OF all the Jacobite Risings, the one which could and perhaps should have succeeded is that of 1715.

There are several reasons for saying so, one of which is still debated to this day – just how much against the Union were the Jacobites? What would Jacobite victory in, say 1715 or 1745, have brought for Scotland? The answer, especially in the case of the former year, is almost certainly the return of Scottish independence.

As we saw last week, the Act of Union in 1707 was deeply unpopular across Scotland, and James Francis Edward Stuart, recognised as King James VIII and III by France and the Papacy among others, had hoped to take advantage of this wave of popular resentment with his abortive invasion and rising in 1708.

The ill feeling of the Scottish people towards the Union only deepened as unpopular taxes were imposed by Westminster – sounds familiar ... did Margaret Thatcher and crew know the history when they drafted the Poll Tax bill?

The period from 1708 to 1715 was one of disastrous error after error as the competing political factions in Westminster fought with each other to see who could most damage to their far-from-precious Union. They did not mean to do so, but the Whigs who formed the first post-Union Government of Queen Anne lost no time in antagonising the Scots, even those who had been paid to promote the Union as part of the ‘parcel of rogues’ so memorably described by Robert Burns.

When the Tories thumped the Whigs in the 1710 General Election it appeared that the Jacobite cause would triumph, and it is reported that unofficial approaches were made by them to James Stuart in exile in France offering him the Crown on terms. Their demand was that he embrace Protestantism but James refused and that plot, which may or may not have embraced the great military commander the Duke of Marlborough, fizzled out.

The Tories also misunderstood the religious sensitivities in Scotland with such dire measures as the Patronage Act of 1711 which was viewed as being anti-Presbyterian – despite the status of the national church having been confirmed in the Act of Union. It gave the nobility and landowners back the right to nominate ministers for churches of which they were patrons – a move that would split the Kirk for decades and which made many Presbyterians question the Union. The Episcopalians and the small Catholic population with their long-term loyalty to the House of Stuart were already doing so.

In 1713, with the War of the Spanish Succession brought to an end by the Peace of Utrecht, the government sought to impose England’s malt tax – specifically brought into pay for the war – on Scotland. In the Act of Union the malt tax was exempt from the general harmonisation of taxes – ‘That any Malt to be made and consumed in that Part of the united Kingdom now called Scotland, shall not be charged with any Imposition on Malt during this War’ – as it states.

Scottish politicians knew how unpopular the malt tax was and in April, 1713, not even six years after the Act took effect, the first attempt to dissolve the Union began.

The tax on Scotland – effectively making Scots pay for a war started by England – was voted through by the House of Commons, but by then Scottish MPs and peers were working on an alternative plan summed up in this letter by Lord Balmerino: “All our consultations will be but silly stuff except they would unanimously take the resolution which every man severally says he wishes – to bring in a bill for dissolution of the Union.”

A compromise might have worked, but Queen Anne rebuffed them. The only option was to take the fight for dissolution to Parliament.

On June 1, 1713, Lord Seafield, a former commissioner for the Treaty of Union who had become entirely disillusioned with its consequences, proposed the Act of Union’s repeal in the House of Lords, stating how badly it had affected Scotland. With some English peers backing the Scots, the motion was lost by a mere four votes and the Union survived, but only just – not something you often read about in ‘British’ histories. One of those who voted for repeal was the chief of Clan Campbell, John, 2nd Duke of Argyll, the Queen’s Commander-in-Chief in Scotland, which shows the extent of dislike for the Union at that time. Argyll was a vastly experienced and respected general who had fought under Marlborough on the continent, and he would play a vital role in 1715.

Anne died on August 1, 1714, thus inadvertently fulfilling her hapless ancestor James V’s prophecy about the House of Stuart – “it cam wi’ a lass, it’ll gang wi’ a lass.” The Stuarts had ruled over Scotland and then the United Kingdom since 1371, and the end of the dynasty was viewed by many Scots as a tragedy.

When Queen Anne’s successor George I, Elector of Hanover, arrived in London seven weeks later to claim his throne, there was already considerable resentment against him because the Act of Union had imposed the Hanoverian succession upon Scotland – there would be no separate crowning at Scone for this King of Scots.

In a masterpiece of propaganda and timing, just as George was getting to know his new home, James Stuart, pictured, issued a proclamation that he would free Scots “from the hardships they groan under on account of the late unhappy Union, and to restore the Kingdom to its free and independent state.” There you have it in a nutshell – if the Jacobites fought and won, the Union would be over, even if James took the throne of the United Kingdom. The problem of James being a Roman Catholic would be resolved in due course. At least that was the theory of the Protestant Jacobites – by far the majority of them - at the time. All that mattered was to smash the Union and put James Stuart underneath the Scottish crown, and winning the throne of England and Ireland would be a bonus.

