Hermann Mohll, the Shotley Bridge Swordmaker: A simple case of smuggling, or getting away with high treason in 1704?

Northern History journal article, reproduced here by kind permission of Taylor & Francis. To cite this article: Helen Steadman (2020): The Shotley Bridge Swordmaker, Hermann Mohll: A Simple Case of Smuggling, or Getting Away With High Treason in 1704?, Northern History, DOI: 10.1080/0078172X.2020.1802548 To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/0078172X.2020.1802548 Published online: 17 Sep 2020.


Helen Steadman

9/17/202024 min read

The Shotley Bridge Swordmaker, Hermann Mohll: A simple case of smuggling, or getting away with High Treason in 1704?[1]

This article reviews the existing literature about the Shotley Bridge swordmaker, Hermann Mohll, who was imprisoned in Morpeth Gaol in December 1703. It provides new information that addresses some long-standing questions: why was Mohll acquitted; what happened to the smuggled swords; was Mohll supplying arms to the Jacobites?

Keywords: Solingen swordmakers; Shotley Bridge swordmakers; Hounslow swordmakers; Hermann Mohll; Jacobites; Lord Derwentwater

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Hermann Mohll was one of about twenty Lutheran swordmakers who left Solingen, Prussia and moved to Shotley Bridge, England. Mohll arrived there in 1687 and was buried in nearby Ebchester in 1716. He returned to Solingen at least once because he was arrested on his return to England and imprisoned in Morpeth Gaol in December 1703. Mohll was released in February 1704, but the reason for his release has been unclear, until now. He was tried for smuggling c.1,400 Solingen blades into England and there are three unsolved questions, which I address:

1. Why was Mohll acquitted?

2. What happened to the smuggled blades?

3. Was Mohll supplying arms to the Jacobites?

1. Why was Mohll acquitted?

Several historians discuss Mohll’s release from prison and Atkinson suggests ‘Mohll was lucky that the more minor charge of smuggling was forgotten in the face of the more serious suspicion of treason’[2] (although he does refer incorrectly to treason against George I). Richardson comments likewise:

Several surities [sic] were found for Mohll’s release but nothing in the Morpeth Sessions papers hint at how the affair was finally settled and disposed of. In this proven case of smuggling which obviously had been glossed over to investigate a sterner charge (arming Jacobites), Mohll was lucky to be freed […] Mohll himself must have been surprised and certainly must have sensed an unseen kindly hand’.[3]

Bygate states, ‘there is no record of how the case against Mohll (nor against the soldiers) was concluded, and no reason given for the prosecution’s not bringing the much more obvious charge of treason against Mohll.’[4] Bezdek suggests ‘Mohll was released in January 1704 upon payment of fines by Robert Peter Renau (Vice-Governor of the Hollow Blade Company), and charges were withdrawn by direction of the English government.’[5] He provides no source for this, but Renau is mentioned in the Report of Proceedings, as are his letters to Mohll; since Mohll was bailed in January, Renau may have contributed to the bail money, alongside Carnforth and Wupper, and these must be the monies referred to by Richardson and Bezdek, being for bail, rather than final discharge.[6]

In terms of Mohll’s acquittal, I have uncovered correspondence between Daniel Finch, 2nd Earl of Nottingham, Secretary of State to Queen Anne; and Sir William Blackett, first Baronet of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, dated 1 February 1704, which has not been mentioned in the existing literature:

Yours of 21 and 22 January. Ross and the other soldiers seem to have come over for the Queen’s service and should be released, unless you have further information against them, warranting their detention. Moll and others concerned in the sword blades probably came over for trade, and though the swords are liable to be seized he does not himself appear guilty of any treasonable design. But the Queen leaves the whole matter to the Justices, who, on the spot, can best judge of it.[7]

The justices do not go against the queen’s wishes, and in his reply of 5 February 1704, Blackett advises:

My Lord’s commands for the acquitting of the prisoners taken up for being concerned in the Sword blades came no sooner to my hands than all dutiful obedience was gtd to them, I having no further information in that matter than what was laid before you; wch indeed I do think was not sufficient (all circumstances considered) for putting them to any more trouble.[8]

Ostensibly, it appears from the foregoing that Mohll was avoiding import duties. Regardless of his motive, I have found no record of fines, and forfeiting the blades may have been considered punishment enough. Following Mohll’s acquittal, he returned to Shotley Bridge, where he died in 1716.

