Bonnie Prince Charlie; A Tale of Fontenoy and Culloden

CHAPTER XIV: Prestonpans.

Advancing in high spirits through the mountains of Badenoch, Prince Charles with his army came down into the vale of Athole, and visited, with Tullibardine, the castle of Blair Athole, the noble property of which the marquis had so long been deprived, owing to his constancy to the cause of the Stuarts, but which would again be his own were this great enterprise successful.

From Blair Athole the little army moved on to Perth. Here they were joined by powerful friends, of whom the principal were the young Duke of Perth, Lord Nairn, and Lord George Murray, the younger brother of the Marquis of Tullibardine. Lord George Murray was but ten years of age when the events of 1715 had taken place, but four years later he came over with the marquis with a handful of Spaniards and was wounded at the battle of Glenshiels. The influence of the family obtained his pardon on the plea of his extreme youth, but he remained at heart a Jacobite, and, going to the Continent, entered the service of Sardinia, then a portion of the possessions of the Duke of Savoy. For many years he served abroad, and acquired a considerable reputation as an excellent officer and a most gallant soldier.

He had, indeed, a natural genius for military operations, and had he not been thwarted at every turn by the jealousy of Murray of Broughton, it is by no means improbable that he would have brought the enterprise to a successful termination and seated the Stuarts upon the throne of England.

The accession of such an officer was of the highest value to the prince.

Hitherto the army had consisted merely of wild clansmen, full of valour and devotion but wholly undisciplined; while among those who accompanied him, or who had joined him in Scotland, there was not a single officer of any experience in war or any military capacity whatever. Lord George Murray and the Duke of Perth were at once named generals in the prince’s army; but the command in reality remained entirely in the hands of Murray, for Lord Perth, though an estimable young nobleman possessed of considerable ability, had no military experience and was of a quiet and retiring disposition.

Lord George Murray at once set about raising the tenantry of his brother the Hanoverian Duke of Athole, who was absent in England, and as these had always remained attached to the Stuart cause, and still regarded the Marquis of Tullibardine as their rightful head, they willingly took up arms upon Lord George Murray’s bidding. Lord George decided at once that it would be useless to attempt to drill the Highlanders into regular soldiers, but that they must be allowed to use their national style of fighting and trust to their desperate charge with broadsword and target to break the enemy’s ranks.

Unfortunately dissensions commenced among the leaders from the very first. Secretary Murray, who desired to be all powerful with the prince, saw that he should not succeed in gaining any influence over so firm and energetic a character as Lord George Murray, while it would be easy for him to sway the young Duke of Perth, and he was not long in poisoning the ear of the latter against his companion in arms by representing to him that Lord George treated him as a mere cipher, although of equal rank in the army. The secretary’s purpose was even more easily carried out with Prince Charles. The latter was no judge of character, and fell readily under the influence of the wily and unscrupulous Murray, who flattered his weaknesses and assumed an air of deference to his opinions. Lord George Murray, on the other hand, was but too prone to give offence. He was haughty and overbearing in manner, expressed his opinions with a directness and bluntness which were very displeasing to the prince, and, conscious of his own military genius and experience, put aside with open contempt the suggestions of those who were in truth ignorant of military matters. Loyal, straightforward, and upright, he scorned to descend to the arts of the courtier, and while devoting his whole time to his military work, suffered his enemies to obtain the entire command of the ear of the prince.

Ronald was introduced to him as soon as he joined at Perth, and finding that young Leslie had had some military experience, Lord George at once appointed him one of his aides de camp, and soon took a warm liking to the active and energetic young officer, whose whole soul was in his work, and who cared nothing for the courtly gatherings around the person of the prince.

Malcolm rode as Ronald’s orderly, and during the few days of their stay in Perth, Ronald was at work from morning till night riding through the country with messages from Lord George, and in the intervals of such duty in trying to inculcate some idea of discipline into the wild Highland levies. At this time Charles was using all his efforts to persuade Lord Lovat, one of the most powerful of the northern noblemen, to join him, offering him his patent as Duke of Fraser and the lord lieutenancy of the northern counties.

