Bonnie Prince Charlie; A Tale of Fontenoy and Culloden

CHAPTER XVII: A Baffled Plot.

Utterly disheartened and dispirited the army commenced its march north.

The prince himself was even more disappointed than his soldiers, and showed by his manner how bitterly he resented the decision at which his officers had arrived. It had seemed to him that success was within his grasp, and that he had but to march to London to overthrow the Hanoverian dynasty. And it is by no means improbable that his instincts were more correct than the calculations of his advisers. The news of his rapid march south had sent a thrill through the country; and although so far the number of those who had joined him was exceedingly small, at that moment numbers of gentlemen in Wales and other parts of the country were arming their tenants, and preparing to take the field.

There was no hostile force between himself and London, for the force at Finchley was not yet organized, and could have offered no effectual opposition. A panic reigned in the metropolis, and the king was preparing to take ship and leave the country. Had the little army marched forward there is small doubt that James would have been proclaimed king in London. But it may be doubted whether Prince Charles could have maintained the advantage he had gained. Two armies, both superior to his own, were pressing on his rear, and would have arrived in London but a few days after himself; and although the Londoners might have accepted him, they would hardly have risen in arms to aid him against Cumberland’s army. Had this halted at a distance, the reinforcements which might have joined the prince would have been more than counterbalanced by the regiments of English and Hanoverian troops which the king could have sent over, and although the strife might have been lengthened the result would in all probability have been the same.

Prince Charles had no ability in governing. His notions of the absolute power of kings were as strong as those of his ancestors, and, surrounded as he was by hotheaded Highlanders, he would speedily have caused discontent and disgust even among those most favourably inclined by hereditary tradition to the cause of the Stuarts. But of all this he was ignorant, and in the retreat from Derby he saw the destruction of his hopes.

Hitherto he had marched on foot with the Highlanders, chatting gaily as he went. Now he rode in rear of the column, and scarce exchanged a word with even his most intimate advisers. The Highlanders no longer preserved the discipline which had characterized their southward march. Villages were plundered and in some cases burned, and in retaliation the peasantry killed or took prisoners stragglers and those left behind. Even at Manchester, where the reception of the army had been so warm a few days before, its passage was opposed by a violent mob, and the prince was so offended at the conduct of the townspeople that he imposed a fine of five thousand pounds upon the city.

The next morning the march was continued. The Highlanders laid hands on every horse they could find, and so all pressed on at the top of their speed for the border. The Duke of Cumberland, who had fallen back in all haste for the protection of London, was close to Coventry when he heard that the Scotch had retreated northward. With all his cavalry, and a thousand foot whom he mounted on horses supplied by the neighbouring gentry, he set out in pursuit. At Preston he was joined by another body of horse, sent across the country from the army of Marshal Wade; but it was not until he entered Westmoreland that he came up with the rear guard of the insurgents, which was commanded by Lord George Murray.

Defeating some local volunteers who molested him, Lord George learned from the prisoners that the duke with four thousand men was close at hand, and he sent on the news to the prince, who despatched two regiments, the Stuarts of Appin and the Macphersons of Cluny, to reinforce him. It was nearly dark when by the light of the moon Lord George saw the English infantry, who had now dismounted, advancing. He at once charged them at the head of the Macphersons and Stuarts, and in a few minutes the English were completely defeated, their commander, Colonel Honeywood, being left severely wounded on the field, with a hundred killed or disabled men, while the loss of the Scotch was but twelve.

It was with great difficulty that the Highlanders could be recalled from the pursuit, and Lord George himself sent an urgent message to the prince begging for a further reinforcement, in order that he might maintain his ground and defeat the whole force of the duke. As usual his wishes were disregarded, and he was ordered to fall back and join the main body at Penrith. The check, however, was so effective that the duke made no further attempt to harass the retreat of the Highlanders.

