Massacre, uprising and rebellious royals remembered at National Library
One of the most chilling documents in the entire annals of Scottish history — the handwritten order for the massacre of Glencoe — is a centrepiece of a new exhibition marking the 300th anniversary of the 1715 Jacobite uprising.
On a bleak February day in 1692, 38 MacDonalds were slaughtered because of their suspected Jacobite sympathies by Government soldiers who had earlier accepted the MacDonalds' hospitality. Some 40 women and children later died from exposure in freezing conditions after their homes were burned to the ground.
This treacherous chapter in a bloody 50-year struggle to re-establish the Stuart monarchy is told in the exhibition 'Game of Crowns' which opens on Wednesday 10 December at the National Library of Scotland. It explains a turbulent period of British history through its key characters and, in the process, brings alive the dynastic, political and religious wrangling within a network of royal families, fed by the Catholic and Protestant sympathies of the time.
The MacDonalds' 'crime' was that they had been slow to swear allegiance to new Protestant monarchs William and Mary who had deposed the Catholic James VII (James II of England.) The original document from 322 years ago will be able to be viewed in the exhibition. It opens with the simple command: 'You are hereby ordered to fall upon the rebells, the McDonalds of Glenco, and putt all to the sword under seventy.'
'You can't get much closer to history than this,' said Robert Betteridge, the curator who has worked on 'Game of Crowns'. 'Visitors to the exhibition will be able to see a document that was written over 300 years ago in conditions of absolute secrecy and then passed on to the people who were to carry out the massacre. It was a deed so shocking in its execution that it has remained strong in the memory of generations of Scots.'
Large parts of Scotland remained sympathetic to the Jacobite cause in the years after the massacre and the fuse for the uprising was lit in 1714. That was when the German-born George I was chosen to rule over Britain in preference to James Edward Stuart, the son of James VII, who many saw as the rightful heir to the throne.
James — known to history as the Old Pretender — had spent all his life in exile abroad. In September 1715 his standard was raised by the Earl of Mar at Braemar. The Jacobite uprising was born and sympathisers, in England as well as Scotland, rallied to the cause.
The exhibition tells the story through original letters from some of the key figures involved, contemporary manuscripts, books, maps, portraits and songs. The Scots folk singer Sheena Wellington has recorded a number of Jacobite and Government songs which will be able to be heard in the exhibition to help people travel back in time.
'Most people will know bits and pieces of the history but may be less familiar with the full story,' said Robert. 'Many people may think about it as Jacobite Highlanders against the English but it is much more complicated than that. What we hope to do is paint a picture of what Scotland was like at this time.'
There are a number of fun elements to the exhibition. Letters between Jacobite leaders were often written in code to prevent them being read if they fell into enemy hands. Visitors will be able to see how this was done and interact with other types of code. There will also be an opportunity to play a card game, featuring the key figures in the story.
'If the Crown had passed down the Stuart line, there would only have been two monarchs in James's lifetime. In reality there were seven. It truly was a Game of Crowns,' said Robert. The exhibition takes the story right up to the second Jacobite uprising of 1745 when James's son, Bonnie Prince Charlie, repeated his father's attempt to win back the Crown.
It features generous loans by Her Majesty the Queen from the Royal Archives, and by National Museums of Scotland, National Records of Scotland and Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Game of Crowns: The 1715 Jacobite Rising runs from 10 December until 10 May 2015 at the National Library of Scotland, George 1V Bridge, Edinburgh. Entry is free.
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9 December 2014