What was the Jacobite Rising of 1745?


The Jacobite rising of 1745, also known as the Forty-five Rebellion or simply the ’45 (Scottish Gaelic: Bliadhna Theàrlaich, “The Year of Charles”), was an attempt by Charles Edward Stuart to regain the British throne for his father, James Francis Edward Stuart. It took place during the War of the Austrian Succession, when the bulk of the British Army was fighting in mainland Europe, and proved to be the last in a series of revolts that began in 1689, with major outbreaks in 1708, 1715 and 1719.

Charles launched the rebellion on 19 August 1745 at Glenfinnan in the Scottish Highlands, capturing Edinburgh and winning the Battle of Prestonpans in September. At a council in October, the Scots agreed to invade England after Charles assured them of substantial support from English Jacobites and a simultaneous French landing in Southern England. On that basis, the Jacobite army entered England in early November, reaching Derby on 4 December, where they decided to turn back.

Similar discussions had taken place at Carlisle, Preston and Manchester and many felt they had gone too far already. The invasion route had been selected to cross areas considered strongly Jacobite but the promised English support failed to materialise; they were now outnumbered and in danger of having their retreat cut off. The decision was supported by the vast majority but caused an irretrievable split between Charles and his Scots supporters. Despite victory at Falkirk Muir in January 1746, the Battle of Culloden in April ended the Rebellion and significant backing for the Stuart cause. Charles escaped to France, but was unable to win support for another attempt, and died in Rome in 1788.


The 1688 Glorious Revolution replaced James II and VII with his Protestant daughter Mary and her Dutch husband William, who ruled as joint monarchs of England, Ireland and Scotland. Neither Mary, who died in 1694, nor her sister Anne, had surviving children, which left their Catholic half-brother James Francis Edward as the closest natural heir. The 1701 Act of Settlement excluded Catholics from the succession and when Anne became queen in 1702, her heir was the distantly related but Protestant Electress Sophia of Hanover. Sophia died in June 1714 and when Anne followed two months later in August, Sophia’s son succeeded as George I.

Louis XIV of France, the primary source of support for the exiled Stuarts, died in 1715 and his successors needed peace with Britain in order to rebuild their economy. The 1716 Anglo-French alliance forced James to leave France; he settled in Rome on a Papal pension, making him even less attractive to the Protestants who formed the vast majority of his British support.

Rebellions in 1715 and 1719 failed, the latter so badly its planners concluded that it might “ruin the King’s Interest and faithful subjects in these parts”. Senior exiles like Bolingbroke accepted pardons and returned home or took employment elsewhere. The birth of his sons Charles and Henry helped maintain public interest in the Stuarts, but by 1737, James was “living tranquilly in Rome, having abandoned all hope of a restoration”.

In the 1730s, French statesmen increasingly viewed the post-1713 expansion in British trade as a threat to the European balance of power and the Stuarts as one way to reduce it. However, a low-level insurgency was far more cost-effective than an expensive restoration, especially since they were unlikely to be any more pro-French than the Hanoverians. The Scottish Highlands was an ideal location, due to the feudal nature of clan society, their remoteness and terrain; but as many Scots recognised, an uprising would also be devastating for the local populace.

Opposition to taxes levied by the government in London led to the 1725 malt tax and 1737 Porteous riots. In March 1743, the Highland-recruited 42nd Regiment or Black Watch was posted to Flanders, contrary to an understanding their service was restricted to Scotland and led to a short-lived mutiny. However, mutinies over pay and conditions were not unusual and the worst riots in 1725 took place in Glasgow, a town Charles noted in 1746 as one ‘where I have no friends and who are not at pains to hide it.’

Trade disputes between Spain and Britain led to the 1739 War of Jenkins’ Ear, followed in 1740-1741 by the War of the Austrian Succession. The long-serving British prime minister Robert Walpole was forced to resign in February 1742 by an alliance of Tories and anti-Walpole Patriot Whigs, who then excluded their partners from government. Furious Tories like the Duke of Beaufort asked for French help in restoring James to the British throne.

