Imagine the ’45 succeeded… that’s what we’ll do at Wigtown book Festival Saturday 23 Sept, 2017


What might a Jacobite victory have meant for the cause of Scottish Nationalism? Millions have watched the first episodes of Outlander Season 3. They dramatise vividly the failure of the ’45 and the consequences of defeat on Culloden Moor for the combatants and anyone unlucky enough to be see to be close to them.

But …. if Prince Charles had succeeded, what issues would he have to address? For example, will the Union survive? Do the male Stuarts make a better fist of ruling this time round? Are Catholics welcome? Is there a Highland and clan problem? At the Wigtown Book Festival next weekend, Jackie Riding and I are going to talk it over with Stuart Kelly.

There were many nationalists among the Jacobites. The state of the Union concerned them. Many wanted Britain to return to the 1603 Union of Crowns to create a genuine multi-kingdom monarchy. In 1603, only the Crowns were united. The state stayed separate. The machinery of state – parliaments, armed forces, religion, law – all those things governing and regulating life, would have remained independent. If so, then King James VIII & III would recall a Scottish Parliament  in 1746-47, moving the wielding of power in Scotland back to Scotland.

Even that most outrageous, slippery Jacobite, Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat of the ’45, was sincere in his Scottish Nationalist anti-Unionism. He called it, ‘This infernal Union’, Cette Union Infernelle.

Thirty years after the ’45, Scottish big wigs in the British establishment wondered if what they created in 1707 was working. One night Henry Dundas, Scotsman and British Secretary of State,  burst ‘into an invective against the English’ claiming he was going to ‘move for a repeal of the Union.’ Another Scot, living south of the border thought that ‘if the English are to be treated as sons, but the Scots as step-sons … then let the Union be dissolved.’ Stepsons inherit nothing of the parents’ estate. He was talking in 1763, nearly 20 after Culloden.

Famously, Dr Samuel Johnson said ‘of England were fairly polled, the present king (George III) would be sent away tonight, and his adherents hanged tomorrow.’

Dynastic Right

No-one denied the Stuarts had the prime hereditary claim to the Crown. But Samuel Johnson thought that was no longer a priority for the people.

About Sarah

I am a writer, broadcaster, blogger and vlogger, wife, mother, granny and carer. We live in the Highlands of Scotland and London.

‘The state of the country is this: the people knowing on all hands that this king George has not the hereditary right to the Crown, and there being no hope that he who has it [ the Stuarts] can be restored , the people have grown cold and indifferent upon the subject of loyalty, and to have no warm attachment to any king.’

Nevertheless, if Prince  Charles Edward Stuart had become Charles III from 1746, he would have been observed and advised continuously – by the British Parliament, the military, the churchmen,the  John Bulls, the couthy Scots and Irish patriots. So, the Stuarts might not have made such a mess of ruling – third time lucky! But it’s not to be …

On a personal level, a successful ’45 might have made Charles’s character as well as his fortune. His personality failed to cope with failure. Would he have coped better with success? In the event, Prince Charlie was abandoned to his own worst enemy – his personal character flaws.

The Highland problem and the clans

After Culloden, the clans were demonised in the same terms used to demonise the Jacobites. The language degraded both clan and Jacobite as backward looking, superstitious, and yet still a threat. They needed ideological reorientation towards the Hanoverian state.

Charles Edward Stuart – Easty to deny at a distance, apparently

A Jacobite victory would have saved the Highlands from military occupation. Wherever the Highlands endured martial rule, and garrisoning, it created poverty, economic breakdown, hardship, rape, pillage.


A Catholic Stuart king would lift penal laws against Catholics. That might have prevented the equation of ‘Catholic’ with ‘traitor’ in British political discourse for the next century and more. Bonnie Prince Charlie seems to have been pretty indifferent to religion, although his father and brother were devout papists.

Was victory ever a possibility?

If we accept the levels of support which some historians estimate existed throughout Great Britain, and internationally in France and Italy, then I want to think it was conceivable. Just. Join me, Jackie Riding and Stuart Kelly to argue it out at The Wigtown Book Festival on Saturday 23 September at 10.30am.


  1. Patrick Hannigan

    I do believe that in 1745 when the Scots army got to Derby they were led to believe a vast army was waiting for them just north of London. This is now known to be untrue as most of the state army contingents were busy fighting European wars on behalf of the Hanoverians.
    The Scots army retreated on the advice of Prince Charles’ generals. It has been reported though… he wished to march on parliament to claim the crown.
    I personally believe that if he had done this, the power politicians that ran the state would have capitulated very quickly… In fact the patronage of the politicians is not dissimilar to the ones we have today… they would… as they did in 1689 have abandoned the Hanoverians to their fate. Charles would have quickly been declared Regent… and the armies would have been recalled to Britain to claim alligence to their new ruler…
    There probably would have been only slight confrontation with the Scots army… and the politicians of the day would have very quickly sort the favours of the new Stuart monarchy..

    • Sarah Fraser

      Thank you for this, Patrick.

      Did you know also that Louis XV of France sent his Master of Horse, James Butler, on a mission to London in the winter of 1743. The French were deciding whether to launch an expedition to restore the Stuarts. George II had led British armies onto mainland Europe to support Empress Maria Theresa of Austria in the War of the Austrian Succession. In the winter of 1743-44 France was deciding whether to enter the war on the opposite side. And deciding whether to use an attempted restoration of the Stuarts to divide British fire power. Butler returned with a list (a copy is now RA SP/MAIN/254/154). It identified many members of the Corporation of London, what we call The City today, as ‘Jacobite’. 190 out of the 236 they name, actually. Thinking how powerful The City is today, you can’t help wonder what they would have done, and what influence they might have had, if the Jacobites had approached London. Anyway, that’s just another of history’s “what ifs…” Sarah


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‘Last of the Clan’, Sir David Wilkie

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