The University and the '45

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Minutes of the Senatus Academicus of Edinburgh University, showing that meetings were suspended between 18 June 1745 and 12 December 1746, Edinburgh University Archives (EUA IN1/GOV/SEN/1)

The Jacobite army of Charles Edward Stuart ('Bonnie Prince Charlie') occupied Edinburgh between 16 September and 1 November 1745. As it advanced on the capital, staff, students, and alumni of Edinburgh University all prepared to defend the city. A pro-Hanoverian company of University Volunteers was formed (including William Robertson (1721-1793), the future Principal), and Colin Maclaurin (1698-1746), Professor of Mathematics, was employed as a military engineer to fortify the city.

University classes were suspended throughout the occupation and it is unclear whether any lessons resumed that academic year. Certainly no graduations are recorded for 1746. The Minutes of the Senatus Academicus record no meetings between 18 June 1745 and 12 December 1746. Although there is no direct mention of the Jacobite Rebellion in the Senatus Minutes, these two entries both involve figures who were prominent in the University's response to the '45. The Minutes for 18 June 1745 record the controversial appointment of William Cleghorn (1718-1754) as Professor of Moral Philosophy after religious interests thwarted the candidature of Scotland's greatest philosopher David Hume (1711-1776). Cleghorn would distinguish himself as one of the most ardent members of the College Company of Volunteers. The Minutes for 12 December 1746 record that Alexander Monro ''primus'' (1697-1767) delivered two orations in memory of Colin Maclaurin, whose recent death was thought to result from his exertions in defending the capital.

The College Company

Charles Edward Stuart, engraved by Jean Daullé after Domenico Duprà (1744), Corson Collection, Edinburgh University Library (Corson P.6046)

On 19 August 1745, Charles Edward Stuart raised his standard in Glenfinnan, Lochaber, mustering a Highland army to reclaim the British crown for the House of Stuart. General Sir John Cope, Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in Scotland, immediately led his troops out of Edinburgh to intercept the rebels. He soon thought better, however, of confronting the Highlanders on their own terrain. He marched his men from Inverness to Aberdeen and prepared to transport them back to the capital by sea. It was quickly apparent that they would be pre-empted by the rapidly advancing Jacobite army. Edinburgh found itself almost defenceless against a force that few at first had taken seriously.

A company of citizen volunteers was assembled to reinforce the City Guard. Prominent among the volunteers were the College Company under the command of the former Lord Provost George Drummond (1688–1766). This comprised around twenty university students, teaching staff including William Cleghorn (1718-1754), the newly appointed Professor of Moral Philosophy, and recent alumni like William Robertson, Alexander Carlyle (1722-1805), and John Home (1722-1808). Carlyle and Home have both left accounts of the Company’s actions after news reached Edinburgh early on 15 September that the Jacobites were a mere 16 miles from the capital.

The College Company were ordered to assemble with other volunteers at 9 a.m. in the College Yards. Here Drummond informed them that a force was to be sent out to oppose the rebels, comprised of volunteers and members of the City Guard. If they were 'willing to risk their lives for the defence of the capital of Scotland, and the honour of your country', he was 'ready to lead [them] to the field'. According to Home, the volunteers 'threw up their hats in the air and began a huzza'. Yet Drummond’s behaviour proved ambiguous. Immediately after, in Home’s account, he went from company to company urging that it was 'not proper for every person who had taken arms to defend the city'. It was 'most suitable to young men not connected with families, and at liberty to dispose of their own lives', an observation that checked the ardour of many of the College Company.

The Company then marched up the Lawnmarket in order to rendezvous with the other volunteer companies in the Grassmarket. John Home reports that the march inspired 'universal consternation':

The men reasoned, and endeavoured to dissuade their friends: the women expostulated, complained, and, weeping, embraced their sons and brothers. But neither the arguments of the men, nor the tears of the women, had any effect upon those volunteers who had agreed to Mr. Drummond's proposal.

Alexander Carlyle’s recollections are somewhat different:

the mob in the street and the ladies in the windows treated us very variously, many with lamentation, and even with tears, and some with apparent scorn and derision

The College Company were joined by other volunteers en route, but their officers reported that few privates were willing to march out of Edinburgh. By the time Carlyle reached the Grassmarket, he noted that even the College Company had lost some of its number. Here they were met by a delegation of the city clergy, led by William Wishart "secundus" (c1692-1753), then Principal of Edinburgh University. Wishart called upon the Volunteers 'in a most pathetic speech' to

desist from this rash enterprise, which he said was exposing the flower of the youth of Edinburgh, and the hope of the next generation, to the danger of being cut off, or made prisoners and maltreated, without any just or adequate object; that our number added so very little to the force that was intended against the rebels, that withdrawing us would make little difference, while our loss would be irreparable, and that at any rate a body of men in arms was necessary to keep the city quiet during the absence of the armed force, and therefore he prayed and besought the Volunteers and their officers to give up all thoughts of leaving the city defenceless, to be a prey to the seditious

Although 'two or three of the warmest of our youths remonstrated', Carlyle writes that Wishart's words 'had an effect upon many of us, though youthful ardour made us reluctant to abandon the prospect of showing our prowess'. Drummond appears to have detected the change of mood. According to Home, he sent a message to Lord Provost Archibald Stewart informing him that the Volunteers would only march to meet the Jacobites if Stewart expressly desired it. Stewart replied that he had always opposed sending out the Volunteers, and, accordingly, Drummond ordered them back to the College Yards.

