Jacobite Plots

In 1688, William of Orange invaded England and successfully overthrew James VII of Scotland and II of England and Ireland. The following year, William and his wife Mary were crowned joint sovereigns. The deposition of James lead to the formation of the Jacobite cause (Jacobus being Latin for James). In the 1690s, the Jacobites’ frustration presented itself in the form of several plots to get William off the throne and James, who to them had always been the rightful King, back on it. There were three main plots: the Ailesbury plot, the Fenwick plot and the Assassination plot of 1696.

The Ailesbury plot was planned over the winter of 1691-2. Those involved were mostly peers and gentlemen based in the south of England. The Earl of Ailesbury was an active participant, but the idea itself came from James’s Secretary of State: the Earl of Melfort. The plan was for a French fleet to deliver an army, led by James, to England; the conspirators would raise their tenants to join James and the French to fight to overthrow William and Mary.

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William and Mary

However, the Government soon got word of this plan and sent out people to round up the main plotters whilst arranging ships along the English coast in anticipation of the French. Bad weather kept the French from crossing the Channel, and in May the Anglo-Dutch fleet defeated the French in Normandy at the Battles of Barfleur and La Hogue. The plot was ended before it had truly begun but questions over who had been involved and how far they could have got aroused paranoia and panic on the British Isles.

In 1694 Mary, who had a better claim to the throne than her husband, died childless. The Jacobites still felt anger that William sat on the throne while James and his son lived in exile. The massacre at Glencoe had increased people’s distrust of William, for it was unclear how much involvement he had had in the brutal event.

The following year John Fenwick, the head of a number of Jacobites, led the Fenwick plot. He aimed to secure a port on the south coast of England so that a French army could arrive safely and march with him and his associates to London so they could capture William. It was a dangerous venture, and soon the plan was at a standstill; Fenwick did not want to risk seizing the port until the French had set sail, and the French did not want to set sail until they were sure had Fenwick had secured the port for them. They were stuck in a stalemate.

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James VII & II

All was not lost though as from the Fenwick plot sprang the Assassination plot of 1696.  This plan, organised by Sir George Barclay, was to attack William while he was out in his coach. Once again though word got out of Jacobites meeting and the plot was foiled when one of the men, Thomas Prendergast, revealed everything to the Government. The conspirators of both the Fenwick plot and the Assassination plot were searched for. Later, when questioned, the Jacobites caught insisted that they had only intended to kidnap William, but informers declared that murder had been central in their plan. They met varied ends, with some being executed or imprisoned, and some managing to escape. Of the two men conspirators Barclay managed to escape to France, while Fenwick was eventually executed.

These plots, rather than helping to achieve the ultimate goal actually hurt the Jacobite cause. Many who had before felt apathetic about the situation now felt sympathy towards William. Several of the most prominent Jacobites were now dead, in hiding or intimidated into inactivity.

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William of Orange

William of Orange was declared King of Scotland, England and Ireland in 1689. This immediately followed the deposition of James VII and II; as a result, William and his wife Mary, who had been proclaimed Queen, were the first people that the Jacobites attempted to overthrow.

In 1672 the Dutch suffered the Year of Disaster known as Rampjaar. The French, English and Germans invaded. While fighting to defend the Dutch, William was made stadtholder in July. The following month, brothers Cornelis and Johan, powerful republican figures in Dutch politics, were brutally killed by Orange loyalists. To this day, opinions are divided as to how linked William was to the deaths. The Franco-Dutch War continued for another six years.

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William of Orange

William of Orange and Louis XIV made peace, but remained very suspicious of one another. William also made peace with the English, and sought to marry his cousin Mary to solidify this peace and strengthen his position. Her father, James, Duke of York, was reluctant to marry his daughter to a Protestant, but was persuaded to let it happen by Protestant ministers and his brother Charles II, who had hopes that James’ consent would increase his popularity among Protestants. William and Mary married in 1677.

In 1685, Charles II died, and Mary’s father became James VII and II, making her the heiress to the throne. When people grew resentful of James’ policies, plans were made to get rid of him. William successfully invaded England, James was deposed and William and Mary were there to fill the vacant position. Initially it was suggested that Mary would rule alone, but William was adamant about not being a mere consort, and Mary wanted her husband to rule with her. Those who had originally been against it, acknowledging William’s claim as a grandson of Charles I, complied with their wishes. In 1689, they were crowned Mary II and William II and III.

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Engraving of William and Mary

James attempted to fight back, but William’s forces defeated him at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, and James fled to France. Together, William and Mary passed the Bill of Rights, which limited their power as sovereigns. It also excluded Catholics from the throne. William was viewed as overconfident by many of his subjects, and many Scottish people in particular viewed him negatively due to his actions surrounding the Glencoe Massacre, as well as the lack of support he offered Scotland for its Darien scheme, an attempt to become a world trading nation. There was a failed assassination attempt on William by the Jacobites in 1696.

William took a bigger role than his wife when it came to leadership, though she was regularly left to rule on her own when he was fighting on the continent. The Jacobites viewed her as an ungrateful daughter, but to others she was likeable due to her warmth and generosity. Mary died of smallpox in 1694.

Mary and William had had no children, and William never remarried. Mary’s sister Anne was heiress to the throne, but by 1701, despite her many pregnancies, none of her children still lived. This lead to the Act of Settlement, which, ignoring the excluded Catholic Stuarts, stated that if Anne were to die childless, the throne would pass to Sophia of Hanover and her descendants.

In 1702, William’s horse stumbled on a mole’s burrow at Hampton Court Park. William fell off the horse and broke his collarbone. His health deteriorated, and he died from pneumonia. He was buried in Westminster Abbey alongside his wife. The Jacobites did not mourn him, and as the fall at the burrow was believed to have been the source of William’s decline, toasts were made to the mole – the “gentlemen in the black velvet waistcoat”.

We hope you enjoyed this post, as always please like, share, comment and tweet.

All the best, The Culloden Team