2. What happened to the smuggled blades?

John Ord, clerk to the quarter sessions, recorded a waterman, Thomas Davison swearing on oath to ‘having in his house about forty-five bundles of sword blades and one bundle of hangers’.[9] Bygate estimates a total of 1,400 swords and conjectures about what happened to the smuggled blades:

They just disappear and are not mentioned again, so where did they go, I wonder? To Danby Hall, perhaps, or even to Scotland? Were they after all intended to move on from North Shields in the company of the Jacobite soldiers who had been on board the Saint Anne? More fascinating – but ultimately fruitless – speculation. Still the question remains – did Mohll import any hollow blades.[10]

As to whether there were any hollow swords, prior to Bygate’s publication, Richardson had already mentioned fishermen finding thirty hollow blades near the salt pans.[11] There is also a description of a hollow blade in a letter dated 8 January 1704 from Colonel Henry Villiers, justice at Mohll’s trial and Governor of Tynemouth Castle, to Sir Charles Hedges, Secretary of State, referring to one of the blades found by fishermen at South Shields ‘It is a three-edged hollow blade, larger than the other blades.’[12]

Until now, no evidence has been found regarding what happened to the blades following Mohll’s trial, but I can now indicate their fate. On 20 January 1704, Nottingham, wrote to the Commissioners of the Customs, saying:

the sword blades seized at South Shields are to be delivered by Colonel Villiers to the Customs officers, for the purpose of a prosecution. If they are forfeited, the informers are to be paid in money, as the Queen intends to keep the blades for her own use.[13]

This confiscation by Queen Anne makes sense as, during the War of the Spanish Succession, the government was constantly trying to increase arms, men and ships.[14]

3. Was Mohll supplying arms to the Jacobites?

Irrespective of the blades’ intended destination, they did not reach Jacobite hands, but it is still worth examining Mohll’s potential involvement with the Jacobites, which is suggested by three main theories in the literature:

3.1 Some men in an earlier contingent of Solingen swordmakers in Hounslow were allegedly imprisoned for supporting the king, and some moved to Shotley Bridge.

3.2 Mohll sailed to England in 1703 with Irish and Scottish soldiers.

3.3 Shotley Bridge’s proximity to the estate of Lord Derwentwater, who was executed for high treason in 1716 for his part in the 1715 Jacobite uprising.

3.1 The Hounslow swordmakers

Some Solingen swordmakers moved to Greenwich, London (1603) and then to Hounslow c.1629. Richard H. Bezdek alleges a schism in the Hounslow group when ‘parliamentary forces took over the blade and sword center at Hounslow’.[15] According to Leslie Southwick, in 1642, two Solingen swordmakers, Heinrich Hoppe and Peter English ‘went to Oxford with his late Majesty and wraught there’, and subsequently, Cromwell seized their Hounslow Heath mills to use as powder mills.[16] Bezdek claims some swordmakers remained under parliamentary forces, including Johannes Dell, while others, including Heinrich Hoppe, went to Oxford; however, while Bezdek claims the men from Hounslow were jailed for supporting Charles I,[17] Southwick, referring to a letter from Hoppe and English, argues:

The German mill on Hounslow Heath (founded in 1629) closed in about 1642 (when the immigrant craftsmen went with their patron, Charles I, to Oxford) and this mill was confiscated by Parliament and converted into a powder mill. In contrast, general blade- and sword-making production, manned by non-Royalists, and run by such as the Ernion brothers and John Cooke above, appears to have continued until very late in the 1650s, just before Charles II was restored to the throne. [18]

This indicates there was no schism between the Hounslow swordmakers, all of whom followed the king, and some of whom later came to Shotley Bridge; Southwick later refers to John Kennet (Johannes Kinnd), who remained behind, but there is no record of him in Shotley Bridge and Southwick suggests he returned to Germany at the end of the Thirty Years War.[19] Following Southwick’s analysis, the Hounslow swordmakers remained loyal to their patron, a Stuart king; however, during the interregnum between 1649 and 1660, they could only have worked with the permission of the Protectorate. Notwithstanding, there is no evidence of Jacobite sympathies; more likely, they followed the man who had sponsored their migration to England.

3.2 Sailing with Irish and Scottish soldiers

Mohll sailed aboard the Eufro Angelique from Rotterdam to Tynemouth in December 1703, alongside Irish and Scottish soldiers. (Most primary sources state Eufro Angelique, but there are also references to Saint Anne, Sinta Anna and Eufro Angonata). Mohll was subsequently imprisoned at Morpeth Gaol, at worst, guilty of high treason, and at best, of smuggling. Even so, he was freed within weeks and, until now, no compelling evidence has proven the reason for his release.

