Two Britains, Alike In Dignity

Paul Fahrenheidt

Paul Fahrenheidt

Many a man thought himself wise, but what he wanted he did not know.


The Jacobites are one of those historical movements that inspire deep feelings in most who write about them, even some three centuries after they vanished from this world. No study of the 1688-1745 period of England can be performed without at least a cursory glance at the Jacobite movement. Yet the Jacobite movement has a greater meaning than the romanticism of a lost cause. They’re a mile marker for a much larger epochal shift that occurred across Europe in the nearly six decades of their political relevance. The Jacobites are a microcosm of the shift from the Politics of Personage to the Politics of Institutions.

Politics of Personages refers to a political system centered around individual persons. I.e., the early Hanoverian monarchy was centered around the personage of Stanhope, Walpole, and nominally King George I. Compare this to the Politics of Institutions, which refers to a political system centered around institutions. The early Jacobites were largely an institutional movement of aristocrats centered around the symbol of James III.

These two terms, “Politics of Personage” and “Politics of Institutions” are used in this paper to differentiate between two time periods, and not two sides. The Jacobites are not the side of “The Politics of Personage,” nor are the Hanoverians the side of “The Politics of Institutions,” though the reader would not be faulted for reading the dichotomy that way. 

The Politics of Personage were the “old” way of doing things; Divine Right/Privy Council Parliamentarism. The Politics of Institutions are the “new” way of doing things; Enlightened Absolutism/Prime Minister Parliamentarism. Both the Jacobites and the Hanoverians shifted from minor factions to full-on social and political institutions, only resolving their differences after the failure of the Bonnie Prince. The change marked an epochal shift from the Rococo period to the eve of the Revolution.

The Personages

Despite the fact that both the Jacobites and the Parliamentarians ended up as institutions, their foundation was on personages. The Jacobites’ very name comes from the latinization of King James II’s own moniker, Jacobus. The Parliamentarians too founded their identity on the sovereign Parliament and Protestant King, the former of which was counter-intuitively centered around the personages in the House of Lords. In order to understand the life the institutions began to take, the personages which made them must first be understood.

The Kings

Kings of both Jacobite and Parliamentarian persuasion are at the center of this network of notable personages. The 1688 coup d’etat by Parliament and Prince William of Orange was in essence a challenge of one King against another; Parliament’s sock puppet vs. Divine-Right despot. Regardless of truth, this is how King James II and King William III’s dichotomy was portrayed.

The unfortunately Catholic heir of the already unfortunate Stuart family, King James II did little to help his own position. His genuine faith led him to creating a cabal of Catholic nobles, with the seeming intent of restoring Papist dominion to the protestant England. It’s unclear whether or not he was self-conscious of the fact that this was the exact same mistake which his father, King Charles I, lost his head over some forty years prior.

Parliament, too, enjoyed its newfound influence and de facto political power as opposed to the early Stuart era. The Stuart restoration was a stopgap; a means of fixing the problem presented by a war-torn and tyrannized country. It seems that in deciding to hit the “reset” button, Parliament brought itself back to square one, except this time the King was an out-and-out avowed Catholic. Catholic Kings doing what Catholic Kings do (spread Catholicism,) Parliament decided to take matters into its own hands (which ended so well the last time they did it.)

Thus the foundational figure of the new English Society, King William of Orange, was invited over by Parliament in defiance of King James II’s authority. Immediately, consolidation of the Protestant Parliamentarian regime’s power was initiated, including the forcing of new oaths to the new King, mass hangings of suspected Stuart supporters, and a Guerilla war from 1688-1692.

The table was flipped and a new game was being played. James II died in 1701, William III a year later in 1702, leading to a new pair of self-proclaimed Kings; one with the knives of a Kingdom pointed at his back, one without a Kingdom in the first place. James Edward Francis Stuart, self-styled James III & VIII, often called “The Old Pretender,” or “The King Across the Water,” set out to make the Jacobite movement a politically viable one. He was racing the clock of decreasing relevance, waning support in the isles, and the legitimization of his deposition vis a vis time. The irony was that James only ever set foot in England as an invader, and was more comfortable speaking French than English.

