The Jacobite Rebellion of 1745: A Last-Ditch Effort?

Poorly supported and ill-prepared, Bonnie Prince Charlie attempted to gain the British throne for his father in 1745-46. The Jacobite Rebellion failed and Jacobitism became a spent political force.

May 26, 2022By Stephanie Jelks, MPhil History, MA History, BA Political Science
bonnie prince charlie portrait
Portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie by Louis Gabriel Blanchet, 1738, via The Times (UK)


As a grandson of Scottish and English King James II (James VII in Scotland), Bonnie Prince Charlie tried to do in 1745 what his father before him had endeavored to do in 1715: reclaim the British throne for the Royal house of Stuart. With some support from Britain’s enemies on the Continent, Bonnie Prince Charlie overestimated the support for his Jacobite cause in Britain itself. His forces did have a few limited military successes during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745-46, but defeat in Scotland spelled the end of Jacobitism and Stuart attempts to take the British throne.


The Family History Behind the Jacobite Rebellion

william orange mary
King William III and Queen Mary II, c. 1689, via the National Portrait Gallery, London


The Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 was the final Jacobite uprising, with previous revolts occurring in 1689, 1708, 1715, and 1719. The adjective Jacobite comes from Jacobus, the Latin version of the name James. In 1688, King James II of England (who was also James VII of Scotland and James II of Ireland), was forced to flee Britain after he was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. In June of that year, James II had a baby boy, James Francis Edward Stuart (later nicknamed “The Old Pretender”), with his second wife. James II had converted to Catholicism around 1668. However, his daughter from his first marriage, Mary, born in 1662, had been baptized into the Anglican Church. In 1677, she married the Protestant William of Orange, a Dutch prince who at the time was fourth in line to the British throne.


Added to the fact that a month before his son’s birth James II had forced Anglican clergymen to read the Declaration of Indulgence to their parishioners, the fear that the British nations would be ruled by Catholic monarchs for the foreseeable future became too much for those in power in Britain to withstand. (The Declaration of Indulgence granted religious freedoms to several religions, but James II issued it principally to promote Catholicism.) Mary had been the heir presumptive to the throne, but the birth of her half-brother made him the immediate heir. At the end of June 1688, seven British nobles reached out to William of Orange, assuring him that he would find English support if he were to land in England with a small army.


james francis edward old pretender
James Francis Edward, the Old Pretender, 1720, via National Galleries Scotland


When William landed in England in November 1688, most of the 30,000-strong British Royal Army joined him. James II went into exile the following month, and in April 1689, Parliament made William and Mary joint monarchs of England and Ireland (Scotland followed in June). Early in William’s reign, the English Bill of Rights was passed, making him a constitutional monarch rather than an absolute monarch. In 1701, James II died in France, and the French king recognized his son, James the Pretender, as the rightful heir to the English, Scottish, and Irish thrones. Because the Pretender claimed his father’s lost thrones, he was attainted for treason in 1702, and under English law, all of his titles were forfeited.

Get the latest articles delivered to your inbox

Sign up to our Free Weekly Newsletter


James the Pretender, who had been raised in France, attempted an unsuccessful Jacobite uprising in England and Scotland in 1715. His son, Charles Edward Stuart, also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie and “The Young Pretender,” was born in Rome in 1720. The Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 was Charles’s attempt to restore the British throne to his father. By this time, Mary had died in 1694, William died in 1702, Mary’s sister (also The Old Pretender’s half-sister) Queen Anne died in 1714, and because none of her eighteen children survived infancy, the British monarchy passed from the Stuarts into the hands of George I of Hanover (now part of Germany) who was Anne’s closest living Protestant relative. The 1715 uprising was due in small part to a series of riots that had erupted in southern and western England in protest against foreigner George I’s coronation in October 1714. Thirty years later, Bonnie Prince Charlie would overestimate the British public’s antipathy towards the German Hanovers.


