Ships of the White Cockade I

And it is further enacted. That from and after the 1st August 1747 no man or boy within Scotland, other than such as shall be employed as officers and soldiers in the King’s forces, shall on any pretence whatsoever, wear or put on the cloaths commonly called highland cloaths, that is to say, the plaid, philabeg or little kilt, trowse, shoulder-belts, or any part whatsoever of what peculiarly belongs to the highland garb; and that no tartan or party-coloured plaids or stuff shall be used for great-coats, or for upper coats; and if any such persons shall, after said 1st August, wear or put on the aforesaid garments, or any part of them, every such person so offending, being convicted thereof by the mouth of one or more witnesses, before any court of judiciary, or any one or more Justices of the Peace for the shire or stewartry, or judge ordinary of the place where such offence shall be committed, shall suffer imprisonment, without bail, during six months and no longer; and being convicted of a second offence, before the court of judiciary or the circuits, shall be liable to be transported to any of his Majesty’s plantations beyond the sea, for seven years.’

The Act of Prescription, 1745

‘Jacobite’, deriving from the latin Jacobus (James), was the name given to the supporters of the exiled James II after the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688. When Queen Anne, last of James II’s daughters died, the Stewart dynasty was replaced by dour Hanoverians who were, if little else, at least Protestant.

Though the series of land battles which occurred in the course of the abortive risings of 1715, 1719 and 1745–17461 have come to define popular understanding of the doomed crusade that was the Jacobite cause, naval power and events at sea are equally important. It was never expected that a rebellion in Scotland, relying to a very large extent upon the broadswords of the Tory clans, could unseat a Whig dominated Hanoverian government in London. It was rather intended that raising the standard north of the border would trigger a series of uprisings south of it and that the whole would be supported by the French landing quantities of arms and men. Though support from Versailles remained often as fickle as the weather cock and was at all times subject to the expediencies of the greater game in Europe, serious attempts at major French intervention did occur. These, inevitably, were opposed by the British Royal Navy.


By the end of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713, the Royal Navy had established its place as the world’s most powerful fleet, having, in 1714, some 131 ‘ships of the line’ in service. This description came into being as a consequence of evolving naval tactics, whereby the opposing fleets manoeuvred in line against each other. By mid century, the British fleet had a total of 339 vessels under sail, though most of the recent additions were of smaller ‘rates’. The Georgian Navy was its country’s largest employer and its largest undertaking. The vast dockyards of Deptford, Woolwich, Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth were teeming with armies of shipwrights, artisans and labourers. By the time of the Forty-Five, the ‘rates’ were defined as follows:

• First-rate: a three-decker with a poop-royal, 100 guns, 178 feet on the gun deck and an individual figurehead

• Second-rate: a three-decker with 90 guns, 170 feet on the gun deck, individual figurehead

• Third-rate of 80 guns: three-decker, 165 feet on the gun deck, lion figurehead (in common with all the lesser rates below

• Third-rate of 70 guns: two-decker, 160 feet on the gun deck

• Third-rate of 60 guns: two-decker, 150 feet on the gun deck

• Fourth-rate: two-decker with 50 guns, 144 feet on the gun deck

• Fifth-rate: two-decker with 40 guns, 133 feet on the gun deck

• Sixth-rate: two-decker with 24 guns with most of the ordnance on the upper deck and oars on the gun deck; 113 feet in length.

Blockade work and patrolling the sea lochs and islands of the west coast was not work for ships of the line. Fourth-rates with 50 guns were being phased out, no longer able to take their place in the line and were mostly gone by 1760. Fifth-rates, the forties, forty-fours and large frigates (frigate being now a ship of two decks which carried between 20 and 50 guns on the upper deck, quarterdeck and fo’c’sle) began to encounter heavy French frigates during the ‘War of Jenkins’ Ear’ (1739), and the weakness of this smallest class of two-deckers became apparent. It was difficult, if not impossible to work the lower gun decks in heavy seas and they made heavy sailers when contrasted with similar ships that had all of their main armament on the one deck. French vessels were of superior design. Embuscade, taken by the RN in 1746, mounted 28 12-pounders on her top deck, ten 6-pounders on the quarterdeck and two in the fo’c’sle. As she had no gun ports on the lower deck, this could ride on or below the waterline, while the upper deck had a freeboard of around 8 feet. Despite the weight of the great guns she sailed well, having a length of 132 feet 6 inches and being 36 feet in the beam.