Lovat, however, an utterly unscrupulous man, refused openly to join, although he sent repeatedly assurances of his devotion. Throughout the struggle he continued to act a double part, trying to keep friends with both parties, but declaring for the prince at the moment when his fortunes were at their highest. The result was that while he afforded the prince but little real assistance, his conduct cost him his head.

Sir John Cope, finding that his march to Inverness had failed to draw the prince after him, and had left the Lowlands and the capital open to the insurgents, directed his march to Aberdeen, and sent to Edinburgh for transports to bring down his army to cover that city. But Prince Charles determined to forestall him, and on the 11th of September commenced his march south. The age and infirmities of the Marquis of Tullibardine prevented his accompanying Prince Charles during active operations.

It was impossible for the army to march direct against Edinburgh, as the magistrates of that town had taken the precaution to withdraw every ship and boat from the northern side of the Forth, and the prince was consequently obliged to make a detour and to cross the river at the fords eight miles above Stirling, and then marching rapidly towards Edinburgh, arrived on the evening of the 16th within three miles of that town.

So long as the coming of the prince was doubtful the citizens of Edinburgh had declared their willingness to defend the town to the last.

Volunteer regiments had been formed and guns placed on the walls; but when the volunteers were ordered to march out with Hamilton’s regiment of dragoons, to oppose the advance of the insurgents, the men quitted their ranks and stole away to their houses, leaving the dragoons to march out alone. The latter, however, showed no greater courage than that of their citizen allies, when on the following day they came in contact with a party of mounted gentlemen from the prince’s army, who fired their pistols at their pickets. These rode off in haste, their panic was communicated to the main body, whose officers in vain endeavoured to check them, and the whole regiment galloped away in wild confusion, and passing close under the walls of Edinburgh continued their flight, without halting, to Preston. There they halted for the night; but one of the troopers happening in the dark to fall into a disused well, his shouts for assistance caused an alarm that they were attacked, and mounting their horses the regiment continued their flight to Dunbar, where they joined General Cope’s army, which had just landed there.

This disgraceful panic added to the terror of the citizens of Edinburgh, and when, late in the afternoon, a summons to surrender came in from Prince Charles, the council could arrive at no decision, but sent a deputation to the prince asking for delay, hoping thereby that Cope’s army would arrive in time to save them. But the prince was also well aware of the importance of time, and that night he sent forward Lochiel with five hundred Camerons to lie in ambush near the Netherbow Gate. They took with them a barrel of powder to blow it in if necessary; but in the morning the gate was opened to admit a carriage, and the Highlanders at once rushed in and overpowered the guard, and sending parties through the streets they secured these also without disturbance or bloodshed, and when the citizens awoke in the morning they found, to their surprise, that Prince Charles was master of the city.

The Jacobite portion of the population turned out with delight to greet the prince, while the rest thought it politic to imitate their enthusiasm. The Highlanders behaved with perfect order and discipline, and although the town had, as it were, been taken by storm, no single article of property was touched. An hour later Prince Charles, at the head of his troops, entered the royal palace of Holyrod, being met by a crowd of enthusiastic supporters from the city, who received him with royal shouts and tears of joy.

In the evening a grand ball was held in the palace, in spite of the fact that it was within range of the guns of Edinburgh Castle, which still held out. But one day was spent in Edinburgh. This was occupied in serving out about a thousand muskets found in the magazines to the Highlanders, and in obtaining tents, shoes, and cooking vessels, which the town was ordered to supply. They were joined during the day by many gentlemen, and on the night of the 19th the army, two thousand five hundred strong, of whom only fifty were mounted, moved out to the village of Duddingston. There the prince that evening called a council of war, and proposed to march next morning to meet the enemy halfway, and declared that he would himself lead his troops and charge in the first ranks.

The chiefs, however, exclaimed against this, urging that if any accident happened to him ruin must fall upon the whole, whether they gained or lost the battle; and upon the prince persisting they declared that they would return home and make the best terms they could for themselves. He was therefore obliged to give way, declaring, however, that he would lead the second line. The next morning the army commenced its march. They had with them only one cannon, so old that it was quite useless, and it was only taken forward as an encouragement to the Highlanders, who had the greatest respect for artillery.

