The Palazzo del Re was home to the exiled Jacobite court and the Stuarts in Rome. Owned by the Muti family, it was rented by the Papacy for the Old Pretender, James Francis Edward Stuart. Both James’s sons, Charles Edward (‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’) and Henry Benedict, were born in the palace. The event depicted here is a celebration organised in honour of Henry’s appointment as a cardinal deacon on 3 July 1747. James, wearing the blue sash of the Order of the Garter, is shown greeting his younger son, who is dressed in the black coat, scarlet stockings and shoes with red heels often worn by cardinals in the eighteenth century. The palace itself has been lavishly ‘dressed’ with temporary architectural decoration, somewhat like a theatre set.
During their long exile, the Stuart dynasty commissioned a steady stream of portraits and subject pictures as propaganda for the Jacobite cause. The Portrait Gallery has an extensive collection of images of the deposed King James VII and II and of his son Prince James and grandson Prince Charles Edward (‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’), many of them of high quality by the leading artists of the day. This picture occupies a special place among this wealth of material. It is large, colourful and celebratory but the apparently joyful mood here belies some harsh political truths. In reality, the painting captures a moment when the Jacobite ambition of re-establishing a Stuart monarchy in Great Britain was effectively at an end.
After their disastrous defeat at Culloden in 1746, the Stuarts were left politically isolated and vulnerable. In Rome, Prince James, the Old Pretender, finally acceded to the desire of his younger son Henry to become a Cardinal, immediately guaranteeing not just a degree of status but also much-needed financial security for the family. But for Henry’s older brother, Charles Edward, this pragmatic move was a catastrophe. By linking the Stuarts so closely to the papacy, it was clear that any hope of reviving Jacobite sympathy back in Britain was now fatally undermined. Charles Edward refused to return to Rome and never saw his father again.
Our picture was commissioned to celebrate Henry’s appointment as Cardinal in 1747. In the foreground, James, wearing the bright blue Order of the Garter, stands with his court outside his residence, the Palazzo del Re, to greet his son, shown in a cardinal’s costume of black coat and scarlet stockings. A recent papal regulation required that new cardinals should decorate their home with a false façade and provide a fete for the local populace. In the background, the palace is dressed with temporary architectural decoration to create an elaborate backdrop for the celebrations, with the arms of the English monarchy and the papacy prominently on display on top of the palace. The foreground is filled with incident to evoke a festive if somewhat unruly mood among the onlookers. Alongside the fashionable courtiers here are parading soldiers, beggars scrambling for coins and even some figures fighting. Elsewhere, musicians are preparing to play while food for a banquet is carried into the palace.
Until comparatively recently, the identity of the maker of this work was uncertain and it carried a traditional attribution to Giovanni Panini, the great Italian painter of topographical views. After it was acquired in 2001, an examination in the Gallery’s conservation studios indicated that more than one artist was involved in painting the figures as well as the background, and it now appears to be the work of three minor artists. It is nonetheless a fascinating document in which pomp and theatricality, colour and noise, mask the poignant significance of the event for a dynasty now destined to remain permanently in exile.
This text was originally published in 100 Masterpieces: National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2015.
Bonnie Prince Charlie and Toad – What do they have in common?
It is a surprising thing to say but Bonnie Prince Charlie and Kenneth Graham’s character Toad, (Wind in the Willows, 1908) have much in common. Both were good-natured, kind-hearted and not without intelligence but they were also spoiled, reckless and obsessive. Although one is a character of fiction and the other of history and legend they both escaped the forces of law enforcement dressed as a woman – a washerwoman in Toad’s case, and the Bonnie Prince as an Irish seamstress, Betty Burke. Both left a trail of destruction behind them but of course the Bonnie Prince’s was real.