For the demanding task of patrolling long sea lochs and the myriad islands of the west, sloops were an ideal choice. Such vessels encompassed all that mounted a score of guns or fewer, the larger being ship-rigged and frigate-built. Those constructed in the opening years of the eighteenth century were of a type with stepped deck in ships and brig-rigged. Later craft carried their ordnance on an open deck with platforms for stowage in the hold. Some of these gun-vessels were of a similar length to a small frigate, nearly 120 feet in length, and latterly might have ‘carronades’ – on-board howitzers invented in 1752 by the Scots firm Carron – to augment their firepower.

Day to day the work of the sloop or gun-vessel was undramatic and unglamorous, the routine of patrolling and landing. Some masters, like the notorious Captain Fergusson, behaved like privateers, treating Islesmen and their women as cattle. Rarely was the tedium enlivened by action. Battles such as that which took place in Loch nan Uamh were very rare. This does not, however, diminish the importance of vigilant sea power during the Jacobite Wars. All French or Spanish aid, be this men and/or materiel, had to come by sea. Any bridgehead the Tory clans might purchase for an invader would have to be backed up by amphibious operation. In 1745–1746 an early naval encounter, that between HMS Lyon and L’Elisabeth, was to severely damage Prince Charles Edward’s ability to raise his standard. Throughout the period of his rebellion, the ships of the Royal Navy maintained an effective blockade. Naval action denied him men, money and equipment.


In 1708, the French sponsored a serious intervention on behalf of ‘James III’, son of deposed James II, known as the ‘Chevalier St George’ or, by his enemies, ‘The Old Pretender’. This coincided with the ebb of French fortunes in the War of Spanish Succession, having been battered by Marlborough’s repeated and bloodily successful assaults. French Admiral Forbin was appointed to lead an invasion fleet with 5,000 troops crammed into transports. Despite an active British naval presence maintained by Byng, James urged the Frenchman to hazard the blockade, and the flotilla slipped out of Dunkirk unchallenged under the cover of a providential fog. A landing of sorts was made along the Firth of Forth, but Forbin’s fears of an RN presence struck deep. The expedition slunk back across the Channel without firing a shot.

Seven years later, the Fifteen proceeded without direct French intervention; John Erskine, Earl of Mar, dubbed ‘Bobbing John’ by his innumerable opponents raised the ‘Restoration’ standard on 6 September. On 13 November, his forces, the strongest the Jacobites were to field, clashed with Argyll’s inferior numbers at Sheriffmuir. The battle proved both confused and indecisive, but Mar could ill afford a draw and a subsidiary rising of Northumbrian Jacobites ended in ignominy at Preston. His rising, which had swelled mighty dangerous at the outset, again faded into failure. Four years later, James’s supporters were ready for another try. It was anticipated that the Duke of Ormonde would lead a descent upon the south-west of England, while George Keith, tenth Earl Marischal, would command a Highland diversion. The affair was sponsored not by the French but by Spain, smarting from the hurt of Byng’s victory off Cape Passaro. Ormonde’s volunteers were to be conveyed in an impressive armada, which did set sail from Cadiz but was shattered and dispersed by storms before even reaching Corunna, where the duke and his battalions awaited.

Keith’s far less impressive squadron, which transported scarcely more than 300 Spanish foot, did make landfall at Eilean Donan Castle, by the mouth of Loch Duich, on 2 April 1719. It was not an auspicious beginning, marred by uncertainties and the bickering of Jacobite officers. Though the Royal Navy had failed to intercept the landing, the garrison of Eilean Donan was compelled under threat of naval bombardment to surrender, and these together with the Jacobites’ supplies fell into government hands. As a stark warning, ships then pounded the ancient tower into rubble. On land, matters were scarcely more promising. An extended and untidy skirmish was fought at Glenshiel on 10 June. In consequence, this brief flickering of the Stewart flame was again soon extinguished. After this it would have seemed to most that the Jacobite cause was now relegated to a historical footnote, but its final, dramatic and quixotic flourish was yet to occur. As before, it was the shifting chiaroscuro of European alliances and conflicts that was to provide a final opportunity:

