Remembering Culloden

On 16 April 1746, the battle of Culloden brought to a close the last serious attempt to restore the exiled Stuart dynasty to the British throne. Here, Dr Robin Eagles discusses the parliamentarians on both sides of this decisive contest…

The final chapter of the Jacobite rising of 1745-46 was fought near Inverness between government forces under the command of George II’s younger son, the duke of Cumberland, and a largely Highland Scots army led by Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie). It has always been an emotional subject. The disparity of the two sides (around 9,000 professional government troops drawn up against no more than 5,000 mostly amateur levies supplemented by small detachments from the French army), and the undoubtedly brutal aftermath has helped make it a particularly poignant moment in British history. It was also the last pitched battle on British soil. This was, however one looks at it, a moving culmination of a divisive civil war that pitched family against family and involved people from across the United Kingdom.

Its significance as an event of importance in Parliament, aside from the obvious political implications of responding to the rebellion and subsequent pacification, though, is not necessarily so well appreciated. While it is not surprising that most of those with an interest in Parliament at the time of the rebellion were to be found ranged on the government side (the Parliament of 1741-7 contained 65 serving officers of the army and 19 in the Navy in the Commons alone), parliamentarians and their kin were involved with both armies, a fact that perhaps helps to illuminate the complexities of the event.
It is easy to forget, given the ease with which Charles Edward’s followers were crushed at Culloden, that the government troops had experienced a number of devastating reverses in the course of the rebellion. The first had been the embarrassing rout of the loyalist army at Prestonpans under the command of General Sir John Cope (formerly MP for Queenborough, Liskeard and Orford), whose flight became the inspiration for various satirical ballads and poems. Further victories for the rebels culminated with their arrival at their most southerly point during an abortive invasion of England: Derby. Even when the decision had been made to retreat back north, the Jacobite army continued to fight successful rear-guard actions, notably at Falkirk in January 1746.

Given that this was a civil war, it is unsurprising that among those who remained loyal to Hanover were a number with close Jacobite connections. It is a fallacy that clan loyalties were homogeneous. Clan Campbell, often thought of as whole-hearted supporters of the Hanoverians, is a good example of the heterogeneous nature of Scots society. One of their chiefs, John Campbell, Lord Glenorchy (MP for Orford), though loyal to George II himself, was forced to admit to the government that far from being in a position to bolster the ranks of their forces, it was all that he could do to prevent his clansmen from joining Charles Edward (though he was ultimately able to provide a battalion’s worth of men to reinforce the loyalist army). Sir John Gordon of Invergordon (MP for Cromartyshire) was a prominent politician in the circle of Frederick, Prince of Wales, holding the post of the prince’s secretary of state for Scotland. He had tried desperately to persuade both his brother-in-law, the earl of Cromarty, and nephew, Lord MacLeod, not to take part in the rising. Both ignored him but Gordon continued to work on their behalf and was successful in securing Prince Frederick’s intercession on behalf of Cromarty, who had been due to be executed along with Lords Balmerino and Kilmarnock following the collapse of the rebellion. MacLeod was spared being made subject to an act of attainder. Other parliamentarians took a clear stance in favour of the rebels. Sir John Douglas (MP for Dumfriesshire) served as an intermediary between the English and Scots Jacobites. Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, MP for Denbighshire and head of the Welsh Jacobites, narrowly avoided active involvement. He sent an oral message to Charles Edward at Derby professing the readiness of the English and Welsh Jacobites to rise, but by the time the message arrived the Jacobite army had begun its trek back north.

If the early stages of the rebellion had proved unexpectedly successful for the Jacobites, by the spring of 1746 their army was dispirited, riven with internal feuding and extremely low in supplies. Besides, the government army that now faced them across the moor on the morning of 16 April had learned from its earlier errors and been drilled carefully by Cumberland in preparation for the Highlanders’ potentially devastating mass charge. Several MPs took an active part in the battle. George Keppel, Viscount Bury (MP for Chichester and heir to the earldom of Albemarle) served as the duke’s aide-de-camp. William Henry Kerr, earl of Ancram (later marquess of Lothian – MP for Richmond) took command of the government forces’ cavalry on the left flank and was personally responsible for the capture of his kinsman, Lord Kilmarnock (his brother, Lord Robert Kerr was killed serving with the Grenadier Guards). Sir Robert Rich, formerly MP for three constituencies, lost a hand in the fighting while James Campbell (later elected MP for Stirlingshire) was one of the principal commanders who led the pursuit of the rebel leaders in the aftermath of the battle.

