Dr Darren S. Layne: What I do in Scottish History

Since I was a young boy, I’ve always been fascinated by what motivates a person to take up arms for a cause, and the Jacobite era provides a rich backdrop of international turbulence that features a wide array of lives and many disparate causes to examine. The romance and myth of the risings are rarely upstaged by the historical facts in our modern memory, but the archival evidence remains far more intriguing and there is still so much of it to discover, as demonstrated by a renewed proliferation of Jacobite-related research in the past few years. This recent body of work is often characterised by attention to new angles and subject matter that breaks from the typical historiography of the field, including fresh studies of Jacobite mercantile networks, imperial engagement in both the Old and New Worlds, the lives and accomplishments of Jacobite women, and of clandestine societies that preserved the cultural mantle of Jacobitism between and after the risings – just to name a few of these tantalising surveys. Likewise, as technology becomes more prominent as a tool used to bolster traditional historical scholarship, we are able to reveal a great deal of information that we otherwise would not be able to process. This nexus of the conventional and the progressive is where I’m most comfortable and where the core of my research is situated: Jacobite studies blended with approaches in the digital humanities.

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One of several list books of Jacobite prisoners at the National Library of Scotland

My main area of interest lies within the constituency of the Jacobite risings. Over time I’ve narrowed down my focus on the plebeian contribution to the Forty-five – the last rising in 1745-6 – specifically from a bottom-up view. It’s not the elites that interest me as much as the common people on both sides of the conflict and everywhere in between, but it’s more difficult to accurately compile detailed personal information about large masses of ‘the lesser sort’ in eighteenth-century Britain. My doctoral work, therefore, tackled this problem by creating a purpose-built database to collect and house as much information as possible about people of all stations who were involved in the Forty-five. After collecting and entering more than 15,000 persons and accompanying source information from both published and archival lists of prisoners, muster rolls, trial records, personal letters, and many other sources, I was able to ask a number of significant questions about the makeup of plebeian Jacobite support during the Forty-five and produce some answers that I hope will contribute to the future scholarship of the subject. The product of this study is contained in my doctoral thesis, which is freely accessible at the University of St Andrews research repository.

Some of the topics that have been explored with the help of the database include demographic locational information, age and gender studies, occupational classification, and an expansion of our understanding of consequences for suspected and accused rebels. For instance, I was able to collate the makeup of Jacobite support in Scotland by region, including county and parish, which shows that over half of all recorded military and civilian adherence came from the North East, with only thirty percent originating in the Highlands. Twenty-six percent of all constituents for whom we have occupational data were engaged in the agricultural sector, while nearly eighty-six percent were of “fighting age” (18-56, according to Alexander Webster’s census of 1755). And despite the traditional connection between Catholicism and advocacy for the Stuarts, only around thirty percent of the Jacobite army was likely of that faith.* Plenty of other leads found with database searches have been investigated, such as how increasingly draconian impressment tactics were used to gather Jacobite recruits on the army’s path through Britain, and how claims of being forced were actually much more successful in securing acquittal than alleged by previous studies. Peculiar networks were also unearthed, like the twenty goldsmiths in Edinburgh who accused each other of seditious activity (none of whom were found guilty), or the government agents deployed in ‘Tartan Cloaths’ pretending to be rebels in order to capture Jacobites on the Airlie estate. Other topics examined include the procedure of surrender and how alleged rebels were processed by the state, the ways in which witnesses were called and examined, and the differences between the fates of ‘treasonous’ British nationals and foreigners who were considered to be prisoners of war.

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A close-up of a government document pertaining to the ‘rebellion’.

The Jacobite Database of 1745 is an ongoing project that has the potential to grow into a useful tool for anyone interested in investigating either practical or ideological Jacobitism during the Forty-five. In essence, it is a data-driven repository that offers great flexibility for historical research and also provides an exciting example of how using a prosopographical approach to research can reveal important information by looking at patterns and relationships within large-scale data. Though the DB is not yet available for public usage, the goal is to offer online access when it’s ready. Accordingly, my continuing work is focused on extending the project into its next stage, which includes three independent sub-projects: one, further transcription and analysis of primary sources to find new evidence of Jacobite connected persona; two, creation of a public beta with a newly-coded architecture that allows controlled external contribution; and three, assembling a multidisciplinary team of scholars interested in engaging with data curation and contributing to the database using their respective areas of expertise. Interested parties are very welcome to get in touch.

With the copious attention brought to the period by the Outlander phenomenon, as well as interactive projects by the National Museum of Scotland, such as their new Jacobite exhibition and Jacobite Trail, it’s (once again) a very exciting time for students and researchers interested in Jacobite studies. I’m absolutely thrilled to be lucky enough to have turned my childhood fascination into a life-long research project and to now be a part of a fantastic community of scholars whom I have always admired.

*These results are taken from the current data set of records contained within JDB1745 and are based upon what information is cited within each connected source. Many of the records do not reveal particular information, like faith, age, or home locale. For the purposes of my research, the results are reported in context and are presented with the knowledge that the database is a living repository that may change as more information is added. So while the results of a search and its analysis may never be comprehensive, prosopographical studies can offer useful estimates based upon large-scale statistics.

Darren S. Layne received his PhD from the University of St Andrews and is creator and curator of the Jacobite Database of 1745. You can follow his work on academia.edu and he can be found on Twitter as @FunkyPlaid. You’re also welcome to follow the progress of the database project on Twitter at @JDB1745 or via its dedicated Facebook page and website.

Images (all author’s own). Cover Image: Tools of the trade, mid-thesis. 

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