My third historical novel, The Running Wolf, is about the Shotley Bridge swordmakers who defected from Solingen, Germany in 1687. The book focuses mainly on Hermann Mohll, who was imprisoned in Morpeth Gaol in 1703/4 for smuggling a large number of blades from Solingen into England. Many swordmaker authors suggest that he was suspected of high treason because he returned to England aboard a ship with twenty Scottish and Irish soldiers.
New research findings
While carrying out research for my book about the Shotley Bridge swordmakers, I uncovered a considerable amount of material that has not, so far, been mentioned in any of the existing books about the swordmakers. For example, I have found the deposition of one of the soldiers, Sergeant John Ross from Morpeth in Northumberland, who gives the names of five other soldiers and confirms that there were only six soldiers aboard the ship and that the only other passengers were the Mohlls. Of the other five soldiers, only one was from Scotland and one from Ireland – the remaining four are from the north east of England. (For more information about the soldiers, please see my article, ‘Redcoats or Jacobites’, or my full research article, published by Northern History journal.)
I have also found correspondence revealing the fate of the missing swords and correspondence that explains how Mohll was released. Lord Nottingham, secretary of state to Queen Anne, wrote to Sir William, saying that Mohll was not suspected of treasonable design and could be released, but left it up to the local justices to decide.
Hermann Mohll was tried at the Christmas Quarter Sessions in January 1704, and the quarter sessions papers, which are held at the Northumberland Archives in the Woodhorn Museum at Ashington, provide the names of all the justices acting on various cases, as set out by the clerk of the court, John Ord:
- Henry Villiers
- William Jenison
- Robert Midford
- William Loraine
- Thomas Collingwood
- Garven Aynsley
- Charles Howard
- William Taylor
- Roger Wilson
- John Ogle
While most of the correspondence on Mohll’s case is between the Earl of Nottingham and Sir William Blackett, Colonel Henry Villiers, Governor of Tynemouth Castle, acted on Mohll’s case. Villiers was himself convicted on two charges of smuggling in 1705, in cahoots with a known Jacobite, Captain Thomas Gordon, which calls into question whether Mohll really was innocent of treasonable design. For more information on Villiers, please see my article, Henry Villiers: Colonel, Justice, Governor and Smuggler.
Who was Sir William Blackett?
According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Sir William Blackett was the first baronet of Newcastle, who died in 1705. He was a wealthy landowner, whose wealth came from lead and coal mining. As well as his residence in Newcastle, he also owned Wallington Hall in Northumberland. He was variously mayor, MP (three times) and high sheriff of Northumberland.
Most of the correspondence about Mohll’s trial was between Blackett and Nottingham, and it was Blackett who wrote to Nottingham to confirm that Mohll had been acquitted in February 1704. According to historian, Jonathan D. Oates, Blackett was ‘thought to be sympathetic towards the rebellion. He had a large workforce in and around the town and he had been stockpiling arms in recent times’; however, according to Rev. Robert Patten, ‘whether or not he was actually engaged remains a Secret; for he managed so well as to keep out of the way’. Additionally, Sir William’s son, Walter, appears in ‘Butler’s List of Lords and Gentlemen in each county favourable to the Stuart cause, made in 1743’.
Was Sir William Blackett a Jacobite Sympathiser?
As to whether Blackett was, or was not, a Jacobite sympathiser, ultimately, it is difficult to ascertain all those who were Jacobites – whether activists or sympathisers – given the potentially fatal consequences if discovered; as Daniel Szechi points out, ‘wise Jacobites developed a practised ambiguity or even downright mendacity when questioned about their allegiance’.
Some of this article is based on material from my article published by Northern History. The Version of Record of this manuscript has been published and is available in Northern History, September 2020, http://www.TandFonline.com <doi 10.1080/0078172X.2020.1802548>. If using this article, or parts of it, in an article of your own, please cite the following source:
Steadman, Helen, ‘The Shotley Bridge Swordmaker, Hermann Mohll: A simple case of smuggling, or getting away with High Treason in 1704?’, Northern History, September 2020, doi 10.1080/0078172X.2020.1802548.
Thank you to the publishers, Taylor & Francis, who have kindly permitted me to share this manuscript on my personal website, helensteadman.com.
 Jonathan D. Oates, ‘Responses in Newcastle upon Tyne to the Jacobite Rebellions of 1715 and 1745’, Archaeologia Aeliana, 2003, p.139.
 Evelyn Lord, The Stuarts’ Secret Army: English Jacobites 1689–1752 (Oxon: Routledge, 2004), p.262.
 Szechi, Lost Revolution?, p.3.