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The Jacobites and Russia 1715 - 1750
By Rebecca Wills, Tuckwell Press

Too often the Jacobites are regarded as a lot of misguided cranks and misfits unwilling to settle down and ‘enjoy’ the rule of Hanoverian princelings and English Whigs. They migrated to almost every country in Europe where they were normally welcomed for their skills and abilities. While they were always acceptable to established Powers like France and Spain, there was an even greater welcome from developing countries, especially Russia and Prussia trying to establish themselves as "Great Powers".

It was obvious after the ‘15 Rising that James (III), who had his court in Avignon by courtesy of a not too generous budget from France, could not employ many of the exiles, but Peter the Great, anxious to make Russia a Great Power, encouraged them, in particular, those with naval and military experience, or who were skilled craftsmen, and this book concentrates on the years 1715-50 when Jacobite influence was greatest. M/s Wills makes the point that the Jacobite Succession was really peripheral to the European Powers and not in the same league as the Austrian Succession or the Polish Succession. Of course in the 1720s no country thought seriously of the UK developing as it did, and becoming a menace to their own European and extra-European ambitions. If they had, world history would have been different!

The reader tends to get a different impression of James (III), who so often appears a mere cipher. The picture emerges of a man who worked hard all the time trying to get support for the Jacobite Cause.

After the death of Peter I in 1725, his wife Catherine I who succeeded him, gave the impression of planning a serious invasion of the UK, based on Archangel, especially as the Duke of Liria, grandson of James was sent by Spain as ambassador to Russia, but England bribed Sweden and Austria not to help, France sat on the fence— and Catherine suddenly died! By 1750 it would be true to say that the Jacobite cause was little more than a skeleton in the cupboard, which could, perhaps be gently rattled.

In Russia itself the Jacobites played a major part in having the country established and recognised as a Great Power. While Russia had unlimited "cannon fodder’, the skills in the upper echelons were provided mainly by foreigners. In the army, one Field Marshal, one General and four Colonels were Jacobites, and in the Navy they had one Admiral of the Fleet and two Vice-Admirals, prominent both in the European sphere and the wars against Turkey. By 1741 James Keith and Peter Lacy were the two senior Marshals in the Russian army and enjoying great successes in the War of the Austrian Succession. The continental power struggle was all-important and there was little interest in Jacobitism.

Just at this time there was a wave of anti-foreigner feeling in Russia, but the Empress Elisabeth was determined to keep George Keith, by now probably the best General in Europe, so she had all Jacobite correspondence to him intercepted, especially all letters inviting him to lead the ‘45! Then as Keith’s Jacobitism became contrary to Elisabeth’s new foreign policy, he resigned in 1747 — and was immediately made a Field-Marshal in the Prussian army by Frederick the Great! Up to 1750 Jacobitism had played a key role in the rise of Russia as a military power. By now it was a dead duck.

M/s Wills with her knowledge of Russian has had the advantage of being able to consult documents in the original. Her book gives a very clear — and detailed! — picture of the contribution of a small group of exiles from a small country to the building of one of the great empires of the World. The role of the Jacobites was out of all proportion to their numbers. This talent which was lost to the British Isles, was decidedly to Russia’s lasting gain. A book worth reading.

Dr William Taylor

Thanks to the Scots Independent for this review


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