The Stuarts in Exile – BBC 4

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I was expecting this programme to be about … well, the Stuarts in exile. Or about the Fifteen, seeing as we’re just coming up to its tercentenary. I was therefore rather bemused that Clare Jackson chose to spend quite so much of it having a go at the 1st Duke of Marlborough. She spent way more time talking about him that she spent talking about either the Glorious Revolution or the Fifteen, and the Stuarts’ life in exile barely got mentioned at all!

I should point out that Marlborough – plain John Churchill, as he was in 1688 – and I go back a long way :-), to when I “did” the War of the Spanish Succession as my “special subject” at university. Clare Jackson’s problem with him seemed to be that he changed sides in 1688 and kept a toe in both the Hanoverian and Jacobite camps in the later years of Queen Anne’s reign. Well, yes, but so did a lot of other people. Not that many people openly came out in support of William of Orange until he’d actually landed, but, once he had, most people backed him. And Robert Harley, who switched sides from the Whigs to the Tories and became the leader of the Tory faction and a very senior government minister, actually engaged in secret correspondence with the French – with whom Britain was at war – with a view to making James Edward Anne’s heir. None of that got mentioned, did it? Maybe Clare just liked the idea of being filmed wandering round Blenheim Palace. The clue’s in the name, love – Blenheim Palace: it’s all about the War of the Spanish Succession. This programme was supposed to be about the Jacobites.

Plenty of other things didn’t get mentioned either. If you’re going to talk about the Duke of Marlborough, then you really need to talk about the Duchess as well. William would probably have succeeded in 1688 without the support of John Churchill, but it could’ve got very awkward if he hadn’t had the support of Princess Anne, whose close friendship with Sarah Churchill was certainly a factor in deciding her actions at that time and continued to be important for many years afterwards. But where were the references to Sarah? Come to that, if you’re going to try to associate the Churchills with the Jacobites, you really need to point out that Arabella Churchill, Marlborough’s sister, had been James II’s mistress, and that, as a result, the Old Pretender’s half-brother, the Earl of Berwick, was Marlborough’s nephew. Not mentioned once.

Oh, and, speaking of nephews, there was no mention of the fact that William of Orange was James II’s nephew, as well as being his son-in-law, nor of the fact that Louis XIV was James II’s cousin. I hate to sound like some sort of gossip magazine, but these things were actually relevant! Louise Marie, James II’s daughter, who was born after the Glorious Revolution and sadly died at the age of 19, wasn’t mentioned at all. Nor, and this really was ridiculous, was the Duke of Gloucester, Anne’s son, who lived until the age of 11. It was never really likely that he was going to survive to adulthood, because of his many health problems, but it was his death in 1700 which prompted the Act of Settlement and brought the Hanoverians into the equation. Rather more significant than the gardens at Blenheim Palace, however nice they may be.

(And it’s a minor point, but it seemed very odd to talk about the Jacobites marching on Newcastle but finding the city’s gates barred against them without mentioning that this is why the good people of Newcastle are referred to as Geordies – the supporters of George!)

Oh dear, I’m being really negative, aren’t I? It wasn’t that the programme wasn’t interesting, just that it didn’t seem to focus on the most appropriate areas! Anyway, it did eventually get round to talking about the Fifteen. The semi-forgotten rebellion. Whilst coming back from a visit to Pitlochry this time last year, I saw a signpost for Sheriffmuir, and it took me a minute to think why I knew the name (it’s the site of the major battle of the 1715 Jacobite Uprising). That’s pretty strange, really. Everyone knows the name Culloden! And the defeat of the English Jacobites at Preston isn’t talked about much even in Preston itself, not the way that the Civil War Battle of Preston and the Jacobite advance through Lancashire in 1745 are. Wandering slightly off the point, Clare Jackson referred to it as the last battle fought on English soil, but there’s a debate about that: most people would say that it wasn’t really a battle and that the last actual battle fought on English soil was Sedgemoor.

So why is the Fifteen the forgotten rebellion? Really, it’s the one that should have succeeded. In 1688, the “political nation” was fed up of James II, and most other people still remembered the Civil War, or had heard about it from older generations, and just didn’t want any more trouble. By 1745, more than half a century had passed since the Glorious Revolution, the Hanoverians had been in situ for over thirty years, England and Lowland Scotland were doing very nicely in the Union and you’d’ve thought that the chances of a Jacobite restoration were long past. In 1715, there should have been a very real chance of James Edward taking the throne. There’d been those secret negotiations with Harley & co. If James Edward had had the nous to do what his great-grandfather, Henri “Paris is worth a mass” IV of France had done, and change his religion, he would probably have been named as Anne’s heir. As it was, George I had become king, but he hadn’t been there very long, he was very much an unknown quantity, and there was a lot of discontent with the powers that were because of the South Sea Bubble and so on.

But James Edward was a worse than useless leader, Louis XIV died in the middle of it all, the Earl of Mar made a mess of things, and the Government handled everything very well – better than the Government of 1745 was to do. And then … well, not very much happened. After the Forty-Five, the authorities came down on the Highlands like a ton of bricks, broke up the clan system, even banned the wearing of traditional Highland dress. And the Forty-Five became a romantic Lost Cause. And it had its romantic stories, Bonnie Prince Charlie and his hair-raising adventures, Flora MacDonald, wee bonnie boats over the sea to Skye. And, the Battle of the Boyne, part of the original Jacobite campaign of 1688-92, is seen as a symbol of Loyalism and Protestantism in Northern Ireland and marked with an annual Bank Holiday to this day. I don’t know what on earth William of Orange would make of the Orange Lodge marches, and I’m not sure what Charles Edward would make of being remembered as some sort of romantic tragi-hero, but they both have their places in popular culture, whereas James Edward and the Fifteen just … well, don’t, really.

One last thought. Seeing as so much of this programme was about the Duke of Marlborough rather than about the Stuarts or the Hanoverians, I shall finish up by pointing out that our next monarch but one, Prince William, is descended from the Hanoverians, from (albeit via the “bend sinister”) the senior line of the Stuarts through Charles II, and from the 1st Duke of Marlborough. I’d love to know if he ever thinks about that!

4 thoughts on “The Stuarts in Exile – BBC 4

  1. Chris Deeley

    Responding to your comments on the Stuarts in Exile: I didn’t see the program, but know that James II is buried in the Chateau at St Germain-en-Laye just outside Paris. Friends of ours live at Le Vesinet, which is built in the old chateau grounds – a lovely part of the world.

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  2. Sue

    You’re right that the Battle of Preston is overlooked, and is often confused with the 1648, but – with a bit of help from the Heritage Lottery Fund – we’re trying to address that for the 300th anniversary. Schools resources available online, an app and a trail in development, @Preston1715 on twitter, and an events programme over the next month or so http://www.prestonguildcity.co.uk/1715.

    The 1715 Rising is a complex interweaving of national, personal and international motivations, so hard to distil down into just part of one programme. I would have liked to see one of the fascinating maps of the Battle of Preston used, instead of some slightly fanciful musing in the churchyard. And the fact that the Jacobites fighting at Preston were Scottish as well as English was passed over. But Dr Jackson was at least correct in calling it the last battle on English soil.

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