Scotland: Peeps at History - G. E. Mitton

Prince Charlie's Brief Triumph

A little way off the west coast of Scotland is a long chain of islands called the Hebrides. This begins with a large island called Lewis, which has a smaller bit joined on to the end of it, called Harris; both together are the Long Island. Then after this the other islands get smaller and smaller to the end, so that the whole range of them looks like a kite with a long tail.

The shores of all these islands are rugged and broken, and in some cases the land is so cut up by channels of water that an Irishman might describe them as being made of pools! The air is always damp, for the islands are continually swept by winds which have passed over the rolling Atlantic, and gathered moisture on their way. Even in summer there is continual rain. In some of the larger ones there are hills, but the ground is mostly flat, mere sand-heaps, but little above the level of the sea, and quite treeless.

Imagine a young man, who had been brought up under the blue skies and in the soft air of sunny Italy, picked up suddenly and dropped upon one of the smallest of these islands in quest of an adventure so desperate that he could hardly dream of success. This is what really did happen in the year 1745. It was the month of July, but in spite of that the weather was very wet, when a little French ship, called The Doutelle, landed a party of seven or eight men in a sandy bay, from which slope upwards bare grey rocks, and then lay off again to sea. The men thus landed had no comforts; a rough stone hut, seaweed thatched, in which they could crouch, a drink of whisky, and a little fish cooked over a smoky peat-fire, were all their resources, and, to chill their enthusiasm further, the ceaseless drip of the rain on the roof sounded drearily. Yet one at all events did not lose heart, and kept his comrades' spirits up by merry jest and story. He was about twenty-four, with a pale face and large, though not sparkling, eyes; his features were well cut, and the dignity with which he held his slight tall figure showed him to be of high birth. He looked what he was, every inch a Prince, and in the adoring eyes of his followers you could read that one and all would die for him. What was his object in landing on a wild barren island, without men or money or weapons? Nothing less than to claim the thrones of England and Scotland for his father, James Stuart. To understand this we must go back a little way.

With James VI. of Scotland and I. of England the two crowns had been united. He was succeeded by his unhappy son, Charles I., who was shamefully murdered by his subjects. After the death of Cromwell, who had assumed power by means of armed force, Charles's son came to the throne as Charles II., and as he was childless he was succeeded by his brother, James II. Now James was an unpopular King, and he was at heart a Roman Catholic. At first he was careful not to show this, because he ruled over a Protestant country, but as years went on he grew more careless, and not only worshipped according to the Roman Catholic faith himself, but tried to make others about the Court do so too. He had two daughters, of whom the elder, Mary, had been married to the Prince of Orange when she was only fifteen. The Prince of Orange was himself a grandson of Charles I., and he and his wife were both staunch Protestants; so, in spite of their dissatisfaction, the people of England waited quietly in the belief that Mary would succeed her father.

However, eleven years after her marriage, a son was born to her father the King, and this boy, of course, took her place as heir to the throne. This disappointed the people, because they feared the boy would be brought up a Roman Catholic. So a rumor was spread that the child was not the King's at all, but a baby belonging to someone else, who had been smuggled into the Palace of St. James's. Some people honestly believed this tale, and others, whether they did or not, pretended to, and soon their discontent grew to a head, and a revolution broke out, and King James and his infant son had to fly, while the throne was offered to William of Orange and Mary.

The baby-boy was named James, and grew up abroad, while his proper place on the British throne was occupied, first by Mary and William, then by William alone, and after that by the other of King

James's daughters, who was called Anne; for William and Mary had left no children. It was during the reign of Anne that a most momentous event took place, nothing less than the Union of the two countries of England and Scotland as one country, under the name of Great Britain. Hitherto the Scots and English had had their own separate Parliament, their own methods of taxation, even their own coinage, and now all the interests of the two countries were to be joined in one. It was as if two separate businesses, hitherto separately managed and having altogether different accounts, though both owned by one man, were henceforth to be thrown into one, with one banking account, one manager, and so on. The effect of this was, not that Scotland was merged in England, but that the two countries, standing on an equal footing, became one henceforth. All the members of Parliament, Ministers, and other Government men became British members of Parliament, British tax-gatherers; and so on; the Navy was the British Navy, and the Army the British Army. Even at the present day the full effect of this is not always realized, and people who ought to know better sometimes speak of English history subsequent to Anne's reign, and of loyalty to the English throne, instead of using the word British.

Anne died, leaving no children, for though she had had seventeen, the longest-lived of them only reached the age of nine years. The throne was then, according to an Act of Settlement which had been passed by Parliament, offered to George I. of Hanover, who was descended from James VI. and I. by a daughter who had married a German Prince.

So long as his father, King James VII. and II., was living, even though exiled abroad, his son, generally called the Pretender, whose birth had caused all the trouble, never attempted to win back the throne; but after his father's death he had himself proclaimed King, and went on an expedition to Scotland, which came to nothing.