Home reports that many suspected Drummond of making a parade of patriotic zeal while never intending to face the rebels. They saw it as a political manoeuvre to enhance his own popularity at the expense of his rival Provost Stewart. Home, clearly, personally inclines towards this view, but Alexander Carlyle defends Drummond. He believes that he was simply conscience-stricken 'after hearing the remonstrance of the clergy' and 'did not think that he could well be answerable for exposing so many young men of condition to certain danger and uncertain victory'.

'The Battle of Prestonpans', lithograph by Edmund Walker after William Allan (ca. 1850), Corson Collection, Edinburgh University Library (Corson P.4080)

That evening, some of the most zealous volunteers, including Robertson, Carlyle, Home, and Cleghorn, discussed what to do if the city surrendered to the Jacobites. They resolved to make their way to Dunbar, where Sir John Cope’s army was now expected to land, and offer their services. The College Company then mounted night guard at Trinity Hospital in Leith Wynd, one of the weakest parts of the city. The following afternoon, the volunteers were again assembled in the Lawnmarket, when news arrived that a meeting of the inhabitants of Edinburgh had voted to capitulate to Charles Edward Stuart. They were soon joined by George Drummond who led them to Edinburgh Castle where they handed over their arms to General Guest’s garrison. Carlyle writes that they were

glad to deliver them, lest they should have fallen into the hands of the enemy [..] though not a little ashamed and afflicted at our inglorious campaign

Home recalls many of the volunteers delivering their ‘with visible reluctance, and some of them with tears’. As planned Carlyle, Home, Cleghorn, and Robertson made their way to Dunbar to enlist with General Cope. To their disappointment, Cope

did not think we could be so serviceable by taking arms, as we might be in taking post-horses through the night, and reconnoitring the roads leading from the enemy towards our army, and bringing an account of what movements there were

Carlyle describes reluctantly carrying out scouting and reconnaissance duties. On the eve of the Battle of Prestonpans, he observed Jacobite troop movements from the top of a church steeple. Carlyle missed the battle itself. His parents lived in Prestonpans and he retired to bed there, directing ‘the maid to awake me the moment the battle began’. Unsurprisingly, he awoke at the ‘first cannon’ but was still at home when the battle ended a mere ‘ten or fifteen minutes later’. Prestonpans was an inglorious rout for the government forces, as the Redcoats fled in terror before a Highland charge. The victorious Jacobites permitted Carlyle to help tend wounded Hanoverian officers.

Colin Maclaurin Fortifies the City

Blank commission for ensigncy in Jacobite Army, signed by Charles Edward Stuart, Perth, 7 September 1745, Laing Collection, Edinburgh University Library (La.I.348)

If a vein of farce runs through the tale of the College Company, the story of Colin Maclaurin (1698-1746), Professor of Mathematics since 1725, is altogether more tragic. In a letter of 9 December 1745 to his friend Duncan Forbes, Lord Culloden, Maclaurin wrote that 'as soon as the danger from the Rebels seem'd imminent', he left his country house in Dalkeith and came to the capital. Here he joined the pro-Government Volunteers and did his utmost to raise the spirit of resistance 'amongst the Gentlemen in hopes it would have been raised likewise amongst the Burghers & trades'. Immediately 'the care of the walls' was assigned to Maclaurin. He tells Forbes that he 'laboured night & day' to fortify the city 'under infinite discouragements from superior powers'. He was promised 'hundreds of workmen' but 'could hardly get as many dozens'. Despite daily complaints to the Town Council (whose Lord Provost, Archibald Stewart, was suspected of Jacobitism), he was only given the assistance he required in the last two days before the Jacobite occupation, and that, he writes, was too late. MacLaurin was incensed because he firmly believed that:

the Town was in a condition to have stood out for two or three days against men improvided with Artillery unskillfull & then unarmed, and there was a double expection of relief viz. from the Dutch & Sr John Cope

According to Alexander Carlyle, Maclaurin's former pupil and volunteer in the College Company, very few tradesmen could be prevailed upon to work on the fortifications, as they were occupied in the annual election of their deacons. Whatever the reason, Maclaurin's orders were 'but ill obeyed'. Carlyle recalls visiting Maclaurin when he was 'busy on the walls on the south side of the town, endeavouring to make them more defensible, and had even erected some small cannon near to Potterrow Port'. Maclaurin was convinced that he could make the wall invulnerable against a sudden attack but complained bitterly of lack of support.

