SLAINS Castle has a fascinating history – from the Spanish Armada to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In this extract from a new book by Mike Shepherd and Dacre Stoker, a French plot to scupper the proposed Union of the Parliaments is revealed…

AT midday on the eighth of August, 1705, Colonel Nathaniel Hooke, secret agent for the French, arrived just offshore from Slains Castle. Louis XIV had signed off Hooke’s instructions for his mission to Scotland at the Palace of Versailles back in June, and now the Irishman was finally here.

Nothing will be left to chance – Scotland and France have been at war since 1702. Not that ­anyone in Scotland has any good reason to be at war with the French; and many are furious that trade between Scotland and France has been disrupted because of it. Yet ever since the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when the two separate countries of England and Scotland began to share one king, wars had been ­declared by the London-based monarch and the ­English Parliament on behalf of both nations without ever bothering to consult anyone in Scotland.

Colonel Hooke has been asked by Louis XIV to investigate the growing discontent in Scotland and to see if this could be used to divert England from their war with France. If troops were to land in ­Scotland, this could spark off a Scottish rebellion. The plan bears a striking similarity to the old Duke of Guise/Ambassador Mendoza scheme as presented to the King of Spain over a hundred years earlier. A ­European country at war with England could cause huge problems for its enemy by invading Scotland. England would thus be compelled to withdraw ­soldiers from the European theatre of engagement to reinforce the defence of her northern border.

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The differences from before are these: France, not Spain, was the country involved, and the French plans went one step further than the Spanish efforts – an invasion force actually reached the shores of Scotland. And Slains Castle played an even bigger part this time round: it provided the base for the French intelligence-gathering effort.

If, at this point, you have never heard about the attempted invasion of Scotland in 1708, then there are good reasons why. The French hushed it up, the British Government was severely embarrassed by everything that happened, and the Scots were so traumatised by how it turned out, they blanked out all memories of it. Not only that, there is no romance to be found here; no Hollywood film has ever been made of the events that follow; and even the patron saint of lost causes looked away in disgust. Yet the attempted invasion did actually happen.

It’s as epic a tale as that of the Catholic earls. ­Nothing less than the fate of Scotland is at stake in 1705 – that is, will the country stay independent, or will it join with England to become the United ­Kingdom? The Scottish nation is thus lurching in the balance, and Colonel Hooke ended up provoking much of that lurching…

There is much unrest in Scotland in 1705, the year Colonel Hooke landed at Slains Castle.

Queen Anne, currently on the throne of both ­England and Scotland, is pushing for both countries to come together as the United Kingdom. Ever since King James VI became both King of England and Scotland in 1603, there has been much discussion about a union of the two countries. James had even appointed a commission back in 1604 to investigate what would be required to bring the two nations ­together. One of the commission members had been Francis Hay, the Ninth Earl of Erroll.

Over 100 years later, the union is still under ­discussion, although nobody at this stage really expects it to come about. There are too many insurmountable problems: the equalisation of tax and customs ­between the two countries, which are levied much lighter in Scotland than they are in ­England; the independence of the ­Scottish Church; and the belief that ­English views and priorities would tend to dominate policy within a union made between the much larger nation of ­England and the smaller nation of ­Scotland. The idea of a union is also very unpopular with the Scottish public.

Nevertheless, a powerful minority in Scotland favour the union, and many in the Scottish Parliament endorse it. Some politicians gleefully anticipate gaining real power and influence once a United Kingdom parliament is set up in London, while others have had their votes bought with English money.

IT’S not just the prospect of a union with the old enemy England that’s causing public anguish. For 17 years, there has been huge discontent in Scotland about what had been done to the monarchy: a discontent that will simmer for years to come and will boil over into armed rebellion every now and again.

The discontent has come about because James VII from the Stewart royal line had been deposed in 1688 by William of ­Orange, a Dutchman. The following year William was decreed King William III of England and William II of Scotland, ­ruling jointly with his wife Mary. As far as the Scots were concerned, the ­crowning of William and Mary had brought to an end the unbroken line of Scottish kings and queens that had been on the throne for centuries. The ­following is an ­illustration of the pride felt by the Scots about their royal line – it’s an ­inscription, now gone, which was engraved on wood in the royal chapel of Holyrood Palace: it read “106 forefathers have left this to us unconquered”.

All in all, the nation of Scotland is ­seething with discontent, and ­Colonel Hooke has landed here to find out ­whether this can be used to France’s ­advantage in their war against the ­English.

The National:

The French king, Louis XIV, has ­provided instructions for his special agent:

June 17th, 1705. Versailles, France. Memoir from Louis XIV to Colonel Hooke. [Extract].

“It appears from all the news we have received from England and Scotland that distrust and hatred is increasing between the two nations; the English take every opportunity to subdue Scotland, whereas the Scots seek to preserve their independence and are irritated by the behaviour of the English. In many places, the Scots appear to be ready to take up arms to keep their freedom. His Majesty supports the interests of [James Edward Stuart]... and given the often renewed old alliance between France and Scotland, a nation forever esteemed by His Majesty, it should be rescued from succumbing to the violence of her ancient enemy.”

(Twelve years later James’s son Charles Edward Stuart will be born. He is ­better known to us today as Bonnie Prince Charlie.)

