The might-have-beens are indeed for the most part a vanity, but we can fairly venture to assert now that if Charles had pushed on he would, for the time at least, have restored the throne of England to the house of Stuart.
Continuing Battle of Culloden,
our selection from History of the Four Georges by Justin McCarthy published in 1901. The selection is presented in five easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Battle of Culloden.
Place: Culloden, Scotland
He was in the heart of England, and had already found that the Stuart war-cry was powerful enough to rally many an English gentleman to his standard. Sir Walter Williams Wynn, whom men called the “King of Wales,” was on his way to join the Prince of Wales. So was Lord Barrymore, the member of Parliament; so was many another gallant gentleman of name, of position, of wealth. Manchester had given him the heroic, the ill-fated, James Dawson, and a regiment three hundred strong. Lord James Drummond had landed at Montrose with men, money, and supplies. The Young Chevalier’s troops were eager to advance; they were flushed with victories, their hearts were high; they believed, in the wild Gaelic way, in the sanctity of their cause; they believed that the Lord of Hosts was on their side, and such a belief strengthened their hands.
For a prince seeking his principality it would seem that there was one course, and one only, to pursue. He might go and take it, and win the great game he played for; or, failing that, he might die as became a royal gentleman, sword in hand and fighting for his rights. The might-have-beens are indeed for the most part a vanity, but we can fairly venture to assert now that if Charles had pushed on he would, for the time at least, have restored the throne of England to the house of Stuart. We may doubt, and doubt with reason, whether any fortuitous succession of events could have confirmed the Stuart hold upon the English crown; but we can scarcely doubt that the hold would have been for the time established, that the Old Pretender would have been King James III, and that George the Elector would have been posting, bag and baggage, to the rococo shades of Herrenhausen. But, as we have said, failing that, if Charles had fallen in battle at the head of his defeated army, how much better that end would have been than the miserable career which was yet to lend no tragic dignity to the prolonged, pitiful, pitiable life of the Young Pretender!
However, for good or evil, the insane decision was made. Charles’ council of war persistently argued for retreat. There were thirty thousand men in the field against them. If they were defeated they would be cut to pieces, and the Prince, if he escaped slaughter, would escape it only to die as a rebel on Tower Hill, whereas, if they were once back in Scotland, they would find new friends, new adherents, and even if they failed to win the English crown, might at least count, with reasonable security, upon converting Scotland, as of old, into a separate kingdom with a Stuart king on its throne. By arguments such as these the Prince’s officers caused him to throw away the one chance he had of gaining all that he had crossed the seas to gain.
It is only fair to remember that the young Prince himself was from the first to last in favor of the braver course of boldly advancing upon London. When his too prudent counsellors told him that if he advanced he would be in Newgate in a fortnight, he still persisted in pressing his own advice. Perhaps he thought that where the stake was so great, and the chance of success not too forbidding, failure might as well end in Newgate as in the purlieus of petty foreign courts. But, with the exception of his Irish officers, he had nobody on his side. The Duke of Perth and Sir John Gordon had a little plan of their own. They thought that a march into Wales would be a good middle course to adopt, but their suggestion found no backers. All Charles’ other counselors were to a man in favor of retreat, and Charles, after at first threatening to regard as traitors all who urged such a course, at last gave way. Sullenly he issued the disastrous order to retreat, sullenly he rode in the rear of that retreat, assuming the bearing of a man who is no longer responsible for failure. The cheery good-humor, the bright heroism, which had so far characterized him he had now completely lost, and he rode, a dejected, a despairing, almost a doomed man, among his disheartened followers. It is dreary reading the record of that retreat; yet it is starred by some bright episodes. At Clifton there was an engagement where the retreating Highlanders held their own, and inflicted a distinct defeat upon Cumberland’s army. Again, when they were once more upon Scottish soil, they struck a damaging blow at Hawley’s army at Falkirk. But the end came at last on the day when the dwindling, discouraged, retreating army tried its strength with Cumberland at Culloden.
Men of the Cumberland type are to be found in all ages and in history of all nations. Men in whom the beast is barely under the formal restraint of ordered society, men in whom a savage sensuality is accompanied by a savage cruelty, men who take a hideous physical delight in bloodshed, darken the pages of all chronicles. It would be unjust to the memory of Cumberland to say that in his own peculiar line he had many, if any, superiors; that many men are more worthy of the fame which he won. To be remembered with a just loathing as a man by whom brutalities of all kinds were displayed, almost to the point of madness, is not the kind of memory most men desire; it is probably not the kind of memory that even Cumberland himself desired to leave behind him. But if he had cherished the ambition of handing down his name to other times, “linked with one virtue and a thousand crimes”; if he had deliberately proposed to force himself upon the attention of posterity as a mere abominable monster, he could hardly have acted with more persistent determination toward such a purpose.