The chief result of this rising, so far as Scotland was concerned, was that some years later General Wade was appointed to make roads throughout the Highlands, because it had been found impossible for regular troops to struggle up bare mountain-sides and break through gullies after the wild Highlanders, who were like goats in their activity. Wade's roads were splendidly engineered and thoroughly well done, and many of them exist and are in use to this day. An Irish wag is said to have made up the rhyme:

"If you had seen these roads before they were made,

You'd hold up your hands and bless General Wade."

Now, thirty years after his father's last attempt, Prince Charles Edward had landed on Scottish soil in the hope of winning back the crown. The Prince was known as the Young Pretender, while his father was called the Old Pretender. This was only by his enemies, of course; by his friends the exiled King was generally called the Chevalier, because he was a Chevalier of St. George, and his son was the Young Chevalier, but in Scotland he is always known as Prince Charlie.

Prince Charlie had landed on the island of Eriskay because a British ship was looking for him, and it seemed safer to land than to stay on board his own little vessel. He was not long here, but left a memento of his visit by planting some white and purple convolvulus, which still grows in the bay. When the alarm about the British ship subsided the Doutelle came and took him off, and set him ashore at Loch Nuagh on the mainland. It had been agreed that his camp was to be at Glenfinnan, not far from Fort William, and notices had been sent to the chiefs of the Highland clans to gather there. It was fifty-seven years since King James VII. and II. had been driven from the throne, and yet here was his grandson trusting to the loyalty of the Highlanders, and calling on them to support him in his desperate venture!

It must have been a wonderful experience to the romantic boy when he rode over and arrived at the Valley of Glenfinnan about eleven o'clock on a glorious morning.

The valley was quite empty at first, lying bathed in sunlight, and then the skirl of the bagpipes was heard, and a strong force of the Camerons, 800 or so, marched over the hills to the meeting-place. After them various others came in from all sides, until by evening the force amounted to over 1,500, quite a respectable little army. The most picturesque incident of the day was when a small relay of some 205 men of the Camerons rode in, headed by a lady, herself one of the clan. She was mounted on a snow-white pony, richly decked in green and gold. The Prince on seeing her rode forward with his native courtesy to welcome her, and bowed uncovered before her with the deference taught him in foreign Courts.

It seemed well to start without delay on the great enterprise, and the Prince made preparations for going on into Scotland at the head of his army. Scotland was at that time quite unprepared for anything of this sort; so long had the country been quiet that only one real force was stationed there. This was commanded by Sir John Cope, who proved himself a very poor General. He received orders to go northward from Edinburgh to meet the Prince's force, or, as it was termed in official dispatches, the "Rebels." Sir John accordingly marched northward, but when he got to the point where the Prince's army, coming from the west, would probably pass southward, he did not wait there, but, governed by some curious idea, went on north to Inverness.

The Prince had led his army up the Pass of Corryarrick, using the road which had been made by General Wade. This zigzags up the hill, crossing many torrents; it is very steep, and is called The Devil's Staircase. When at length the top was reached and the Highlanders looked down, they saw no army, for Cope had left it unguarded, and the way to the south was clear. They descended in the highest spirits, and marched on without a check to Perth. Even there they met with no resistance, and got not only supplies of men and money, but what was far more valuable, a most able General in Lord George Murray.

This was very encouraging, but still better was to come. Edinburgh was very poorly defended; there were hardly any regular troops left for defense, and the volunteers were badly commanded. Consequently, there was great confusion when it became known the Prince was almost at the gates, and when he did send in a proclamation calling on the town to surrender, it did so, all except the castle, which was still held for King George. The Prince, therefore, without having had to strike a blow, rode in and took up his abode in the palace of his forefathers at Holyrood. The Chevalier was proclaimed as King James VIII. at the town cross, and a magnificent ball given in honor of the occasion. It must have seemed to the Prince almost like a fairy-tale come true. We know just how he was dressed on this occasion. The principal parts of his costume were of tartan, and he had on his head a flat green velvet "bonnet," with a white cockade. The enthusiasm excited by his appearance was so great that people flocked to kiss his hand.

However, the Prince was not long left in peace. Sir John Cope, having discovered his mistake, brought his troops back by sea, landing at Dunbar, not far from Edinburgh. The Highlanders went out to meet him, and drew up about the place where the Prince's ancestress, Queen Mary, had met her nobles, at Carberry Hill, and surrendered herself a prisoner.

The Highlanders arranged for a night attack, but in order to do this they had to get round a great morass, which took time; also, a thick fog came down and bewildered them, so that in the morning they were discovered before they had made their attack. They were, however, very ably officered by Lord George Murray, and instead of withdrawing continued to advance. They were armed with pitch-forks and scythes, and anything else they could pick up, and their clothes were of every description, and when they fell on the much better arrayed force of Sir John Cope their appearance caused great alarm. Cope's army became entangled in walls and ditches, which he had trusted would act as defenses, and in many places the wretched soldiers were slaughtered like sheep. In fact, the Battle of Preston Pans, as it was called, though a comparatively small affair, was one of the most murderous of its kind. The Prince himself tried to stop the slaughter, but the wretched army of King George was almost cut to pieces, and the whole of the booty, including a war-chest with much money in it, fell into the Prince's hands. Spelling was not a strong point in those days, and in the letter the Prince wrote to his father describing this action, he said: "They ran like rabets." General Cope, with his principal officers, had been among the "rabets," and had ridden full speed to Berwick, whereupon someone dryly remarked it was the first time he had ever known general officers to be the first to bring news of their own defeat

On Prince Charlie's return to Edinburgh he was greeted as a conquering hero, and the gay time that followed while he held his Court at Holyrood is still one of the most cherished of its memories.

