ScotWars - Scottish Military History and Re-enactment
The Jacobite uprising of 1715
When King James VII of Scotland died in 1700, Louis XIV of France gave his word and his support to the cause of his son, James VIII, or the "pretender" as he was known to his enemies. For a long time, the Jacobites as James supporters were called, (from the Latin for James "Jacobus"), envisaged him back from exile and in Scotland rallying his faithful subjects to his standard, and then at the head of a huge Franco- Scottish army marching south to England to regain his English crown. This was first attempted in 1708. but patrolling English warships in the Firth of Forth prevented a landing. The next attempt came in 1715 when the German King George I was on the throne, and Scotland had been unsteadily "allied" to England for eight years.
The cause of King James to claim back the Scottish throne had support mainly in the Highlands, but there were still many people ready to fight for James in the Lowland areas too. However not all the nation was in favour of a restoration of the exiled Stewarts. whilst there was a great deal of resentment against England because of the recent union and the way it had been brought about, there were also powerful religious arguments which divided opinions, briefly, the Roman Catholics were for James as were the Episcopalians, whilst the Presbyterians were resolutely opposed to him.

The Clan Campbell, or the house of Argyll, had been used to a great extent by the English Government in the subjugation of surrounding clans, and the Campbell's policy of gaining wealth, power and status by such means had earned them bitter hatred. This made enemies of the Clan join the Jacobites, Stewarts, MacDonalds, MacPhersons and Robertsons all opposed the Campbells and as such formed the core of Jacobite strength in the Highlands in 1689, 1715, 1719 and 1745.

James wrote from France in 1715 to John Erskine, 6th Earl of Mar and secretary of state for Scotland, urging him to raise the Clans. Now the Earl may have been the principle supporter of the Jacobite cause, but he possessed only a small degree of military skill and tended to drag his feet. However the old Scottish Royal standard was raised on the 6th of September at Castletown near Braemar. By the middle of the same month, Mar occupied Perth with roughly 5,000 men and most of the northern towns,( Aberdeen, Montrose, Inverness, etc:) had declared for King James.

Between the Earl and England there was a blocking force of 2,300-3,000 Government troops under the command of the very able John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll, located near Stirling. True to form Mar refused to leave Perth until he was joined by Clansmen from the Western Highlands. In early October, word reached him that further south, border Jacobites were on the move, led by Lord Kenmure (Scot), lord Derwentwater (English) and Thomas Forster the MP for Northumberland, who had raised a token mounted force in King James's name. The Earl sent 2,000 men south under Brigadier MacKintosh of Borlum, with the vague brief of co- operating with these border elements whilst he remained in perth still with the main part of the army.

The only viable route south for MacKintosh was to cross the Firth of Forth, patrolled then as in 1708 by English men of war. MacKintosh assembled a fleet of small fishing boats in the Fife ports of Anstruther and Pittemweem, then by staging an attempted crossing from the port of Burntisland he drew the English warships up the Forth. This allowed him to transport his 2,000 men under the cover of darkness to the southern shore of the Forth, landing between Aberlady and Gullane on the night of 11th of October.

But once he was on the southern shore of the Forth MacKintosh was tempted by the rich prize of Edinburgh, so after proclaiming James King at Haddington he turned towards the Capital. Argyll, informed of this serious threat to the Capital, made a forced march from his camp at Sterling with 200 infantry and 300 dragoons. the race to Edinburgh was almost a dead heat, as MacKintosh arrived at Jock's Lodge. a mile to the east of the city, Argyll entered the West Port. Frustrated in his attempt to surprise Edinburgh, MacKintosh turned north and occupied the citadel of Leith, which he armed with guns taken from ships in the harbour. Argyll, his small body of regular troops reinforced by the Edinburgh militia and volunteers, moved against the citadel and demanded that the Jacobites surrender, a demand which was rejected with derision. Neither side was in a position to force a decision, Argyll lacked artillery and could not afford the casualties he would have incurred in an attack. MacKintosh though safe for the time being had lost his chance of taking the Capital, he now had no chance of receiving supplies or reinforcements and was in real danger of being blockaded in Leith. Realising that he could accomplish nothing in this position, MacKintosh and his 2,000 Highlanders slipped out of Leith by night and occupied Seton Palace to the east of Edinburgh. After a few days he reverted to his original plan and marched south to the Borders to meet the Jacobites operating in that area. There MacKintosh met up with the forces of Lord Kenmure and Thomas Forster at Kelso.

