The White Cockade: a Jacobite tale

O he’s a ranting, roving lad,

He is a brisk an’ a bonny lad,

Betide what may, I will be wed,

And follow the boy wi’ the White Cockade.

(The White Cockade, Robert Burns)

The White Cockade
Image sourced via Pinterest.

In 1745, Joseph D’Acre of Kirklinton Hall in Cumbria, was one of His Majesty’s troops defending Carlisle Castle from the approaching Jacobite army. He had left his wife, Catherine and young children in the care of his father-in-law, Sir George Fleming, Bishop of Carlisle, and they were at Fleming’s Cumbrian estate, Rose Castle: Mrs D’Acre was in the late stages of pregnancy and about to be confined.

Prince Charles Edward Stuart, wearing a white cockade; William Mosman; National Galleries of Scotland.
Prince Charles Edward Stuart, wearing a white cockade; William Mosman; National Galleries of Scotland.

Bonnie Prince Charlie, Charles Edward Stuart, also known as the Young Pretender, had raised his standard at Glenfinnan in the Highlands on the 19th August 1745 and many of the clans had gathered at his side. The prince claimed the thrones of Scotland and England in the name of his father, James Francis Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender.

A later representation of Prince Charles Edward Stuart in Edinburgh, 1745; City of Edinburgh Council
A later representation of Prince Charles Edward Stuart in Edinburgh, 1745; City of Edinburgh Council

After taking Edinburgh – although not the castle – and vanquishing the government army at Prestonpans, the Highland army travelled south to invade England. One column reached the strategically important city of Carlisle on the 10th November 1745. They surrounded the city on the 13th and Carlisle Castle surrendered with surprisingly little resistance the next day. The men and garrison were allowed to leave a day or two later, on the condition that they did not bear arms against the bonnie prince’s army for twelve months (or, if they preferred, for a handsome bounty they could agree to be conscripted into the Highland army).

South East View of Carlisle Castle, Cumberland, by Robert Carlyle snr, 1791. (Tullie House Museum : 1935.80.5)
South East View of Carlisle Castle, Cumberland, by Robert Carlyle snr, 1791. (Tullie House Museum: 1935.80.5)

A letter to the newspapers, written in the aftermath of the Siege of Carlisle Castle, gave details of the marauding which had taken place in the immediate vicinity.

Hexham, Nov. 19th

I am sorry to tell you that CARLISLE is taken by the Rebels. They have plundered and destroyed all our Country. I was a Prisoner amongst them on Saturday sen’night, and made my escape from them with extream hazard of my life; I left them on Sunday sen’night. The Pretender’s son lay at my house all the last week. I left my brother and a servant maid to take care of my house; but they have destroy’d all my meat, drink, corn and hay…

Rose Castle lies a few miles south of Carlisle. On 15th November 1745, with her husband’s fate still in the hands of the Jacobite army, Catherine D’Acre went into labour and was delivered of a baby girl, who she named Rosemary. An hour after the birth, a company of Highlanders, led by a Captain Macdonald, arrived at the gates of Rose Castle, intending to plunder it of the plate and other valuables they had heard lay inside. A servant, old and grey-haired, bravely stopped the Scots and asked them not to venture inside, knowing that the new mother would be alarmed at their presence. Captain Macdonald asked when the lady had been confined and upon being told ‘within this hour’, he halted his men. The servant added, ‘They are just going to christen the infant’. Perhaps Rosemary was sickly at birth to warrant such a hasty, private baptism, hence the extra impetus to keep the troops from the door? Captain Macdonald swept off his bonnet and removed the white cockade from it, presenting the knot of ribbons to the old servant and saying, ‘Let her be christened with this cockade in her cap; it will be her protection now, and after, if any of our stragglers should come this way: we will await the ceremony in silence’.

Rose Castle, Raughton Head cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Alexander P Kapp -
Rose Castle, Raughton Head. cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Alexander P Kapp –

The Highlanders withdrew to the coach-yard where beef, cheese and ale was sent out to them: after eating their fill they left without further disturbing mother and daughter.

The White Cockade by John Everett Millais; Wikimedia.
The White Cockade by John Everett Millais; Wikimedia.

