Agents Orange

Jacobite Spy Wars: Moles, Rogues and Treachery

Hugh Douglas <em>Sutton Publishing, 288pp, £19.99</

Between the wars, Bernard Ferguson, later to become governor-general of New Zealand, booked himself into the Philadelphia Hotel, Amman, as "Intelligence Officer, Black Watch" - an appointment, despite its title, that consisted largely of sticking pins in maps. After shaving one morning, he was on his way down for breakfast when he saw that the lobby was a clotted mass of shouting Arabs in gallabiyehs, argals and khaffiahs. "What are they all doing?" he asked the manager. "They've come to see you, effendi. They want to join the British Secret Service."

Our reputation in this regard, if not our talents, has sometimes been our principal, perhaps only, weapon against our opponents. Hugh Douglas, in this rather inelegant and disconnected narrative, attempts to show that Hanoverian and Stuart espionage and propaganda were more potent than military campaigns.

The Jacobite movement started with the flight from England by James II and his replacement in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 by the Protestant William of Orange and his wife Mary, James's daughter. This continued through the death in exile of James II; his succession in Rome by his son, James III, the Pretender; then the birth of Prince Charles Edward - Bonnie Prince Charlie, the last King over the Water; and the latter's demise in 1788 on the anniversary of the execution of Charles I.

The chief opposition included kings George I, II and III of England, Generals Cope, Hawley and "Butcher" Cumberland, victor of Culloden. Risings and invasions were planned or unsuccessfully executed against them, with the Stuarts winning at Edinburgh, Prestonpans and Falkirk, but losing at the Boyne and, decisively, at Culloden in 1745.

But perhaps the mortal blows to Jacobism were, apart from Culloden, the appointment in 1747 of Charles Edward's homosexual brother, Henry, as cardinal, a curious "arrangement" between the Pope, Louis XV and James III, that ruined any hope in England of a Stuart restoration. The prince's life subsequently followed a wild course of drink, whoring and brutality to his loyal mistress, Clementine Walkinshaw. Their daughter Charlotte was his only consolation.

Visitors to Europe, smugglers, students, Grand Tour travellers, Irishmen of all classes - including Colonel Hooke, despatched by Louis XIV - all worked for the Stuart cause. So did "Highland chiefs and lowland lairds . . . the idle rich, the idle poor, the criminal classes". England, at the same time, was swarming with spies who worked for the Hanoverians, often as double agents. But in his late degenerate person, the prince, to his cost, became wildly capricious, abusing even his most devoted supporters.

King William of Orange started the first professional espionage system against the Stuarts. Under the Georges, the prime minister, Robert Walpole, renewed it, exposing Bishop Atterbury's plot and the Elibank plot to kidnap the Hanoverians. There followed numerous attempts to penetrate the Jacobite establishment; but the most successful spy against Charles Edward was the dashing and energetic Dudley Bradstreet, who turned back the prince's advance on London at Derby in 1745, in a great deception operation. In 1747 he warned King George's government of a planned French invasion in flat-bottomed landing craft; the government's reaction is, alas, unknown.

Most of these unfortunate conspirators spent the rest of their lives trying to secure payment from their narrow-eyed paymasters, for there is evidence that their employers believed in them infrequently. Douglas spins a good yarn, but fails to persuade us that espionage and propaganda - rather than "big battalions" - were the cause of Hanoverian victory over the ill-led clansmen and their dilatory French supporters.

John Colvin, a former British ambassador, is a military historian

This article first appeared in the 15 November 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Guns and the Dome