Copy of the Declaration of Miss MacDonald, Apple Cross Bay, July 12th 1746
Miss Mc. Donald, Daughter in Law of Mc. Donald of Milton in Sky, [Skye] being, by General Campbell’s order, made Prisoner for assisting the eldest son [Bonnie Prince Charlie] of the Pretender in his escape from South Uist, & asked to declare the Circumstances thereof, says, That about six weeks ago, she left her Father in Law’s house at Armadach [Armadale] in Sky, & went South to see some friends.
Being asked, if she had any Invitation from those who persuaded her to do what she afterwards ingaged [engaged] in for the young Pretender or any Body else, before she left Sky; answered in the Negative, and says that at the time of her leaving Sky, she did know where the young Pretender was, but only heard He was Some where on the long Island: that she stay’d at (what they call) a Sheilling [small hut or cottage] of her brother’s, on the hills, near Ormaclait [Ormacleit] the house of Clan Ronald; and that, about the 21of June, O Neil, or as they call him Nelson, came to where she stay’d, & proposed to her, that as he heard she was going to Sky, that the young Pretender should go with her.
With her in Woman’s cloathes [clothes], as her servant which she agreed to. O Neil then went and fetched the young Pretender who was on the Hills not far off, when they settled the manner of their going.
Miss MacDonald says, that after this she went & stay’d with Lady Clan Ranold [Ronald], at her House, three days, communicated the scheme to her, & desired that she would furnish cloathes for the young Pretender, as her own would be too little. During Miss MacDonald’s stay at Ormaclait, O Neil came frequently from the young Pretender to Clan Ronald’s House to inform her where he was, what stepps had been taken for their voiage [voyage], and at the same time to hasten her to get her affairs in Readiness for going off.
Miss Mac Donald says, that the 27th past, she, Lady Clan Ronald, her eldest Daughter, & one John MacLean, who had by Lady Clan Ronald’s order, acted as Cook to the Pretender, during his stay on the Hills, went to a place called Whea where they expected to meet the young Pretender; but not finding him there, they went on to a Placed called Roychenish, where they found him, taking with them the women’s Apparel furnished by Lady Clan Ronald, he was dressed in. Here they heard of General Campbell’s being come to South Uist, & that Captain Fergussone was within a mile of them. When they got this Information, they were just going to Supper. But then went of very precipitately, & sat up all night at a Sheilling call’d Closchinisch.
Saturday, June 25th: the Cutter and Wherrier, which attended General Campbell having got from Bernera [Berneray], near the Harris, through the last side of the long island, & passing not far from them, put them again into great Fears, least anybody should land there. However, they continued there ’till about 9 at Night, when the Young Pretender, Miss Mac Donald, one MacAchran, with five men for the Boat’s crew, imbarked [embarked] & put to sea, Lady Clan Ronald having provided Provisions for the voyage.
The 29 about 11 in the Morning they got to Sky near Sir Alexander MacDonald’s House. Here Miss Mac Donald and Mac Achran landed, leaving the young Pretender in the Boat, they went to Sir Alexander Mac Donald’s House; and from thence Miss MacDonald sent for one Donald Mac Donald, who had been in the Rebellion, but had delivered up his arms some time ago. She imployed this Person to procure [get] a Boat to carry the young Pretender to Rasay, after acquainting him with their late voyage & where she had left the young Pretender . Miss Mac Donald stay’d & dined with Lady Margaret Mac Donald, but Mac Donald & Mac Achran returned to the Boat, to inform what was done.
Miss Mac Donald being asked why Rasay was pitched upon for the young Pretender to retreat to, she answered that it was in hopes of meeting Rasay himself, with whom he was to consult for his future security.
After dinner, Miss Mac Donald set out for Portree it being resolved that they should lodge there that Night; but on the Road overtook the young Pretender & Mac Anchran of Kingsbury. She told them she must call at Kingsbury’s House, & desired they would go there also. Here, Miss Mac Donald was taken sick, & therefore with the other two, was desired to stay all night, which they agreed to. She had a Room to herself; But the young Pretender & Mac Achran lay in the same Room. At this time he appeared in women’s Cloathes, his Face being partly concealed by a Hood or Cloak.
