Rebellion and Savagery: The Jacobite Rising of 1745 and the British Empire

Rebellion and Savagery: The Jacobite Rising of 1745 and the British Empire

Rebellion and Savagery: The Jacobite Rising of 1745 and the British Empire

Rebellion and Savagery: The Jacobite Rising of 1745 and the British Empire


In the summer of 1745, Charles Edward Stuart, the grandson of England's King James II, landed on the western coast of Scotland intending to overthrow George II and restore the Stuart family to the throne. He gathered thousands of supporters, and the insurrection he led--the Jacobite Rising of 1745--was a crisis not only for Britain but for the entire British Empire. Rebellion and Savagery examines the 1745 rising and its aftermath on an imperial scale.

Charles Edward gained support from the clans of the Scottish Highlands, communities that had long been derided as primitive. In 1745 the Jacobite Highlanders were denigrated both as rebels and as savages, and this double stigma helped provoke and legitimate the violence of the government's anti-Jacobite campaigns. Though the colonies stayed relatively peaceful in 1745, the rising inspired fear of a global conspiracy among Jacobites and other suspect groups, including North America's purported savages.

The defeat of the rising transformed the leader of the army, the Duke of Cumberland, into a popular hero on both sides of the Atlantic. With unprecedented support for the maintenance of peacetime forces, Cumberland deployed new garrisons in the Scottish Highlands and also in the Mediterranean and North America. In all these places his troops were engaged in similar missions: demanding loyalty from all local inhabitants and advancing the cause of British civilization. The recent crisis gave a sense of urgency to their efforts. Confident that "a free people cannot oppress," the leaders of the army became Britain's most powerful and uncompromising imperialists.

Geoffrey Plank argues that the events of 1745 marked a turning point in the fortunes of the British Empire by creating a new political interest in favor of aggressive imperialism, and also by sparking discussion of how the British should promote market-based economic relations in order to integrate indigenous peoples within their empire. The spread of these new political ideas was facilitated by a large-scale migration of people involved in the rising from Britain to the colonies, beginning with hundreds of prisoners seized on the field of battle and continuing in subsequent years to include thousands of men, women and children. Some of the migrants were former Jacobites and others had stood against the insurrection. The event affected all the British domains.


On July 23, 1745, Charles Edward Stuart, the twenty-four-year-old grandson of England’s long-dead, ousted King James ii, landed in Moidart, on the western coast of Scotland, in the company of seven men. He intended to seize power in Britain, reverse the dynastic consequences of the Revolution of 1688, and on behalf of his father, who lived in Italy, restore the deposed Stuart family to the British throne. Before sailing for Scotland Charles Edward had been in correspondence with several British Jacobites, supporters of the Stuart dynasty, including prominent clan leaders and landlords in the Scottish Highlands. Some of these men greeted him near the coast, and with their help he raised a small army composed largely of Gaelic-speaking Highlanders. By mid-August he and his men were marching south. in September they took the town of Edinburgh, leaving the government’s garrison beleaguered in Edinburgh Castle. Gaining new recruits along their route, and winning nearly all of their engagements with the government’s forces, eventually the Jacobite army proceeded as far south as Derby, in the Midlands of England, before Charles Edward reassessed his circumstances and decided to turn back toward Scotland.

While the Jacobites retreated, the government reassembled its available military forces and placed them under the command of the Duke of Cumberland, the second son of King George ii. Cumberland pursued Charles Edward northward, finally trapping the main body of his forces at Culloden Moor, near Inverness, on April 16, 1746. the battle that day was a violent rout. Hundreds of Jacobite soldiers were killed in the field, and the rest were captured or scattered. Charles Edward escaped. It took him several weeks, but he managed to leave Britain and sail to France. Cumberland, in the meantime, led the government’s forces on a punitive mission through Highland Scotland, disarming much of the population, burning crops, seizing livestock, and on occasion attacking entire communities, including old people and children, women and men.

While Cumberland was pursuing his military campaigns in the Highlands, he was struggling to restore order on the government’s terms. Thousands of veterans of the Jacobite rising were brought into custody . . .

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