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It has certainly been a year of contrasts for the proud nation of Alba/ Scotland. With the loss of the Independence vote I’m sure I was not alone to slump into a form of depression but the wave of proud and non-sectarian nationalism that has swept Scotland since has been a joy to behold. With the red tories of the Labour Party about to swept into oblivion things have never looked beter and that election loss can be seen for what it is. A small blip on the way to a fully independent Scottish republic.
This review is another in our series of ‘Classic Album Reviews’ (here) where we aim to introduce you to lost gems that have inspired and provoked music and musicians right up to modern celtic-punk music. Here we have the legendary Ewan MacCool with an album from over fifty years ago dedicated to the memory of the Jacobite Rebellions. They were a series of uprisings, rebellions, and wars across Scotland, Ireland and England between 1688 and 1746. They ended in failure and the repression that the english rained down on the Scots after their victory would end with untold thousands leaving Scotland to make better lives in the America’s.
In these Jacobite songs every battle became a cry against oppression, and every soldier exhibites ideal courage, boldness and strength, without blemish. The songs are glorious. Through them the Jacobites have won their rebellions, for the songs live on, moving us who are so far removed from the events, the causes, the feelings of the Fifteen and the Forty-Five; who live in other countries and pursue other destinies. As Ewan MacColl writes
“To a world which has become familiar with the concept of genocide, which has known fascism and two world wars, the Jacobite rebellions appear as no more than cases of mild unrest. They have grown dusty in history’s lumber room along with all the other lost causes. The Stuart cause is forgotten and nothing, remains of it except the songs. And what songs they are”
As with everything Ewan put his hand, and voice, to it is witty, tender, proud, bitter, ribald, delicate and passionate. Genius is a word easily matched with his name. These are the songs of the Scottish people. People with a great zest and appetite for life. The songs of a people who after all these centuries are optimistic again. Freedom is in sight and we can see it. Let these songs inspire us all to make that push towards it.
“What force or guile could not subdue,
Thro’ many warlike ages,
Is wrought now by a coward few,
For hireling traitor’s wages.
The English steel we could disdain,
Secure in valour’s station;
But English gold has been our bane –
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!”
Such A Parcel Of Rogues In A Nation. Robert Burns. 1791
the following essay is taken from the original album’s sleeve notes
After centuries of conflict, the kingdoms of Scotland and England had been brought together in 1603 when the Stuart King James VI of Scotland became James I of England. Although united in the person of their ruler the two states retained quite different governments and institutions. They remained separate until the Act of Union in 1707 established a single government for the ‘United Kingdom’. By this time the Stuart dynasty had been deposed in the so-called ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, when the Roman Catholic James II (VII of Scotland) was replaced by the Dutch ruler William of Orange, who had married James’ elder daughter Mary. This had been a victory for the powerful landowning and commercial classes which had been rapidly increasing in strength during the preceding century. They were strongly Protestant in religion and they were, moreover, determined to restrict the power of the monarchy permanently.
Scotland benefited materially from the Union with England. Its trade and manufacturing industry increased enormously and, thanks to the superiority of Scottish education over anything, existing south of the Border in the eighteenth century, Scottish businessmen, inventors and intellectual leaders figured amongst the giants of the Industrial Revolution. Adam Smith, the economist; James Watt, inventor of the improved steam engine; and Macadam and Telford, the famous road builders, were amongst the most outstanding.
The real increase in the prosperity of Scotland as a result of this important contribution to the processes of industrialisation was, however, unevenly spread. It was concentrated in the Lowlands and in particular in Glasgow, which was rapidly becoming a large commercial centre. The Highlands were scarcely affected by it. In this extensive mountainous area an ancient feudal system based on subsistence farming remained dominant. The clans which maintained it were cut off from both the material developments and currents of thought of the outside world. Personal loyalty was highly valued; the old religion of Roman Catholicism was still strongly entrenched; and with it affection for the exiled ‘King across the water’ and a romantic attachment to the ‘auld alliance” with France against England. In view of this dour resistance to all the forces of innovation which were beginning to transform England and the Lowlands in the eighteenth century, it was natural that the Stuarts should look to the Highlands as their main hope for a revival of their fortunes.
