Sunday, February 13, 2011

In Jacobite memoriam

Today marks the anniversary of the Massacre of Glencoe, a famous Scottish Highlands battle which was part of the first Jacobite uprising of Scotland, a result of grudges which had been born, nursed, and handed down to future generations for hundreds of years.

Glencoe, site of the McDonald Jacobite massacre 13 February 1692


On this day, 13 February 1692, disgruntlement turned again to bloodshed on the premise that members of the McDonald clan had been slow to take the oath of allegiance to William of Orange who had ascended the throne of England a few years earlier when his father in law James II/VII had been deposed. William, who was Dutch by birth, ruled England jointly with his wife, Mary Stuart, James's daughter. The couple had ousted her father James in The Glorious Revolution.

Jacob is the Latin form of James, and Jacobites were those who remained loyal to William of Orange's father in law, the deposed King James II/VII. James was a Stuart, and the Stuarts had held the title of High Steward of Scotland ever since Robert II became King of Scots in 1371. From the Scottish perspective, he deserved a little loyalty. So they fought for him, believing him to be the rightful and lawful King of England.

William of Orange disagreed. For one thing because James was Catholic and for another because they disagreed on politics as well as religion. From William's perspective, his father in law James was no better than James's father Charles I who had been beheaded after the English Civil Wars. William and Mary's Glorious Revolution cemented the civil war victory of the Parliamentarians, declaring that kings may govern only by consent of Parliament, and they kicked James out because he disagreed, having come from a long line of absolute monarchs. James fled to France, but his loyal followers remained.

The stage was set for conflict. Both sides took losses, but ultimately William and Mary prevailed. William offered pardon to those who had fought against him in what we see now as very early but far from final skirmishes if the participants would swear an oath of allegiance to him by 1 January 1692. The Scottish chiefs turned to James for advice. Should they take the oath? Or would he return to claim the throne?

James took too long to answer, and ultimately some of the Scottish chiefs missed the 1 January deadline. So on the morning of 13 February 1692, 38 members of the McDonald clan were murdered for not taking the oath, and 40 more died of exposure after their homes were burned. They were killed by the order of the King, but the act was fulfilled by members of another clan who had posed as guests in McDonald homes the night before, which was a shocking violation of Highland law.

The incident sparked a powder keg of resistance which would fuel more than 50 years of Jacobite uprisings. The Glencoe murders became a war cry to fuel the Jacobite movement in part because of the cultural horror of guests killing their hosts. Over the years, many of those who remained loyal to James "The Old Pretender" and his son Bonnie Prince Charles were killed. Many were sentenced to live in exile and transported with or without their families to America, Australia, or New Zealand.

My own ancestors had to flee Scotland and change their name following their ultimate Jacobite defeat in 1745. I still don't know what their name was before the uprisings, only that our family remained in hiding under their assumed name for over 100 years until they came to America in the 1860's. In their place, I don't know what I would have chosen. Would I have taken the oath? Or would I have fought for a king I believed should have my loyalty? Although I'll never know, I am glad to understand my family's part in this historic event.

Execution order issued to Robert Campbell

"You are hereby ordered to fall upon the Rebells [sic], the McDonalds of Glencoe, and putt [sic] all to the sword under seventy. you are to holde a speciall [sic] care that the old Fox and his sons doe [sic] upon no account escape your hands, you are to secure all the avenues, that no man escape. This you are to putt [sic] in execution att [sic] fyve [sic] of the clock precisely; and by that time, or verie [sic] shortly after it, I'le [sic] strive to be att [sic] you with a stronger party. if I doe [sic] not come to you att [sic] fyve [sic], you are not to tarry for me, butt [sic] to fall on. This is by the Kings speciall [sic] command, for the good & safety of the Country, that these miscreants be cutt [sic] off root and branch. See that this be putt [sic] in execution without feud or favour, else you may expect to be dealt with as one not loyal to King nor government, nor a man fitt [sic] to carry Commissions in the Kings service. Expecting you will not faill [sic] in the fullfilling [sic] hereof, as you love your self, I subscribe these with my hand att [sic] Balicholis Feb 12 1692
[signature] R Duncanson
For the [Majesties] service
To Capt Robert Campbell of Glenlyon


For further reading about Jacobites and the Jacobite uprisings:

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