On the other hand, his counterpart across the channel never spoke a word of English in his life. Georg I, König von Großbritannien und Wähler von Hanover, was designated William’s heir the same year James II died. An inheritor of the 1707 Act of Union which made the two Stuart Kingdoms one (as well as several Scots into staunch Jacobites,) King George was monumentally unpopular with his subjects. This did not inhibit his ability (or that of his Parliament,) to put down both the 1715 and 1719 uprisings, which put the Jacobite movement into a long period of decline into the periphery of Rococo era politics.

That was until the Old Pretender’s son, Charles Edward Stuart, more famously known as “The Bonnie Prince,” or “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” took matters into his own hands. His personal mythos and competence made him the de facto leader of the Jacobite cause, despite the fact that his father lived until 1766, long after the Bonnie Prince’s hopes had been dashed. The importance of the Bonnie Prince as a personage cannot be overstated. To this day, he’s the only Jacobite most laymen can name, and the apocryphal stories surrounding his life endured long after his death.

Comparatively, his counterpart in George II is nowhere near the spectacle of the Bonnie Prince. While his father could claim to be the last English King to lead troops in battle (George I was in Hanover at the start of the War of Spanish Succession,) George II could claim to speak English. While George II as a personage is less important than the role of “Parliament’s sock-puppet King,” he’s indicative of the direction the English monarchy was moving under the influence of figures such as Robert Walpole.

The Lords

While Kings were the foundations of these dueling societies, they were hardly the sole figures within them. In the case of the Parliamentarians, the man behind the King was more important than the King. The Jacobites, too, were rife with factional conflicts between notables in their “Government.” Regardless of where or why, these important personages did as much to shape the fate of each side as their Kings did.

Beginning his career as a moderately successful military commander, James Stanhope found his talents in the world of diplomacy. A Whig’s Whig, his support of the House of Hanover won him several favors upon the succession of George I, including the coveted Secretariat of State. His efforts shattered the power of the Tory party in England, paving the way for the Whig dominance which would last a century. He was also largely responsible for myth-makingly harsh measures against the Jacobites in 1715. These measures, combined with his Hanover-centered foreign policy (which everyone knew was to the benefit of his benefactors over the nation of England,) did more to prolong the Jacobite movement than destroy it.

Sent across the water from Stanhope after his implication in 1715, Henry St. John the Earl of Bolingbroke was a microcosm of a whole cast of noble personages swept up by the Whig coup d’etat brought about by the ‘15. As much a Tory as Stanhope was a Whig, the prosecution of the War of Spanish Succession in conjunction with the Hanover-centric foreign policy, not to mention the systemic removal of Tories from posts across the country, put the Tories on the back foot and made them desperate. 

The cast of Tory nobles all but invited the Old Pretender over the water in 1715, an uprising about as half-baked as it was botched. Abandoning the Jacobites after the failure of the ‘15, Bolingbroke lived in exile until he was pardoned and returned to England. Bolingbroke is a microcosm, and similar stories can be found in all the great Tory personages of the early Jacobite era, including James Butler the Duke of Ormonde, Robert Harley the Earl of Oxford, and John Erskine, the Duke of Mar.

The Whig’s reached their height under the genius of Robert Walpole, the front-runner of approximately fifteen candidates for “England’s First Prime Minister.” He was outmaneuvered by the faction of Stanhope and Charles Spencer, the Earl of Sunderland (later implicated in the Atterbury Plot.) Thus, he and Charles Townshend, the Viscount of Townshend, resigned from government with their own faction, beginning the Whig split. It’s highly plausible that the Whig Split is one of the direct causes of the ‘19 uprising, with the ever-more desperate Tories looking for any chance to put themselves back in power. Following the failure of the ‘19 and the exile of most Jacobite-aligned Tories, Walpole reigned as the power behind the throne until his power waned in the 1730s. Leaving office in 1742, it’s likely that his presence and competence prevented any further Jacobite uprisings until he had well and truly left power, and that the Bonnie Prince chose to lead his uprising after Walpole had left government.

The Foreigners

Those interested in the restoration of the Stuart dynasty were not limited to the British Isles. In fact, the Jacobites seemed disproportionately present in foreign courts across Europe, a key factor in the longevity of the movement. It was the support of France, moral or material, which was the direct precursor to the ‘15, the ‘19, and the ‘45. So too did other monarchs and courts show interest in the cause, for nothing else than to gain the services of experienced military men found in the Jacobite exiles. 

Among the most ardent and outspoken supporters of the Jacobite movement was the Sun King, Louis XIV, who personally hosted the exiled James II by gifting him the Chateau St. Germain. The estate would become the center of the exiled Jacobite court until James III moved it to Rome following the failure of the ‘15. Still, it played the host to many notable Jacobite personages until the French Revolution.