“It is for this reason that, the king, wishing to know what the true state of affairs are, has resolved to send Colonel Hooke in secret to Scotland.

In addition to the trust he has in him, he has been assured on many occasions by his competence, and in particular,

by his knowledge of England and Scotland.”

Hooke has been given a free hand to ­offer French assistance to those with power in Scotland who oppose a ­union with England. Most important of all, Hooke must contact the Duke of ­Hamilton, the Scottish parliamentarian who leads the fight for continuing ­Scottish ­independence. It helps that he has met the duke before.

HOOKE has arrived in Edinburgh to meet with the Duke of Hamilton and the leading Jacobites. But first he needs to secure lodgings “because the inns are too public”. He notes that “Edinburgh is so small”, and he is worried that a new face in town will prompt the curious to find out who he is (and if caught he might be executed as a spy). Hooke finds lodgings with a “Catholic lady who has a secret room in her house which has been used for missionaries during times of persecution, and I stayed at her place for the four to five days I was in Edinburgh”. He meets up with Charles Hay, 13th Earl of Erroll, and tells the story in his own words: “The earl is nearly 30 and charms everyone with his noble and obliging manners. He told me that more than two-thirds of the Scots want James Edward Stuart as their king. The main lords feel the same way and will not hesitate to take up arms when the time comes.”

He also talked about how things stand in the Scottish Parliament, ­repeating what his mother had said about the Duke of Hamilton. The duke is ­leading the ­political opposition to union with ­England, but his support from the ­Jacobites is fracturing because of his failure to propose a plan that would put James on the throne. In the absence of any guidance from its leader, the ­opposition has become divided about what action should be taken.

“‘Maybe the duke doesn’t want to make James the main issue in his political strategy,’ I said. ‘To do so will cause arguments amongst his supporters in the coalition. Would it not be better to push aside all discussions about restoring James, so that everyone can come together to embrace a cause that all can support – namely, the preservation of Scotland’s independence from England?’”

“That sounds reasonable on the face of it,” the earl replied. “However, there is a danger in pursuing this plan. The ­Jacobites are suspicious of the Duke of Hamilton and his schemes. Although they will do everything to support James Edward Stuart, they do not want to help put the duke on the throne.”

Let’s stop to explain this extraordinary statement from the Earl of Erroll. If ­Scotland goes its own way and appoints a Stuart as the King of Scotland, someone who also has to be Protestant, who then would qualify? Not James Edward Stuart because he is a Catholic, even though he would be the popular choice for the ­succession amongst the majority of the Scottish public. There is, however, someone else who fits the bill – someone who is both a Protestant and has Stuart blood – the Duke of Hamilton. He’s a descendant of King James II of Scotland through his mother’s line, and even though the royal connection is over 200 years old, it still places him well up the line of ­succession to the Scottish throne.

WHEN Hooke meets the Duke of ­Hamilton he tells him the Jacobites spoil everything with their imprudent zeal. The following is part of his report to Louis XIV, the Sun King of the Palace of ­Versailles.

“The Duke says: ‘They [the Jacobites] want to take up arms and declare James as king. You would do well to damp down their enthusiasm. You see, it’s easy to be in control of Scotland without any need to draw a sword. I will not require the help of foreign troops should the Jacobites follow me, and if they also accept that it is too soon at the moment to talk about who will be king. First of all, we need to shake off the English. There would not be any problems with them had James been a Protestant. But because he is a Catholic he will be greatly feared in England; any threat of reinstating him in Scotland will provoke the English into taking up arms.’

“This response finally confirmed my suspicions about the Duke of ­Hamilton and his ambition to be made king. Even so, I tell him, ‘My orders are not to ­interfere. Whatever action you think ­necessary, I will support it’.

“At these words he kissed me. ‘I can see,’ he said, ‘that you are a good ­servant of the king your master; that you are steadfast, and deep down you will render a great service if you can persuade the Jacobites to follow my measures’.”

“The duke continued. ‘The Earls of ­Erroll and Marischal came to find me this morning, bluntly informing me that if I missed this opportunity to get French help, they and their fellow Jacobites will abandon me. They even came to swear words. So I gave them assurances that I would talk to you’.”

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[Colonel Hooke’s arrival in Scotland has thus provoked a crisis for the duke. His plan to keep Scotland independent until Queen Anne dies by parliamentary action will be undone if the Jacobites leave his coalition. The alternative of ­accepting French help for a rebellion is not what he wants either].

“The Duke of Hamilton now started ranting for a long time about how the ­Jacobites wouldn’t go along with him – he who knew the state of affairs better than all of them. I let him rage on ­without ­interrupting him. When he stopped I told him, ‘I will keep our discussion ­secret, and I’ll talk to the Jacobites. I will

try to persuade them to support ­Scotland’s ­freedom without mentioning James. Once I’ve done that I’ll report back to you’.

“He started ranting again – shouting that it’s a waste of time talking to the ­Jacobites because they are incapable of seeing reason. I told him I would see them anyway because I had been ordered by the King of France to do so. Acknowledging this, he insisted that when I do talk to them, I should make every effort to convince them the best way to serve James would be to follow his plans.”