The Clan Colquhoun and the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715

By James Pearson, Clan Historian
The prospect of a Catholic King on the throne in l688 ultimately led to the flight and eventual defeat of King James II of England Vll of Scotland. ln those days of religious intolerance, linked with the fact that many of the gentry had acquired their prosperity from the purchase of former church lands at the time of the Reformation, any prospect of a Catholic being in a position of authority was cause for concern.

The king however did have his supporters, and even among the Gentry class, many felt great unease at the replacement of the 'rightful' heir of the throne. The birth of King James's son, which probably precipitated the movement against James, was proclaimed as a plot to ensure a Catholic succession to the throne. After the death of his first wife, King James had married the Catholic Mary of Modena. After fifteen barren years, and the loss of ten children in infancy, she became pregnant. 'Sceptics' predicted it would be a 'son' so that the throne would pass to a Catholic heir, rather than the Protestant daughters. James, fearing the same fate as his father, fled to France. 

The child James Edward Stuart was to be referred to as the 'Pretender'. King James ll was succeeded by his daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange. After the death of Mary, William ruled alone until he died as the result of a fall. As they had no children, he was succeeded by James' other daughter Anne. Mary and Anne were the daughters of James' first wife Anne Hyde, and brought up as Protestants. Queen Anne died in 1714, without an heir, despite bearing seventeen children. The Act of Succession had provided that the throne should pass to George of Hanover, a grandson of the sister of King Charles I, and of Stuart descent. Now arose the opportunity for the 'Pretender' to claim his throne.

France, ever the enemy of England, as usual promised soldiers and money to pursue the venture. The new King, George did not really want to be king, and would have preferred to stay in Hanover. He spoke no English, and few in England could speak German. He appeared in no great hurry to travel to England and claim his throne and did not arrive in England until weeks later. Nevertheless he was crowned king in October 1714, and the Jacobites did not attempt a rebellion until 1715. There were Jacobite sympathisers throughout England from Somerset, Oxford, Leeds, Manchester and further to the North. Demonstrations and riots were put down and the prominent sympathisers fled the country. In Scotland the Earl of Mar rallied support for the rebellion, promising a rising in England, and France promising £100,000.

On September 6th 1715 the standard was raised at Braemar. Most of the Scots were Presbyterian, and in no great hurry to see a Catholic Stuart on the throne. Even the Earl of Mar's own tenants did not rush to join the rebellion. He was infuriated at the lack of support and sent a letter stating "ParticuIarly to let my own tenants in Kildrummy know, that if they come not forth with their best arms, I shall send a party immediately to burn what they shall miss taking from them!" Eventually the Clans began to come forward and by October 1715 Mar calculated his force as 1,000 horsemen and almost 2700 foot soldiers. Most of these forces had been supplied by Huntly and the Gordons, a Catholic Clan.

Earl of MarThe rebellion was not an English v Scottish struggle, but a Catholic v Protestant campaign. The Hanoverian supporters led by the Duke of Argyle could only muster half that number at their camp at Stirling. The Jacobites now held practically the whole of Scotland except for south of Edinburgh, Argyle's lands, Sutherland, and around Glasgow. The Jacobite numbers, joined by MacGregors and other clans now rose to 7,000. In Dumbartonshire and the west, the people were staunch in their Protestantism and remained Loyal to the House of Hanover. The MacGregor's, hoping that the Earl of Mar would assist in having the Act suppressing the Clan, rescinded, came out for the 'Pretender'. According to a contemporary work 'upon hopes given them, as 'tis said by the Earl 0f Mar, of having that brand of infamy taken of 'em, and getting their name restored on condition they would appear for the Pretender, about the end of September last (1715) they broke out into open rebellion under the conduct of Gregor Mcgregiour of Glengyle '.

Fraser reports that 'they committed depredations on many of the people of Dumbartonshire, whom they robbed of arms, horses, or whatever else might be serviceable to them in this military enterprise'. They occupied the Island of lnchmurrin in Loch Lomond, and on leaving, took all the livestock with them. On 29th September the MacGregors took possession of all the boats on Loch Lomond and drew them up onto the land at Inversnaid. In October they mustered at Craigroyston causing great concern among the people of the country around. The Jacobites wanted to assure the people they would come to no harm, and that if they should come among them they would take nothing from them but their arms. They suggested that it would be wiser to give these up peaceably.