The support the Jacobite movement sought from France bordered on obsessive. The government of Louis XIV, led by Cardinal Dubois (an arrangement going back to the days of Louis the Just and Cardinal Richelieu,) was seeking to make an alliance with the new Hanoverian dynasty following the de facto white peace of the War of Spanish Succession. It was the support given by King Louis that caused the ‘15 to occur in the first place, and the opposition from his government which kept that support from reaching the heights that the Jacobites intended it to. Though the support largely ended with his death and the triumph of Cardinal Dubois in the short-lived Anglo-French alliance, the Bonnie Prince would win back the French some three decades after.

Unlike his grandfather, King Philip V of Spain’s support usually took the form of promises rather than provisions. Though he welcomed a delegation of Jacobites to his court, appointed Ormonde a Spanish General, and allowed the young Bonnie Prince to accompany Spanish soldiers during the War of Polish Succession, the usurper-King of Spain seemed to keep the Jacobites at arm’s length. It’s likely he welcomed them in order to keep a semblance of Franco-Spaniard cooperation, even after the death of Louis XIV, though there was little overlap between a Jacobite restoration and Spanish national interests.

Tsar Peter the Great of Russia, whether due to his Europhilia, a desire to be a power player, or personal interest in the movement, was also a supporter of the Jacobite cause. Not only did he promise an invading fleet and an army, it appears he made preparations to organize just that. However, his death early on into the movement removed the idea of a Russian backed invasion of England from the picture.

The Institutions

Founded on the personalities of personages, Great Britain and the Jacobites took on lives of their own. They mirrored each other in organization and social interaction, if not in myth-making and stated political goals. In fact, the Jacobites became a second society within the wider society of Hanoverian Great Britain, inverted only in the foundation of their mythos and the purpose of their belief. This is demonstrated by the comparison of institutions.

The Catholic Church and the Anglican Schism

The clash of Churches and sub-Churches was at the forefront of the Jacobite cause contra the Hanoverians. The Glorious Revolution caused schisms in all three Anglican Churches, though the schisms within the Anglican Church of Ireland are irrelevant. As the ruling Monarch of England is the religious head of the Church of England, the clergy needed to swear new oaths of loyalty to William III over James II. A significant minority, largely limited to the areas of London and Newcastle, refused to swear new oaths. This began the “Nonjuring” schism within the Church of England, which would continue until the death of the last Jacobite claimant.

Within the Church of Scotland, a more significant split occurred. As a direct result of the revolution, the Scottish Episcopal Church was abolished in favor of the Scottish Presbyterian Church (the difference being: the former having Bishops and the latter having elected lay clergy.) This went on until the Scottish Episcopal Act of 1711, which re-established the Scottish Episcopal Church as a separate entity from the Presbyterian Church. This was to the detriment of the Hanoverians, as the lion’s share of Jacobite supporters within Scotland came from the non-juring Scottish Episcopal Church, while Scottish Presbyterians largely supported the Hanoverian Monarchy.

The Catholic stance was a bit more clear-cut. Given that James II, The Old Pretender, and the Bonnie Prince were all born and raised Catholic, the Jacobites were shoe-horned into being the only hope of a Catholic restoration in the British Isles. The Old Pretender largely bet on the support of Catholic countries, most notably France and Spain, in order to reclaim the throne. The patronage of the Holy See solidified this, and the majority of British Catholics (exiled or otherwise) supported the Jacobite cause. 

This caused chafing within the Jacobite movement, as differences in faith tended to create factions within factions. The conflicts that arose between Clementina Sobieska and the Jacobite Prime Minister John Hay were largely a result of Hay’s Protestantism (among other things.) This was to say nothing of Jacobite parallel society in the British Isles, of which Catholic Jacobites and Protestant Jacobites would have as little to do with each other as with the Hanoverians.

Whigs, Tories, and Everything Else

A trap within Jacobite study is to overlay the Jacobite cause contra the Hanoverians atop the older and more widespread Whig-Tory divide. This is only partially the case, and as all political conflicts (especially English ones) tend to be, the truth is infinitely more complicated. Yet the influence of the Whig-Tory conflict cannot be dismissed, especially in relation to the Jacobites.