Their forces now numbered 600 cavalry and 1,400 infantry. This small force would have been capable of making a significant contribution to the Jacobite cause if it had been properly led, but dissension among the leaders led to the ruin of all. The Scottish leaders wanted to implement Mar's plan and march west in an attempt to draw Argyll from Sterling, The English leaders on the other hand wanted to turn south and confront a force of 900 Government cavalry under George Carpenter which was moving north to engage them. Either plan, if successful, would have helped the Jacobite cause, but neither faction would yield, and both plans were abandoned. Instead the army moved along the Border to Langholm by way of Hawick and Jedburgh, and then into England hoping to attract more recruits as they moved south. Instead they lost 500 of Mackintosh's Highlanders who refused to leave Scotland and deserted in a body. Most of these were captured as they tried to make their way north. As the sadly reduced Jacobite army moved south they met no real opposition, but their numbers were not increased by the flood of English recruits they had been led to expect, practically the only reinforcement they received was a group of Catholic gentlemen who joined them at Lancaster. By the 9th of November they had occupied Preston, where they allowed themselves to be trapped by General Carpenter's force which had followed them from the north and which had been reinforced by another detachment of Government troops under General Charles Wills. The Jacobites put Preston into a state of defence and for two days of fierce fighting maintained their position against the numerically inferior Government troops. But the Jacobite leaders, discouraged by the lack of support from the people of northern England and lacking resolution, surrendered unconditionally.

Since the 11th of October, when MacKintosh had crossed the Forth, Mar had remained inactive in Perth apart from a half-hearted move against Sterling on the 16th of October. Argyll had also remained immobile, he had nothing to gain by taking the offensive, and the longer he could delay the inevitable battle, the stronger his army would become. All those who were prepared to show their hand against the Government on the other hand, had joined Mar, and he could expect no further recruits until he had achieved some notable success which would indicate that the Jacobite cause was likely to succeed. News that Dutch troops, lent to the British Government, had landed in England and were marching to join Argyll, forced Mar's hand, now, before Argyll's army exceeded his in numerical strength, he had to make his attempt to force the passage of the Forth and occupy the Lowland counties.

Mar's plan was to cross the Forth to the west of Stirling with his main body, while a smaller detachment was to make a feint towards the bridge at Stirling with the object of keeping Argyll occupied. On the 8th of November the Jacobite army left Perth and on the following day reached Auchterader, where they were joined by 2,500 Highlanders under General Gordon of Achentoul. It has been estimated that at this point Mar had between 6,000 and 7,000 infantry and just over 1,000 cavalry. Mar again delayed and did not move forward until the 12th.

Argyll learnt of the Jacobite move and having received reinforcements from Glasgow, Falkirk and Kilsyth, crossed the Forth and moved north to intercept Mar at Dunblane, an area more suited to the effective use of cavalry than the marshy valley of the Forth. By the evening of the 12th, he had deployed his army with its left flank at Dunblane and his right on Stonehill, an eminence due east of the town. His position, which covered the road along which the Jacobites were advancing, was a strong one, his right flank was protected by boggy ground and his left by the Allan Water. The Government forces consisted of 1,000 cavalry and 2,500 infantry, with some light artillery, although the guns were destined to play no part in the coming battle.

The Jacobite advance guard received warning that Dunblane was occupied by their enemies and halted at Kinbuck, just over two miles to the north, where they were joined by the main body. Next morning, 13th of November, preparations were made for battle. At first light Mar drew up his forces with his right on Kinbuck facing due south, but when a group of horsemen from the opposing army were seen reconnoitering on the ridge of Sheriffmiur to the south-east he decided to advance and size this high ground inclining his army to his left. At this point Mar made a momentous mistake by allowing several squadrons of cavalry, which had previously been out on the wings, to move around and into the centre, leaving the right wing with a bare two squadrons and the left with none.

