Jacobitism was the political movement that aimed to restore the exiled Catholic Stuarts to the British throne after 1688. After he was deposed by William of Orange (1650-1702) and Mary II (1662-1694), James II (1633-1701) took up residence with his wife, Mary of Modena (1658-1718), and newborn son, James Francis Edward (1688-1766) in France, where Louis XIV (1638-1715) granted them the palace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Some supporters of the Stuarts defected to France and joined James’s court there. After James II’s death in 1701, Louis XIV proclaimed James Francis Edward as ‘James III of England and VIII of Scotland’.

The Jacobites made numerous attempts to win back the British throne. In 1690, James II unsuccessfully fought against William in Ireland at the Battle of the Boyne. In 1708, James Francis Edward sailed for Scotland, where support for the Jacobites was most widespread. But his landing in the Firth of Forth was thwarted by bad weather and the British navy. In 1715 James Francis Edward led a mass rebellion in Scotland. But, again, this rebellion was defeated by the Hanoverian forces early in 1716, and James Francis Edward escaped back to France on 4 February. Numerous other plots and invasions were planned with aid from British insiders, but none was successful. In 1745, James’s son and heir, Charles Edward Stuart (1720-1788), travelled to Scotland to lead a new rebellion. Despite making strong advances, the Stuart army was routed at Culloden on 16 April 1746. After this, no more serious attempts were made to restore the Stuarts to the throne.

Support for the Jacobites was not just military. Poets such as John Dryden (1631-1700) and Alexander Pope (1688-1744) harboured sympathies for the exiled Stuarts, as did a great many lesser authors and propagandists such as Arthur Maynwaring (1668-1712) and Bevil Higgons (1670-1735). Writing literature in support of the Stuart succession was considered treason by the authorities, and the authors and printers of such material were frequently prosecuted and, in some cases, executed. Jacobitism thus became a clandestine cultural movement as well as a political one.