Irish Eclectic

The Jacobites: Who, What, Where, When, Still?

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Irish EclecticBy Brian McGowan

Now that we’re in July, a date looms that is revered, and equally reviled, by many who claim Ireland as their home, ancestral or otherwise. July marks the anniversary of two battles fought in the late 17th century. The more famous is the July 1, 1690, Battle of the Boyne, which saw the defeat of King James II, a Catholic, last male Stuart monarch on the British throne. His nemesis? The Protestant Prince William of Orange, who just happened to be his son-in-law.

Less renowned is the Battle of Aughrim, fought on July 12, 1691, where the remainder of James’s forces were defeated.

Who were the Stuarts? A quick peak into British history reveals the answer.

Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of “often wed” King Henry VIII, of the House of Tudor, died childless in 1603. She was a staunch proponent of Protestantism, introduced in England by her father in 1533.

Elizabeth, a Tudor, had a worthy rival in her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, a Stuart. At that time England and Scotland were separate kingdoms. Mary, who also had a claim to the English throne, was forced by Elizabeth to abdicate the Scottish throne in 1567. In 1587, on Elizabeth’s orders, she was executed.

Mary’s son, James VI, King of Scotland since he was 13 months old, was next in line for the English throne when Elizabeth died. In addition to being King James VI of Scotland, he also became King James I of England, and ruled both countries. He also picked up Ireland in the deal.

The Stuarts put three male monarchs on the throne during the 17th century. The last was King James II, grandson of the first James. Born a Protestant, he converted to Catholicism. He was deposed in 1688, and his daughter Mary, along with her husband, the Dutch Prince William of Orange, both Protestants, assumed the throne.

James fled to Ireland and raised an army to help him reclaim that throne, but to no avail. He died throneless in 1701. His supporters, licking their wounds, devoted the rest of their lives to the dream of restoring a Stuart to the throne. Known as Jacobites, from the Latin Jacobus, for James, they would be a thorn in England’s side for years to come. Over the next 55 years, they staged a series of rebellions, collectively known as the Jacobite Risings, each one of which sought to reclaim the British throne for the Stuarts. 

The most famous of the Jacobites was James II’s grandson, Charles Edward Stuart (1720-1788), also known as “Bonnie Prince Charlie.” He came close to victory before suffering defeat at the Battle of Culloden in April 1746. Beaten, he fled the field, his hopes and those of thousands of supporters bitterly dashed.

The July 12 observance celebrates Prince William’s victory at the Boyne, even though that was the date of Aughrim. Adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1752 turned July 1 to July 11, close enough to the Aughrim date of July 12. It is this event that draws crowds of marchers throughout Northern Ireland. Unionists march in support of Northern Ireland’s continuance as part of the United Kingdom.  Nationalists who back the reunification of Ireland into a 32-county republic heckle them, and violence often erupts. 

While the event has quieted over the last 20 years, this year’s parade is anyone’s guess. The Nationalist party, Sinn Fein, recently won a majority in Northern Ireland’s national assembly. How the Unionists will greet this turn of events come the 12th will keep many on the edge of their seats. A return to the Troubles is feared by many.

Meanwhile, a direct Stuart descendent exists with a legitimate claim to the English throne, if he desired it: Franz Herzog von Bayern, the Catholic Duke of Bavaria in Germany. To date, he has expressed no interest in usurping his distant cousin, Elizabeth II, who just celebrated her diamond jubilee on the throne.

Despite the fervent dreams of current-day Jacobites (and yes, they still exist), not much chance exists of that ever happening.

Longtime Pleasantville resident Brian McGowan was born and raised in the and is a second-, third- and fifth-generation Irish-American/Canadian, as his immigrant ancestors followed several paths to the New World. Reach him at He is the author of two books, “Thunder at Noon,” about the Battle of Waterloo, and “Love, Son John,” about World War II. Both are available at


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