The Reluctant Rebel by Barbara Henderson

The Reluctant Rebel by Barbara Henderson, published by Luath Press

I am absolutely honoured to be kicking of the blog tour for The Reluctant Rebel today. First and foremost Barbara Henderson is one of my favourite authors who writes the most magnificent historical adventures set against a variety of Scottish backdrops. As you can imagine, therefore, I was beyond excited to get my hands on a copy of The Reluctant Rebel, a ‘Jacobite Adventure’. This is a time period where events are often studied in primary school but little MG fiction has been written in this era.

Read on to hear from Barbara about teaching the Jacobites in the classroom . Thank you Barbara for the guest post.

Jacobites in the Classroom

The targes and broadswords clash, thankfully in a controlled manner. The faces of my pupils, contorted in fear and rage, belie what is really going on – nothing but a slow-motion Jacobite battle, filmed by me, their drama teacher. Wooden props are all they have – but what these children lack in authentic appearance, they more than make up for with their imagination. 

In short, I love teaching the Jacobites. As a drama specialist in a primary school, I come across the topic annually and developed a bit of a fascination with the time period. Living just along the road from Culloden Battlefield, there was no excuse. I had to go and see for myself!

But as much as I read about the 1745 Rising and the iconic Bonnie Prince Charlie’s triumphant start, I became much more interested in what happened in the aftermath: Following the Battle of Culloden in April, the Prince fled – and spent months on the run across the Highlands and Islands, aided by an ever-changing cohort of guides and supporters. The government’s £30,000 reward went unclaimed. Instead, many in the Jacobite clans risked their lives all over again for their Prince. That, I decided, was where the story was. The result is The Reluctant Rebel – a Jacobite adventure for upper primary– and being a teacher, the classroom is never far from my thoughts. In collaboration with the National Trust for Scotland, I’ve created comprehensive teaching resources to accompany the book, ready to download from

Hence, and without further ado, here are five ways to bring the Jacobites alive in your classroom:

1. Make a no-sew white cockade. The white cockade was a sign of support for the Stuarts on the throne and signified Jacobite sympathies. Simply cut two ribbons to around 17 cm length. Take a button (charity shops often have a collection of old ones) and thread a 10 cm wire through it. Now loop the ribbon, overlapping the edges, and scrunch together at the join to form a bow shape, twisting the wire around it once. Now repeat with the next length of ribbon securing all together by another twist of the wire. You can either trim the wire or use the remaining length to secure the white cockade to your bonnet/jacket. (Top tip: If your white ribbon is prone to fraying, you can pre-cut at home and run the edge over a candle to seal. Not recommended in a classroom setting, obviously!)

2. Freeze-frame Comic. Pupils should brainstorm the 10-12 main events in the Jacobite Risings, or alternatively, the main events in the novel The Reluctant Rebel. Once they are in the right order, pupils can be given minimal dressing up/props and a camera to take freeze-frame photographs of these key dramatic moments. Once printed, the photographs can be displayed with captions and speech bubbles. Don’t forget the sound effects either!

3. Bake Beremeal Bannocks. This was the staple diet for many Highland clans at the time of the the Jacobite rebellions. You’ll need: 2 cups of beremeal (from health food shops or online), 1 cup of plain flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon cream of tartar, a pinch of salt, (1 tablespoon of sugar if desired). Mix thoroughly and add milk, water or buttermilk to make a stiff but soft dough. Roll out on a floured board and cut into 4 like a farl, to form the Bannocks. Cook on a hot, ungreased girdle 5 minutes or so each side until both sides are browned and the middle is cooked. Alternatively, bake in a hot oven. Practice will make perfect. Consume with copious amounts of butter and cheese, or jam!

4. Shadow Puppetry Battle of Culloden. All you need is a large picture frame or even a cereal box with a window cut out. Cover the frame with a thin light cloth or thin paper. Now cut your figures out from black card – only the shapes will be seen, so you can draw the outlines in pencil and cut around it without being too precise. I’d definitely cheat and trace silhouettes of Highlanders/Redcoats.  Shine a light source onto your screen from behind and gently hold your puppets against the screen from behind. This works best if you mount them on sticks using masking tape. There are loads of YouTube clips on how to do shadow puppetry. An atmospheric piece of music to accompany the puppetry with turn great into awesome!

5. Site visit. Nothing beats visiting the very places where the soil is steeped in stories. Here are some fab Jacobite sites to visit with your class. Some are even set up for virtual events, so it’s always worth checking: 

National Trust for Scotland, Culloden: . The site of the last land battle on British soil where the Jacobites were defeated. The place has an excellent visitor centre, well laid out paths and a dedicated and lovely learning officer who could not be more helpful!

Glenfinnan Site of the beginning of the 1745 Rising where Bonnie Prince Charlie gathered the clans and marched south for the Cause. Another lovely visitor centre, beneath the viaduct featured in the Harry Potter films. If you hang around long enough, you will be able to see a steam train cross it.

Ruthven Barracks .The defeated Jacobitesregrouped here after Culloden, awaiting their prince. Instead, they received instructions to go home. A really evocative ruin.

Battle of Prestonpans Jacobite Museum and Battlefield Visits: . This new museum is currently only open to the public at weekends, meaning that volunteers can tailor their work to school groups during weekdays. It is a fantastic resource with big plans for the future too.’

Thanks again to Barbara for that brilliant piece about teaching about the Jacobites.

As a fan of Scottish historical fiction, an adventure set against the backdrop of the Jacobites was always going to be right up my street. The Reluctant Rebel tells the story of young stable boy, Archie MacDonald who , along with his cousin Meg, become caught up in the rebellion.

It is primarily an adventure story, one that is filled with drama and tension that hooks you in from the word go. I love the characters of Archie and Meg, their relationship and the dilemmas they are forced to face.

One of the talents that Barbara has is to hook the reader into a particular time period. The attention to detail ensures the reader is taken back in time with Archie and Meg and you feel that you are living the adventure with them

Quite simply, I loved The Reluctant Rebel. It is full of excitement, tension and pure adventure. It would be an brilliant book to accompany a Jacobites topic in the classroom or as a standalone read.

To find out more about Barbara please follow @scattyscribbler on Twitter.

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