The Military Mapping of Scotland in the Period of the Jacobite Rebellions

By Alastair Noble

‘I am going in the dark; for Marechal Wade won’t let me have his map!’ (Quoted in Tabraham, 2007, 25).

These words, reported to have been uttered by General Hawley, Commander of Chief of Scotland in 1745, evoke concisely the sense of uncertainty felt by the Hanoverian troops towards the Scottish Highlands during the Jacobite period of the first half of the eighteenth century. The Act of Union 1707, which helped secure the Hanoverian succession to the throne of Great Britain, precipitated a number of Jacobite rebellions or attempted rebellions, aimed at the restoration of the Stuart monarchy. These were initiated from the Highlands and making greater knowledge of the terrain a military necessity for the Hanoverian army. This stimulated, a number of attempts to map the Highlands, commissioned by the Board of Ordnance in London (Fleet et al, 2011, 77).

These attempts began in earnest after the rebellion of 1715, during a period in which the Board of Ordnance was also engaged in the construction of forts, garrisons and roads in the Highlands, ironically altering the landscape while in the process of mapping it. Clement Lempière’s A description of the Highlands of Scotland, produced in 1731 was one of the first to detail the military roads built under the authority of General Wade [available online from the National Library of Scotland ]. This map also incudes details about the number of men able to bear arms, and separates the Highlands and Lowlands with a clearly marked ‘boundary’ which presents an image of Scotland as a starkly divided land, and indicates clearly the map’s military provenance. This highlights the extent to which gaining knowledge of Highland topography was part of a wider strategy aimed at controlling that area.

In this sense, it is perhaps not surprising that the most comprehensive map of the period was produced after the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden in 1746, and during the subsequent period of reprisal, through which the Government sought to consolidate its control of the Highlands through a wide range of military and legal measures. In this context a more thorough attempt to map the country was possible and deemed necessary. Despite the Hanoverian victory at Culloden, it was observed that the victorious commander, the Duke of Cumberland ‘and the Generals under his command found themselves greatly embarrassed for the want of a proper survey.’ (The National Archives, T1/486, fol. 87).

This want was addressed by the Military Survey of Scotland, which began in 1747 as an endeavor to map the Highland area, was extended in 1752 to cover the whole of the Scottish mainland, and completed in 1755 [available online from the National Library of Scotland: ]. The Military Survey, unlike some earlier maps of Scotland was based on direct observation of the terrain, using theodolites and measuring chains, an advanced technique for the day (Arrowsmith, 1807, 7-8). The result was an extensive and detailed map (although not without inaccuracies). This demonstrates how the military campaign, in part, stimulated cartographic progress. This progress, in turn, demonstrates the dynamics of the wider context in which the military maps were produced.

The military maps of Scotland, which were developed during the first half of the eighteenth century, document the changes to the landscape that were affected as a result of the State’s attempts to suppress Jacobitism. In this way they documented the extent to which military control was being imposed on the Highlands, while also aiding that control through providing better knowledge of the terrain. As such, the maps of this period document the extent to which the Hanoverian Government moved from a position of relatively little knowledge of the region, to a position of power.


Arrowsmith, A (1807) Memoir Relative to the Construction of the Map of Scotland, London: Arrowsmith.

Fleet, C., Wilkes, M. and Withers, C.W.J (2007) Scotland: Mapping the Nation Edinburgh: Birlinn.

National Archives, T1/486, fol. 87, ‘Memorial of John Watson to HM Treasury’, 9th November 1770.

Tabraham, Chris (2007) ‘The Military Context of the Military Survey’ in William Roy, The Great Map: The Military Survey of Scotland’, Edinburgh: Birlinn.








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