Sir John Cope, who had received intelligence of all that had happened at Edinburgh, had also moved forward on the 19th, and on the 20th the two armies came in sight of each other. The Highlanders, after passing the bridge of Musselburgh, left the road, and turning to the right took up their position on the brow of Carberry Hill, and there waited the attack.

The English forces were marching forward with high spirit, and believed that the Highlanders would not even wait their assault. Cope had with him two thousand two hundred men, including the six hundred runaway dragoons.

The numbers, therefore, were nearly equal; but as the English were well armed, disciplined, and equipped, while only about half the Highlanders had muskets, and as they had, moreover, six pieces of artillery against the one unserviceable gun of Prince Charles, they had every reason to consider the victory to be certain.

On seeing the Highland array Cope drew up his troops in order of battle — his infantry in the centre, with a regiment of dragoons and three pieces of artillery on each flank. His right was covered by a park wall and by the village of Preston. On his left stood Seaton House, and in his rear lay the sea, with the villages of Prestonpans and Cockenzie. Their front was covered by a deep and difficult morass.

It was now about three o’clock in the afternoon, and the Highlanders, seeing that the English did not advance against them, clamoured to be led to the attack. Prince Charles was himself eager to fight, but his generals persuaded him to abstain from attacking the English in such a formidable position. The Highlanders, however, fearing that the English would again avoid a battle, were not satisfied until Lord Nairn with five hundred men was detached to the westward to prevent the English from marching off towards Edinburgh.

During the night the two armies lay upon the ground. Cope retired to sleep at Cockenzie, the prince lay down in the middle of his soldiers.

Before doing so, however, he held a council, and determined to attack next morning in spite of the difficulty of the morass. But in the course of the night Anderson of Whitburg, a gentleman well acquainted with the country, bethought himself of a path from the height towards their right by the farm of Ruigan Head, which in a great measure avoided the morass.

This important fact he imparted to Lord George Murray, who at once awoke the prince.

Locheil and some other chiefs were sent for, and it was determined to undertake the enterprise at once. An aide de camp was sent to recall Lord Nairn and his detachment, and under the guidance of Anderson the troops made their way across the morass. This was not, however, accomplished without great difficulty, as in some places they sank knee deep. The march was unopposed, and covered by the darkness they made their way across to firm ground just as the day was breaking dull and foggy. As they did so, however, the dragoon outposts heard the sound of their march, and firing their pistols galloped off to give the alarm. Sir John Cope lost no time facing his troops about, and forming them in order of battle. He was undisturbed while doing so, for the Highlanders were similarly occupied.

As the sun rose the mist cleared away, and the two armies stood face to face. The Macdonalds had been granted the post of honour on the Highland right, the line being completed by the Camerons and Stuarts, Prince Charles with the second line being close behind. The Highlanders uncovered their heads, uttered a short prayer, and then as the pipers blew the signal they rushed forward, each clan in a separate mass, and raising their war cry, the Camerons and Stuarts rushed straight at the cannon on the left.

These guns were served, not by Royal Artillerymen, but by some seamen brought by Cope from the fleet. They, panic struck by the wild rush of the Highlanders, deserted their guns and fled in all directions. Colonel Gardiner called upon his dragoons to follow him, and with his officers led them to the charge. But the Stuarts and Camerons, pouring in a volley from their muskets, charged them with their broadswords, and the dragoons, panic stricken, turned their horses and galloped off.

The Macdonalds on the right had similarly captured three guns, and charging with similar fury upon Hamilton’s regiment of dragoons, drove them off the field; Macgregor’s company, who, for want of other weapons were armed with scythes, doing terrible execution among the horses and their riders. The English infantry, deserted by their cavalry, and with their guns lost, still stood firm, and poured a heavy fire into the Highlanders; but these, as soon as they had defeated the cavalry, faced round and charged with fury upon both flanks of the infantry. Their onslaught was irresistible. The heavy masses of the clans broke right through the long line of the English infantry, and drove the latter backward in utter confusion. But the retreat was impeded by the inclosure and park wall of Preston, and the Highlanders pressing on, the greater portion of the English infantry were killed or taken prisoners.

