When researching for my book about the Shotley Bridge swordmakers, The Running Wolf, I was interested in the theory that they were possibly working in league with Jacobite rebels. (If you want a basic outline of Jacobitism, please see yesterday’s article, Stuarts and Jacobites.)
Smuggler or Jacobite?
In December 1703, Hermann Mohll was imprisoned in Morpeth Gaol, Northumberland for smuggling a large number of swords from Solingen. Some authors put forward the theory that Mohll was not just a common or garden smuggler, but that he was working with Jacobite rebels and possibly in league with James Radcliffe, the third Earl of Derwentwater and one of Northumberland’s chief Jacobites in the 1715 rising.
The main reason given for the Jacobite theory by various swordmaker authors is the fact that during his smuggling expedition, 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).
David Richardson refers to court papers from the quarter sessions in Northumberland, and he explores the notion of Mohll’s involvement with the Jacobites, but dismisses this, saying ‘that no plots were uncovered’ (Richardson, p.45). However, he does wonder at Mohll’s release, suggesting, with a lovely turn of phrase, ‘Herman Mohll himself must have been surprised and certainly must have sensed an unseen kindly hand’ (Richardson, p. 46).
Bygate questions why this suspicion of Jacobite involvement didn’t appear to go any further, ‘Despite this close proximity and the obvious temptation to engage in illicit trading on the part of the sword-makers, at no time did anyone accuse them of abetting the rebellion in any way’. Bygate suspects the swords were ‘a special secret delivery – and not even the first at that – for the Jacobite army, ordered and paid for by Lord Derwentwater’, suggesting a cache of Shotley Bridge swords found at Danby Hall in North Yorkshire, was ‘destined for the Jacobite rebel army’, and that its ‘discovery does seem to make a nonsense’ of the swordmakers’ innocence of Jacobite involvement (Bygate, p.59).
So, who was James Radcliffe?
He was the third Earl of Derwentwater, and his estate lay at Dilston, which is near Corbridge in Northumberland and not too far from Shotley Bridge. He also owned land adjacent to Shotley. His mother was Lady Mary Tudor, who was an illegitimate daughter of Charles II, making Radcliffe the grandson of a Stuart king. He was a Roman Catholic and one of the main leaders of the Northumberland element of the 1715 Jacobite rising.
Derwentwater was impeached for high treason and imprisoned in Newgate Gaol, along with six other lords, including Lord Widdrington. Amongst others imprisoned was Tom Forster, MP for Northumberland (and nephew of Lord Crewe, Bishop of Durham).
Tom Forster, MP
Tom Forster managed to escape, and he made it to France. There is an interesting document about his escape, which describes him essentially getting the gaoler drunk, and when the gaoler had to answer a call of nature, Tom Forster let himself out, using a copy key that he’d had made. The hapless gaoler was immediately arrested on suspicion of ‘conniving at the Escape of his Prisoner’ and a proclamation for apprehending Forster was put out with the following description of him as being, ‘a person of Middle Stature, inclining to be fat, well shaped, except that he stoops in the shoulders, fair complexioned, his Mouth wide, his Nose pretty large, his Eyes grey, speaks the Northern Dialect…’ So keen was the government to retrieve Forster, that a reward of a thousand pounds was offered, which was an eye-watering amount of money in those days (The Political State of Great Britain, January 1716, vol. 11, pp. 388–389).
James Radcliffe was less fortunate, and even though he was given the opportunity to recant, he refused, remaining loyal to his king and his faith, even on the scaffold at Tower Hill. He was executed on 24 February 1716. Because he was a noble, he was beheaded, rather than hanged. Following Derwentwater’s execution, his body was returned to his estate at Dilston, and local lore says that the Northern Lights turned the sky red on his return.
Baker, J. & T. Warner, The Political State of Great Britain, vol. 11, (London: 1716).
Bygate, John G., The Hollow Blade: The German Swordmakers of Shotley Bridge, (Durham: Durham in History, 2003).
Richardson, David, The Swordmakers of Shotley Bridge: Their Strange Story (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Frank Graham, 1973).
Gooch, Leo, The Desperate Faction: The Jacobites of North East England: 1688–1745 (Hull: University of Hull Press, 1995).
Lord, Evelyn, The Stuarts’ Secret Army: English Jacobites 1689–1752 (Oxon: Routledge, 2004).
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).