Passing through Carlisle, some men of a Lowland regiment, and Colonel Twonley with his regiment raised at Manchester, were left there as a garrison, so that the road should be kept open for another and, as the prince hoped, not far distant invasion. The step was, however, a cruel one, for the Duke of Cumberland at once laid siege to the place, battered a breach in its ancient wall, and the garrison were forced to surrender.

Many of them were afterwards executed and imprisoned, and ruin fell upon all.

Charles with his army marched north to Glasgow, where they remained eight days, requisitioning supplies from the town. During their stay Ronald and Malcolm put up at the house of Andrew Anderson.

“What think you of the chances now, Malcolm?” Andrew asked his brother, after hearing what had taken place since he had last seen him.

“I think no better and no worse of it than I did before, brother. They have had more success than I looked for. I did not think they would ever have got as far south as Derby. Who would have thought that a few thousand Highlanders could have marched half through England? But I see no prospect of success. The prince is badly advised. He has but one really good soldier with him, and he is set against him by the intrigues and spite of Secretary Murray and his friends, and partly, it may be, by Lord George’s own frankness of speech. He has at his back but half the Highlands, for the other portion stand aloof from him. In the Lowlands he has found scarce an adherent, and but a handful in England. The Highlanders are brave; but it is surely beyond human expectation that five or six thousand Highlanders can vanquish a kingdom with a brave and well trained army with abundant artillery. Ronald and I mean to fight it out to the end; but I do not think the end will be very far off.”

“I am sorry for the young prince,” Andrew said. “He is a fine fellow, certainly — handsome and brave and courteous, and assuredly clement. For three times his life has been attempted, and each time he has released those who did it without punishment. I could not but think, as I saw him ride down the street today, that it was sad that so fine a young man should be doomed either to the block or to a lifelong imprisonment, and that for fighting for what he has been doubtless taught to consider his right. There are many here who are bitter against him; but I am not one of them, and I am sorry for him, sorry for all these brave gentlemen and clansmen, for I fear that there will be a terrible vengeance for all that has been done. They have frightened the English king and his ministers too sorely to be ever forgiven, and we shall have sad times in Scotland when this is all over.”

Two evenings later Ronald noticed that Andrew, who had been absent for some time, and had only returned just in time for supper, looked worried and abstracted, and replied almost at random to any questions put to him.

“It is of no use,” he said suddenly when his wife had left the room after the conclusion of the meal. “I am a loyal subject of King George, and I wish him every success in battle, and am confident that he will crush out this rebellion without difficulty, but I cannot go as far as some. I cannot stand by and see murder done on a poor lad who, whatever his faults, is merciful and generous to his enemies. Malcolm, I will tell you all I know, only bidding you keep secret as to how you got the news, for it would cost me my life were it known that the matter had leaked out through me.”

“This evening five of the council, knowing that I am a staunch king’s man, took me aside after the meeting was over, and told me that there was a plan on foot to put an end to all the trouble by the carrying off or slaying of Prince Charles. I was about to protest against it, when I saw that by so doing I should, in the, first place, do no good; in the second, be looked upon as a Jacobite; and in the third, be unable to learn the details of what they were proposing. So I said that doubtless it was a good thing to lay by the heels the author of all these troubles, and that the life of one man was as nought in the balance compared to the prosperity of the whole country. Whereupon they revealed to me their plan, asking me for a subscription of a hundred pounds to carry it out, and saying truly that I should get back the money and great honour from the king when he learned I had done him such service. After some bargaining I agreed for fifty pounds.”

“But what is the plot, Andrew?” Malcolm said anxiously.