Evidence of MPs serving in the Jacobite army is harder to come by, but at least one former MP may well have been ‘out’. James Erskine, who had represented Aberdeen Boroughs in 1715, and was by the time of ‘the 45’ around 74 years old, seems to have been commissioned a captain in Lord Ogilvy’s regiment. His fate is uncertain but it is possible that he was one of the 1,100 or so men of both sides to meet their end on Culloden Moor.


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John Wilkes: A friend to liberty?

John Wilkes medal by unknown artist, 1768. (C) National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 1702

John Wilkes medal by unknown artist, 1768. (C) National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 1702

Last week Dr Robin Eagles, Senior Research Fellow on the Lords 1660-1832 project gave a lecture in Parliament on ‘John Wilkes: A friend to liberty?’. Dr Eagles’s lecture is part of a programme to mark the 250th anniversary of Wilkes’ expulsion from the House of Commons for seditious libel, and was accompanied by an exhibition on Wilkes using materials from the Parliamentary Collections.

Dr Eagles’s lecture was both entertaining (with many wonderful stories about a man often described as a ‘rake’), but also an informative journey through Wilkes’ life and ambiguous legacy. Running throughout the lecture was an assessment of Wilkes’ relationship to the cause he was most associated with: liberty. He has been portrayed as its champion, but also as a dangerous rabble-rouser, or simply a hypocrite whose actions rarely followed his lofty words.

Dr Eagles turned to Wilkes’ life to try to make sense of these contradictions. A charming, witty son of a merchant, Wilkes’ mother spotted his flair and established him as a gentleman. He soon gained some ‘gentlemanly’ habits – at least those that featured drinking, women, fashion and profligate spending. Having decided on a career as an MP it took him two expensive contests (running into huge debts despite standing on ‘anti-corruption’ platforms) before he was elected for Aylesbury in 1757.

Soon Wilkes was frustrated and deeply in debt. He turned to journalism for the sake of his finances and politics. The paper he helped establish, the ‘North Briton’ was extremely critical of the Earl of Bute’s government and policies. The infamous ‘Number 45’, in which he directly attacked George III for the Treaty of Paris (see our blog ‘The Treaty of Paris…’), as well as the (misleading) suggestion that he penned the pornographic Essay on a Woman, led to his expulsion from the Commons and exile in France.

The period 1768-77, Dr Eagles argued, demonstrated Wilkes’ greatest claim to stand for the cause of liberty. On his return home (this time he had to escape French debtors), Wilkes again stood for Parliament. Despite winning several contests for Middlesex, the Commons continually refused to acknowledge his election. During this period he faced his charges for seditious libel; he was sentenced to 22 months in prison. It then proved difficult to imprison him: his sentencing led to riots (and unfortunately the ‘Massacre of St George’s Fields’), Wilkes eventually had to smuggle himself in to prison. By this time he was a national celebrity, and when he left prison in 1770 he did so at the head of a movement. Wilkes was eventually able to return to Parliament. Prior to that, he entered politics in the City of London, becoming an Alderman and later Lord Mayor. He used this position to make his greatest impact on the cause of liberty. By using the privileges of the city to protect those who published parliamentary debates from arrest, his actions paved the way for the publication of parliamentary proceedings by the likes of Cobbett and (ultimately) of Hansard.

In later life Wilkes’ became considerably less radical. He even led a detachment of militia to defend the Bank of England during the Gordon Riots. Yet Dr Eagles argued that despite his contradictions, he consistently pushed the cause of reform. In Parliament in 1776 he called for a wider electorate and an end to rotten boroughs. His actions may have been ambiguous but he did inspire a movement. Perhaps his life is best expressed by his comment about John Glynn, his fellow MP for Middlesex: ‘In fact, Sir, he was a Wilkite, which I never was’.


For more on Wilkes, see our biography.

And for more from the Parliamentary collections on Wilkes, see their website.

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Parliaments, politics and people seminar: Tom Crewe, ‘The politics of image and the image of politics’

Our final ‘Parliaments, Politics and People’ seminar of term took place last week. Tom Crewe, of Pembroke College, Cambridge, spoke on ‘The politics of image and the image of politics: visual representations of politicians and portraiture in the press, c.1840-1906’. His paper was based on one chapter on his upcoming PhD thesis, due to be completed in the next year.

Crewe began by noting that despite the amount of academic attention paid to late Victorian electoral culture, relatively little has been written on the images used to depict politicians, especially the illustrations that appeared in the popular press (as opposed to caricatures or cartoons). Throughout his paper he used many fantastic depictions of Victorian politicians in portraiture and the popular press.

Crewe discussed these two distinct but linked types of images. He demonstrated that the style of both changed dramatically in the second half of the 19th century, and argued that this helped to shape popular perceptions of the political class. Firstly, political portraiture, following broader artistic trends, became much more realistic, with artists such as John Everett Millais abandoning the formal, idealised compositions of the early nineteenth century to instead depict politicians ‘as they really were’. Instead of being represented in idealised, statesmanlike poses, parliamentarians were shown at work – speaking, or in the House of Commons itself.

A similar change occurred in images in the popular press. Technology improved enormously in the late nineteenth century and allowed speedy reproduction of subtle and detailed drawings. As the reproduction of photographs was still problematic and their compositions extremely formal, ‘special artists’ enjoyed a golden age, with better access to politicians and a large illustrated press eager to use their work. Once again the style of the images changed. Politicians were represented in strikingly candid ‘snap-shots’ of their activity in parliament, or at home, in intimate and personal poses – for example, we see William Gladstone laughing or yawning during a Commons debate, and Arthur Balfour playing golf.

Crewe argued that this demonstrates a broader trend. Ordinary people became more interested in politicians as figures possessed of ‘human interest’, and a real celebrity culture emerged. Parliamentarians had a more intimate and open relationship with the public, and visual images played a significant part in constructing this change.

There were many questions after Crewe’s extremely interesting paper. Some asked about the position of imagery both in wider Victorian culture and political developments in particular (for example, the ‘domestication’ of party politics). Others were interested in the process of creating the drawings and how this affected the relationship between politicians and the press.

‘Parliaments, politics and people’ returns next term on the 13th May. Our full summer term programme will be available shortly – watch this space!


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MPs in the Crimean War, 1853-56

With the help of research undertaken by the Victorian Commons, today’s blog takes a look at MPs who fought during the Crimean War…

The current crisis in Crimea has left some asking whether Russia’s intervention in the peninsula will lead to a new Crimean War. The 19th century conflict was, however, very different to the situation today. With its origins in the decline of the Ottoman Empire, war erupted after Britain, France and Sardinia opposed Tsar Nicholas I of Russia’s attempt to control the European part of the empire.

In Britain, the war is chiefly remembered for the Charge of the Light Brigade, made famous by Tennyson’s poem, and for the outrage caused at home due to the awful conditions faced by British troops. The Times journalist, William Howard Russell, regarded as ‘the father of war reporting’, described ill-equipped and badly neglected soldiers, and revealed that the high casualty rates were largely caused by disease. The outrage led to the pioneering work in nursing undertaken by Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole, and the downfall of Aberdeen’s government in 1855. (For more on the war, see here.)

A number of serving and former MPs fought in the campaign, and six died (including four sitting MPs). James Bucknall Bucknall Estcourt had been Conservative MP for Devizes (1848-52). As Adjutant-General in the Crimea, he came under huge pressure from the authorities in England during the row over conditions. However, the Commander of British Forces, Lord Raglan, defended Estcourt and refused to blame him for the situation. Estcourt himself died of cholera on 24 June 1855.

Lieutenant-Colonel the Honourable Lauderdale Maule (1807-54) Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Lieutenant-Colonel the Honourable Lauderdale Maule (1807-54) Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Lauderdale Maule was Liberal MP for Forfarshire and had just been appointed Surveyor-general of the Ordnance, the government body responsible for supplying the armed forces, when the Crimean War broke out. After a long career in the army, he was a highly regarded officer, ‘adored’ by his men [Morning Chronicle, 14 Feb. 1855]. He made just one speech in parliament before joining the campaign, serving as Adjutant-General in the second division camp near Varna, Bulgaria. He too fell ill with cholera and died on 1 August, 1854. Unfortunately his death was followed by another tragedy as Martha Clough, a woman ‘devoted’ to Maude (although their exact relationship is unclear), became a nurse in Balaklava after his death and also died of cholera on her way to visit his grave in the Black Sea in September 1855.

Others who served in the Crimea later became MPs, and several of them spoke in the Commons on military matters. For example, John William Fane, Conservative MP for Oxfordshire, used his experience commanding a militia regiment of 600 volunteers to oppose a clause in the militia bill which would allow commanding officers to suspend volunteers. Not all who served had done so in the army. Lord John Hay, who later sat for Wick Burghs and for Ripon, was a naval officer and commander of the Wasp, which was stationed in the Black Sea during the war. He was apparently the first commanding officer to allow his crew to wear beards and moustaches. As well as his services afloat, he served ashore with the naval brigade at Sebastopol. He was slightly injured in April 1855, after debris thrown up by cannon fire ‘cut his mouth, and knocked two of his teeth down his throat, besides wounding him in the shoulder’. He drew on his Crimea experiences some years later when he denied allegations in the Commons that British gunboats were ‘the most miserable specimens of naval architecture… ever constructed’, insisting that they ‘had rendered the greatest service during the Russian war’.

