The Jacobite Clans of Perthshire

Marking the 330th anniversary of the Battle of Killiecrankie, Perth Museum and Art Gallery have opened an exhibition exploring the Jacobite Clans of Perthshire. The exhibition is free entry and will run from 29th June to the 26th October. The museum offers a detailed description of the events that took place and made me realise how important the Jacobite Wars, which spanned 60 years, were to Scottish history and in setting the current culture of Scotland. The exhibition takes a refreshing approach to the historical events as it mostly focuses on the clans and families of Perthshire. It also displays portraits of Bonnie Prince Charlie and Flora Macdonald and a range of objects that were once owned by the Jacobites. The information is aimed at those of all levels of knowledge so don’t worry if your main source of knowledge of the Jacobite Wars is from a few episodes of Outlander!

A Brief History of the Jacobite Wars

The Jacobite Wars began when the Catholic king, King James VII of Scotland and II of England, was exiled along with his son when the protestant William of Orange seized the throne. James’s supporters, who were mostly catholic Scots but were also from parts of Northern England, wales and south-west England, were outraged and began the Jacobite uprisings as an attempt to restore James to the throne. The first uprising was led by John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount of Dundee, whose army was victorious at a night-time raid at Killiecrankie. However, Claverhouse was killed and his army, left leaderless, was defeated in 1689. In 1715, the Earl of Mar’s Jacobite army occupied large amounts of the Highlands and Perth, but had to withdraw after a bloody battle, torching villages as they went. In 1745, James’s son, Charles Edward Stuart (or ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’), came to Scotland and procured an army, occupied Edinburgh and defeated government forces. However, when reaching the English midlands, Charles’s army was forced to retreat and was finally defeated in 1746 on the battlefield of Culloden. Many of the Jacobites were executed or exiled; the Government also introduced an act which banned ‘Highland Dress and the bearing of arms’ aiming to destroy the Clans once and for all and injuring the deeply imbedded honour of the Scots. 

The Jacobite Clans Exhibition

When entering the exhibition space, you are firstly provided with an overview of the Jacobite Wars that took place from 1689 to 1746. It covers the exile of King James to a description of the conflict that followed including the leadership of John Graham of Claverhouse. You are then shown the striking picture of the youthful looking Bonnie Prince Charlie, painted by William Mosman, c. 1750. This and Richard Wilson’s Flora Macdonald is the first time the portraits have been on public display outside of Edinburgh. You are then informed in more depth of the Jacobite Clans and the conflict of the wars, including personal stories of families that witnessed the events and whose sons left to join the Jacobites. The museum displays many artefacts, some that have never been publicly displayed before. This includes family heirlooms that have been passed down through generations such as tartans and objects with a white rose: the secret symbol of the Jacobites. There is also a large display of drinking glasses that were used for Jacobite toasts at secret meetings, surviving clothing that the Jacobites would have worn and weapons and household objects that they would have used. My favourite things on display were the documents which had the signatures of the Clan Chiefs and a document with the signature of Bonnie Prince Charlie himself. It is so interesting to not only find out about the Jacobite Clans but to see first-hand the objects that belonged to them. As a finishing touch, the descriptions on the walls are written in English and Gaelic. Don’t forget to also visit Perth Museum and Art Gallery on the 6th July when an extra installation will be opened by playwright, theatre-maker and poet Belle Jones named ICONS – Flora; Mother, Migrant, Survivor which will look at the life of Flora Macdonald and how she assisted Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Exploring the Jacobites in Perthshire

Perth and its surrounding areas are a hotspot for Jacobite history so, after visiting the museum and learning about the Jacobites, you may wish to further your experience and see what else Perthshire has to offer. In fact, Helen Smout, Chief Executive of Culture Perth and Kinross informed us that ‘…Perthshire families and communities found themselves at the heart of a nation tearing itself apart over the question of who was the rightful ruler.’ Close to the museum is The Salutation Hotel where Bonnie Prince Charlie gathered his military commanders and clan chiefs. You may wish to also visit the AK Bell Library in Perth where there is a large illustrated family tree of the Nairne family and you also have the opportunity to discover if you have any family connections to the Perthshire Jacobites.  In the rest of Perthshire; Castle Menzies, near Aberfeldy, once hosted Bonnie Prince Charlie and Blair Castle was once besieged by the Jacobites. According to Nichola Small, the Jacobite Clans Exhibition Curator, ‘many of the bloodiest episodes of the Jacobite Wars took place in Perthshire’, therefore visiting the battle sites of Killiecrankie and Sheriffmuir is also a must. 

From visiting the Jacobite Clans exhibition at Perth Museum and Art Gallery I now have a further appreciation for Scottish culture and the struggles that took place when fighting for freedom and justice, a concept which is still deeply ingrained into our heritage. The exhibition was successful in not simply informing me of the events of the past but transporting me back in time by showing real relics and documents that were once handled by the Jacobites and allowing me to discover the individual stories of the Scots that experienced the conflict.

Image and article by Eloise Osborne

Abigail Shepherd