The soldiers’ nationalities are allegedly another connection between Mohll and the Jacobites. Bezdek states ‘because there were many Scottish and Irish soldiers on the ship, he was also accused of attempting to sell sword blades to the Jacobites.’[20] Richardson argues ‘because most of the passengers were soldiers (about twenty), a Jacobite conspiracy was suspected in high quarters’, but concedes ‘no plots were uncovered’.[21]

The soldiers’ nationalities do not prove they were Jacobites as many Scottish and Irish soldiers served the English Army. During the War of the Spanish Succession, recruitment was high on Queen Anne’s agenda and in December 1703, she concluded a treaty with the King of Prussia to obtain troops to assist the Duke of Savoy.[22] There were also plans to recruit from enemy armies, and Nottingham wrote to Sir Richard Hill, Envoy Extraordinary to the Duke of Savoy, on 14 March 1704, saying:

there are several of our subjects, of our kingdom of Ireland and other [of] our subjects who now serve in the armies of our enemies who, we are informed, are willing to quit that service, provided they may be assured of our pardon.[23]

I have uncovered the deposition of one of the soldiers accompanying Mohll, Sergeant John Ross, who names five soldiers (somewhat fewer than Richardson’s ‘twenty soldiers’.)[24] On 22 January 1704, Ross stated he was a Sergeant in Colonel Row’s Regiment in Captain James Kygoe’s Company of Grenadiers, in what is now the Royal Scots Fusiliers; Ross’s regiment was quartered in Brabant, Flanders and he was released by his major on 16 November 1703 for a three-month recruitment furlough.[25] According to Dalton, Ross’s regiment was in Flanders in May 1702,[26] and army lists show Ross served under Colonel Archibald Row, as did Major William Campbell (who perhaps signed Ross’s furlough) and Captain James Kygoe; Ross was promoted to second lieutenant in August 1704 at the Battle of Blenheim.[27]

At Rotterdam, Ross boarded the Eufro Angelique, captained by Cornelius Soldart. He landed at Tynemouth and travelled home to Morpeth. A letter from Sir William Blackett, dated 21 January 1704, states, ‘I cannot learn what’s become of the passengers but I have sent a Warrant to Morpeth to seize Ross’.[28] Since Ross gave his deposition the following day, he was likely found there.

Ross stated Hermann Mohll was aboard with his wife and two children. Although he knew Mohll worked at Shotley Bridge as a swordmaker, he denied knowing about any swords on the ship. He concludes there were no passengers except the Mohlls, himself and the five following soldiers:

· John Granger, a carabinier on furlough from Brigadier Wyndham’s Horse Regiment, who went home towards Barnard Castle.

· Robert Carr, Earl of Orkney’s Regiment at Brabant in Flanders, who went homewards to Scotland. Captain Robert Kerr appears on the Blenheim Roll with a footnote stating he was called ‘Carr’. He became captain in 1689, and later had his commission renewed by George I.[29]

· Christopher, an Irish man in ‘Colonel Hambelton’s regiment’ (the Earl of Orkney’s regiment – I have discounted Hans Hamilton’s Regiment as he was not appointed colonel until 1705).

· Joseph Heron, servant to Captain Ramsay of Brinkburn, Northumberland, in Colonel Walter Colyear’s Regiment at Bergen-Op-Zoom.[30] Heron had Ramsay’s baggage, which he landed at Wallsend (possibly William Ramsay of Brinkburn, recorded as having a son, George, on 1 July 1691).[31]

· Robert Dodsworth, also a volunteer in Colyear’s regiment, returned to Felton, Northumberland. Dodsworth was made captain on 20 March 1730, and was still serving in 1743 when he died.[32] He is possibly the Robert Dodsworth of Framlington in the Parish of Felton recorded as marrying Ann Sympson in 1707, whose daughter was baptised later that year. [33] (Interestingly, another Robert Dodsworth in the 1690 Manchester Jacobite trials named 28 Catholic officers as Jacobite conspirators. This Dodsworth was allegedly murdered by Jacobites, and Lord notes he died of knife wounds in ‘an alehouse in Bloomsbury’ on 5 November 1693, and refers to state papers showing his widow seeking government compensation.[34])

Of course, while none of these soldiers were outed as Jacobites, it does not prove they were not Jacobites as some veterans from Queen Anne’s armies later joined the 1715 uprising.[35]

Additionally, it is worth mentioning Captain John Burke. While not on the ship, he was imprisoned on suspicion of being Mohll. On 18 December 1703, Nottingham wrote to commanders in Newcastle, Durham, Carlisle and Berwick.[36] On 24 December 1703, Blackett replied, ‘We have as yet heard of no one answering your description of either person’ but even so, Blackett arrested Burke, describing him as: having the accent of a Scot though he pretends to be an Irishman; and having about him some unintelligible papers […] he being a big fatt man about 45 years old, wearing a short fair peruke.[37]

