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The Jacobite Judas

Ask most Scots about what happened A after the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion and they will tell you about Bonnie Prince Charlie's narrow escapes hiding in the heather and the romance of Flora MacDonald helping him.

Many will talk of the savagery of `Butcher’ Cumberland after the battle of Culloden, of the people murdered, the glens laid waste, and the cottages in ruins. Some - but rather fewer - will also know about how the law was wielded against the- defeated to end Jacobitism once and for all °, and of how tartan and bagpipes were - banned: but not always mentioned is the cruel fate of those who had courageously borne arms for their Prince and who were later arrested.
There was no Geneva Convention in those days to protect them and the result was a crude, makeshift but ruthless victors' justice. '

Aristocratic prisoners had show trials before their peers - but died just the same way as the foot soldiers. There were 120 executions: yet many of these did not involve Scotsmen, The biggest single group condemned were the Manchester Regiment. To emphasise their treachery, all its captured officers and sergeants were hanged. But many prisoners never even made it to the scaffold as hunger and disease in filthy, overcrowded jails and prison hulks moored in the Thames killed around 700. Another 1200 were transported to the colonies as slaves.

There was no shortage of informers. Some gave evidence because they genuinely thought it their patriotic duty; some were paying off old scores; some wanted the reward; and some were simply trying to save their own skins. One of the latter was the infamous Sir John Murray of Broughton; and this year is the 225th anniversary of his death. It was he who betrayed Lord Lovat and many others, his shame being all the greater because Charles Stewart had trusted him completely. No wonder Murray became notorious as `the Jacobite Judas'.

Born in Broughton, Peebleshire, in 1715 (the year of another failed Jacobite Rising), he studied at Edinburgh University: but quickly became caught up in the ferment of the times surrounding the possible return of the Young Pretender.
He made contact with the exiled Stewart Court 'in Rome, visiting it in 1742 and 1744; and was made a trusted agent for their cause in Scotland. He soon became a close confidante of Prince Charles Edward himself and there was absolutely nothing about this fawning enthusiast to suggest a future traitor.

Charles was impatient to land in Britain and Murray probably encouraged him (though of course he later denied this).
According to a statement Murray made in prison, he claimed he met Charles in Paris shortly before the rebellion and warned him of the dangers: but that the Prince defiantly declared he was determined to come to his kingdom even if he brought only a single footman. Once the gamble had been taken, Murray raced to Kinlochmoidart to be with Charles and the gathering clans. A few days later, the Prince's standard was raised and the great adventure had begun in earnest.

Murray seemed a real find. He was an expert organiser, something the ramshackle Jacobite forces desperately needed. A dream requires hard-headed folk to make it into a reality. Murray had that practical knack allied to his zeal. He became Charles' private secretary, drafting the official proclamations, battle orders and voluminous correspondence - and thus knew exactly what was going on. He was also put in charge of the army's commissariat and efficiently organised all the essential food supplies.

During the initial successes, he was a loyal, hardworking and extremely able official, playing a decisive role in the Jacobites' unexpected triumphs against the odds. Although he disliked him personally, his namesake Lord George Murray, the rebels' leading commander, praised Murray's organisational skills and claimed that if only he had been available at the time then the Highlanders would not have charged into battle - and defeat - on empty bellies at Culloden.
But on that crucial day Murray had been away on sick leave and was sadly missed.

The battle lost, Murray fled to Lochaber for, apart from seeking his own safety, he still had one last job to do for his vanquished Prince. A delivery of gold had arrived by ship from the Continent to help fund the Rising, too late as usual.
Murray probably buried it around Loch Arkaig, possibly even in the depths of the 12-mile-long stretch of water itself (the treasure has never been found). Then he hid out in the mountains: but the neighbourhood was becoming far too dangerous. Government redcoats were everywhere and the nearby castle of Achnaharry was burned down.

Murray eluded the troops and made his way home to stay with his brother-in-law, Hunter of Polmood, on the banks of the Tweed; then, on June 28th, 1746, he was discovered by some dragoons and dragged off to the dungeons of Edinburgh Castle. It looked like his end was nigh. The authorities, though, realised they had a prize on their hands, someone central to the workings of the Rising and thus far more useful to them alive - if only he would turn King's Evidence.

It is not known how much pressure was put on him but soon Murray was singing like a lintie -names, places, dates, contacts - with his life as the reward. His incriminating statements were littered with formerly illustrious names like the Laird of MacLeod, Lord Traquair, Lord Tullibardine, the Paris banker MacDonald, Drummond of Balhaldie, Sir Hector Maclean, Mr. Cockburn, an Edinburgh merchant, and Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat.

Many were already known to the government forces and some were out of reach through death or having fled abroad. But Simon Fraser in particular interested them. The Hanoverians badly wanted this old fox. He had been a thorn in their side for years; and, although he had not been present at Culloden (craftily he had sent his son instead), they still wanted vengeance for his lifetime of Jacobite scheming and plotting. They had already burned his house, Castle Dournie, after stripping it of books, malt, oatmeal and a thousand bottles of wine. Redcoats had picnicked on his precious salmon, as well, before smashing up his weirs.

On the run (or rather, being helped around by loyal clansmen since he was hopelessly overweight and crippled with gout), Lovat was eventually captured on Loch Morar. The authorities were overjoyed but knew he would be a slippery customer to deal with. After all, he had already talked his way out of one death sentence a few years previously. Now hard evidence was needed - so Murray duly obliged.

He blabbed away - people, times, events - and the authorities got exactly what they wanted. On April 9th, 1747, the 80-year¬old chieftain finally laid his weary, bloated old head on the block, having the dubious distinction of being the last person in Britain to be publicly beheaded. Fraser had not been loved much in life: but to many he was now a martyr. People turned on Murray, cursing him in the street. He was loathed wherever he went and became an outcast. Understandably, his financial affairs were in a mess and the black stain of treachery followed him everywhere. Even succeeding to his father's baronetcy of Stanhope in the Borders and getting a small government pension could not save him from social ostracism.

Eventually, he retreated to the safer pastures of England where died, unmourned, in 1777. Broughton House was sold and one day, through a servant's carelessness, it burned to the ground. Some of its stones were commandeered to build a nearby street: but, apart from them, nothing remains of the original house and the baronetcy has also vanished.
The ancient family stones being trodden underfoot by heedless pedestrians seems a fitting end to this despised Murray line.

Article by Steve McGrail for Scottish Memories Magazine

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