ACCORDING to the British histories of the period, there is virtually nothing written about the years between the Jacobite Risings of 1715 and 1745. It’s as if King James VIII and III, as he had been recognised by France and the Pope, went home and nothing happened until his son, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, landed in Scotland in 1745.

You certainly will read very little about the continuing threats to the Precious Union – you know, the one that was so robust that it came within four votes of being repealed in 1713. The 1715 Rising was explicitly stated by James Stuart to lead to the demise of the Union if he was successful in regaining his throne, and numerous historians have concluded over the years that the “end of the Union” was a tremendous rallying cry for the Jacobite cause.

King George I and his government, led by the Whig politician Sir Robert Walpole – usually regarded as the UK’s first Prime Minister, in which case he was also the longest-serving at 20 years – had sent General George Wade to pacify the Highlands with his forts and roads, though one of his cleverest moves was to induce Highland clansmen to join the King’s Army, forming them into “watches” who were to be “employed in disarming the Highlanders, preventing depredations, bringing criminals to justice, and hindering rebels and attainted persons from inhabiting that part of the kingdom”. The world-famous Black Watch regiment, so named because of the colour of their tartan, dates from that time.

Parliament had passed the Disarming Act in 1716, but it was ineffectual. In 1725, Parliament upgraded the 1716 Act with a law for “disarming the highlands in that part of Great Britain called Scotland; and for the better securing the peace and quiet of that part of the kingdom”.

Armed with this new legislation, Wade arrived in Inverness in August 1725. Though, as we shall see, he had to stop off in west central Scotland first …

Never one to hide his light under a bushel, Wade reported to the king: “On August 25 I went to the castle of Brahan, with a detachment of 200 of the regular troops, and was met there by the chiefs of the several clans and tribes, who assured me they had used their utmost diligence in collecting all the arms they were possessed of, which should be brought thither on the Saturday following, pursuant to the summons they had received; and telling me they were apprehensive of insults or depredations from the neighbouring clans of the Camerons, and others who still continued in possession of their arms. Parties of the Highland companies were ordered to guard the passes leading to their country; which parties continued there for their protection, till the clans in that neighbourhood were summoned, and had surrendered their arms.

“On the day appointed, the several clans and tribes assembled in the adjacent villages, and marched in good order through the great avenue that leads to the castle; and one after another laid down their arms in the court-yard, in great quiet and decency, amounting to 784 of the several species mentioned in the Act of Parliament.

“The solemnity with which this was performed had undoubtedly a great influence over the rest of the Highland clans; and disposed them to pay that obedience to your majesty’s commands, by a peaceable surrender of their arms, which they had never done to any of your

royal predecessors, or in compliance with any law either before or since the Union.”

Such ceremonies continued for some time afterwards, but on Wade’s own admission, only 2685 “arms” were collected in a year, and that total from those parts of Scotland north of the Highland Line as well as Stirling and Dumbarton. In 1715, 10,000 fully armed men had marched in the Earl of Mar’s Rising, and the majority made great play of surrendering their “arms” – only good for conversion to iron, Wade wrote – while keeping their best weapons well hidden. Their oaths of loyalty to King George were made under duress, so were not true

vows at all, and Wade knew that most of northern Scotland had no intention of surrendering all their arms or recognising a king who was not a Stuart.

Before his work in the Highlands, Wade had seen up close and personal that hatred of the Union was not just a Highland phenomenon. Last week we saw how former government spy Daniel Defoe had reported on the failure of the Union to deliver the promised economic benefits to most of Scotland. In a move that almost cancelled the Union, in 1724 Walpole’s government ignored the plight of the poverty-stricken Scottish people and brought in the Malt Tax – the same tax that had caused the 1713 vote to nearly repeal the Union, and which was an English tax which the Acts of Union said would not be imposed on Scotland.

MALT was an important ingredient in the production of ale and whisky. Whisky distilling was still in its infancy, but the effect on the price of ale was disastrous. The tax took effect in Scotland on June 1, 1725, and even though Walpole had decreed that the tax in Scotland would only be half that of England, set at three pence a bushel, the general populace was very much against it. Even the Lord Advocate, Robert Dundas, the head of the government in Scotland, protested and warned Walpole of the effects it could have. Dundas was dismissed for his pains, but continued to fight against the tax in parliament.

Excise officers were sent to collect the new tax and on June 23, the first riot took place in Hamilton. Rioting quickly spread to Edinburgh, Stirling, Dundee, Paisley, Elgin and other burghs. The late historian Rosalind Mitchison concluded that the rioting was “a movement of national resistance”. The worst riots by far were in Glasgow. Papers in the UK National Archives at Kew contain evidence of what happened, as they include witness statements, some of which reflect the curious nature of the Shawfield riots.