Order of Battle, Sherriffmuir

Argyll, who saw that this move would outflank him on the right, wheeled his army to meet the threat. Because these manoeuvres were carried out over rough ground on which it was impossible for the armies to see each other at great distance, each side was suddenly confronted by their opponents at short range before either side had the opportunity of forming a proper battle line. Argyll had deployed his army in two lines. His front line consisted of six infantry battalions, their flanks protected by four squadrons of dragoons on the left, and three squadrons of dragoons and a squadron of volunteer horse on the right. his second line consisted of two infantry battalions flanked by a squadron of dragoons to left and right. The Jacobite army was also in two ranks, but their march over the rough ground had thrown then into considerable disorder and their left flank was unprotected by cavalry.

Battle was joined as soon as the two armies came within range, On Argyll's right the Highland infantry, although in confusion, opened the attack on their equally ill-prepared opponents. For a quarter of an hour the issue on this flank was in doubt, but Argyll in personal command of the Government right wing, seeing that the Jacobite flank was unprotected, sent a squadron of the Scots Greys under General Cathcart, to attack from the right. The Highlanders, under fire from two sides, fell back and the Duke of Argyll led his five squadrons of cavalry in pursuit, supported by three infantry battalions, led by General Wigthman. It was no rout, each time they were broken the Jacobites rallied again, ten times said Argyll, and each time they had to be broken again by the pursuing Government troops. and it was three hours before the last remnants of Mar's left had been chased over the Allan Water. General Wightman wrote of them later, "I never saw regular troops more exactly drawn up in line of battle, and then in a moment, and their officers behaved with all the gallantry imaginable".

On the other flank the pattern was reversed, the Government infantry advancing up the hill in a confused manner suddenly came face to face with General Gordon's Highland infantry, whose flank extended far beyond their own flank, now unprotected by the cavalry squadrons which had fallen behind. The Highlanders fired two volleys at close range, then launched a fierce Highland charge which broke the five battalions on the left of Argyll's line and drove them back into their own cavalry, completely disorganising the complete centre and the left wing of the Government army was driven from the field and pursued towards Sterling. Colonel Harrison, an eyewitness, declared that in seven or eight minutes the rout of all Government units was complete. General Whitham, commanding the Government's left flank, could not see what was happening on Argyll's flank, all sight of it was obscured by the smoke of battle and a cloud of Highlanders pouring through the centre of the Government army. he could only think that the entire army had been defeated.

When the Duke of Argyll heard of the disaster to his left, he gathered the forces he had been leading in pursuit and marched back towards the field of battle, Mar recalled the victorious section of his army from its pursuit and faced about to renew the action. At this stage the Government army was reduced to about 1,000 infantry and the five squadrons of cavalry from its right flank plus those from the left flank who had managed to escape from the fury of the Highlander's charge. The Jacobite army was reduced to about 4,000 infantry and some cavalry. Argyll saw that he was out numbered and that his men were tired, so he established himself in a strong defensive position behind some turf walls and ditches. here flanked by artillery, he awaited Mar's attack.

Mar made no move, he had an overwhelming advantage of numbers and was still in a position to crush Argyll and win an absolute victory, but after a show of advancing his nerve faltered and he failed to press home his attack. It was at this point that John Gordon of Glenbuchat, commanding a battalion of Gordon of Achentoul's Highlanders, angry at Mar's lack of spirit, is said to have exclaimed "Oh for an hour of Dundee".

As light failed Argyll withdrew through Dunblane, gathering up stragglers from the defeated part of his army, and spent the night on the other side of the Allan Water. The Earl of Mar, left in possession of the field and a quantity of military booty including four colours and 1,500 stand of arms, claimed the victory. Argyll having captured fourteen colours, five cannon and most important, the Jacobite supply wagons, also claimed the victory. In the morning, Argyll, with a body of horse returned to the field with the intention of renewing the contest, but Mar, either satisfied with his victory, or fearing to advance without a supply train and faced by an enemy not totally destroyed, had withdrawn northwards to reach Perth on the 17th of November.

