The real voices behind the legend keep drawing Maggie Craig back to the '45
HARD THOUGH IT IS FOR ME TO BElieve, there are people who think that writing yet another history featuring the Jacobites, Bonnie Prince Charlie and the '45 should be a hanging offence. Well, I've just done it for the second time, adding Bare-Arsed Banditti: The Men of the '45 to my Damn' Rebel Bitches: The Women of the '45. I blame my Uncle Alex.
A railway signalman and a great reader, it was Alexander McCulloch who first put DK Broster's The Flight of the Heron into my hands. I was still quite a wee girl at the time but my fate was sealed.
This classic romantic adventure of the '45 remains my favourite novel, my Fahrenheit 451 book. An unlikely friendship between an English Redcoat officer and a Highland chieftain gives the story its heart and strength.
One of the many things that fascinate me about the '45 is how friends, families and even husbands and wives could find themselves on opposite sides of a deep and dangerous chasm, as politics erupted into shocking violence. As one woman wrote at the time: "I never thought to see poor Scotland a scene of war and bloodshed in our days."
I'm constantly thrilled by being able to read so much about the '45 through the words of the people who lived it, in original documents in libraries and archives all over Britain. There are eye-witness accounts of battles and skirmishes, lists of prisoners taken at Culloden, verbatim accounts of the interrogations of Jacobite officers, transcripts of their trials, and petitions for clemency sent from their families and friends.
Tracking these documents down is one of the great joys of my life. Living, breathing people leap out at me from the sheets of parchment.
There are the defiant young Scotsmen who refuse to give their English captors much more than name, rank and serial number, or acknowledge the right of an English court to try them. These men supported the Jacobite Cause, a broad kirk if ever there was one, because they saw it as a means for Scotland, the Ancient Kingdom, to regain her lost independence.
My research leads me to believe they were well aware that in so doing they were participants not in one of the footnotes of history but in the War of the British Succession, itself part of a European and worldwide power struggle. Their own words, in dying speeches or recorded by friends, make it clear that they were looking to a better future and not to a mythical past: and that they were prepared to stand up and be counted, as indeed were many Scots who thought their country's future lay with the Union.
For me it always comes back to the individuals. In the Public Record Office at Kew I read the letter of one Jacobite soldier on the campaign trail telling his wife he would definitely be home for Christmas. Another of his comrades was sure that: "I shall not sleep easy until I see you and the bairns."
Colonel James Gardiner was a career officer in the British army. Many of his letters to his wife Frances, holding the fort at Bankton House at Prestonpans, can be read today in the National Archives of Scotland. He always signed off by calling her his "dearest, sweetest jewel" and asking to be remembered to their children and friends. He died at the Battle of Prestonpans.
I believe they all deserve to be remembered, and that's why I do what I do. I like to think my Uncle Alex is sending me down an approving smile.
• Bare-Arsed Banditti: The Men of the '45 by Maggie Craig is published by Mainstream, priced 12.99.
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