The following year, on the 3rd November and shortly before her first birthday, Rosemary was publicly christened in the church at Kirklinton (as Mary D’Acre). Of course, in the first twelve months of Rosemary’s life, the Jacobite army had been defeated at Culloden (on the 16th April 1746), the survivors of that battle vanishing into the Highlands in the hope of outrunning the British troops who were ruthlessly hunting them down.

The Battle of Culloden; Peel Ross; Highland Council
The Battle of Culloden; Peel Ross; Highland Council

The white cockade was the symbol of the Jacobites, usually worn on a blue bonnet. There are a few myths and legends about this emblem, but it is often said to have come about because Bonnie Prince Charlie picked a wild, white rose and pinned it to his hat. The captain’s gift was preserved by the D’Acre family and, as an old lady, Rosemary recalled that:

My white cockade was safely preserved, and shewn to me from time to time, always reminding me to respect the Scotch, and the Highlanders in particular. I think I have obeyed the injunction, by spending my life in Scotland, and also by hoping at last to die there.

Rosemary, or Molly, as she was known to her friends and family, lived a long and happy life. In December 1777, at the age of 32, she married John Clerk of Penicuik (pronounced Pennycook) in Midlothian, Scotland, an officer in the navy and heir to the baronetcy of Penicuik.

Last week at Kirklington, in Cumberland, Capt. Clarke, to Miss Molly Dacre, daughter of Jos. Dacre, of that place, Esq; a young lady whose engaging temper and disposition, cannot fail of securing every wish’d for happiness in the marriage state.

In 1817, Rosemary sent an account of the particulars surrounding her birth to the Edinburgh Monthly Magazine, in which they were published. She did so, she wrote, with infinite pleasure, ‘as it reflects great honour on the Highlanders, (to whom I always feel the greatest gratitude,) that at the time when their hearts were set on plunder, the fear of hurting a sick lady and child instantly stopped their intentions’.

Portrait of Sir John and Lady Clerk of Penicuik by Henry Raeburn; National Galleries of Ireland.
Portrait of Sir John and Rosemary, Lady Clerk of Penicuik by Henry Raeburn; National Galleries of Ireland.

The subject of our first biography, Grace Dalrymple Elliott, was descended from a lowland family who had served in the military during the 1700s. But on which side? To discover more, click here.

Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough
Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough

N.B. Joseph D’Acre was also known as Joseph D’Acre Appleby.


Edinburgh Monthly Magazine, volume 1

The History and Antiquities of Carlisle: with an Account of the Castle, Gentlemen’s Seats and Antiquities in the Vicinity and Biographical Memoirs of Eminent Men Connected with the Locality by Samuel Jefferson, 1838.

Derby Mercury, 22nd November 1745

Newcastle Courant, 27th December 1777


5 thoughts on “The White Cockade: a Jacobite tale

  1. Lucy

    That is a beautiful little story. I’m particularly interested by it, since the manuscript I’m now working on is set during the year after Culloden, and has a Highland refugee for its heroine.

    Thanks very much for sharing!


  2. The thing I love about stories from the Reivers and the Jacobean struggles is the way they can show real people behaving decently, even while they are fundamentally at odds with each other. Being asked politely not to cause distress to a new mother and baby resulting in calmly celebrating the new birth with the household and going on one’s way is such a human response and I love it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Eliza Constance (Bradley)

    This piece on the “Jacobite” and the “The White Cockade” and the of troops halted for the lady D’Arcy, is quite rich. Always wished that Bonnie Prince Charlie had come to power. My great great grandmother was a Scotch Irish orphan, came to America in 1845. Spoken for at age twelve as she was stunningly pretty. Raven hair floor length, steel blue eyes, a oval face Dresden fine skin. Her husband to be waited til she was fourteen and he was sixteen and had acheived a trade. I had her wedding shoe bows, and only after researching symbols, imagery, now realize the ‘bows’ were cockades with a finely enamed white flowers in the center. Her husband became extremely talented in his craft and established the most reknown organ, piano manufactory of the times. Know everything of her life in America but cannot get to her parent’s history nor other names associated with her in Belfast. But heritage is definitely Scotch Irish. I truly enjoyed reading your piece.


    Constance (Bradley) her maiden name


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