It is undeniable that the Glorious Revolution and the Hanoverian Succession were a massive windfall for the Whigs. It is also undeniable that the majority of Tories held Jacobite sympathies if not open support for them. This being said, while one’s support of the Whigs assured one’s opposition to the Jacobites, one’s support of the Tories did not assure one’s support of the same.

The Tories were largely split in two: Jacobite Tories and Tories who hedged their bets. The former were exiled en masse following the ‘15, and included personages like Ormonde, Oxford, and Mar. The latter watched their political influence wither away under the genius of Walpole and the Whig Supremacy. It is highly likely that the Tories would have taken up arms in support of any initially successful Jacobite invasion, e.g. if the Bonnie Prince’s Army had not turned around at Derby. This was out of pragmatism, more than any ideological support, as the Whigs had well-and-truly hitched their wagon to the Hanoverian monarchy at the expense of the Tories, and the Jacobite restoration was a sure bet for Tory re-entry into Westminster.

The Jacobite court was well aware of this split. Not only within the Tories, but elsewhere in the now United Kingdom of Great Britain. As a matter of fact, the shift in Jacobite policy under the Bonnie Prince sought to employ a form of proto-Leninism against the Hanoverian regime. Leninism is used in this context to create a coalition of out-groups, unified by two factors:

  1. Shared hatred of the current regime.

  2. An understanding that their possession of power comes only from the success of their faction, and that as soon as their coalition falls, they fall.

The Bonnie Prince implemented this strategy in his shift of policy from a foreign-backed invasion to a home-grown invasion.

The Glorious Revolution revived desire for an independent Scotland, exacerbated by the Scottish Episcopal-Presbyterian Schism. The Act of Union symbolized the source of this sentiment. Many Scots were happy to have one of their number on St. Edward’s Throne, but now that they were at the whims of a series of foreigners, they felt the deal made by sending James VI to become James I had run its course. This sentiment was capitalized on by the Bonnie Prince, which resulted in his choice of destination to start off the ‘45.

Support from those seeking Irish independence was a given for the Jacobite cause. The Irish had long sought contemporary expressions for their long-running feeling that they were a separate people under foreign dominion, and from 1688-1745 the Jacobites were the primary expression of such. This was the field of the short-lived “War of English Succession” took place from 1688-1692, where James II led an Army to besiege Londonderry, convened the “Patriot Parliament,” with hopes to start momentum to retake England. The general irrelevance of Ireland combined with quick Parliamentarian action dashed those hopes. This was factored by the Bonnie Prince, and while he wouldn’t deny Irish support, he wouldn’t bank his success upon it either.

It was this unwieldy coalition of non-juring English Tories, Jacobite exiles, Scottish and Irish nationalists, and the milieu of dregs and adventurers that the Bonnie Prince sought to use to reclaim his throne from the Hanoverian regime. Its existence indicates the parallel existence of Hanoverian and Jacobite society.

Making Two Dueling Myths

Anything that can be called a political movement must have a foundational myth to it. For the Whigs, the Glorious Revolution and a King kept in check by a strong Parliament became their myth. The Tories’ myth was that they’d always been in power, thus they’ll always be in power. The Jacobites’ myth was that the true King was unjustly exiled, and countless of his loyal subjects had been martyred by a tyrannical regime. The fact that these were largely believed is more important than the truth of any individual claim.

The means of building these myths, the material providers of information and aesthetics in other words, also differed between Hanoverians and Jacobites. Here, distinctions between the holders of regime power and those outside of such can be drawn. The Hanoverians, having taken de jure power by getting Parliament onside, by Stanhope’s meticulous clearing of Tories from all positions of power national or local, and by Walpole’s consolidation of Whig dominance, very much built their myths off of the force of institutions, particularly newspapers.

The Jacobites had no such advantage, being the marginalized out-group no matter which internal faction they held. Therefore, they adapted their myth-making to such a position. Each and every individual, Lord, Commoner, or in-between, was immortalized in a drinking song or hymn of some sort. Even moreso, they were referred to as “martyrs” by the faithful of the Jacobite cause. The Hanoverians had counters, they too tried to spread stories about the cruelty of the Jacobites (the Sawney Bean fable being the most successful,) though it was never on the same scale nor success as the Jacobite tunes.

The Rhetoric employed by the Bonnie Prince during his invasion is also indicative of the countermeasures the Jacobites employed against Hanoverian slander.

