Accession of the House of Hanover - Rebellion of 1715-16

The new sovereign lost no time in coming over to Britain, and fixing himself in that heritage which his family has ever since retained. He was fifty-four years of age, of a good, though not brilliant understanding, and very firm in his principles. Knowing well that the whigs were his only true friends, he at once called them into the administration. It was the custom of that period for every party, on getting into power, to try to annihilate their opponents. Not only were the whole Tory party insulted by the king, but a committee of the House of Commons was appointed to prepare articles of impeachment against Oxford, Bolingbroke, the Duke of Ormond, and the earl of Strafford. Bolingbroke, perceiving his life to be in danger, fled to the continent and his attainder was in consequence moved and carried by his rival Walpole. Ormond suffered a similar fate. Oxford, after a protracted trial, was only saved in consequence of a differ once between the Lords and Commons.

During the first year of King George, the Tories kept up very threatening popular disturbances in favor of High Church principles; but the Whigs, gaining a majority in the new House of Commons were able to check this a little by the celebrated enactment called the Riot Act, which permits military force to be used in dispersing a crowd, after a certain space of time has been allowed. Disappointed in their hopes of office and power, and stung by the treatment of their leaders, the Tories resolved to attempt bringing in the Pretender by force of arms. With an eager hopefulness, which for a long time was characteristic of the party, they believed that all England and Scotland were ready to take up arms for the Pretender, when in reality there was but a limited portion of the people so inclined, and that portion unwilling to move if they saw the least risk or danger. Blind to these circumstances, and without design or concert, they commenced the unfortunate civil war of 1715.

The Earl of Mar, who had been a secretary of state in the late administration, raised his standard in Braemar (September 6), without any commission from the Pretender, and was soon joined by Highland clans to the amount of 10,000 men, who rendered him master of all Scotland north of the Forth. There, however, he weakly permitted himself to be cooped up by the Duke of Argyle, who with a far less numerous force, had posted himself at Stirling. Mar expected to be supported by an invasion of England by the Duke of Ormond, and a rising of the people of that country. But the Duke completely failed in his design, and no rising took place, except in Northumberland. There Mr. Foster, one of the members of Parliament for the county, and the Earl of Derwentwater, with some other nobleman, appeared in arms, but unsupported by any considerable portion of the people. Mar detached a party of 1800 foot, under Mackintosh of Borlum, to join the Northumbrian insurgents, who complained that they had no infantry. The junction was managed with great address; and at the same time some noblemen and gentlemen of the south of Scot land attached themselves to the southern army. The government was ill provided with troops but it nevertheless sent such a force against Mr. Foster, as obliged him to retire with his men into the town of Preston, in Lancashire, where, after an obstinate defense, the whole party (November 13) surrendered themselves prisoners at the king's mercy. On the same day, the Earl of Mar met the Duke of Argyle at Sheriffmuir, near Dumblane, where a battle was fought, in which, after the manner of the, battles in the civil war, the right wing of each army was successful, but neither altogether victorious. The Duke withdrew in the face of his enemy to Stirling, and the earl retired to Perth, resolved to wait for the news of an invasion from France, and for the arrival of the Pretender, whom he had invited to Scotland.

Mar did not for some time become aware how little reason he had to expect support from France. Louis XIV, upon whom the hopes of the party greatly rested, had died in September, leaving the government to the Regent Orleans, who had strong personal reasons for wishing to cultivate the good-will of the British monarch, and of course declined to assist in the present enterprise. The Pretender, nevertheless, sailed for Scotland, and on the 22d of December, arrived incognito at Peterhead, bringing nothing but his person to aid his adherents. Mar, who had already attempted to negotiate a submission to the government, brought him forward to Perth, where he was amused for some time with preparations for his coronation. But before he had been many days there, the Duke of Argyle found himself in a condition to advance against the insurgent force; and on the 30th of January 1716, this unfortunate prince commenced a retreat to the north, along with his dispirited army. On the 4th of February, he and the Earl of Mar provided for their own safety by going on board a vessel at Montrose, and setting sail for France: the army dispersed itself into the Highlands. For this unhappy appearance in arms, the Earl of Derwentwater, Viscount Kenmure, and about twenty inferior persons, were executed; forty Scottish families of the first rank lost their estates, and many excellent members of society became exiles for the remainder of their lives.

The suppression of this insurrection, and the ruin of so many Tory leaders, tended to increase the power of the Whig party, and the stability of the Hanoverian dynasty. The government, nevertheless, acted under considerable difficulties, as they were opposed by the majority of the clergy and country gentry, as well as by the whole of the mob feeling, except in the large commercial towns. To avoid the hazard of too often appealing to the people, they carried, in 1716, a bill for repealing King William's Triennial Act, and protracting the present and all future Parliaments to a duration of seven years. The chief popular support of the government was in the dissenters, and in the middle classes of the community.

From the peace of Utrecht, Britain remained free from foreign war for nearly thirty years, excepting that, in 1719, the ministry was called on to interfere for the repression of an attempt on the part of Spain to regain her Italian territories.