Burke named a reference, Sir Patrick Johnson, President of the Session of Scotland,[38] and later a Whig MP.[39] Johnson must have obliged because Nottingham wrote to Blackett on 8 January 1704, saying, ‘The pocket book and papers taken from John Burke may be returned to him, and he is to be released.’[40] Blackett replied on 21 January 1704, stating ‘As my Lord has directed, Captain Burck was discharged.’[41] Although Burke remained in custody for almost a month, no evidence links him to Mohll.[42]

3.3 Shotley Bridge’s proximity to Lord Derwentwater’s estate

Derwentwater, an illegitimate grandson of Charles II, was beheaded for his role in the 1715 Jacobite uprising in Northumberland. His seat was Dilston Hall, 12 miles from Shotley Bridge and his lands included Newlands and Whittonstall, adjacent to Shotley Bridge.[43] This proximity has led some historians to argue that the swordmakers settled in Shotley Bridge to produce armaments for the uprising. Bygate posits ‘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’.[44] 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.[45] Irrespective of provenance, these swords were not those smuggled by Mohll, since I have now accounted for their fate.

While Bygate provides no source for the Danby Hall swords, Gooch notes ‘forty-eight dozen swords’ discovered in the house of a tenant of the Baron of Widdrington and although he notes arms found in Danby Hall fifty years after the uprising, Gooch does not mention Shotley Bridge.[46] Szechi mentions both Widdrington and Simon Scrope from Danby Hall stockpiling arms and argues ‘these cases reinforce Paul Monod’s suggestion that an underground Catholic army had been organised in the north in the 1690s, of which they were the heads.’[47]

In terms of proximity to Shotley Bridge, it is worth reviewing Derwentwater’s history. Born in London in 1689, he was educated in France, and at the time of Mohll’s imprisonment, Derwentwater had never visited his estate. According to Lord, when he ‘came of age in 1709 he applied for a licence to allow him to return to England and take up his inheritance’ and was ‘back in England by January 1710’, but stayed in London.[48] Since Derwentwater was born two years after the swordmakers arrived in Shotley Bridge in 1687, they were not located there at his behest and it is improbable that he ordered the smuggled swords as he was in exile and aged fourteen at the time of Mohll’s arrest. Furthermore, Derwentwater was a latecomer to the 1715 uprising and Oates cites Sir Robert Walpole’s statement that Northumbria’s chief rebel only began ‘tampering with people to persuade them to rise in favour of the Pretender six months before he appeared in arms,’[49] and in this vein, Lord reports Derwentwater saying at his trial that ‘he joined it on the spur of the moment because of his duty to James.’[50]

While we might reasonably conclude Mohll was not smuggling swords for Derwentwater in 1703, and they were not intended for the 1715 uprising, someone commissioned these swords. As arms were needed by both Jacobite and government forces, either or both might have been responsible. The aforementioned secret Catholic army could have commissioned these swords, and Szechi points out that while ‘Scots Jacobitism was virtually dormant in 1700’, it was ‘transformed by two events: the death of James II and VII in September 1701 and the outbreak of the War of Spanish Succession in 1701–2.’[51] So, if Mohll was smuggling swords for the Jacobites in 1703, rather than being for the 1715 uprising, they would more likely have been destined for an arms stockpile ahead of the abortive French invasion of Scotland planned for 1708: the Enterprise of Scotland, where there was ‘evidence of the widespread accumulation of arms and horses suitable for use as cavalry mounts.’[52]

Because of his age and circumstances, Derwentwater could not have commissioned the swords smuggled in 1703, but it is plausible that he obtained swords from Shotley Bridge later on ahead of the 1715 uprising. Despite Jacobite lords stockpiling arms, including ‘a hogshead of basket-hilted swords’ in Bath,[53] England’s rebels were generally ‘ill provided with arms’ and hopeful that the French would ‘covertly supply’ them.[54] Even the Scottish Jacobites were not well armed, and Oates refers to men entering England with ‘neither ammunition nor provisions but what each man carries himself’.[55] According to Oates, Derwentwater claimed at his trial that he was ‘wholly unprovided with men, horses, arms and other necessaries’.[56] Derwentwater’s protests notwithstanding, contemporaneous witness accounts cited by Szechi suggest that while most participants were ill armed, ‘some small bodies of northern English catholics’ including Widdrington and Derwentwater’s retinues, ‘were very well armed’,[57]indicating that despite his late entry to the rebellion, Derwentwater was able to obtain arms where his peers had failed.