A hundred and seventy of the infantry alone succeeded in making their escape, four hundred were killed, and the rest captured. Colonel Gardiner and many of his officers were killed fighting bravely, but the loss of the dragoons was small. Only thirty of the Highlanders were killed, and seventy wounded. The battle lasted but six minutes, and the moment it had terminated Prince Charles exerted himself to the utmost to obtain mercy for the vanquished.

He treated the prisoners with the greatest kindness and consideration, and the wounded were relieved without any distinction of friend or foe.

The dragoons fled to Edinburgh, and dashed up the hill to the castle; but the governor refused to admit them, and threatened to open his guns upon them as cowards who had deserted their colours. Later on in the day the greater portion were rallied by Sir John Cope and the Earls of Loudon and Home; but being seized with a fresh panic they galloped on again at full speed as far as Coldstream, and the next morning continued their flight in a state of disgraceful disorder as far as Berwick. The contents of the treasure chest, consisting of two thousand five hundred pounds, with the standards and other trophies, were brought to Prince Charles. The rest of the spoil was divided among the Highlanders, of whom a great number immediately set off towards their homes to place the articles they had gathered in safety.

So greatly was the Highland army weakened by the number of men who thus left the ranks that the prince was unable to carry out his wish for an instant advance into England. His advisers, indeed, were opposed to this measure, urging that in a short time his force would be swelled by thousands from all parts of Scotland; but unquestionably his own view was the correct one, and had he marched south he would probably have met with no resistance whatever on his march to London. There were but few troops in England. A requisition had been sent to the Dutch by King George for the six thousand auxiliaries they were bound to furnish, and a resolution was taken to recall ten English regiments home from Flanders.

Marshal Wade was directed to collect as many troops as he could at Newcastle, and the militia of several counties was called out; but the people in no degree responded to the efforts of the government. They looked on coldly, not indeed apparently favouring the rebellion, but as little disposed to take part against it. The state of public feeling was described at the time by a member of the administration, Henry Fox, in a private letter.

“England, Wade says, and I believe, is for the first comer, and if you can tell me whether these six thousand Dutch and the ten battalions of England, or five thousand French or Spaniards, will be here first, you know our fate. The French are not come, God be thanked; but had five thousand landed in any part of this island a week ago, I verily believe the entire conquest would not have cost a battle.”

The prince indeed was doing his best to obtain assistance from France, conscious how much his final success depended upon French succour.

King Louis for a time appeared favourable. The prince’s brother, Henry of York, had arrived from Rome, and the king proposed to place him at the head of the Irish regiments in the king’s service and several others to enable him to effect a landing in England; but with his usual insincerity the French king continued to raise difficulties and cause delays until it was too late, and he thus lost for ever the chance of placing the family who had always been warm friends of France, and who would in the event of success have been his natural friends and allies, on the throne of England.

In the meantime Prince Charles had taken up his abode in Edinburgh, where he was joined by most of the gentry of Scotland. He was proclaimed king in almost every town of the Tweed, and was master of all Scotland, save some districts beyond Inverness, the Highland forts, and the castles of Edinburgh and Stirling.. Prince Charles behaved with the greatest moderation. He forbade all public rejoicing for victory, saying that he could not rejoice over the loss which his father’s misguided subjects had sustained. He abstained from any attempt to capture Edinburgh Castle, or even to cut off its supplies, because the general of the castle threatened that unless he were allowed to obtain provisions he would fire upon the city and lay it in ruins, and he even refused to interfere with a Scotch minister who continued from his pulpit to pray for King George.

In one respect he carried his generosity so far as to excite discontent among his followers. It was proposed to send one of the prisoners taken at Preston to London with a demand for the exchange of prisoners taken or to be taken in the war, and with the declaration that if this were refused, and if the prince’s friends who fell into the enemy’s hands were put to death as rebels, the prince would be compelled to treat his captives in the same way. It was evident that this step would be of great utility, as many of the prince’s adherents hesitated to take up arms, not from fear of death in battle, but of execution if taken prisoners.

