The Jacobite Diversion

The Jacobite Diversion

The overthrow of James II was welcomed in Newcastle because of his interference in town government. However, in rural Northumberland many of the gentry were Catholics and many were supporters of the Stuart cause. In the last months of James II’s reign, the Duke of Newcastle had begun to recruit a regiment from amongst the Northumberland gentry to support James. One of his officers was Daniel Craster of Rock. In the early years of the new monarchy the government was concerned lest Jacobite groups in the North-east-aid a French assault on the coal trade. In 1691  two French commanders, Claude de Forbin and Jean Bart, landed with eight ships at Druridge Bay and pillaged and set fire to the village and castle at Widdri ngton, and the orders given to Bart in 1694 to capture ‘some fleet of colliers from Newcastle’ have survived. In 1696 Sir John Fenwick, MY, for Northumberland and an ardent Stuart supporter, was arrested for plotting treason. He was convicted by special Act on only one man’s testimony (though there is evidence that Fenwick bribed another witness to disappear), and beheaded at Tower Hill on 27 January 1697.

To many Northumbrians Fenwick, ‘the flower amang them a”, was a martyr. Events came to a head with the accession of the German George I in 1714. Heavy land taxes to pay for the French war crippled estates that had not yet recovered from the Civil War sequestrations, and many of the Tory gentry saw ajacobite victory as a way to restore their finances. Lady Cowper wrote later of her relative, William Clavering of Callaly: ‘A desperate fortune drove him from home in hope to have repaired it’. Fenwick had sold his Wallington estate to Sir William Blackett of Newcastle to pay off debts. Many estates carried heavy mortgages: in the list of Catholic estates in 1717 after the rebellion Thomas Selby had very extensive lands in upper Coquetdale and around the Cheviots, ‘but all the said premises are subject to a forfeited mortgage or other security for £2,000’, plus other mortgages to a total of £4,862. The division between the progressive, successful landowners who supported the Whigs and the conservative gentry facing increasing poverty was growing, and Northumberland had many of these Tory backwoodsmen. In Rob Roy, Walter Scott draws a portrait of one of these Catholic Tory households in the Osbaldistons of Osbaldiston Hall (believed to be based on Biddlestone Hall, home of the Selbys).

Throughout 1715  there was extensive Jacobite plotting in the region, though this did not worry some government supporters. Sir Henry Liddell wrote to his fellow coal-owner and merchant ‘Black William’ Cotesworth in January that ‘The High party (the pro-Jacobite Tories) are more outrageous than ever which is not unpleasing to me. Did you never see the Gamesters when they dispair’d of success toss about their box and dice?’ In September the Highland clans in Scotland declared for James III and the government decided to issue warrants against the leading Northumbrian Jacobites, notably the young Earl of Derwentwater (the Earldom dated from the last year of James II’s reign) and the Tory M.P., Thomas Forster of Adderstone. The issue of the warrants provoked these men into open action they might not otherwise have taken. The resolved to ‘immediately appear in Arms’ so that they would support each other and not be arrested and picked off, one by one.

The support Derwentwater and Forster expected from the Protestant Tory gentry did not materialise. Sir William Blackett, although a symbol of the new commercial gentry, was himself in financial trouble and a Jacobite follower. He was party to the summer plotting and the rebels expected help from him and his many employees in coal-mining and the coal trade. However, when the warrant was issued, he fled south. Lord Derwentwater later complained: ‘You see what we have brought ourselves to, by giving credit to our Neighbour tories, as Will Fenwick, Tate, Green and Allgood. If you outlive Misfortune and return to live in the North, I desire you never to be seen to converse with such Rogues in Disguise, that promised to join us, and animated us to rise with them’. If impending bankruptcy was the background to the discontent, it was’ religion and family links that decided who came out. Nearly all were Catholics, though that included a good proportion of the leading families. There were Lord Widdrington, Clavering of Callaly, George Collingwood of Eslington, Ephraim Selby of Biddlestone, two Swinburne brothers, John Thornton of Netherwitton (descendant of the Newcastle merchant), Lancelot Orde of Weetwood and many more. In Rob Roy, ‘Sir Hildebrand (Osbaldiston), whose estate was reduced to almost nothing by his own carelessness and the expense and debauchery of his sons and household, was easily persuaded to join that unfortunate standard’. The only leading Protestant was Forster, who brought in his distant relative, Daniel Craster’s son, William.

