant party in Great Britain. Bolingbroke had destroyed the Tory party by identifying it with Jacobitism, and consequently the Whigs held complete control of the situation and retained it for more than fifty years. The comparatively small influence which under such conditions the Crown was able to exercise finally established the supremacy of parliament and the system of party government which was only coming into being during the reigns of William and Mary.
Whigs in power
The Whigs had very carefully taught the Elector, and his mother before him, that they could win and hold the Crown of England only by grace of the Whigs and by recognising their dependence on the Whigs. In accordance with the arrangements made for dealing with the situation when Queen Anne should die, the government was vested in the hands of a group of "Lords Justices" nominated by the new king, until he himself should arrive in the country. This was in accordance with the precedents of William's reign, when the king himself had been absent in the Netherlands. The Lords Justices nominated were all Whigs; when George himself came to England in September he appointed all his ministers from that party.
Tory leaders impeached
They soon showed themselves bent on the entire destruction of the Tories. The dissolution of parliament and a general election returned a strong Whig majority. A commission was appointed to inquire into the proceedings in connection with the Treaty of Utrecht, and on the strength of its report Bolingbroke, Oxford, and Ormonde were all impeached. Bolingbroke had already taken refuge in flight and had joined James Stuart. Ormonde, frightened by the impeachment, promptly followed him. Oxford declined to run away, and was justified by the event. It was too obviously impossible to condemn as treasonable proceedings which had been ratified by the votes of two parliaments as well as by the approval of the monarch who was reigning at the time.
France was pledged by the Treaty of Utrecht to recognise the Hanoverian Succession; but at the deathbed of James II. Louis ignored a similar pledge which he had given at the Peace of Ryswick. France might again repudiiate her pledges, and if she supported the claim of James Stuart it was conceivable that a well-organised Jacobite rising might be successful. Common-sense and material interests were on the side of the Hanoverian Succession; sentiment was entirely on the other side. But the whole machinery of government was in the hands of men to whom a Stuart restoration would mean political ruin.
There were three things absolutely necessary to a successful insurrection - organisation, enthusiasm, and the certainty of extraneous, that is to say French, support. The Jacobites attempted to upset the new dynasty without any one of the three requisites. Unfortunately for them Bolingbroke was the only intelligent person who attempted to direct their counsels, and the unintelligent people carried out their own plans behind his back. Bolingbroke had bent himself to winning over King Louis, but, as in 1714, fate fought against him. Louis was dying; on September 1st, 1715, he died. His sickly great-grandchild Louis XV became king of France, and the interests of the Orleans regency were entirely opposed to a Stuart restoration.
The Battle of Sheriffmuir
Nevertheless a few days later the Earl of Mar raised King James's standard in the north of Scotland, where he had collected together a group of Highland chiefs on the pretext of a great hunting. The Government were somewhat unaccountably unprepared. Jacobite sentiment and hatred of the Union were real forces in Scotland capable of effective combination. Prompt and vigorous action on Mar's part might have given him at the outset such an advantage as would have made the insurrection exceedingly formidable. But " Bobbing John," as he was nicknamed, was incapable of promptitude or vigour. While he sat still and did nothing the Duke of Argyle, a soldier and statesman of considerable distinction, was despatched to Scotland to suppress the insurrection. On November 13th the armies of Argyle and Mar met and fought at Sheriffmuir. The battle was characteristic in its futility -
"There's some say that we wan,
And some say that they wan,
And some say that none wan at a', man!
But ae thing I'm sure,
That at Sheriffmuir A battle there was that I saw, man,
And we ran and they ran,
And they ran and we ran,
And we ran and they ran awa', man."
Both the left wings broke and ran; some ran without any reason, and on the whole the Jacobites ran most effectively. To have called the fight a victory for either party would have been absurd; some five or six hundred appear to have fallen on either side; but.the practical result was that when the running was over Mar retreated and Argyle did not. The advance of the insurgents was stopped, and all the heart that there ever had been in the rebellion was taken out of it, When Mar raised the standard of James in the North the English Jacobites ought to have risen simultaneously.
The Battle of Preston
But insurrection in the Scottish Highlands was a much simpler matter than in England, where there were no solid Jacobite districts, and the government troops could be moved with comparative ease and rapidity. The news of the Scottish rising was immediately followed by the arrest of half-a-dozen leading English Jacobites; and if any hopes of French help had survived the death of Louis XIV they were quenched by prompt demonstration that the fleet was ready for action. In the north of England, however, a number of Jacobite squires collected together under the leadership of the Earl of Derwentwater and Sir Thomas Forster, who was nominated General. Over the border Lord Kenmure, with Lords Nithsdale, Carnwath, and Wintoun declared for King James, and were joined by Brigadier McIntosh with a few Highlanders from Mar's force.
Battle of Preston
These two companies united at Kelso. But the Englishmen would not march North to help Mar against Argyle, and the Highlanders would not march South to strike at the small government force commanded by General Carpenter. While they tried to make up their minds to do something government troops were mustering. At last the insurgents determmed to invade Lancashire, whereupon the Highlanders returned home. The rest, some fifteen hundred strong, marched through Cumberland southwards, collecting miscellaneous recruits by the way till they got to Preston. Here they were attacked by Carpenter and Wills. Led with any intelligence they should have been able to rout the government troops; but after having repulsed on attack their commanders were inveigled or bluffed into surrendering. Sheriffmuir was being fought on the same day.
Thus ignominiously collapsed the rising in England. In Scotland it dragged on a little longer. James himseilf arrived on the scene with the idea that his presence would give heart to his followers. But the unfortunate prince suffered from an inveterate melancholy which would have damped the most eager enthusiasm. Argyle was in no hurry to strike home; but the Jacobites had lost the power of striking at all. Their forces diminished day by day, James in despair withdrew from the country, and the once threatening Jacobite conflagration guttered dolefully out.
Consquences of the Rising
Most of the leaders escaped, to France; some were attainted. Of the prisoners taken at Preston some who had been army officers were shot. The peers were condemned to be beheaded, and several of the leading commoners to be hanged. But some succeeded in breaking prison, others were respited, and only Kenmure, Derwentwater, and twenty six commoners were actually put to death. The plain truth was that it was unsafe to proceed to extremities, because too many people would have been inconveniently compromised. Everybody on both sides had friends in the opposite camp, and no one felt quite sure that though it was Hanover's turn today it might not be the Stuart's turn tomorrow, and it would be highly impolitic to make the Jacobites vindictive.
In not a few families one or two sons had been allowed to join the rising to demonstrate the family's loyalty to the Stuarts, while the head of the house had remained at home to demonstrate its loyalty to the Hanoverian Succession. And the nation at large sat still, in scarcely disturbed apathy, while the supreme question of the day was settled by two or three thousand regular troops, a rabble of fox-hunters, a few broken adventurers, and some Highland clansmen, most of whom cared more about clan feuds than the real issues that were at stake. A few forfeitures, the construction of some military roads in the Highlands, and an ineffective measure of disarmament, were the principal outcome of the Fifteen.
The Septennial Act
It produced however one measure of constitutional importance. Under the Triennial Act a general election was due in 1717, and as matters stood it was clearly possible that there might then be a Jacobite majority in parliament. So the Whig House of Commons resolved to prolong its own life, and passed the Septennial Act, which extended the period of parliament from three years to seven - an Act which remained in force until the passing of the Parliament Act in 1911. The Whigs were impervious to the Tory outcry that such a proceeding was unconstitutional. For precedent there was the case of the Long Parliament, which had made its own life legally interminable, except with its own consent. For the rest, the measure was necessary to secure the stability of government.