“It is just this. The prince, as you know, goes about with scant attendance, and though there are guards in front of his house, there are but two or three beside himself who sleep there. There is a back entrance to which no attention is paid, and it will be easy for those who know the house to enter by that door, to make their way silently to his chamber, and either to kill or carry him off. I threw my voice in against killing, pointing out that the king would rather have him alive than dead, so that he might be tried and executed in due form. This was also their opinion, for they had already hired a vessel which is lying in the stream. The plan is to seize and gag him and tie his arms. There will be no difficulty in getting him along through the streets. There are few folks abroad after ten o’clock, and should they meet anyone he will conclude that it is but a drunken Highlander being carried home. You see, Malcolm, there is not only honour to be gained from the king, but the thirty thousand pounds offered for the prince’s person. I pretended to fall in with the plan, and gave them the fifty pounds which they lacked for the hire of the vessel, the captain refusing to let them have it save for money paid down. Now, Malcolm, I have told you and Ronald all I know about the matter, and it is for you to see how a stop may be put to it.”

“The scoundrels!” Malcolm said. “Their loyalty to the king is but a veil to hide their covetousness for the reward. When is it to take place, and how many men are likely to be engaged in it?”

“Six trusty men of the city watch and their five selves. I said I would subscribe the money, but would have no active share in the business. They might have all the honour, I would be content with my share of the reward offered. Two of them with four of the guards will enter the house and carry off the prince. The rest will wait outside and follow closely on the way down to the port ready to give aid if the others should meet with any obstruction. The whole will embark and sail to London with him.”

“And when is this plot to be carried out?” Malcolm asked.

“Tomorrow at midnight. Tide will be high half an hour later; they will drop down the river as soon as it turns, and will be well out to sea by the morning. And now I have told you all, I will only ask you to act so that as little trouble as possible may arise. Do not bring my name into the matter if you can avoid doing so; but in any case I would rather run the risk of the ruin and death which would alight upon me when this rebellion is over than have such a foul deed of treachery carried out.

There is not a Scotchman but to this day curses the name of the traitor Menteith, who betrayed Wallace. My name is a humble one, but I would not have it go down to all ages as that of a man who betrayed Charles Stuart for English gold.”

“Make yourself easy, brother; Ronald and I will see to that. When once treachery is known it is easy to defeat, and Ronald and I will see that your name does not appear in the matter.”

“Thank God that is off my mind!” Andrew said. “And I will off to bed, or Janet will wonder what I am talking about so long. I will leave you two to settle how you can best manage the affair, which you can do without my help, for matters of this kind are far more in your way than in mine.”

“This is a villainous business, Ronald,” Malcolm said when they were alone; “and yet I am not surprised. Thirty thousand pounds would not tempt a Highlander who has naught in the world save the plaid in which he stands up; but these money grubbing citizens of Glasgow would sell their souls for gain. And now what do you think had best be done in the matter, so that the plot may be put a stop to, and that without suspicion falling upon Andrew? It would be easy to have a dozen men hiding in the yard behind the house and cut down the fellows as they enter.”

“I do not think that would do, Malcolm; it would cause a tumult, and the fact could not be hidden. And besides, you know what these Highlanders are; they already loathe and despise the citizens of Glasgow, and did they know that there had been a plot on foot to capture and slay the prince, nothing could prevent their laying the town in ashes.”

“That is true enough. What do you propose then, Ronald?”

“I think it best that if there should be any fighting it should be on board the ship, but possibly we may avoid even that. I should say that with eight or ten men we can easily seize the vessel, and then when the boat comes alongside capture the fellows as they step on to the deck without trouble, and leave it to the prince to settle what is to be done with them.”

“That is certainly the best plan, Ronald. I will get together tomorrow half a dozen trusty lads who will ask no questions as to what I want them to do, and will be silent about the matter afterwards. We must get from Andrew tomorrow morning the name of the vessel, and see where she is lying in the stream, and where the boat will be waiting for the prince.”

The next night Ronald and Malcolm with six men made their way one by one through the streets so as not to attract the attention of the watch, and assembled near the strand. Not until the clock struck twelve did they approach the stairs at the foot of which the boat was lying. There were two men in it.

“You are earlier than we expected,” one said as they descended the steps.

“The captain said a quarter past twelve.”

“Yes, we are a little early,” Malcolm replied as he stepped into the boat; “we are ready earlier than we expected.”

