Truth or Treason: Sources for the Study of the Jacobites (Exhibit)

The ‘Glorious Revolution’ in 1688 ended the reign of King James II and VII and initiated a long period of political instability across England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.  Replaced by the King’s daughter Mary II and her Dutch husband, William of Orange, the exiled James and his supporters publicly challenged the legitimacy of their right to reign, dubbing themselves Jacobites. The 1701 Act of Settlement’s exclusion of Catholics in the line of succession brought further seismic changes to British politics, as Anne, the last Stuart monarch, was replaced in 1707 by George, Elector of Hanover, the most senior Protestant descendant of James I and VI.  After the Act of Union in 1707, Scotland and England were united politically, but deep-seated tensions plagued this newly united ‘Great Britain’. Taking full advantage of this strain, the Jacobites would go on to pose a significant threat to the authority of Crown and Parliament during the eighteenth century. 

While the English monarchs from 1688 onward were proud Protestants, the exiled Catholic James and his heirs threatened to undermine the Church of England. Yet, as this exhibition demonstrates, the story of the political struggles between the Jacobites and their detractors is much more complex than a religious conflict. Neither was it a struggle between Scottish Highlanders and Lowlanders. Indeed, the persistent conflicts over the succession to the British Crown exposed deep cleavages in Scotland and beyond. Historians have debated whether Jacobitism was a sustained movement, or a sporadic set of loosely connected uprisings. They have explored its politics, the dynamics of armed struggle, and the intersections of theology and political thought. Historians have also expanded their scope to explore the role of women, material culture, and the presence of Jacobitism in popular lore and literature, notably in the works of Sir Walter Scott. Faced with this complexity, it has been tempting to simplify the origins and dynamics of these conflicts. Indeed, analysing historiographic distortions forms a part of the contemporary approaches to the Jacobites. Today historians are working to understand how the Jacobite cause was framed and reinterpreted, and what these changes in interpretation reveal.

This exhibition was curated by students in two experiential learning classes offered jointly by the History Department and the McLaughlin Library:  Dr. Kevin James’ HIST 3560 and Melissa McAfee’s HIST 3480.  It showcases the Library’s outstanding collection of rare Jacobite pamphlets, manuscripts, and maps. Each document offers insight into long standing assumptions about the role of Jacobitism in British history. Whether this exhibit narrates a tale of truth or treason is up to you.

The physcial exhibition upon which this online version is based can be viewed in the second floor Exhibit Gallery in McLaughlin Library at the University of Guelph from April 3, 2023 - March 1, 2024. 


Curators:  Julia Bifolchi, Brayden Boersma, Julia Di Castri, John Cleland, Megan Gamble, Gavin Huges, Riva Lewis, Cameron MacKay, Gregory McDonald, Manuel Muncaster, Emma Noble, Andrew Northey, Dylan Parry-Lai, Amraj Sahota, Patricia von Holstein-Rathlou, Wilda Thumm 

Faculty Consultants: Dr. Kevin James, Scottish Studies Foundation Chair & Professor of History and Melissa McAfee, Special Collections Librarian

Design and Promotion: Julia Bifolchi, Eva Gabler, Alex Goddard, Aysha Grewall, Molly McNeely, Amy Moffat, Manuel Muncaster, Christian Quattrociocchi  

Library Consultants: Graham Burt, Emily Clark, Ashley Shifflett McBrayne

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


 Archival & Special Collections and Centre for Scottish Studies, University of Guelph

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