The rebels met at Greenrig near Sweethope Lough on 6 October, but Forster moved them to nearby Waterfalls Hill. Later this spot was marked by the placing on top of the hill of a Roman milestone found on Dere Street close by. It is still there, though now fallen over . Forster brought about 20 men and Derwentwater thirty. Forster was elected leader because of his Protestant religion, though little fitted to the job. They moved north to Plainfield Moor, near Rothbury, and close to many Catholic estates, and more joined them. After a night in Rothbury they rode to Warkworth, where they stayed several days. ‘General’ Forster, as he now styled himself, proclaimed James III in the market place after Sunday service. They probably stayed in Warkworth as central between moving to occupy Newcastle and moving north to receive supplies from expected French ships. A group under Lancelot Errington did in fact take Holy Island, but the island was quickly retaken by troops from Berwick, and when the French ships arrived a few days later they sailed off north after getting no signal. The delay at Warkworth gave the pro-government party in Tyneside, led by Johnson the Mayor and Cotesworth, time to prepare and get the troops strengthened. The Tyneside keelmen, many of whom were Scots and Jacobite sympathisers, decided to support the government forces.

On 14 October the rebels, now some 300 strong, moved through Felton and Morpeth, and at Hexham learnt of the government hold on Newcastle. After further delay, when they learnt General Carpenter was moving more troops up to Tyneside, they rode north to Rothbury, to meet a southern Scots group under Kenmuir. The joint group then procrastinated along the border under divided leadership, finally moving into Lancashire early in November, expecting great support from the many Catholics and Tories there. The government forces under Carpenter caught them at Preston, where the ill-managed fiasco ended in rebel defeat.

Some prisoners were tried in Lancashire, others taken to London, where they were joined by those from the collapse of the main Scottish rising. Derwentwater was beheaded, but Forster, perhaps with government connivance, escaped from Newgate jail. George Collingwood, unable to travel to London because of gout, was tried and hanged in Liverpool. Many died in jail, such as George Gibson of Stagshaw Close in St. John Lee, who died in Newgate two days after Christmas in 1716. Edward Swinburnc also died there, but his brother James escaped.. Many did, in fact, escape, and others who survived in jail were freed by an Act of Indemnity in 1717. A number of the lesser rebels, tried at Liverpool, were sentenced to transportation to the American plantations. Cotesworth’s schoolboy son, Robert, was visiting Liverpool and wrote home that he had seen the prisoners being taken to the exchange ‘to be bound in trades in the plantations’ and that they had shouted their continued support for James III. It must have been a cruel transition for these tenants: in 12 months from Northumbrian farms by the Coquet or Tyne to the plantations of the Carolinas or West Indies.

Following the ’15 there was still a rebellious atmosphere in the county, despite the disaster of Preston. In March 1718 Colonel George M Liddell wrote to Cotesworth, then in London: ‘Our Torys in this Neighbourhood are grown very insolent and in Northumberland all the Rebels meet as publicly as ever so that I see nothing but the
prospect of a New Rebellion’. In April he heard that an ‘abundance Arms of Orde of transported rebels are actually returned and now in Northumber­land: That partys of 40 or 50 well armed are often seen together at Bambrough and several other places where they had Caballs’. But after 1718  the activity and the problem died away, and the rebels were not pursued. Orders were made for the arrest of William Craster at the 1718  Quarter Sessions, but he returned to Rock and died there in 1725.

The aftermath of the 1715 Rising was the forfeiture and sale of many estates, and the replacement of the older gentry by newer groups. The Ordes of Weetwood had to sell up in 1719. They had paid heavily in the rebellion: Lancelot had escaped from jail but lived in exile in Boulogne; his brother, Edward, had been killed; John had been executed; and the fourth brother, Francis, had been jailed until the Act of 1717. The Collingwood’s forfeited estate at Eslington was sold to Sir Henry Liddell, the Tyneside coalowner. As Professor Hughes noted: ‘Jacobitism was the occasion rather than the cause of the final liquidation of scores of lesser gentry’. The mortgaged estates could stand no more. As Cuthbert Ellison wrote when he had to sell in 1739, ‘the mortification was not due to any of my excesses but from an old gangreen’. Some managed to retain their lands, but at high cost. Thomas Thornton bought back his father’s forfeited lands at Netherwitton, but the price was £13,250, all raised on mortgages.

Not surprisingly there was little Jacobite enthusiasm in the county during the ’45. A few old plotters from the ’15, like Bowrie Charlton of Reedsmouth, were arrested by the magistracy. As late as 1780, when the Penal Laws were relaxed, the Misses Charlton walked out of church when prayers were said for King George III, but sentiment had replaced active conviction, and the Duke of Cumberland had been welcomed in the North-east as he pursued the Scots Jacobites in 1746.