To mark the Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites exhibition at the Museum of Scotland, we have a series of articles about the issues it raises and the portrayal of mislaid and contested history. It’s twenty years since Maggie Craig published her seminal Damn’ Rebel Bitches about the forgotten role of women in the uprising. On Saturday 30th September 2017, join her in conversation with award-winning crime writer Lin Anderson at the NTS Visitor Centre at Culloden Moor, to celebrate the 20th anniversary.
My father first took me to Culloden over half a century ago. Around the same time, my Uncle Alex put DK Broster’s The Flight of the Heron into my hands. I’ve been a willing hostage of the Jacobites of 1745 ever since. I’m well aware the mere mention of Bonnie Prince Charlie has some Scots spluttering into their porridge, citing the calamity of Culloden, the horrific aftermath and the destruction of the clan system. There’s a strange dichotomy, where people get hugely emotional over those who suffered so horribly at Culloden while branding Charles as clueless. This is to tacitly say that the men – and women – who supported him were equally clueless or at best, naïve: which they were not.
Yes, some men were forced out, by male and female members of the local gentry. Others went willingly, out of clan and family loyalty. For others, the ’45 and Charles as its leader was a focus for discontent in a restless nation that had lost its independence a generation earlier. His sights set on London, Charles was no Scottish nationalist, but many of his supporters were. One of their slogans makes this clear: Prosperity to Scotland – and no Union! A 23-year-old Glasgow shoemaker and Jacobite officer hanged in London in November 1746 spoke in prison of the ‘base and scandalous union’, using his dying speech to implore his fellow Scots to realize that ‘all ever your forefathers fought for is gone.’
Twenty years ago this month I published my first book, Damn’ Rebel Bitches: The Women of the ’45. A man at one of the first talks I gave on DRB demanded to know how women could have been involved when they didn’t even have the vote back in those days. The answer was simple. Neither did most men. The ’45 was politics fought out on the battlefield. Military campaigns require a support network and women as well as men helped build that. Hundreds were involved – not only Flora MacDonald – and their stories were there to be found in libraries and archives up and down the UK and overseas.
In Carlisle, York and the Public Record Office in London, I discovered lists of women, some with their children, who had followed their men on the Jacobite army’s invasion of England. When that foundered at Derby early in December 1745, many of those camp followers ended up in prison. The lucky women were eventually released. The unlucky ones, some now war widows, were transported across the Atlantic to tobacco and sugar plantations as indentured servants, guilty by association of ‘waging this horrid and unnatural rebellion’.
Other women were active and influential supporters of the Stuart Cause.
In direct opposition to her husband, Lady Anne Mackintosh raised the men of the clan Chattan for the Jacobite army, earning herself the nickname of Colonel Anne. Jenny Cameron of Glendessary led men to the Raising of the Standard at Glenfinnan. Supporting her husband, Lady Margaret Ogilvy acted as a recruiting sergeant, standing at the cross in Coupar Angus with a drawn sword in her hand.
At the other end of the social scale I found a postmistress in Buchan, described as ‘Barbara Strachan, the Jacobite’. The anonymous informant warned that Barbara’s job travelling around the countryside made it easy to pass on messages and information to fellow Jacobites on the activities and troop movements of the Government side.
Some of the many women who raised recruits, gathered supplies, passed on information, offered comfort and shelter to battle-weary men and tended to the sick and injured were committed to the Jacobite Cause. Others were reacting as human beings to the suffering they saw around them. I think it’s reductive to see them as proto 21st century Western feminists. There must also have been times when they were absolutely terrified, and with good reason.
On the very afternoon of Culloden, Anne Leith, a young widow, collected bandages and cloths and went out to the moor with a friend and that friend’s maidservant to do what they could for the Jacobite wounded. We’ll have to hope Eppy the maid was given a choice. All three were risking rape and a beating, too many of the victorious Redcoats already on the rampage. Anne McKay, a poor woman from Skye, helped an important Jacobite prisoner escape from Inverness. She was made to stand for three days and nights in the guard-house with no food or drink, subjected to unrelenting verbal abuse. Her 17-year-old son was so badly beaten by the Redcoats that he died of his injuries.
Based on the evidence of memories of my fierce wee Coatbridge Granny Craig and the other women on both sides of my family, I believe Scotswomen have always been well able to stand up for themselves and others. In the 18th century, they risked much more than being trolled on Twitter, yet still they did what they felt they had to do. Like the ’45 itself, they and their turbulent times deserve to be remembered in all their layers and complexity.
* Maggie Craig is taking part of a panel discussion Revisiting the Jacobites – the history behind the history (12 October, 18.30 at the National Museum).
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