This thread was originally written and published in July 2019. It has been lightly edited and corrected as applicable for this post.
The year is 1715 and in France James Francis Edward Stuart, the “Old Pretender”, plots to try and take the crown (again) so he can become James VIII of Scotland and III of England and Ireland.
In London, Scottish noble and politician John Erskine, the Earl of Mar, jumps the gun. He returns to Scotland from serving the Hanoverian government in London and raises the Jacobite standard in Braemar. He was nicknamed “Bobbing John” for the frequency with which he would change sides.
Drawn to Mar’s rising is one William Mackintosh the younger, of Borlum. The Mackintoshes of Borlum were minor Scottish landowners, relations of Lachlan Mor, 16th Chief of Clan Mackintosh.
Borlum was raised and educated in Aberdeen. Not much is known of this part of his life but he is known to have been at (or hanging around) Oxford University and did marry an English lady from a local landowning family. So he was important enough to be ingratiated into society.
Sometime around 1688, Borlum finds himself in the service of the French Army. As a Jacobite sympathiser it is logical that he may have left his adopted home to fight for its enemy because of the “Glorious Revolution” which ended the Stuart line.
Long story short, he returns 10 years later to Inverness-shire as a seemingly successful soldier, now Brigadier Borlum, and gets himself a “commission of fire and sword” from the Privy Council and a Commission of Supply from the Scottish Parliament.
Brigadier Borlum resurfaces in 1714 as a Jacobite Agent of the Old Pretender, trying to persuade Clan Mackintosh and its forces to take the Jacobite side in any future rising. And when Mar raises the standard in Braemar, the Mackintoshes are there front and centre.
However “Bobbing John” was not a competent military strategist and the “1715” was characterised by his indecisiveness and poor decision making. In October Mar and the Mackintoshes, formed into a battalion of 13 companies, are at Perth, as is Brigadier Borlum. Mar wants to encourage the Jacobites in the south of Scotland and north of England to rise and join the cause, so he hits on the idea of sending a raid into the Lothians to capture Edinburgh. Borlum is put in charge of this mission.
The forces assigned to Borlum were 2,500 men in 6 regiments; Strathmore’s, Mar’s (including the Farquharsons), Logie Drummond’s, Nairne’s, Lord Charles Murray’s and Mackintosh’s. All except Strathmore’s Fifers were of the Gàidhealtachd – Gaelic-speaking highlanders.
It’s not clear what the precise orders or plans given to Borlum were. He may have just been given the gist of Bobbing John’s idea and left to get on with it. But all along the East Neuk of Fife, fishing boats were rounded up and impounded for the raid. The 11th and 12th of October were chosen for departure. You can imagine the prospect of crossing the Forth in the dark from the East Neuk to Edinburgh (18-20 miles) at this time of year, in small open boats. Unsurprisingly, things didn’t start well. Strathmore’s regiment ended up marooned on the Isle of May. The Excisemen of Leith patrolling in their cutter picked up the 40 men and arrested them. Other boats were driven back to Fife by the weather.
Somehow or another though, 1,500 men, including all of Borlum’s Mackintoshes, managed to make the Lothian coast but they were scattered miles from Edinburgh. Borlum now had to waste time rounding up his forces between Haddington and Tranent. On the morning of the 14th, Borlum took a roll call then turned rapidly west for Edinburgh, striking out while the iron was hot (ish) before any of the forces he left behind in Fife could join him. He was to have been reinforced by East Lothian Jacobites under George Seton, the 5th Earl of Winton, but the authorities had foreseen this and invited Seton to appear before them in Edinburgh. When he refused and called out his men, they arrived with Dragoons and thoroughly ransacked the family seat. He had to scatter, and ended up joining with the East Lothian Jacobites in Kelso.
By now, Borlum’s situation was that at least 1/3 of his men were missing, he was days behind schedule, his reinforcements were non-existentat and his arrival was forewarned. Despite this however he was not to be discouraged and pressed on with the mission and for Edinburgh. In his task of capturing the city, Borlum was to be assisted by Major Thomas Arthur, who had a month previously with is brother tried to take the castle by surprise for the Jacobites, but had been let down by a drunk or double-crossing carpenter who had made them ladders 6 feet too short and impetuous (and drunk) youths who talked too loud in a tavern and gave the game away.
There is a snag however as Arthur is stuck on the wrong side of the Forth, having been on one of the boats that turned back. So when he arrives at Jock’s Lodge on the outskirts of Edinburgh, Borlum does not have his inside man. This is unfortunate as apparently the volunteer company holding the Bristo Port (the south gate to the city) were Jacobites to a man and were keeping the gates unlocked and their weapons trained the “wrong” way. He could have walked right in, but of this Borlum knew nothing.
Enter stage right one Alexander Malloch of Moultriehill. Moultriehill, or Multree’s Hill, is the high ground to the northeast of the Old Town of Edinburgh, but below the Calton Hill, between the present day Picardy Place and St. Andrew Square. A fanciful derivation of the placename is that it comes from mulberry trees planted there by the colony of exiled French weavers. Malloch, a Jacobite, convinces Borlum that the town is “crowded with armed militia”, and that regular government soldiers under the Hanoverian John Campbell, Duke of Argyle, are expected imminently.