As an arms maker, Mohll may have pragmatically sold swords to both sides. The smuggled swords might equally have been intended for the army since Mohll’s 1703 smuggling trip coincided with an increased need for arms, due to the War of the Spanish Succession. Arms supply ahead of the 1715 uprising remained a problem for the British army; while ‘better armed and equipped,’ than the Jacobites,[58] the Whigs struggled to gather arms and when William Duff of Braco, ‘a whig heritor’ attempted to buy firearms, he was unable to ‘purchase them for money’.[59] Oates refers to the Lancashire militia being likewise ‘ill-armed’.[60]

Ord recorded Thomas Carnforth, the Newcastle swordmaker, swearing on 12 January 1704 that he had:

partly agreed for the sale of about twenty dozen of the said sword blades and this deponent saith if the said sword blades had not been seized […] this deponent would certainly have bought a great quantity of them from the said Harmon Mohll.[61]

Even so, this does not prove where the swords were ultimately destined; in any case, Carnforth accounts for fewer than half of the swords. Without further documentary evidence, it is impossible to prove the intended destination of the swords. There is a potential clue in the waterman Thomas Davison’s statement that Mohll had asked him to hide the swords in his waterhouse until ‘next tide’, which may indicate that another ship would take them onwards.[62] (At the time of writing, it has not been possible to examine records for ships in and out of Tynemouth in 1703 as they have been affected by mould and are yet to be restored.)

Was Mohll working for both sides?

It is entirely possible that Mohll was working for the government and the Jacobites, and there are three curiosities that bear consideration:

1. the King of Spain’s whereabouts in late 1703;

2. Sir William Blackett, justice at Mohll’s trial, and the man involved in the decision to release Mohll;

3. Colonel Henry Villiers, justice at Mohll’s trial.

1. The King of Spain’s whereabouts in late 1703

Here, the ‘King of Spain’ is Archduke Charles (Emperor Charles VI of Austria), one of two claimants to the Spanish throne, who was supported by England and Prussia, with his rival being Philip of Anjou, (Philip V of Spain).

The timing of Mohll’s trip to Solingen is of interest because, on 6 November 1703, Richard Hill wrote to Nottingham, saying that the Duke of Marlborough had had an audience with the King of Spain in Düsseldorf, where the king gave Marlborough a sword set with diamonds alleged to be worth over two-thousand pounds.[63] On 10 March 1704, Sir George Rooke, Admiral of the Fleet, complained to Hill that the diamond sword ‘was a damned true jest’ worth only £250, and that the queen took ‘away all the plate’ that was due to him, leaving him £1,000 out of pocket.[64] (As for the fate of this sword, Edward Gregg reports Queen Anne giving Prince Eugene of Savoy a sword set with diamonds in 1712.)[65]

Mohll was fortunate to find passage in late 1703 because Hill advised Nottingham he was struggling to get enough ships from Rotterdam to escort the King of Spain and his entourage (some 450 people and their horses): ‘The wind is so very fair for the King of Spain that it is a pity to lose it; but we have only three English and three Dutch ships at Helvoetsluys.’ [66] Enough ships were eventually found as Hill wrote to William Aglionby, the English envoy in Berne, on 29 November 1703, saying that the king had embarked at the Briel,[67] and Gregg reports him surviving the great storm to land at Spithead on 26 December 1703, arriving at Windsor three days later to banquet with Queen Anne.[68]

On 5 January 1704, Captain Soldart stated he had left Rotterdam sixteen days earlier, (20 December 1703).[69] Soldart’s crew contradicted this in their statements of 6 January 1704, saying they had left fourteen days earlier (23 December 1703).[70] Yet, Nottingham sent a circular seeking Mohll on 18 December 1703, suggesting Mohll was in England on that date, if not earlier.[71] Either Soldart and his crew had a poor grasp of dates, (entirely possible, given that England was still using the Julian calendar, whereas the Netherlands and Prussia had converted to the Gregorian calendar), or they were deliberately misleading the authorities. Whatever the truth, it is a curious coincidence that the King of Spain was in Düsseldorf in November while Mohll was in nearby Solingen, and they were both at Rotterdam in December.

2. Sir William Blackett

Sir William – a Justice at Mohll’s trial, responsible for much of the correspondence with Nottingham and involved in the decision to release Mohll – 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’.[72] 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’.[73] Ultimately, it is difficult to ascertain all those who were Jacobites – whether activists or sympathisers – given the potentially fatal consequences if discovered; as Szechi points out, ‘wise Jacobites developed a practised ambiguity or even downright mendacity when questioned about their allegiance’.[74]

3. Colonel Henry Villiers

The Colonel was a member of the powerful Villiers family and Governor of Tynemouth Castle. He was the man first in possession of the smuggled blades and a justice at Mohll’s trial. In 1705, Villiers was implicated in smuggling, alongside an Aberdonian, Thomas Gordon. Treasury documents reveal Villiers was charged with smuggling brandy, white wine, pepper, linen, doeskin and Scottish plaid, after a disgruntled servant informed on him.[75] Parliamentary records show it took only fifteen minutes to find against Villiers, and he was fined £536 and 16 shillings (for context, his pay was £70 per annum).[76],[77]

