Scotland’s Jacobite Rebellion: Key Dates and Figures

Depiction of the Battle of Culloden, 1746
Depiction of the Battle of Culloden, 1746.

Print Collector / Getty Images

The Jacobite Rebellions were a series of uprisings aimed at restoring James VII of the House of Stuart and his successors to the throne of Great Britain during the 17th and 18th centuries.

The rebellions commenced when James VII fled England, and the Dutch Protestant William of Orange and Mary II assumed the monarchy. The Jacobites supported James’ claim to the throne, though over the decades, failed economic pursuits, aggressive taxation, religious conflicts, and a general desire for independence created a sense of resentment toward the English monarchy, and the Jacobite cause became an outlet for this resentment. 

Fast Facts: Jacobite Rebellions

  • Short Description: The Jacobite Rebellions were a series of 17th and 18th century uprisings in Scotland intended to restore the Catholic James VII and his heirs to the throne of Great Britain. 
  • Key Players/Participants: James VII of Scotland and II of England and his heirs; William of Orange and Mary II of England; George I of Great Britain
  • Event Start Date: January 22, 1689 
  • Event End Date: April 16, 1746 
  • Location: Scotland and England

Contemporary reiterations of the Jacobite rebellions often mix fact with fiction, pitting Catholic Scottish Highlanders against Protestant English soldiers, when in a reality, the Hanoverian army that defeated the Jacobites at Culloden was made up of more Scots than English. The Jacobite Rebellions were a series of complicated socio-political events across Great Britain* and Europe, culminating in a permanent shift in governance and the end of the Highland way of life.

What Is a Jacobite?

The term Jacobite comes from the Latin form of the name James, the Stuart king to whom the Jacobites pledged their loyalty. James VII, a Catholic, took the throne of Great Britain in 1685, alarming the English parliament, which feared a renewed Catholic monarchy.

A few months after the birth of James VII’s heir, William of Orange and Mary II, supported by the English parliament, arrived in London to seize the throne. James VII fled London, which the English parliament declared as a forfeiture of power. Vowing to uphold Protestantism, William and Mary became joint monarchs of Great Britain.

Key Figures

  • James VII of Scotland & II of England: King of Great Britain from 1685 until 1689 and the man for whom the Jacobite cause was named.
  • William of Orange: King of Great Britain from 1689 until his death in 1702. 
  • Mary II:  Oldest daughter of James VII and Queen of England from 1689 until her death in 1694. Mary II served as a joint monarch alongside her husband, William of Orange, after her father fled to Italy.

First Jacobite Rising (1689)

The first Jacobite rebellion began in May 1689, four months after James VII was deposed, when the Jacobite army, comprised mostly of Scottish Highlanders, took control of the town of Perth, a victory that fueled the Jacobite movement. Though the Jacobites saw several early victories, they were unable to capture Dunkeld, a discouraging loss.

In May 1690, government soldiers attacked a Jacobite encampment during the night, killing 300 men. After the attack, Fort William—renamed to honor the Dutch king—was expanded, increasing the presence of government soldiers in the Highlands. Two months later, William’s forces destroyed James VII’s incoming fleet at the Battle of the Boyne off the coast of Ireland. James VII returned to France, ending the first Jacobite Rebellion.

Key Dates and Events

  • May 10, 1689: The newly raised Jacobite army descends onto the city of Perth, jump-starting the first Jacobite Rebellion.
  • August 21, 1689: Jacobite forces are unable to take the city of Dunkeld, a defeat that disheartened and disbanded the Jacobites. Small groups of loyal Jacobites remained scattered throughout the Highlands. 
  • May 1, 1690: Government soldiers lead a surprise attack on a Jacobite encampment, killing 300 men, a devastating loss for the Jacobites.
  • July 1, 1690: William of Orange defeats James VII at the Battle of the Boyne, sending James back to France and ending the First Jacobite Rising.  

Second Jacobite Rising (1690 – 1715)

During the 1690s, poor weather conditions led to continued failed harvest, and economic growth in Scotland remained stagnant. William was increasingly unpopular, particularly in the Highlands after the Glencoe Massacre in 1692. His successor, Anne, prioritized the preservation of England against foreign adversaries over the interests of the Scots, doing little to quell dissent in the Highlands. Anne died in 1714, passing the crown to a foreign king, George I.