The prince, however, steadily refused, saying, “It is beneath me to make empty threats, and I will never put such as this into execution. I cannot in cold blood take away lives which I have saved in the heat of action.”

Six weeks after the victory the prince’s army mustered nearly six thousand men; but Macleod, Macdonald, and Lovat, who could have brought a further force of four thousand men, still held aloof. Had these three powerful chiefs joined at once after the battle of Prestonpans, Prince Charles could have marched to London, and would probably have succeeded in placing his father on the throne, without having occasion to strike another blow; but they came not, and the delay caused during the fruitless negotiations enabled the English troops to be brought over from Flanders, while Prince Charles on his side only received a few small consignments of arms and money from France.

But in the meantime Edinburgh was as gay as if the Stuart cause had been already won. Receptions and balls followed each other in close succession, and Prince Charles won the hearts of all alike by his courtesy and kindness, and by the care which he showed for the comfort of his troops.

At the commencement of the campaign Lord George Murray had but one aide de camp besides Ronald. This was an officer known as the Chevalier de Johnstone, who afterwards wrote a history of the campaign. After the battle of Prestonpans he received a captain’s commission, and immediately raised a company, with which he joined the Duke of Perth’s regiment. Two other gentlemen of family were then appointed aides de camp, and this afforded some relief to Ronald, whose duties had been extremely heavy.

A week after the battle Lord George said to Ronald:

“As there is now no chance of a movement at present, and I know that you care nothing for the court festivities here, I propose sending you with the officers who are riding into Glasgow tomorrow, with the orders of the council that the city shall pay a subsidy of five thousand pounds towards the necessities of the state. The citizens are Hanoverians to a man, and may think themselves well off that no heavier charge is levied upon them.

Do you take an account of what warlike stores there are in the magazines there, and see that all muskets and ammunition are packed up and forwarded.”

The next morning Ronald started at daybreak with several other mounted gentlemen and an escort of a hundred of Clanranald’s men, under the command of the eldest son of that chief, for Glasgow, and late the same evening entered that city. They were received with acclamation by a part of the population; but the larger portion of the citizens gazed at them from their doorways as they passed in sullen hostility. They marched direct to the barracks lately occupied by the English troops, the gentlemen taking the quarters occupied by the officers. A notification was at once sent to the provost to assemble the city council at nine o’clock in the morning, to hear a communication from the royal council.

As soon as Malcolm had put up Ronald’s horse and his own in the stables, and seen to their comfort, he and Ronald sallied out. It was now dark, but they wrapped themselves up in their cloaks so as not to be noticed, as in the hostile state of the town they might have been insulted and a quarrel forced upon them, had they been recognized as two of the new arrivals. The night, however, was dark, and they passed without recognition through the ill lighted streets to the house of Andrew Anderson. They rang at the bell. A minute later the grille was opened, and a voice, which they recognized as that of Elspeth, asked who was there, and what was their business.

“We come to arrest one Elspeth Dow, as one who troubles the state and is a traitor to his majesty.”

There was an exclamation from within and the door suddenly opened.

“I know your voice, bairn. The Lord be praised that you have come back home again!” and she was about to run forward, when she checked herself.

“Is it yourself, Ronald?”

“It is no one else, Elspeth,” he replied, giving the old woman a hearty kiss.

“And such a man as you have grown!” she exclaimed in surprise. For the two years had added several inches to Ronald’s stature, and he now stood over six feet in height.

“And have you no welcome for me, Elspeth?” Malcolm asked, coming forward.

“The Lord preserve us!” Elspeth exclaimed. “Why, it’s my boy Malcolm!”

“Turned up again like a bad penny, you see, Elspeth.”

“What is it, Elspeth?” Andrew’s voice called from above. “Who are these men you are talking to, and what do they want at this time of night?”

“They want some supper, Andrew,” Malcolm called back, “and that badly.”