France sent over ships of supplies and armor; and important Scottish chiefs began to come in, for success always brings adherents. The English now realized for the first time what a hold this "Pretender" was gaining, and preparations were made for crushing him.

Encouraged by so much success, the Prince now conceived the wild idea of advancing into England, though it is difficult to see what he imagined he could do there with only one army of no great size. However, he started in good spirits, going by the west coast to avoid General Wade's force on the east.

Unfortunately, across the Border dissensions broke out between Lord George Murray and the Duke of Perth; but Lord George, though badly treated, was loyal enough, to his great credit, to give his aid and advice to the army as before. Even at Carlisle the extraordinary luck which had followed the Highlanders continued; the garrison submitted, and, leaving a few men in charge, the army passed on southwards. It was here that the wonderful courage and pluck of the Prince was shown; he who had lived softly in a southern clime, and was quite unaccustomed to war, shared with his men the hardships of the road, and never grumbled or shirked. He gave up his carriage to old Lord Pitsligo, and marched on foot in wind and storm, always cheery, always in good spirits.

King George had now returned from Hanover, where he had been engaged in war, and began to stir himself. The army under General Wade was ordered to march across England to Carlisle, and the other, under the fat young Duke of Cumberland, was rapidly pushed on northwards. The Highlanders managed, however, to evade it, and got as far south as Derby. Here the Prince's Generals came to him, and told him it was impossible to go farther; all London had awakened to the situation; forces were being organized, and a desperate resistance would be made; there was nothing for it but retreat, and sadly the Prince agreed. Back he went over the Border once more, pursued by Cumberland. However, these two young Princes were not to meet until the last great contest of all.

General Hawley, who had taken over General Wade's command, did, indeed, meet the Highland forces near Falkirk, and had an encounter with them in which both sides claimed the victory, though there is little doubt the Highlanders had the best of it. Then the Prince retreated to Inverness, where he passed the winter, having some small successes, and here at last, in the middle of April, 1746, about eight or nine months after his first landing, he came face to face with the crisis of his career.

The Duke of Cumberland, with an army well-fed, well-equipped, and well-officered, advanced to Nairn. On the other side Prince Charlie was hard beset for money; his wild Highlanders gathered and dispersed pretty much as they liked; there was little food for them, and for the whole of the day before the battle the rations served out had been only one bannock, or oatmeal cake, to each man. It was necessary to fight at once, or the men would disperse in search of food on their own account, and a night attack was arranged. Lord George Murray was to attack one side of the English position, and the Duke of Perth the other. But ten miles of rough moorland had to be crossed first, and after only seven were traversed the day began to break, the roll of the enemies' drums could be heard, and as their camp was awake no surprise could be attempted. Weary and disheartened, the Highlanders returned to their camp on the flat moor of Culloden, there to form up and await the advance—5,000 worn out men to meet 9,000 in excellent health!

[Prince Charlie] from Peeps at History - Scotland  by G. E. Mitton


Yet the bravery of the Highlanders was still aflame, and the sight of the foe inspired them. When the charge was sounded, they sprang forward with their usual impetuosity, but, alas part of the line, the left wing, remained standing, and the withering fire from the enemies' guns swept the long slanting line. The Macdonalds on the left were affronted because they considered they should have had the place of honor on the right, and, to their eternal shame, they stood still while their brothers in arms sprang forward alone to meet the foe. Their chief, seeing this, cried out in dismay, "Good God, have my children forsaken me?" and fell, pierced through the heart by a bullet. Such action could only end in one way: the Highlanders were slain in heaps, and the battle turned into a rout, with the order for all to save themselves as best they could. In all directions the men of the hills flew to cover after a fight lasting only forty minutes. The Dragoons, riding after them, butchered them so mercilessly, under orders from their leader, that he was nicknamed Billy the Butcher from that day, and even his small nephews, hearing the tales of his cruelty, ran from him on his return to London.

Prince Charlie rode from the field in despair, and after a meeting with some of his Generals, when it was decided that anything but escape was impossible, he went on to Invergarry, broken in heart and spirit. Thus began the second part of his adventures in Scotland. After a time of triumph, of glory, of praise, and success, a triumphal tour throughout his father's kingdom, he was to wander a fugitive amid hills and braes, suffering privation and hunger, with a price upon his head. Never again did he rise to the heights, and well had it been for him had he fallen on the field, with his name untarnished, his honor unstained.