top of page
  • Writer's pictureMike Shepherd


Provost Skene's house and Marischal College, Aberdeen.

The people of Aberdeenshire contributed to the Jacobite cause in the 1745 Jacobite Rising. That’s not to say that Aberdeenshire was predominantly Jacobite. It was generally reckoned that sentiment favoured the Jacobite cause in the shire, whereas the town of Aberdeen was considered to be two thirds pro-government and one third Jacobite. One could also mention that some but not all of the local aristocrats were enthusiastic Jacobites, that their tenant farmers were mostly reluctant to take up arms, whereas the Presbyterian Church ministers supported the government, but not those in the Episcopalian Church.

When Charles Edward Stewart landed in the Western Isles in 1745, several Highland clans rose to support him. On hearing this, Sir John Cope headed to the Highlands to confront them, only to discover that the Jacobites were too strong for his army, many of whom were inexperienced recruits. His plan was now to move to Inverness, and then to Aberdeen, where his army could then be shipped to the south of Scotland to defend Edinburgh. While in Aberdeen he removed the cannons from the fort at the harbour and several hundred small arms from the town itself, leaving Aberdeen defenceless. The Jacobites then moved in and occupied Aberdeen for five months. They left in February 1746 when the Duke of Cumberland arrived in Aberdeen with his army. The Duke of Cumberland remained here for six weeks, before finally marching north to fight the Battle of Culloden in April.

Here are some true stories from that time.

Alexander Leith was a fifty-something tenant farmer from Gartly in Aberdeenshire, who was seized by the Local Jacobites, and under threat of execution, was compelled to join their army. He had initially fled from his house to escape their clutches, only returning on thinking it safe to do so. That, and the corn needed to be harvested. While he was occupied gathering the corn, the Jacobites returned and grabbed him. Alexander Leith was made a captain, and marched into England with Bonny Prince Charlie’s army. On the return home he was captured at Carlisle, taken to Newgate jail in London, and was hanged in November, 1746.

Shortly before his execution, he wrote this letter to his brother:

‘Dear Brother, I am to suffer upon the 28th of this month. There is one thing I am guilty of that I cannot die without letting it be known, which is, that child that Elizabeth Anderson put upon John Chisholm, by my advice, I believe is mine. I earnest do repent for it, and I hope in the mercies of God he will pardon me for it. I beg of you let it be known to everyone and do not conceal it. God be with you all. I hope our meeting will be in a better place than here.

Your affectionate brother, Alexander Leith.

Walter Mitchell, farmer from King Edward in Aberdeenshire, was in his mother’s house when Jacobite soldiers seized him for their army. He resisted, receiving a wound in the head for his efforts. He was brought south bareback on a horse with his feet tied together under the horse’s belly. His mother caught up him with him at Montrose, pleading with the Jacobites to let him go. When she offered them twenty guineas for her son’s release, she was told that they wanted men not money. Walter was captured at Carlisle and put on trial in London. Although sentenced to hang, he was reprieved on condition of transportation, and was then shipped ‘to the Americas’.

St Nicholas Church, Aberdeen.

Reverend John Bisset, minister of East St Nicholas Church in Aberdeen, kept a diary at the time which has survived. He was a government supporter.

OCTOBER 24, 1745. This day, there was a beating up for recruits to Lord Lewis Gordon, for the Pretender. Stoneywood is also at Aberdeen recruiting; they come little speed. I am ravished to hear that, when the drum beats, not a few of the boys cry God save King George. I love an early seasoning against the spirit of Jacobitism.

FEBRUARY 8, 1746. I was informed by an eye witness that, after five o’clock, there came up the Nether Kirkgate above a dozen of horse, finely accoutred; there was riding in the middle a young gentleman upon a fine gelding, and wrapped in scarlet cloak; all his attendants had their swords drawn, but no sword in his hand; before him rode one well mounted, with a French horn; immediately before him, with drawn swords, rode some bare headed; at some distance behind, a boy, richly mounted, beating a brass drum, and one lodges at Kirkhill with trusted guards, and none got in without a pass. It is easy to guess who is this [No, it wasn’t Bonnie Prince Charlie! He had gone north by another route].

The Duke Of Cumberland In Aberdeen: ‘The Duke of Cumberland arrived in Aberdeen on the 27th February, 1746, and was welcomed in Schoolhill by a deputation of the magistrates, who conducted him in his lodgings to the Guestrow through streets lined with the burgesses and citizens. It was at first proposed that his Royal Highness should reside in the Marischal College, but the apartments having been pronounced unfit for his accommodation, he took up abode in the house of Mr Alexander Thomson, Advocate [now known as Provost Skene’s House]. He occupied this mansion for six weeks, during which time he made use of every kind of provisions found in the house – coals, candles, ales, or other liquors in the cellars, and the milk of Mr Thomson’s cow; bed and table linen, which were very much spoiled and abused; he broke a press, in which Mrs Thomson had lodged a considerable quantity of sugars, and whereof he took every grain weight. When about to march from Aberdeen, he left six guineas to the three servants of the house, but did not make the least compliment or requital to Mr Thomson for the so long and free use of his house, furniture and provisions, nor so much as call for his landlord or landlady to return them thanks.’

This was positively gentlemanly behaviour compared to that of General Hawley, lodged with Mrs Gordon in the house next door. On arriving, he ordered everything in the house he didn’t need to be packed up and sent to his London home. When he left Aberdeen in April, he took the bed linen with him as well.

Reverend John Bisset, again. March 31, 1746. On Saturday evening, two rebels were brought in from Strathbogie [by Cumberland’s troops]. The one, a spy, was hanged at the Bridge of Don, on a branch of a tree, with a paper on his breast bearing his crime for the terror of others. His name is Daniel Campbell, from Argyle, a stupid fellow.

William Aberdeen was a wine merchant in Old Aberdeen who joined the Jacobite Army and served as a quartermaster [supervisor of stores and barracks]. While in Inverness, and just before the Battle of Culloden, he came down with a violent fever and was laid up in bed at his lodgings. He thus missed the battle. After the battle was over, government soldiers searched the streets of Inverness for Jacobite survivors. On approaching William's lodgings, a group of soldiers were told by the maid that there was a rebel inside. They rushed upstairs to find the unfortunate William Aberdeen in bed, whereby they cut his throat ‘from ear to ear’.

Peter Grant, born near Braemar in 1714, was the last survivor of those who fought at Culloden. He died on February 11, 1824, at the age of 110. In the battle he was part of the Jacobite reserve, and thus annoyed that he was not directly involved in the fighting. He cried out to his officer, ‘Oh let’s throw awa’ thae fushinless things o’guns, and we can get doon upo’ the smatchets wi’ oor swords’.

More than 300 people attended his funeral in Braemar, watching as three pipers led the coffin. They played the favourite Jacobite tune from the '45 – ‘Wha widna fight for Charlie’s right’. It is reported that the assembled mourners finished off a four gallon barrel of whisky before the burial took place.

Copyright Mike Shepherd 2022.

If you like my articles, why not read my latest book North Sea Heroes: True Stories from a Scottish Shore. In it are seven tales from the east coast of Scotland, epic stories of adventure and human kindness.

870 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


The walls of the octagonal hall inside Slains Castle

bottom of page