Jacobite Support in the North-East

The North-east of England had long been viewed by those in the South as a den of popery. 'Half of the population is of the papist faith and the other half are well-disposed towards it,' wrote one Southerner. More than anywhere else in the country, Northumberland and Durham had remained loyal to the old faith.

There was also a remarkable degree of toleration in the area, with the local Anglican population, including the clergy and even the Bishop of Durham, working to preserve their friends and neighbours from prosecution under the Test Acts in a way which horrified visitors to the area. Moreover, the area had a strong tradition of support for the Stuarts going back to the Civil War. The rural parts of the region retained a near-feudal structure, and there was strong fellow-feeling with the Scots against the interference of Londoners and foreigners, be they Dutch or German.

While it is hard to make any realistic estimate of the number of Catholics in Northumberland and Durham, the idea that half of the population kept the old faith is clearly an exaggeration. However, the relatively small number of professing Catholics had influence due to their strength among the senior gentry and the tolerance of their Anglican neighbours. As early as Spring 1689, Williamites were expressing concern about weak support in the region for the new King, and Lord Lumley was despatched to keep a wary eye on the population. He purged the magistracy and had himself made Lord Lieutenant. His fears were well founded, for many of the Anglican clergy gave up their livings rather than swear loyalty to William and Mary. One of them, Dean Granville of Durham, converted to Catholicism and became chaplain to James II at Saint-Germain. Bishop Crewe initially went into exile himself but returned at the last moment and made an uneasy peace with the new regime. Although not openly a Jacobite, he was certainly no Hanoverian.

This dislike of the new regime extended to the wider gentry. At the 1689 Election, seven of the twelve local seats went to Tories. Nine of the local MPs voted against giving the throne to William and Mary, and two abstained. Most of the local gentry seem to have been quietly opposed to the new regime. Few, however, were willing to give active support to James as yet.

Jacobites in Northumberland 1689 - 1710

Sir John Fenwick of Wallington was a key Jacobite conspirator from the Glorious Revolution onwards, and his house in London became a centre of Jacobite activity. He was executed for a plot to kill King William and launch an invasion through Newcastle in 1697. Edward Charlton of Hesleyside was another key local activist, his house being a centre for Jacobite activity from 1689. Jacobite spies visited him regularly.

The visits of such spies were part of a plan to invade England from the North-east formed as early as 1690. In 1691 a small party from the French navy landed at Druridge Bay and plundered Widdrington Village. The court at Saint-Germain hoped to land on the North-east coast and, with the help of the local gentry and colliers, seize Newcastle. An invasion from Scotland and a French landing would then follow, culminating in the capture of London. This connection between the North-eastern Jacobites and those of Scotland was to be a consistent theme in all subsequent Jacobite plans.

The Jacobites in the area were constantly talking about restoring James by force of arms, but with the exception of the attempt to land in Scotland with a French fleet in 1708 (with hopes again of a rising in Newcastle), this talk came to nothing. It was only after 1710 and the renewed speculation over the succession to Queen Anne that the local Jacobites began to plan a serious rising.