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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

Christian Auer

II. Jacobitism

6. The Insurrection of Scotland, 1715

Texte intégral

1John Sinclair (1683-1750), eleventh Lord Sinclair (known as Master of Sinclair: Master was the honorific title given at that time to the heir apparent to a Scottish Lord of Parliament), was a passionate patriot and opponent of the Union. His Memoirs of the Insurrection in Scotland in 1715 (published by the Abbotsford Club in 1858) are of great value for the light they throw on the inner history of the Jacobite rising.

2The following passage describes the attempted storming of Edinburgh Castle.

3John Sinclair, Memoirs of The Insurrection In Scotland, 1715, Walter Scott (ed.), Abbotsford Club, 1858, p. 29-30.

  • 6 Queen Anne died in 1714.
  • 7 Prince James did indeed land at Peterhead in 1715.
  • 8 Erskine, John, sixth Earl of Mar (1675-1732), took up the cause of the Jacobites and organized a r (...)

It was before this, that the surpriseing the Castle of Edinburgh had failed. I can’t be positive who laid the scheme; but it was projected after the Queen’s death6, and gone into by some younge people about Edinburgh, who had screwd themselves into the belief that the King7 was then to land, at which time they were readie to put it in execution. But the hopes of that being over, through impatience to shew their diligence, they communicated it to a great many of their friends; and, as it is usuall, everie new plotter was racking his brain how to improve the first scheme, to have a share of the honour in case ane opportunitie offered, and thereby the measures of the whole project were more and more disconcerted. And thus they continued untill the beginning of August 1715, that the intention of Lord Mar’s goeing to the Highlands was publicklie known8; and then those who had been all alonge the principall contrivers of that affair thought there was no time to be lost in comeing to a finall resolution about the proper methods, and even in putting them to the tryell, applied themselves to my Lord Mar, who encouraged it. My Lord Drummond, who, amongst the many good qualities he has inherited of his familie, has that of imagining nothing can be well done except he has the management of it, would undertake the direction of all; and, for that effect, made choice of a little broken merchant, Charles Forbes, a man according to his own heart, who was to be principall engineer and conductor of that affair. Thomas Arthur, who had formerlie been ane officer in the Castle had, six months before, gained a serjeant, and brib’d a sojer of the guarnisone; the serjeant, when he’d have the guard, was to place that sojer sentrie at a post on the Castle wall, which they had agreed on. The sentrie was to have a clew of small cordes in his pocket, one end of which he was to throw down to those who were to surprise the Castle, who were to tye it to a grapling iron, fastned at the end of the scaladeing ladders, which he was to pull up and fix in the head of the wall or parapet. They proposed to doe the work with fourscore or nintie men, whereof fortie were to be Highlandmen, who were sent to toun by my Lord Drummond about the time appointed, all by different roads, with orders to obey one Drummond of Bouhadie. Fiftie younge apprentices, advocates’ servants, writers, and some servants to those in the Government, were let into the secret, to make up the number to be imploy’d in the attack. At last, the serjeant letting them know the night he could serve them, and the time, the West Kirk, a place under the Castle wall, was agreed on to be the place of rendevous, preciselie at nine of the clock at night, where they were to come armed with pistells and suords. They all mett at the place and hour appointed. Things having thus far succeeded to their wish, they, and it must be own’d reasonablie, haveing brought it so great a length, reckoned themselves sure of their stroak; but the principall thing was still wanting. They had imploy’d a fellow in the Caltone to make the ladders, which Mr Arthur and his brother, Doctor Arthur, were to mount the first, because they knew the Castle best; and had brought the greatest part of the ladders, with the grapling iron, alonge with them to the West Kirk at the hour appointed; and Charles Forbes had taken it upon him to bring the rest of the ladders preciselie at the same hour, but instead of that, stay’d till after ten in the citie, drinkeing to good news from the Castle, while the others were waiteing impatientlie at the West Kirk; for they had designed to begin the attack at ten, which being past, and receaveing no neus of Forbes or their ladders, not knowing what to doe, and afraid the sentrie would loose patience, or be relieved, scrambled up the rock, and posted themselves at the foot of the wall, with a resolution, in all events, to stay there as longe as they could. And thus they continued till eleven of the clock, when, being out of all patience, and the sentrie telling he was to be relieved at twelve, they made him pull up the grapling irone, in order to try if the ladders they had could doe; but, as they suspected, they found them above a fathome too short; and in this situation did they continue untill half an hour after eleven, when the sentrie perceaveing the rounds comeing about, called down to them, ‘God damn you all! you have ruined both yourselves and me! Here comes the round I have been telling you of this hour, I can serve you no longer.’ And with that threw down the grapling iron, fired his piece, and called out ‘Enemie’ upon which everie man shifted for himself, the round fireing over the wall after them. And at this time, when the fireing from the wall happened, Mr Forbes, the ingeneer, had onlie advanced to the back of Bareford’s Parks, on the north side of the North Loch, with the rest of the ladders, and could not been up in time before that sentrie was to be reliev’d.

My Lord Justice-Clerck, haveing got a hint of the designe, was the occasion of that rounds goeing about, haveing given the Gouvernour the alarme, and at same time, with difficultie, got twelve men of the Burgers’Guard from the Magistrats of the toun, to goe without the walls, under the command of ane officer, who saw no bodie but two boys, who said, they came there by chance, whome he took prisoners, together with ane old man, who had fallen from the rock. But all agree, that had the ladders come in time, the Justice-Clerck’s advertisement had come too late; and blamed my Lord Drummond for the choise of his ingeneer. It was, I may say, miraculous, that so many keept the secret, or rather, that the Gouvernment was not sooner informed by some indirect way or other; for they were so far from carrieing on their affairs privately, that a gentleman, who was not concerned, told me that he was in a house that evening where eighteen of them were drinking, and heard the hostess say, they were poudering their hair to goe to the attack of the Castle.


6 Queen Anne died in 1714.

7 Prince James did indeed land at Peterhead in 1715.

8 Erskine, John, sixth Earl of Mar (1675-1732), took up the cause of the Jacobites and organized a rally in support of James, the Old Pretender, at Braemar in August 1715.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

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