Being asked, if while they were at Kingsbury’s House, any of the Family inquired who the disguised Person was; answers, that they did not ask; but that she observed the People of the Family whispering as if they suspected him to be some Person that desired not to be known and from the Servants she found they suspected him to be Mac Leod of Bernera, who had been in Rebellion. But, being pressed to declare what she knew or believed of Kingsbury’s knowledge of his Guest, owns, that she believes, he must suspect it was the young Pretender.
The 30th of June, Miss Mac Donald set out on Horseback from Kingsbury’s House for Portree, having first desired the young Pretender might put on his own cloathes somewhere on the Road to Portree, as she had observed that the other dress rather made him more suspected. Miss got to Portree about 12: at night, where she found Donald Mac Donald, who had been sent before to procure a Boat then The young Pretender & Mac Ancran arrived about an Hour after. Here he took some Refreshment, changed a Guinea [twenty-one shillings], paid the Reckoning [bill], took his Leave of Miss Mac Donald & went out with Donald Mac Donald, but who, after seeing him to the Boat returned. She believes he went to Rasay [Raasay, an island between the Isle of Skye and the mainland of Scotland], but cannot tell what is become of him since.
Source: The National Archives
The retribution that followed the defeat of the Jacobite Army at Culloden in 1746 has passed into legend for its brutality and savagery and has formed the backdrop to many classic stories including Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped and more recently Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series of novels.
Today, we are so accustomed to the picture of the suppression of the Highlands by the British Army painted in these novels that we are hardly surprised by it. However, when I looked at the records in the Scottish National Archive for this article I found the pastiche of brutality in the films and TV shows suddenly and shapely transformed from fiction to fact and the true horror of what took place became fresh and alive once more.
I have chosen some examples from the records of the Fraser Clan to illustrate what happened as there is currently so much interest in it due to the success of the Starz Outlander TV series.
I am sure that if I had been alive at that time I would not have been a Jacobite. But that does not mean I condone what took place in 1746. Neither, I’m glad to say did some of the people involved in it at the time as these accounts of the death of Charles Fraser, the Younger of Inverallochy show. The most basic record reads;
“Aged 20 years. Killed at Culloden on 17 April 1746. While lying grievously wounded on Culloden battlefield was shot in cold blood at the order of Cumberland or General Hawley. The future General Wolfe had previously refused to act as executioner. In the Muster Roll, there is a suggestion (false) that he was not killed but escaped to Sweden.”
In A Short but Genuine Account of Prince Charlie’s Wanderings from Culloden to his meeting with Miss Flora MacDonald, by Edward Bourk the story is further elaborated.
‘But soon after, the enemy appearing behind us, about four thousand of our men were with difficulty got together and advanced, and the rest awakened by the noise of canon, which surely put them into confusion. After engaging briskly there came up between six and seven hundred Frazers commanded by Colonel Charles Frazer, younger, of Inverallachie, who were attacked before they could form a line of battle, and had the misfortune of having their Colonel wounded, who next day was murdered in cold blood, the fate of many others’. (folio 327).
In Lyon in Mourning, Vol. III a collection of stories, speeches, and reports by Robert Forbes the following version taken from Bourk in person in 1747 expands the previous versions.
‘The Duke himself (Cumberland) rode over the field and happened to observe a wounded Highlander, a mere youth, resting on his elbow to gaze at him. He turned to one of his staff and ordered him to “shoot that insolent scoundrel.’ The officer, Colonel Wolfe (later General) flatly refused, declaring that his commission was at the service of His Royal Highness, but he would never consent to become an executioner. The other officers of his suite, to their credit, followed the noble example of the future Hero of Louisburg and Quebec, but Cumberland, not to be baulked of his prey, ordered a common soldier to do the odious work, which he did without demur. The young victim was Charles Fraser, younger of Inverallochy, an officer in Lord Lovat’s Regiment.’
