Upon learning about the project through the Heritage and Archaeological Research Practice field school (HARP), I was intrigued by the opportunity to gain insight into the investigation of 18th-century Scotland and the changing social and cultural landscapes. Knowing relatively little of Scotland’s history, I decided to do some research and after falling down a rabbit hole, I noticed nuances in the depictions of Jacobites. Intrigued by this, I applied to the field school, hoping to gain more clarity.
Before my research, I reflected on previous anthropological studies. I noticed many examples of historical depictions affecting the sociocultural identity of those involved. One example was the discovery of the Polynesian islands, once portrayed as an accident. Historians once believed that ocean currents led ancient Polynesian seafarers to the Polynesian islands by pure mistake—a depiction rooted in racist ideologies as it implied Polynesians were not intelligent enough to discover islands. Research later showed this depiction to be false. Ocean currents during the discovery would have made it impossible for Polynesians to find the islands by accident, proving their discovery was deliberate³. Voyages were later reconstructed and completed using traditional Polynesian navigation techniques, thus eliminating previous racist notions³. Rather than being depicted as unintelligent, history now acknowledges Polynesian seafarers for their incredible discovery of the Polynesian Islands. Thus, the revision of Polynesian history illustrates how inaccurate depictions, unless critically challenged, can negatively impact sociocultural identity.
Exploring the Sociocultural Identity of Jacobites
Referring to the mitigating effect that revisionist history had on the sociocultural identity of Polynesians, I was attracted to the historical depictions of Jacobites. I wondered about the implications certain depictions could have on their sociocultural identity. Stories surrounding the Jacobite Rising often proposed two different perceptions of Jacobites, specifically regarding Charles Edward Stuart, the leader of the Jacobite Rising in 1745-46.
The Infamous Decision
Historical portrayals, on one account, depict the loss in the Battle of Culloden as the direct result of Charles Edward Stuart’s poor judgment and the inefficiency of his army8. As the story goes, the Duke of Cumberland was to celebrate his birthday on the eve of the Battle of Culloden9. Considering Cumberland and his men would be distracted during this celebration, Charles proposed a surprise attack that did not go as planned. As poor ground conditions caused delays in their arrival, they reached Cumberland’s camp when it was too close to daybreak9. Then, as a result, Charles’ army returned to the battlefield, hungry and tired, while Cumberland and his men rested well after his birthday celebration. Thus, many argue that Bonnie Prince Charlie was a poor decision-maker who led to the risings’ demise in the battle fought after the failed surprise attack.
Debated Depictions of Charles Edward Stuart
The depiction of Charles Edward Stuart is debated within several sources of information.
Depictions Debated in the Media
While Charles’ failed surprise attack is widely acknowledged, those in favor of Charles argue that his character should not be defined by this single decision, as portrayed in the media. One famous depiction in the tv show, Outlander, is argued to characterize Charles as the sum of this mistake and accordingly depicts his character as unintelligent. As critiqued by The 1745 Association, an organization working to protect the history and heritage of this period, the show’s portrayal of Bonnie Prince Charles is considered a “travesty”¹¹. Chairman Michael Nevin states that media like Outlander and Culloden depict Bonnie Prince Charles as an “effeminate weakling”¹¹. In one interview, he adds, “Whatever you may think of the prince’s abilities or otherwise as a military commander, these portrayals are a travesty of the man he must have been”¹¹. Nevin argues that these depictions are remnants of stories from eighteenth-century Hanoverian propaganda¹¹. He further notes, “There is no way that such a man could have mobilized the support he did, or completed the grueling odyssey from the Highlands to Derby and back”¹¹. Nevin thus encourages the media to challenge current rudimentary depictions of Charles. Other historians, such as Maggie Craig, author of several non-fiction novels regarding the story of the Jacobites, and Steve Lord, researcher of Charles’ journey across Scotland during the 1745 rising, weigh in and agree that the current depictions are an unfair characterization of the prince¹¹. Therefore, some historians disagree with the depiction of Charles Edward Stuart in mainstream media.
Depictions Debated in the Field School
Similarly to the debates in the media, members of the field school had different perceptions of the prince. Some regarded Bonnie Prince Charlie as a fool who lacked planning and intelligence. Others argued that while the prince may have lacked experience, he had charisma and spirit that enabled him to rally others through an arguably tricky mission. Debated depictions of the prince, apparent even within individuals in the same field school, made untangling his sociocultural identity incredibly difficult, leaving me unsure what to believe.