Key Figures

  • Anne, Queen of Great Britain: Monarch of Great Britain from 1702 until her death in 1714. Anne outlived all of her children, leaving her without an heir.  
  • George I: First Hanoverian monarch of Great Britain who ruled from 1714 to 1727; Anne’s second cousin. 
  • James Francis Edward Stuart: Son of James VII, heir to the throne of Great Britain. James became known as the “Old Pretender” and the “King across the Water.” 

Rallied by the transition of governance, the Jacobite standard was raised, and James Francis, son of James VII, called on Louis XIV of France, to supply an army to the cause. Louis’ death in 1715 stifled French support for the Jacobites, and the army was forced to contend with Hanoverian government forces alone, with James stuck in France. 

Hanoverian soldiers clashed with the Jacobites on November 13, 1715. The battle was considered a draw, but a Jacobite retreat turned it into a Hanoverian victory, ending the second Jacobite Rebellion. 

Key Dates and Events

  • February 1692: The Massacre of Glencoe; as punishment for refusing to declare loyalty to the Protestant king, William’s government slaughters the McDonalds of Glencoe, creating a martyr for the Jacobite cause.  
  • June 1701: The Act of Settlement passes, preventing any Roman Catholic from assuming the monarchy.
  • September 1701: James VII dies, leaving James Francis as the claimant to the throne.
  • March 1702: William dies, passing the crown to Queen Anne. 
  • July 1706: The Treaty of Union passes, dissolving the Scottish parliament. 
  • August 1714: Queen Anne dies, and George I becomes king. 
  • September 1715: The Jacobite standard is raised, pending the arrival of James and a French army.
  • November 1715: The Battle of Sheriffmuir; the battle ends in a draw, but a Jacobite retreat converts the battle into a government victory and ends the Second Jacobite Rebellion. 
  • December 1715: James arrives in Scotland. He spends two months in Scotland before returning, defeated, to France.  

Third Jacobite Rising (1716-1719)

Spain instigated the third Jacobite Rebellion, knowing a domestic crisis would draw English attention from the European continent, allowing Spain to reclaim territory lost during the War of Spanish Succession. An ally in Scotland would also link Spain with the Swedish fleet in the North Sea, so King Philip V of Spain invited James to collect a fleet of ships and sail for Scotland from Spain’s northern coast.

Nearly 5.000 Spanish soldiers left to fight for James, but the fleet was devastated by a storm in the Bay of Biscay. The surviving 300 Spanish soldiers joined a force of 700 Jacobites, but the army was destroyed by government forces at the Battle of Glenshiel. 

James returned to Italy to marry Maria Clementina Sobieska, a wealthy Polish princess. On December 31, 1720, Maria gave birth to the Charles Edward Stuart. 

Key Dates and Events

  • June 1719: The Spanish-Jacobite military force seizes Eileen Donan Castle in the western Highlands. 
  • September 1719: Hanoverian forces retake Eileen Donan Castle, forcing the Spanish to surrender and the Jacobites to retreat, ending the 1719 rising. Maria Clementina Sobieska marries James. 
  • December 1720: Maria Clementina gives birth to Charles Edward Stuart, heir apparent and claimant to the throne of Great Britain.

Final Jacobite Rising 1720-1745

According to legend, the fourth and final Jacobite Rebellion, known as the Forty-Five, started with an ear. Richard Jenkins, a ship captain from Glasgow, claimed to have had his ear cut off by the Spanish while trading in the Caribbean, a violation of the agreement between Great Britain and Spain. Great Britain declared war on Spain, starting the War of Jenkins Ear.

At the same time, the War of Austrian Succession erupted across Europe, consuming peripheral conflicts, including the War of Jenkins Ear. Louis XV of France attempted to distract the British with a Jacobite rising in Scotland, led by the 23-year-old Charles Edward Stuart. 

Key Figures

  • Charles Edward Stuart: Son of James Francis, heir apparent and claimant to the throne of Great Britain; also known as the Young Pretender and the Bonnie Prince Charlie.
  • William, Duke of Cumberland: Youngest son of King George II; also known as Butcher Cumberland. He led government forces in the victory over the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden.