The story of Ensign, Alexander Fraser prisoner 950 and his comrades from Lord Lovat’s Regiment is no less disturbing. He was shot through the thigh or (knee) at Culloden and ‘carried off in the heat of the action to a park wall pointing towards the house of Culloden.
‘‘A short time after the battle he and 18 other wounded officers who had made their escape to a small plantation of wood near to where Fraser was lying. He was taken prisoner and carried with the others to Culloden House, where he lay for two days without his wounds being dressed.’ ‘On 19 April 1746, Fraser along with 18 other prisoners that were held in Culloden House were put in carts to be taken, so they thought, to Inverness to have their wounds treated. The carts stopped at a park dyke some distance from Culloden House. The whole of them were taken out and placed against a dyke. The soldiers immediately drew up opposite them. They levelled their guns and fired among them. Fraser fell with the rest. ‘
‘The soldiers were ordered by their officers to go among the dead and ‘knock out the brains’ of such that were not quite dead. Observing signs of life in John Fraser one of the soldiers, using his gun butt, struck on the face dashed out one of his eyes, beat down his nose flat and shattered his cheek and left him for dead.’ ‘Lord Boyd riding out with his servant espied some life in Fraser as he had crawled away from the dead. Lord Boyd asked him who he was. Fraser told him he was an officer in the Master of Lovat’s corps. He was offered money but Fraser said he had no use for it and asked to be carried to a certain cottar house where he said he would be concealed and taken care of. Lord Boyd did as asked. Fraser was put in a corn kiln where he remained for three months. He was able to walk with the aid of crutches’.
The Duke of Cumberland’s callousness and willingness to engage in what we would call war crimes today won him the soubriquet ‘the butcher.’
The Scottish History Society has published, in three well-documented volumes, “Prisoners of the ’45”, a list of 3,470 people known to have been taken into custody after Culloden. The list includes men, women and children combatants and supporters alike. It was decided by the Privy Council in London that the prisoners should be tried in England and not Scotland which was a breach of the Treaty of Union and on 10th June, the prisoners held at Inverness were loaded onto seven leaky ships named Margaret & Mary , Thane of Fife, Jane of Leith, Jane of Alloway, Dolphin, and the Alexander & James and transported to England. They eventually landed at Tilbury Fort or were kept in prison ships on the Thames. Accounts show that the prisoners held at Tilbury were selected for trial on the basis ‘lotting.’ This was a process in which 19 white slips and 1 black slip of paper where placed in a hat and the prisoners were invited to draw lots to see who would go before the Commission.
Records show that one hundred and twenty prisoners were executed: four of them, peers of the realm, were executed on Tower Hill including the 80-year-old Lord Lovat, who was the last person to be beheaded in public in England, beheading being a privilege of their rank.
The others such as Francis Townley, Esquire, Colonel of the Manchester regiment who suffered the barbaric ritual of hanging, drawing, and quartering after his claim to be a French Officer was rejected by the court on the evidence of Samuel Maddock, an ensign in the same regiment, who, to save his own life, turned king’s evidence against his former comrades.
Of the remainder 936 were transported to the colonies, to be sold to the highest bidder: 222 were banished, being allowed to choose their country of exile: 1,287 were released or exchanged: others died, escaped, or were pardoned and there were nearly 700 whose fates could not be traced.
After the defeat of the Jacobite army, the British government started the systematic dismantling of the ancient social and military culture of the Highland clans. The wearing of Highland garb, particularly tartan plaid, was banned, and the semi-feudal bond of military service to the Clan chief was removed. But despite the widespread and systematic oppression, it was the peace between Great Britain and France in 1748 that finally finished off the 1745 rebellion. Without the hope of French money and support the Stuart cause was lost.
This did not stop the reckless Bonnie Prince from trying again. It seems that he turned up in London in 1750, probably in disguise once more as he was what we might call, ‘Britain’s Most Wanted’ at the time and tried to drum up support for another rising. Luckily, this madcap scheme to kidnap or kill King George II in St. James’s Palace on 10 November 1752 petered out through lack of support and money. But the British Government kept their eye on the conspirators through a spy in the Princes’s camp known only by his nom de guerre of “Pickle”, who kept his employers informed of every Jacobite movement that came to his notice for years.