Some of the MPs who had served had to live with the physical and mental effects of war. Lord Henry Percy, MP for Northumberland North, suffered with chronic neuralgia after his service in the Crimea. Yet his war record was extremely distinguished; he was awarded the Victoria Cross and the Légion d’Honneur after rescuing, whilst himself wounded, fifty men at the battle of Inkerman in November 1854. They had run out of ammunition and were nearly surrounded by the Russians at the time. Percy later impressed Queen Victoria with his tale. Lord Adolphus Vane served ‘with distinction’ with the Scots Fusiliers in the conflict, but unfortunately his experiences led to severe mental health problems. He was admitted to a private asylum in March 1861, after an incident where he was found in a ‘very excited’ state throwing cigars and money to a crowd in Coventry Street, London. His health improved a little and he continued to sit as an MP, although it deteriorated again before he died in 1864.

The personal experiences of these MPs, as well as the reporting of W.H.Russell, ensured that the conflict had a lasting resonance with parliamentarians.


Many thanks to Kathryn Rix, Stephen Lees, Philip Salmon and James Owen for their contributions to this post. You can access many of the biographies on the Victorian Commons preview website, to find out how to do so click here.


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The Miners’ Strike: 30 years on

Thirty years ago this month the miners’ strike began. One of the defining moments of modern British history and Margaret Thatcher’s government, in March 1984 Arthur Scargill led the National Union of Mineworkers out on strike in protest against proposed mine closures. The strike has been viewed as a stark battle between the Thatcher government, determined to privatise the British coal industry and undermine the power of the Trade Union movement, and the Marxist Scargill who believed the industry should be protected. The mines themselves were losing money and the closures were part of the government’s attempt to make the industry profitable.

The Labour party, labour movement and mining communities were divided throughout the strike, especially after Scargill had failed to hold a national ballot before taking the miners’ out. Violence erupted, both on picket lines between strikers and police and between those for and against the strike. For the miners and their families it was a period of great economic hardship, and after a year they were forced to return to work.

Our oral history project, which records the life stories of former MPs, offers perspectives from all parties and across the country on the strike. The Conservative MP and Minister Patrick Jenkin, now Lord Jenkin of Roding, was a strong supporter of the economic changes. He remembered the strike as a major test for Thatcher:

Nevertheless, it was a very very bruising encounter, which she had to win. She had to win.

Although the strike was seen as several Conservative MPs as a great battle between the government and the labour movement, memories from Labour MPs demonstrate that there were strong divisions within mining communities. Joe Ashton was Labour MP for Bassetlaw, a constituency which included both Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire mines. The Nottinghamshire mines were at the time still profitable, and the miners continued to work throughout the strike. In this clip he discusses the divisions within his constituency, and his decision to support the strike:

The Labour MP for Rhondda, Allan Rogers, also supported the strike; yet he too saw divisions within the community. For example one local miners’ organisation, controlled by the Communist party, resented his involvement. Rogers himself did not support Scargill, in this clip he explains why he would not share a platform with him:

This did not stop Rogers and his family from supporting the strike and the miners. Rogers spoke of his time on the picket lines and lending his car to picketers, and he, his family, and Joe Ashton gave up part of their salaries to miners’ support groups.

For all those who were involved, the strike was a divisive and difficult time, but a major event in their political careers. Patrick Jenkin remembered facing angry crowds in Yorkshire (although he also remembered others in the Labour movement apologising for the treatment he received). John Powley, Conservative MP for Norwich South, spoke of his surprise that pickets arrived in his constituency. For the Batley and Spen Conservative MP Elizabeth Peacock, who supported the government (but later voted against her party’s plans to close pits in Yorkshire), she remembered a strike in early 1984 as cause for an early TV appearance. In this clip, she discusses her nerves about the interview, and how she prepared figures on the costs of the mining industry:


For more on our oral history project, see our website.

The above interviews are, or will shortly be, available to listen to in the British Library. To find out more, search their Sound Archive.

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Parliaments, Politics and People Seminar: Philip Baker, ‘But private notes for my owne memory’? Parliamentary diaries in seventeenth-century England

Philip Baker writes about his ‘Parliaments, politics and people’ seminar paper last week, ‘‘But private notes for my owne memory’? Parliamentary diaries in seventeenth-century England.’