After a storm destroyed Charles’ French fleet, Louis XV revoked support for the Jacobite cause. Charles pawned the famed Sobieska Rubies to pay for two ships, though one was decommissioned by a British warship immediately after departing for Scotland. Undeterred, Charles and the single remaining ship arrived in Scotland, raising the Jacobite standard. The army, made up mostly of impoverished Scottish and Irish farmers, spent the autumn collecting victories, seizing Edinburgh in September 1745.

After taking Edinburgh, Charles’ counsel advised that he stay in Scotland while the Hanoverian army continued the war in Europe, but Charles marched on, intent on taking London. The Jacobites reached Derby before the Hanoverians descended, forcing a retreat.

With the government army led by the Duke of Cumberland not far behind, the Jacobites marched north toward Inverness, the capital of the Highlands and the most important Jacobite stronghold. On April 16, 1746, after a failed surprise attack against Cumberland’s army, Charles ordered the exhausted Jacobites troops into the middle of Culloden Moor, where they faced a force nearly twice the size of their own. In less than an hour, the entire Jacobite force was butchered, and Charles fled the battle in tears before it had ended. 

Key Dates and Events

  • October 1739: Britain declares war on Spain, igniting the War of Jenkins Ear.
  • December 1740: War of Austrian Succession absorbs peripheral conflicts, including the War of Jenkins Ear, and the European continent plunged into battle. Great Britain supports Austria, while Spain, Prussia, and France band together. 
  • June 1743: Louis XV pledges support for the Jacobite cause. 
  • December 1743: James names Charles “Prince Regent,” tasking the Young Pretender with the Jacobite cause. 
  • February 1744: A storm sinks most of Charles’ French fleet, and Louis XV revokes his support for the Jacobites. 
  • June 1745: Charles leaves France, armed with two ships and 700 soldiers. A waiting English warship badly damages one of these ships, forcing it to retreat, but the Bonnie Prince continues on. 
  • July 1745: Charles arrives in Scotland.
  • August 1745: The Glenfinnan Standard is raised for the Bonnie Prince at Loch Shiel. 
  • September 1745: The Jacobites capture Edinburgh and march toward London. 
  • December 1745: With three different Hanoverian forces closing in on troops in Derby, just north of London, the Jacobites retreat toward Scotland, much to the chagrin of Charles. 
  • January 1746: The Jacobites win their final victory against government forces in Falkirk before withdrawing to Inverness, the most important Jacobite stronghold. 
  • April 1746: The exhausted Jacobites lose a bloody battle on Culloden Muir, ending the Jacobite Rebellion permanently. Charles flees before the battle is finished. 

Aftermath

To ensure another rising would never occur, the Duke of Cumberland dispatched soldiers across the Highlands to find, imprison, and execute any suspected Jacobites. In London, Parliament passed the Disarming Act of 1746, banning the tartan, bagpipes, and the Gaelic language, destroying the Highlander way of life.

The Hanoverian government implemented a system of forfeiture, confiscating private lands of suspected Jacobites and repurposing them for agriculture. This system, which became known as the Highland Clearances, lasted for nearly a century.

A few months after the defeat at Culloden, Charles fled the country disguised as a woman. He died in Rome in 1788.

*This article uses the term “Great Britain” to identify the regions of Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales. 

Sources

  • Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites. National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh, UK. 
  • Highland and Jacobite Collection. Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, Inverness, UK. 
  • “Jacobites.” A History of Scotland, by Neil Oliver, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2009, pp. 288–322.
  • Richards, Eric. The Highland Clearances: People, Landlords and Rural Turmoil. Birlinn, 2016.
  • Sinclair, Charles. A Wee Guide to the Jacobites. Goblinshead, 1998.
  • “The Jacobite Risings and the Highlands.” A Short History of Scotland, by R.L. Mackie, Oliver and Boyd, 1962, pp. 233–256.
  • The Jacobites. West Highland Museum, Fort William, UK. 
  • Visitor’s Centre Museum. Culloden Battlefield, Inverness, UK.