Bonnie Prince Charlie and Toad Escape Dressed as Women
The Jacobite movement started when the Stuart King, James II was deposed in 1688.
Parliament, not wanting a Roman Catholic king gave the throne of Great Britain and Ireland to his daughter Mary II and her husband and first cousin William of Orange.
King James and his family left England and went into exile. The Stuarts were not without their supporters, however. There were people who thought that Parliament had no business interfering with the natural line of succession. These people became known as Jacobites – the supporters of James.
Jacobite support was strongest in parts of the Scottish Highlands, lowland northeast Scotland, Ireland, and parts of northern England. In England, support for James came mostly from Northumberland and Lancashire. James also had some supporters in Wales and southwest England.
To be a Jacobite supporter was a very dangerous game. The stakes were high. If you were discovered you would be guilty of treason, and the death penalty would undoubtedly await you. Expressing allegiance, therefore, had to be done covertly through secret rituals, secret symbols, and secret messages.
The Jacobites had many secret symbols, including the sunflower to symbolise loyalty, as a sunflower always follows the sun and moths or butterflies whose emergence from a chrysalis symbolised the hope for the return to power of the Stuart family. The Merovingian bee was adopted by the exiled Stuarts in Europe, and engraved bees are still to be seen on some Jacobite glassware.
The Jacobite White Cockade
In the years leading up to the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 Jacobites were forced to meet and plot in secret, and the white rose or white cockade (a flower made from ribbon, often worn on a hat) was a way of identifying those who supported the cause.The emblem of the Jacobites was the White Cockade.
All 69 Scottish Nationalist Party members of parliament wore white roses in their lapels at the swearing-in ceremony of the Scottish parliament a few years back. When asked about the significance of the Nationalists wearing of the white rose Scotland’s First Minister at the time, Alex Salmond, denied that the flower was a reference to the Jacobites. Instead, he cited the poem “The Little White Rose”, written by the Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, and claimed the rose stood for “all of Scotland”. MacDiarmid (1892-1978) was a committed Nationalist. In 1928 he helped found the National Party of Scotland, the forerunner of today’s Scottish National Party.
Rosa x alba grows all over Scotland. It is a bushy shrub-like rose with dark, grey-green foliage and a small five-petalled flower, similar to a dog rose, which can be white or pale pink. They only flower in spring and have a beautiful scent with notes of citrus. The plants are hardy, thrive in poor soil, can tolerate shade and drought and are for the most part resistant to disease.
The origins of the rose as a symbol are somewhat lost in myth and legend. It is said that one of the earliest references refers to the birth of James Francis Edward Stuart, son of the deposed King James II, who was born on 10th June in 1688, said to be “the longest day of the year in which the white rose flowers”. Another legend tells how Bonnie Prince Charlie plucked a white rose from the roadside and stuck it in his hat as he made his way south from Glenfinnan to start the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745.
English, Irish and Welsh Jacobites
Jacobitism was attractive to members of the English aristocracy who had chosen to remain Catholic after the Reformation.
About 2-3% of the English population remained Catholics at the time of the Glorious Revolution in 1688. The highest concentration of Catholics was in the north of England.
The movement also found support in the Catholic populations of Ireland and rural Wales because they hoped the return of a Stuart king would end their exclusion from many aspects of civic and political life under the Recusancy Acts.
In Ireland, James was supported for his 1687 Declaration of Indulgence or, as it is also known, The Declaration for the Liberty of Conscience. This declaration promised an Irish Parliament.
Catholic country gentry tended were James most ideologically committed supporters. Drawing on almost two centuries of suffering as a religious minority persecuted by the state they rallied enthusiastically to the Jacobite cause.
