Scotland's Bloody History
Scottish Heritage and Historical Stories


Charles II, reinstated as the monarch, was approved of by the English because he supported the English Church, but during his rule he tried to introduce increasingly liberal religious tolerance, including towards Catholicism.

James, brother of King Charles I converts to Catholicism in 1668 causing concern among the British ProtestantsBecause there was still plenty of time for Charles to have an heir, there was not too much concern in England when the King’s brother converted to Catholicism around 1668.

As time progressed Charles II failed to produce a legitimate heir although it is known that he had many bastard children with mistresses. Concern continued to grow that the throne could pass to Catholic James. In 1685 Charles II died, converting to Catholicism on his death bed and ushering in Britain’s last Catholic monarch, James VII of Scotland and II of England and Ireland.Charles II converts to Catholicism on his deathbed

There was a great deal of concern over James VII’s religious persuasion and there had already been plots to assassinate both him and his brother. However, when the Protestants took a more careful look at the situation it was thought that it might not be as bad as it had seemed at first glance.

Although Catholic himself, James had converted after the birth of his two daughters, Mary and Anne, so when he eventually died his Protestant daughter Mary would be able to take the throne which would assuage the Protestant anxieties.

In addition, James was not a well man and was in his mid-fifties, equivalent to almost seventy years in today’s terms.

Even better news for the Protestants was the fact that his daughter Mary had married the staunch Protestant William of Orange from Holland and so a Protestant succession seemed assured. But James was not as near death as the English had hoped.

The increasing concern over the King’s Catholic activities came to a head when his new young Catholic bride produced a son and heir. The English parliamentarians were horrified as, under the British laws of succession, the son took precedence over the older daughters[1].

Suddenly the English were facing a Catholic dynasty and that could not be tolerated under any circumstances.

English nobles wrote to Mary along the lines of, “Hope you are well, it is fine over here. By the way, would you and your charming husband please invade!”

William of OrangeAnd that is exactly what they did. Mary had insisted that William should not just be her consort, but should also reign alongside her in his own right and so the joint monarchs William and Mary marched into Britain. James escaped with his young son down the River Thames to France. It was this escape which truly polarised the British Isles and led to all the violence which followed.

I can only recount this in very general terms as there are Protestants and Catholics in all parts of the British Isles today, but at that time the English and Northern Irish were mainly Protestant and supported William and Mary. The Southern Irish, Catholic, supported James.

The Scottish situation was rather more complex as although the majority of Scots were Protestant, the Scots have always had a great loyalty towards their monarch. There was also a very vociferous Catholic minority in the north so the Scots, at least the Northern Scots supported James. 

While James VI ushered in the Jacobean era, it was to be his grandson, James VII for whom the name Jacobite was coined. Both derive from the Latin for James, Jacobus.Bonnie Dundee wins the battle of Killiecrankie, but dies from his injuries

The Jacobites rose up against the illegal regime of William and Mary.

Jacobite Major “Bonnie” Dundee won a great victory at Killiecrankie, but James was thoroughly defeated at the battle of the Boyne in Ireland in 1689 and that really saw the end of what became known as “The First Jacobite Uprising”.

William of Orange was victorious at the Battle of the BoyneIn the north of Scotland, the third largest of all the Scottish castles, Urquhart, was destroyed by government forces in 1689 to prevent it being taken and used by the Jacobites who had earlier put the castle under siege. Today Urquhart is a spectacular ruin on the shores of Loch Ness, which it dominated for over four hundred years.

Incidentally, if you are visiting this castle check out the upward spiral staircase in the Grant tower.  Most spiral staircases in medieval castles rose clockwise to prevent a right-handed swordsman fighting his way up, but the Grant family were mainly left-handed so they built their staircase with an anti-clockwise spiral. The spiral from the lower storage room rises clockwise as the Grants themselves would never have had to defend that stairwell. Check out them both and imagine you are carrying a three foot[2] long sword and the benefits of the design quickly become clear. This also helps explain why it was not a good idea to be a left-handed person … you would be the first to be sent up the staircase with the obvious reduced odds of surviving!