In 1695, Villiers’ sister, Elizabeth, married George Hamilton, first Earl of Orkney, two of whose soldiers sailed with Mohll.[78] Given that Gordon ran regular convoys from Orkney to Tynemouth, it is not impossible that Villiers’ sister and brother-in-law were involved. While not proven, the goods were likely smuggled from Scotland, rather than France, since the 1703 Scottish Wine Act permitted French wine to be imported into Scotland, whereas it was not permitted in England.[79]

Admiral Thomas Gordon

At the time of his conviction alongside Villiers, Gordon captained the Royal Mary while convoying between Tynemouth and Orkney, and ‘In June, July and August, 1705, Captain Gordon was at Tynemouth running on shore from the Royal Mary, for his friend Colonel Villiers the governor, supplies of French wines and other dutiable goods.’[80] While there is a connection between Villiers and Mohll, there is none documented between Gordon and Mohll, with the former most likely in Italy at the time of the latter’s return from Solingen. In July 1703, Gordon borrowed the Royal Mary to deliver fish to Italy and was not due back until April 1704; however, when agreeing to lend him the ship, Queen Anne asked Gordon to return it sooner, and it was back for recommission in March 1704.[81]

Aside from smuggling, there is further evidence of Gordon and Villiers working together. Gordon had orders in September 1704 to transport French prisoners from Leith into Villiers’ keeping; subsequently, ten escaped, and although they were later shown to have passes, parliament debated this matter for some time.[82] Despite Gordon’s smuggling and controversial treatment of French prisoners, following his capture of an Ostend privateer near Fraserburgh in 1705, he was promoted to commander in November 1705 and received a mark of royal favour as set out in a letter from Queen Anne in 1707.[83]

According to Grant, Gordon was not averse ‘to putting the telescope to his blind eye’ when a French ship fetched Jacobite agents to Scotland and one of them, Nathaniel Hooke (involved in preparations for the aforementioned 1708 Enterprise of Scotland), listed the signals agreed between Gordon and the captain of the ship he was travelling on.[84] Hooke asked the French ship’s captain to avoid the area until he received an answer from James Hamilton, 4th Duke of Hamilton (Orkney’s brother, and imprisoned for his involvement in the Enterprise of Scotland); when no answer came, Hooke decided to depart.[85] Hooke also refers to the Countess of Erroll winning over Gordon to the extent that he gave her notice of his arrival and there is a letter from Gordon to her, advising ‘From thence I design for Newcastle. If your Ladyship has any service for me there, honour me with your commands, which shall be punctually observed.’[86]

Grant argues this might be ‘a typical case of the common practice of Scotsmen in those days giving hostages to fortune on both sides.’[87] However, in 1716, Gordon resigned after refusing to take the oath of allegiance to George I and in 1717 took a commission from Czar Peter the Great as Admiral in the Russian Navy,[88] ultimately becoming Governor of Kronstadt.[89] Between 1725 and 1728, Gordon is listed under Stuart Diplomatic Appointments as receiving ‘full powers in blank’,[90] and there is considerable correspondence between Gordon and the Old Pretender.[91]


It is clear that ‘the unseen kindly hand’ which freed Mohll belonged to one of Queen Anne’s ministers, Lord Nottingham, and his correspondence shows Mohll was not suspected of treason. Indeed, many of the existing arguments made for Mohll’s Jacobite involvement can be discounted, such as the schism in the Hounslow swordmakers, the presence of Scottish and Irish soldiers on board Mohll’s ship, and the proximity of Shotley Bridge to Lord Derwentwater’s estate. Ultimately, Mohll’s case was written off as straightforward smuggling, which was something of a national pastime in eighteenth-century England, due to the high levels of duty prevalent at the time, with even one of the justices from Mohll’s trial found guilty of smuggling.

There does, however, appear to be rather more to this case than meets the eye. Düsseldorf is sixteen miles away from Solingen, a city famous for its swords, so Mohll was close to a meeting involving the ‘King of Spain’, and both men were simultaneously in Rotterdam, preparing to sail to England. [92] Mohll sailed on a warship, accompanied by members of the English army, at a time when Hill was struggling to gather a fleet for the ‘King of Spain’. Mohll was fortunate to be treated so leniently when he might have faced charges of high treason. Apart from his blades being confiscated by the queen, Mohll was not, as far as the records show, punished further and he was let off lightly compared with Villiers, who was fined over five-hundred pounds for his offence.

