Tales of a Grandfather, by Walter Scott

Chapter 67

ON the 6th September, 1715, the noblemen, chiefs of clans, gentlemen, and others, with such followers as they could immediately get in readiness, assembled at Aboyne; and the Earl of Mar, acting as General on the occasion, displayed the royal standard, at Castletown, in Braemar; and proclaimed, with such solemnity as the time and place admitted, James King of Scotland, by the title of James VIII., and King of England, Ireland, and their dependencies, by that of James III. The day was stormy, and the gilded ball which was on the top of the standard spear was blown down, — a circumstance which the superstitious Highlanders regarded as ominous of ill fortune; while others called to mind, that, by a strange coincidence, something of the same kind happened in the evil hour when King Charles I. set up Ins standard at Nottingham. After this decisive measure, the leaders of the insurgents separated to proclaim King James In the towns where they had influence, and to raise as many followers as each could possibly command, in order to support the daring defiance which they had given to the established Government. It was not by the mildest of all possible means that a Highland following, as it is called, was brought into the field at that period. Many vassals were, indeed, prompt and ready for service, for which their education and habits prepared them. But there were others who were brought to their chief’s standard by much the same enticing mode of solicitation used in our own day for recruiting the navy, and there were many who conceived it prudent not to stir without such a degree of compulsion as might, in case of need, serve as some sort of apology for having been in arms at all. On this raising of the clans in the year 1715, the fiery cross was sent through the districts or countries, as they are termed, inhabited by the different tribes. This emblem consisted of two branches of wood, in the form of a cross, one end singed with fire, and the other stained with blood. The inhabitants transmitted the signal from house to house with all possible speed, and the symbol implied, that those who should not appear at a rendezvous which was named, when the cross was presented, should suffer the extremities of fire and sword.1 There is an intercepted letter of Mar himself, to John Forbes of Increrau, bailie of his lordship of Kildrummie, which throws considerable light on the nature of a feudal levy:

“Inverauld, Sept. 9, at Night, 1715.

“Jocke, — Ye was in the right not to come with the hundred men you sent up to-night, when I expected four times their numbers. It is a pretty thing my own people should be refractory, when all the Highlands are rising, and all the Lowlands are expecting us to join them. Is not this the thing we are now about, which they have been wishing these 26 years? And now when it is come, and the King and country’s cause is at stake, will they for ever sit still and see all perish? I have used gentle means too long, and so I shall be forced to put other orders I have in execution. I send you enclosed an order for the Lordship of Kildrummie, which you will immediately intimate to all my vassals. If they give ready obedience, it will make some amends, and if not, ye may tell them from me, that it will not be in my power to save them (were I willing) from being treated as enemies by these that are soon to join me; and they may depend upon it that I will be the first to propose and order their being so. Particularly, let my own tenants in Kildrummie know, that if they come not forth with their best arms, I will send a party immediately to burn what they shall miss taking from them. And they may believe This only a threat,-but by all that’s sacred, I’ll put it in execution, let my loss be what it will, that it may be an example to others. You are to tell the gentlemen that I expect them in their best accoutrements on horseback, and no excuse to be accepted of. Go about this with all diligence, and come yourself, and let me know your having done so. All this is not only as ye will be answerable to me, but to your King and country.”

This remarkable letter is dated three days after the displaying of the standard. The system of social life in the Highlands, when viewed through the vista of years, has much in it that is interesting and poetical; but few modern readers would desire to exchange conditions with a resident within the romantic bounds of Mar’s lordship of Kildrummie, where such were liable to a peremptory summons to arms, thus rudely enforced.

