How Burnley Catholics got drawn into rebellions

Most of you will know that, in 2015, there are quite a number of significant anniversaries to remember and, in some cases, celebrate. I thought readers might be interested in the Burnley perspective on these events.

Thursday, 5th March 2015, 12:28 pm
Towneley Hall

I have prepared a number of articles on these events which comprise the Battle of Agincourt (1415), the Jacobite Rising of 1715, the battle of Waterloo (1815) and the year which confirmed the First World War would not “be over by Christmas” (1915).

A little perversely, perhaps, I am starting with the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715, a significant part of which had Lancashire and Burnley connections though the main events in the county did not take place here but in Manchester and Preston.

First, a little background to what is a two-part assessment of the 1715 Rebellion.

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When I think about “the 1715” I find myself a little surprised such an event should take place at a time when Britain was on the verge of the great changes we now collectively know as the Industrial Revolution. Perhaps more surprisingly still is the fact there was another rising 30 years later and both more than touched our county.

Of course this is where historical perspective comes in and, as is often the case, it may be best to start with the two “Rs”, revenge and religion.

In 1660 the Stuarts were restored to the thrones of England and Scotland in the person of Charles II, son of the executed Charles I. A recent book “Killers of the King” by Earl Spencer tells the story of Charles II’s largely successful attempts to avenge his late father. He did this by pursuing those who had signed the late king’s Death Warrant.

One of them was a Lancashire man, John Bradshaw, who had presided at Charles I’s trial. Fortunately for him, Bradshaw had died, possibly from malaria, before Charles II succeeded in 1660. However, there were plans to exhume the body and make a public spectacle of it as was the case with Oliver Cromwell.

Others were not so fortunate. Some were hunted down, a number of them executed, others fleeing abroad where, in a number of cases, the pursuit continued. It was a little like the search for Nazi leaders who escaped after the German defeat in the Second World War.

Charles II managed to retain the throne for 25 years but, though he enjoyed many well-documented relationships with women, he failed to produce a male heir. This meant the king’s younger brother succeeded as James II in 1685. The brothers both had Catholic sympathies but it was thought, at the time, James was the more dangerous to the Protestant cause in England.

He first had to face a rebellion by his illegitimate nephew, the Duke of Monmouth (otherwise known as the Protestant Duke) which was put down at Sedgemoor in 1685. This was followed by the Bloody Assize in which about 300 persons were hanged and over 800 sold into slavery and transported to the West Indies.

This brutality was not forgotten by the leaders of the Protestant cause and James’s plans to rule absolutely and to restore the Catholic faith became more apparent. The result was that, in 1688, a successful, but bloodless, attempt was made to remove the king. This is known as the Glorious Revolution and resulted in James’s daughters, both Protestants, coming to the throne.

While all this was happening, largely in England, the land from where the Stuarts originated, Scotland, was having its own problems. In the latter part of the 17th Century the Scots planned an independent empire which was to take shape in South and Central America. Unfortunately, these plans were badly handled and Scotland’s finances were reduced to chaos.

It should be remembered that though the Stuarts were monarchs in England and Scotland, the two countries had different governments. The two crowns were held by the same monarch but the crowns were not united. However, in 1707, this matter was resolved and the Edinburgh Parliament agreed to join the Parliament in Westminster. Scotland ceased to be an independent country.

In the early years of the 18th Century, therefore, the circumstances prevailed that might possibly lead to political instability. That became a reality in 1714 when the younger of James II’s daughters, Queen Anne, died without an heir.

Her reign had been exceptionally successful, especially on the battlefield, where the victories of John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, had resulted in the final defeat of Louis XIV of France and the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) which established Britain, not England, as an imperial power. This, however, counted for little if there was no heir and the Protestant party, which was in power in London, invited George, the protestant Elector of Hanover to become king.

George was the son of Sophia of Brunswick, grand-daughter of James I, so the new king had some Stuart blood in his veins. It was, though, not enough for many Scotsmen who not only resented, as they saw it, their loss of independence to England but who declared their loyalty to, again as they saw it, the rightful king, none other than the only male descendent of James II.

James had died in 1701 but had had a son by his second marriage to Mary of Modena. Confusingly, this was another James (Francis Edward) who was known by his supporters as James III. He is better known by his nick-name, if that is the right word, of James, the Old Pretender, and he was a Catholic.

James’s supporters were known as Jacobites, from the Latin for James, Jacobus, and the rebellions of 1715 and 1745 are often referred to at the Jacobite Rebellions.

The role of Lancashire, and Burnley, in the first of these rebellions should now be addressed. The county was home to a large number of Catholic families one of which was the Towneleys of Towneley. Charles Towneley was a Royalist victim of the battle of Marston Moor in 1644 and his son, the scientist and mathematician, Richard, found himself involved in the Lancashire Plot of 1694.

Richard’s son, Charles, was noted for his Jacobite sympathies but it is another Richard who concerns us here. This is the Richard Towneley who succeeded in 1712 and, within two years, the Jacobites saw an opportunity to restore the Stuarts to the throne in the person of the Old Pretender. The choice of George, by those who were in power in London, was more than a disappointment to the Jacobites some of whom expected their man to be given the call.

When this did not happen the latent dissatisfaction that existed in Lancashire exploded into outright opposition to the new king and his Whig advisers in London. On Friday, June 10th, 1715, the Old Pretender’s birthday, a Manchester mob drank the health of King James III and, led by a blacksmith called Thomas Sydall, they ravaged the town for several days embarking on a campaign of destruction, their victims being the Nonconformist chapels and meeting houses of a wide area.

Sydall was arrested and sent, along with some of his supporters, to Lancaster for trial where he was put in the stocks and sent to prison in the castle. However, Sydall had set the ball rolling and soon people were talking openly about a rising in favour of the Old Pretender.

The rioters in Manchester had been Catholics, High Churchmen and a number of trouble makers but, together, they claimed they could raise 20,000 men for a Jacobite rebellion, should there be one. Jacobite clubs had sprung up all over Lancashire meeting in inns. It is thought the Hall Inn in Burnley may have been one of these places and another possibility could have been the Sparrow Hawk in Church Street.

We do know, however, that Burnley men were involved in “The 1715” and this will be confirmed in part two “The 1715 Rebellion” next week.