While war with Britain was clearly only a matter of time, Cardinal Fleury, chief minister since 1723, viewed the Jacobites as unreliable fantasists, an opinion shared by most French ministers. An exception was the Marquis D’Argenson, who was appointed Foreign Minister by Louis XV after Fleury died in January 1743.

Post-1715: Jacobitism in Britain

Although Jacobitism remained a significant political movement in 1745, its internal divisions became increasingly apparent during the Rising; historian Frank McLynn identifies seven primary drivers, with Stuart loyalism the least important. Estimates of English support in particular confused indifference to the Hanoverians with enthusiasm for the Stuarts.

Charles’ senior advisors included Irish exiles such as John O’Sullivan, who wanted an autonomous, Catholic Ireland and the return of lands confiscated after the Irish Confederate Wars. James II promised these concessions in return for Irish support in the 1689-1691 Williamite War, and only a Stuart on the throne of Great Britain could ensure their fulfilment.

In England and Wales, those with Jacobite sympathies were generally also Tories, who preferred a mercantilist strategy that emphasised protecting British trade; land commitments were seen as expensive and primarily of benefit to Hanover. This was particularly strong in the City of London, although diplomats observed opposition to foreign entanglements was true “only so long as English commerce does not suffer”.

The 1715 Rising in England and Wales suffered from being seen as a largely Catholic revolt, since most Tories were fervently anti-Catholic. After 1720, Walpole refused to enforce anti-Catholic penal laws and many became government supporters, among them the Duke of Norfolk, unofficial head of the English Catholic community. Sentenced to death after the 1715 Rising, he was reprieved and after Charles landed, visited George II to confirm his loyalty.

In 1745, even Tories sympathetic to the Stuart cause were far more concerned to ensure the primacy of the Church of England. That included defending it from Charles and his Catholic advisors, the Scots Presbyterians who formed the bulk of his army or Nonconformists in general; many “Jacobite” demonstrations in Wales stemmed from hostility to the 18th century Welsh Methodist revival. The Jacobite exiles failed to appreciate these distinctions or the extent to which Tory support derived from policy differences with the Whigs, not Stuart loyalism.

The most prominent Welsh Jacobite was Denbighshire landowner and Tory Member of Parliament, Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, head of the Jacobite White Rose society. He met with Stuart agents several times between 1740 and 1744 and promised support “if the Prince brought a French army”; in the end, he spent the Rebellion in London, with participation by the Welsh gentry limited to two lawyers, David Morgan and William Vaughan.

After the 1719 Rising, new laws imposed penalties on nonjuring clergy, those who refused to swear allegiance to the Hanoverian regime, rather than the Stuarts. For most English Non-Jurists, the issue was whether it was permissible to swear allegiance twice and so the problem naturally diminished as these priests died. In Scotland, doctrinal differences with the majority Church of Scotland meant they preserved their independence, which continues today in the Scottish Episcopal Church; many of those who participated in the Rising came from non-juring Episcopalian congregations. However, the most powerful single driver for Scottish support in 1745 was opposition to the 1707 Union, whose loss of political control was not matched by perceived economic benefit. This was particularly marked in Edinburgh, former location of the Scottish Parliament, and the Highlands.

In summary, Charles wanted to reclaim the throne of a united Great Britain and rule on the principles of the divine right of kings and absolutism, ideas rejected by the 1688 Glorious Revolution but which were reinforced by his trusted advisors, most of whom were long-term English or Irish Catholic exiles. They differed sharply from the Scottish Protestant nationalists that comprised the bulk of Jacobite support in 1745, who opposed the Union, Catholicism and “arbitrary” rule.

Charles in Scotland

In the 1743 Treaty of Fontainebleau or Pacte de Famille, Louis and his uncle, Philip V of Spain, agreed to co-operate against Britain, including an attempted restoration of the Stuarts. In November 1743, Louis advised James the invasion was planned for February 1744 and began assembling 12,000 troops and transports at Dunkirk, selected because it was possible to reach the Thames from there in a single tide. Since the Royal Navy was well aware of this, the French squadron in Brest made ostentatious preparations for putting to sea, in hopes of luring their patrols away.

