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Jacobite opposition to the Whig Oligarchy Essay

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Why was Jacobite opposition to the Whig Oligarchy so unsuccessful between 1714-60

The Jacobites were a British group who repeatedly tried to reinstate the old Stuart kings onto the English throne, as opposed to the Protestant monarchy that began in 1689. From 1714-60 parliament was dominated by the Whig party, to the detriment of the pro-Jacobite Tories. There were many Jacobite attempts in this period to overthrow this Whig oligarchy and the kings that supported it. P Monod attributes the failure of the Jacobites to a lack of leadership and inadequate military forces.

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J Stephenson, on the other hand, argues that a lack of foreign and domestic support for the old stuart monarchy is the predominant reason for the lack of success of the Jacobites. This essay will examine the four main factors that are cited as the reasons for the failure of Jacobites – poor leadership, weak military, little foreign support, declining domestic support – and will evaluate which one of them is the most important.

The Jacobites that they never had adept leaders. Jacobite officers were normally of Scottish brethren, with little experience of warfare. Furthermore, as they were Scottish, they did not know the territory when they entered England. This is considered by Monod as one of the reasons for their failure to sustain themselves upon exit of Scotland. The best attempts at Stuart restoration were the rebellions of 1715 and 1745. However, both of these are characterised by poor leadership. In the ’15 the commander of the Jacobite army was the Earl of Mar.

He raised the Jacobite flag too early, before the army was prepared and, at the Battle of Sherifmuir, failed to take advantage of his victory and the 3:1 ratio of forces, instead allowing the British battalions to retreat and regroup. On top of this, James Francis Stuart, the Pretender King, was absent from the rebellion. Thus, the Jacobites were without their inspirational figurehead. The rebellion of the ’45 endured similar problems, despite having their true leader, Bonnie Prince Charlie present. Having successfully driven down to Derby, instead of marching for London, the Jacobites fled to Scotland, allowing the British to regroup and pursue them.

The issue of poor leadership was compounded by the inherent weakness of the Jacobite forces. They were predominantly comprised of Scottish highlanders, and anyone else that wished to join them, normally farmers. The men had little, if any, fighting experience and had never been trained in combat. Furthermore, they were poorly equiped, relying on homemade and captured weapons. The force was usually small, at its largest during the ’45 when it reached 12 000 men.

This is contrast to the British armies that were defending London. Although, they were slow to react to both rebellions, they were far superior when they engaged the Jacobites in combat. In 1715, the British army had just emerged victorious from the War of Spanish Succession. After famous victories, such as Blenhim, it became known as one of the most formidable fighting forces in Europe. It was large and well trained. Moreover, the Jacobite armies were hampered by internal divisions. The bulk of their men came from highland clans which were historically opposed. Many refused to fight with each other. This problem was particularly present in the rebellion of ’45. The Jacobite cause had little hope when it was so weak in the face of such strong opposition.

In Britain and Scotland the Jacobites support for the Jacobites was slight, waning further during the period. While Scotland may have been very pro-Jacobite in 1714, the Jacobite influence influence decreased radically until 1760. This is largely down to the fact that the people were forgetting the reasons for their hatred of the British crown. The Glencoe Massacre of 1690 was soon moved into oblivion. Memories of the stuart kings faded as Britain enjoyed peace and prosperity under Hanoverian rule. Lastly, the benefits of Union with England became more apparent as Scotland grew economically and was less heavily taxed than before.

In England itself, followers of the Jacobites were always few and far between, only decreasing in the period until 1760. England had always been very anti-Stuart, accusing James II and his predecessors of despotism. Thus, the Glorious Revolution of 1689 was welcomed by the majority of the population. The support that had come from the Tory party also wavered. This was because, after their defeat in the 1714 election, they were keener to rebuild politically than waste time on what was considered a hopeless task. This was compounded by the fact that two Tory leaders, Oxford and Bolingbroke were impeached in the run up to the Jacobite rebellion of 1715 and because Jacobitism grew to be associated with treason.

The Jacobites could never rely on foreign support. Louis XIV had originally pledged his allegiance to James Francis Stuart, proclaiming him as King of England and promising resources. However, the loss of the War of Spanish Succession, and the subsequent acknowledgement of the Hanoverian succession, esnsured France would not, and could not, fund the Jacobites for a very long time. This was reinforced by the Anglo-French Entente of the 1720s, whereby Walpole and Fleury were keen to maintain the peace. The French did promote the Jacobites in the run-up to the ’45, with a 15 000 invasion force at Dunkirk ready to embark for England. However, poor weather and the War of Austrian Succession diverted the troops. Similarly in 1719, a Spanish fleet was ready to set sail for England, in support of the Jacobites, only to be stopped by a storm. Few other European nations were willing to fund the Jacobites. Seeing it as an worthless cause that would just bring unnecessary aggression from Britain, the pre-eminent power in Europe.

The lack of foreign support was no doubt significant, as a large, well-supplied army was never received in Britain. However, even with the absence of this, the Jacobite rebellions drove deep into Britain. Similarly, the claim that Jacobite leaders were inept, while maybe true, does not fully explain the failure of the rebellions. The armies still enjoyed many victories and the British were often commanded by similarly worthless men. The inadequacy of the troops and the lack of domestic support are the most significant explanations for the failure of the Jacobites. Against such a strong British army, the Jacobites had little hope of victory. Linked to this, is the lack of pro-Jacobite people in Britain. This was an underlying reason for the small number of people that would join the rebellion and further ensured that both times the revolts extended into England, they petered out due to the prevalent hostility of the people.

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