It is April the 16th. The flag of the Stuart monarchy is flying high; the Jacobite leader commanding a force loyal to the exiled King James Stuart is ready to fight whomever they need to restore their Catholic monarch. But this is not 1746. Instead, it is 1689, and the Jacobite cause has just begun.
James VII of Scotland and II of England is on the throne. Son of Charles I, James was fifty-one when he ascended to the throne after his brother Charles II and immediately was off to a rocky start. For one thing, James was a catholic king: converting to Catholicism in the 1660s. This immediately created tension between him and his protestant English parliament, who feared a repeat of Mary Tudor’s religious persecution. Thankfully, James was well beyond his prime and his next in line was a protestant daughter, also called Mary.
Then everything changed: in 1688, James’s second wife gave birth to a son. Also called James, this Prince of Wales would follow his parent’s faith. There was now a catholic male heir to the catholic king ruling the protestant countries. The English parliament were panicking at the prospect. Clearly something had to stop this catholic takeover, or rather someone.
James’s eldest daughter, Mary, was married to her protestant cousin William of Orange. He watched the situation unfold from The Netherlands with great interest. Either by his own accord, or through invitation by the English parliament, William invaded the British Isles. King James rallied his force, much of which defected to William. Seeing the writing on the wall, James took the decision to flee to France with his wife and son. With King James wilfully fleeing Britain, the English Parliament decided he had therefore abdicated the Throne, and so crowned his eldest daughter Queen of England to rule jointly with her husband. Thus completed the “Glorious Revolution” – so called because it was said to be completely bloodless.
This was absolutely not the case.
Whilst most of England greeted their new monarchs with open arms, there was outrage in Scotland (particularly in the Highlands, where loyalties to the Stuart kings were very strong) and in Ireland. Although William and Mary were also crowned joint monarchs of Scotland, several supporters of the exiled King James Stuart (called “Jacobites” after the Latin word for James) assembled under the command of John Graham of Claverhouse, the Viscount Dundee. Dundee was a close associate of King James and was outraged by the Glorious Revolution.
Raising the Stuart standard on the 16th April 1689, Dundee initiated the first Jacobite rising. He was able to assemble an army of mostly Scottish Highlanders with the intention of directly challenging William’s rule. A government force commanded by General Hugh MacKay of Scourie was dispatched from Edinburgh to stop them. The two armies converged just south of Blair Atholl at a place called Killiecrankie on the 27th July 1689. The Jacobites had the advantage of position and conditions and were able to rout the government force. It was a triumphant but bloody victory with a high cost: Viscount Dundee was fatally wounded at the battle. With poor leadership from their new leaders, the Jacobite forces saw defeat at Dunkeld and were finally vanquished at Cromdale.
Meanwhile in Ireland, King James invaded and was leading an army of Irish and French. King William sailed to the Emerald Isle with his own force of “Williamites” to combat his father-in-law. The two armies met near Drogheda by the river Boyne on July 1st 1690, where William famously routed the army of King James. This victory solidified William’s rule in Britain and halted any further plans James may have had of recapturing his throne.
The aftermath of the first Jacobite rising was felt the most in Scotland. Highland clans were ordered to swear fealty to William by a certain date otherwise be treated as traitors. All but one of these clans did so on time; MacDonald of Glencoe was held up by bad weather. Though MacDonald did swear fealty, his lateness was to be made an example of. Government troops were sent to Glencoe and ordered to massacre the clansmen. Around 30 were killed with many others dying of exposure in the February winter. The massacre was seen as an abhorrent act at the time, but nobody was found guilty of any misdoing. This act did more to support than hinder the Jacobite cause as they would try to restore their exiled king and his kin three more times. Their last stand at Culloden took place fifty-seven years to the date since Dundee initiated the first rising in 1689.