It is tempting to speculate whether there were other factors behind Mohll’s release, such as diplomatic influence, if Mohll was working for the government. Another possibility might be that one of the company men from the Hollow Blade Company intervened, such as Peter Renau, vice-governor; Sir Stephen Evance, governor (lender to the crown and responsible for financing armies in Ireland and Flanders); John Blunt, director; or William Cotesworth, industrialist and later agent of King George I. (Cotesworth worked alongside Newcastle officials, such as Alderman Matthew White and County Sheriff John Johnson, as well as with the Newcastle militia and the British Army, among others, to hold Newcastle during the 1715 Jacobite uprising.[93]) However, I have found nothing in the records to indicate their involvement, beyond the aforementioned instance of Renau contributing to Mohll’s bail.

Alternatively, international relations may have been at play due to the queen’s treaty with the King of Prussia for troops to assist the Duke of Savoy in December 1703; perhaps in view of her need for soldiers, the queen was persuaded by the King of Prussia to put the telescope to her blind eye to save one of his subjects, albeit one who had earlier defected.[94] Ultimately, it seems entirely plausible that Mohll was simply a pragmatic arms dealer, who was willing to arm both the government and Jacobites forces, irrespective of his own beliefs.

[1] Acknowledgements: For their constructive criticism and support, I would like to thank: my first and second PhD supervisors at the University of Aberdeen, Dr Helen Lynch and Dr Wayne Price; my examiners, Dr George Green and Dr Elizabeth Elliott; one anonymous reviewer and Dr Jonathan D. Oates. I am particularly grateful to Dr Oates for sharing with me his new work ahead of its publication.

[2] David Atkinson, ‘The German Swordmakers of Shotley Bridge’, (Durham: North East Centre for Education about Europe: 1987), p.11.

[3] David Richardson, The Swordmakers of Shotley Bridge: Their Strange Story (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Frank Graham, 1973), p.46.

[4] John G. Bygate, The Hollow Blade: The German Swordmakers of Shotley Bridge, (Durham: Durham in History, 2003), p.44.

[5] Richard H. Bezdek, Swords and Sword Makers of England and Scotland (Boulder, CO: Paladin Press, 2003), p.22.

[6] London, National Archives (NA), SP/34/3/89B, fols.132–33.

[7] NA/SP/44/104, pp.404–05.

[8] NA/SP/34/3, fol.142.

[9] NA/SP/34/3/89, fols.132–33.

[10] Bygate, Hollow Blade, p.60.

[11] Richardson, Swordmakers, p.45.

[12] NA/SP/3/82, p.489.

[13] NA/SP/44/104, pp.404–05.

[14] William Blackley (ed), The Diplomatic Correspondence of the Right Hon. Richard Hill (London: John Murray, 1845), pp.87, 95, 107–08, 157, 183, 252, 286–88 329, 365, 400, 418.

[15] Bezdek, Swordmakers of England, p.13.

[16] Leslie Southwick (2009) ‘The London Cutler “Benjamin Stone” and the Hounslow Sword and Blade Manufactories’, Arms & Armour, 6:1, p.32.

[17] Bezdek, Swordmakers of England, p.32.

[18] Southwick, ‘London Cutler’, p.32.

[19] Ibid, p.40.

[20] Bezdek, Swordmakers of England, p.22.

[21] Richardson, Swordmakers, pp.45–46.

[22] Blackley, Correspondence, pp.179–81.

[23] Ibid, pp.90–91.

[24] Richardson, Swordmakers, pp.45–46.

[25] NA/SP/34/3/89A, fol.131.

[26] Winston Churchill, Marlborough: His Life and Times: Book One Consisting of Volumes I and II of the Original Work, (London: George G. Harrap & Co, 1958), pp.740–51.

[27] Charles Dalton (ed) English Army Lists and Commission Registers: 1661–1714 , Vol V 1702–1707 (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1902), pp.80–82.

[28] NA/SP/34/3/88, fol.130.

[29] Dalton, Army Lists, pp.34.

[30] Journal of the House of Commons, Volume 12, 1697–1699, 16 January 1699, pp.407–423.

[31] John Crawford Hodgson, A History of Northumberland, Volume VII (Newcastle upon Tyne: Andrew Reid and Company, 1904), p.452.

[32] James Ferguson, The Scots Brigade in Holland, Vol II, (Edinburgh: University Press, 1899), pp.124–125, 231.

[33] Hodgson, Northumberland, p.452.

[34] Evelyn Lord, The Stuarts’ Secret Army: English Jacobites 1689–1752 (Oxon: Routledge, 2004), p.21.

[35] NA/SP/34/3/89A, fol.131.

[36] NA/SP/44/104, p.385.