James remained in Rome while Charles made his way in secret to join the invasion force but when the French admiral Roquefeuil’s squadron left Brest on 26 January 1744, the Royal Navy refused to follow. Naval operations against Britain often took place in the winter, when wind and tides made it harder for the British to enforce a blockade due to the increased risks of winter storms. As in 1719, the weather proved the British government’s best defence; storms sank a number of French ships and severely damaged many others, Roquefeuil himself being among the casualties. In March, Louis cancelled the invasion and declared war on Britain.

In August, Charles travelled to Paris to argue for an alternative landing in Scotland: John Gordon of Glenbucket had proposed a similar plan in 1738, when it had been rejected by both the French, and James himself. Charles met with Sir John Murray of Broughton, liaison between the Stuarts and their Scottish supporters, who claimed he advised against it but Charles was “determined to come […] though with a single footman”. When Murray returned with this news, the Scots reiterated their opposition to a rising without substantial French backing but Charles gambled once there, the French would have to support him.

He spent the first months of 1745 purchasing weapons, while victory at Fontenoy in April encouraged the French authorities to provide him with two transport ships. These were the 16-gun privateer Du Teillay and Elizabeth, an elderly 64-gun warship captured from the British in 1704, which carried the weapons and around 100 volunteers from the French Army’s Irish Brigade.

In early July, Charles boarded Du Teillay at Saint-Nazaire accompanied by the “Seven Men of Moidart”, the most notable being John O’Sullivan, an Irish exile and former French officer who acted as chief of staff. The two vessels left for the Western Isles on 15 July but were intercepted four days out by HMS Lion, which engaged Elizabeth. After a four-hour battle, both were forced to return to port; loss of the volunteers and weapons on Elizabeth was a major setback but Du Teillay landed Charles at Eriskay on 23 July.

Many of those contacted advised him to return to France, including MacDonald of Sleat and Norman MacLeod. Aware of the potential impact of defeat, they felt that by arriving without French military support, Charles had failed to keep his commitments and were unconvinced by his personal qualities. It is also suggested Sleat and Macleod were especially vulnerable to government sanctions due to their involvement in illegally selling tenants into indentured servitude. Enough were persuaded but the choice was rarely simple; Donald Cameron of Lochiel committed only after Charles provided “security for the full value of his estate should the rising prove abortive,” while MacLeod and Sleat helped him escape after Culloden.

On 19 August, the rebellion was launched with the raising of the Royal Standard at Glenfinnan, witnessed by a force of Highlanders O’Sullivan estimated as around 700. The Jacobites marched on Edinburgh, reaching Perth on 04 September where they were joined by more sympathisers, including Lord George Murray. Previously pardoned for his participation in the 1715 and 1719 risings, Murray took over from O’Sullivan due to his better understanding of Highland military customs and the Jacobites spent the next week re-organising their forces.

The senior government legal officer in Scotland, Lord President Duncan Forbes, forwarded confirmation of the landing to London on 09 August. Many of the 3,000 soldiers available to Sir John Cope, the government commander in Scotland, were untrained recruits, and while he lacked information on Jacobite intentions, they were well-informed on his, as Murray had been one of his advisors. Forbes instead relied on his relationships to keep people loyal; he failed with Lochiel and Lord Lovat but succeeded with many others, including the Earl of Sutherland, Clan Munro and Lord Fortrose.

On 17 September, Charles entered Edinburgh unopposed, although Edinburgh Castle itself remained in government hands; James was proclaimed King of Scotland the next day and Charles his Regent. On 21 September, the Jacobites intercepted and scattered Cope’s army in less than 20 minutes at the Battle of Prestonpans, just outside Edinburgh. The Duke of Cumberland, commander of the British army in Flanders, was recalled to London, along with 12,000 troops.

To consolidate his support in Scotland, Charles published two “Declarations” on 09 and 10 October: the first dissolved the “pretended Union,” the second rejected the Act of Settlement. He also instructed the ‘Caledonian Mercury’ to publish minutes of the 1695 Parliamentary enquiry into the Glencoe Massacre, often used as an example of post-1688 oppression.

Jacobite morale was further boosted in mid-October when the French landed supplies of money and weapons, together with an envoy, the Marquis d’Éguilles, which seemed to validate claims of French backing. However, Lord Elcho later claimed his fellow Scots were already concerned by Charles’ autocratic style and fears he was overly influenced by his Irish advisors. A “Prince’s Council” of 15 to 20 senior leaders was established; Charles resented it as an imposition by the Scots on their divinely appointed monarch, while the daily meetings accentuated divisions between the factions.

These internal tensions were highlighted by the meetings held on 30 and 31 October to discuss strategy. Most of the Scots wanted to consolidate, suggesting Charles summon the estates of the realm to defend it against the “English armies” they expected to be sent against them. Charles argued an invasion of England was critical for attracting French support, and ensuring an independent Scotland by removing the Hanoverians. He was supported by the Irish exiles, for whom a Stuart on the British throne was the only way to achieve an autonomous, Catholic Ireland. Charles also claimed he was in contact with English supporters, who were simply waiting for their arrival, while d’Éguilles assured the council a French landing in England was imminent.

Despite their doubts, the Council agreed to the invasion, on condition the promised English and French support was forthcoming. Previous Scottish incursions into England had crossed the border at Berwick-upon-Tweed, but Murray selected a route via Carlisle and the North-West of England, areas strongly Jacobite in 1715. The last elements of the Jacobite army left Edinburgh on 04 November and government forces under General Handasyde retook the city on 14th.

The Invasion of England

Murray divided the army into two columns to conceal their destination from General Wade, government commander in Newcastle, and entered England on 08 November unopposed. On 10th, they reached Carlisle, an important border fortress before the 1707 Union but whose defences were now in poor condition, held by a garrison of 80 elderly veterans. Despite this, without siege artillery the Jacobites would have to starve it into submission, an operation for which they had neither the equipment or time. The castle capitulated on 15 November, after learning Wade’s relief force was delayed by snow; when he retook the town in December, Cumberland wanted to execute those responsible.

Leaving a small garrison, the Jacobites continued south to Preston on 26 November, then Manchester on 28th. Here they received the first notable intake of English recruits, which were formed into the Manchester Regiment. Their commander was Francis Towneley, a Lancashire Catholic who previously served as an officer in the French Army; his elder brother Richard narrowly escaped execution for his part in the 1715 Rising.

At previous Council meetings in Preston and Manchester, many Scots felt they had already gone far enough, but agreed to continue when Charles assured them Sir Watkin Williams Wynn would meet them at Derby, while the Duke of Beaufort was preparing to seize the strategic port of Bristol. When they reached Derby on 4 December, there was no sign of these reinforcements, and the Council convened the following day to discuss next steps.

There was no sign of a French landing in England, and despite the large crowds that turned out to see them on the march south, only Manchester provided a significant number of recruits; Preston, a Jacobite stronghold in 1715, supplied three. Murray argued they had gone as far as possible and now risked being cut off by superior forces, with Cumberland advancing north from London, and Wade moving south from Newcastle. Charles admitted he had not heard from the English Jacobites since leaving France; this meant he lied when claiming otherwise and his relationship with the Scots was irretrievably damaged.

The council were overwhelmingly in favour of retreat, strengthened by news the French had landed supplies, pay and Scots and Irish regulars from the Royal Écossais and the Irish Brigade at Montrose. The despatch from their commander Lord John Drummond allegedly reported 10,000 French troops were preparing to follow him, “greatly influencing” the council.

While debated ever since, contemporaries did not believe the Hanoverian regime would collapse, even if the Jacobites reached London. The decision was driven by lack of English support or of a French landing in England, not proximity to the capital, and its wisdom supported by many modern historians. Lack of heavy weapons allowed the Jacobites to move quickly and out-march their opponents, but would be a disadvantage in a set piece battle. In a letter of 30 November, the Duke of Richmond, who was with Cumberland’s army, listed five possible options for the Jacobites, of which retreating to Scotland was by far the best for them, and the worst for the government.

Although the British government was concerned by reports of an invasion fleet at Dunkirk, it is unclear how serious this was. Saxe was assembling troops for an offensive into Flanders, while Dunkirk was a major privateer base and always busy. The threat of an invasion was a far more cost-effective way to absorb British resources than doing so, and these plans were formally cancelled in January 1746.

The retreat badly damaged the relationship between Charles and the Scots, both sides viewing the other with suspicion and hostility. Elcho later wrote Murray believed they could have continued fighting in Scotland “for several years”, forcing the Crown to agree to terms as its troops were desperately needed for the war on the Continent. However, this seems equally unlikely; despite victories in Flanders, by early 1746, Finance Minister Machault was warning Louis that the British naval blockade had reduced the French economy to a ‘catastrophic state’.

The fast-moving Jacobite army evaded pursuit with only a minor skirmish at Clifton Moor, crossing back into Scotland on 20 December. Cumberland’s army arrived outside Carlisle on 22 December, and seven days later the garrison was forced to surrender, ending the Jacobite military presence in England. Much of the garrison came from the Manchester Regiment and several of the officers were later executed, including Francis Towneley.

The Road to Culloden

The invasion itself achieved little, but reaching Derby and returning was a considerable military achievement. Morale was high, while reinforcements from Aberdeenshire and Banffshire under Lewis Gordon along with Scottish and Irish regulars in French service brought Jacobite strength to over 8,000. French-supplied artillery was used to besiege Stirling Castle, the strategic key to the Highlands. On 17 January, the Jacobites dispersed a relief force under Henry Hawley at the Battle of Falkirk Muir but the siege itself made little progress.

Hawley’s forces were largely intact and advanced on Stirling again once Cumberland arrived in Edinburgh on 30 January, while many Highlanders had gone home after Falkirk; on 01 February, the siege was abandoned and the Jacobite main force retreated to Inverness. Cumberland’s army advanced along the coast, allowing it to be resupplied by sea, and entered Aberdeen on 27 February; both sides halted operations until the weather improved.

A few French shipments evaded the Royal Navy’s blockade but by spring, the Jacobites were short of both food and money to pay their men and when Cumberland left Aberdeen on 08 April, the leadership agreed giving battle was their best option. Arguments over the location stem from post-war disputes between supporters of Murray and O’Sullivan, largely responsible for selecting it, but defeat was a combination of factors. In addition to superior numbers and equipment, Cumberland’s troops had been drilled in countering the Highland charge, which relied on speed and ferocity to break the enemy lines. When successful it resulted in quick victories like Prestonpans and Falkirk, but if it failed, they could not hold their ground.

The Battle of Culloden on 16 April, often cited as the last pitched battle on British soil, lasted less than an hour and ended in a decisive government victory. Exhausted by a night march carried out in a failed attempt to surprise Cumberland’s troops, many Jacobites missed the battle, leaving fewer than 5,000 to face a well-rested and equipped force of 7,000 to 9,000.

Fighting began with an artillery exchange: that of the government was vastly superior in training and coordination, particularly as James Grant, an officer in the Irish Brigade who served as the Jacobite army’s artillery colonel, was absent having been wounded at Fort William. Charles held his position, expecting Cumberland to attack, but he refused to do so and unable to respond to the fire, Charles ordered his front line to charge. As they did so, boggy ground in front of the Jacobite centre forced them over to the right, where they became entangled with the right wing regiments and where movement was restricted by an enclosure wall.

This increased the distance to the government lines and slowed the momentum of the charge, lengthening their exposure to the government artillery, which now switched to grapeshot. Despite this, the Highlanders crashed into Cumberland’s left, which gave ground but did not break, while Loudon’s regiment fired into their flank from behind the wall. Unable to return fire, the Highlanders broke and fell back in confusion; the north-eastern regiments and Irish and Scots regulars in the second line retired in good order, allowing Charles and his personal retinue to escape northwards.

Troops that held together, like the French regulars, were far less vulnerable in retreat and many Highlanders were cut down by government dragoons in the pursuit. Government casualties are estimated as 50 killed, plus 259 wounded; many Jacobite wounded remaining on the battlefield were reportedly killed afterwards, their losses being 1,200 to 1,500 dead and 500 prisoners. A potential 5,000 to 6,000 Jacobites remained in arms and over the next two days, an estimated 1,500 survivors assembled at Ruthven Barracks; however on 20 April, Charles ordered them to disperse, arguing French assistance was required to continue the fight and they should return home until he returned with additional support.

