January 15th 1716
Earl of Mar, James 8th and the 1715 rebellionThe rebellion of 1715 started off with a large amount of popular support, especially in Scotland where the Union treaty of 1707 had proved exceedingly unpopular. All it needed to bring it to a successful conclusion was a good general in the field and a charismatic Jacobite king. Unfortunately neither was forthcoming.
The Earl of Mar, as leader of the rebellion, made his headquarters in Perth where he was received with a good deal of enthusiasm, (The enthusiasm was markedly less in 1745). He remained there for two months before he reluctantly marched out to fight the battle of Sheriffmuir. The result was inconclusive, but in spite of lower Jacobite casualties and greatly superior forces, Mar decided to leave the field in the control of the Government's forces under the Duke of Argyll.
The rebels returned to Perth and inevitably some of the men, especially the Highlanders, drifted away, pessimistic of Mar's ability to lead a rebellion. But there was still a substantial force ready to support his next move. It was a very cold December with heavy snowfalls but on December 22nd, the Chevalier, James 8th, landed at Peterhead where he was received with great enthusiasm. He made his way slowly to Perth where news of his impending arrival occasioned great joy.
One of Mar's more successful moves was in the field of propaganda. He procured from Aberdeen a printing press and the services of Robert Freebairn, who, though King George's Printer in Scotland, had come to Perth to superintend the printing of a large number of broadsheets and wildly optimistic reports. "while in and about London, the friends of King James had taken arms in such numbers that King George had been fain to retire out of the country." Not for the first time truth had been one of the first casualties of war.
When James reached Glamis, Mar sent on news of the King to Perth and a character sketch which no doubt encouraged the army and the people of Perth and which was faithfully reproduced by Robert Freebairn. "Without any complements to him, and to do him nothing but justice, set aside his being a Prince, he really is the finest gentleman I ever knew. He has a very good presence, he is affable to a great degree, without losing that majesty he ought to have, and has the sweetest temper in the world."
Others were less impressed. The Master of Sinclair "I must not conceal that when we saw the person we called our King, we found ourselves not at all animated by his presence, and if he was disappointed in us, we were tenfold more so in him." The Countess of Lauderdale was even more dismissive, "a tall lean black man, looks half dead already, very thin, long faced, and very ill-coloured and melancholy."
It was decided to crown James at Scone but before this could take place news arrived that Argyll had decided to march on Perth. It was news that once again threw Mar into an agony of indecision. In spite of the desires of his troops "I am persuaded that there is not a man in the troops I have the honour to be at the head of but had rather fight and be killed than turn his back and escape." In spite of the contempt for the Dutch levies who had recently joined up with Argyll, Mar decided to retreat northwards. It was a decision which horrified the people of Perth who had, in the main, given very tangible expressions of support to the Jacobite cause.
On Tuesday January 31st, the rebel army marched out of the town towards Dundee. James reacted characteristically. "Instead of bringing me a crown you have brought me to my grave," he said and burst into tears.
To the very last Mar deceived his supporters. Though the army made their way to Montrose where some French ships were riding at anchor outside the port, it was still maintained that the Chevalier would remain with his troops on their journey north. However, the army was sent on to Aberdeen and James, together with Mar and a few senior supporters, took ship from Montrose to France. It was an inglorious end to a hopelessly bungled revolt.
The Government in London showed a relaxed magnanimity towards many of the leaders, though there were a few executions. There was a general amnesty in favour of the common people who had been in the rebellion. This seems to have been observed in Perth with no examples of serious punishment befalling the Jacobites within the town.
To be truthful Perth did very well out of the whole episode. Much money flowed into the town during the occupation and there was no looting when the soldiers left. Pennant mentions the flourishing state of the town in 1769 as being partly due to "the long continuance of the Earl of Mar's army here which occasioned vast sums of money being spent in the place."
For the last time in its history, Perth experienced some of the perks of being the temporary capital of Scotland.