Little Rebellions – Never Going Back

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Treasury Board Papers, Account of State Prisoners at Marshalsea
12 July, 1746


John Read at Arne near Port Glasgow prayed to may never be sent again to France being forced into that Service to save himself from a Lingring death for want of victuals
Private Man taken in the Soliel Privateer and Committed 25th Janry 1745

Amongst the thousands of Jacobite prisoners taken during the Forty-five, which reflect the diversity of the movement both internationally and pan-culturally, a significant portion of these were regular or professional soldiers in the service of other countries. In the middle of the eighteenth century, the nation that made the largest non-Scottish contribution to the Jacobite army, as could be expected, was France. Though it was already fighting a frustrating war on the Continent against its old enemy Great Britain, maintaining a good relationship with the Scots on the northern border of the ‘Atlantic Archipelago’ made sound strategic sense and was seemingly worth the questionable support and, at least, lip-service to the Stuart cause.

In addition to harboring elements of the exiled Stuart Court since the Revolution, Louis XIV and XV were de facto enablers of the Jacobite cause, maintaining l’Auld Alliance not only to suit their own needs. France was in on Jacobite designs since at least 1701 (a year which featured the double-catastrophe of the War of Spanish Succession and the death of James II and VII), and it lent a significant force soldiers and materiel to attempted Jacobite invasions of Britain in 1708, 1715, and 1744-6. The only French troops that ever really saw significant fighting on British soil in the eighteenth century, however, were those companies and regiments from Scotland and Ireland in service to the two Louis.

From most accounts of the treatment of prisoners-of-war in foreign service (in contrast to British subjects accused of treason), the chances of getting back home relatively unscathed were quite good. So good, in fact, that a considerable number of prisoners attempted to claim French provenance without substantiation, only to be tried and convicted in the normal manner that traitors are. Officials of both nations took great care to investigate each case, having it in their interests to uncover the details of their respective subjects’ situations. This dance of metadiplomacy between the Duke of Newcastle and France’s secretary Carpentier must have been a tense one, as their lists did not always match up.

Instead of the usual methods of punishing captured rebels – i.e. transportation, banishment, recruitment, execution, etc. – most soldiers in foreign service were eventually ‘liberated’ or, at the very least, exchanged for their captured British counterparts, financial restitution, or both. After a sometimes lengthy parole within civilian communities (captivity zones), most French, Irish (in French Service), and Spanish prisoners who were professional soldiers were simply returned home to ultimately resume their duties. Even Scottish nationals in foreign service were given conditional pardons for exchange, as long as they were not also previously deserters from the British army. ‘Natural-born subjects’ of George II were allowed to choose to stay in Great Britain, providing they were not Catholic; after waging war upon their homeland, however, it is understandable that not many did so.

John Reid’s case, as detailed in the above document, is exceptional; not only did he claim that he was pressed into service by a foreign country, but that he was so fearful of starvation in the employment of French service that he would rather stay and face the consequences than to be sent back to his rank. Reid was likely a Scotsman, so those consequences were most surely transportation to the New World colonies, where plainly waiting for him was absorption at best and servitude or death at worst. He was not the only one who asked to not be sent back, but the institution of his original employment in the French military, usually a voluntary affair, must have been terribly uncomfortable to rouse him to such action. More research certainly needs to be done on the quality of life of mid-eighteenth-century British subjects in foreign service, and especially that of recruitment causality.

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