Maclaurin's biographer Patrick Murdoch supplies further details: 'he made plans of the walls, proposed the several trenches, barricades, batteries, and such other defences as he thought could be got ready before the arrival of the rebels'. For Murdoch, 'the anxiety, fatigue, and cold to which he was thus exposed; affecting a constitution naturally of weak nerves, laid the foundation of the disease of which he died'.

At the time of the city's surrender, Maclaurin tells Forbes, he was 'loading the cannon at the Westport, & pressing the finishing of some works there'. According to Murdoch, Maclaurin was himself able to smuggle a telescope into the castle and to contrive a way of keeping the garrison supplied with provisions.

Following his victory, Charles Edward Stuart issued a proclamation, promising an indemnity to all Volunteers who submitted to his Government within twenty days. 'Determined to make no submission', MacLaurin 'endeavour'd to settle my family at Dalkeith as well as I could and crost [sic] the border of England on the 19th day of those allow'd' (letter to Rev. John Hill, 20 October 1745). He would rather entrust his family to the 'Protection of Providence' than have 'communication with the Rebels'. From the relative safety of Newcastle he wrote that:

I have never yet entertain'd any Fear of the Conclusion of this Affair, tho' deeply concerned for the dishonour and distress it brings on some parts of the Country, and particularly on Edinburgh' (ibid.)

In England, he accepted an invitation to lodge with Thomas Herring, Archbishop of York. In his absence, no fewer than eight Jacobite soldiers were quartered on his house in Dalkeith. His wife, Anne Maclaurin (nee Stewart), 'tho' indisposed', entertained them well and endeavoured to extract information as to the strength of the Jacobite army. MacLaurin made his way safely back to Edinburgh on 14 November 1745, but at great cost to his health. Crossing snowbound country between Morpeth and Wooler, he caught 'the most dangerous cold I ever had' (letter to Forbes, 9 December 1745). Within a week, he was endeavouring to raise a new body of volunteers but was hampered by continuing illness. Indeed Maclaurin's health never seems to have recovered from his exertions to defend Edinburgh against the Jacobites. He died on 14 June 1746, two months after the final defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden. He was tended on his death bed by Alexander Monro ''primus'' (1697-1767), the first Professor of Anatomy at Edinburgh University (1720-64) and founder of Edinburgh Medical School. At the first meeting of the Senatus Academicus after the reopening of Edinburgh University, Monro read two orations in praise of his late friend.

Other Reponses

'Proposals for Raising Four Regiments of Women in the Three Lothians', Laing Collection, Edinburgh University Library (La.II.90/7)

The great majority of the staff and students of the University appear to have remained loyal to the Hannoverian government. Charles Mackie (1688-1770), the University's first Professor of History is reported to have spread spurious tales of Jacobite atrocities as the city prepared for the arrival of Charles Edward Stewart's army. When challenged as to their veracity, Mackie cheerfully acknowledged that they might be unfounded, but argued that they served a purpose in rousing loyalist sentiment. Edinburgh University's Laing Collection contains numerous papers belonging to Mackie who taught both William Robertson and John Home. These include letters providing eyewitness accounts of the '45 and a set of 'proposals for raising four regiments of women in the three Lothians' to combat the Jacobites. One was to comprise of wives, one of widows, one of old maids, and 'one of young lasses fullgrown and fit for action'. There is also a tentative proposal for a fifth regiment of 'wives and daughters of the Presbyterian clergy'. The only qualification required of the women is 'that they be prooff of shot and able and willing to parry a thrust' (La. II. 90/7).

Related Pages


  • Alexander Carlyle, Autobiography of the Rev. Dr. Alexander Carlyle, Minister of Inveresk: Containing Memorials of the Men and Events of his Time (Edinburgh: W. Blackwood, 1860)
  • A Catalogue of the Graduates in the Faculties of Arts, Divinity, and Law, of the University of Edinburgh since its Foundation (Edinburgh: Printed by Neill and Company, 1858)
  • Andrew Dalzel, History of the University of Edinburgh from its Foundation, 2 vols (Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1862)
  • Sir Alexander Grant, The Story of the University of Edinburgh during its First Three Hundred Years, 2 vols (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1884)
  • John Home, The History of the Rebellion in the Year 1745 (London: T. Cadell, Jun. and W. Davies, 1802)
  • David Bayne Horn, A Short History of the University of Edinburgh, 1556-1889 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1967)
  • Colin MacLaurin, The Collected Letters of Colin MacLaurin, ed. Stella Mills (Nantwich: Shiva, 1982)
  • Patrick Murdoch, 'An account of the Life and Writings of the Author', in Colin Maclaurin, An Account of Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophical Discoveries (London: A. Millar and J. Nourse, 1748)
  • Nicholas Phillipson, 'The Making of an Enlightened University', in Robert D. Anderson, Michael Lynch, and Nicholas Phillipson, The University of Edinburgh: An Illustrated History (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2003), pp. 51-102.
  • Erik Lars Sageng, 'MacLaurin, Colin (1698–1746)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) [[1], accessed 12 June 2014]
  • L. W. Sharp, 'Charles Mackie, the First Professor of History at Edinburgh University', Scottish Historical Review, 41 (1962), 23-45.