Tales of a Grandfather, by Walter Scott

Chapter 73

WHATEVER reports were spread among the soldiers, the principal leaders had determined to commence a retreat, at the head of a discontented army, degraded in their own opinion, distrustful of their officers, and capable, should these suspicions ripen into a fit of fury, of carrying off both king and general into the Highlands, and there waging an irregular war after their own manner. On the 28lh of January, an alarm was given in Perth of the Duke of Argyle’s approach; and it is remarkable, that, although in the confusion, the general officers had issued no orders what measures were to be taken in case of this probable event, yet the clans themselves, with intuitive sagacity, took the strongest posts for checking any attack; and, notwithstanding a momentary disorder, were heard to cheer each other with the expression, “ they should do well enough.” The unhappy Prince himself was far from displaying the spirit of his partisans. He was observed to look dejected, and to shed tears, and heard to say, that instead of bringing him to a crown, they had led him to his grave. “ Weeping,” said Prince Eugene, when he heard this incident, “ is not the way to conquer kingdoms.”

The retreat commenced under all these various feelings. On the 30th of January, the anniversary of Charles the First’s decapitation, and ominous therefore to his grandson, the Highland army filed off upon the ice which then covered the Tay, though a rapid and deep stream. The town was shortly afterwards taken possession of by a body of the Duke of Argyle’s dragoons; but the weather was so severe, and the march of the rebels so regular, that it was impossible to push forward any vanguard of strength sufficient to annoy their retreat.

On the arrival of the rebels at the seaport of Montrose, a rumour arose among the Highlanders, that the King, as he was termed, the Earl of Mar, and some of their other principal leaders, were about to abandon them, and take their flight by sea. To pacify the troops, orders were given to continue the route towards Aberdeen; the equipage and horses of the Chevalier de St George were brought out before the gate of his lodgings, and his guards were mounted as if to proceed on the journey. But before the hour appointed for the march, James left his apartments privately for those of the Earl of Mar, and both took a by-road to the water’s edge,(4th February) where a boat waited to carry them in safety on board a small vessel prepared for their reception. The safety of these two personages being assured, boats were sent to bring off Lord Drummond, and a few other gentlemen, most of them belonging to the Chevalier’s household; and thus the son of James II. once more retreated from the shores of his native country, which, on this last occasion, he seemed to have visited for no other purpose than to bring away his general in safety.

General Gordon performed the melancholy and irksome duty of leading to Aberdeen the disheartened remains of the Highland army, in which the Lord Marischal lent him assistance, and brought up the rear. It is probable, that the rage of the men, on finding themselves deserted, might have shown itself in some acts of violence and insubordination; but the approach of the Duke of Argyle’s forces, which menaced them in different columns, prevented this catastrophe. A sealed letter, to be opened at Aberdeen, contained the secret orders of the Chevalier for General Gordon and his army. When opened, it was found to contain thanks for their faithful services; an intimation, that disappointments had obliged him to retire abroad; and a full permission to his adherents either to remain in a body and treat with the enemy, or disperse, as should best appear to suit the exigency of the time. The soldiers were at the same time apprised that they would cease to receive pay. A general burst of grief and indignation attended these communications. Many of the insurgents threw down their arms in despair, exclaiming, that they had been deserted and betrayed, and were now left without either king or general. The clans broke up into different bodies, and marched to the mountains, where they dispersed, each to its own hereditary glen. The gentlemen and Lowlanders who had been engaged, either skulked among the mountains, or gained the more northerly shires of the country, where vessels sent from France to receive them, carried a great part of them to the continent.