Reasons to Support the Jacobite Cause

bonnie prince charlie 16 rosalba carriera
Portrait of a teenaged Bonnie Prince Charlie by Rosalba Carriera, via National Trust for Scotland


There were several reasons why people supported the Jacobite cause, and most of them weren’t because they felt that Bonnie Prince Charlie’s father was the rightful monarch. Some of Charles’s advisors were Irish exiles who wanted an autonomous Catholic Ireland and the return of lands confiscated by the British. Roman Catholics in general supported the cause for religious reasons.


Jacobite sympathizers also tended to be of the Tory political party, resentful of their Whig opponents’ growing political power around the turn of the 18th century. The Whigs supported the Hanoverian constitutional monarchy, not the absolute monarchy that the Stuarts felt was their divine right. Jacobite propaganda labeled the Whig/Hanoverian establishment as corrupt.


While English Jacobitism attracted those who disliked the political system, Scottish Jacobitism was viewed more positively as a genuine alternative to the current government. Even so, not all of the major Scottish clans were Jacobite. Another reason Jacobitism was supported in Scotland was dislike of the 1707 Act of Union. The supporters hoped that a Stuart king would break up Great Britain and make Scotland an independent country again.


Preparing For the Rebellion

jacobite propaganda 1715
Jacobite propaganda from 1715, via The National Archives (UK)


In the 1740s, the British Army was in the New World fighting the War of Jenkins’ Ear and in Europe fighting alongside the Habsburg monarchy against the French, Spanish, and Prussians in the War of Austrian Succession. France’s King Louis XV and Spain’s King Philip V were united in taking measures against Britain. This included the restoration of the Stuarts to the British throne. Louis XV told the Old Pretender that an invasion of Britain was being prepared for February 1744. James, the Old Pretender, remained in Rome while Bonnie Prince Charlie secretly traveled to join the invasion force. However, the invasion failed, and relations between Britain and France worsened.


In August, Charles traveled to Paris to argue for an alternative landing in Scotland. There he met Sir John Murray of Broughton, the liaison between the Stuarts and their Scottish supporters. When Murray returned to Scotland, the Scots told them they were opposed to a rebellion unless there was substantial French support. Undeterred, Charles continued to seek support for his cause on the Continent. He spent early 1745 acquiring weapons, and on April 30, the British and their allies suffered a heavy military defeat at Fontenoy in the Austrian Netherlands.


After their victory, the French gave Bonnie Prince Charlie two transport ships: a French privateer and an ancient gun warship captured from the British in 1704. In July, the two ships set sail for the Scottish Western Isles. Intercepted by a British ship, a four-hour battle ensued, and both of Charles’s ships were forced to return to port. The losses to the warship were a major setback, but Charles was able to land in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides islands four days later.


The Start of the Jacobite Rebellion in Scotland

du teillay jacobite rebellion
The Du Teillay, which carried Bonnie Prince Charlie to Scotland in 1745, via


When Charles landed at Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides, several people he met told him to return to France if no French military support was accompanying him. Some felt that he had not kept his word, and they weren’t impressed by his character. Resolutely, Charles was determined to reach the Scottish mainland despite the presence of a British warship near the Eriskay harbor. He landed near Moidart in the Highlands of Scotland around noon on July 25. Less than four weeks later, on August 19, and less than 20 miles from Moidart, the Stuart Royal Standard was raised at Glenfinnan, Scotland, witnessed by approximately 700 troops from the Highland Army. The Jacobite Rebellion was underway.

Charles had some supporters, and his ranks grew as he marched on to Edinburgh on September 17. His entry was unopposed, and while Edinburgh Castle remained in government hands, James VIII/III was declared King of Scotland the following day. His son, Bonnie Prince Charlie, was declared Regent. On September 21, a 2,500-strong Jacobite army met with British forces at the Battle of Prestonpans. The battle lasted less than half an hour; the Jacobites were victorious. The Duke of Cumberland, commander of the British Army in Flanders, was recalled to London, as were 12,000 troops under his command. Bonnie Prince Charlie published two declarations in October: one to dissolve the “pretended Union” and the other to reject the Act of Settlement, which secured Protestant succession to the British throne.


battle prestonpans jacobite rebellion
The Battle of Prestonpans, via


Morale was further boosted in mid-October when French money and weapons landed in Scotland, along with an envoy, the Marquis d’Éguilles. This seemed to show that Bonnie Prince Charlie had French support, but some of the Scots were wary of Charles’s autocratic style by this time. Also fearing the influence of his Irish advisors, the Scots imposed a “Prince’s Council” on Charles. Charles resented this imposition, and further disagreements arose when the Scots wanted to consolidate to await the English army they were sure was on its way.


