This series has five easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Scotland Arrival.
When King James left England in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 he expected to return and restore the Stuarts on the throne. His attempted return was repulsed in Ireland. His grandson, Charles “Bonnie Prince Charlie” decided to try his luck in 1745. This story of “The Forty-five” tell us of the last major battle on the main island of Great Britain
This selection is from History of the Four Georges by Justin McCarthy published in 1901.
Justin McCarthy (22 November 1830 – 24 April 1912) was an Irish nationalist and Liberal historian, novelist and politician.
Place: Culloden, Scotland
From the first young Charles Stuart might well have come to regard himself as the favorite of fortune. The history of the “Forty-five” divides itself into two distinct parts: the first a triumphant record of brilliant victories, and the picture of a young prince marching through conquest after conquest to a crown; the second part prefaced by a disastrous resolution leading to overwhelming defeat and ending in ignominious flight and the extinction of the last Stuart hope. From the moment when the Stuart standard fluttered its folds of white and crimson on the Highland wind it seemed as if the Stuart luck had turned. Charles might well conceive himself happy. Upon his sword sat laurel victory. Smooth success was strewn before his feet. The blundering and bewildered Cope actually allowed Charles and his army to get past him. Cope was neither a coward nor a traitor, but he was a terrible blunderer, and while the English general was marching upon Inverness Charles was triumphantly entering Perth. From Perth the young Prince, with hopeless, helpless Cope still in his rear, marched on Edinburgh.
The condition of Edinburgh was peculiar: although a large proportion of its inhabitants, especially those who were well-to-do, were stanch supporters of the house of Hanover, there were plenty of Jacobites in the place, and it only needed the favor of a few victories to bring into open day a great deal of latent Jacobitism that was for the moment prudently kept under by its possessors. The lord-provost himself was more than suspected of being a Jacobite at heart. The city was miserably defended. Such walls as it possessed were more ornamental than useful, and in any case were sadly in want of repair. All the military force it could muster to meet the advance of the clans was the small but fairly efficient body of men who formed the town guard; the train-bands, some thousand strong, who knew no more than so many spinsters of the division of a battle; the small and undisciplined Edinburgh regiment, and a scratch collection of volunteers hurriedly raked together from among the humbler citizens of the town, and about as useful as so many puppets to oppose to the daring and the ferocity of the clans.
Edinburgh opinion had changed very rapidly with regard to that same daring and ferocity. When the first rumors of the Prince’s advance were bruited abroad the adherents of the house of Hanover in Edinburgh made very merry over the gang of ragged rascals, hen-roost robbers, and drunken rogues upon whom the Pretender relied in his effort to “enjoy his ain again.” But as the clans came nearer and nearer, as the air grew thicker with flying rumors of the successes that attended upon the Prince’s progress, as the capacity of the town seemed weaker for holding out, and as the prospect of reinforcements seemed to grow fainter and fainter, the opinion of Hanoverian Edinburgh concerning the clans changed mightily. Had the Highlanders been a race of giants, endowed with more than mortal prowess, and invulnerable as Achilles, they could hardly have struck more terror into the hearts of loyal and respectable Edinburgh citizens. Still, there were some stout hearts in Edinburgh who did their best to keep up the courage of the rest and to keep out the enemy. Andrew Fletcher and Duncan Forbes were of the number. M’Laurin, the mathematician, turned his genius to the bettering of the fortifications. Old Dr. Stevenson, bedridden but heroic, kept guard in his arm-chair for many days at the Netherbow gate. The great question was, would Cope come in time? Cope was at Aberdeen. Cope had put his army upon transports. Cope might be here to-morrow, the day after to-morrow, to-day, who knows? But in the mean time the King’s Dragoons, whom Cope had left behind him when he first started out to meet the Pretender, had steadily and persistently retreated before the Highland advance. They had now halted–they can hardly be said to have made a stand — at Corstorphine, some three miles from Edinburgh, and here it was resolved to do something to stay the tide of invasion. Hamilton’s Dragoons were at Leith. These were ordered to join the King’s Dragoons at Corstorphine and to collect as many Edinburgh volunteers as they could on their way. Inside the walls of Edinburgh it was easy enough to collect volunteers, and quite a little army of them marched out with drums beating and colors flying at the heels of Hamilton’s Dragoons. But on the way to the town gates the temper of the volunteers changed, and by the time that the town gates were reached and passed the volunteers had dwindled to so pitiable a handful that they were dismissed, and Hamilton’s Dragoons proceeded alone to join Cope’s King’s Dragoons at Corstorphine.
But the united force of dragoons did not stay long at Corstorphine. The fame of the fierce Highlanders had unhinged their valor, and it only needed a few of the Prince’s supporters to ride within pistol-shot and discharge their pieces at the royal troops to set them into as disgraceful a panic as ever animated frightened men. The dragoons, ludicrously unmanned, turned tail and rode for their lives, rode without drawing bridle and without staying spur till they came to Leith, paused there for a little, and then, on some vague hint that the Highlanders were on their track, they were in the saddle again and riding for their lives once more. Dismayed Edinburgh citizens saw them sweep along what now is Prince’s Street, a pitiable sight; saw them, bloody with spurring, fiery hot with haste, ride on–on into the darkness. On and on the desperate cowards scampered, sheep-like in their shameful fear, till they reached Dunbar, and behind its gates allowed themselves to breathe more freely and to congratulate themselves upon the dangers they had escaped. Such is the story of the famous, or infamous, “Canter of Coltbrigg,” one of the most disgraceful records of the abject collapse of regular troops before the terror of an almost unseen foe that are to be found in history. Well might loyal Edinburgh despair if such were its best defenders. The town was all tumult, the loyalists were in utter gloom, the secretly exulting Jacobites were urging the impossibility of resistance, and the necessity for yielding while yielding was still an open question.