Thus ended the Rebellion of 1715, without even the usual sad eclat of a defeat. It proved fatal to many ancient and illustrious families in Scotland, and appears to have been an undertaking too weighty for the talents of the person whom chance, or his own presumption, placed at the head of it. It would be unjust to the memory of the unfortunate Mar, not to acquit him of cowardice or treachery, but his genius lay for the intrigues of a court, not the labours of a campaign. He seems to have fully shared the chimerical hopes which he inspired amongst his followers, and to have relied upon the foreign assistance which the Regent Duke of Orleans wanted both power and inclination to afford. He believed, also, the kingdom was so ripe for rebellion, that nothing was necessary save to kindle a spark in order to produce a general conflagration. In a word, his trust was reposed in what is called the chapter of accidents. Before the battle of Sheriffmuir, his inactivity seems to have been unpardonable, since he suffered the Duke of Argyle, by assuming a firm attitude, to neutralize and control a force of four times his numbers; but after that event, to continue the enterprise was insanity, since each moment he lingered brought him nearer the edge of the precipice. Yet even the Chevalier was invited over to share the dangers and disgrace of an inevitable retreat. In short, the whole history of the insurrection shows that no combination can be more unfortunate than that of a bold undertaking with an irresolute leader. The Earl of Mar for several years afterwards managed the state affairs of the Chevalier de St George, the mock minister of a mock cabinet, until the beginning of the year 1721, when he became deprived of his master’s confidence. He spent the rest of his life abroad, and in retirement. This unfortunate Earl was a man of fine taste; and in devising modes of improving Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, was more fortunate than he had been in schemes for the alteration of her government. He gave the first hints for several of the modern improvements of the city. The Duke of Argyle having taken the most active measures for extinguishing the embers of the rebellion, by dispersing the bodies of men who were still in arms, directed movable columns to traverse the Highlands in every direction, for receiving the submission of such as were humbled, or exercising force on those who might resist. He arrived at Edinburgh on the 27th of February, when the magistrates, who had not forgot his bold march to rescue the city, when menaced by Brigadier MacIntosh, entertained him with magnificence. From thence he proceeded to London, where he was received with distinction by George I. And now you are doubtless desirous of knowing with what new honours, augmented power, or increased wealth, the King of England rewarded the man, whose genius had supplied the place of four-fold numbers, and who had secured to his Majesty the crown of one at least of his kingdoms, at a moment when it was tottering on his head. I will answer you in a word. In a very short while after the conclusion of the war, the Duke of Argyle was deprived of all his employments. The cause of this extraordinary act of court ingratitude must be sought in the personal hatred of the Duke of Marlborough, in the high spirit of the Duke of Argyle, which rendered him a troublesome and unmanageable member of a ministerial cabinet, and probably in some apprehension of this great man’s increasing personal influence in his native country of Scotland, where he was universally respected, and beloved by many even of the party which he had opposed in the field.

It is imagined, moreover, that the Duke’s disgrace at Court was, in some degree, connected with a legislative enactment of a very doubtful tendency, which was used for the trial of the rebel prisoners. We have already mentioned the criminal proceedings under which the Preston prisoners suffered. Those who had been taken in arms at Sheriffmuir and elsewhere in Scotland, ought, according to the laws, both of Scotland and England, to have been tried in the country where the treason was committed. But the English lawyers had in recollection the proceedings in the year 1707, when it was impossible to obtain from Grand Juries in Scotland the verdict of a true bill, on which the prisoners could be sent to trial. The close connexion, by friendship and alliance, even of those families which were most opposed as Whigs and Tories, made the victorious party in Scotland unwilling to be the means of distressing the vanquished, and disposed them to afford a loop-hole for escape, even at the expense of strict justice. To obviate the difficulties of conviction, which might have been an encouragement to future acts of high treason, it was resolved, that the Scottish offenders against the treason-laws should be tried in England, though the offence had been committed in their own country. This was no doubt extremely convenient for the prosecution, but it remains a question, where such innovations are to stop, when a government takes on itself to alter the formal proceedings of law, in order to render the conviction of criminals more easy. The Court of Oyer and Terminer sat, notwithstanding, at Carlisle, and might have been held by the same parity of reason at the Land’s End in Cornwall, or in the isles of Scilly. But there was a studied moderation towards the accused, which seemed to intimate, that if the prisoners abstained from challenging the irregularity of the court, they would he favourably dealt with. Many were set at liberty, and though twenty-four were tried and condemned, not one was ever brought to execution. It is asserted, that the Duke of Argyle, as a Scottish man, and one of the framers of the Union, had in his Majesty’s councils declared against an innovation which seemed to infringe upon that measure, and that the offence thus given contributed to the fall of his power at Court.