In a moment Andrew ran down and clasped his brother’s hand. In the darkness he did not notice Malcolm’s companion, and after the first greeting with his brother led the way up stairs.

“It is my brother Malcolm,” he said to his wife as he entered the room.

Ronald followed Malcolm forward. As the light fell on his face Andrew started, and, as Ronald smiled, ran forward and clasped him in his arms.

“It is Ronald, wife! Ah, my boy, have you come back to us again?”

Mrs. Anderson received Ronald with motherly kindness.

“We had heard of your escape before your letter came to us from Paris.

Our city constables brought back the news of how you had jumped overboard, and had been pulled into a boat and disappeared. And finely they were laughed at when they told their tale. Then came your letter saying that it was Malcolm who had met you with the boat, and how you had sailed away and been wrecked on the coast of France; but since then we have heard nothing.”

“I wrote twice,” Ronald said; “but owing to the war there have been no regular communications, and I suppose my letters got lost.”

“And I suppose you have both come over to have a hand in this mad enterprise?”

“I don’t know whether it is mad or not, Andrew; but we have certainly come over to have a hand in it,” Malcolm said. “And now, before we have a regular talk, let me tell you that we are famishing. I know your supper is long since over, but doubtless Elspeth has still something to eat in her cupboard. Oh, here she comes!”

Elspeth soon placed a joint of cold meat upon the table, and Ronald and Malcolm set to at once to satisfy their hunger. Then a jar of whiskey and glasses were set upon the table, and pipes lighted, and Ronald began a detailed narration of all that had taken place since they had last met.

“Had my father and mother known that I was coming to Scotland, and should have an opportunity of seeing you both, they would have sent you their warmest thanks and gratitude for your kindness to me,” he concluded. “For over and over again have I heard them say how deeply they felt indebted to you for your care of me during so many years, and how they wished that they could see you and thank you in person.”

“What we did was done, in the first place, for my brother Malcolm, and afterwards for love of you, Ronald; and right glad I am to hear that you obtained the freedom of your parents and a commission as an officer in the service of the King of France. I would be glad that you had come over here on any other errand than that which brings you. Things have gone on well with you so far; but how will they end? I hear that the Jacobites of England are not stirring, and you do not think that with a few thousand Highland clansmen you are going to conquer the English army that beat the French at Dettingen, and well nigh overcame them at Fontenoy. Ah, lad, it will prove a sore day for Scotland when Charles Stuart set foot on our soil!”

“We won’t talk about that now, Andrew,” Malcolm said good temperedly.

“The matter has got to be fought out with the sword, and if our tongues were to wag all night they could make no difference one way or another.

So let us not touch upon politics. But I must say, that as far as Ronald and I are concerned, we did not embark on this expedition because we had at the moment any great intention of turning Hanoverian George off his throne; but simply because Ronald had made France too hot to hold him, and this was the simplest way that presented itself of getting out of the country. As long as there are blows to be struck we shall do our best.

When there is no more fighting to be done, either because King James is seated on his throne in London, or because the clans are scattered and broken, we shall make for France again, where by that time I hope the king will have got over the breach of his edict and the killing of his favourite, and where Ronald’s father and mother will be longing for his presence.”

“Eh, but it’s awful, sirs,” Elspeth, who as an old and favourite servant had remained in the room after laying the supper and listened to the conversation, put in, “to think that a young gallant like our Ronald should have slain a man! He who ought not yet to have done with his learning, to be going about into wars and battles, and to have stood up against a great French noble and slain him. Eh, but it’s awful to think of!”

“It would be much more awful, Elspeth, if the French noble had killed me, at least from the light in which I look at it.”

“That’s true enough,” Elspeth said. “And if he wanted to kill you, and it does seem from what you say that he did want, of course I cannot blame you for killing him; but to us quiet bodies here in Glasgow it seems an awful affair; though, after you got in a broil here and drew on the city watch, I ought not to be surprised at anything.”

“And now we must go,” Ronald said, rising. “It is well nigh midnight, and time for all decent people to be in bed.”

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