Unsurprisingly the Jacobite Risings had lots of propaganda and intrigue and also plenty of opportunities for spies. Today we’ve picked a couple of the men believed to be spies during the ’45 Rising to have a look at their stories.
Firstly, Mr Dudley Bradstreet. Dudley was born in Tipperary in 1711 and his famly had once been quite well off during Cromwellian times. Unfortunately, by Dudley’s time the family had lost much of their land and money to bad debts and Dudley, as the youngest son, was raised by a foster family. In the 1745 Rising Dudley became employed by a government official to act as a spy in the Jacobite army. To be effective Dudley assumed the persona of a Captain Oliver Williams who was an ardent Jacobite, loyal to the Prince Charles Edward Stuart. However, when he could, he supplied both the Duke of Cumberland and the Duke of Newcastle with news of the Jacobite armies movements. It seems that Dudley’s cover held well and he managed to gain access to the Prince’s council of war in Derby. Here he is credited with persuading the Jacobite army to retreat back to Scotland. In the council he told of an army of some 9,000 men waiting for the Jacobites in Northampton. Of course, the force did not exist but this did not stop the Jacobites from believing him and it is considered one of the key points that led to the Jacobites retreating rather than carrying on to London.
Dudley is quite a well known example of a Government spy mainly because after the Rising the Government admitted he was under their services. However, despite this admittance Dudley was unable to get either money or a commission in the army from the government which he believed had been promised to him for his work. Eventually he managed to take his case and get it to the attention of the king. He then received a sum of apparently one hundred and twenty pounds for his spying efforts.
Lesser known is the spy who went by the codename of ‘Pickle’. Most people agree that this was actually Alastair MacDonnell of Glengarry who managed to stop the ‘Elibank Plot’, a last ditch attempt by some Jacobites to remove King George II from the throne. During the ’45 Rising Alastair was captured and held prisoner in the Tower of London. After almost two years he was freed and fled to France but by this time his families estates had been confiscated and he was facing a life of poverty.
In 1749 Alastair visited London and it is believed it was at this time that he came to an agreement with the government to act as a spy on Prince Charles and the Jacobites over in France and on the continent. He would gather any information he could and then send it over to London signing off his letters as Pickle. One of the key things he is credited for is stopping the Elibank Plot. The plot apparently consisted of starting a rising in Scotland to coincide with an attempted coup in London. It was suggested the royal family of George II should be taken hostage and held until they agreed to abdicate. Alastair was a member of those involved in the planning and consequently passed all the information through to the government. When this was discovered the plot was adandoned, so no kidnapping ever took place. Alastair, or Pickle, was also responsible for the arrest of several key Jacobites including Dr Archibald Cameron. Another member of the Elibank Plot, Dr Cameron was arrested and imprisoned before being sentenced to death. He was executed in 1753 and was hung for twenty minutes before being cut down and beheaded.
For years the identity of Pickle remained a mystery, and some may say it still is today. It wasn’t until the 19th Century that a writer named Andrew Lang compared the writing on some of Pickles letters to those of a young Alastair MacDonnell and found that they shared a key similarity. It turned out that both men always wrote ‘how’ for the word ‘who’, thus seemingly confirming the identity of the mystery spy who had ruined the Elibank plot.
There were certainly many more spies infiltrating the Jacobites and indeed many working the other way. We know of a Matthew Prior who was assigned to the British Embassy in Paris and discovered a number of Jacobite spies travelling between France and London before 1715 preparing for a Jacobite Rising. His information enabled the Government to arrest several men and help hinder the Jacobite plans.
Many more men will never be known, their secrets kept safe over time but we hope you enjoyed these couple of tales and as always please share, tweet, like, comment and let us know if you are aware of any other Jacobite spies.
All the best, K & D