Magazine article The Spectator

Pudding Time for Whigs

Magazine article The Spectator

Pudding Time for Whigs

Article excerpt

1715: THE GREAT JACOBITE REBELLION by Daniel Szechi Yale, £25, pp.351, ISBN 0300111002 . £20 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

Compared with the romance and legend of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, the '15 is, as Daniel Szechi ruefully concedes, 'a dowdier bird'.

It has been ill-served by history, just as the Jacobites as a whole have been neglected by historians of the 18th century in favour of the broader trend of Britain's march of progress.

There is perhaps a failure to understand why people should have risked everything for a dynasty that had been twice kicked off the throne and in support of James Stuart, every bit a dowdy bird himself.

That was certainly how the Whigs felt at the time. It was the 'unnatural rebellion' for them, started and carried out by stubborn and savage Scottish irreconcilables and a handful of Tory malcontents. In this version, even the most ardent Jacobite knew that it was doomed to failure. Whatever the case, the easy defeat of the rebellion meant that it was 'pudding time' for the Whigs, to whom George I reluctantly turned as the bulwark of his reign. The Tories, suspected of seditious tendencies, were left in the cold for generations.

As Szechi points out in a fascinating section on the feverish climate of millennial excitement in Scotland in the years leading up to the rebellion, potential rebels were not convinced that the Whigs could withstand a Stuart restoration. 'We ar buzed with prophesies, dreams and visions in a transe, all of the King's returne, ' wrote one. Millwheels turned against the current; a phantom army appeared, led by a man on a white horse; a hedge sprouted peas and strawberries; and, most ominously, there was an eclipse of the sun on 22 April 1714. It seemed as if Providence favoured James Stuart.

There were non-apocalyptic signs as well:

riots in provincial towns on George's Coronation Day, and ribald banners mocking the new king were openly displayed everywhere. The general election of 1715 was held amid violence and conspiracies.

Many thought that George was a hostage of the Whigs -- supposedly atheist republicans masquerading as monarchists -- who would destroy both the Anglican and Episcopalian Church. Tories were deprived of office at every level, down to the gardener at Dublin Castle. …

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