Manuscripts and Special Collections

Preston Pans and the invasion of England

Cope landed at Dunbar and not Leith, Edinburgh's port, because Edinburgh had been taken by the Highlanders. Things looked black for Cope: his cavalry had already fled from the Highlanders and his infantry was disorganised and demoralized. In addition Prince Charles now had the larger army. But all Cope had learnt from his mistakes was how to make more. Typically, he had forgotten to bring tents from Aberdeen for his troops. It was late September, and bitterly cold at night.

While Cope began to march slowly towards Edinburgh, Charles acted swiftly. He took the advice of Lord George Murray, and decided to attack as soon as possible. Lord George was a brilliant commander and thoroughly understood how the clansmen liked to fight. He approached Cope from the south, to enable the Highlanders to charge down a steep hill to the attack.

Cope was amazed to find the Highland army to the south. He wheeled his army round to face them - but there was no attack. The reason was that Lord George had found that there was a marsh between his troops and Cope's. When darkness fell, the Highlanders made a difficult march round the edge of the marsh, so that when Cope woke up, he found the Highland army was drawn up to the east. This amazed him even more: he had been sure the Highlanders would attack from the direction of Edinburgh. Cope wheeled his army once more to face the enemy.

Detail from 'Plan of the positions of the opposing troops at the Battle of Preston Pans'

From Document 7

The date was 21st September, the place Prestonpans. The positions of the two armies can be seen from Document 7. The Highlanders charged wildly in a mass before the British troops were fully ready. Most of the British cavalry galloped off without firing a shot. This made the British infantry nervous so that their fire was ragged and did little harm. Then the Highlanders were upon them, slashing wildly with their broad-swords. Within ten minutes all the British troops were fleeing as fast as they could. A report of these events, which demonstrates Cope's inadequacies, is shown as Document 8. One writer felt that well-trained and properly led troops could easily defeat the Highlanders (Document 9).

After this victory, Charles spent further time at Edinburgh and then began his march on England. He went through the Lowlands by Kelso, and entered England north of Carlisle. In England, there were no less than three armies. One was at Newcastle, under Marshal Wade, who was also in contact with 6,000 Dutch troops, who had been sent to help the British under the terms of a treaty. A second army was in Lancashire, under Lieutenant-General Ligonier. The third was in the south, prepared to resist the expected French invasion.

These armies looked strong, compared with Charles' 5,000 Highlanders. In fact, the British armies were in disarray, owing to the insufficiencies of their commanders, according to Lord Tyrawly, who sent news to Henry Pelham (Document 10). As for the Dutch it looked at one time as though they would refuse to fight until they had received their conduct money for the march (Document 11).

A further problem was the weather. It was now late November 1745 and was beginning to snow. The Highlanders, who were used to living in tough conditions, did not mind; but the British soldiers, who did not usually fight in winter, were unprepared. Moving the guns and baggage of the British armies was very difficult. However, the major problem was finding fodder for the horses.

All these difficulties meant that Marshal Wade, whose army was nearest to Scotland, could not come to the help of Carlisle. At the time, many Englishmen blamed Wade himself for the failure, which they said was due to his own slowness. They sang this song in the streets:  

And pray, who is so fit to lead this parade
As the babe of Tangier, my old grandmother Wade?
Who's cunning's so quick, but who's motion so slow
That the rebels marched on, while he stuck in the snow.'

When the people of Carlisle realized that no help was coming, the town surrendered to the Highlanders. Charles entered the town in triumph, riding a white horse. However, he was dismayed that so few Englishmen came forward to join his army. In spite of this, he determined to press on.

The Highland army marched down the west side of England without opposition. Town after town surrendered to the rebels: Penrith, Kendal, Lancaster, Preston, Wigan, Manchester, Macclesfield and finally Derby. The Highlanders were very well behaved on their march through England, and paid for their food and lodgings. A little money was raised from towns as they went along: this was to be used to pay English recruits to his army - but still very few came forward.

When Charles reached Derby, he was very anxious to march on to London, which was only 125 miles away (five days' march). There were rumours (which were true) that the capital was in a panic and that King George II was getting ready to flee.

But the Highland chiefs and Lord George Murray approached Prince Charles at Exeter House in Derby and insisted that they should retreat. They pointed out that there were now 30,000 British troops in the field against them, and one army of 10,000 men under the Duke of Cumberland was as near as Stafford. London was raising a volunteer army. If the Highlanders pressed on, they would be caught between this and Cumberland's army. There was the additional fact that almost none of the English Jacobites had helped Charles. There was not a single rising either in England or Wales, and the French had not invaded the south of England. Finally, the chiefs were worried about what was happening to their distant homes.

As Charles gave the order to turn back, tears ran down his cheeks. It was the greatest disappointment of his life, and he never forgave Lord George Murray. 


Next page:  The retreat of the Highlanders and the battle of Falkirk


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