A Historical Preface to Outlander

The story of the Glorious Revolution, Hanoverian succession, and Jacobite Risings of 1715 and 1745

Source: Google images 

Diana Gabalon's Outlander series has become increasingly popular, especially since Starz' television series. Doune Castle, home of the fictional Castle Leoch, has seen a 91.9% increase in tourism since the show aired in 2014, and Outlander has been hailed 'The New Braveheart' in terms of encouraging international tourism to Scotland. But how many people know the full history from which the storyline is based? 

Firstly, lets introduce a key player linking fiction with history:
Bonnie Prince Charlie

Outlander's Bonnie Prince Charlie

Throughout the early parts of Jamie and Claire's story, Jamie is a part of a faction of Scots known as Jacobites - literally meaning 'Supporter of James'. But as we know, this man, who the Jacobites are keen to bring out of exile, is called Charles. So who is James?

Stuart Family Tree

Source: English Crown

The original James was Bonnie Prince Charlie's grandfather, King James II (or King James VII if you're a Scot). James Stuart converted to Catholicism later in life, which began a series of events which eventually lead to what history terms 'The Glorious Revolution', where James was overthrown and fled into exile in France, at Saint-Germain-en-Laye. 

James II had two adult daughters with his first wife when he married wife number two, Mary of Modena, who bore him a son. His eldest daughter Mary, who was heiress presumptive was now displaced by the male heir apparent, also called James. Mary and her sister Anne were Protestant, therefore had favour over James. After Mary and William had both died, Anne succeeded as Queen. 

Concerns were rife among English parliamentarians about James' Catholicism and religious tolerances at a time when Catholicism was looked down upon. Enter William of Orange, the new husband of Mary and conspirator with parliament. James II flees to exile - William and Mary marry and rule together. 

Over the coming years there are attempts by James to return to both England and power, but these fail. Queue the first Jacobite rising, including the Glencoe massacre, where the MacDonald Clan were massacred by the Campbells and the Earl of Argyll's Regiment of Foot because they refused to swear allegiance to the new King and Queen. In essence, the MacDonalds were Jacobites, and they suffered for it. Clan chiefs were offered £12,000 to swear allegiance, however this just caused between-clan troubles as they argued over how to divide the £12,000. 

Tensions rise between England and Scotland (and Ireland, too), Protestants and Catholic. Then, in 1707, during the reign of Queen Anne, came the Acts of Union which produced one United Kingdom (even though we were all already ruled by the same King). Part of the reason the Scottish Government agreed to the Union was that the country was in financial trouble after the failed Darien Scheme (>50% of national capital was invested in a scheme to establish a Scottish colony in Darien - now part of Panama) - the Union promised a sum known as The Equivalent, which would compensate stakeholders for their losses from the failed scheme. Unfortunately for the wider population of Scotland, the people who could afford to make the decisions were those who had invested in the scheme. The majority of the population were highly displeased with the Union, as they had been with the new monarch, and the threat of civil unrest lead to martial law being imposed in Scotland. Anne was famous for having spies in Scotland, including Robinson Crusoe author Daniel Defoe, spying as penance for a charge of seditious libel. Being a Jacobite was treason, so they would discreetly reveal themselves to one another by passing their drink over their glass of water when they toasted the King, hence toasting "The King Across the Water", i.e the exiled Stuart. 

So, we are still 36 years before Claire falls through the stones and enters Jamie Fraser's life.....when is this woman going to get to the point, I hear you ask. Bear with me, because it's all relevant! 

In 1708, Anne's Catholic half-brother James Francis Edward Stuart "The Old Pretender" (Bonnie Prince Charlie's Father) attempted a landing in Scotland to take back the throne - it failed. Down the line and Anne, heirless, is succeeded under the Act of Settlement 1701 (which prevented a Catholic succession) by her second cousin from Hanover, George I, thus what history terms the 'Hanoverian Succession'. 

Some Tories, disgruntled with the new King, sided with the Jacobites in the rebellion termed "the Fifteen" (1715) - battles occurred and on 22nd December James landed at Peterhead, however too little too late as the Jacobite forces now numbered only 5,000, and the Duke of Argyll's forces had re-armed and were advancing quickly. On 5th February James sailed back to his exile in France. Many Jacobites were sentenced to death for their role in the Rising. 

The 1716 Anglo-French alliance (England and France had before been at war) saw a goal of peace - thus the French ended their political and financial support for the exiled Stuarts. Gone from Saint-Germain-en-Laye, they sought protection of the Pope in Rome. The birth of Bonnie Prince Charlie and his brother Henry kept the Jacobite cause in Scotland alive. 

In 1743, when Claire arrives through the stones, tensions between England and France were again high, as they were both funding different sides of the War of Austrian Succession - King Louis was much more open to showing support for the Jacobite cause. 

Aha, a name we know!

Source: Google Images

Enthusiasm for the Jacobite cause over the next 2 years was roused from a dislike of George I. When we see Dougal Mackenzie collecting money, this is to go towards weapons for an invasion, supported by the French, of Bonnie Prince Charlie, landing in Scotland with an aim to overthrow George I and reclaim the throne for his father. The landing was a bit of a strategic failure, but morale was strong with support from the Frasers, Mackenzies, and Gordons, and Irish support and French artillery. Success came in battles, however many Scots returned home over winter to tend their land. A Royal Navy blockade meant that French shipments of food and artillery to the Jacobite army were unsuccessful: tired and hungry, the Jacobite forces were struggling. Both sides concluded that a decisive battle was the best option. The Battle of Culloden was over in under an hour with decisive victory for the English forces. Charles fled North where for months he evaded capture before fleeing (aided by Scottish heroine Flora McDonald), and many Jacobites who had fought were executed. Those who escaped were left hunted for the part they played - this loyalty is what lands Jamie on the run following Culloden. 

Culloden Moor

Part of my family are Frasers, and this made me quite emotional, and proud. 

Whilst I was at Culloden Moor, I read a story about a young Fraser who escaped to a house on a hill with his kinsmen and hid from the English. Perhaps this upon whom Jamie Fraser was based. 


I hope you've enjoyed my little history lesson, and it's given you a broader picture of the Outlander background. To any historians out there, please forgive me if this isn't perfect - this is just my understanding of the real story surrounding the novels: an understanding I've gained through fascination about this period of history after reading the books.

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A Historical Preface to Outlander