In an age before the open reporting of parliamentary proceedings, when even the official journals of the houses normally contain no record of debate, we are fortunate for certain periods to have surviving parliamentary diaries. Written by members themselves and often containing lengthy accounts of their colleagues’ speeches, there are around 150 such documents describing events at Westminster across the seventeenth century. There has been some, not entirely constructive, debate over the reliability of these sources and whether historians should even quote directly from them, but the purpose of my paper was somewhat different in that it focused on how and why these diaries were kept.

Not all of these documents are ‘diaries’ in a technical sense. A number are compilations of contemporary material such as copies of speeches, while others are reflective narratives written up some years after the events they describe, though perhaps based on notes made at the time, like those of John Pym. Precisely how such notes and fuller diaries were recorded in parliament remains something of a mystery, however. Writing in often overcrowded chambers with insufficient light and poor auditory conditions, and without the benefit of a table, some members, like Sir Bulstrode Whitelocke, seemingly did so in small notebooks in their laps, which may explain the often appalling handwriting. Perhaps others availed themselves of writing boxes, while others still may have used special erasable paper. But the logistical problems involved probably means that far fewer diaries were written in the chambers than is often supposed.

Another reason for suspecting this is that there appears to have been relatively little use of shorthand by diarists, although as many accounts survive only as ‘fair’ copies, how they were recorded originally remains unknown. A number of members, including Sir Nathaniel Rich, employed ‘speed writing’ techniques – a combination of shorthand symbols and longhand – but gaps and omissions in their diaries suggest that even users of these systems were unable to capture speech verbatim. What we have, instead, is a selective account of parliamentary proceedings normally recorded in the diarists’ own words, rather than in those that were actually spoken.

Although there was no explicit prohibition on taking notes in either chamber, some members vehemently opposed the practice and diarists could, as in the case of Thomas Burton, be confronted for so doing. This raises the question of why they did it, and here one or more reasons may apply. Some probably did so for the benefit of a patron, others in order to report back to their constituencies, while others still, like Sir William Spring, were involved in providing information for newsletter networks – somewhat undermining Spring’s claim that his diary was ‘but private notes for my owne memory’. The number of first-time members who kept a diary is highly suggestive, and Salwey Winnington is among those who may have done so in order to gain an understanding of parliamentary procedure. Some clearly took notes with an eye to posterity, as in the case of Sir Simonds D’Ewes, for whom keeping parliamentary diaries himself and editing those of others was part of a larger project to ‘restore to Great Britain its true history’. Finally, some may have done so for no other reason than the purpose of recording information itself during a century regarded as the classic age of the English diary. In spite of that, the most significant trend across the seventeenth century is the dramatic rise and fall in the number of extant diaries, which peaked in the 1620s but fell away sharply after the Restoration, and in concluding the paper I discussed some of the likely reasons for this.

In the wide-ranging discussion that followed, members of the seminar discussed the earlier precedents for diary-keeping among MPs; how diaries were used when reporting to patrons; the reasons why diarists may have stopped writing; and how first-time members used diaries as reference works.


For more on parliamentary diaries and the recording of debates, see the earlier blogs by Vivienne Larminie and Philip Baker (‘Confusion in the Commons‘ and ‘Recording speech in Early Modern England‘), and our earlier seminar report on a paper by Jonathan Fitzgibbons. See also the page on our 1624 parliamentary diaries project.

‘Parliaments, politics and people’ returns next Tuesday for our last seminar this term. Tom Crewe (Pembroke College, Cambridge) will speak on: ‘The Politics of Image and the Image of Politics: Visual Representations of Politicians in Portraiture and the Press, c. 1840-1906Full details here. Hope you can join us!

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History of Parliament schools competitions 2014: your turn this year?

Recently we held the prize day for our 2013 schools competition. Our three winners, Ami Ganatra, Jessica Welchman (Key Stage Three) and James Heale (A level), along with their teachers and families came to Westminster for a special tour of the Palace and to receive their prizes from the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow MP. You can read more about our winners in this post.

Here are our winners (with our Director, Dr Paul Seaward), together in Westminster Hall before the tour:

winners west hall1b

James Heale receives their prize from the Speaker, James Bercow:

James Heale and Speaker 2

All of our winners and their families and teachers in the Speaker’s House, with our Chair of Trustees, Lord Cormack:

All winners and families b

So, you teachers and students out there, could this be you next time? We’ve just launched our Key Stage Three and A level competitions for this year. We will ask our KS3 entrants to either write a piece on the Reformation in their local area or on Britain’s entrance into World War One. For A Level students, we want to read your parliamentary or political history essays.

Good luck – I look forward to all your entries!


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