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Quashing the Myths
on 8 January 2010
Murray Pittock has produced a fine study which challenges commonly accepted views of the Jacobite clans and the part they played in British history. The author has drawn on a vast array of sources- both primary and secondary- to discuss the motivations behind 'revisionist' historians whose writings have come to dominate understanding of the Jacobite clans, especially those who partook in the most famous of all the risings, the '45.
Pittock argues competently that Whig history which dominated this period was the main factor behind this marginalisation of the Highland clans with the intention of playing down the Jacobites' threat and significance to a supposedly settled, civilised and victorious society. On the flip side of this the author shrewdly points out that those who seek to romanticise the Highland Jacobites as a nationalist, heroic group drawn out purely by unswerving loyalty to the House of Stuart increase the construed view of an ancient society fighting for it's existence on the peripheries of this island against civilised Great Britain.
Pittock appears to share the view of the renowned and respected 18th century warfare authority, Jeremy Black, that the rising of 1745/46 was 'the most serious military threat faced by the country in that century,' which is contrary to the accepted view that catholic France along with Spain were the most potent threat at this time. Far from being a small scale, localised uprising of a few ill-trained, savage Highlanders, Pittock demonstrates that the Jacobites had in fact enjoyed widespread support both in Scotland and also from abroad by utilising evidence available from sources such as local parish records and official government documentation.
Pittock carefully examines the numbers who rose in support of Charles Stuart and the areas where these adherents were in fact drawn from and his discoveries go a long way to quashing the myth that the Jacobite army of the '45 was an overwhelmingly Highland army with little support from the Scottish Lowlands. The author has undertaken a thorough investigation of parish records, taking into consideration the number of potential recruits available and this reveals that a surprising number of men outside the Highlands rose for the Jacobites which gives the army more of a 'nationwide' aspect than many give it credit for. Similarly, Mar's army of the '15 is assessed with the same result although the author admits that Dundee's army of the first rising was very much a Highland host. The author highlights the fact that historians generally portray Montrose's royalist army of the civil wars as having fought against overwhelming numbers in the Convenanting armies yet the Jacobite armies compare more favourably with the latter for numbers, especially so in the '15. These are not revelations, most historians on the era are well aware of the numbers who rose under Mar and the existence of a second Jacobite army in Scotland during the invasion (by 5-6000 men) of England in 1745, yet history has saddled Jacobitism with being deeply unpopular in Scotland through their work. Pittock is one of very few historians who has looked at the subject in a wider context without overlooking bare facts.
The author is clearly a gifted writer- the narrative is cool, level-headed yet incisive and his arguments are put forward with ample evidence and force. The style of writing may be a negative to some as the language used is fairly complex throughout and one new to the subject may be at a severe disadvantage tackling this book as their first on Jacobitism. On the positive, if one new to the subject felt up to tackling this piece as their introduction to the subject, they would have a huge advantage in future study in that they would be aware of the pitfalls which appear in many books on the subject and they would approach them conscious of the fact that biased and inaccurate accounts of this period are commonplace, be they sceptical pro-Hanoverian texts or romantised pro-Jacobite works. This book certainly gives a clearer idea of the men who fought for the Stuarts, their reasons for doing so and also the composition of these forces, clearing the mists over an army 'much written about but little understood.'