Although the battle was inconclusive from a tactical point of view, strategically the Government forces had achieved their object and Mar had failed. Argyll's losses had been heavier than Mar's, some 600 killed wounded or taken prisoner, against about 250 Jacobite casualties, but he still controlled the crossing of the Forth and could expect reinforcements which would more than offset his losses. Mar on the other hand, having achieved nothing and having little chance of strengthening his army, was back at his starting point. In fact several Highland leaders from the north left Perth to defend their territories from the Earl of Sutherland who had recaptured Inverness on the same day as the battle of Sheriffmuir. Mar's hopes of final victory were fading fast, aid from abroad had not materialised and the defeat at Preston proved that the Jacobites in England were not prepared to rise in strength.

The Jacobite leaders, seeing their main army crumbling away, with no prospect of help from any quarter, and aware that Argyll had been reinforced by the Dutch contingent and by the victors of Preston, approached the Duke of Argyll in order to negotiate the terms of a surrender. Argyll, who was anxious to put down the rebellion with as little loss of life as possible, (during the battle he had urged his troops to grant quarter to as many of the enemy a possible) and who was in sympathy with the Jacobites over many of the grievances that had led to the rising, received their overtures favourably. But as the field commander he had no powers to negotiate and was forced to refer the matter to the Government, who frightened by the extent of the uprising, would consider nothing but an unconditional surrender. The only result of this exchange was that the Government came to suspect Argyll's zeal and reliability.

Both armies remained static, while Mar tried to strengthen the defences round Perth. To add to the Jacobite difficulties in obtaining peace, Prince James Frances Edward, their proclaimed king, had at last arrived to join the army. He landed on 22nd of December, not with supplies and reinforcements as promised, but with six attendants and one ship. He was received with some enthusiasm in Aberdeen and Dundee, but his meeting with the army in Perth, on 9th January 1716, was less happy. Both parties were disillusioned. The army expected a dashing hero who would lead them to victory, but found a dignified but cold and unsmiling young man, the Prince accustomed to the disciplined French army in which he had served, found an army of rather less than 5,000 poorly equipped volunteers now lacking in enthusiasm for his cause.

The King had come too late. If James had arrived three months earlier at the beginning of the campaign, the result may have been different. Sympathisers might have been quicker to take up arms and opponents less ready to support the Government. Now the position was hopeless. The Jacobites, faced with the threat of Argyll's army which had been reinforced and was now equipped with heavy cannon, decided that they could not hold Perth. On 30th January they began to retreat by way of Dundee to Montrose. To delay the advance of the Government forces by denying them supplies and shelter, orders were given to destroy all the villages between Stirling and Perth. In the week preceding the evacuation of Perth, Auchterader, Blackford, Muthill, Dunning and Crieff were burnt. Harsh weather at the time caused great misery to the inhabitants of the villages, but this cruel act did not slow Argyll's advance, and by 4th February the Jacobites had reached Montrose unmolested. On that day news was received that Government troops had occupied Arbroath a few miles to the south. The Jacobite leaders gave orders for the army to prepare to march to Aberdeen early the next morning, but when day came it was discovered that the Prince, the Earl of Mar, Earl of Melfort, Lord Drummond and a few others had boarded a ship in the harbour and had sailed for France.

The rising was over, the remnants of the deserted army marched north to Aberdeen and thence to Badenoch where each man made his own way home, if he thought he could remain undiscovered, or into exile if he feared the consequence of his actions. All that remained was for the army to disarm the Clans that had supported the Stewarts, and for the Government to exact retribution from its defeated opponents.

Argyll was hailed as the saviour of the country by the Scottish Whigs, but the Government was far from satisfied. Argyll's reluctance to shed the blood of his countrymen unnecessarily and his support of the Jacobite plea for negotiations made the Government distrust his motives. he was replaced as commander of the army by General William Cadogan, an Irishman who had served with distinction under Marlborough and had been in command of the Dutch troops who had joined Argyll after Sheriffmuir. He had no fellow feeling for the Jacobites or sympathy for their complaints, and had been urging Argyll to take stronger action. After Argyll's departure he commanded the army in a march through the Highlands, with the object of eradicating the last vestige of opposition. By May 1716 all was quiet, the disaffected Clans had laid down their arms and their leaders were in hiding or had fled overseas. The rebellion was finally over.

Article cobbled together, by Allan Bryan-Tansley, from various books and articles, the main source being a wee booklet from the Scottish portrait gallery, this was published in 1965.

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