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Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Forty-Five Begins, July 23, 1745

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Today in 1745, a tiny invasion force landed in the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland and began an ill-fated military campaign that ended just nine months later in a catastrophic defeat at Culloden, the last pitched battle ever fought on mainland British soil. And yet this second Jacobite Rebellion unleashed a ripple effect that is still driving events today as we head towards the Scottish Independence Referendum planned for 2014.

The instigator of the "Forty-five" uprising was the twenty-five year old pretender Charles Edward Stuart (commonly known as "Bonnie Prince Charlie"). But in one sense the real trouble had been caused back in 1603 by his great-great-grandfather James VI, King of the Scots. His ascension to the English throne as King James I had created a personal union of the English and Scottish crowns. This political union persisted and was formalized with the Act of Union of 1707.

The prerequisite for recreating an absolute monarchy in Scotland separate from the United Kingdom was the defeat of the reigning monarch, King George II. Although the French had only provided limited support, Stuart's Jacobite army had a reasonable prospect of success because of their choice of timing. The waging of the War of the Austrian Succession at that time meant that most of the English army was deployed in Flanders and the French wanted to arrange the recall of English divisions in order to conquer the Austrian Netherlands. The bitter irony was that had the "Forty-Five" succeeded, then such a victory might well have led to an Hanoverian overthrow that would have also restored the Stuarts to the English crown for a second time.

The daring Stuart restoration plan was to gather both momentum and support as they marched south to link up with an invading French army that had not even been dispatched. Initially, progress was promising. As the French privateers carrying the invaders sailed around the southernmost tip of England, the crew aboard HMS Lion fired on and damaged one of the ships before they sailed out of range and then wrongly assumed that the ships were bound for North America. Critically, this incident was not reported to the British Admiralty until much later. Landing at Moidart in Scotland after sailing from the Outer Hebrides, the invaders marched south and the Jacobite standard was raised by a gathering of Highland clansmen at Glenfinnan in the Scottish Highlands. Victories then followed at Prestonpans near Edinburgh and then across the border at Carlisle. By December, the Jacobite Army had reached the east midlands town of Derby, just one hundred miles from the capital city of London.

They never got any further than the crossing the Swarkestone Bridge because events now took the oddest of turns. As the Hanoverians began to pack their bags and prepare for their flight to the Continent, English divisions were being recalled from Flanders. And at this precise juncture Charles' commanders warned him that a larger force was defending London.  To his utter dismay, his Jacobite army decided to march straight back to Scotland.

With the English army now in hot pursuit and resources running critically short, a shipment of French gold meant for the Jacobites was intercepted by the Royal Navy. It was a final nail in the coffin for the Forty-Five's would-be rebellion. Determined to fight sooner rather than later, Charles retreated to Inverness where the final battle was fought at Culloden. His opponent was the Duke of Cumberland, better known to history as "The Butcher". Such was the divisive nature of the struggle that the Jacobite Army included an English unit, and the English army included Scottish troops. After a crushing defeat, Charles fled the field with a nose bleed. Secretly smuggled to safety, he eventually made his way back to France, where he lived the rest of his life with no hope that a Stuart would recapture the throne of England or Scotland.

And so the vectors of the Stuart family and the Scottish nation set off in very different directions.  The true aftermath was significant because the English undertook a series of heavy-handed (some would say brutal) actions in order to prevent a third uprising. And it was the bitterness caused by these actions, such as the Highland Clearances of the latter 18th and 19th centuries, that have persisted in Scottish memories long after the romantic dreams of Charles Stuart have passed into the long shadows of history. And one might well conclude that the three hundred year dream of an independent Scottish nation was to survive despite, rather than because of, the clumsy endeavors of the Stuart Family.


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