Proceeding towards the Lowlands by short marches, Mar paused at the small town of Kirkmichael, and afterwards at Mouline in Perthshire, moving slowly, that his friends might have leisure to assemble for his support. In the mean time, King James was proclaimed at Aberdeen by the Earl Marischal; at Dunkeld by the Marquis of Tullibardine, contrary to the wishes of his father, the Duke of Athole; at Castle Gordon by the Marquis of Huntly; at Brechin by the Earl of Panmure, a rich and powerful nobleman, who had acceded to the cause since the rendezvous at the Braemar hunting. The same ceremony was performed at Montrose by the Earl of Southesk; at Dundee by Graham of Duntroon, of the family of the celebrated Claverhouse, and to whom King James had given that memorable person’s title of Viscount of Dundee; and at Inverness by the Laird of Borlum, commonly called Brigadier MacIntosh, from his having held that rank in the service of France. This officer made a considerable figure during the Rebellion, in which he had influence to involve his chief and clan, rather contrary to the political sentiments of the former; he judged that Inverness was a station of importance, and therefore left a garrison to secure it from any attack on the part of the Grants, Monroes, or other Whig clans in the vicinity.

The possession of the town of Perth now became a point of great importance, as forming the communication between the Highlands and the Lowlands, and being the natural capital of the fertile countries on the margin of the Tay. The citizens were divided into two parties, but the magistrates, who, at the head of one part of the inhabitants, had declared for King George, took arms and applied to the Duke of Athole, who remained in allegiance to the ruling monarch, for a party to support them. The Duke sent them three or four hundred Athole Highlanders, and the inhabitants conceived themselves secure, especially as the Earl of Rothes, having assembled about four hundred militia men, was advancing from Fife to their support. The honourable Colonel John Hay, brother to the Earl of Kinnoul, took, however, an opportunity to collect together some fifty or a hundred horse from the gentlemen of Stirling, Perthshire, and Fife, and marched towards the town. The Tory burghers, who were not inferior in numbers, began to assume courage as these succours appeared, and the garrison of Highlanders knowing that although the Duke of Athole remained attached to the Government, his eldest son was in the Earl of Mar’s army, gave way to their own inclinations, which were decidedly Jacobitical, and joined Colonel Hay, for thy purpose of disarming the Whig burghers, to whose assistance they had been sent. (18th Sept.) Thus Perth, by a concurrence of accidents, fell into the hands or the insurgent Jacobites, and gave them the command of all the Lowlands in the east part of Scotland. Still, as the town was but slightly fortified, it might have been recovered by a sudden attack, if a detachment had been made for that purpose, from the regular camp at Stirling. But General Whetham, who as yet commanded there, was not an officer of activity. He was indeed superseded by the Duke of Argyle, commander-inchief in Scotland, who came to Stirling on the 14th September; but the opportunity of regaining Perth no longer existed. The town had been speedily reinforced, and secured for the Jacobite interest, by about two hundred men, whom the Earl of Strathmore had raised to join the Earl of Mar, and a body of Fifeshire cavalry who had arrayed themselves for the same service under the Master of Sinclair. Both these noblemen were remarkable characters. The Earl of Strathmore, doomed to lose his life in this fatal broil, was only about eighteen years old, but at that early age he exhibited every symptom of a brave, generous, and modest disposition, and his premature death disappointed the most flourishing hopes. He engaged in the Rebellion with all the zeal of sincerity, raised a strong regiment of Lowland infantry, and distinguished himself by his attention to the duties of a military life.