James II had gone into exile in France, where he died in 1701. His son James, the ‘Old Pretender’, inherited the claim to the thrones of England and Scotland, and it was in support of him that the Jacobite Risings occurred. The Act of Settlement of 1701 had ensured that the crown would pass to the Protestant House of Hanover. This happened in 1714, and the first Rising was thus timed to take advantage of the unpopularity of George I. But as it was inadequately planned and badly led, the Rising of 1715 never presented a serious challenge to the new regime. Apart from an abortive expedition in 1719, thirty years passed before the Stuarts made their next and final bid to recover power.
On the 25th July 1745, the 25 year old Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the ‘Young Pretender’, set foot on the Scottish mainland. Less than a month later he raised the standard of his father at Glenfinnan, and the clansmen began to rally to him. By a daring march on Edinburgh the Jacobites captured the city and repulsed an effort to dislodge them at the Battle of Prestonpans. The Prince then led his army southwards towards London, hoping that support would come to him from the inhabitants of the northern English counties. He was disappointed. Although he reached the River Trent just south of Derby on 4th December, he received an extremely cool welcome from the towns and countryside through which he passed. And his clansmen became increasingly disgruntled the further they moved from their native glens.
Meanwhile, the government had been desperately raising an army, and although hampered by incredibly bad communications a force was now ready to take the field under the generalship of the Duke of Cumberland.
The Prince was forced to retreat, and his forces fell back into Scotland and then into the Highlands, Cumberland pursued them towards the inevitable engagement. This took place on the morning of 16th April 1746, when the clansmen were mown down by the superior armaments of the government forces on Culloden Moor.
The Battle of Culloden marked the extinction of the last Jacobite hope of recovering the British crown, and Prince Charles spent many hunted weeks as a fugitive before he managed narrowly to escape to France. But it marked more than that — it was also the end of an ancient social order. The government determined that there should never be another rising in the Highlands, and Cumberland earned himself the nickname of ‘The Butcher’ by ruthlessly carrying out the policy of breaking the clan system. Estates of the leading Jacobites were confiscated, and the wearing of the tartan prohibited. Even more important, the feudal powers of the clan chieftains, with their own law courts and the right of claiming military service from their tenants, were abolished.
These measures were effective. Law and order was imposed on the Highlands. Roads, bridges and harbours were built and improved. The introduction of English practices of land ownership led in time to the establishment of large estates as deer parks, and resulted in large scale depopulation. By 1759 Pitt was able to remove the ban on tartan wearing and to recruit regiments of Highlanders to assist in the conquest of Canada. In 1784, the government felt able to restore most of the forfeited estates to their original owners. Meanwhile, the whole country had begun to show signs of the rapid acceleration in the processes of industrialisation which brought greater prosperity to the nation. Industrial and commercial success in the eighteenth century did more than Cumberland’s troops to cement the political foundations of Hanoverian Britain.
With the pacification of the Highlands, the Stuart cause was dead. But like many lost causes, that of the Jacobites has retained its attraction and its power to move the spirit. More than most, the Jacobite cause, though lost, has been won in the persistent appeal of the songs which it evoked. These songs recall a social order which has long since passed away under the wheels of the locomotive, the arterial road, the factory, and the hydroelectric power station. They recall the bravery of men who died for a cause in which they believed. And above all, they recall the loyalty felt towards the young prince who, with grace and charm, came to lead the clansmen in his fathers’ cause; and who, though doomed to failure, won the hearts and devotion of men and women in his own generation and in those which have followed.
– ANGUS BUCHANAN
Greentrax Records recently released a compilation album ‘For Freedom Alone- The Wars Of Independence’ and you can read our review here
and order it too!
more information on the wonderful Robert Burns can be had from this great web site here
Tagged: Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger