Robert Burns …..Jacobite to Jacobin

It is somewhat ironic that in their search to find a culture……Unionists discovered the Ulster-Scots Culture and decided to honour Robert “Rabbie” Burns……..Burns Night being 25th January…… seems almost churlish to point out that Robert Burns was born in 1759……..just thirteen years after the Jacobite cause was defeated at Culloden……..and many of his works show his Jacobite sympathies and distaste for the Hannoverian dynasty. Still, if I pointed this out to unionists they would only go off on another daft search to finda culture and heritage. Personally I preferred it when they thought they were the lost (very very very very lost) tribe of Israel.

Some of Burns’ poetry is surprisingly open “John Highlandman” (1785?) for example. Others are perhaps coded……… was standard practice for Jacobite sympathisers to keep their politics secret and perhaps the greatest skill of the poets and bards was to write in code.

Much is made of Jacobite heroism. Rightly so. The bravery of the Highlanders and their Irish allies is a historic fact. As is the butchery inflicted on the Highlands after Culloden. Yet “modern” Jacobites………who exist in an unreal tweediness of spineless toasts to the “King Over The Watter (sic)” rarely point out that “Prince” Charles Edward……….the Bonnie Prince Charlie was a drunken, woman-beating, cowardly monster. It doesn’t say that on the shortbread tin.

The biggest contribution Bonnie Prince Charlie ever made to his devoted subjects was to desert them and leave them at the mercy of the victorious enemy. Too cowardly to rally his decimated army at the rendevous point at Ruthven Barracks……..his last order was that his followers should look to their own safety. Nobody looked to his own safety more than Bonnie Prince Charlie.

While men, women and children died to aid his escape……..Charles settled back to the drunken life of excess in the palaces of Europe. This means that Charlie deserted his own cause and by his own order…….his followers were free to look to their own best interests. Some did so by adopting to the new regime (as per his instruction) and some did so by deserting “monarchy” and adopting the freedom of Republicanism (as per his instruction). Yet “A Young Highland Rover” (1787) is claeraly a reference to Charles and romanticises the escape myth/desertion reality.

While Robert Burns grew into manhood and was writing his Jacobite poems, he would already have been aware that the so called hero was in fact a drunken self-pitying fraud who blamed the Scots for his defeat. Burns’ best known Jacobite song “Ye Jacobites By Name” (1791) is written three years after the death of Charlie in a Roman palace. Burns blames Jacobite “doctrines” Why? Well by this stage there was a new philosophy to replace the discredited Stuarts…..the French Revolution had taken place in 1789.

Yet Burns continues to write of Jacobite heroism. “Frae the Friends and Land I Love” (1792) is about brotherhood and nationalism. The beautiful “Highland Widows Lament” (1794) ,her destitution and poverty roaming Europe is a sharp contrast to Charlies fate.Indeed there is a suggestion that she blames Charlie Stewart (sic). In 1794 Burns also writes “A Fiddler in the North” which bemoans the “foreign squeals” that have replaced Highland pipes. It is a metaphor.

There is irony that within a single week every January, two rival groups celebrate rival myths. On 25th January Norn Iron unionists will celebrate Rabbie Burns as “their” poet but will not dwell overly on the fact that he was the poet who commemorated and celebrated Jacobitism.

And on 31st January, the plastic pretend “legitimist monarchists” will cry crocodile tears for a cowardly, drunken, serial abuser of women “Bonnie” Prince Charlie. They will quote Burns but will not dwell much on the fact that Burns gave up on Jacobitism and adopted the Republican philosophy of France. Even by 1794 (??) Burns was going further than Tom Paine……..Rabbie Burns was writing a poem celebrating “The Rights of Woman”. Now that is…….revolutionary.

Why should psuedo-modern Jacobites…..yes I know its an oxymoron find fault. Burns is only obeying the instruction of “their” Prince. Look to Ouselves. Our Families. Our Rights. Our Nations.

There was a time when Jacobitism served Irish and Scottish nationalism. No true Irishman would accept that our nation should serve a king………ANY King. I wont presume to speak for Scots..

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9 Responses to Robert Burns …..Jacobite to Jacobin

  1. kvennarad says:

    I’ll speak for one Scot – myself – and being an anarchist by persuasion I dare say I am not representative. I have no time for nationalism of any hue or stamp, which to me is a very petty, xenophobic form of statism; cherishing the beauty of a country and a culture is another matter altogether, and can be done wholeheartedly without forgetting that the ideal is that every person in the world “… shall brothers [and sisters] be for a’ that”.

    I appreciate Robert Burns as a poet. I know it is not possible to ignore the message of his poetry and it would be wrong to try to separate the message from the medium or to take the man out of the art; but one can say that about any poet, writer, painter, or musician.

    Still, RB would love us for bringing all this up and chewing it over – “The mair they talk, the mair I’m kent”.

    Thanks for an interesting post.

