‘Is it not time for the Pulpits to sound the Trumpet against Popery and the Pretender?’

Lord Hardwicke to Archbishop Herring, 31 August 1745

In the autumn of 1745 the city of York faced the threat of Jacobite attack, as Bonnie Prince Charlie’s invading army crossed the Scottish border and rapidly advanced southwards. With its long historical memory of invasion and attack from Scotland, York readied itself to face this new danger. At the head of the preparations was Archbishop of York, Thomas Herring.

Herring, who was relatively new to his post, having been appointed only in 1743, was a tolerant and pragmatic churchman, known for the moderate tone of his sermons. During the Forty-five, however, he rose to the challenge, acting as the heir of those medieval archbishops of York who had swapped the crosier for the sword when threats arose from the north. Archbishop Herring was highly active as the Jacobite army advanced into England, rallying support for the crown, encouraging declarations of loyalty and raising a volunteer militia.

On 22 September 1745 he gave a celebrated sermon in York Minster exhorting the people of the North of England to defend their crown, their Church and their liberties against the threat posed by the Pretender and his Spanish- and French-backed Catholic and Jacobite army. The Young Pretender, Herring proclaimed, was one ‘who has neither Birth nor Law to entitle him to a Crown’ and who had been ‘bred up in a Hatred of the Protestant Reformed Religion, and in Love and Bigotry to that which is little better than a sad corruption of the Christian, and a Medley of Wickedness and Superstition’. The English people, Herring urged, must defend ‘a wise and free Government, established by wholesome Laws, protected by the justest and mildest Prince, and guarded and secured by the Religion and Courage and Fidelity of Loyal Subjects’ against that which would be brought in by ‘a Popish Fugitive, brought in by Blood and Devastation, settled upon the Ruins of all Law and Liberty’. Herring’s sermon was well received across the country, with King George II himself commending it and urging its publication.

Two days later, on 24 September 1745, Archbishop Herring spoke to a meeting of more than 800 people gathered at York Castle in response to an appeal for the people of York to subscribe funds for the raising of a militia against the Jacobite threat, and to volunteer to bear arms. ‘The Pretender’s Son is in Scotland’, he told the assembly, ‘and is advancing with hasty steps towards England … Let us unite, then, Gentlemen, as one man, to stop this dangerous Mischief’. This appeal was successful: over £2,600 was raised between September 1745 and January 1746 towards the costs of a volunteer militia, and by the end of October a ‘York Company’ consisting of 240 men was raised, armed and equipped. A converted schoolroom in Thursday Market (now St Sampson’s Square) was given to the new force to use as a guardhouse.

York under threat?

The threat Herring depicted so powerfully in his sermons and speeches was real enough in the autumn of 1745, but ultimately never materialised in York itself. The Jacobite army passed through north-western England, and York was never directly threatened. Despite the reputation of the North of England as a stronghold of Jacobitism, York had little history of active support for the Jacobite cause. The 1715 rising had had little effect on the city, and other than the slightly more pronounced enforcement of the Oaths Act of 1707, which had the effect of excluding Catholics from most official positions, Catholics in the city were little troubled in the years that followed. Herring, like many Anglican clergymen of the period, was tolerant of Catholics, and it is notable that his public statements focus rather on the need for obedience to authority than on narrowly anti-Catholic sentiment. His use of more fiery language on occasion reflects his desire to rally the city in the face of the initial panic that the early Jacobite successes caused.

As in 1715, so in 1745: during Bonnie Prince Charlie’s rising the Jacobites received no direct support from York. It seems that by 1745, active Jacobitism in York had dwindled to a purely sentimental attachment to the idea of a Stuart restoration. The Fairfax family is a prime example of this fervour dwindling into sentiment; as confirmed Catholics and one time suspected Jacobites their house was searched in October 1745, but nothing was found. Viscount Fairfax was said to be a model citizen, belonging to a circle of Catholics who were intent on supporting the Protestant monarchy by practising their religion quietly and discreetly as a purely private matter. Indeed, the lack of tension between the Fairfaxes and York’s Protestant and Hanoverian establishment is indicated by the fact that it was Archbishop Herring who warned the Viscount that his property was going to be searched, and who wrote in defence of his Catholic friend when local clergy tried to make trouble for him.

Fortifying York

When the 1745 rising broke out in Scotland it was immediately feared that York, for so long distrustful of the Scots and a target of invasion and attack from the north, would be directly threatened. The Lord Mayor of York warned on 28 September 1745 that York was ‘not tenable even against a small force’, and steps were rapidly taken to improve the city’s defences. The walls and bars were inspected and repaired, masonry was renewed, defensive ditches enlarged, and gates replaced and strengthened: city accounts show that £3 9s 0d was spent on Bootham Bar, £4 12s 0d on Castlegate Postern, and £5 15s 6d on North Street Postern, and large quantities of stone were made available for repairs and improvements. Soldiers were also evident in the city during the dangerous months of the rising. In addition to the locally raised volunteers, regular army regiments regularly passed through York and were sometimes based in the city for weeks or months.

By its response to the Jacobite Rising of 1745 York showed itself to be largely loyal to the crown and prepared to take measures to resist the ‘rebels’. When Archbishop Herring urged his fellow citizens of York to stand up against Jacobitism he was addressing a loyal city, united against an external threat.

Source: In the Name of the Rose: The Jacobite Rebellions, Symbolism and Allegiance (Fairfax House, 2013)