A moment later Malcolm suddenly seized one of the sailors by the throat and dragged him down to the bottom of the boat, a handkerchief was stuffed into his mouth, and his hands and feet tied. The other was at the same time similarly secured.

So suddenly and unexpected had been the attack that the sailors had had no time to cry out or to offer any resistance, and their capture was effected without the slightest sound being heard. The oars were at once got out and the boat was rowed out towards the vessel lying out in the middle of the stream with a light burning at her peak. As they approached the side the captain appeared at the gangway.

“All is well, I hope?” he asked.

“Could not be better,” Malcolm replied as he seized the rope and mounted the gangway, the others closely following him. As he sprang upon the deck he presented a pistol at the captain’s head.

“Speak a word and you die,” he said sternly.

Taken by surprise, the captain offered no resistance, but suffered himself to be bound. Two or three sailors on deck were similarly seized and secured, the hatchway was fastened to prevent the rest of the crew from coming on deck, and the ship being thus in their possession two of the men at once took their places in the boat and rowed back to the stairs.

A quarter of an hour later those on board heard a murmur of voices on shore, and two or three minutes later the splash of oars as the boat rowed back to the ship. Ronald put on the captain’s cap and stood at the gangway with a lantern.

“All right, I hope?” he asked as the boat came alongside.

“All right, captain! You can get up your anchor as soon as you like.”

Two men mounted on to the deck, and then four others carried up a figure and were followed by the rest. As the last one touched the deck Ronald lifted the lantern above his head, and, to the astonishment of the newcomers, they saw themselves confronted by eight armed men.

The six men of the watch, furious at the prospect of losing the reward upon which they had reckoned, drew their swords and rushed forward; but they were struck down with handspikes and swords, for Ronald had impressed upon his men the importance of not using their pistols, save in the last extremity. In two minutes the fight was over. The five citizens had taken little part in it, save as the recipients of blows; for Malcolm, furious at their treachery, had bade the men make no distinction between them and the watch, and had himself dealt them one or two heavy blows with his handspike after he had seen that the guard was overpowered.

The whole of them were then bound, and warned that their throats would be cut if they made the least noise. The prince was released from his bonds, and he was at once conducted by Malcolm and Ronald to the cabin, where a light was burning.

The prince was so much bewildered by the events that had occurred that he did not yet understand the state of the case. He had. been awoke by a gag being roughly forced into his mouth, while at the same moment his hands were tightly bound. Then he was lifted from his bed, some clothes were thrown on to him, a man took his place on either side, and, thrusting their arms into his, threatened him with instant death if he did not come along with them without resistance. Then he had been hurried down stairs and along the streets, two men keeping a little ahead and others following behind. He had been forced into a boat and rowed up to a ship, and on reaching the deck a desperate combat had suddenly commenced all round him. Then the gag had been removed and the bonds cut. Bewildered and amazed he gazed at the two men who had accompanied him to the cabin.

“Why, Captain Leslie!” he exclaimed. “Is it you? What means all this scene through which I have passed?”

“It means, your royal highness,” Ronald said respectfully, “that I and my friend Malcolm obtained information of a plot on the part of some of the citizens to carry you off and sell you to the English. We could have stopped it by attacking them as they entered the house to seize you; but had we done so an alarm must have been raised, and we feared that the Highlanders, when they knew of the treachery that had been attempted against you, might have fallen upon the citizens, and that a terrible uproar would have taken place. Therefore we carried out another plan. We first of all obtained possession of the ship in which you were to have been taken away, and then overcame your captors as they brought you on board. All this has been done without any alarm having been given, and it now rests with you to determine what shall be done with these wretches.”

