The Jacobite uprisings of the 18th century directly concerned Ireland and many Irishmen and women living on the continent, even if very little of their process actually took place in Ireland. And while no large Irish regiments of the Brigades took part in the early adventures, their make-up and outcome is still of great relevance to the cause of the Wild Geese.
James Francis Edward Stuart was the son of James II, the man whose birth in 1688 had precipitated the entire crisis that saw his father ousted from power and forced into exile, an exile that the son now continued. The figurehead of the Jacobite cause, considered to be James III of England and VIII of Scotland by the followers of that cause, he is better known, perhaps, by the nickname that Jacobites came to call him: the “Old Pretender”.
James had spent only six months of his infancy in England, being brought to France just before the start of the War of the Two Kings in Ireland. And there he had remained for the most part, taking up his father’s position in 1701 at the age of only 13, recognised initially by the likes of France, Spain and the Papal States. In the course of his life he would attempt several times to land in Britain under arms, to try and militarily win the throne he believed was his by right. And, Irishmen would be with him when he tried.
The first real attempt was in 1708, during the War of the Spanish Succession, when James was able to garner the requisite support from Louis XIV to gather a fleet and try a crossing of the English Channel. As with so many such attempts, the plan was to land with only a small (ish) force, and then gather more soldiers in England or Scotland, those of a Jacobite persuasion, with which to topple the Williamite monarchy. On this occasion, no landing was actually made: the plan was delayed by a bout of measles suffered by James, poor weather hampered movement and the Royal Navy intercepted and warded off the French ships that aimed to unload their troops near Inverness. Unable to force the issue, the French commanders sailed back home, much to James’ chagrin.
By the time that James was in a position to try again, a lot had changed. A new line of King’s was in charge in Britain, William’s successor Anne having died without issue. The new King was her nearest male Protestant relative, George Ludwig, the Elector of Hannover, and a great grandson of James I. He ruled a United Kingdom of Great Britain following an Act of Union between England and Scotland in 1707, and was enjoying a period of peace with France, their conflict having ended in 1713.
In 1715, hoping to capitalise on some dissatisfaction with the new sovereign and rumblings of unrest in Scotland, which had always remained a hotbed of Jacobite support, James decided to roll the dice again. He was encouraged by the work of people like Irishman Nathanial Hooke, who had travelled to Scotland to assess the likelihood of support, returning with the claim that 30’000 Highlanders would flock to James’ banner if he were to incite a rebellion, though only if significant numbers of French troops were involved also. Other spies and agents were sent to Ireland, where they were assured that, despite the Protestant Ascendency, plenty in the land would rise up to support the Jacobite King.
The necessity of French support was a sticking point. Louis died in 1715, and his great-grandson and heir, Louis XV, was five. A regency headed by Philippe, the Duke of Orleans, was ruling the country, and had little interest in antagonising the British so soon after the end of the latest war. Philippe, when hearing about James’ plans, could only grant him volunteers from the Irish Brigade and some officers, nothing more. James, with nothing else, sent messages to the Brigades in France and Spain to stand ready, sending more agents to Scotland to pave the way for his arrival.
For the Irish Brigades, supporting the Stuart cause still made the most sense. It was the only realistic way that Protestant dominion in Ireland could be overturned and their own rights and privileges restored to them. Further, with the end of the continental wars, the prospects of advancement in military careers within France and Spain were lessoned.
James’ plan was to hit Britain in two key points. To the south, a small force under James Butler was to land, raise the flag of rebellion and march on London. Butler was the grandson of his namesake, the famous Royalist leader of the Eleven Year Wars, and claimant of the Dukedom of Ormonde. Butler had actually been a Williamite supporter during the war in Ireland, leading a cavalry unit for William at the Battle of the Boyne, and had since gone on to have a very successful military career under the new regime. But he always maintained Jacobite leanings, and was dismissed from his positions by George I upon his accession, fleeing to France to avoid charges of treason. In the end, his efforts, despite being aided by Irish cavalry troops, would come to nought, and he would depart England almost as fast as he arrived, finding no support worth having.
The main thrust of the rebellion would have to come from the north, in the Scottish Highlands and the northern portions of England. John Erskine, the Earl of Mar, was expected to be James’ leading man in this regard. Mar was much more capable than Butler, and initiated the rising in late August/early September in 1715, raising James’ standard with several hundred supporters at Braemar. Mar was able to utilise both Jacobite supporters and Scottish Presbyterians who were angered by the Act of Union that had left Scotland as a weaker power in the overall alliance. Combined with the Highland Clans, Mar was, rapidly enough, able to bring together a force of roughly 12’000 volunteers, with London initially unable to do anything to stop him beyond attainders for treason.
James, who had not actually given any authorisation to Mar to begin the revolt, remained in France, waiting for the right moment. In his stead, Mar moved rapidly in central Scotland, with his new Jacobite army seizing control of Inverness, Aberdeen, Perth and Dundee. But they came up short at Edinburgh and Sterling, and by October Mar, who was a politician with little military experience, was at a loss as to what to actually do from that point. The Hanoverian regime down south was gathering forces, and they were going to be more experienced and disciplined then the ramshackle Jacobite Army in Scotland which, despite its apparent success, lacked structure and a direction.
