The King of England had come back from Hanover; the troops were almost all recalled from Flanders.
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
Some busy days were passed in Edinburgh in which councils of war alternated with semi-regal entertainments, and in which the Prince employed his ready command of language in paying graceful compliments to the pretty women who wore the white cockade, and in issuing proclamations in which the Union was dissolved and religious liberty promised. One thing the young Prince could not be induced to do: none of the arguments of his counselors could prevail upon him to threaten severe measures against the prisoners fallen into his hands. It was urged that unless the government treated their prisoners as prisoners of war and not as rebels, the Prince would be well advised to retaliate by equal harshness to the captives in his power. But on this point the Prince was obdurate. He would not take in cold blood the lives that he had saved in the heat of action.
Then, and all through this meteoric campaign, the conduct of Charles was characterized by a sincere humanity, which stands out in startling contrast with the cruelties practiced later by his enemy, the “Butcher of Cumberland.” It prevented the Prince from gaining an important military advantage by the reduction of Edinburgh castle. He attempted the reduction of the castle by cutting off its supplies, but, when the general in command threatened to open fire upon the town in consequence, Charles immediately rescinded the order, although his officers urged that the destruction of a few houses, and even the loss of a few lives, was, in a military sense, of scant importance in comparison with the capture of so valuable a stronghold as Edinburgh castle. The Prince held firmly to his resolve, and Edinburgh castle remained to the end in the hands of the royal troops. Charles displayed a great objection, too, to any plundering or lawless behavior on the part of his wild Highland army. We learn from the Bland Burges papers that when the house of Lord Somerville, who was opposed to the Prince, was molested by a party of Highlanders, the Prince, on hearing of it, sent an apology to Lord Somerville, and an officer’s guard to protect him from further annoyance.
But time was running on, and it was necessary to take action again. England was waking up to a sense of its peril. Armies were gathering. The King had come back from Hanover, the troops were almost all recalled from Flanders. It was time to make a fresh stroke. Charles resolved upon the bold course of striking south at once for England, and early in November he marched. He set off on the famous march south. In this undertaking, as before, the same extraordinary good-fortune attended upon the Stuart arms. His little army of less than six thousand men reached Carlisle, reached Manchester, without opposition. On December 4th he was at Derby, only one hundred twenty-seven miles from London. Once again, by skill or by good-fortune, he had contrived to slip past the English general sent out to bar his way. Cumberland with his forces was at Stafford, nine miles farther from the capital than the young Prince, who was now only six days from the city, with all his hopes and his ambitions ahead of him, and behind him the hostile army of the general he had eluded.
Never, perhaps, in the history of warfare did an invader come so near the goal of his success and throw it so wantonly away; for that is what Charles did. With all that he had come for apparently within his reach, he did not reach out to take it; the crown of England was in the hollow of his hand, and he opened his hand and let the prize fall from it. It is difficult to understand now what curious madness prompted the Prince’s advisers to counsel him as they did, or the Prince to act upon their counsels. He was in the heart of England; he was hard by the capital, which he would have to reach if he was ever to mount the throne of his fathers. He had a devoted army with him — it would seem as if he had only to advance and to win — and yet, with a fatuity which makes the student of history gasp, he actually resolved to retreat, and did retreat.
It is true, and must not be forgotten, that Charles did not know, and could not know, all his advantages; that many of the most urgent arguments for advance could not present themselves to his mind. He could not know the panic in which Hanoverian London was cast; he could not know that desperate thoughts of joining the Stuart cause were crossing the craven mind of the Duke of Newcastle; he could not know that the frightened bourgeoisie were making a maddened rush upon the Bank of England; he could not know that the King of England had stored all his most precious possessions on board of yachts that waited for him at the Tower stairs, ready at a moment’s notice to carry him off again into the decent obscurity of the electorship of Hanover. He could not know the exultation of the metropolitan Jacobites; he could not know the perturbation of the Hanoverian side; he could not know the curious apathy with which a large proportion of the people regarded the whole proceeding, people who were as willing to accept one king as another, and who would have witnessed with absolute unconcern “George the Elector” scuttling away from the Tower stairs at one end of the town, while “Charles the Prince” entered it from another. These factors in his favor he did not know, could not know, could hardly be expected even to guess.
But what he could know, what he did know, was this: he was at the head of a devoted army, which if it was small had hitherto found its career marked by triumph after triumph.