We are, in this instant, alarmed with the old ministerial cry of France and the Pretender; of armies and transports, incog. At Dunkirk; of invincible armadas from Brest . . . either true or false. If true; how will our all sufficient statesman excuse himself from having treated France as a contemptible power, from which so little was to be feared, that we had nothing to do, but to draw the sword, and carve out his dominions into what shreds and fritters we pleased? Where was the intelligence which ought to be the fruit of all those mighty sums, which are said to be annually expended in secret service? How can he keep himself in countenance for having embroiled us in his rash and ridiculous measures abroad and thereby draw upon us this shocking insult at home? That the French were able to put a formidable squadron of ships to sea is now self-evident; that till the very instant, almost of their sailing, we were ignorant alike of their strength and their preparations, seems to be highly probable . . . the affair of Dettingen might have convinced us that she would not stand upon ceremonies when revenge was in her power.

Old England (the opposition London newspaper)

This extract from the anti-Whig paper Old England reflects a reaction to the crisis of 1744, calling for the recall of British troops from Flanders. Jacobite bogeymen, as the foil of France, continued to exert considerable influence. The last, desperately flawed champion of the cause was poised in the wings, ready to make his dramatic entrance. Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Silvester Severino Maria Stuart had been born, amidst rejoicing, in Rome on 31 December 1720 and grew to young manhood in those arid, despairing years of exile. His mother, Clementina Sobieski, was descended from the great Jan Sobieski whose magnificent Polish Winged Hussars had driven off the Turkish besiegers of Vienna in 1683. It was said that, on the night of his birth, a new bright star appeared in the firmament, and certainly the guns of Fort St Angelo roared a celebratory cannonade.

His mother died young, at only 33, and was buried in St Peter’s, where her tomb became something of a shrine. The prince had been brought up in the sure conviction he was, after his father, the rightful king of both England and Scotland but the empty years gave little hint of any prospect of restoration. The defeat at Dettingen in 1743 humiliated Louis XV to the degree he was prepared to dust off the faded relic of Jacobitism and reconsider its worth as a medium of revenge. His minister, Fleury, habitually a paragon of caution, had died and reports from French spies appeared to be encouraging. By November, the king was writing to both James and Philip V of Spain advising of his renewed support. In this he appeared most earnest.


The expedition was to be commanded by no lesser general than Marshall de Saxe, who would lead just over 10,000 bayonets. This invasion force would target the south coast (Maldon was the preferred landing) and then march directly on London. Initially, the English Jacobites requested a second, lesser expedition to bolster the Tory clans, who would rise simultaneously. This element did not proceed, but Saxe’s 10,000, should they succeed in crossing the Channel, would almost have parity of numbers with the troops the Hanoverians could muster in the south of England. The Scottish military establishment, fewer than 3,000 strong, was minuscule. There was a suggestion that the invaders rely on small boats, but the Marshal wanted men-o’-war as ushers for his vulnerable transports.

The naval aspect would involve the Brest squadron taking station by the Isle of Wight to block the inevitable British riposte. Sir John Norris commanded the home fleet, at anchor in Spithead. If he got past their blockade, the French were to engage while a handful of warships shepherded transports towards the Thames Estuary. Winter weather delayed the fleet’s embarkation during January 1744, and it was not until early the next month that the ships raised anchor. By now, British intelligence had divined that Charles Edward had slipped out of Italy and was believed to be in France. The threat of imminent invasion hung in the air and yet the government was clearly confident the Royal Navy could see off any attempt. Nonetheless, a further 6,000 Dutch troops were to be put on standby. Some confusion now arose as to the destination of the supposed invasion fleet. Was there to be an attempt on Ireland? Charles Edward had arrived safely, despite the Navy’s best efforts, in Paris by 8 February. His intermeddling was, at this stage, in fact unsolicited, perhaps even unwelcome. The French were aware that his presence would only serve as a banner advertisement for any forthcoming attempt.