The end result of the posturing and movement of troops was the Battle of Sheriffmuir on the 13th of November, where the Jacobite army outnumbered their opponents, under the Duke of Argyll, at least two to one. Mar’s Jacobites won the advantage in terms of casualties inflicted but their commander hesitated in following up his apparent victory, choosing instead to retreat back to Perth. At the same time, the rebellion was falling apart elsewhere, the limited English rising in the north defeated at Preston around the same time as Sheriffmuir and Hanoverian forces retaking Inverness with little difficulty. Mar’s failure to march on and into England essentially doomed the entire rebellion, with Argyll and others now focused on bottling their enemies up in the Highlands.
It was only then, in December, that James himself arrived in Scotland, landing at Peterhead with a small amount of troops, which included numerous Irish officers. Travelling to Perth, he was informed of the strategic situation, while singularly failing to inspire much resolve in the men fighting for his cause, soon earning the derisive moniker of “Old Mister Melancholy”.
The Jacobites forces were melting away as 1716 arrived, and the government military in arms were only getting larger. Mar, James and their forces abandoned Perth rather than fight a hopeless siege, and headed towards Aberdeen. But “James III” never arrived, travelling instead to Montrose with his entourage and taking a ship back to France, believing there was no possibility of success. What was left of the Jacobite army disintegrated, its rank and file returning home and its officers looking to escape retribution, among them Mar, who would never return home. James returned to a France that no longer looked as kindly upon him, and was soon obligated to seek a home elsewhere.
All this time, Irish units had been stationed along the coast of France, in places like Calais and Boulogne, waiting for the call to cross the sea and aid their master in Britain. But they would never get the chance. In Ireland itself, there was no rising in support of James bar the actions of a few rapparee bands, mere pinpricks against the considered might of the British authority. Indeed, so quiet was Ireland that British troops stationed there were actually moved to Scotland to combat the rising there.
James ended up living in Rome at the pleasure of Pope Clemet XI and his successors. Though he lived comfortably, the failure of what became known as “the Fifteen” gnawed at him, and the Jacobite leader was prone to periods of depression. He did occupy himself with extending his own line, marrying a Polish Princess in 1719 and having two sons with her. The eldest, named in honour of his grandfather, would be the next major Jacobite figurehead.
But before that decade was out, there would be another attempt to restore the Stuart line, this time originating in Spain. Spain had largely stayed out of the Fifteen, barring some tiny efforts to join it by Irish officers. But in 1719 James was invited to Madrid to discuss the possibility of a Spanish-backed invasion of Britain, with divisionary operations in Ireland and Scotland to support a larger-scale landing in England. Philip V, the Spanish King, was out to make up for the concessions he had to suffer to guarantee his crown, with the loss of territory in Flanders and elsewhere, and clearly felt that overthrowing the Hanoverians in Britain would do the trick nicely.
This attempted rebellion never got far off the ground despite the grand ambitions of Philip. Colonel James Sarsfield of the Spanish Irish Brigade, one of the heroic figures from the Siege of Barcelona, travelled to Connacht with a small force of Irish and Spanish soldiers to try and incite a rising there. But despite his fame – the British authorities had a £1000 bounty on the head of the supposed Earl of Lucan – he found little active support, and was eventually obliged to sail back to Spain from Galway in order to avoid capture. People simply didn’t have the will to engage in another rebellion against British rule. In the meantime, the main Spanish fleet meant to ferry troops to England was waylaid by bad weather and forced to return to Cadiz shortly after sailing. 300 Spanish troops, some Irish officers and several hundred Highlanders did manage to attempt a rising in Scotland, but were decisively defeated at the Battle of Glenshiel, any rebellious feelings in the area quickly petering out afterwards. The Highlanders went home and the Spanish/Irish that were captured were eventually repatriated. “The Nineteen” or “Little Rising” thus ended without any success.
The Fifteen and the Nineteen both illustrated the practical problems for the Jacobite movement, now that it was in an exiled position. They had trouble gaining the required support from European monarchies, who were seeing less and less common interest with the Stuarts as time went on. They had trouble crossing the sea between the continent and Britain, due to the occasional lack of transport, frequent bad weather and the danger posed by the Royal Navy. And, if and when they could ever get as far as the British Isles, they would find large parts of the land that was unwilling to offer soldiers and support to the Jacobite cause. When support was found, it was often divided and inexperienced, in comparison to government troops.
With the failures of these expeditions, the Jacobite cause had become firmly rooted in Europe, with the Irish Brigades continuing their service to the powers that be in France, Madrid and elsewhere. But the Jacobites would not forget and, in time, they would attempt a glorious homecoming again. While no large scale Irish regiments took part in these risings, the Irish had played their part, and they would again.
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