Some overlooked effects of the failed Jacobite Rebellions

(1715, 1719, & 1745)


   Most of us are familiar with the after effects of the failed ’45 Rebellion, i.e.: executions, transportations, and the hated Proscription Acts. But what of some of the other laws enacted by London to take the teeth out of The Highland Clan System? Here’s one:

The suppression, under law, of The Scottish Episcopal Church. A wee bit of background first: The Scottish Anglicans (Church of England), having sworn allegiance to the Stewart kings as head of The Anglican Church decided that they could not disregard this oath when the Hanoverians ‘took’ the throne. Therefore, they were forced to leave the Anglican Church and become Scottish ‘Episcopalians’. When it appeared that the Stewarts might actually win back the crown, the hierarchy of the Episcopal Church came out in support by preaching the rightfulness of the Stewart’s claim to sovereignty and actively taking the field as soldiers and chaplains in the Jacobite army.

Background complete (mostly).

   After the debacle which was The’15 Rising, the government in London started to punish the church by summarily removing clergy from their parishes and their offices. In the Diocese of Aberdeen, for example, thirty priests were removed. It was the same all over Scotland.

   After the failure of The ’19 Rising, again because of the church’s support of the Stewarts, London enacted it’s first Penal Act against the Scottish Episcopal Church stating that an Episcopal priest could minister to no more than four people (plus his immediate family) at any one time unless he had first taken an oath renouncing the exiled king and promised to pray for King George. The penalty for disobeying this law was imprisonment or banishment. In an attempt to ‘get around’ the law, the priests would have their congregations stand outside of their houses, gathered in groups of four at each window, while they conducted the service. In other instances, members of the congregation would enter the priest’s house and gather in various rooms (again in groups of four) while the priest stood in a central passageway. “Services were repeated time and time again, on all days of the week” with some priests conducting over 15 such services on a Sunday.

   When The ’45 Rebellion fell apart, the government started to burn down Episcopal churches and those deemed unsafe for burning were to be torn down by their congregations. A harsher Penal Law was enacted in 1746 (while keeping the particulars of the 1st Penal Act) which stated that all Episcopal priests were to pray for King George ‘by name’ and were also to swear allegiance to him as king. Non compliance meant imprisonment or exile. The common folk who managed to attend the ‘four people’ services were barred from holding any public office, deprived of their right to vote, and were barred from admission to any universities and/or colleges. Clergymen ordained by a Scottish bishop could not ‘qualify’ to conduct ‘ordinary and open’ worship.

   In 1720, the last remaining diocesan bishop in Scotland died. The Scots created an Episcopal College to enable them to consecrate their own bishops, away from Canterbury and the Hanoverian government.

   During this time of persecution, the Scottish bishops consecrated Samuel Seabury as the first bishop of the then fledgling United States. The American Anglicans also had a problem with swearing allegiance to the British monarch, whom they had just gotten rid of. This was the beginning of the world-wide Anglican Communion of Churches.

   In 1788, with the demise of the last Stewart heir to the throne, the Bishop of Aberdeen noted that the Scottish Episcopal Church had fulfilled it’s oath to the House of Stewart and now sought closer ties to London. It was agreed that the church would pray for King George III. In 1792, the Penal Laws were rescinded.

   The suppression of the church had taken its toll. It was only in the North-East and in Buchan that any significant numbers of Episcopalians remained. In 1689, there was a bishop in every diocese and 600 priests ministering to two thirds of the population. In 1792, there were four bishops and forty priests ministering to just five percent of the population.


Gordon D. Duffus

July, 2004