Monday, August 19, 2013

Irish Jacobites in the 45

It was on this day in 1745 that the son of the Stuart claimant to the British throne, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, raised the royal standard at Glenfinnan in Scotland, an event which is often used to mark the official start of the 1745 Jacobite Uprising; that attempt to send King George II back to his ancestral land of Hanover and restore the Stuarts to the British throne. Today, most still look at the 45 rising as a clash between England and Scotland, some painting it in more national terms as the last effort to save Scottish independence from English domination. Of course, that is not entirely true. There were at least a few hundred English Jacobites who fought for “Bonnie Prince Charlie” and there were many more still who at least did not view him any more unfavorably than they did the very German King George II who was not exactly a ‘people person’. One of the famous “Seven Men of Moidart” was English. As far as Scotland goes, there were actually probably more Scots fighting against the Stuarts than fighting for them. The lowland areas of Scotland were predominately loyal to the House of Hanover and had a rather low opinion of their highland brethren. Even among the highland Scots there were those who were ardent Hanoverians and even fought alongside the redcoats against their fellow highlanders. It was a variety of civil war for the British Isles and that includes the island of Ireland which has sometimes been overlooked in this context.

King James II
Because of the rise of the republican, nationalist, independence movement in Ireland much of this history is not stressed as much as it might be. Whereas the loyalists of today still celebrate their Hanoverian past and, of course, the earlier Prince of Orange, Irish opposition to these groups certainly do not celebrate the Stuart royals their own ancestors supported and fought for. However, what some have called the Wars of English Succession started, of course, in Ireland with the struggle by King James II to retake his three kingdoms from his son-in-law William of Orange. In a way, what eventually became the Jacobite political agenda started in Ireland as well with the declaration of independence. Ultimately the Jacobites would advocate a program for the three kingdoms to be governed separately, united only by their common monarch. By 1745 Prince James Francis Edward Stuart had already issued a formal denunciation of the political union enacted in the reign of Queen Anne. Although it may not be much remembered today, at the time Jacobite sympathy was as much a concern for the London government in Ireland as it was in Scotland. There may not have been an uprising in 1745 at all were it not for the support of a number of prominent Irish Jacobites.

One of those who helped Prince Charles actually get to Scotland was Lord Charles O’Brien, Viscount Clare. A Jacobite with a long record of service in the French army he would eventually attain the rank of Marshal of France and be made a knight of the Holy Spirit. It was Lord Clare who put Prince Charles in touch with the Irish shipping magnates who helped arranged the gathering of the men, material and funds the Prince would need to launch his expedition. At the time, Lord Clare was the commander of the Irish Brigade in the army of His Most Christian Majesty King Louis XV. This was a unit originally formed for French service in exchange for a larger contingent of French troops that were sent to Ireland to fight for King James II. When Prince Charles finally set out for Scotland he was accompanied by the “Seven Men of Moidart” of whom four were Irishmen; Sir Thomas Sheridan, Parson George Kelly, Sir John Macdonald and Sir John William O’Sullivan. Sheridan had been the tutor of Prince Charles and was over seventy when the expedition launched. His age would have made campaigning difficult and he was soon sent back to Rome to keep Prince James informed of the progress of the uprising. Parson George Kelly, likewise, did not remain too long in Scotland as he was sent back to France after the battle of Prestonpans to spread the word of the stunning Jacobite victory.

Sir John Macdonald was involved throughout the war, though in a fairly nominal capacity. He was a veteran officer of the French cavalry and Prince Charles appointed Sir John “Instructor of Cavalry” in the Jacobite army. However, since the Jacobites had so few cavalry as to be little better off than if they had none at all, there was very little for Macdonald to do. Still, he was involved in all the top-level activities of the Jacobite camp and kept a journal that has proved invaluable to historians. Taken prisoner at the battle of Culloden he escaped execution by virtue of his French commission and was so was ultimately released in a prisoner exchange for English troops being held in France. Sir John O’Sullivan was the most involved and most highly placed of the Irishmen fighting for “Bonnie Prince Charlie” and probably one of the most controversial as well. To this day some go so far as to blame much of the failure of the uprising on O’Sullivan while those inclined to trust the judgment of Prince Charles usually have a more sympathetic view of the man and his contribution.

