The Stuarts were on the Scottish throne for hundreds of years. Misery began with the take-over of the English throne. After the Battle of Culloden on April 16, 1746, the ‘Highlander way of life’ of the Scottish clans was over.
The English and the Scots have been in conflict with each other for centuries. This discord has always been a popular subject in artistic representations as well as in chess. With the donation of the Rademaker Collection, the Chessmen Museum obtained a new chess game where the two rival neighbours face each other.
The Scots are often considered the underdog, which has everything to do with that decisive Battle of Culloden. The Scots lost this battle at the eponymous village in the Scottish Highlands. The English prohibited the wearing of kilts, the distinctive diamond patterns of the Scottish clans and the Catholic faith, in order to suppress any patriotic feelings among the Scots.
This war was not a war between Scotland and England though, nor was it a battle between Catholics and Protestants. It concerned a war between different dynasties that claimed to have the legitimate right to both the English and Scottish throne.
English king was a Scotsman
The Scottish House of Stuart had been reigning over Scotland since 1371. When the childless English Queen Elizabeth I died, her distant Scottish cousin James VI Stuart succeeded her in 1603 as James I of England. England and Scotland therefore were united in a personal union through an inheritance, not a war. They remained separate kingdoms but this would change in 1707, particularly at the insistence of some Scottish noblemen.
A lot happened in Scotland in the hundred years that had passed by then. The population doubled between the early sixteenth and mid-seventeenth century and many Scots left for the cities, looking for work. There was just not enough work for all those people, food prices went up and inequality between the rich and the poor increased strongly. In some areas, as much as a quarter of the population died as a result of the plague and food shortages. Situations like these are the perfect breeding ground for a revolution or a change of power.
After his death in 1625, James VI was succeeded by King Charles I as king of England, Scotland and Ireland. This Charles would be the only English king to die on the scaffold, in 1649. The protestant puritans were not happy with the kingship of the catholic Stuart, who wanted the Anglican Church to connect a bit more with Catholicism. The Scots also rebelled against Charles´ attempt to establish the episcopal hierarchy in Scotland, to the detriment of the Presbyterian Church governance there. This resulted in the Bishops´ Wars in the early 40´s, with Charles ending up drawing the short end of the straw. This would be the harbinger of the English Civil War in which he would lose his head.
William of Orange to the rescue
The big winner of the civil war was puritan statesman Oliver Cromwell, who would turn England into a dictatorship. After Charles´ execution, Cromwell and his army went to Scotland and gave the Scots a beating. All in all, political and social turmoil and discontent ran high and, in 1685, were reignited by another catholic king: James II (or VII of Scotland). The puritans did not trust this Stuart at all and invited the Dutch William III and his wife Mary Stuart to take over the throne. The couple drove out King James II in 1688 without bloodshed, under the watchful eye of the Scots. Not one Scottish town remained loyal to James and the chiefs of the clans also looked the other way. His supporters, the Jacobites, remained quiet until the eighteenth century.
William III and Mary died without offspring but the expelled James had a daughter. Anne ascended the throne in 1702 and in 1707 she would officially unite England and Scotland, to form Great Britain. Although quite a lot of Scots were against the formation of a British parliament, a majority eventually voted in favour of this political union. The Scots hoped for economic improvements in the poor country and more effective governance than the bickering clans´ chiefs.
End of the Stuart reign
To the dismay of many Scots, this union did not give them what they had hoped for. With the death of Anne in 1714, who had survived all of her children, three centuries of catholic Stuarts on the Scottish throne came to an end. The Scots had now not only lost their independence, but also their own royal family. The Jacobites did not like the English George I of Hanover much and already in 1715 they rebelled. After several battles the British defeated them in 1719, but the pro-Stuart sentiments remained.
The atmosphere remained tense and the intended Charles III, nicknamed affectionately Bonnie Prince Charlie by the Jacobites, made another attempt in 1745. The grandson of James VII, who lived in France, had received the help of the French: Louis XV wanted to take over Great Britain and for that he could really use the help of the Irish and Scottish Jacobites. The weather did not, however, cooperate and Charlie arrived to Scotland with only a small army.
In addition to the hard-core Jacobites, other clan chiefs and their men joined the forces, eager to win. Charles won the first battle and the prince, blinded by ambition, went on to take too many risks during the course of the war. The English ‘Redcoats’ had larger and better armed troops, which gave them a tactically advantageous position on the open field near the town of Culloden. They totally beat up the Jacobites and their supporters…. The English did not take prisoners of war: they shot wounded Scots or set them on fire. They combed out the area, looking for survivors.
Clan symbols forbidden
On April 16, 1746, this event marked the end of the clans and their centuries-old way of life in the Scottish Highlands. The English crown was scared to death that the Scots would rebel again and persecuted everyone who they suspected had anything to do with the uprisings. Clan leaders were executed and clan members imprisoned or sent to the colonies. Catholics were persecuted, because they adhered the religion of the Jacobites.
But above all, the Disarming Act of 1746 forbade all Scotsmen to possess weapons, wear kilts or other references to the clan or to play the bagpipes. This instrument was considered a war instrument by the English. Therefore, the clans that had no ties with the Jacobites had to obey these laws as well. The administrative and legal tasks, which had been passed down generations of chiefs, came into the hands of representatives from London.
It is because of the stories about the Highlands that assumed mythical proportions and the travelling artists and writers who spread them, incorporating them into their art and literature, that Scottish culture did not disappear and even became very popular in the 19th century. Fortunately so, otherwise we would have missed out on a lot of wonderful things, including this chess game.