What was the Jacobite Rising of 1715?


The Jacobite rising of 1715 (Scottish Gaelic: Bliadhna Sheumais); also referred to as the Fifteen or Lord Mar’s Revolt) was the attempt by James Francis Edward Stuart (also called the Old Pretender) to regain the thrones of England, Ireland and Scotland for the exiled House of Stuart.


The 1688 Glorious Revolution deposed James II and VII and replaced him with his Protestant daughter Mary II and her Dutch husband William III and II, ruling as joint monarchs. Since neither Mary nor her sister Anne had surviving children, the 1701 Act of Settlement ensured a Protestant successor by excluding Catholics from the English and Irish thrones, and that of Great Britain after the 1707 Act of Union. When Anne became the last Stuart monarch in 1702, her heir was the distantly related but Protestant Sophia of Hanover, not her Catholic half-brother James Francis Edward. Sophia died two months before Anne in August 1714; her son became George I and the pro-Hanoverian Whigs controlled government for the next 30 years.

French support had been crucial for the Stuart exiles, but their acceptance of the Protestant succession in Britain was part of the terms that ended the 1701-1714 War of the Spanish Succession. This ensured a smooth inheritance by George I in August 1714, and the Stuarts were later banished from France by the terms of the 1716 Anglo-French Treaty. The 1710-1714 Tory government had actively prosecuted their Whig opponents, who now retaliated, accusing the Tories of corruption: Robert Harley was imprisoned in the Tower of London while Lord Bolingbroke escaped to France and became James’ new Secretary of State.

On 14 March 1715, James appealed to Pope Clement XI for help with a Jacobite rising: “It is not so much a devoted son, oppressed by the injustices of his enemies, as a persecuted Church threatened with destruction, which appeals for the protection and help of its worthy pontiff”. On 19 August, Bolingbroke wrote to James that “..things are hastening to that point, that either you, Sir, at the head of the Tories, must save the Church and Constitution of England or both must be irretrievably lost for ever”. Believing the great general Marlborough would join him, on 23 August James wrote to the Duke of Berwick, his illegitimate brother and Marlborough’s nephew, that; “I think it is now more than ever Now or Never”.

Raising the Standard

Despite receiving no commission from James to start the rising, the Earl of Mar sailed from London to Scotland, and on 27 August at Braemar in Aberdeenshire held the first council of war. On 6 September at Braemar, Mar raised the standard of “James the 8th and 3rd”, acclaimed by 600 supporters.

Parliament responded with the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act of 1715, and passed an Act that confiscated the land of rebelling Jacobite landlords in favour of their tenants who supported the London government. Some of Mar’s tenants travelled to Edinburgh to prove their loyalty to the Hanoverian crown and acquire title to Mar’s land.

The Struggle for Scotland

In northern Scotland, the Jacobites were successful. They took Inverness, Gordon Castle, Aberdeen and further south, Dundee, although they were unable to capture Fort William. In Edinburgh Castle, the government stored arms for up to 10,000 men and £100,000 paid to Scotland when she entered the Union with England. Lord Drummond, with 80 Jacobites, tried under the cover of night to take the Castle, but the Governor of the Castle learned of their plans and successfully defended it.

By October, Mar’s force, numbering nearly 20,000, had taken control of all Scotland above the Firth of Forth, apart from Stirling Castle. However, Mar was indecisive, and the Jacobite capture of Perth and the move south by 2,000 men were probably at the initiative of subordinates. Mar’s hesitation gave the Hanoverian commander, the Duke of Argyll, time to increase his strength with reinforcements from the Irish Garrison.

On 22 October, Mar received his commission from James appointing him commander of the Jacobite army. His forces outnumbered Argyll’s Hanoverian army by three to one, and Mar decided to march on Stirling Castle. On 13 November the two forces joined battle at Sheriffmuir. The fighting was indecisive, but near the end the Jacobites numbered 4,000 to Argyll’s 1,000. Mar’s force began to advance on Argyll, who was poorly protected, but Mar did not close in, possibly believing that he had won the battle already (Argyll had lost 660 men, three times as many as Mar). Instead, Mar retreated to Perth. On the same day as the Battle of Sheriffmuir, Inverness surrendered to Hanoverian forces, and a smaller Jacobite force led by Mackintosh of Borlum was defeated at Preston.


Amongst the leaders of a Jacobite conspiracy in western England were three peers and six MPs. The government arrested the leaders, including Sir William Wyndham, on the night of 02 October, and on the following day easily obtained Parliament’s legitimation of these arrests. The government sent reinforcements to defend Bristol, Southampton and Plymouth. Oxford, famous for its monarchist sentiment, fell under government suspicion, and on 17 October General Pepper led the dragoons into the city and arrested some leading Jacobites without resistance.

Though the main rising in the West had been forestalled, a planned secondary rising in Northumberland went ahead on 06 October 1715, including two peers of the realm, James Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater, and William Widdrington, 4th Baron Widdrington, and a future peer, Charles Radclyffe, later de jure 5th Earl of Derwentwater. Another future English peer, Edward Howard, later 9th Duke of Norfolk, joined the rising later in Lancashire, as did other prominent figures, including Robert Cotton, one of the leading gentlemen in Huntingdonshire.

The English Jacobites joined with a force of Scottish Borderer Jacobites, led by William Gordon, 6th Viscount Kenmure, and this small army received Mackintosh’s contingent. They marched into England, where the Government forces caught up with them at the Battle of Preston on 12-14 November. The Jacobites won the first day of the battle, killing large numbers of Government forces, but Government reinforcements arrived the next day and the Jacobites eventually surrendered.


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