IT was in this week of 1708 that a dose of measles and some misfortune stopped what might have been a successful Jacobite Rising in its tracks before it even really got started.

On March 23, 1708, some 316 years ago on Saturday, a French invasion fleet entered Scottish waters, heading into the Firth of Forth. They never landed, and King James VIII of Scotland and III of England, as he was recognised by France, never led the 1708 Jacobite rising because it never really happened.

After the sudden death of the deposed King James VII and II at the French royal residence of Saint-Germain-en-Laye on September 16, 1701, his son James Francis Edward Stuart was acclaimed as King of England and Scotland by his father’s supporters who had become known as Jacobites from the Latin word for James. In deference to the Stuart claim to the throne, I will refer to him as King James from now on.

The War of the Spanish Succession had begun months earlier with England joining in the Grand Alliance against France, Spain and Portugal, and the French king, Louis XIV, no longer felt bound by the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick to recognise William III, William II of Scotland, as King of England.

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Louis instead recognised James Francis Edward as King of Scotland and England, and is said to have thought well of the young King, and certainly more so than he did of his father. Their shared Catholic religion was another bond between them.

After William fell off his horse and died in 1702, he was succeeded by his sister-in-law Queen Anne who became the principal campaigner for a political union between England and Scotland. This was duly achieved in 1707, with Anne getting her main desire, namely a Protestant heir to her throne.

King James VIII and III was excluded from the succession by these words in the Act of Union: “All Papists and persons marrying Papists shall be excluded from and for ever incapable to inherit, possess or enjoy the Imperial Crown of Great Britain and the Dominions.” As I have often written, the Union was sectarian from the outset.

The Union had one effect in Scotland that frightened the English nobility in particular – the Jacobites re-emerged. As I showed in columns earlier this year, the Union was very unpopular across Scotland, and now the Jacobites had a new cause to fight – they wanted to restore a Stuart to the throne so he could dissolve the Union.

Less than a year after the Act of Union was passed by both Parliaments, a new Jacobite Rising was being planned and this time King Louis was all for it. His reasoning was simple – anything that would hinder England’s wartime efforts against the French would be welcome.

As I have previously written, in Scotland the Irish Jacobite soldier Colonel Nathaniel Hooke had been intriguing for two years among known Jacobites and by early 1708, a plan had been formed. A French invasion fleet would ferry around 6000 troops to Scotland where they would meet up with a Jacobite army of anywhere between 12,000 and 25,000 and march south.

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Louis XIV approved the plan and appointed Rear-Admiral Comte Claude de Forbin-Gardanne as naval commander and Dunkirk was designated as the departure port.

Rather than trust the invasion army to large troopships, some 30 small and fast privateer ships and five warships were commandeered to transport the French troops to Scotland for a landing somewhere around the Forth. No actual port had been designated as a landing place, though King James hoped it would be near Edinburgh. It would be up to de Forbin to decide where they would land – meanwhile, he recorded that King James had faced the stormy weather with “a courage and coolness beyond his years”.

Simultaneously the clans would rise in the Highlands and march south, led by various members of the aristocracy and clan chiefs, though there were notable absentees from the Jacobite leadership, possibly because martial law had been imposed on Scotland due to riots against the Union.

The invasion/rising was set for March after the worst of winter had passed, but then came an unforeseen development that may well have affected the history of Europe – the teenaged King James came down with a dose of measles.

The troops had already embarked but the Royal Navy under Admiral Sir George Byng was seen to be waiting in the Channel. That and James’s illness meant the troops had to come ashore and stay in France for a fortnight to allow James to recover. The delay was crucial – the Royal Navy went back to port to re-supply which meant they had resources for a long chase and battles, but which also allowed the invasion fleet to sail.

Despite a fierce gale, Byng and his ships chased after them, and when the French fleet reached the Forth, the Royal Navy was close enough to threaten annihilation if any landing was attempted. Claude de Forbin gathered the fleet off Fife Ness, but scouts could not find any trace of a Jacobite army waiting for them.

King James pleaded to be put ashore to personally raise his standard and gather a Jacobite army, but de Forbin refused what he thought would be a useless self-sacrifice.

Knowing the Royal Navy blocked their way back to Dunkirk, the French fleet went home via the north of Scotland and the Atlantic and duly suffered serious damage in rough seas.

King James made it back to France but the man that history has dubbed the Old Pretender was not finished with his attempts to get back the throne which had been usurped from his family. He would return in 1715 and see that Jacobite Rising again end without him leading his forces.

After it was clear that no invasion and no rising would take place in 1708, numerous Jacobites were arrested and faced charges of treason, but they were all later released after the prosecution could only prove that they had drunk the health of King James.

James the Old Pretender never caught measles again.