HISTORICAL time travel drama Outlander returns to screens tomorrow for a sixth season. The series, based on Diana Gabaldon’s novels, follows an English Second World war nurse initially thrown back in time to the Jacobite Rising of 1745 before later settling in America and playing a role in the War of Independence, but how accurate is its depiction of the famous ’45?

The Rising, the rebellion aimed at restoring the Stuart dynasty to the thrones of Great Britain and Ireland, began on August 19 that year, when Charles Edward Stuart (played by Andrew Gower in the series) – son of the Jacobite heir James Francis Edward Stuart – raised his standard at Glenfinnan. But in Outlander, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the war was already beginning in 1743 – the year that Caitriona Balfe’s character, Claire Fraser, travels to from 1945.

The show’s first season depicts a low-level guerrilla warfare between Highlanders and government troops, with each side raiding and ambushing the other. While there were attacks on government troops and officials in the 30 years between the most famous Jacobite Risings of 1715 and 1745, the most significant of these were not even in the Highlands.

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Dutch troops attacked in Edinburgh in 1716, there was a rising in Galloway in 1724-25, the Shawfield Riots in Glasgow in 1725, the Porteous Riot in Edinburgh in 1736. There was opposition to the Union and its government, though not necessarily Jacobite opposition, nor, as depicted in Outlander, open warfare in the north before 1745.

When the show moves on to the events of the Rising itself, in late season two, the Jacobite army is depicted as almost entirely made up of Catholic Scots, mostly Highlanders, with some Irish and French support.

In contrast, the British Army is depicted as almost entirely English and Protestant. In reality, the Highlands were largely Episcopalian in this period, only 12 of the 50 main Highland clans were Catholic. Instead, the Jacobite forces contained a great number of Presbyterians and Episcopalians.

Donald Cameron of Lochiel had three chaplains in his regiment: one Catholic, one Episcopalian and one Presbyterian, indicating the range of faiths even amongst the Highlanders.

Of the Jacobite prisoners held at Carlisle in the winter of 1745-46

whose religion was recorded, fewer than one in 10 was Catholic, while more than two-thirds were Presbyterian, and about one-fifth Episcopalian. In fact, the Episcopalian Church in Scotland was seen by the government to have played such an important role in the rising that it was the target of severe reprisals after Charles Stuart was defeated.

Even the Jacobite commanders included some Protestants, such as Lieutenant-general Lord George Murray (Julian Wadham) and David Wemyss, Lord Elcho, who commanded Charles Stuart’s cavalry escort. Both men were Lowlanders, not Highlanders. Around half the Jacobite army was from the north-east, particularly Aberdeenshire and Angus, not the Highlands. At the Battle of Culloden in 1746, about one-third of the Charles Stuart’s forces was made up of Lowland Scots, English, Irish, or French.

Catholics were banned from joining the British Army at this time, so, apart from some who may have kept their faith to themselves, the government forces fighting the Jacobites would have been largely Protestant, but they were not solely English.

The government army at Culloden included four Scottish regiments, one of which was from the Highlands, as well as one Irish unit. Yet it is only after the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden that Outlander shows Scots in the British Army or acknowledges their role in fighting the Rising. Although the proportion of Scottish soldiers rose in the decades after 1745, there were many serving in the military before that date as well.

The leader of the Rising, Charles Edward Stuart, or Bonnie Prince Charlie, is presented as an effete and incompetent drunk. He was in fact a capable strategic leader, effective at organising a campaign, but not individual battles.

He managed to persuade reluctant clan chiefs in the north to back the Rising, even though he had lost most of his troops and supplies on the journey from France. He also successfully evaded the government army that was sent to catch him in the eastern Highlands, managing to outmanoeuvre them and move into the Lowlands to take Perth and then Edinburgh.

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It was only with his march into England that his flaws began to overshadow his strong qualities. His arrogance, insecurity and false assurances that he had been promised support by English Jacobites would be the downfall of his campaign, leading to his commanders forcing him to retreat back to Scotland. He did later become an alcoholic, but this was after his failed rebellion.

In its depiction of the aftermath of Culloden, Outlander is more accurate. The government response to the Rising was harsh. The Duke of Cumberland, the youngest son of George II, who led the loyalist army at Culloden, declared that he would “bruise those bad seeds spread about this country so as they may never shoot again”.

The only Jacobites to be offered formal prisoner-of-war status in the aftermath of the Rising were French troops or those who could prove they had been born in France. The rest were treated as criminals instead. Many Jacobite prisoners were executed, lands were confiscated, the clan system was undermined, Highland dress was heavily restricted and the Episcopal Church in Scotland was persecuted.

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One force dispatched to Aberdeen boasted of burning two Catholic and five Episcopalian meeting-houses, and two libraries of Catholic and Jacobite books on the way there.

The depiction of the ’45 Outlander offers is very traditional. It shows a Catholic Highlander Jacobite army led by an ineffectual and weak Charles Edward Stuart, facing an almost entirely English army. But historians now know that each side was much more diverse than this, and Charles Stuart, though flawed, was a more nuanced person.

The real history is much more complex than the simple Highland vs Lowland, Scots vs English, and Catholic vs Protestant story that Outlander and so many other depictions of 1745 suggest.

Part two will be in Monday’s paper