The Master of Sinclair, so called because the eldest son of Henry seventh Lord Sinclair, had served in Marlborough’s army with good reputation; but he was especially remarkable for having, in the prosecution of an affair of honour, slain two gentlemen of the name of Shaw, brothers to Sir John Shaw of Greenock, and persons of rank and consequence. He was tried by a court-martial, and condemned to death, but escaped from prison, not without the connivance of the Duke of Marlborough himself. As the Master of Sinclair’s family were Tories, he obtained his pardon on the accession of their party to power in 1712. In 1715, he seems to have taken arms with great reluctance, deeming the cause desperate, and having no confidence in the probity or parts of the Earl of Mar, who assumed the supreme authority. He was a man of a caustic and severe turn of mind, suspicious and satirical, but acute and sensible. He has left Memoirs, curiously illustrative of this ill-fated enterprise, of which he seems totally to have despaired long before its termination. That part of the Earl of Mar’s forces which lay in the eastern and north-eastern parts of Scotland, were now assembled at Perth, the most central place under his authority. They amounted to four or five thousand men, and although formidable for courage and numbers, they had few other qualities necessary to constitute an army. They wanted a competent general, money, arms, ammunition, regulation, discipline; and, above all, a settled purpose and object of the campaign. On each of these deficiencies, and on the manner and degree in which they were severally supplied, I will say a few words, so as to give you some idea of this tumultuary army, before proceeding to detail what they did, and what they left undone. There can be no doubt, that from the time he embarked in this dangerous enterprise, Mar had secretly determined to put himself at the head of it, and gratify at once his ambition and his revenge. But it does not appear that at first he made any pretensions to the chief command. On the contrary, he seemed willing to defer to any person of higher rank than his own. The Duke of Gordon would have been a natural choice, from his elevated rank and great power. But, besides that he had not come out in person, though it was not doubted that he approved of his son’s doing so, the Duke was a Catholic, and it was not considered politic that Papists should hold any considerable rank in the enterprise, as it would have given rise to doubts among their own party, and reproaches from their opponents. Finally, the Duke, being one of the suspected persons summoned by Government to surrender himself, obeyed the call, and was appointed to reside at Edinburgh on his parole. The Duke of Athole had been a leader of the Jacobites during the disputes concerning the Union, and had agreed to rise in 1707, had the French descent then taken place. Upon him, it is said, the Earl of Mar offered to devolve the command of the forces he had levied. But the Duke refused the offer at his hands. He said, that if the Chevalier de St George had chosen to impose such a responsible charge upon him, he would have opened a direct communication with him personally; and he complained that Mar, before making this proposal to him, had intrigued in his family; having instigated his two sons, the Marquis of Tullibardine and Lord Charles Murray, as well as his uncle, Lord Nairne, to take arms without his consent, and made use of them to seduce the Athole men from their allegiance to their rightful lord. He therefore declined the offer which was made to him of commanding the forces now in rebellion, and Mar retained, as if by occupancy, the chief command of the army. As he was brave, high-born, and possessed of very considerable talent, and as his late connexion with the chiefs of Highland clans, while distributor of Queen Anne’s bounty, rendered him highly acceptable to them, his authority was generally submitted to, especially as it was at first supposed that he acted only as a locum tenens for the Duke of Berwick, whose speedy arrival had been announced. Time passed on, however, the Duke came not, and the Earl of Mar continued to act as commander-inchief, until confirmed in it, by an express commission from the Chevalier de St George. As the Earl was unacquainted with military affairs, he used the experience of Lieutenant–General Hamilton and Clephane of Carslogie, who had served during the late war, to supply his deficiencies in that department. But though these gentlemen had both courage, zeal, and warlike skill, they could not assist their principal in what his own capacity could not attain-the power of forming and acting upon a decided plan of tactics. Money, also much wanted, was but poorly supplied by such sums as the wealthier adherents of the party could raise among themselves. Some of them had indeed means of their own, but as their funds became exhausted, they were under the necessity of returning home for more; which was with some the apology for absence from their corps much longer and more frequently than was consistent with discipline. But the Highlanders and Lowlanders of inferior rank, could not subsist, or be kept within the bounds of discipline, without regular pay of some kind. Lord Southesk gave five hundred pounds, and the Earl of Panmure the same sum, to meet the exigencies of the moment. Aid was also solicited and obtained from various individuals, friendly to the cause, but unequal, from age or infirmity, to take the field in person; and there were many prudent persons, no doubt, who thought it the wisest course to sacrifice a sum of money, which, if the insurrection were successful, would give them the merit of having aided it, while, if it failed, their lives and estates were secured from the reach of the law against treason. Above all, the insurgents took especial care to secure all the public money that was in the hands of collectors of taxes, and other public officers, and to levy eight months’ cess wherever their presence gave them the authority. At length, considerable supplies were received from France, which in a great measure relieved their wants in that particular. Lord Drummond was appointed to be treasurer to the army. Arms and ammunition were scarce amongst the insurgents. The Highland clans were, indeed, tolerably armed with their national weapons; but the guns of the Lowlanders were in wretched order, and in a great measure unfit for service. The success of an expedition in some degree remedied this important deficiency.