James ColquhounBecause 'If they shou 'd make any resistance, and shed the blood of so much as one Mcgregiour, they wou'd set no bounds to their pay, but burn and slay without mercy'. The people of course feared that this was an unwise policy in the face of McGregor threats, and resolved to defend themselves. The fact that the McGregors possessed the boats posed a constant threat, so it was decided to try and retake them. John Colquhoun, Laird of Camstraddan was active in promoting the expedition against the MacGregors. He signed the following document: "WE, the Justices of the Peace, Deputy Lieutenants, and Commissioners of Supply of the shire of Dumbarton, under- subscribing, consider that the taking and securing the boats upon Loch Lomond will be a great security to the whole shire against the insolence and depredations of the rebels now in arms, and that the same cannot be done without a considerable number of armed men, do hereby desire Alexander Macaulay, Collecter of the Supply of Dumbartonshire, to advance Walter Graham of Kilmardeny a sum not exceeding ten pounds Sterling, to be disbursed by him, for defraying the expense of the said expedition. Which sum, or so much of it as shall be advanced by the said Walter Graham, on his receipt, we oblige us either to get allowed to the said Alexander Macaulay out of the next term 's supply, or other wise to pay the same to hint. Reserving Relief to us from the rest of the shire, who are not subscribing to thir presents, which is subscribed at Dumbarton, the 8th day of October 1715 years.

King George i James stuart Duke


Dumbarton had been reinforced by men from Paisley, and volunteers from Ayr and other places south of the Clyde arrived to garrison Dumbarton and the surrounding the area. On October 12th eight boats, manned by seamen, well armed, and the boats carrying small cannon and a couple of large screw guns, sailed up the Loch towards lnversnaid eighteen miles north. The men from Dumbarton, from Easter and Wester Kilpatrick, Rosneath, Row (Rhu) and Cardross marched up the west side of the Loch towards Luss. They were accompanied by a number of horsemen, including Archibald McAulay of Ardincaple and his son, Napier of Kilmahew, Graham of Kilmardinny, John Colquhoun of Craigtoun, Stirling of Law, and James Hamilton of Barns. 

That evening they reached Luss and were joined by the Luss men under Sir Humphrey Colquhoun and his son—in-law; James Grant of Pluscarden. Reports were circulated that McGregors had been reinforced by McDonalds and that there were; now about 1500 Jacobites to be faced. The expedition only numbered about 400 men in all. However, they decided it was only rumour and pushed on to face the enemy. The Loch is narrow at Inversnaid and it was thought that the Jacobites, hidden in the rocks would be able to pepper the men in the boats without exposing themselves to danger. The next morning the group pressed on and when opposite Inversnaid, the Captain loosed off one of the great cannon on his boat. The shot went through the roof of a house and some old women ran out and up the hill, where a few men stood looking down at them. One hundred men from Paisley and Dumbarton men under the command of David Colquhoun and James Duncanson leaped ashore and charged up the hill. They stood on the hilltop for an hour beating their drums, but no enemy appeared. They then recovered what boats were serviceable, and destroyed completely those that were damaged and set off back down the Loch.

There have been some historians who have ridiculed this expedition and derided its achievements. However, though the outcome was somewhat of an anti-climax, there was no doubt in the minds of these men that they were going to face the 'dreaded Clan McGregor' and give battle. Others claim the fact that the enemy was not present cannot diminish their determination. Perhaps the knowledge of a large well armed body of men and boats heading for the McGregor lands may have encouraged them to be elsewhere. Subsequent events suggest that the commitment of the McGregors to the rebellion was not unreserved. At the battle of Sherrifmuir, the MacGregors waited without committing themselves to the battle. When they saw there was going to be no winner, they marched away. By November 1715 it was becoming obvious that the rebellion was lost. James, the 'Pretender', had set out from his home at Bar le Duc in France on October 28th for Scotland but did not arrive until December 22nd. When he met the Jacobite army, he was less than 'inspiring' to the men. He never addressed his troops, who began to wonder if he could speak.

They did not impress him either, as a motley collection of four thousand foot soldiers and four hundred mounted men lined up to greet him. Compared to the large, elaborately dressed armies he was used to seeing in France, the Scots looked lack-lustre. He only remained on Scottish soil forty five days then sailed away back to France. 

In spite of the situation, the MacGregors sought the assistance of the Colquhouns in gaining pardon for their offences during the rebellion.


Hume-Brown P A History of Scotland

McPhaiI I.M. A Short History of Dumbarton

Mackie A A History of Scotland

Sinclair-Stevenson C Rebellion