Stories From English History: III - Alfred J. Church

The '45

In the '15, the Prince for whom the Jacobites risked or lost their lives and property did not show himself till all the fighting was over. I am now going to tell the story of the '45; we shall see that things were very different. It was the Prince who began the insurrection; if he had not come, it never would have been made.

I must first say who this Prince was. In 1719 the "Old Pretender," of whom you heard in the last chapter, married Clementina Sobieski, daughter of the King of Poland. In 1721 a son was born, who was named Charles Edward, and is commonly known as the "Young Pretender." It was he who was the hero of the '45.

On July 13 he set sail from Belle Isle, which is in the north of the Bay of Biscay. He had with him two French ships of war; the larger, the Elizabeth, carried the stores which he had been able to collect; in the smaller, La Doutelle, he himself sailed with a few companions. On their way they fell in with a British man-of-war, the Lion. A fierce fight took place between the Elizabeth  and the Lion, in which both ships were so much injured that they had to put back into harbour. La Doutelle  took no part in the fight, though the Prince was anxious to do so. Accordingly he was able to proceed on his voyage, but his stores were left behind in the Elizabeth. On July 27 he landed on a small island among the Hebrides. At first he found the chiefs anything but eager to take up arms, for they thought that there was but little chance of success.

Young Pretender


But the Prince persuaded many who began by refusing to join him. He was a tall and handsome young man, who charmed every one that came near him. One of the most powerful chiefs in the Highlands, Cameron of Lochiel, felt quite sure the attempt must fail. The Prince sent for him. On his way he saw his brother, and told him where he was going, and what he should say. "Don't go," said the brother, "write to him. I know you better than you know yourself. If this Prince once sets eyes upon you, he will make you do whatever he pleases." And so it was. For some time Lochiel stood firm. But when the Prince, after a long argument, finished by saying, "Charles Stuart is come over to claim the crown of his ancestors or perish in the attempt; Lochiel, who, my father has often told me, was our firmest friend, may stay at home, and learn from the newspapers the fate of his Prince," he gave way and promised his help. If Lochiel had stood firm, there would have been no war.

On August 16 the first fighting took place. Two companies of soldiers on their way to Fort William were taken prisoners. Two days afterwards the Royal standard was raised at Glenfinnan. Men continued to flock in from various Highland clans. When the Prince set out on the following day on his march southward he had 1600 men with him.

On August 16 General Cope, who was in command of the English troops, set out from Edinburgh, intending to march to Fort Augustus. He had got as far as Dalwhinnie, which is about fifty miles north of Perth, when he heard that the Highlanders had occupied a strong pass between that place and the Fort. He then gave up his plan, and marched to Inverness. The Prince, finding that there was no one to hinder him, marched south. As he went on, chiefs and nobles continued to join him, nor did he meet any resistance, except a few cannon shot which were fired from Stirling Castle. On September 14 he was only a few miles from Edinburgh. This city was really without defence. The walls were scarcely higher or stronger than a common garden wall, and had no cannon mounted on them; there were no regular troops, except some dragoons, and these soon showed that they could not be trusted. General Cope's army was, it is true, on its way back; but it was doubted whether it could arrive in time. While the magistrates were debating whether they should resist or surrender, Lochiel with his Camerons made his way within the walls without having to strike a blow. Thus, on September 17, the Prince became possessed of Edinburgh. At noon James VIII. was proclaimed king at the Cross, and shortly after the Prince took possession of Holyrood Palace. Only the Castle still remained in the power of the English Government.

On the same day that the Prince entered Edinburgh General Cope landed his army at Dunbar. The next day he marched northward; the Prince, on the other hand, marched southward, and on September 20 the two armies met. They were nearly equal in number, about 2500 on each side, but Cope's troops were better armed, and had six cannon. The Highlanders had no cannon, and many of the men were without firearms.

The battle lasted but a few minutes. The Highlanders shouted, each clan its own war-cry, and ran furiously forward. They came first to the cannon. The sailors who served them fled without waiting to be attacked. Colonel Gardiner, who commanded the dragoons on the left wing, led them to the charge, but they would not follow him. As soon as the Highlanders drew their broadswords and came on, the men turned and fled. Very much the same thing happened with the other regiment of dragoons on the other wing. So the infantry was left without either guns or cavalry to support them. They stood firm for awhile, and fired a volley on the enemy. But the Highlanders rushed upon them, thrust aside their bayonets with their targets, and broke up their line. The dragoons for the most part got away, for there was no cavalry to follow them, but of the infantry nearly all were killed or taken prisoners. The Highlanders lost about a hundred men in killed and wounded. Such was the battle of Prestonpans or Gladsmuir.

