By: Celtic Bard Jeff
Following the arrival from Hanover of George I in 1714, Tory Jacobites in England conspired to organize armed rebellions against the new Hanoverian government. They were indecisive and frightened by government arrests of their leaders. In Scotland 1715 is sometimes misleadingly called the first Jacobite rebellion, which overlooks the fact that there had already been a major Jacobite rising in 1689.
The Treaty of Utrecht ended hostilities between France and Britain. From France, as part of widespread Jacobite plotting, James Stuart, the Old Pretender, had been corresponding with the Earl of Mar. In the summer of 1715 James called on Mar to raise the Clans. Mar, nicknamed Bobbin' John, rushed from London to Braemar. He summoned clan leaders to "a grand hunting-match" on 27 August 1715. On 6 September he proclaimed James as "their lawful sovereign" and raised the old Scottish standard. Mar's proclamation brought in an alliance of clans and northern Lowlanders, and they quickly overran many parts of the Highlands.
Mar's Jacobites captured Perth on 14 September without opposition. His army grew to around 8,000 men. A force of fewer than 2,000 men under the Duke of Argyll held the Stirling plain for the government and Mar indecisively kept his forces in Perth. He waited for the Earl of Seaforth to arrive with a body of northern clans. Seaforth was delayed by attacks from other clans loyal to the government. Planned risings in Wales, Devon and Cornwall were forestalled by the government arresting the local Jacobites.
Starting around 6 October, a rising in the north of England grew to about 300 horsemen under Thomas Forster, a Northumberland squire and MP. This English contingent contained some prominent people, including two peers of the realm, James Ratcliffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater, and Lord Widdrington, and a future peer, Charles Ratcliffe, later fifth Earl of Derwentwater. (Another future English peer, Edward Howard, later 9th Duke of Norfolk, joined the rising in Lancashire). They joined forces with a rising in the south of Scotland under Viscount Kenmure. Mar sent a Jacobite force under Brigadier William Mackintosh of Borlum to join them. They left Perth on 10 October and were ferried across the Firth of Forth from Burntisland to East Lothian. Here they were diverted into an attack on an undefended Edinburgh, but having seized Leith citadel they were chased away by the arrival of Argyll's forces. Mackintosh's force of about 2,000 then made their way south and met their allies at Kelso in the Scottish Borders on 22 October, and spent a few days arguing over their options. The Scots wanted to fight government forces in the vicinity or attack Dumfries and Glasgow, but the English were determined to march towards Liverpool and led them to expect 20,000 recruits in Lancashire.
The Highlanders resisted marching into England and there were some mutinies and defections, but they pressed on. Instead of the expected welcome the Jacobites were met by hostile militia armed with pitchforks and very few recruits. They were unopposed in Lancaster and found about 1,500 recruits as they reached Preston on 9 November, bringing their force to around 4,000. Then Hanoverian forces (including the Cameronians) arrived to besiege them at the Battle of Preston. The Jacobites actually won the first day of the battle, killing large numbers of Government forces. However, Government reinforcements arrived, and the Jacobites surrendered on 14 November.
In Scotland, at the Battle of Sheriffmuir on 13 November, Mar's forces were unable to defeat a smaller force led by the Duke of Argyll and Mar retreated to Perth while the government army built up. On 22 December 1715 a ship from France finally brought the Old Pretender to Peterhead in person. But an ailing James proved far too timid and melancholy to inspire his followers. He briefly set up court at Scone, Perthshire, visited his troops in Perth and ordered the burning of villages to hinder the advance of the Duke of Argyll through deep snow. The highlanders were cheered by the prospect of battle, but James's counsellors decided to abandon the endeavor and ordered a retreat to the coast, giving the pretext of seeking a stronger position. James boarded a ship at Montrose and escaped to France on 4 February 1716, leaving a message assigning his Highland adherents to shift for themselves.