Jacobites (jăk´əbīts´), adherents of the exiled branch of the house of Stuart who sought to restore James II and his descendants to the English and Scottish thrones after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. They take their name from the Latin form (Jacobus) of the name James. Theoretical justification for the Stuart claim was found in the writings of the nonjurors, who maintained the principles of hereditary succession and the divine right of kings. But the Stuarts' continued adherence to Roman Catholicism, the rash and incompetent leadership of their military ventures, and the duplicity of foreign courts cost the Jacobite cause much support.

After James II's Ouster

When William III and Mary II ascended the throne after the flight of James II to France, strong Stuart partisans remained to offer rebellion. However, the death (1689) of John Graham, Viscount Dundee, at Killiecrankie ended armed resistance in Scotland, and William III quashed Jacobite hopes in Ireland by his victory over James's forces at the battle of the Boyne (1690). Thereafter the exiled English court in France became a center of intrigue for men like Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, and others like him who were out of favor in London. At home many Roman Catholics, high churchmen, and extreme Tories adhered to the Stuart cause.

Under the Old Pretender

At the death (1701) of James II his son James Francis Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender, was recognized as James III by the courts of France and Spain and proclaimed by the Jacobites. An invasion of Scotland in 1708 by the new claimant proved totally abortive. Each subsequent attempt also failed, and in each the Jacobites were the dupes of French or Spanish policy. After the death (1714) of Queen Anne and the accession of the Hanoverian George I, there was the rising known by its date as "the '15." Led by the incompetent John Erskine, 6th earl of Mar, it ended in the disastrous battles of Preston and Sheriffmuir. The Old Pretender, discredited by failure, retired first to Avignon and finally to Rome. Spain supported another Jacobite invasion of Scotland in 1719.

Under Bonnie Prince Charlie (the Young Pretender)

After the failure of the 1719 invasion of Scotland, hope lay dormant until the Old Pretender's son Charles Edward Stuart (the Young Pretender or Bonnie Prince Charlie) reached manhood. Acting on the assumption that renewed French hostility toward England would bring support for a Jacobite invasion, the prince rashly sailed for Scotland, raised the clans in what was called "the '45," and won an initial victory at Prestonpans in Sept., 1745. An advance into England stalled at Derby for lack of support from English Jacobites and French allies.

Despite Charles's objections, his council of war voted to retreat, an action skillfully managed by Lord George Murray. Disaster followed for the Jacobites at the battle of Culloden Moor (1746). Charles escaped to France, and Stuart hopes were extinguished, although a claimant to the throne lived on until 1807, in the person of Henry Stuart, Cardinal York. Jacobite sympathies lingered, particularly in Scotland and Ireland, where Jacobitism had been practically synonymous with national discontent, but the movement ceased to be a serious political force.


Jacobite activities gave rise to much ballad literature and were the theme of such later literary works as Sir Walter Scott's Rob Roy, Waverley, and Redgauntlet, W. Thackeray's Henry Esmond, and R. L. Stevenson's Kidnapped. See also studies by G. P. Insh (1952), G. H. Jones (1954), J. C. M. Baynes (1970), F. McLynn (1981, 1985, and 1998), and C. Petrie (rev. ed. 1988).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Jacobitism: Selected full-text books and articles

The Love of a Prince: Bonnie Prince Charlie in France, 1744-1748 By L. L. Bongie University of British Columbia Press, 1986
Political Untouchables: The Tories and the '45 By Eveline Cruickshanks Holmes & Meier, 1979
Britain as a Military Power, 1688-1815 By Jeremy Black UCL Press, 1999
Librarian's tip: Discussion of Jacobitism begins on p. 11
Could the Jacobites Have Won? By Black, Jeremy History Today, Vol. 45, No. 7, July 1995
The Last Years of James II 1690-1701 By Corp, Edward History Today, Vol. 51, No. 9, September 2001
Highland Histories: Jacobitism and Second Sight By Feibel, Juliet CLIO, Vol. 30, No. 1, Fall 2000
A Patriot Press: National Politics and the London Press in the 1740s By Robert Harris Oxford University, 1993
Librarian's tip: Chap. 6 "The Broad-Bottom Ministry and the Jacobite Rebellion, 1745-1746"
Crowds, Culture, and Politics in Georgian Britain By Nicholas Rogers Clarendon Press, 1998
Librarian's tip: Chap. 1 "Seditious Words, Subversive Laughter, Popular Jacobitism in Hanoverian England"
The Revolution of 1688: Whig Triumph or Palace Revolution? By Gerald M. Straka Heath, 1963
Librarian's tip: "The Revolution as Immoral, Illegal, And Anti-Monarchical: The Jacobites" begins on p. 14
The Oxford Companion to British History By John Cannon Oxford University Press, 1997
Librarian's tip: Discussion of Jacobitism begins on p. 523
Melfort: A Jacobite Connoisseur By Corp, Edward History Today, Vol. 45, No. 10, October 1995
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