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Kidnapped | Study Guide

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Kidnapped | Context


Jacobite Uprisings

The Jacobites were members of a political movement that sought to restore a Catholic king to the English throne. The 1745 Jacobite uprising, whose aftereffects feature prominently in Kidnapped, sought to contest the 1707 unification of Scotland and England and was the last of the Jacobite rebellions. By then, the events that sparked the conflict were more than a century old.

In 1603 the former king of Scotland James I became King of England after the death of Elizabeth I, who had no children. James I founded the Stuart dynasty and attempted to unite Ireland, Scotland, and England under the name of Great Britain. His grandson Charles II died in 1685 without an heir, and the throne passed to James II, who had converted to Catholicism. The largely Protestant English aristocracy managed to remove him from the throne in favor of his Protestant daughter Mary and her Dutch Protestant husband William of Orange. Their daughter Queen Anne formally unified Scotland and England in 1707; her childless death in 1714 led to the ascension of George I, from Hanover in what is now Germany.

The son of the exiled James II—also named James but eventually known as the "Old Pretender" for his claims to the monarchy—had been living in exile in France and saw an opportunity to reclaim his father's throne. The 1715 Jacobite uprising united supporters of the Old Pretender with Catholic Scottish nobles who wished for greater independence from England and her Protestant church. The uprising failed miserably, and Scotland suffered intensive military occupation for the next 30 years. By 1745, the Old Pretender had died, and his son Charles Edward Stuart sought to reclaim the throne. His campaign went well in the beginning, but a lack of anticipated French support caused its defeat outside Inverness, Scotland, in 1746. The English government's efforts to prevent further uprising showed no mercy. Jacobites were imprisoned or executed and essential elements of Scottish culture—the bagpipes and the plaid tartans worn by clans—were outlawed, while military garrisons were reinforced.

Highland Clans

In the mountainous part of northern Scotland known as the highlands, where David and Alan travel extensively, the clan system was the primary political system from approximately the 12th century to the end of the 1745 Jacobite uprising. The word "clan" is derived from the Gaelic "clann," meaning children. Typically named for the region they inhabited, each clan was a family group, descended from a common ancestor and led by a single chief. The chief was responsible for the entire group, settling disputes as judge, leading men in battle as commander, and aiming to protect those for whom he was responsible. Disputes with neighboring clans over land and resources led to long-standing disputes, while intermarriage and cooperation led to generations-long allegiances. Members of a clan were recognized by their names as well as the color and style of plaid garments they wore.

David and Alan's journey is set in the time just after the official end of the clan system under the intensified rule of the English throne. In the novel the clan system continues to determine loyalties even while its chiefs are in exile, its traditional dress has been outlawed, and many clans were scattered and hidden. The men and clans who lived their lives in hiding, like Alan Breck and Cluny Macpherson, were forced to do so because they were considered enemies of the ruling government due to their participation in the uprising. They lived outside the rule of law as "outlaws" and survived only as long as they could evade capture by the British government.


Primogeniture is the legal requirement that the eldest male child (very rarely, the eldest child of either gender) inherits the property and assets of the father upon his death. In the novel David's Uncle Ebenezer pays a sea captain to kidnap David so that David will not be allowed to inherit the land and income of his ancestors, whose familial line and estate are both referred to by the term "house of Shaws."

In David's case his father Alexander was the oldest brother and inherited the property—and with it the income from the tenant farmers who rent parcels of the land—when David's grandfather died. However, Alexander made a deal with his little brother Ebenezer, allowing the younger son to live on the estate and keep its earnings. When Alexander subsequently died, David was the legal heir of the property and could decide whether to allow Ebenezer to remain living there or not. Unless David disappeared or died childless, there was no way for Ebenezer to inherit the estate.

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