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The Lyon in Mourning: Shedding New Light on the Jacobites


For the first time in history, all ten hand-written volumes of the Jacobite memoir Lyon in Mourning, by Rev. Robert Forbes, Bishop of Ross and Caithness, are available to the public. The original manuscript was digitized and encoded by teams from Simon Fraser University and the National Library of Scotland headed by Dr. Leith Davis, Professor in the Department of English and the Director of the Centre for Scottish Studies at Simon Fraser University. The document, in Rev. Forbes’s own handwriting, is a collection of documents and artifacts that he collected from 1747 to 1775.

St. James the Less Scottish Episcopal Church. Leith

Robert Forbes (1708–1775) was the son of Charles Forbes, a schoolmaster in the parish of Rayne, Aberdeenshire, and Marjory Wright. In 1726, he received his Master of Arts from Marischal College, Aberdeen. He qualified for orders in the Scottish Episcopal Church and was ordained as a priest by Bishop Freebairn in Edinburgh in June 1735. He was assigned to the church of St. James the Less in Leith with Rev. William Law.


In 1745, Rev. Forbes attempted to join the coup attempt of Charles Edward Louis John Sylvester Maria Casimir Stuart. Stuart, also known as “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” was the grandson of James II and VII, who was deposed in 1688. The supporters of the Stuart’s claim were called “Jacobites” based on the Latin name “Jacobus.”

Charles Edward Stuart, by Allan Ramsey

Rev. Forbes and several companions were traveling to join Stuart’s campaign but were arrested and spent the next nine months in prison. He was not released until May 1746 – after Stuart was defeated at the Battle of Culloden.


Rev. Forbes returned to his duties at the church of St. James the Less in Leith and in 1762 he was appointed Scottish Episcopal Bishop of Ross and Caithness. Stuart’s defeat did not daunt Bishop Forbes’s zeal for the Jacobite cause. In 1747, he began collecting materials that would eventually become the ten volumes of what he called Lyon in Mourning, or A Collection of Speeches Letters Journals Etc. Relative To the Affairs of Prince Charles Edward Stuart. He continued to work on his life’s major work until his death in 1775. The Bishop’s purpose was, as he declared, to make up “a Collection of Journals and other papers relative to the important and extraordinary occurrences of life that happened within a certain period of time” and he strove “to make the Collection as compleat and exact as possible for the instruction of future ages in a piece of history the most remarkable and interesting that ever happened in any age or country.” (Journals, etc., of Bishop Forbes, by the Rev. J. B. Craven, 1886. Scottish Antiquary, Volume VIII.)


After his death in 1775, The Lyon in Mourning changed hands several times until 1871, when it was presented to the Advocates Library, which became the National Library of Scotland. In 1895 and 1896, the massive document was edited by Henry Paton and printed in three volumes by the Scottish History Society. (This version is available in the Clan Forbes Society Reference Library, available to all Active Members of the Society.)

Dr. Leith Davis, Simon Fraser University

Starting in 2020, the original manuscript was digitized and encoded by teams from Simon Fraser University and the National Library of Scotland headed by Dr. Leith Davis, Professor in the Department of English and the Director of the Centre for Scottish Studies at Simon Fraser University. Public access to all ten volumes is available through SFU Library's Digital Collections. The teams are currently analyzing the contents using both qualitative (archival research and close analysis) and quantitative (Digital Humanities) methodologies (TEI).


On April 11, 2023, Dr. Leith Davis discussed her team’s work on The Lyon in Mourning in a video presentation called “Encoding and Analysing The Lyon in Mourning: Shedding New Light on the Jacobites.” The video was recently posted on the website of the Association for Scottish Literature. Dr. Davis explained that “Particular focus is on sharing the stories in the manuscript that concern women, Gaelic speakers and laboring class individuals - voices that are marginalized in history.”

She noted that Bishop Forbes set out to counter official pamphlets against Jacobitism by interviewing witnesses and collecting letters and written accounts and documents. The document includes speeches of Jacobites who were condemned to death, eye-witness accounts of Stuart’s escape from Scotland, narratives of war crimes and atrocities, songs and poems, copious letters, and even historical artifacts such as fabric from Stuart’s garter and a piece of wood from the boat that carried him to the island of Skye.


Dr. Davis was working on a book based on the printed version and decided to see the original manuscript in the National Library of Scotland. She explains that she was “gobsmacked” by the hand-written version – and had a “eureka moment” which led to her digitalizing and studying the original document. She noted that “it became clear to me that what was represented in that printed version was just a pale imitation of what the original manuscript actually was” and decided that more people needed to know about it. Her goal for the project is to “produce an open-access web resource.”

Much of the initial analysis of the project was published in the journal of the International Review of Scottish Studies, volume 47, published on April 9, 2023.


Specific articles include:

·

  • Introduction: “New Perspectives on ‘The Lyon in Mourning’”

  • Collecting, and Not Collecting: Jacobite Material at the Advocates Library and National Library of Scotland

  • The “Lyon in Mourning”: Robert Forbes’s Papers and Early Jacobite Studies, 1775–1926

  • “The Lyon in Mourning” at the National Library of Scotland

  • The Digital “Lyon in Mourning”

  • “Female Rebels”: Highlighting Women’s Voices in Robert Forbes’s “The Lyon in Mourning”

  • “Redeeming the Land of Forgetfulness”: Trauma and Writing in the “Lyon in Mourning”

For more information about the project, see the Lyon in Mourning Project. Dr. Davis may be reached at leith@sfu.ca and followed on Twitter at @LeithDavis. To learn more about more recent updates on the project, follow the tweets at @lyoninmourning.

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