Nothing Ails Me But The Wanting of You

On the Writing of Damn’ Rebel Bitches: The Women of the ’45, first published ten years ago this year.

“I’m pleased about your book. Your father would have been really proud of you too.” Those were among the last words my mother Molly said to me. It was the beginning of 1997 and I was taking my leave of her to catch the bus into Edinburgh for a meeting with Mainstream, publishers of my Damn’ Rebel Bitches: The Women of the ’45. She died a month later, three weeks before I was due to deliver the manuscript.

Damn' Rebel Bitches

I know my father would have been really proud of me. That’s the sort of man he was. Raised in Coatbridge during the Depression, Alexander Dewar Craig was one of those working-class Scotsmen to whom poverty and family circumstances denied an education but not a lifelong passion for knowledge. He made sure his four children received an education, as he made sure we knew our history.

A railwayman who travelled all over Scotland during the years from which he rose from shunter to stationmaster, he could tell you the story behind every rock, stone, monument and memorial. My mother had stories to tell too, as did my Uncle Alex, also a railwayman. He it was who first put The Flight of the Heron by DK Broster into my hands, kicking off my enduring love affair with the Jacobites and the Rising of 1745.

In the early 1990s, the 250th anniversary of that event was looming on the horizon, provoking a flurry of new books and articles on the subject, some of the latter from me. Not yet having written any full-length works, I was waiting for someone else to write the book about Jacobite women.

Twisted Sisters

With no disrespect to Flora MacDonald, I was beginning to learn from my researches that she wasn’t the only female who’d played an active role in the events of 1745-46. I later analyzed this concentration on Flora to the exclusion of all the other women involved in wisted Sisters: Women, Crime And Deviance in Scotland Since 1400, Eds. Yvonne Galloway Brown and Rona Ferguson (Chapter 5 - The Fair Sex Turns Ugly: Female Involvement in the Jacobite Rising of 1745.)

The first unsung heroine of the ’45 I uncovered was Anne, Lady Mackintosh, nicknamed Colonel Anne because of her raising of the Clan Chattan for Bonnie Prince Charlie. In so doing, she was rebelling against the Hanoverian government and also defying her husband who, as an officer in the Black Watch, had firmly nailed his colours to that government’s mast.

Captured by the Jacobites, the Mackintosh was released by Bonnie Prince Charlie into the custody of Lady Mackintosh. Anne is said to have greeted her husband with a laconic “Your servant, Captain”, as he is said to have responded with “Your servant, Colonel.” Brief though it was, this little interchange stuck in my mind.

When it occurred to me that perhaps I was one of the few people who was seeing these hidden Jacobite women and it was therefore going to have to be me who wrote the book which would shine a light on this forgotten yet fascinating aspect of Scottish history, Lady Mackintosh’s story was the first one I wrote up. Last year I also contributed entries on her and Lady Nithsdale, a heroine of the ’15, to Edinburgh University Press’s Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women.

Colonel Anne was to be joined in my head and my rapidly expanding research files by many other women who did their bit for the Stuart Cause. The hunt was fascinating, taking me all over the country, to archives, libraries, heritage centres and museums in London, the north of England, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness.

Working then as a Blue Badge Scottish Tourist Guide, escorting mainly German visitors who came over in their own coaches to Hull before a ten-day tour of Scotland, I would tag on a few days at the beginning or end of a trip for my researches. When a friend pointed me in the direction of the Scottish Arts Council, I used my £750 grant, among other things, to spend a week in London at the Public Record Office.

Then in its old and charmingly Dickensian home in Chancery Lane, I had the blessing there of having my husband Will with me as my research assistant. His mathematical brain proved invaluable in decoding the sometimes Byzantine cataloguing system! I can still see him hurrying back in triumph to the room where I was working with the news that he’d found something on Elizabeth Clavering, one of the many women who followed the Jacobite army into England and subsequently fell into government hands.

Originally Elizabeth Grant, a seamstress from Banff, she’d been widowed when the husband she’d followed south was killed. Held in York Castle, she met and wed Edmund Clavering, one of the Northumbrian Jacobites. Their marriage lasted only a few months, Edmund being hanged on 1 November 1746, Elizabeth sentenced to be transported to the West Indies at the beginning of the following year.

My husband had found her petition for clemency, written when she was already on board ship at Liverpool. These written pleas were usually humble in the extreme, pathetically self-abasing. Elizabeth’s wasn’t. Even after 250 years, her anger explodes off the page.

I was privileged to encounter equally strong, if much gentler, emotions in letters which I discovered a year or two later after the PRO moved to its swish new home at Kew. Sent from Moffat while the Jacobite army was on its march south, they are deeply moving.

Angus MacDonnell, who was missing “you and the bairns” assured his wife the Jacobite army would definitely be home by Christmas – New Year at the latest – which makes you wonder if all soldiers in all wars have thought and said that. John McLennan told his wife Mary Grant “I hope to see you soon, and give you pleasure and satisfaction.”

Duncan McGillis, a man of 60, wrote to his lover Margaret McDonnell, a barmaid in the tavern of the barracks at Fort Augustus sending his regards to her children and telling her that “nothing ails me but the wanting of you.” The simple eloquence of his words of love and longing take my breath away every time I read them.

The most heart-breaking thing about all of these letters is that none of the recipients ever read them. The rider who was carrying them was captured and the correspondence taken to Edinburgh Castle, then manned by a garrison of Redcoats.

Voltaire said that history is nothing but a pack of tricks we play upon the dead. I did my level best in Damn’ Rebel Bitches to treat the history about which I was writing and the people who lived through it with honesty, respect for them and the truth of their lives, and the constant realization of the differences between their times and ours. We have much in common with them all the same. They were once living, breathing people like us and I passionately believe that truth, honesty and respect when we write about them is the absolute least they deserve.

The '45

Trying to tell it like it really was isn’t always a noticeable feature of books about the ’45, both fiction and non-fiction. If I were to recommend a few modern histories which most definitely do achieve this feat, I’d go for – of course – John Prebble’s Culloden, the meticulous No Quarter Given: The Muster Roll of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s Army, 1745-46, Eds. Livingstone, Aikman and Hart, the supremely fair and balanced Culloden and the ’45 by Jeremy Black and the masterly The ’45 by Christopher Duffy.

Kidnapped and Catriona

In fiction, there’s – again of course – Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped and Catriona, Sir Walter Scott's Waverley, The Flight of the Heron and the two subsequent books which complete The Jacobite Trilogy by DK Broster. There’s also A Lost Lady of Old Years by John Buchan – a bleak but exquisitely written tale featuring the anti-hero Francis Birkenshaw and the beautiful Mrs Murray of Broughton – The Bright Eyes of Danger, an undeservedly neglected Jacobite romantic adventure by Elgin writer John Foster, which draws its title from RLS’s Songs of Travel and Other Verses, and the stunning Flemington by Violet Jacob.

Back in 1997, three weeks after my mother’s death, I delivered my manuscript on time. Like my father, she was a bonnie fechter, one of her favourite admonitions to the fed-up or those in the grip of a mild case of the blues being a robust “Get up and get on with your work and you’ll soon feel better.”

Damn’ Rebel Bitches: The Women of the ’45, my first book, published ten years ago in September 1997, is dedicated to my husband Will, my uncle Alex McCulloch and my parents, Molly Walker and Alex Craig, the two people who first taught me both the history of my own country and the importance of hard work, the truth, honesty and respect.

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    Craig tells the stories of the many women caught up in the last Jacobite Rising, some of whom gave money and hospitality, acted as spies and raised men for Prince Charles' army, and others who had no choice, who were raped and persecuted after Culloden.

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