Some of his friends now advised the Prince to march without delay into England, and even make his way to London; but most of them were against this plan. If he would wait awhile, they said, great numbers more would join him. As it was, he had fewer soldiers with him than he had before the battle, for many of the Highlanders had gone back to their homes in the mountains with the plunder which they had collected. Indeed, at one time, he had no more than 1500 men left. Nevertheless, it might have been better for him if he had hurried on at once.

It was quite true, however, that great numbers were ready to join him. Every day recruits flocked in both from the Highlands and the Lowlands. In the course of a few weeks as many as 6000 men were collected. The officers did their best to drill them, and give them proper arms, but it was impossible to make them into a regular army.

The great question now was—what was to be done? Should they stop in Scotland, or advance into England? The Prince was for advancing. If he was to keep Scotland he must conquer England. And, beyond all doubt, he was quite right. But most of his advisers did not think so. What they hoped to see was a Scottish kingdom under a Stuart king, and they were altogether against any attempt upon England. But the Prince was determined to go. "I see, gentlemen, you are determined to stay in Scotland and defend your country, but I am not less resolved to try my fate in England, though I should go alone."

Then the chiefs gave way. On October 31 the Prince left Edinburgh. Eight days later the army crossed the Border. The Highlanders gave a great shout as they passed into England, but it was thought to be a very unlucky sign that Lochiel, in drawing his broadsword, cut his hand. Carlisle was besieged and taken with very little loss, one Highlander being killed and another wounded. The Prince entered Carlisle on November 17. Again there was the question whether he should return to Scotland or proceed further into England. The Prince was determined to go on, but many of his men left him. When he reached Penrith only 4500 of his 6000 remained. Everywhere as he passed he found the people curious to see him, and even ready to cheer. But there were very few willing to help. At Manchester, two or three hundred men enlisted; but, on the whole, Lancashire was far less zealous for the cause than it had been thirty years before. There were, indeed, some zealous friends. One old lady, who had been held up in her mother's arms eighty-five years before to see Charles II. land at Dover, and who had always devoted half her income to the cause, sold all her jewels and brought the price to the Prince, saying, as she kissed his hand, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace." But the people cared little for King James, though probably they cared no more for King George.

Still the Prince went on, and on December 11 entered Derby. But he went no further. There had been no rising of the English people in his favour, nor had a French army been landed to give him help, and his councillors declared that there was nothing left but to go back to Scotland. They had good reasons to give for their advice. The Prince had but 5000 men with him, and the forces of the English Government were at least six times as numerous. And then all his hopes of help had been disappointed. Yet it is quite certain that the Prince, who was still eager to go on, was right. And, indeed, London, which was only one hundred and twenty-seven miles distant, was in a great fright. The shops were shut, the banks were thronged by people drawing out all their money, and King George himself, it is said, put his most valuable property on shipboard. The day on which the news came that the Pretender was at Derby, and that there was no army between him and London, was long remembered as Black Friday.

But the experiment of advancing was, happily, not tried. "Happily," I say, because if it had succeeded, it must have ended in a long civil war, for it is impossible to suppose that England would have been content to let the Stuarts rule again. Much against his will, the Prince consented to retreat. On December 20 his army crossed the Border again. Six days later it reached Glasgow. By this time it had dwindled down to just over 4000 men. But now it was increased again. Various nobles and chiefs had raised bodies of troops, and these all joined the Prince. When he reached Stirling he had as many as 9000 men.

The general in command of the English army was the Duke of Cumberland, the second son of King George II. But he had been called away to take charge of the forces on the south coast of England, which the French were preparing to invade. He appointed a certain General Hawley to act for him, and Hawley had marched to attack the Prince at Stirling. He halted at Falkirk, which is about ten miles to the south. There a battle was fought, and lost by the English, partly through the folly and neglect of their general. He despised his adversaries as being nothing better than an ill-armed mob, and was actually absent from his place when the battle began. The dragoons again behaved badly. They were ordered to charge the right wing of the enemy. But the Macdonalds who stood over against them kept back their fire till the horsemen were near them, and then sent among them a destructive volley. Two of the regiments broke at once; the third stood firm for a while, but were soon compelled to retreat. Then the Macdonalds charged and fell on the flank of the infantry in the centre of the line, which was being attacked at the same time in front. The soldiers had been tired early in the day, by having to march through a storm of wind and rain, and were now numbed with standing still. They had little courage left, and, like the cavalry, turned to fly. The Prince's left wing had not done nearly so well; the English here were sheltered by some rough ground, and the Highlanders' attack was repulsed. Yet here, too, the English were forced to retreat. They could not stand their ground alone.