“You have done well, indeed, Captain Leslie, and I thank you and your friend not only for the great service you have rendered me, but for the manner in which you have done it. I ought to have foreseen this. Did not the Lowlanders sell King Charles to the English? I might have expected that some at least would be tempted by the reward offered me. As for punishment for these men, they are beneath me. And, moreover, if I can trust my eyes and my ears, the knocks which you gave them will be punishment enough even did I wish to punish them, which I do not. I could not do so without the story of the attempt being known, and in that case there would be no keeping my Highlanders within bounds. As it is they are continually reproaching me with what they call my mistaken clemency, and there would be no restraining them did they know of this. No, we had best leave them to themselves. We will order the captain to put to sea with them at once, and tell him he had best not return to Glasgow until I have left it. They will have time to reflect there at leisure, and as, doubtless, they have each of them given reasons at home for an absence of some duration there will be no anxiety respecting them. And now, gentlemen, will you fetch in those who have aided in my rescue. I would thank every one of them for the service they have rendered, and impress upon them my urgent desire that they should say nothing to anyone of this night’s work.”

While the prince was speaking to the men, Malcolm went out, and having unbound the captain, ordered him to deliver up the sum which he had received for the conveyance of the prince and his captors to England.

The captain did as he was ordered.

“How much is there here?” Malcolm asked.

“Three hundred pounds.”

Malcolm counted out fifty of it and placed them in his pocket, saying to Ronald:

“There is no reason Andrew should be a loser by the transaction. That will leave two hundred and fifty, which I will divide among our men when we get ashore.”

Malcolm then gave the prince’s orders to the captain; that he must, immediately they left the ship, get up his anchor as before intended, and make out to sea; and that under pain of being tried and executed for his share in this treacherous business, he was not to return to Glasgow with his eleven passengers for the space of a week.

The prince and his rescuers then entered the boats and rowed to shore, and the prince regained his apartment without anyone in the house being aware that he had been absent from it. The next day the prince sent for Ronald and Malcolm, and in a private interview again expressed to them his gratitude for his rescue from the hands of his enemies.

“I have none but empty honour to bestow now,” he said; “but believe me, if I ever mount the throne of England you shall see that Charles Edward Stuart is not ungrateful.”

The incident was kept a close secret, only two or three of the prince’s most intimate advisers ever informed of it. These were unanimous in urging that an absolute silence should be maintained on the subject, for the fact that the attempt would have certainly been crowned with success had it not been for the measures Ronald had taken, might encourage others to attempt a repetition of it.

Having rested his army by a stay of eight days at Glasgow, Prince Charles set out on the 3rd of January, 1746, for Stirling, where he was joined by Lords John Drummond, Lewis Gordon, and Strathallan, the first named of whom had brought some battering guns and engineers from France. Their following raised the force to nearly nine thousand men — the largest army that Charles mustered during the course of the campaign. The siege of Stirling was at once commenced; but the castle was strong and well defended, and the siege made but little progress.

In the meantime the Duke of Cumberland had been recalled with the greater part of his force to guard the southern coasts of England, which were threatened by an invasion by a French force now assembled at Dunkirk, and which, had it sailed before the Highlanders commenced their retreat from Derby, might have altogether altered the situation of affairs. The command of the English army in the north was handed by the duke to General Hawley, a man after his own heart, violent in temper, brutal and cruel in conduct.

He collected at Edinburgh an army of nearly the same strength as that of Prince Charles, and with these he matched out as far as Falkirk to raise the siege of Stirling, and, as he confidently boasted, to drive the rebels before him. Prince Charles, leaving a few hundred men to continue the siege, matched out to Bannockburn. The English did not move out from Falkirk, and the prince, after waiting for a day, determined to take the initiative.

Hawley himself was stopping at Callendar House at some distance from his army and General Huske remained in command of the camp. To occupy his attention the prince despatched Lord John Drummond, with all the cavalry, by the straight road by Stirling to Falkirk, which ran north of the English camp. They displayed, as they marched, the royal standard and other colours, which had the desired effect of impressing Huske with the idea that the prince with all his army was moving that way. In the meantime Charles with his main force had crossed the river Carron to the south and was only separated from the English by Falkirk Muir, a rugged and rigid upland covered with heath.

