Tag Archives: jacobite symbolism

Jacobite symbols – decoding treachery or loyalty…

bonnie prince charlieI’m having a wander in my own direction this afternoon  back into the realms of the Jacobites. In this instance symbolism. These days if we think of anything associated with the Stuarts other than the emblematic Scottish thistle we tend to identify the white Jacobite rose and the white cockade that Jacobites wore on their blue bonnets. However, as you might expect it is not that straightforward. The rose for example should possibly have six petals and either one or two buds. If one bud it references Bonnie Prince Charlie, if two buds then it’s a reference to Charlie and his younger brother Henry. The whole white rose thing is relatively straight forward. The Old Pretender or James III depending on your frame of mind was born on June 10th which is white rose day.  It also helps that the rosa alba is the white rose associated with Scotland which, if you are of a romantic disposition is the kind of rose that the Young Pretender plucked from a bush as he passed it shortly after arriving in Scotland in 1745.


It is not quite so simple as ABC – which naturally stands for A Blessed Change or how about QRS which stands for Quickly Return Stuart.  Here in no particular order as some of the symbols associated with the Jacobite cause:

Butterflies and moths: a symbol of rebirth and renewal or in the phrase of the time, “the return of the soul.”

Sunflowers: it’s an image associated with loyalty because the sunflower turns its head to track the progress of the sun.

Bees: another symbol for loyalty as well as being representative of new life out of decay. If that isn’t enough insects for you then there are also dragonflies and beetles.

Acorn and oak leaves: a Stuart symbol dating from the Restoration. It references Charles II’s escape after the Battle of Worcester when he hid up the oak tree at Boscobel House. It became a symbol of rebirth once Charles wore oak leaves in his hat in 1660 when he returned to England. And it turns out trees are rather more complex than you could even begin to imagine. In 1689 a medal was struck to celebrate the coronation of William and Mary – it bore an oak tree with an orange growing out of it just to remind people that Mary was a Stuart. Green trees and shoots are also about fertility. This clearly has the obvious connotation of plentiful heirs but it was also used in the context of a withered tree when an unjust king was on the throne making the nation wither. We can also move into the realms ofireligious symbolism.  Oak trees are wood. The cross upon which Christ was crucified was made of wood. The oak and the cross are made of the same thing there fore the oak tree is like the Cross. The Stuarts across the sea represent the Arisen Christ – so the rightful monarchs by Divine Right and we might also want to consider martyrdom which takes us back to Charles I. Clearly this was a group of extremely well educated people with nothing better to do than drink wine from exquisitely engraved treasonous  glassware and come up with increasingly complex images to demonstrate their allegiance.

A six pointed star which simply represents royalty. A compass in the form of a starburst as with the star.  Even better for the compass to have a flour de lis pointer. Remember that the french kings offered their support to the Jacobites.

Birds – especially the Jay – yes that’s right, King James III’s initial letter is a J. Ravens could also be used to symbolise Jacobite allegiance given their heraldic links to Scottish kings in the past and there’s also a poem that uses the metaphor of a blackbird to represent James.

If as a Jacobite you wanted your coded loyalty to have a more classical bent then Medusa’s head – Bonnie Prince Charlie being the Perseus sent to rescue the British people from the nasty Hanoverians and Medusa translates as guardian which brings us neatly to the true guardianship of the nation…the Stuarts.

Daffodils symbolise spring and are therefore about hope – so they must naturally be a reference to returning Stuart monarchs. Even a carnation can be seen as symbolic of the Stuart cause because it represents a “coronation.” Forget-me-nots reference the obvious fact that the Stuarts should not be forgotten.

Many of these symbols can be found on beautiful examples of eighteenth century glassware. There are about five hundred examples of Jacobite glassware in existence today. The guidebook from Fairfax House in York observes that this indicates that originally there must have been thousands, so that whilst in theory many people were prepared to raise their glasses in a toast to the “king over the water” fewer were prepared to put their money or themselves where their mouths were.

Aside from the various images there were also opportunities to demonstrate loyalty to the Stuarts through mottoes such as Fiat which translates as “Let it be” as in Let it be a Stuart restoration. Redeat meaning it returns.  Even saying Amen could have a Jacobite context especially if your toasting glass was decorated with the Jacobite National Anthem, a crown and a portrait of James III or his initials:


God save the King, I pray,

God bless the King, I pray,

God save the King.

Send him victorious,

Happy and glorious,

Soon to reign over us,


God save the King.

God bless the Prince of Wales,

The true-born Prince of Wales,

Sent us by Thee.

Grant us one favour more,

The King for to restore,

As Thou hast done before

The familie.


God save the Church, I pray,

God bless the Church, I pray,

Pure to remain Against all heresie,

And Whig’S Hipocrasie,

Who strive maliciouslie

Her to defame.


God bless the subjects all,

And save both great and small

In every station.
That will bring home the King;

Who hath best right to reign,

It is the only thing

Can save the Nation.-Amen.


Other toasts included “to the little gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat,” which was a reference to William of Orange falling from his horse to his death when the horse allegedly tripped over a mole hill causing him to break his collar bone from which pneumonia was a secondary illness. There is even a Gaelic toast which plays on words to reference Bonnie Prince Charlie escaping to Skye dressed as a woman. And let’s not forget the importance of passing the glass over a bowl of water even if you couldn’t toast “The King across the water” out loud.

There is such as thing as having too many symbols and the Jacobites seem to have gone for coded loyalty big time from traditional royal symbols via mythical and allegorical signs to the downright obscure.  And I haven’t even ventured into the realms of Jacobite commemorative paraphernalia which make modern royal coronation and wedding chinaware seem positively low key. For example you could get a piece of china depicting a handsome knight or shepherd and you were actually demonstrating your loyalty to the Pretender. There were Jacobite medals, fans, trinket boxes and miniatures.

I think I can also safely say that I have enough material to make a Jacobite cross stitch sampler.


Guthrie, Neil (2013) The Material Culture of the Jacobites. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press






Filed under Anglo-Scottish history, Eighteenth Century, Jacobites, The Stuarts