Alan Breck Stewart

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Statue of Alan Stewart (left) and the fictional David Balfour (right), from Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped.

Alan Breck Stewart (Gaelic: Ailean Breac Stiùbhart; c. 1711 – c. 1791) was a Scottish soldier and Jacobite. He was also a central figure in a murder case that inspired novels by Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.[1]

Life and the Appin murder[edit]

See also: Appin Murder

In accordance with the fosterage customs of the Highland clans, Alan Stewart and his brothers grew up under the care of their relative James of the Glen in Appin. His soubriquet, Breck, came from the Gaelic for "spotted", as his face bore scars from smallpox. Stewart enlisted in the British Army of George II in 1745, just before the Jacobite rising of that year. He fought at the Battle of Prestonpans, but deserted to the Highland Jacobites. He subsequently fought for the Jacobites, but after they were defeated at the Battle of Culloden he fled to France, accompanying his commander and clan captain, Colonel Charles Stewart of Ardshiel (Ardshiel was not the chief of the Appin Stewarts, but took command in absence of the true chief). After joining one of the Scottish regiments serving in the French Army, Stewart was sent back to Scotland to collect rents for the exiled clan leaders and to recruit soldiers for the French Crown.

On 14 May 1752 Colin Campbell of Glenure, the royal agent collecting rents from the Ardshiel Stewarts, was murdered. As Alan Stewart had previously publicly threatened Glenure and had enquired about his schedule for the day in question, a warrant was issued for his arrest. However, he evaded capture, and so was tried in absentia and sentenced to death. His foster father, James, was convicted as an accessory to the murder and hanged. Later investigations suggest that the murderer could not have been Stewart at all.

In the murder of Glenure the British government saw the potential danger of Jacobite assassinations of their agents in the Highlands, on the one hand, and also a potential renewal of a Campbell/Stewart feud, on the other. The execution of James of the Glen increased the Stewarts' discontent, and locally, especially after he was immortalised in fiction, Alan Breck Stewart was portrayed as a romantic figure.

There is no record of what happened to Stewart after the trial. One common story, derived from Sir Walter Scott, is that he returned to military service for the French crown and served against the British in North America during the French and Indian War. Another tale, passed down through the Stewart family, is that he fled to Ireland and set up a farm. There are now many Stewart descendants living in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Portrayal in historical fiction[edit]

In the introduction to Rob Roy (published in 1817), Sir Walter Scott tells of the Appin Murder. This account in turn inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write Kidnapped (1886). Scott also claimed that a friend of his had actually met the elderly Stewart in Paris in 1789, just before the French Revolution, in the house of a Scottish Benedictine priest, where people had gathered to view a procession: "Some civilities in French passed between the old man and my friend, in the course of which they talked of the streets and squares of Paris, till at length the old soldier, for such he seemed, and such he was, said with a sigh, in a sharp Highland accent, 'Deil ane o' them a' is worth the Hie Street of Edinburgh!' On enquiry, this admirer of Auld Reekie, which he was never to see again, proved to be Allan Breck Stewart. He lived decently on his little pension, and had, in no subsequent period of his life, shown anything of the savage mood, in which he generally believed to have assassinated the enemy and oppressor, as he supposed him, of his family and clan." However, Scott's friend's description of Stewart is unreliable: "His eyes were grey. His grizzled hair exhibited marks of having been red, and his complexion was weather-beaten, and remarkably freckled" does not match earlier descriptions of the fugitive, who is reported to have had black hair and brown eyes, and his complexion was not freckled, but pitted by smallpox.

The Alan Breck's Prestonpans Volunteer Regiment[edit]

Founded in 2007, the Alan Breck's Prestonpans Volunteer Regiment is a living history and battle re-enactment society focusing on the 1745 Rising and associated histories.[2] Half of the society portray redcoat soldiers and half Jacobites, in recognition of Stewart's service on both sides of the conflict, and is accordingly named after him. The society is based in Prestonpans, East Lothian, but performs at events around the country and has members from across Scotland.



  • Nicholson, Eirwen E. C. "Allan Stewart," in Matthew, H.C.G. and Brian Harrison, eds. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. vol. 52, 628. London: OUP, 2004.
  • Nimmo, Ian (2005). Walking with Murder: On the Kidnapped Trail. Birlinn Ltd. Paperback.
  • Gibson, Rosemary. "The Appin Murder: In Their Own Words" History Scotland. Vol.3 No.1 January/February 2003
  • MacArthur, Lt. Gen. Sir William: 'The Appin Murder and the Trial of James Stewart' (1960) JMP Publishing.
  • Hunter, Professor James.'Culloden and the Last Clansman'

External links[edit]