The Secret Symbols of the Jacobites

In the years before the ’45, any signs of Jacobite allegiance were suppressed. Jacobites had to meet and plot in secret. Because of this, a number of secret Jacobite symbols emerged, which revealed to those ‘in the know’ who was on their side.

These symbols included:

  • The White Rose – Used on its own it symbolized the exiled King James but it could be present with one bud symbolizing Prince Charles or two symbolizing Prince Charles and his brother Henry.
  • Oak leaf and acorns – The oak was an ancient Stuart badge and an emblem of the Stuart Restoration. Charles II hid in an oak in the grounds of Boscobel House during the English Civil War, and in 1660 he wore oak leaves as he returned from exile in France to assume the throne. In a withered or ‘stricken’ form frequently with the motto ‘revirescit’ (it revives, it grows green again, it shoots again) the oak is a symbol of restoration and regeneration. Medals struck in 1689 to celebrate the coronation of William and Mary they show a dead oak or a stump together with a flourishing orange tree an obvious reference to the ancestral title of the new ruler
  • Sunflower – a symbol of loyalty as the head of a sunflower constantly follows the sun
  • Butterfly – known for its spectacular hatching from a chrysalis may symbolise hope for the Stuarts’ grand return from exile.
  • Bundles of sticks – representing strength in numbers.
  • Medusa head – the name Medusa in Greek translates as ‘protector’ or ‘guardian’
  • Thistle – representing the Stuarts’ claim to the Scottish throne. The thistle surmounted by a crown was an ancient badge of Scotland.
The White Jacobite Rose

As well as symbols certain phrases were also often used on Jacobite items. “Fiat”, meaning “let it be” or “let it come to pass” and Redeat, Redi, or Revirescit, suggesting hope that the prince will return.

Due to the treasonous nature of Jacobite affiliation symbols were an important way of conveying Jacobite loyalties in a covert way. Jacobites would often drink a toast to the king ‘over the water’ in glasses encoded with these secret symbols. Often a glass of wine would be held above a bowl or glass of water as a toast to the health of the king was offered; thus literally toasting the king over the water.

Some of the earliest Jacobite glasses are the so-called ‘Amen glasses’. These are engraved with a crown, representing the Stuart kingship, and one or more verses of the Jacobite Royal Anthem – sung to the tune of ‘God Save the Queen’ – all of which conclude with the word Amen (Let it be thus). The anthem probably dates back to the time of James II, its reference to the ‘true-born Prince of Wales’ being a refutation of the rumours surrounding the legitimacy of James III’s birth.


A Jacobite Amen Glass

Less than 40 Amen glasses are known to have survived. The majority of Amen glasses are engraved with the first two verses of the Jacobite anthem, and a smaller number with the first three or four verses. Analysis of the handwriting on genuine Amen glasses suggests that they are all the work of a single hand, and were all executed between 1743 and 1749. The artist concerned has been suggested as Scottish line-engraver Sir Robert Strange. Strange trained as an engraver in Edinburgh, joined the Jacobite army in 1745, married ardent Jacobite Isabella Lumisden in 1747 and moved to France in 1748. He returned to England in 1750 and pursued a highly successful career as an artist.

One final hidden Jacobite message which is just a little bit different. Some believe that the popular Christmas carol ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ is actually a Jacobite call to arms. The Latin version of the carol, Adeste Fideles, celebrated not the birth of Jesus but the birth of Prince Charles Edward Stuart. It was written by John Francis Wade an English Jacobite who fled the country after the failed 1745 Rebellion. Fideles is Faithful Catholic Jacobites. Bethlehem is a common Jacobite cipher for England, and Regem Angelorum is a well-known pun on Angelorum (angels) and Anglorum (English). So ‘Come and Behold Him, Born the King of Angels’ really means, ‘Come and Behold Him, Born the King of the English’ – Bonnie Prince Charlie. The English translation was not made until 1841 by which time the Jacobite connotations had been lost.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this post and as always please like, share, tweet, comment, follow, reblog and raise a glass of your own to whomever your ‘king over the water’ may be.

All the best, K & D

19 thoughts on “The Secret Symbols of the Jacobites

  1. Isn’t the five pointed star also a secret Jacobite symbol? In the National Trust for Scotland guidebook titled Cuil Lodair | Culloden there is short section titled Secret symbols of the Jacobites (page 34). It talks about “Other common motifs are a star (a new star was said to have appeared when Charles was born)”. Can you please comment on this? Thanks so much for you time with my question.


  2. Thank you and may all the blessings of gods and men kiss your brow and unfurl into happiness and contentment with knowledge and discernment gifted to you as your reward for the benefits you have bestowed on us by the giving and sharing of such glorious wonders


  3. As an Englishman the Thistle with or without a crown would be seen as a symbol of Scotland and in the context of the first half of the Eighteenth Century as support for the Stuarts. It does not seem very secret.


  4. nice to see something about the Jacobite glass, and as the researcher who identified Strange as the AMEN engraver i’d like to add a bit, firstly the butterfly was introduced representing Charles as he turned up every year still trying to get the numbers for another crack at a take over, he must have come to London every summer for years . i can document at least 5 times,the glasses were pure marketing genius instigated by him. its a common mistake to associate a bud with Henry and is constantly miss- interpreted however he was never included on the rose glasses.. the engraving of which couldn’t have started before Strange produced the master copy in 1746 and by then he was out of the picture, Charles never forgave him for not being there the first time.the buds are for James and Charles and it is the senior bud that is later dropped with often only the single earlier bud.James was not at that stage willing to take the throne even in a successful coo hence its dropping. if it was Henry it would have been the junior, also later glass has just a single bud no crown or even thorns as just Charles is left with no threat left.
    the AMEN glasses verse was most likely penned by William Hamilton of Bangor who was the Jacobite poet. my latest research would suggest Strange knowing he was going to France and with still a need for the glass trained someone else and there hand appears on later glass and then alone on glass dated to after strange had left Scotland..
    Ian McKenzie

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I bought a decanter in a charity shop yesterday which has Jacobite symbols engraved on it. The oak leaves, the white rose and two buds, the word ‘Fiat’ also. Besides this there is a 6 pointed star with what appears to be a compass below it pointing to the star. I don’t know how old the decanter is, I would guess just a few decades old but it is a lovely thing. I have ancestors who fought at Cuil Loadir and for that reason I bought this lovely glass vessel.


    • Hi Marjie

      i have 2 decanters the same to much going on on them to be of any any age, the typical Georgian glasses weren’t as busy and probably wouldn’t have all the symbols on the same glass/decanter .. i have a lot of engraved Jacobite glass ware, but alas only 3 Georgian pieces .. the Victorians made a lot of copies as they liked decrotive glass…. i also have a lot of modern stuff that i can use every day… and i do ..



  6. Interesting that the same symbols were used by both sides .. the stricken Oak and Sapling with the word Revirescit refers the restoration of the Stuarts and was used by the Oak Society which were a Pro Charles Edward Stuart society set up in 1750 but the same Stricken Oak and Sapling was printed on William and Mary coins…

    any comments for the the experts ?


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