The Hunt for Rob Roy: The Man and the Myths

By David Stevenson | Go to book overview

10
JACOBITE REBEL TO HANOVERIAN SPY

In the years after the abortive rising of 1719 the government had been complacent about the Highlands. The episode had been regarded as showing that Highland Jacobitism was not a serious threat, and this proved a good excuse for doing what government was usually inclined to do about the Highlands virtually nothing. But in 1724 Lord Lovat (Fraser of Beaufort had at last got his title officially recognised) submitted to George I a report on conditions in the Highlands, stressing high levels of disorder, connected primarily with cattle raiding and the raising of blackmail. This law and order problem, Lord Lovat stressed, was closely linked to the political one of the high level of active Jacobite sentiment among the clans and especially among the more disorderly ones. After the suppression of the ’15, and even after the further warning of the ’19, effective action had not been taken. Attempts at disarming the clans had been undertaken half-heartedly and had mainly weakened the Hanoverianinclined clans, which was absurd and dangerous.1 The warning was well timed. There was peace abroad, and stability at home under the strong leadership of Sir Robert Walpole. There was no immediate hope of Jacobites obtaining help from abroad, and active Jacobite plotting was at a low ebb. In other words, there was an opportunity to take action without fear of provoking revolt.

George I therefore gave orders on 3 July 1724 to Major General George Wade to proceed to the Highlands and investigate the state of the country, especially as to ‘depredations’ and the allegations that progovernment clans had been disarmed but not Jacobite ones. He was also to make suggestions as to what should be done. Wade reported on 10 December. There were 22,000 men in the Highlands capable of bearing arms. Over half, 12,000, were ready, if encouraged by their chiefs, to make trouble or to rise in arms in favour of the Stuart Pretender. Cattle raiding was common and even when such ‘banditti’

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