Sir John William O’Sullivan was born in County Kerry, sometime around 1700, and was trained for the priesthood in Rome and Paris. However, when his father died, he returned to Ireland to take over the family estates. Unfortunately, he ran afoul of the Penal Laws and forfeited his ancestral lands, returning to France and joining the army. His time as a tutor in a French military household likely gave him the notion to take up a career in the army. O’Sullivan showed considerable talent and rose rapidly in rank, finally becoming a colonel. He served in Corsica and on the Rhine where he gained a high reputation for irregular warfare. It seems most likely that it was his record as an accomplished guerilla fighter that brought O’Sullivan to the attention of Prince Charles and, in any event, the two became very close and lasting friends. When the Prince set out for his effort to restore his house in Britain he named O’Sullivan his adjutant and quartermaster-general. From the time of their landing until the bitter end O’Sullivan never left the Prince’s side.

The ship which carried Prince Charles and his compatriots to Scotland was largely crewed by troops of the Irish Brigade and from the troops of the Irish Brigade of the French army, a special detachment was created for service in Scotland. These Irishmen had never forgotten the reason for their being in the French army in the first place and were eager to get back to “their” war. This special corps consisted of a battalion of Irish infantry drawn from all the regiments of the Irish Brigade known as the “Irish Picquets” as well as one squadron of Irish cavalry. They gave good and solid service all throughout the campaign. Whether the same could be said for Quartermaster-General O’Sullivan remains a debatable point. He was very close to Prince Charles and the young royal took his advice very seriously, very rarely ever disregarding it. Some historians think he should have, though a balanced, accurate view is hard to come by since many seem to think either everything Prince Charles did was wrong or everything he did was right.

As Quartermaster-general, O’Sullivan had the difficult and unenviable task of keeping the Jacobite forces fed and armed. Many ardent Jacobites professed that he gave good service in this position but O’Sullivan (like the Prince) was constantly at odds with Lord George Murray and the partisans of Murray tend to lay much of the blame for the Jacobite failure at the door of O’Sullivan if not the Prince himself. At the last battle at Culloden Moor, once again, Lord Murray did not want to fight, insisting that the ground was too soft and their position less than ideal. Prince Charles, however, was determined to have at the enemy at least one more time, regardless of the circumstances, before admitting defeat. Colonel O’Sullivan, as usual, agreed with the Prince and many have since placed at least some of the blame for the lost battle on O’Sullivan for choosing such poor ground to fight on. Whatever the case, O’Sullivan has also been credited with helping to arrange the safe escape of Prince Charles back into exile. The colonel himself escaped on a French frigate (which also had an Irish captain) and was later knighted by Prince James (King James III to the Jacobites) for his part in saving the life of his son. He married well and died sometime in the early 1760’s.

Prince Charles Edward Stuart
The Irish troops who fought for Prince Charles fought on until the final defeat at Culloden but, because they were legally considered French soldiers, were fortunate enough to escape the brutal treatment meted out to most other Jacobites. They were allowed to surrender and were treated as prisoners-of-war until properly exchanged and shipped back to France. The troops of the Irish Brigade continued to give valiant service to the King of France until the French Revolution when the foreign units of the French army were all dissolved. By that time, however, Jacobite sympathy among the Irish had started to decline. Many nationalist, pro-independence secret societies in Ireland continued to support the Jacobite cause and the eventual restoration of the Stuarts to the Irish (and British) thrones but this began to fade after France was obliged to withdraw recognition of the Stuart claimant. When the Pope likewise finally recognized King George III as the legitimate British monarch, most viewed Jacobitism to be over and done with. The French Revolution also brought a new, and horrific, republican ideology to Ireland to be used as a new “cause” against monarchist Great Britain, replacing the old adherence to the principles and values of the Jacobites. However, one thing that is certain is that the Jacobite cause would never have gotten off the ground in the first place had it not been for Irish support and there continued to be strong Irish support, on and off the battlefield, until the bitter end. Their contribution deserves to be remembered.

1 comment:

  1. My ancestors (rather distant relatives, but relatives all the same) from Clan Macfie marched with Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745, and many members of the Clan were on the right flank at Culloden. The Jacobites have a special place in my heart because of that.


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