Bonnie Prince Charlie, supported by the Irish exiles, insisted that an invasion of England was necessary to attract more French support. Charles claimed that he was in contact with English supporters who were waiting for him and d’Éguilles assured the Scots that a French landing in England was forthcoming. Against its better judgment and on condition that French support was on its way, the Council agreed to invade England.


The Jacobite Invasion of England


On November 8, the Jacobite forces, now about 5,000 strong, entered England. (After they left Edinburgh on November 4, British government forces retook the city ten days later.) One week later, they were able to take a small garrison at Carlisle Castle, mainly because the forces of General Wade, the government commander in Newcastle, were delayed by snow. The Jacobites marched on to Preston on November 26 and entered Manchester on November 28. In Manchester, about 200 English recruits joined the Jacobite army, forming the Manchester Regiment.


incident jacobite rebellion 1745
An incident in the Jacobite Rebellion by David Morier, via


By this time, many Scots felt that they had gone far enough into England, but Bonnie Prince Charlie assured them that they would be met in Derby while a Tory ally was preparing to seize the port of Bristol. However, when the Jacobite army reached Derby on December 4, no reinforcements were to be found. The Council convened the following day to decide what to do next. While large crowds had turned out to see them on their march south, the Jacobite stronghold of Preston had garnered a total of three new recruits. Lord George Murray, who had been leading the Jacobite army, argued that they could go no further south for fear that their supply lines would be cut off. Charles then admitted that he had not heard from the English Jacobites since he had left France. Caught out in a grave lie, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s relationship with the Scots was irretrievably damaged.

The Council decided to retreat, particularly because news had reached it that the French had landed supplies, pay, and troops back in Scotland. They were led to believe that 10,000 French troops were also on their way to Scotland. A lack of heavy weapons meant that the Jacobite army could move quickly, and they reached the Scottish border on December 20, encountering only a minor skirmish at Clifton Moor. Only two days later, the Duke of Cumberland’s army arrived outside Carlisle, just south of the Scottish border. When the Carlisle garrison fell on December 29, it spelled the end of the Jacobite presence in England.


Bonnie Prince Charlie Returns to Scotland

bonnie prince charlie statue derby
Statue of Bonnie Prince Charlie at Cathedral Green, Derby, England via


Despite the retreat to Scotland, morale in the Jacobite army was high. Reinforcements from Scotland joined the military, as did Scottish and Irish soldiers who had been fighting for the French. The Jacobite strength was up to 8,000 men. The Jacobites decided to besiege Stirling Castle, the key to the Highlands, although this made little progress. While Stirling Castle was being besieged and the Jacobites were evading British government forces, the Jacobites won at the Battle of Falkirk Muir on January 17, 1746, although they failed to capitalize on this victory. The Duke of Cumberland reached Edinburgh on January 30.


Two days later, the siege of Stirling Castle was abandoned, and the main Jacobite force retreated to Inverness. Cumberland’s army advanced northwards along the coast where it could be resupplied by sea; Cumberland reached Aberdeen on February 27. At this point, both sides stopped fighting to wait for the weather to improve.


battle falkirk muir jacobite rebellion
The Battle of Falkirk Muir, via


By spring, the Jacobites were running low on both food and money to pay their men. Only a few French shipments had been able to elude the British Royal Navy blockade. The Scottish Lowlands were populated with British government forces, which prevented Bonnie Prince Charlie’s troops from receiving more supplies. Otherwise loyal Scottish clan members left the army to go home to plant their spring crops. The Duke of Cumberland left Aberdeen on April 8.