The National:

Meanwhile, the “wee German lairdie” duly set about upsetting some noble Scots by sacking Tory ministers and replacing them with Whigs. John Erskine, the Earl of Mar, was one of those kicked out by George, and in August 1715, the Earl withdrew north and despite having been a staunch supporter of the Union and having signed a pledge of loyalty to the new King – as had many clan chiefs – Mar raised the standard for King James VIII and III at Braemar on September 6, 1715. The rising was under way, and at first it seemed unstoppable in Scotland, even though similar but smaller risings had failed in the West Country in England – the first indication of what would come to bedevil the rising, namely lack of planning and poor coordination. There was also sheer bad luck – James’s great supporter Louis XIV died on August 21, 1715, and his successor Louis XV was just a boy of five and the regent, the Duc d’Orleans would not commit French troops or ships to the rising.

Yet in Scotland, at least, the rising attracted great support in the north east of the country though the call for James’s cause in the west of the highlands proved unattractive at first. After Aberdeen, Dundee and Inverness fell to Mar without a shot, the only major stronghold north of the Tay that was still in Hanoverian government hands was Fort William.

Perth was captured in late September but a lighting raid on Edinburgh Castle by a small detachment of Jacobites failed – reportedly there were enough arms and cash deposits in the Castle to equip half an army.

As it was, Mar now had thousands of troops under his command and James Stuart, who had no prior knowledge of the rising, made him his commander – but where was the ‘king’ himself? James was agitating with the French government to give him men and ships to no avail, but in Scotland and England, the rising was already well under way.

Against Mar stood only the troops under the Duke of Argyll’s command, and they were surely too few in number to stand against the Jacobites, even though reinforcements came from the Hanoverian garrison in Ireland.

The Jacobite lords of Northumberland had risen, and were supposed to meet up with a force heading south through the west coast of England. This consisted of English Jacobites and a force from the Scottish Borders and at first they, too, swept aside all resistance.

THEN came one of the great imponderables of Scottish history. The Earl of Mar was by nature a ditherer, inexperienced in command and reluctant to advance without having an overwhelming force.

While he waited on reinforcements from the clans and France – the latter never came – the Duke of Argyll gathered every available soldier and marched north to defend Stirling. Had Mar struck south and caught Argyll’s force in transit, all of Scotland would have fallen to the Jacobites.

Still Mar dithered until he moved his force slowly south on November 10, and that delay and slow movement gave Argyll the time to marshal his troops at Sheriffmuir, a plateau in Perthshire.

Argyll’s army was outnumbered two to one but he had experienced and battle-hardened troops under him, as well as a superior cavalry force. Mar’s Jacobites were inexperienced in mass pitched battles, and their commander was no strategist.

The tale of the Battle of Sheriffmuir on November 13, 1715, is simple – both right wings smashed through their opponents, the clans’ highland charge sending the government army into flight.

Crucially, they lost discipline and chased after the fleeing force and without those troops, Mar decided to hold his ground because Argyll’s right wing had beaten the Jacobite army’s left wing, albeit with heavy losses.

Mar may not have known that Argyll was down to around 1000 effective troops and that victory was his for the taking. Whatever the reason, Mar did not press home any further attack and though he claimed victory because there were slightly more dead Hanoverian soldiers than Jacobites, the strategic advantage had been lost and the Rising in Scotland had effectively been halted.

On the same day, the Jacobite thrust down into Lancashire was halted at Preston, where government troops surrounded the town and began to burn the Jacobites out of the houses they had camped in. The campaign ended early the following morning in ignominious surrender after huge numbers of troops arrived to reinforce the government positions.

In Scotland, though numbers had greatly dwindled as clansmen went home for the winter, Mar still had an army, but it had no leadership. James Stuart eventually donned disguise and made his way to Dunkirk from where he set sail.

He arrived at Peterhead from France in a single ship with no soldiers and no clear idea what he wanted to do. He was devoid of command skills and charisma, and was also sick. In short the leadership of James was disastrous.

While Argyll sat at Stirling and waited for reinforcements, James made a royal progress through the north, but with the government forces moving up from Stirling in massive numbers, it was clear that the Rising could not be sustained.

It officially ended when James left for France from Montrose on February 4, 1716. He never stepped foot in Scotland again, and it would be up to his as of then unborn son to try nearly 30 years later.