[37] NA/SP/34/3/67, fols.100–101.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Eveline Cruickshanks, Stuart Handley & D. W. Hayton (eds.), ‘Johnstone, Sir Patrick [d. 1736], of Edinburgh’ in The History of Parliament, The House of Commons 1690–1715, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p.218.

[40] NA/SP/44/104, pp.489.

[41] NA/SP/34/3/88, fols.128–29.

[42] NA/SP/34/3/67, p.242.

[43] Lord, Secret Army, p.99.

[44] Bygate, Hollow Blade, p.46.

[45] Ibid, p.59.

[46] Leo Gooch, The Desperate Faction: The Jacobites of North East England: 1688–1745 (Hull: University of Hull Press, 1995), pp.42, 60.

[47] Daniel Szechi, 1715: The Great Jacobite Rebellion (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2006) p.92.

[48] Ibid, p.102.

[49] Jonathan D. Oates, The Last Battle on English Soil, Preston 1715 (Oxon: Routledge, 2016) p.32.

[50] Lord, Secret Army, p.117.

[51] Szechi, Britain's lost revolution? (Politics, Culture and Society in Early Modern Britain), (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015), p.116.

[52] Ibid, pp.1, 5, 30.

[53] Szechi, 1715, p.92.

[54] Ibid, p.86.

[55] Oates, The Battle of Preston, 1715 (provisional title), in press, ch.4.

[56] Ibid, ch.4.

[57] Szechi, 1715, p.92.

[58] Oates, The Battle of Preston, 1715 (provisional title), in press, ch.4.

[59] Szechi, 1715, p.131.

[60] Oates, The Battle of Preston, 1715 (provisional title), in press, ch.4.

[61] NA/SP/34/3/89, fols.132–33.

[62] NA/SP/34/3/89, fols.132–33.

[63] Blackley, Correspondence, pp.279–81.

[64] Ibid, pp.87–88.

[65] Edward Gregg, Queen Anne (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), p.354.

[66] Blackley, Correspondence, pp.286–288.

[67] Ibid, p.290.

[68] Gregg, Queen Anne, p.178.

[69] NA/SP/34/3/80, fol.116.

[70] NA/SP/34/3/N12.

[71] NA/SP/44/104, p.385.

[72] Oates, ‘Responses in Newcastle upon Tyne to the Jacobite Rebellions of 1715 and 1745’, Archaeologia Aeliana, 2003, p.139.

[73] Lord, Secret Army, p.262.

[74] Szechi, Lost Rebellion?, p.3.

[75] Joseph Redington, Calendar of Treasury Papers, Volume 3, 1702–1707: Volume 97, (London: HMSO, 1705), pp.402–07.

[76] Horatio A. Adamson, ‘The Villiers Family as Governors of Tynemouth Castle and Owners of the Lighthouse’, Archaeologia Aeliana, Volume XX (London & Newcastle upon Tyne: Andrew Reid & Co, 1899), pp.15–26.

[77] James Grant, The Old Scots Navy from 1689 to 1710, Publications of the Navy Records Society, 44, (London: Navy Records Society, 1913–14), p.255.

[78] Weil, Rachel, ‘Villiers Elizabeth, Countess of Orkney (1657?–1733)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (2013) <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/28290> [accessed 29 August 2019].

[79] Records of the Parliament of Scotland, ‘Act allowing the importation of wines and other foreign liquors’ <https://www.rps.ac.uk/trans/1703/5/200> [accessed 28 August 2019].

[80] Grant, Old Scots Navy, p.255.

[81] Ibid., pp.251–257, 277–78.

[82] Ibid., pp.285–316.

[83] Ibid., pp.350–51.

[84] Ibid., pp.317.

[85] Ibid., pp.346–47.

[86] Ibid., pp.316–17.

[87] Ibid., pp.51, 251–57, 266, 294–95, 314, 316–17, 346–47.

[88] Ibid., p.235.

[89] Cyprian Bridge, The Russian Fleet Under Peter the Great, (London: Navy Records Society, 1899), pp.56, 62, 90.

[90] Melville Henry Massue, The Jacobite Peerage, (Edinburgh: T.C. & E.C. Jack, 1904), p.233.

[91] Historical Manuscripts Commission, Reports on the Manuscripts of The Earl of Eglinton, Sir J. Stirling Maxwell, Bart., C.S.H. Drummond Moray, Esq., C.F. Weston Underwood, Esq., and G. Wingfield Digby, Esq. (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1885), pp.157–99

[92] Gregg, Queen Anne, p.176.

[93] Oates, ‘Responses in Newcastle upon Tyne’, pp.138.

[94] Blackley, Correspondence, p.180.