So instead of pressing on west into Edinburgh, Borlum turns north instead for Leith and walks into the undefended town without a shot being fired. Borlum takes the Tolbooth (the main civic building, which included jail facilities) and in it he finds and liberates the 40-odd men (minus their officers) that had been captured by the Excisemen on the Isle of May.
Having freed his men, this called for a celebration so Borlum takes the customs house too and liberates the quantities of wines and spirits located within. Devoid of any real plan, Borlum finds Cromwell’s 60-year old citadel in better repair than anyone imagined so he holes up there. The missing gates are barricaded shut, ships cannons are requisitioned to defend the walls and supplies and more drink are gathered.
It seems Malloch was right however and Argyle was indeed on his way with the army, for the next morning he arrives at the Citadel with:
- 2 squadrons of cavalry;
- 2 companies of The Earl of Forfar’s Foot;
- 300 volunteers of the Edinburgh Regiment;
- 650 other militia and for good measure;
- The Edinburgh Town Guard, who had been most insistent on coming along.
Argyle is surprised to find the citadel to be quite such a sturdy defence however and Borlum is well dug in behind its thick walls. Both sides have problems though; Argyle has brought no artillery with which to attack the walls, and Borlum has little gunpowder. So he draws his men up outside, well within the range of a musket shot and challenges Borlum to surrender, and Borlum laughs and taunts Argyle but cannot fire upon his men. Argyle is a sensible general and sees he has no reason to make an assault he will likely lose heavily, so turns about and retreats back to Edinburgh to summon his artillery.
Borlum is also sensible – he realises that when Argyle returns with artillery he cannot hope to hold out – so under cover of darkness and at the low tide, his men sneak out of the Citadel, ford the Water of Leith and skirt round the north of the town along the beach. For some reason the 40 men freed from the Tolbooth are left behind (possibly because they are officer-less and can’t or won’t join one of regiments formed of the other clans). Abandoned in Leith, they make the best of a bad situation and occupy themselves with the remains of the custom house.
Borlum’s Jacobites, probably down to 1,000-odd men, sneak along the coast as far as Musselburgh, at which point they encounter the militia of the “Honest Toun” and a brief and ineffective firefight ensues. Once again his presence has been given away, so Borlum and his men simply bypass Musselburgh and press on east. The encounter has made them alert to the prospect of chasing forces however. A horseman is spotted on the road somewhere near Prestonpans and is challenged by Borlum’s men. However the challenge is issued in Gaelic and the horseman can’t understand the Highlanders (and neither they him) so just to be sure he is shot. Alas, the body is found to be Alexander Malloch of Moultrieshill who had set out to find and help Borlum.
Shortly afterwards, more men are discovered on the road and just to be sure, they are given the shoot first, ask questions later treatment too. Alackady, those bodies are found to be their own scouting party, heading back to report after checking the route ahead of the main column. Things *really* weren’t going well for Borlum. His retreat ends at Seton House, home of the Earl of Winton. But he finds no warm welcome as the Laird had already departed and the government Dragoons have turned the place over. The Earl had fallen out with the Northumbrian Jacobites that he had met at Kelso and is by now in Perth with Bobbing John’s main force.
A brief attempt is made by Borlum to regroup and fortify Seton house but Argyle has dispatched General Wightman (victor at Glenshiel in the 1719 uprising) who is on his way, so yet again he slips away. He marches south for Kelso where he hopes to find the East Lothian Jacobites, not realising that they are in Perth with the Earl of Winton. Here he joins up with the Northumbrians and his fate is now dictated by the unfortunate outcome for the Scottish Jacobites who enter England to support a rising there. Like most of his kin he is captured after surrendering to vastly superior forces at Preston. He and the other leaders are spirited south to London to stand trial for high treason.
Held at Newgate to await sentencing, they manage to overcome and disarm the guards, knock through a wall and 15, including Borlum escape into the maze that is early Georgian London. Escaping with Borlum is the leader of the English Jacobites, Thomas Forster. There is a theory that the escape was all too convenient and that Forster was a turncoat; his surrender at Preston betrayed his cause and was connived with the Government
Despite the £500 bounty on his head, Borlum slips out of London. Apparently the mob romanticised him as some sort of noble Highland hero, and ballads were composed in his honour. Note the last line.
Mackintosh is a soldier brave,
And did most gallantly behave,
When into Northumberland he came
With gallant men of his own name.
Then Mackintosh until Wills he came,
Saying “I have been a soldier in my time,
And ere a Scot of mine shall yield,
We’ll all lie dead upon the field.”
Mackintosh is a gallant soldier,
Whit his musket over his shoulder,
“Every true man point his rapier,
But damn you, Forster, you are a traitor”
He makes it to France and joins the other Jacobite exiles there. Ever true to the cause he returns to Scotland for the even less successful rising of 1719. He is at the Battle of Glen Shiel when his old pursuer, the efficient General Wightman, snuffs out the rising by introducing the Highlanders to mortar fire.
On the run again Borlum heads for Caithness and hides out in the hills for a while, but is soon apprehended. Taken to Edinburgh, despite by now being an old man he is thrown into solitary confinement at the castle, where he lives out his days. And so ends the tale of our unlucky adventurer. He spends the best part of 25 years in captivity in Edinburgh. Too important to let go and not important enough to be worth pardoning in exchange for loyalty. He departed this world aged 85 of “decay*” on the 11th January 1743 at the age of 80.
* – decay was used to records deaths due to unknown causes, usually old age.
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