The conquerors did not make the best of their victory. If they had, they might have almost destroyed the defeated army. But they did not fully know what had happened, and besides, the light failed them. At that time of the year—the battle of Falkirk was fought on January 17—the days are very short, and it is very dangerous, especially with untrained troops, to move in the dark. As it was, General Hawley lost 400 men killed, 100 prisoners, and all his artillery, ammunition, and baggage, and was also compelled to burn his tents, lest they should fall into the hands of the enemy. The Prince, however, got little real advantage from his victory. His officers quarrelled, blaming each other that the English had not been more vigorously pursued, and many of the Highlanders hurried home with their plunder. An unlucky accident that happened on the day after the battle also did him much harm. A gun which one of the Macdonalds was examining, went off and killed a son of Glengarry, who happened to be passing. The Glengarry clan insisted upon the man being put to death. Nor were they satisfied with this, for the greater part left the army and returned home. Not long after, the Prince was again compelled by his counsellors to retreat. On February 1 the army left Stirling, having first spiked the heavy guns and blown up the powder magazine. On the 18th of the month it reached Inverness. Here it was quartered for some eight weeks, growing weaker and weaker every day. The Prince could neither pay nor feed his army. The country about Inverness was so poor that he could get little from it, and most of the supplies which should have reached him by sea were captured by British ships. It was only to be expected that men who had neither food nor money to buy it with should grow tired of the service. By April 15—on this day each man received nothing but a single biscuit—the 9000 men whom the Prince had with him at Stirling had dwindled down to 5000. The English army under the Duke of Cumberland was nearly twice as numerous, consisting of 8000 infantry and 900 cavalry.

The Prince and his advisers planned a night attack on the Duke's army. It failed; the troops started too late, many of them having straggled away in search of food, and moved too slowly, so that it was nearly dawn when they reached the English camp. They fell back, and took up the position which they had held before on Culloden Moor, otherwise Drummossie, tired by their useless march, and, as usual, hungry. The best officers in the army were for withdrawing to a stronger position, where the Duke would have to begin the attack, but the Prince had a strange idea that he was bound to fight where the ground gave no advantage to either side. Everything was against him, even the order of battle, for the Macdonalds were put on the left wing, and were so offended by the slight, as they thought it, that at a critical moment of the battle they refused to advance.

The battle began with a cannonade. This was also in favour of the English, whose guns were served by men that knew their business. Then the Highlanders of the right and centre charged. At first they did again what they had done before at Prestonpans and at Falkirk, and broke the enemy's line. But the Duke had provided for this chance. Behind the first line was a second, three deep, the first rank kneeling, the second bending forward, the third standing upright. The line kept back its fire till the Highlanders were close, and then poured a heavy volley into them. Like other soldiers whose first charge is almost irresistible, they had little spirit left for a second. This part of the Prince's army was broken. On the left, as has been said, the Macdonalds refused to fight. Their chief advanced, but they would not follow him; they were not moved even when they saw him fall.

One more chance was left. If the Prince had charged with all that remained of his army, he might have even then changed the fortune of the day. He had often said that he would either conquer or die, and now was the time to keep his word. That he did not do so is certain; but it is not easy to say whether he was right or wrong. We do not even know for certain what he did. According to one account he was urged to charge and refused; according to another he was forced against his will from the field by two officers, who laid hold of his horse's bridle, exactly as his great-grandfather had been a hundred years before on the fatal field at Naseby.

I must now bring this chapter to an end. I am glad to say nothing about the cruelty with which the Duke of Cumberland used his victory, and I must leave you to read elsewhere the romantic story of how the Prince escaped. Now hiding, now wandering about in disguise among the islands off the western coast, or on the mainland, he continued to avoid his pursuers for nearly half-a-year. Many helped him, some of them persons who did not favour his cause, but two must be specially mentioned, Flora Macdonald, of South Uist, and Macdonald of Kingsburgh. At length, on September 20, 1746, he embarked at the very spot where he had landed fourteen months before, and escaped to France.