Free pardons were liberally distributed to all who had seceded from the Rebellion, before its final close. The Highland chiefs and clans were in general forgiven, upon submission, and a surrender of the arms of their people. This was with the disaffected chiefs a simulated transaction, no arms being given up but such as were of no value, while all that were serviceable were concealed and carefully preserved. The loyal clans, on the other hand, made an absolute surrender, and were afterwards found unarmed when the Government desired their assistance.

Mean time the principles of Jacobitism continued to ferment in the interior of the country, and were inflamed by the numerous exiles, men of rank and influence, who were fugitives from Britain in consequence of attainder. To check these, and to intimidate others, the estates of the attainted persons were declared forfeited to the crown, and vested in trustees, to be sold for the benefit of the public. The revenue of the whole, though comprising that of about forty families of rank and consideration, did not amount to L.30, 000 yearly. These forfeited estates were afterwards purchased from Government by a great mercantile company in London, originally instituted for supplying the city with water by raising it from the Thames, but which having fallen under the management of speculative persons, its funds, and the facilities vested in it by charter, had been applied to very different purposes. Among others, that of purchasing the forfeited estates, was one of the boldest, and, could the company have maintained their credit, would have been one of the most lucrative transactions ever entered into. But the immediate return arising from this immense extent of wood and wilderness, inhabited by tenants who were disposed to acknowledge no landlords but the heirs of the ancient families, and lying in remote districts, where law was trammelled by feudal privileges, and affording little protection to the intruders, was quite unequal to meet the interest of the debt which that company had incurred. The purchasers were, therefore, obliged to let the land in many cases to friends and connexions of the forfeited proprietors, through whom the exiled owners usually derived the means of subsisting in the foreign land to which their errors and misfortunes had driven them. The affairs of the York Building Company, who had in this singular manner become Scottish proprietors to an immense extent, afterwards became totally deranged, owing to the infidelity and extravagance of their managers. Attempts were, from time to time, made to sell their Scottish estates, but very inefficiently, and at great disadvantage. Men of capital showed an un willingness to purchase the forfeited property; and in two or three instances the dispossessed families were able to repurchase them at low rates. But after the middle of the eighteenth century, when the value of this species of property began to be better understood, rival purchasers came forward, without being deterred by the scruples which, in earlier days, prevented men from bidding against the heirs of the original possessor. Every new property as exposed to sale brought a higher price, sometimes in a tenfold proportion, than those which had been at first disposed of, and after more than a century of insolvency, the debts of the bankrupt company were completely discharged. Could they have retained their landed property, or, as was once attempted, could any other persons have been placed in the company’s right to it, the emolument would have been immense.

Before proceeding to less interesting matter, I must here notice two plans originating abroad, which were founded upon an expectation of again reviving in Scotland the intestine war of 1715. Two years after that busy period, Baron Gorz, minister of Charles XII. of Sweden, a man whose politics were as chimerical as his master’s schemes of conquest, devised a confederacy for dethroning George I. and replacing on the throne the heir of the House of Stewart. His fiery master was burning with indignation at George for having possessed himself of the towns of Bremen and Verden. Charles’s ancient enemy, the Czar Peter, was also disposed to countenance the scheme, and Cardinal Alberoni, then the all-powerful minister of the King of Spain, afforded it his warm support. The plan was, that a descent of ten thousand troops should be effected in Scotland, under the command of Charles XII. himself, to whose redoubted character for courage and determination the success of the enterprise was to be intrusted. It might be amusing to consider the probable consequences which might have arisen from the iron-headed Swede placing himself at the head of an army of Highland enthusiasts, with courage as romantic as his own. In following the speculation, it might be doubted whether this leader and his troops would be more endeared to each other by a congenial audacity of mind, or alienated by Charles’s habits of despotic authority, which the mountaineers would probably have found themselves unable to endure. But such a speculation would lead us far from our proper path. The conspiracy was discovered by the spies of the French Government, then in strict alliance with England, and all possibility of the proposed scheme being put into execution was destroyed by the death of Charles XII. before Frederick shall, in 1718.

