Book review: The King over the Water

The King over the Water by Desmond Seward
The King over the Water by Desmond Seward
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The autumn 2015 tercentenary of the Battle of Preston prompted exhibitions, lectures and re-enactments looking back at the battle and its impact on UK history.

But the defeat of the Scottish and northern English opponents of “German George”, first of the Hanoverian kings on the British throne, at Preston in 1715 was only part of a much longer saga.

Those with an interest in such matters will be delighted to read historian Desmond Seward’s new book. It sets Stuarts’ story in context – chronologically, constitutionally, politically, religiously and regionally.

All the leading figures of both the Jacobite and Hanoverian sides are well explained – some of them remembered in Preston street names such as Kenmure Place and Derwentwater Place.

The book largely avoids the romanticising and sentimentalism often associated with this period of British history, a period of uncertainty and instability with a rival monarchy’s incursions, invasions and plotting - much of the latter in Lancashire.

Seward explains the roots of the division in the late 1680s with the flight of King James II to France, the arrival of William of Orange and the declaration of William and Mary as king and queen of England.

The enforced departure of James (Jacob in Latin, hence the term Jacobites) was the fuse for action by the Stuarts and their supporters for decades.

After the 1715 defeat in Preston of the Scots and northern English Jacobites, revenge was swift. Severed heads of some of the leading rebels were placed on poles at Preston Town Hall. Gallows were set up at Garstang, Preston, Lancaster, Wigan, Manchester and Liverpool.

The equally unsuccessful 1745 rebellion was not quite an “action replay”. The route of the Scottish invaders largely followed that of 30 years earlier - via Carlisle to Preston - where Seward states 60 men joined up, bells pealed and locals shouted their backing for the supporters of the king over the waters.

Many in Scotland and England continued to drink to the health of the Stuarts, including at Preston as “late” as the 1770s. The Lancashire toasts of loyalty to an exiled dynasty, and the drinkers’ hopes that the Stuarts would be restored, would come to naught. A lost cause and a sad one.

The King over the Water by Desmond Seward is published Birlinn priced £25 (hardback)