Bonnie Charlie Early Successes

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Bonnie Prince Charlie - Part 1

After the Act of Union was signed in 1707, Scotland and England finally started to put aside their fears of each other and enjoy a period of growth and prosperity.

However, the issue of who should sit on the throne of both countries had still not been settled, with many Scots still believing that the true heir to the throne was James Francis Stewart - the Old Pretender.

James's attempts to seize back the throne in 1715 had been almost farcical and had come to nothing, but support for the Jacobite cause never went away.

It simmered for years until, finally, it exploded in an extraordinary adventure of reckless and romantic folly which brought the government to its knees and very nearly succeeded in capturing the throne.

This time, it was not the Old Pretender who was to try and take the British crown, but his son Prince Charles Edward Louis Philip Casimir Stewart - or Bonnie Prince Charlie for short.

Throughout his childhood in exile in Rome, the dashing, sporty Young Pretender had grown more and more determined to win the throne for his father.

Hic chance finally came in 1744, when Britain and France were fighting with each other in the Battle of the Austrian Succession, with the French keen to try and destabilise the British by helping the Stewart cause.

The French prepared to launch an invasion to help Charles seize the throne, but - in keeping with many Jacobean adventures - it turned to disaster. The fleet was destroyed in a storm while harboured at Dunkirk, forcing the French to abandon their plan.

Charles, however, had other ideas. If the French could or would not assist, then he would launch an invasion on his own. He pawned his mother's dowry - the famous Sobieski rubies - for #4000 and used the cash to buy a stock of weapons for his cause.

After a tricky sea crossing - the other ship making the journey with him was attacked by the British and had to return to France - he finally landed at the Isle of Eriskay in the Hebrides in July 1745 along with a tiny force of seven men.

Two days later, Charles - who had never been in Scotland before - sailed for the mainland to begin his campaign to win the crown back. He landed at Arisaig and assumed that, as in the case of his father's rising 30 years before, the Highland clans would rally to his cause.

To a point, he was right, although he must have been disappointed when he saw that - at the beginning, at least - they were hardly flocking to fight for him. On 19 August, when he raised his standard at Glenfinnan, only 150 men - all from the clan Ranald - joined him in the first three hours.

Another 1000 men - Macleods, MacDonalds and Camerons - finally also arrived, and the march south began. Confident of the support of the Scottish people, Charles felt sure that he could drive George II from the throne.

Certainly he got off to a good start. Sir John Cope, who was the Commander in Chief of government forces north of the border, didn't even know the Prince was in Scotland until just before the raising of the standard and he had only just over 1000 men to fight with.

Cope and the government's first reaction was to dither, which left Charles's new and enthusiastic Jacobite army able to press south - ironically, on new government roads which had been recently built by General Wade - through Inverness-shire and on southwards to Perth.

When Charles arrived in Perth on September 4, he picked up even more support. By now, he had about 2000 men on his side, and had appointed the capable Lord George Murray, the younger brother of the Duke of Atholl, as the effective commander of his military operations.

With his spirits high, Charles pressed on for Edinburgh. It surrendered without any resistance save for the castle which remained in government hands. Panicked British officials fled south to Berwick. Piece by piece, all of Scotland was falling under the Young Pretender's control.

By now, however, Cope had finally managed to locate Charles's army. After marching north to Inverness to stock up on arms and ammunition, he sailed down to coast from Dundee to Dunbar and caught up with the Prince at Prestonpans.

When the battle between the two sides took place on September 21, both armies were able to field about 2300 men. The Jacobites took advantage of the early morning mist to surprise their foes. When they attacked, they caught Cope and his troops virtually unawares and a rout followed. The whole battle is said to have only lasted for about 10 minutes.

If Cope - who was court martialled for his failure, though he was later acquitted - had been successful at Prestonpans, then the whole Jacobite revolt could have been extinguished there and then.

As it was, victory gave the Prince and his army complete control of Scotland. The result was that Charles became and even more popular figure than before, with hundreds more people rushing to sign up to the cause. By November, he had a total force of well over 5000 men.

In London, the government realised the seriousness of the threat. England's traditional ally, Holland, sent 6000 troops to fight for the Hanoverian cause and British soldiers were recalled from fighting on the Continent. General Wade was recalled to active service and another capable and promising military leader, the Duke of Cumberland, called from Holland.

Scotland belonged to the Young Pretender, but it wasn't enough for him. He saw his father as the legitimate claimant to both the English and Scottish crowns, and so he wanted control of England too.

Marching across the border was a risky undertaking, and Lord George Murray warned him against it. But Charles was adamant. As Wade's army marched north and reached Newcastle, the Jacobite troops went south.

Carlisle fell on 15 November. The prince then tried to dismiss Murray, but his Highland troops refused to serve under anyone else, so he was reinstated. Charles then continued to move south, with Penrith and Lancaster being taken 10 days later. By the end of the month Manchester had fallen, and on December 4, he had reached as far south as Derby.

Charles had made his advance into England at breakneck speed and, unsurprisingly, London was in panic. Shops shut down, the Bank of England worried that people might try to withdraw money, and rumours even floated around that King George had put together emergency plans to flee back to his native Hanover.

However, in the Jacobite camp, things had not gone quite as well as it appeared. The relationship between Charles and George Murray was still mistrustful and difficult and - contrary to expectations - the English had not rallied behind the Prince's cause. By the time he reached Derby, only about 200 English soldiers, mainly from Manchester, had bothered to sign up.

A massive, critically important decision now had to be made. Should the prince and his army push on and try and take London, or pull back towards the relative safety of Scotland?

Charles wanted to go on, but Murray took the view that this was too risky. Wade was at Wetherby in Yorkshire and heading south, Cumberland was much closer, at Lichfield in Staffordshire. However you looked at it, the enemy was closing in.

Murray argued that the odds of marching on the capital were just too great, and that Charles should retreat while the going was good. The Highland chiefs, who were impatient for a return, took the same view.

The Prince was furious. He eventually consented to turn back, but swore that in future he would take no more advice from those around him.

It was a pledge which he kept - and one which was, ultimately, to lead him to disaster.

next... the march north to Scotland disaster at Culloden

Meanwhile...

  • 1720 The first yacht club is established at Cork, Ireland
  • 1740 Frederick the Great introduces freedom of religion and freedom of the press in Prussia
  • 1744 Mount Cotopaxi in South America, erupts
  • 1745 The Quadrille becomes a fashionable dance in France
  • 1740 James Thomson, poet, writes "Rule Britannia"
  • 1744 The world's first golf club - The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers - is founded

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