Among other northern chiefs who remained faithful to George I., amidst the general defection, was the powerful Earl of Sutherland, who, on the news of the insurrection, had immediately proceeded by sea to his Castle of Dunrobin, to collect his vassals. In order that they might be supplied with arms, a vessel at Leith was loaded with firelocks, and other weapons, and sailed for the Earl’s country. The wind, however, proving contrary, the master of the ship dropped anchor at Burntisland, on the Fife shore of the frith of Forth, of which he was a native, that he might have an opportunity to see his wife and children before his departure. The Master of Sinclair, formerly mentioned, whose family estate and interest lay on the shores of the Frith, got information of this circumstance, and suggested the seizure of these arms by a scheme which argued talent and activity, and was the first symptom which the insurgents had given of either one or other. The Master of Sinclair, with about fourscore troopers, and carrying with him a number of baggage-horses, left Perth about night fall, and, to baffle observation, took a circuitous road to Burntisland. (2d Oct.) He arrived in that little seaport town with all the effect of a complete surprise, and though the bark had hauled out of the harbour into the roadstead, he boarded her by means of boats, and secured possession of all the arms, which amounted to three hundred. Mar, as had been agreed upon, protected the return of the detachment by advancing a body of five hundred Highlanders as far as Auchtertool, halfway between Perth and Burntisland. On this occasion, the Master of Sinclair, an old officer, and acquainted with the usual discipline of war, was greatly annoyed by the disorderly conduct of the volunteer forces under his charge. He could not prevail on the gentlemen of his squadron to keep watch with any vigilance, nor prevent them from crowding into alehouses to drink. In returning homeward, several of them broke off without leave, either to visit their own houses which were near the road, or to indulge themselves in the pleasure of teazing such Presbyterian ministers as came in their way. When he arrived at Auchtertool, the disorder was yet greater. The Highland detachment, many of them Mar’s own men from Dee-side, had broken their ranks, and were dispersed over the country, pillaging the farm-houses; when Sinclair got a Highland officer to command them to desist and return, they refused to obey, nor was there any means of bringing them off, save by spreading a report that the enemy’s dragoons were approaching; then they drew together with wonderful celerity, and submitted to be led back to Perth with the arms that had been seized, which went some length to remedy the scarcity of that most important article in the insurgent army. A greater deficiency even than that of arms, was the want of a general capable to form the plan of a campaign, suitable to his situation and the character of his troops, and then carry it into effect with firmness, celerity, and decision. Generals Hamilton and Gordon, both in Mar’s army; were men of some military experience, but totally void of that comprehensive genius which combines and executes the manoeuvres of a campaign; and Mar himself, as already intimated, seems to have been unacquainted even with the mere mechanical part of the profession. He appears to have thought that the principal part of his work was done when the insurrection was set on foot, and that once effected, that it would carry itself on, and the rebels increase in such numbers, as to render resistance impossible. The greater part of the Jacobites in East Lothian were, he knew, ready to take horse; so were those of the counties of Dumfries and Lanark; but they were separated from his army by the frith of Forth, and likely to require assistance from him, in order to secure protection when they assembled. Montrose, or Dundee, with half the men whom Mar had already under him, would have marched without hesitation towards Stirling, and compelled the Duke of Argyle, who had not as yet quite two thousand men, either to fight or retreat, which must have opened the Lowlands and the Borders to the operations of the insurgents. But such was the reputation of the Duke, that Mar resolved not to encounter him until he should have received all the reinforcements from the north and west which he could possibly expect, in the hope, by assembling an immense superiority of force, to counterbalance the acknowledged military skill of his distinguished opponent.

As it was essential, however, to the Earl of Mar’s purpose, to spread the flame of insurrection into the Lowlands, he determined not to allow the check which Argyle’s forces and position placed on his movements, to prevent his attempting a diversion by passing at all hazards a considerable detachment of his army into Lothian, to support and encourage his Jacobite friends there. His proposal was to collect small vessels and boats on the Fife side of the frith, and dispatch them across with a division of his army, who were to land on such part of the coast of East Lothian as the wind should permit, and unite themselves with the malecontents wherever they might find them in strength. But ere noticing the fate of this expedition, we must leave Mar and his army, to trace the progress of the insurrection in the south of Scotland and the north of England, where it had already broken out.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00