Lord Elcho later claimed to have told Charles he should “put himself at the head of the […] men that remained to him, and live and die with them,” but he was determined to leave for France. After evading capture in the Western Highlands, Charles was picked up by a French ship on 20 September; he never returned to Scotland but the collapse of his relationship with the Scots always made this unlikely. Even before Derby, he accused Murray and others of treachery; these outbursts became more frequent due to disappointment and heavy drinking, while the Scots no longer trusted his promises of support.

Aftermath and Legacy

After Culloden, government forces spent several weeks searching for rebels, confiscating cattle and burning non-juring Episcopalian and Catholic meeting houses. The brutality of these measures was driven by a widespread perception on both sides that another landing was imminent.

Regular soldiers in French service were treated as prisoners of war and later exchanged, regardless of nationality, but 3,500 captured Jacobites were indicted for treason. Of these, 120 were executed, primarily deserters and members of the Manchester Regiment. Some 650 died awaiting trial; 900 were pardoned and the rest transported.

The Jacobite lords Kilmarnock, Balmerino and Lovat were beheaded in April 1747 (Fraser becoming the last person so executed in the UK), but public opinion was against further trials and the 1747 Act of Indemnity pardoned any remaining prisoners. One of these was Flora MacDonald, whose aristocratic admirers collected over £1,500 for her. Lord Elcho, Lord Murray and Lochiel were excluded from this and died in exile; Archibald Cameron, responsible for recruiting the Cameron regiment in 1745, was allegedly betrayed by his own clansmen on returning to Scotland and executed on 70 June 1753.

The government limited confiscations of Jacobite property, since the experience of doing so after 1715 and 1719 showed the cost often exceeded the sales price. Under the 1747 Vesting Act, the estates of 51 attainted for their role in 1745 were surveyed by the Court of Exchequer, and 41 forfeited. The majority of these were either purchased or claimed by creditors, with 13 made crown land in 1755. Under the 1784 Disannexing Act, their heirs were allowed to buy them back, in return for a total payment of £65,000.

Once north of Edinburgh or inland from ports like Aberdeen, Cumberland’s troops were hampered by the fact that there were few roads and no accurate maps of the Highlands. New forts were built, the military road network started by Wade finally completed and William Roy made the first comprehensive survey of the Highlands. Additional measures were taken to weaken the traditional clan system, which even before 1745 had been under severe stress due to changing economic conditions. The Heritable Jurisdictions Act ended feudal powers exercised by chiefs over their clansmen, while the Act of Proscription outlawed Highland dress unless worn in military service; its impact is debated and the law was repealed in 1782.

The Jacobite cause did not entirely disappear after 1746, but its exposure to conflicting objectives ended it as a serious threat. Many Scots were disillusioned by Charles’ leadership while the decline in English Jacobitism was demonstrated by the lack of support from areas strongly Jacobite in 1715, such as Northumberland and County Durham. Irish Jacobite societies increasingly reflected opposition to the existing order rather than affection for the Stuarts and were eventually absorbed by the Republican United Irishmen.

D’Éguilles’ report on the Rising, written in June 1747, was critical of the Jacobite leadership in general, but especially of Charles; he suggested a Scots Republic might be a better option than a Stuart restoration.[104] The Rebellion was the highlight for both leaders; Cumberland resigned from the Army in 1757 and died of a stroke in 1765. Charles was forcibly deported from France after the 1748 Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle; Henry Stuart became a Catholic priest in June 1747, seen as tacit acceptance the Jacobite cause was finished, and his brother never forgave him.

Charles continued attempts to reignite the cause, including a secret visit to London in 1750, when he was inducted into the Non Juror church. In 1759, he met French Chief Minister Choiseul to discuss another invasion, but was dismissed as incapable through drink. Despite Henry’s urgings, Pope Clement XIII refused to recognise him as Charles III after their father died in 1766. He died of a stroke in Rome in January 1788, a disappointed and embittered man.


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