Our Enemies have represented us as Men of low Birth, and of desperate Fortunes.- We who are now in Arms, are, for the greatest Part, of the most ancient Families of this Island, whose Forefathers asserted the Liberties of their Country, long, long before the Names of many of our Declaimers were ever heard of. Our Blood is good, and that our Actions shall make appear. If our Fortunes be not great, our Virtue has kept them low; and desperate we may be truly called; for we are determined to conquer or die.

The cornerstone of this argument is based around the myth of the Jacobite’s status as de jure Kings of the British Isles unjustly and illegally deposed, a myth which won over many of the Catholic courts of Europe.

The longevity of the Jacobite movement was not thanks to its songs. While the Hanoverians had taken possession of the institutions of schooling, the Jacobites retained many of their own. Jacobite schoolmasters taught an entire generation of the Jacobite cause, support for the exiled Stuarts, and inculcated them within a movement which quickly became a culture. This is largely why the Bonnie Prince had supporters to call upon in the first place.

The Romanticization

The failure of the ‘45 marked the effectual end of Jacobite society, though a Jacobite claimant would live on until 1807. The nonjuring schism had withered away, ending totally in 1807, the Highland Clearances had done exactly that, and as the decades went on, persecution for Tory and Jacobite status eased until it was nonexistent. Here, the two institutions became one, as the Jacobites were reincorporated into a de jure Hanoverian society.

The Enlightenment acted as a sort of acid of what was largely considered self-evident about a century prior. Its culmination in the French Revolution shattered the Ancien Regime not just in France but across Europe. The British Isles were no exception to this, and a resurgent Tory sentiment sought to use any and all tools it could find to rebuild the old order.

Jacobitism was one such tool. Conveniently cushioned by time and crises, the ascendent late century Whigs sought to incorporate a now defanged Scotland into a Britain ever-increasing in importance. The Jacobites society had vanished with years, leaving in its place a romantic cause with heroes and villains, written about by such figures as David Hume and Sir Walter Scott. 

This killed two birds with one stone. First, the Whigs post-Walpole were already bringing Tories back into Government, and this rehabilitation of the Jacobite mythos “Washed away the sins” of the unrepentant (or not repentant enough) Tory lords. Second, this served as an adequate containment mechanism for Scottish Nationalism, as by making a bastardized and corrupt Jacobite movement inseparable from the prospect of Scottish independence, therefore tying any notions of Scottish independence to a played out political movement inherently tied to England.

This is the true triumph of the politics of institutions; a system resilient enough to withstand challengers, then able to incorporate said challengers into its own mythos. 


When studying the Jacobite cause contra the Hanoverians, the politics of personage and the politics of institutions come to the forefront. Often, the assumption is that the Jacobites failed because the remained the former, rather than transitioning to the latter like the Hanoverians did. This is markedly not the case.

The Jacobite movement went through the same transition that all other European powers went through. In fact, their presence and respect through most of Europe grants them the status of almost a “Landless Nation,” and they were treated as such. Just as the landed nations did, the Jacobites underwent a transition from a faction of nobles to an entire society parallel to the Hanoverian Regime, which was large enough and lasted long enough to become a myth in the minds of those who lived after. Their failure was the fault of circumstances and choices, not an ideology locked in the past.

Works Cited

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Szechi, Daniel. The Jacobites: Britain and Europe, 1688-1788. Manchester University Press, 1988.

Miller, Peggy. James. St. Martin’s Press, 1971.

Petrie, Charles. The Four Georges: A revaluation of the period from 1714-1830. C. Chivers, 1971.

McLynn, Frank. Charles Edward Stuart: A Tragedy In Many Acts. Routledge, 1988.

Foord, A. S. His majesty’s opposition: 1714-1830. Greenwood, 1964.

Cruickshanks, E., & Black, J. The Jacobite Challenge. John Donald, 1988.

Harris, Bob. “England’s Provincial Newspapers and the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745–1746.” History 80, no. 258 (1995): 5–21.

McGuirk, Carol. “Jacobite History to National Song: Robert Burns and Carolina Oliphant (Baroness Nairne).” The Eighteenth Century 47, no. 2/3 (2006): 253–87.

Stuart, C. E. (1745, November). Case for the Jacobites. Retrieved February 8, 2022, from 

Kidd, Colin. “The Rehabilitation of Scottish Jacobitism.” The Scottish Historical Review 77, no. 203 (1998): 58–76.