But although this undertaking had failed, the enterprising Alberoni continued to nourish hopes of being able to effect a counter-revolution in Great Britain, by the aid of the Spanish forces. The Chevalier de St George was, in 1719, invited to Madrid, and received there with the honours due to the King of England. Six thousand troops, with twelve thousand stand of arms, were put on board of ten ships of war, and the whole armada was placed under the command of the Duke of Ormond. But all efforts to assist the unlucky House of Stewart were frowned on by fortune and the elements. The fleet was encountered by a severe tempest off Cape Finisterre, which lasted two days, drove them back to Spain, and disconcerted their whole enterprise. An inconsiderable part of the expedition, being two frigates from St Sebastian, arrived with three hundred men, some arms, ammunition, and money, at their place of destination in the island of Lewis. (16th April) The exiled leaders on board were the Marquis of Tullibardine, the Earl Marischal, and the Earl of Seaforth. We have not had occasion to mention Seaforth since he separated from the army of Mar at the same time with the Marquis of Huntly, in order to oppose the Earl of Sutherland, whom the success of Lovat at Inverness had again brought into the field on the part of the Government. When the two Jacobite leaders reached their own territories, they found the Earl of Sutherland so strong, and the prospects of their own party had assumed so desperate an aspect, that they were induced to enter into an engagement with Sutherland to submit themselves to Government. Huntly kept his promise, and never again joined the rebels, for which submission he received a free pardon. But the Earl of Seaforth again assumed arms in his island of Lewis, about the end of February, 1715–16. A detachment of regular troops was sent against the refractory chief, commanded by Colonel Cholmondely, who reduced those who were in arms. Seaforth had escaped to France, and from thence to Spain, where he had resided for some time, and was now, in 1719, despatched to his native country, with a view to the assistance so powerful a chief could give to the projected invasion. On his arrival at his own island of Lewis, Seaforth speedily raised a few hundred Highlanders, and crossed over to Kintail, with the purpose of giving a new impulse to the insurrection. Here he made some additions to his clan levies; but, ere he could gather any considerable force, General Wightman marched against him with a body of regular troops from Inverness, aided by the Monros, Rosses, and other loyal or whig clans of the northern Highlands.

They found Seaforth in possession of a pass called Strachells, near the great valley of Glenshiel. A desultory combat took place, in which there was much skirmishing and sharp-shooting, the Spaniards and Seaforth’s men keeping the pass. George Monro, younger of Culcairn, engaged on the side of Government, received during this action a severe wound, by which he was disabled for the time. As the enemy continued to fire on him, the wounded chief commanded his servant, who had waited by him, to retire, and, leaving him to his fate, to acquaint his father and friends that he had died honourably. The poor fellow burst into tears, and, asking his master how he could suppose he would forsake him in that condition, he spread himself over his body, so as to intercept the balls of the enemy, and actually received several wounds designed for his master. They were both rescued from the most imminent peril by a sergeant of Culcairn’s company, who had sworn an oath on his dirk that he would accomplish his chief’s deliverance. The battle was but slightly contested; but the advantage was on the side of the MacKenzies, who lost only one man, while the Government troops had several killed and wounded. They were compelled to retreat without dislodging the enemy, and to leave their own wounded on the field, many of whom the victors are said to have despatched with their dirks. But though the MacKenzies obtained a partial success, it was not such as to encourage perseverance in the undertaking, especially as their chief, Lord Seaforth, being badly wounded, could no longer direct their enterprise. They determined, therefore, to disperse as soon as night fell, the rather that several of their allies were not disposed to renew the contest. One clan, for example, had been lent to Seaforth for the service of the day, under the special paction on the part of the chief, that however the battle went, they should return before next morning; this occasional assistance being only regarded in the light of a neighbourly accommodation to Lord Seaforth.

The wounded Earl, with Tullibardine and Marischal, escaped to the continent. The three hundred Spaniards next day laid down their arms, and surrendered themselves prisoners. The affair of Glenshiel might be called the last faint sparkle of the great Rebellion of 1715, which was fortunately extinguished for want of fuel. A vague rumour of Earl Marischal’s having relanded had, however, wellnigh excited a number of the most zealous Jacobites once more to take the field, but it was contradicted before they adopted so rash a step.


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