Published: 04/05/2011 15:52 - Updated: 05/05/2011 16:27

Secret Jacobite society begins to emerge from the shadows

Matthew Donnachie's organisation wants an apology for the post-Culloden atrocities.
Matthew Donnachie's organisation wants an apology for the post-Culloden atrocities.

LATER this summer, Matthew Donnachie will attempt to do what Bonnie Prince Charlie never achieved — march on London from Derby. Unlike the Young Pretender, however, Matthew and his fellow members of neo-Jacobite group the Circle of Gentlemen have no dreams of conquest.

Instead, they plan to deliver a petition asking for an official apology for the government’s actions in the wake of Culloden.

"You can’t ask for an apology for Culloden — Culloden was part of a civil war, so that would be ridiculous," Matthew stated.

"What’s not ridiculous are the mass murders and atrocities that followed. You will get the odd academic that will try and refute that, almost like the Nazi Holocaust deniers. It’s almost on that scale."

Certainly Matthew views those post-Culloden events as on a scale to more recent horrors in the Balkans and Africa, and on the eve of the battle’s 265th anniversary this weekend, believes the time is now right to ask for official acknowledgement of what happened in the Highlands.

"It’s a hot topic right now," he said.

"If the Australian Aborigines can get an apology, it doesn’t seem outside the realms of possibility that the Scottish Highlanders could get one too."

Matthew, who lives with his family at Geddes near Nairn, has another identity as "Doctor Denture", the name of his cosmetic dentistry business in the Crown, but admits that the former "secret society", has all but taken over his life.

Matthew’s first steps on that march to Downing Street actually began with a visit to Skye as an 18 year-old and an introduction to his then girlfriend’s great-great grandmother.

"She wouldn’t let English be spoken in the house, but she liked me because I was a Lowlander who didn’t know better," Dunfermline-raised Matthew smiled.

"I told her my grandmother in southern Ireland only spoke Irish, and she liked that, so she started telling me stories."

The most powerful of these concerned the infamous Captain John Fergussone who came ashore on Skye to commit rape and murder, including hanging a small girl with a whip.

"While I was listening to this, I felt moved and I felt upset," Matthew said.

"My knuckles were white with anger."

That led to Matthew beginning his own investigations into Jacobite history and attending commemorations at locations important to the Jacobite story such as Culloden and Glenfinnan.

It was at the latter that Matthew had his introduction to the Circle, hearing the most extraordinary stories told by a fair-haired giant, who was a member of the group.

The original Circle of Gentlemen met in secret to toast the King Across the Water and Matthew hints that there is direct continuity between the original 18th century circle and its 21st century successor, of which he is now commodore.

At 41, Matthew is among the younger members of the Circle, whose membership even boasts a former pop star in Michael Corby, a founder-member of 1970s band The Babys.

Though they do adopt suitable Jacobite era costume for their events, Matthew points out that the Circle of Gentlemen is not a re-enactment group.

Nor is he willing to let it become a forum for "Having cosy chats and not doing anything of note".

"I’m a man of action. I’ve been self-employed for years and I believe you make your own destiny," he said.

Thus the once secret society is beginning to emerge from the shadows.

"We are now living in the age of the internet, so unless you really do want to have MI5 chasing you, there’s no need for that any more," Matthew said, suggesting that the notion of a secret society is now an out-dated concept.

So now the group has its own website, and from 1st January this year, the former secret society opened its doors to international membership.

The catalyst for this was the Circle’s part in restoring a bit of history to Culloden.

Two years ago, Matthew received advance warning that auctioneers Bonhams were selling an item connected to the Prince — the original tartan bed-hangings which lay over the Prince’s bed at Culloden House where he spent the night before the battle.

So Matthew put in his bid and bought them for less than someone might pay for a signed Rangers strip.

"Culloden House has always supported us, so I thought: ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to give this to Culloden House?’" he said.

"Why should they hang on my wall? Hundreds of people come from all over the world to Culloden House. Now they can see the first thing that the Prince would have seen on the morning of Culloden.

"Doing that made me think: ‘Why don’t we do that on a bigger scale?"’

So any money raised by the Circle of Gentlemen through the sale of membership will be used to cover a range of activities related to Scotland’s Jacobite heritage, from buying artefacts to maintaining graves.

As an added incentive, members are also offered a range of discounts from accommodation at Culloden House Hotel and kilt outfits to money off Harley Davidson motorcycles and, thanks to Matthew’s own business, cosmetic dental work.

However, it is the other, campaigning, side and the society’s call for an official apology which Matthew regards as the more important aspect of the Circle.

"It’s not a nasty march. It’s not out to make the Queen have nightmares," Matthew said.

"It’s a march for truth. We are not calling for the end of the Union, we are calling for a just and fair apology."

So no call for the restoration of the British throne to the Stewart line, though he admits he still succumbs to the romantic appeal of Bonnie Prince Charlie and his story.

"I went to the Vatican two years and took thistles from Culloden Moor to put on the Stuart mausoleum," he revealed.

"For me it was going full circle."

Unfortunately, Matthew’s pilgrimage, made as a cruise stop-off, deprived Matthew’s wife Donna of a chance to do some non-Jacobite related sight-seeing in the Eternal City, just one of a number of sacrifices she has had to make to accommodate her husband’s passion for things Jacobite.

The bad news for Donna is that she may find even more of the Circle of Gentlemen in her future.

Having come a long way supervising the society on a part-time basis, Matthew believes he can achieve even more if he took things full time.

"If things take off, as they may well do, I may have to take someone on to manage my business," he said.

"My wife says that I have to concentrate on things that make money, but it is increasingly difficult.

"My wife says she is a Jacobite widow — ‘I live with a ghost. You walk into this room and walk out this tartan clad phantom’," Matthew confessed.

"She says that if I was as motivated in my business as I was in what I do for the Circle, I’d be a millionaire!"

But perhaps Donna should have known what she was getting into.

"I met my wife at the anniversary of Culloden, so something good came out of it," Matthew said.

 

 

The Circle of Gentlemen petition

"We the undersigned have raised our hands in support of ‘A Circle of Gentlemen’ calling for a state apology, for the atrocities committed in the name of ‘the Crown’, following the Battle of Culloden 16th April 1746.

These dreadful crimes call out to us through the years and are a terrible stain on the history of these islands.

We demand that this long overdue apology be issued forthwith, since 265 years have passed and the horror does not fade over time.

By acknowledging these wrongdoings, it will assist to unburden both victims and victors, alike.

Hear us."

Supporters can find the petition on the society’s website www.circleofgentlemen.info/

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