Depictions Debated in Archaeological Evidence
In addition to depictions told by the media and members of the field school, archaeological evidence further complicated understandings of the Battle of Culloden. Evidence shows findings of mortar bomb fragments close to the point of contact¹º. These were fired at charging Jacobites, each bomb able to kill twenty men¹º. Nevertheless, Jacobites still reached government lines, a considerable achievement considering the weapons they faced. While many agree that Charles’ surprise attack plan did not go as planned, it makes one wonder what they could have achieved if it were not for this previous misstep. Charles’ men were undoubtedly hungry and tired after returning from their failed surprise attack. However, evidence showing that the mortars were fired at such close range, risking the lives of the English forces, suggested the Jacobites’ force may have been underestimated¹º. Thus archaeological evidence adds nuance to the portrayal of Jacobites in the Battle of Culloden.
Misconceptions Surrounding the Debate
The aforementioned archaeological evidence painted a picture of Jacobites’ rebellion efforts to be much more impressive than current descriptions. Traditional narratives seemed undemonstrative of Jacobites’ perseverance or tactics used to enable them to reach government lines. More favorable depictions led me to believe I was rooting for the underdogs who, despite religious discrimination, national powers, and government armies fighting against them, had continued to fight. While an intriguing tale, I later learned this was not precisely the case. In my desire to prompt discourse regarding broader issues of historical representations rooted in religious-centrism and ethnocentrism, I had fallen into the trap of myths regarding the Jacobite Rising.
Misconception #1: All Jacobite Supporters were Scottish
Some misconceptions led to distinct characterizations of those on each side of the rebellion. One misconception was that supporters of the Jacobite cause divided the Scottish and the English. However, it is much more complex. Some Jacobite sympathizers were English, whereas a considerable part of Scotland opposed the rising6. Glasgow, for instance, remained loyal in its support of the Hanoverians, proving that the cause was not a simple divide rooted in ethnocentrism6.
Misconception #2: All Jacobite Supporters were Catholic
Another misconception was that all Jacobites were Catholic. James Francis Stuart’s Catholic faith was said to have prevented him from receiving the throne6. While having him on the throne may have increased tolerance to catholicism, the rebellion did not seem entirely rooted in religious differences. Some Jacobite supporters were Protestants, such as Lord George Murray, a Lieutenant-General in the Jacobite army6.
Result of Misconceptions
Both misconceptions led me to believe that the Jacobite rising alluded to distinct political and religious differences between Scotland and England. However, the mixture of individuals in each divide proved this notion false. As one article illustrates, “many, if not most, supporters of the Jacobite cause saw the return of the Stuarts as a vehicle for achieving other goals rather than being a good thing in itself”¹². Therefore, the decision of whom to support had factored in various motives.
After unraveling the misconceptions of which I previously thought distinguished each side of the rebellion, I was confused. What was it that distinguished Jacobite supporters from its opposition? I looked for further information, interested in how each side negatively depicted the other.
1. Negative Depictions of Opposition
The unfavorable reports of those opposing the rising regarded the events following the Battle of Culloden. As a precaution to prevent another act of rebellion, the remaining Jacobites were hunted by Cumberland and his men with great determination. The following atrocities gave Cumberland his nickname, the “Butcher” 5. Jacobite supporters were either imprisoned or executed, with settlements in the highlands burned and their livestock seized7. Under the Dress Act of 1746, Highland dress, such as kilts, became illegal in Scotland. Highlanders were no longer allowed to carry weapons5. Overall, it resulted in the dismantling of Highland clans. The aftermath of the Battle of Culloden was undoubtedly devastating for Highland culture and illustrative of the horrible acts of opposition members. The punishment of Highlanders after the rising seemed resemblant of a civil war between Highlanders and Lowlanders. However, not all Highland clans supported the Jacobite Rising, again suggesting an inability to characterize the opposing sides without generalizations and misconceptions6.
2. Negative Depictions of Jacobite Supporters
Undeniably the repression of the Highlanders had led me to sympathize with Jacobite supporters rather than the opposition. However, I was met again with depictions of Jacobites that nuanced my understanding. During my stay at the field school, I had access to books and novels that would expand my knowledge regarding the Jacobite Rising. In General Wade’s Legacy by Linsday Farquharson, she described how the Jacobite supporters forced the inhabitants of Perth to swear an oath to James Francis Stuart or risk banishment from the town. While nowhere near as awful as Cumberland’s actions, reading this had expanded my understanding of Jacobite supporters as not entirely innocent—but as individuals who, at one point, had forcibly imposed their beliefs on others.