Just as the English were about to take their dinner some country people brought in the news of the approach of the Highlanders. Huske at once got his men under arms, but he had no authority, in the absence of Hawley, to set them in motion. Messengers, however, were sent off on horseback at once to Callendar House, and the general presently galloped up in breathless haste, and putting himself at the head of his three regiments of dragoons, started for Falkirk Muir, which he hoped to gain before the Highlanders could take possession of it. He ordered the infantry to follow as fast as possible. A storm of wind and rain beat in the face of the soldiers, and before they could gain the crest of the muir the Highlanders had obtained possession. The English then halted and drew up on somewhat lower ground.

Between them was a ravine which formed but a small depression opposite the centre of the English line, but deepened towards the plain on their right. The English artillery, in the hurry of their advance, had stuck fast in a morass, but as the Highlanders had brought no guns with them the forces were equal in this respect. Lord John Drummond had from a distance been watching the movements of the English, and as soon as he saw that they had taken the alarm and were advancing against the prince, he made a detour, and, riding round the English, joined the Highland infantry. The prince’s army was divided into two lines: its right was commanded by Lord George Murray, the left by Lord John Drummond; the prince, as at Preston, took up his station in the centre of the second line on a conspicuous mound, still known by the name of Charlie’s Hill.

The English infantry were also drawn up in two lines, with the Argyle militia and the Glasgow regiment in reserve behind the second line. The cavalry were in front under Colonel Ligonier, who, at the death of Colonel Gardiner, had succeeded to the command of his regiment. General Hawley commanded the centre and General Huske the right.

The battle commenced by a charge of Ligonier with his cavalry upon the Highland right. Here the Macdonald clansmen were posted, and these, at Lord George Murray’s order, reserved their fire until the dragoons were within ten yards, and then poured in a scathing volley, under which numbers of the horsemen went down. The two dragoon regiments, which had fled so shamefully at Preston and Coltbridge, turned and galloped at once from the field; but Cobham’s regiment fought well, and when compelled to retreat rallied behind the right of the line.

Lord George Murray endeavoured to get the victorious Macdonalds into line again; but these were beyond control and rushing forward fell upon the flank of Hawley’s two lines of foot, which were at the same moment furiously assailed in front; the Highlanders, after pouring in their fire, dropped their muskets and charged broadsword in hand.

The English, nearly blinded by the wind and rain, were unable to withstand this combined assault. General Hawley, who at least possessed the virtue of courage, rode hither and thither in their front, trying to encourage them, but in vain, the whole centre gave way and fled in confusion. On the right, however, the English were defending themselves successfully. The three regiments placed there, on the edge of the ravine, maintained so steady a fire that the Highlanders were unable to cross it, and Cobham’s dragoons charged down upon the scattered and victorious Highlanders in the centre and effectually checked their pursuit. Prince Charles, seeing the danger, put himself at the head of the second line and advanced against the three English regiments who still stood firm.

Unable to withstand so overwhelming a force these fell back from the ground they had held, but did so in steady order, their drums beating, and covering, in their retreat, the mingled mass of fugitives. Had the Highlanders, at this critical moment, flung themselves with their whole force upon these regiments the English army would have been wholly destroyed; but night was already setting in, and the Scottish leaders were ignorant how complete was their victory, and feared an ambuscade.

Lord John Drummond, a general officer in the French service, especially opposed the pursuit, saying, “These men behaved admirably at Fontenoy; surely this must be a feint.”

The Highlanders remained stationary on the field until some detachments, sent forward by the prince, brought back word that the English had already retreated from Falkirk. They left behind them on the field four hundred dead or dying, with a large portion of officers, and a hundred prisoners; all their artillery, ammunition, and baggage fell into the hands of the Highlanders, whose total loss was only about a hundred. The English, on their retreat, burned to the ground the royal palace at Linlithgow.

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