Highland clans such as the MacDonnels and MacDonalds of Clanranald, Keppoch, Glengarry and Glencoe; the Clan Chisolm, and the clan Ogilvy were largely still Catholic. Other clans, such as the powerful Camerons, were Episcopalian, and as staunch in their Jacobitism as their allies the Catholic MacDonalds.
Scottish Episcopalians provided over half of the Jacobite forces in Britain. As Protestants, they could take part in Scottish politics, but as a religious minority, they were repeatedly discriminated against in legislation which favoured the established Presbyterian Church of Scotland. About half the Episcopalians supporting the Jacobite cause came from the Lowlands, but this was obscured in the risings by their tendency to wear the Highland dress.
In the Gaelic-speaking Scottish Highland clans, Jacobites were known as Seumasaich. The clan chiefs ran their own private armies and there was often conflict between them. This conflict was more about political power and money than religion as most were Catholic.
A significant source of friction was the territorial ambitions of the Presbyterian Campbells of Argyll. Another was James VII’s sympathetic treatment of the Highland clans. Monarchs since the late 16th century had been antagonistic to the Gaelic-Highland way of life but James had worked sympathetically with the clan chieftains. He had put in place the Commission for Pacifying the Highlands but that had now been abandoned. Some Highland chieftains, therefore, viewed Jacobitism as a means of resisting hostile government interference in their territories. These private armies would go onto provide the bulk of Jacobite manpower in both the 1715 and 1745 rebellions.
Although most support for the Stuart cause came from Tories there were some notable Whig exceptions most notably the Earl of Mar. Most sympathetic Whigs were merely keeping their options open in case the Stuarts returned.
Jacobites were definitively romantic. They were the underdogs in the battle with the British state. They fought heroically for their rights and their country. They were brave and dashing in their Highland garb but they weren’t what would pass as the good guys today. They were distinctly unenlightened and un-democratic.
They believed in:
• the divine right of kings and the accountability of Kings to God alone;
• inalienable hereditary right; and the unequivocal scriptural injunction of non-resistance and passive obedience to the crown.
Scotland, A Concise History, Fitzroy Maclean, Thames and Hudson
Bonnie Prince Charlie, Fitzroy Maclean, Canongate Books Ltd.
The Jacobites, Britain and Europe 1688–1788, Daniel Szechi, Manchester University
The Myths of the Jacobite Clans, Murray G. H. Pittock, Edinburgh University Press
Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.42 Also available on:
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Defoe is known today for his contribution to English literature with works such as Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders and Roxanne but there was far more to him than a mere penner of novels.
Defoe was a talented and versatile writer who used his writing skills to influence not only the world of fiction but the history of Britain too. His portrait gives us some clues to the man’s character. He was clearly a handsome man, perhaps even charming. We can see in his long lean face a man a man who was ambitious, shrewd, and intelligent but underneath his respectable persona history tells us that he was not always honest. In his writing, he was prolific, controversial, entertaining and, under duress politically adroit using his skills of persuasion save not only his own life and but change the course of British history.
Born in 1660 Defoe lived through some of the most tumultuous events in British history: The Great Plague of London 1665 and The Great Fire that followed it a year later when his father’s shop was one of two houses left standing in their neighbourhood. His father, James Foe, was a prosperous tallow chandler and a member of the Worshipful Company of Butchers. His mother died young and the young Foe was sent to be educated first in Surrey then at 14 he attended a school in Newington Green, London. His education was Presbyterian and as a dissenter, he and his family were always in danger of government persecution.
After school, Defoe entered the world of business as a general merchant, dealing at different times in hosiery, general woollen goods, and wine. His ambitions were great and he was able to buy a country estate and a ship as well as civets to make perfume, though he was rarely out of debt. In 1684, he married Mary Tuffley, the daughter of a London merchant, receiving a dowry of £3,700 – a huge amount by the standards of the day.
In 1685, he abandoned his new wife and joined the ill-fated Monmouth Rebellion supporting James Scot the Duke of Monmouth and the illegitimate son of Charles II in his attempt to usurp his uncle, the Catholic king, James II. He was lucky and somehow; probably by turning King’s evidence; gained a pardon when the rebellion was quashed escaping the Bloody Assizes of Judge Jeffreys.
