Hermann Mohll was one of the Shotley Bridge swordmakers who arrived from Solingen in 1687, and he is the main character in my third novel, The Running Wolf. While my version of Hermann is my own creation, and he is ultimately a fictional character, he is based on a good deal of research. He was born in 1662 in Prussia, arrived in Shotley Bridge in 1687, died there and was buried in the graveyard at Ebchester in December 1716, aged 54. He seems to have lived through interesting times…
Hermann Mohll the smuggler
Despite the grim warnings issued in the Solingen court order of 26 September 1688, Mohll is documented as returning to Germany and coming back to England at least once. (You can read more about the court order in my blog post of 27 August 2020, The Shotley Bridge swordmakers and the Solingen Indictment). We know this for certain because Mohll was arrested on his return to England and imprisoned in Morpeth Gaol in Northumberland in December 1703 when he was found in possession of a large number of blades (estimates suggest 1,400).
Due to the high levels of duty imposed in the eighteenth century, smuggling was very nearly a national pastime. However, there are theories put forward that Mohll was working with Jacobite rebels in the area, so I thought it worth just providing a couple of articles about Jacobites. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about one of the chief Jacobites in the area, James Radcliffe, the third Earl of Derwentwater.
Was Hermann Mohll in league with the Jacobite rebels?
The main reason behind the theory that Mohll was in league with the Jacobites is the fact that Mohll was on board a ship with several Scottish and Irish soldiers. Another theory is put forward by John G. Bygate, who states that in 1816, a large cache of swords marked ‘Shotley’ was found in a chimney in Danby Hall in North Yorkshire – a house also associated with the Jacobites (Bygate, pp 59–60).
So, what exactly was a Jacobite?
A quick glance at a dictionary will reveal that there are many kinds of Jacobites, but the kind we’re interested in are the people who supported James II of England and VII of Scotland after the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and who supported his son and grandson. The word Jacobite comes from the Latin for James, Jacobus.
King James II of England and Ireland aka King James VII of Scotland
James Stuart was born in 1633, the second surviving son of Charles I, and the younger brother of Charles II. He was the last Catholic monarch and his reign was brief, lasting from only 1685 until it ended suddenly in 1688 following the Glorious Revolution, when the king threw the Great Seal of the Realm into the River Thames and went into exile in France.
Parliament considered this act as an abdication of the throne and he was later replaced by one of his daughters, Mary, and her husband, William III of Orange, who were both Protestants. Following their deaths, James II and VII’s second daughter, Anne – another Protestant – ascended to the throne and ruled from 1702 until 1714. She left no heir and was the final monarch from the House of Stuart. James II and VII died in 1701, still in exile.
James Francis Edward Stuart: the Old Pretender
Son of James II and VII, he was the Prince of Wales for a few months after his birth in June 1688 until his father’s exile to France later that same year. When his father died, he made a claim for the English and Scottish thrones, which resulted in his opponents, the Whigs, nicknaming him the Pretender. His Jacobite supporters considered him the true heir and styled him as James III of England and VIII of Scotland.
Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart aka the Young Pretender and Bonnie Prince Charlie
Born in Rome, Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Silvester Severino Maria was better known perhaps as Bonnie Prince Charlie. Following the death of his father, James Francis Edward Stuart, he made a claim to the British throne (the thrones of England and Scotland were united following the Acts of Union of 1706 and 1707). He became known as the Young Pretender and his father then became known as the Old Pretender. The nickname of Bonnie Prince Charlie was first recorded on 27 September 1745.
Were all supporters of James II and VIII and his son and grandson Catholic?
In a word: no. While many Jacobites were Catholic, there were also many Protestant supporters of the exiled king. Some people believed in the divine right of kings to reign and these so-called ‘divine righters’ supported James II and VII’s right to the throne, on the basis that no earthly power should determine the monarch of a country. So, while religion undoubtedly played a role, there were many other factors at play.
The risings are sometimes referred to as Jacobite Rebellions, or as the War of the British Succession. There were many of these rebellions in an attempt to restore James II and VII (or his descendants) to the throne, but the two best known are probably the risings in 1715 and 1745.
The 1715 Rising
This rising was often called ‘the 15’ or Lord Mar’s revolt and it was led by James Francis Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender. While the Jacobites in Scotland did well, the English Jacobites didn’t turn out in sufficiently great numbers. However, some Northumbrians did turn out, and included amongst their number James Radcliffe, the third Earl of Derwentwater, whose estate lay at Dilston, near Corbridge in Northumberland, a few miles away from Shotley Bridge. Derwentwater was executed for his troubles, and I’ll talk about him in more detail tomorrow.
The 1745 Rising
Perhaps the best known of these is the 1745 rising, which is often just referred to as ‘the 45’. This rebellion resulted from Bonnie Prince Charlie trying to seize the throne for his father, James Francis Edward Stuart. It ended horribly in Scotland with the short, but bloody, Battle of Culloden. The Jacobites faced an army of almost twice their number, which resulted in heavy Jacobite losses. Bonnie Prince Charlie survived and returned to France.
It’s difficult to say with absolute certainty who was, or was not, a Jacobite. Because there were very serious repercussions for anyone supporting James II and VII and his descendants, people were understandably reticent about revealing their beliefs and sympathies. And of course, these beliefs and sympathies changed across time, with people shifting their allegiance throughout their lives.
There are various lists about, and if you’re interested in identifying whether you had any Jacobite ancestors, you might like to look at ‘Butler’s List of Lords and Gentlemen in each county favourable to the Stuart cause, made in 1743’ (there is a copy of this list in Evelyn Lord’s book, The Stuarts’ Secret Army: English Jacobites 1689–1752, p.262) and of course, the various sites for tracing ancestors usually have Jacobite sections. For instance, Ancestry.com has a specialist section for the 1715 and 1745 risings.
This article is no more than a thumbnail sketch of Jacobitism, but I’ve listed below some useful books to read if you want to gain a better understanding.
Lord, Evelyn, The Stuarts’ Secret Army: English Jacobites 1689–1752 (Oxon: Routledge, 2004)
Oates, Jonathan D., ‘Responses in Newcastle upon Tyne to the Jacobite Rebellions of 1715 and 1745’, Archaeologia Aeliana, 2003
Oates, Jonathan D., The Last Battle on English Soil, Preston 1715 (Oxon: Routledge, 2016)
Szechi, Daniel, 1715: The Great Jacobite Rebellion (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2006)
Szechi,Daniel, Britain’s lost revolution? (Politics, Culture and Society in Early Modern Britain), (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015), p.116.