December disaster for the Jacobites

Bonnie Prince Charlie leading the Jacobites at Prestonpans
December is a significant month in the history of the Jacobite Risings, with James II (known as James VII in Scotland) fleeing the throne in December 1688, and Bonnie Prince Charlie abandoning his English invasion, signalling the end of the second Jacobite Rebellion, in December 1745. 

James had been handed the throne in 1685 following the death of his brother, King Charles II. 

At this time most of the English population were Protestants, and Charles had ruled as a Protestant king, demanding that James hide his Catholicism, take the Anglican sacraments and bring his daughters up in the Protestant faith. 

James's Catholic leanings were well known and when Charles died in 1685, there was alarm across the country that a Catholic was taking the throne. 

James was cautiously welcomed, however he ferociously put down small rebellions against his rule and increased the size of the Royal army, giving new commands to loyal Catholics.

The king continued to promote supporters who shared his faith and he dissolved Parliament with the aim of introducing a new body whose views were more inline with his own. 

In 1688 the queen gave birth to a son, raising the prospect of a Catholic heir to King James. Just a few weeks later seven bishops, who James had attempted to prosecute for seditious libel, were acquitted and his actions were seen as an attack on the Church of England. 

These events were intolerable to the country's influential Protestants and they invited Dutchman William of Orange, a Protestant champion who was married to James's daughter Mary, to bring an army and take the throne. 

William landed in November but James believed that his larger army would hold out. However many of his Protestant officers changed sides and James lost his nerve. On the 11 December he began his escape to France.

Many Catholics refused to accept the outcome of William and Mary's Glorious Revolution, which enshrined in law that a Catholic could never again rule England. 

So supporters of James on both sides of the border agitated for his return, fuelled by King Louis XIV in France who was happy to sow discord across the Channel. 

The first significant Jacobite Rebellion began in 1715, when James Stuart, the son of James II, was overlooked for the throne following the death of Queen Anne. 

Stuart supporters were enraged and raised his standard in Scotland. 

There were early successes and support grew among the Highland clans, however a series of defeats saw this first rebellion fizzle out in early 1716. 

The Jacobites' anger continued to simmer, and a second uprising was launched in 1745 by Charles Stuart, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie. 

Again, the Jacobite forces saw early success in Scotland, where their forces were bolstered by the clansmen. They took control of Edinburgh and defeated Government troops at Prestonpans. 

Flushed by success, the Scottish Jacobites agreed to invade England and plotted a route through Jacobite-supporting regions south of the border, hoping to gather forces as they passed through. They got as far as Derby.

However the English support failed to materialise and, in December 1645,  the Jacobites were forced to retreat back to Scotland. 

Although not the very end of the rebellion, this failure saw a breakdown in the relationship between Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Scottish supporters, and they tasted their final defeat at Culloden just a few months later.

Bookmarked by significant events in December 1688 and December 1645, the Jacobite Rebellion was finally over. 

Want to know more? Join our small group Jacobite Rising shorts breaks with Barry Hilton, one of the UK's leading authorities on the rebellions. You'll be based in Pitlochry and visit key sites across the Scottish Highlands including Killiecrankie, Glencoe, Fort William and Culloden.

NEW DATES AVAILABLE: This tour now departs on 12 March 2021 and 8 October 2021.