However, he was not so lucky in business. In 1692, Defoe was arrested for debts of £700 though his total debts may have amounted to £17,000. Again with a bit of luck and persuasion, he got out of prison and disappeared to Europe and Scotland, trading in wine. By 1695, he was back in England, now formally using the name “Defoe” and serving as a “commissioner of the glass duty” responsible for collecting taxes on bottles. In 1696, he ran a tile and brick factory in what is now Tilbury in Essex and lived in the parish of Chadwell St Mary.
Defoe’s first notable publication was An Essay upon Projects, a series of proposals for social and economic improvement, published in 1697. From 1697 to 1698, he defended the protestant, Dutch-born King William III with his writing particularly with the publication of his poem, The True-Born Englishman in1701, in which he ridiculed English xenophobia.
However, William’s death a year later and the ascent of conformist Anne made Defoe a natural target for the English authorities. However, that did not stop Defoe. In December 1702 he published a pamphlet entitled, The Shortest-Way with the Dissenters; Or, Proposals for the Establishment of the Church, purporting to argue for the extermination of anyone not adhering to the faith of the Church of England. The pamphlet was satirical but unfortunately, like many satires, it was not widely understood. Defoe was charged and found guilty of seditious libel at the Old Bailey where the notoriously sadistic judge, Salathiel Lovell, sentenced him to 3 days in the pillory and a fine of 200 marks.
The price of his release was high. In prison he wrote to William Paterson, the London Scot who founded the Bank of England and part instigator of the infamous Darien scheme that bankrupted Scotland, asking for a loan. Paterson spotted an opportunity and in turn approached the Speaker of the Commons and Queen Anne’s confidant, Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford. Harley was not only Speaker of the Commons but Queen Anne’s spymaster and political fixer. Harley was persuaded to employ Defoe to influence the Scots to accept the Act of Union. With little prospect of ever raising the 200 marks and facing a lifetime in gaol Defoe agreed and started his new life as a spy and political journalist.
Defoe immediately published a magazine called, The Review, which appeared weekly, then three times a week, written mostly by himself. The Review was the main mouthpiece of the English Government promoting the Act of Union 1707.
Defoe began his Review campaign persuading the English that the Union was a good idea saying that it would remove the hostile threat from the north and provide an “inexhaustible treasury of men”, and a valuable new market increasing the power of England. With the campaign in England underway, Harley ordered Defoe to Edinburgh in 1706 charging him to work undercover and to do everything possible to secure Scottish acquiescence to the Treaty of Union.
Defoe’s first reports to Harvey included vivid descriptions of violent demonstrations against the Union. “A Scots rabble is the worst of its kind”, he reported. Years later John Clerk of Penicuik, a leading Unionist, wrote in his memoirs that, “He [Defoe] was a spy among us, but not known as such, otherwise the Mob of Edinburgh would pull him to pieces.”
Defoe used his Presbyterian family history to gain the trust of the adviser to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and committees of the Parliament of Scotland. He told Harley that he was “privy to all their folly” but “perfectly unsuspected as with corresponding with anybody in England”. He used this deceit to influence the proposals that were put to Parliament in Harley’s favour.
He used all his persuasive skills to help the English Government hoodwink the Scottish Parliament into believing that they would have full sovereignty over their realm; he wrote articles supporting the Union passing himself off as Scottish. He even wrote pamphlets in Scots to make them look authentic. With his master’s work done and the Act of Union railroaded through the Scottish Parliament Defoe sealed the deceit with a massive history of the Union in 1709. With his liberty restored but considerably out of pocket he used of his Scottish experience to write his Tour thro’ the whole Island of Great Britain, published in 1726, where he admitted that the increase of trade and population in Scotland which he had predicted as a consequence of the Union was “not the case, but rather the contrary”.
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