The total number of Jacobite uprisings[3] is sometimes given as three and at other times as up to five. Just to be different I intend to deal only with four of them, 1689, 1715, 1717 and 1745/6.

After the first uprising we were left with James VII living in exile in France and Mary and William reigning jointly until Mary died in 1694, meaning that William then reigned in his own right, despite the fact that he had no right!

James VII & II died in 1701, but his nemesis only outlived him for one year. While out riding one day William’s horse stumbled in a mole hill and he was thrown, breaking his collar bone.

The injury resulted in his death in 1702 and ever since, Jacobites have enjoyed a new toast, “To the small gentleman in the black furry waistcoat!”.

Redcoats massacred the MacDonalds who had been providing them with food and shelter.William never visited Scotland, but the effect of his rule will never be forgotten and included the massacre of Glen Coe when almost the entire MacDonald clan was wiped out by the Redcoats. The Campbell family were very much implicated in the treachery and this has created bad feeling ever since.

William, having left no issue with Mary, was succeeded by Queen Anne who had had thirteen miscarriages and five children who had already died. The succession was in trouble again.

In order to avoid James VII’s son becoming King a law was cobbled together meaning that the throne must remain Protestant. This meant that when Anne died, her second cousin, George, sometimes called the “wee German Lairdie” would inherit the crown.

When that day arrived in 1714, the Jacobites were infuriated. James Stewart, or James the Old Pretender (meaning old claimant) or James the Unnumbered as some like to call him, was alive and waiting in France for the call to the throne. It was now unlikely to happen and the scene was set for the second uprising.

The Earl of Mar and other supporters such as Rob Roy MacGregor raised an army and awaited James’ arrival in Scotland. They waited and waited and waited.

James turned up some three months late for his own war and during that period the incompetent Earl of Mar had lost most of the Jacobite force. James eventually arrived, took one look at how badly things were progressing, stayed ten days and disappeared back to France, never to set foot in Britain again.

The second uprising had failed, Rob Roy MacGregor walked off with his head in his hands in disgust and the clan chiefs mourned yet another entire generation of young Highlanders lost in the name of Jacobitism.

Another more minor uprising occurred in the west a while later, centred on the picturesque Eilean Donan Castle which was occupied by Spanish forces supporting the Jacobite cause.

To the east a battle was fought in Glen Shiel, but government forces were able to overpower the Highlanders and government ships also made their way in from the Sound of Sleat to destroy Eilean Donan Castle with mortar fire. The castle which goes by that name today was almost entirely rebuilt in the nineteen-thirties.

Was this the end of the Jacobite period or would there be a more decisive uprising in the future?


[1] This system is still in place and there are moves afoot to have it changed before William marries and causes a constitutional crisis by perhaps having a daughter prior to a son! Can you imagine the furore if a daughter should be passed over in decades to come in order to make way for a younger brother?

[2] Approximately one metre.

[3] I have chosen the word “uprising” because that is what these events were. They were not, as often described, “rebellions”. When I was scripting the Fort Augustus Abbey Heritage Centre in 1994, I remember being called into Abbot Mark Dilworth’s office and he announced to me that he was about to begin my education. He asked to what I referred with the word “rebellion” and when I said “the Jacobites” he raised his voice and said, “they were not rebellions, they were uprisings!”.

I meekly pointed out that the dictionary definitions were almost identical and he said, “A rebellion is when you are rebelling against something legal, but an uprising is when you are rising up against something illegal. James was the legitimate king and therefore it was an uprising!”. I found the logic of this undeniable and have since made every effort to get websites all over the world to change any use of Jacobite rebellions to Jacobite uprisings.

Nessie Hunt Animation
Toyota Optimo V