Between a third and a half of the Jacobite troops were unavailable to meet Cumberland’s advance because they were in other parts of Scotland and could not be recalled in time. The Jacobite military leadership concurred that giving battle was their best option. They depended on the Highland charge, which relied on speed and ferocity to break through enemy lines. Yet not only was the Duke of Cumberland’s forces superior in both numbers and equipment, they had also been drilled at countering the Highland charge. The two sides were to meet at Culloden, near Inverness in the Scottish Highlands.


The Battle of Culloden: The Jacobites’ Last Stand

battle culloden jacobite rebellion
The Battle of Culloden, 1746, via the National Army Museum (UK)


An exchange of artillery signaled the start of the final battle of the Jacobite Rebellion on April 16, 1746. Forced to fight without their artillery commander who had been wounded at Fort William, Bonnie Prince Charlie held his position in the expectation that Cumberland would attack. Cumberland did not do so, and the Jacobite forces could not respond to fire. Charles ordered his men to charge, casting aside their muskets in favor of their swords in preparation for hand-to-hand combat. The boggy ground in front of their center forced them out of formation. Now with more ground to cover, exposed to government artillery, and with their momentum slowed, the Jacobite forces were no match for the government’s troops. The Highlanders broke and fell back in confusion. With the battle lost, Charles and his retinue escaped to the north.


All in all, the Battle of Culloden lasted little more than half an hour. The Jacobites lost between 1,200 and 1,500 men, and another 500 were taken prisoner. Cumberland lost just 50 men with a further 250 wounded. The Jacobites had not given up all hope, and some 5,000 or 6,000 remained at the site armed for the next two days. On April 20, Bonnie Prince Charlie gave his final order to the remaining troops from afar: “Let every man seek his own safety as best he can.” He then spent five months avoiding capture by the British authorities in the Western Highlands, at times living in caves. In September 1746, he was picked up by a French ship and taken to France.


Consequences of the Jacobite Rebellion

commemorative stone battle culloden
Commemorative stone at the site of Culloden Moor, via


Reprisals against those who had taken part in the Jacobite Rebellion against the British government were severe. Some 3,500 captured Jacobites were indicted for treason, and about 120 were executed. A further 650 died while awaiting trial, 900 were pardoned, and the rest were transported to British colonies in the Americas. The government did not confiscate too many Jacobite properties; the cost to do so was often more than the sales price. Because the British troops had found movement difficult north of Edinburgh, particularly in the Highlands, the British built new forts and completed the military road network. The first extensive survey of the Highlands was carried out due to the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. The British government went on to weaken the Scottish clan system, which ended the feudal power Scottish clan chiefs had over their clan members. Even wearing traditional Highland dress was outlawed unless worn during military service, but this was repealed in 1782.


bonnie prince charlie later life
Bonnie Prince Charlie in later life, via The Scotsman


While support for the Jacobite cause didn’t wholly dissipate after 1746, it was never a serious political threat again. In June 1747, d’Éguilles produced a report on the Rebellion. He criticized the Jacobite leadership in general, but he was so scathing about Bonnie Prince Charlie that he suggested that France should from then on support a Scottish republic. A few weeks later, Charles’s brother was ordained as a Catholic priest in Italy. Charles never forgave him for this because a member of his own family would no longer support the Jacobite cause.


Charles himself sank into alcoholism. He was deported from France in 1748, and in later years, he made a few fruitless attempts to reignite the Jacobite cause. When his father died in 1766, Pope Clement XIII refused to recognize him as King Charles III. Bonnie Prince Charlie died in Rome in early 1788, more than 41 years after he had last set foot in the country he wanted to rule.

Author Image

By Stephanie JelksMPhil History, MA History, BA Political ScienceStephanie is currently a writer based in Montevideo. She earned her MPhil and MA in History from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, as well as a BA in Political Science (with a minor in International Studies) from Truman State University in the US. In her free time she enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time with friends.