For since the Union, which many people in the city had opposed in 1706, Glasgow’s prosperity had increased considerably due to the increased trade with England, the Continent and especially the American colonies. Visiting the city around that time, Daniel Defoe concluded it had done best in all Scotland out of the Union.

Defoe wrote: “Glasgow is a city of business; here is the face of trade, as well foreign as home trade; and, I may say, ‘tis the only city in Scotland, at this time, that apparently increases and improves in both. The Union has answered its end to them more than to any other part of Scotland, for their trade is new formed by it; and, as the Union opened the door to the Scots in our American colonies, the Glasgow merchants presently fell in with the opportunity; and tho’, when the Union was making, the rabble of Glasgow made the most formidable attempt to prevent it, yet, now they know better, for they have the greatest addition to their trade by it imaginable.”

Which makes the events of the last week of June 1725 all the more intriguing. For Glasgow erupted in fierce riots against the Malt Tax and even the Union itself, with the focus of the rioters being on Daniel Campbell, MP for the city who was one of the Scottish MPs bribed and threatened by Walpole into support for the Malt Tax. News of the riot in Hamilton on June 23 having reached the city, immediately the Glasgow mob appeared on the streets, led at first by a woman, named as Janet Hill by witnesses, who was arrested by Provost Charles Miller. To pacify the crowd, Provost Miller released Hill, but she immediately went back to leading the mob.

CAMPBELL had escaped from the city to his country house – which was just as well, as late on the 24th, the rioters burned down his magnificent mansion at Shawfield. The following day, Captain Francis Bushell and two companies of soldiers from the local garrison confronted the mob and opened fire, killing at least eight citizens. Now a full-scale riot ensued, with the mob well armed and a huge arsenal of stones at the ready.

A well-known Glaswegian “heavy” – there’s really no other word for him – took charge of around 100 trained and armed fighting men at the head of the rioters. He was known locally as “the Captain” and his real name was probably James Falconer. On the advice of the provost, Bushell and his troops fled out of the city, pursued all the way to Dumbarton Castle by Falconer and his men, with more fatalities occurring along the way.

Daniel Campbell was well connected in Edinburgh and word was sent to General Wade about the riots and the destruction of Shawfield. Wade gathered a force of around 400 dragoons and headed to Glasgow, only to find that the mob – warned of his impending arrival – had dispersed. Wade was accompanied by the Lord Advocate, Duncan Forbes of Culloden, who promptly arrested the Lord Provost and most of the city’s magistrates, as well as 18 people accused of being rioters. They were jailed in Edinburgh, but when the truth emerged that they had tried to quell the riot, Lord Provost Miller and the magistrates were released, while seven of the 18 citizens were sentenced to be transported to the colonies as “indentured servants” – slaves, in other words. The returning city fathers were met with considerable rejoicing by their fellow citizens, who were content that they had shown Walpole and the government that Glasgow should not be messed with. Miller and his colleagues then brought a criminal case in the High Court against Captain Bushell for acting without the proper authority when he ordered the Shawfield shooting. Bushell was found guilty but was given a royal pardon.

Walpole was so frightened by the Malt Tax riots and the threat to the Union that he sent Archibald Campbell, Lord Islay, brother of the Duke of Argyll, to investigate the situation in Scotland. As Professor Sir Tom Devine details in the Scottish Nation: A Modern History, Islay reported to Walpole “that there had been ‘a long series of no administration in Scotland’ and the ‘mere letter of the law had little or no effect with the people’.” Devine concludes: “That was tantamount to saying that Scotland was ungovernable within the Union. It was not a situation that could be allowed to continue.”

The death of King George I on June 11, 1727, briefly brought hope to the Jacobites that they could rise again and put James Stuart back on the throne with a promise to end the Union. We know that James himself was considering a fresh attempt at armed insurrection, but he knew there was little popular support for a Union-ending rising.

He wrote to politician George Lockhart: “The present conjuncture appears so favourable in all its circumstances that had I only consulted my own inclinations, I should certainly out of hand have crossed the seas, and seen at any rate what I could do for my own and my subjects’ delivery; but as on this occasion I act for them as well as myself, and cannot hope without their concurrence to succeed in what I may undertake in our mutual behalf, I find myself under the necessity of making no further steps without their advice.”

The Union was safe, at least for the meantime.