Civil war was a constant threat as Scotland, Ireland and England struggled to find a way to live and prosper together. By 1688 the divisions were so deep that King James VII of Scotland and II of England, a Catholic and a Stuart, had to flee to France.
King James VII’s supporters became known as Jacobites, from the Latin ‘Jacobus’ meaning James.
The English and Scottish parliaments invited the Protestant William of Orange (James’s nephew) and his wife Mary to come from Europe to rule in James’s place. During the constitutional upheaval, the Scottish parliament made Presbyterianism the state religion in Scotland, overthrowing the Protestant Episcopal Church.
James’s zealous supporter, 1st Viscount Dundee, led a military campaign, defeating William and Mary’s army at the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689.
Scotland now faced an uncertain economic and political future. Under extreme pressure, its parliament accepted the Act of Union in 1707, combining the parliaments of Scotland and England. Three major issues now divided Scotland: the Union, the restoration of the Stuarts and the dominant form of Protestantism.
In 1745, Britain had been governed for over 30 years by the political party known as the Whigs. Whigs opposed the Stuarts’ belief in absolute monarchy. Instead, they argued for a balance of power between king and parliament – as under the Hanoverians. They were Protestants but then so were many of the Jacobites.
However, political infighting, charges of corruption and military setbacks abroad meant that the government was not in a strong position in this year, and it was taken by surprise by the Jacobite Rising. War in Europe had been simmering since 1740. In order to divide the British further, groups in the French government had encouraged Jacobite plotting. Without support from the Continent, the Jacobites knew they would never succeed in regaining the throne for the exiled James VII’s son, James Francis Edward Stuart.
On 11 May 1745 at Fontenoy in present-day Belgium, the French crushed British forces under the leadership of the Duke of Cumberland (King George II’s son). The defeat of the British army offered the perfect opportunity for a co-ordinated rising and invasion of Britain – Prince Charles Edward Stuart, James’s son, seized the moment.
Arrival of the Prince in Scotland
The Prince left France on 5 July with the essential supplies to start his campaign, but two of his ships were attacked en route and returned to port. Charles arrived in the Highlands with only a handful of men – an unimpressive start. However, his charm and promises of French aid eventually persuaded local clan chiefs to support his cause. On 19 August, Charles raised his father’s Standard at Glenfinnan, the army gathered and the 1745 Jacobite Rising began.
Glenfinnan Monument stands at the head of Loch Shiel. A lone, kilted highlander atop the 18m column surveys the land, commemorating the Jacobites who fought and fell during the ’45.
Just over a week later, rumours of the Prince’s arrival were confirmed to the government. But they were confident that Sir John Cope, commander of forces in Scotland, would quell the disturbance, using the new network of forts and roads in the Highlands.
Barely a month later, Edinburgh was in Jacobite hands, and Cope’s forces suffered a disastrous defeat at Prestonpans.
March south to Derby
At a Council of War in Edinburgh, the Jacobites were faced with a critical choice. They could remain in Scotland to strengthen their grip on the country. Or they could march into England and head straight for London. This would encourage the English Jacobites to rise and then, surely, the French would launch an invasion as the Prince had promised. Swayed by the Prince, they chose the latter.
The government, shocked by the defeat at Prestonpans, also called a Council of War. It decided to assemble two armies. One army under Field-Marshal Wade was concentrated in the north-east near Newcastle; the other was positioned in Chester to defend the west.
Showing astonishing speed, the Jacobite army reached Derby, only 125 miles from London, by 4 December. Banks and businesses in the capital were panicking, but doubt was growing among Jacobite officers, primarily Lord George Murray.
In his opinion, it was madness to continue. There were two government armies behind them and he believed that a third defended London. There had been very little support from English Jacobites and no sign of the promised help from the French. During angry meetings on 5 December, the Prince’s leadership was challenged by his senior commanders. Eventually, they decided to turn round and withdraw to Scotland. What if they had continued? What if they had known that a French invasion fleet was at that moment preparing to cross the Channel?
The return to Scotland and the battle of Falkirk
Although in retreat, the Jacobite army was still a force to be reckoned with. Government troops led by the Duke of Cumberland were close behind the Jacobites, but rumours of a French invasion briefly drove the Duke and his army back to the south coast.
On returning to Scotland, the Jacobites defeated the government army at Falkirk on 17 January 1746. But in the confusion after the battle, the Jacobites failed to build on their victory. Against the Prince’s will, they took the decision to retreat further north into the Highlands. They wanted to gather their strength over the winter months, and the Jacobite campaign would start again in the spring. Hearing the news of the government’s defeat at Falkirk, Cumberland raced north to Scotland to take charge.
Towards the end of the long, hard winter, the Rising entered a new phase. Both sides divided their forces and engaged in skirmishes across the Highlands and the north-east.
When marching through Fyvie, the Duke of Cumberland remarked to Lady Anne Gordon “I can only hope that your son will one day prove as loyal an adherent to the House of Hanover as your brother has been to the House of Stuart”.
The Jacobites were keen to capture government military centres. The government successfully held Fort William but lost Fort George and Fort Augustus. However, the thinly stretched Jacobite army began to struggle to keep its lines of supply open.
As winter eased into spring, the two sides drew closer together. The Jacobite army took Inverness at the end of February; at the beginning of April, Cumberland’s forces began their advance west from Aberdeen.
For the Prince, time and money were running out.