In 1688, James II of England was forced to flee into exile, accompanied by his wife and precious baby son. Why did this happen? Well, to simplify things, James II was a Catholic, something that most Englishmen of the time had major problems with. And now that he had a son, the horrifying spectre of a Catholic dynasty had forced the peers of the realm to act, offering the English crown to the staunchly Protestant William of Orange instead. With William came Mary, his wife and also James’ eldest daughter. Quite the betrayal, one would think.
Fast forward almost thirty years and we’re in 1715. Queen Anne, a younger daughter to James II had recently died and the crown had been offered to George of Hanover, this as James Francis Edward Stuart, the son born to James in 1688, refused to convert to the Anglican faith.
Just because James Francis Edward, James III to his loyal supporters, refused to convert, it did not mean he’d given up his hopes to reclaim the throne he considered his. Aided and supported by Louis XIV, James planned military action, hoping to sweep victoriously through Scotland and England.
He was not without supporters. Quite a few people still believed him to be the rightful king, and George’s heavy-handed purging of anyone he perceived as too loyal to the old regime pushed a number of disgruntled men to consider James as a viable alternative—despite his religious preferences.
To further complicate things, there were loud voices (primarily in Scotland) advocating that the Act of Union which had joined the kingdoms of Scotland and England be revoked. One way of doing so could be to support James Francis Edward and his claim to the English (and Scottish) crown.
This is the background to the mess in which David Graham and subsequently Duncan and Erin Melville find themselves in the early autumn of 1715. One of those discontented peers, John Erskine, Earl of Mar, is amassing men in Braemar. Another of the disgruntled peers, Henry St John, Viscount Bolingbroke, has recently fled to France where he has joined James as his Secretary of State.
In September, Mar raised his standard and declared for James. The Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 had officially begun. The Duke of Argyll was ordered to assemble the men required to defeat the Jacobite rebels. In November of 1715, the armies faced each other at Sheriffmuir. Mar had more men and should have carried the day, but he proved indecisive when things came to a crunch, and so what could have been a victory ended in stale-mate. Soon enough, Mar was darting back and forth across the highlands with James III (who came over after the debacle at Sheriffsmuir) until they finally accepted that all was lost and fled to France.
Mar was attainted and would never be allowed to return to Britain. Bolingbroke deserted the Jacobite cause and made his peace with Britain, going on to write a number of excellent political essays. James found himself booted out from France—after the death of Louis XIV, the new regime found him a political embarrassment—and ended up in Italy.
All in all, the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 was a major failure. But as Nathanael Williams would have you know, the heaviest price was paid by the young fools who were swept away by the lure of glory and honour only to find their entire lives crushed under the heavy boot of Hanoverian retribution. Not that they took the lesson much to heart, seeing as thirty years later, they would once again flock to the Stuart banners, to bleed and die on behalf of a James Francis Edward’s son, a.k.a. Bonnie Prince Charlie.