    Marie Marshall

    • I think you are basically right.
      Perhaps Celts are by nature anarchist……or perhaps……..subversive.
      I recall someone telling me that I was an anarchist of the worst kind “because you dont look like one”. He meant it as an insult but I take it as a compliment.
      I saw “Sir” Patrick Stewart (aka Jean Luc Picard) in a 30 min interview on BBC News 24 last night.
      Much as I admire Star Trek The Next Generation (although I am actuallya supporter of the rebel Maquis because the Federation is IMPERIALISM………..oh wait I forgot that Star Trek is FICTION…………but my rambling point is that I always thought that Patrick Stewart was a bit of an “actor luvvie”……..a “celebrity socialist” but he made an impression last night.
      He spoke of campaigning for Labour in hostile south coast territory in 2010 when a Tory called him a “tribal labour supporter”. As Stewart says, the Tory meant it as an insult but Stewart is proudly tribal………as am I.
      I dont think thats a bad thing.
      Theres no denying that Nationalism CAN be and OFTEN IS chauvinistic, petty, xenophobic
      But breathes there a man (or woman!!!) with a soul so dead. (Sir W Scott)
      But while Leprachaun Irishness does not appeal to me…….or Shortbread tin Scottishness on the Royal Mile….does not impress me, I think the trick is to love a country without despising another. The Republicanism of Ireland is the thing. Nations do have an “ethos” of sorts. I like and promote the “ethos” of mine.
      And hopefully someday….I will get to be anarchist.
      Thanks for commenting.

  2. pippakin says:


    Imo history is your best subject. Burns is a favourite of mine I enjoyed this post and kvennarad is right Burns would have loved it!

    • Thank you. I appreciate that. I think you probably know that a handful of troopers of Fitzjames Horse led Charlie off the battlefield at Culloden when he “lost the run of himself”. Historyis my thing. And Jacobite History is especially my thing. And youre familiar with some of the codes in say songs like The Blackbird and Dark Rosaleen. And some of Burns stuff is in that tradition although when I was re-reading some of his stuff this week and actually looking for “codes” and metaphors, I was actually surprised how open he was.
      The adoption of Burns by unionists is a fairly recent thing. For centuries Unionism was about suppressing ethnic culture including Ulster-Scots but they have recently seen the advantages of going “ethnic”. Certainly up to twenty years ago the Ulster-Scots thing or Scotch(sic) Irish was an American “thing”.

      The point about Robert Burns is that he is embraced by many. The unionists………although he was Jacobite. The Jacobites because he celebrated Jacobite deeds but they draw a veil over his Republicanism. And arguably Republicans dont like to dwell on his time as a Customs Officer and “British” state employee.
      The bigger issue is History itself……..History enhances our understanding of everything and I certainly like to apply History to Politics. I think too many posters on internet message boards have no understanding of History. Indeed you will know that I have been criticised for applying a History context to everything.
      Watching an episode of Fair City or Coronation Street might be interesting but the viewer who has watched for years gets more from it. Or watching Manchester United play Liverpool tomorrow will have more resonace because football fans are aware of their History of clubs and this fixture.

      • pippakin says:

        There is much in what you say but I don’t like to see history relived every day, or used as an excuse for the crimes of today. I don’t want to read that A murdered B because of what Bs great, great grandfather may have done in the year dot, that’s not learning from history hiding behind it and abusing it.

        I think there should be a rule similar to the oft quoted ‘ball not man’ one which instructs commenters to stick to today’s crime and not excuse or dilute the issue with irrelevant dates from a hundred years or so ago.

        Coronation Street and Eastenders eh? Before I retired I had no time for either and now, its too late I’ve no interest! although I know someone who unable to watch the week day shows waits for the week end with baited breath. I take little interest in my own kitchen sink I’ve none at all in anyone elses.

        All I can tell you of football is that Aston Villa had the West Ham colours first and that once upon a time West Ham were called Thames Iron Works, that is where the cry “Come on you Irons!” originated.

        Robert Burns was a great poet, thanks for sharing.

      • There are actually books on the History of both programmes and Coronation Street even has a university module.
        In the Sports Section of Eason or Waterstones you will find History of West Ham.
        I cant agree with you on History as from my perspective it is not that History is a bad thing but rather BAD History is a bad thing.
        Arguably the English forget too much History and the Irish remember too much. (I forget who said that first).
        No….it is my mission in life to see History everywhere and rant at complete strangers about it.

        The “play the ball” rule on some messageboards is of course merely abused to protect the Referees favourites.

  3. pippakin says:

    Now why would I be interested in books about Corrie or Eastenders? and tbh I know as much of West Ham as I need, the days when I took an interest are long gone but thanks for the info, do Easons and Waterstones pay well?

    I didn’t say history was bad! I said abusing it was. History can teach but it should never be an excuse or defence.

    Completely agree re the play the ball rule but then we must make allowances, self flagellation is hard to do, or so I’ve read and its clear some sites have never got the hang of it.

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