Charles Leslie, former Church of Ireland priest who becomes a leading Jacobite propagandist after the 1688 Glorious Revolution, dies in Glaslough, County Monaghan on April 13, 1722. One of a small number of Irish Protestants to actively support the Stuarts after 1688, he is best remembered today for his role in publicising the 1692 Massacre of Glencoe.
Leslie is born on July 27, 1650 in Dublin, the sixth son and one of eight surviving children of John Leslie (1571-1671) and Katherine Conyngham (or Cunningham), daughter of Dr. Alexander Cunningham, Dean of Raphoe. He is allegedly named after the executed Charles I and educated at Enniskillen school and Trinity College, Dublin. After his father dies in 1671, he studies law in London before changing career and being ordained as an Anglican priest in 1681. Shortly afterwards, he returns to the family estate at Glaslough in County Monaghan and marries Jane Griffith. They have a daughter, Vinigar Jane, who appears to have died young and two sons, Robert (1683-1744) and Henry who are also Jacobites and spend time in exile.
Leslie is appointed assistant curate for the Church of Ireland parish of Donagh but as most of his parish is Roman Catholic or Presbyterian, he has few duties. His father had been chaplain to Charles I and a key supporter of Caroline religious reforms, first in Scotland, then in Ireland as Bishop of Raphoe in 1633, while the estate at Glaslough was granted by Charles II in 1660 as a reward for his service. With this background, Leslie is a firm supporter of the Stuart dynasty, although deeply hostile to Catholicism and soon becomes involved in political and theological disputes.
When the Catholic James II becomes King in 1685, his brother-in-law Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon, is appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In July 1686, Leslie’s legal training results in Clarendon making him chancellor of Connor cathedral and later Justice of the Peace. Clarendon’s authority is overshadowed by his Catholic deputy Richard Talbot, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell, who begins undermining legal restrictions on Catholics embodied in the Test Act. Clarendon employs Leslie’s polemical skills to oppose the appointment of Catholics to public office but he is recalled in 1687. When James is deposed by the Glorious Revolution in December 1688, Leslie is in the Isle of Wight.
Shortly afterwards, Leslie becomes Clarendon’s personal chaplain and like his patron refuses to take the oath of allegiance to William III and Mary II. Like other Non-Jurors, he is deprived of his Church offices and becomes instead one of the most prominent Jacobite and Tory propagandists. This includes a long dispute with his Trinity College contemporary William King, who supports the Revolution. Gilbert Burnet, Bishop of Salisbury, later names him ‘the violentest Jacobite’ active in England during these years.
Much of Leslie’s early writing focuses on Scotland, where the 1690 Settlement ends Episcopacy and restores a Presbyterian kirk. He uses this to inspire concern about William’s intentions towards the Church of England. Ironically, his modern fame now rests primarily on a pamphlet written in 1695, called Gallienus Redivivus, or Murther will out, &c. Being a true Account of the De Witting of Glencoe, Gaffney. The focus of this is William’s alleged complicity in the 1672 death of Dutch Republican leader Johan de Witt, with other crimes including Glencoe included as secondary charges. During the Jacobite rising of 1745, Charles Stuart orders Leslie’s pamphlet and the 1695 Parliamentary minutes of the investigation to be reprinted in the Edinburgh Caledonian Mercury.
During the 1690s, Leslie serves as a messenger between James’ court in exile at Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye and the Non-Juror community in England, including the Non-Juror bishops Jeremy Collier, Thomas Ken and George Hickes. He defends Collier and two other Non-Juror priests when they become involved in a furor over the execution of Sir John Friend and Sir William Parkyns for their role in the 1696 Jacobite plot to assassinate William. Immediately prior to the execution, the clergymen declare the two absolved of their sins, effectively declaring the correctness of their actions, while also performing a rite not recognised by the Church of England.
In 1702, the accession of Queen Anne, the last Stuart monarch, causes a resurgence in Jacobite activity and in 1704, Leslie begins a weekly periodical initially called The Observator, later The Rehearsal of Observator and finally The Rehearsal. Although his Tory readership shares his High Church principles, he is primarily a Jacobite and violently opposes the common practice of ‘occasional conformity.’ The Rehearsal is forced to close in 1709 and he falls out with his former allies, including Henry Sacheverell whose trial helped the Tories win a landslide victory in the 1710 British general election.
Despite his Tory allies now being in government, a warrant is issued for Leslie’s arrest for his tract The Good Old Cause, or, Lying in Truth. In 1711 he escapes to Paris, where James Francis Edward Stuart has succeeded his father as the Stuart heir in 1701. He continues to write polemics and act as a Jacobite agent. However, after the failed Jacobite rising of 1715, France withdraws support for the Stuarts who are forced to leave France, eventually being invited to settle in Rome by Pope Benedict XIV. The Spanish-sponsored 1719 Rising in Scotland is judged to have done more damage to the Jacobite cause than otherwise, one of its leaders concluding “it bid fair to ruin the King’s Interest and faithful subjects in these parts.”
Despite these failures, Leslie remains a dedicated Jacobite but his lifelong antipathy towards Catholicism makes living in Rome as a Papal pensionary difficult, while hopes of converting James to Anglicanism fades due to his devout personal Catholicism. He returns to Paris in 1717 and in 1719 publishes a two folio-volume edition of his Theological Works. It is later claimed these placed him ‘very high in the list of controversial authors, the ingenuity of the arguments being equalled only by the keenest and pertinacity with which they are pursued.’ He invites friends and supporters to subscribe to these and by 1721, over 500 members of the House of Lords and House of Commons have pledged a total of £750. Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland finally allows him to return home, with the stipulation he cease his political activities.
Charles Leslie dies at Glaslough on April 13, 1722. His grandchildren include Charles Leslie MP, whose son in turn is John Leslie, Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh.
(Pictured: Charles Leslie, mezzotint by Unknown artist, National Portrait Gallery, NPG D5066)