British agents had meanwhile disbursed a hefty bribe to gain sight of French plans; additional army units from Holland were now requested. The upshot of this security leak was that the French blamed the failure, unfairly, upon Charles Edward, on account of his precipitate action, which served to ensure they would think twice before involving him too deeply in their future counsels. Parliament was quick to affirm the members’ undying loyalty to George – the old spectre of Popish Plot and rising was paraded. Despite this, there was no vast outpouring of pro-Hanoverian sentiment in the country.

By late February, the two fleets were in sight of each other off Dungeness, but strong winds scattered both before battle could be joined and the French tacked back towards Brest. More bad weather struck at Dunkirk, damaging transports and ruining supplies. Saxe began to fret, as he had neither warships nor pilots (the latter promised by the English sympathisers). Once again, the weather showed a strongly Hanoverian shift: early in March a further great storm did yet more damage to the transports riding at Dunkirk. Saxe now wrote to Charles advising the invasion had been cancelled. The Forty-Four was over before it began, and the government in Britain scented deliverance. Largely forgotten by his French hosts after the abandonment of the expedition, Charles had resided for a while in Gravelines, maintained if ignored by Louis XV, who would not grant him an audience. In the spring, he moved to the outskirts of Paris, from where he wrote to his father:

The situation I am in is very particular, for nobody nose where I am or what is become of me, so that I am entirely burried as to the publick, and can’t but say that it is a very great constrent upon me, for I am obliged very often not to stur out of my room for fier of some bodys noing my face. I very often think that you would laugh very hartily if you saw me going about with a single servant bying fish and other things and squabling for a peney more or less. I hope your Majesty will be thoroughly persuaded, that no constrent or trouble whatsoever either of minde or body, wil ever stoppe me in going on with my duty, in doing any thing that I think can tend to your service or your Glory.

It is only natural that such a frustrating relegation to pensioner status on the sidelines would jibe with a young man of dash and fire, especially when he has been keyed up for great events. Charles certainly had charm and charisma, physical courage and stamina. He lacked experience, any real knowledge of the military art and the ability to cope with adversity. If the projected invasion had proved a fiasco, this did not diminish its value to France in terms of diverting British attention from the European theatre and in creating a scare that might promote a redistribution of resources. In the bigger game the Forty-Four thereby served a purpose. This was of no value to the Jacobites, though a definite gain for France and her allies. Robert Trevor, British ambassador at The Hague felt that:

. . . perhaps this uneasiness is all that France at present aims at; and that if she could augment it enough to make us weaken Flanders, she would strike a home blow on that side . . . I have no idea of an invasion, though the news from Dunkirk and all along that coast are suspicious.

For the French, it could be argued that their success in diverting British attention allowed them to seize, and thereafter to retain, the strategic initiative in Flanders. This they did not relinquish for the remainder of the war, and their gains placed them in a strong position when the time came to negotiate peace terms. Most eighteenth-century military operations tended to be relatively limited in their objectives. France was not at home with the hazards of amphibious operations. As the century progressed it would be the British who became masters of the combined operation. France’s involvement with the Jacobites, therefore, could be viewed as both cynical and opportunistic. However, the shades of Jacobite hopes for an actual landing would inform thinking during the Forty-Five, would influence the decisions of men of large estate in throwing in their lot with Charles Edward and would lead to their utter ruin in his cause.

Louis was certainly not overly impressed by his royal guest. Prince Charles Edward’s request for 3,000 foot to support a bid for Scotland, lodged in October 1744, produced no response. Undeterred, he went ahead seeking to finance his war chest from private sources. In this he enjoyed some success. He was able to tap into the web of finance and banking contacts managed by a band of Scottish and Irish expatriate entrepreneurs. Some of these had shipping interests in Nantes and St Malo. Their willingness was not entirely philanthropic. Obviously if the great gamble now being planned came off, rewards would be substantial. Probably the most influential of this affluent clique of émigrés was Antoine Walsh of Nantes. A former officer in the French service, grown wealthy on the proceeds of slavery, he had been introduced to the prince by Lord Clare, commanding the Irish Brigade. The French administration was, outwardly, keeping its distance from Charles Edward while, at the same time, opening doors and greasing wheels.