Lord George Murray – role in the ’45 (part one)


In July 1745 Prince Charles landed in Scotland, raised his standard at Glenfinnan in August, and headed south with his growing army. Lord George Murray, along with a lot of other men, joined the prince’s army at Perth, and became the Lieutenant-Commander of the Jacobite forces. This action sent shock waves through Scotland, because Lord George was a respected military leader,  and caused a good number of people who were wavering to believe that the Jacobites could at least drive the Hanoverians out of Scotland.

Portrait of Lord George Murray, now in Blair Atholl castle.

Before I talk about his actions in the campaign, I need to talk about both Lord George’s and  Prince Charles’ personalities, which had a massive effect on the rising, not least because they were spectacularly and disastrously incompatible.

I have already written about the prince in a previous series of blogs, so won’t go into detail about his character traits, only mentioning that he was twenty-four at this time, charismatic, energetic, impetuous. He was also kind-hearted, brave, but, being brought up royal, was used to being flattered and treated with great deference, and was inclined to favour people who treated him this way. He had also been undermined and not taken seriously for much of his life by his father and other men of that generation.

It’s generally accepted that Lord George Murray, aged fifty-one, was a battle-hardened experienced commander, considered by many to be naturally gifted in the art of war and an honourable man.  One of the gentleman volunteers thought so highly of him he had this to say:

“Had Prince Charles slept during the whole of the expedition, and allowed Lord George to act for him, there is every reason for supposing he would have found the crown of Great Britain on his head when he awoke.”

Whether true or not, if the prince had followed this advice, at least there would not have arisen the discord between the two men which was to play a considerable part in the failure of the rising. Because although Lord George was certainly a great asset to the army, he was also short-tempered, somewhat arrogant and imperious, and was in no way a courtier, being incapable of cajoling and flattering to get his way. If he had an opinion he stated it, bluntly and honestly, with no regard as to whether his listener was offended or not. He called a spade a spade, and had no time for flowery speech, gossip or pussyfooting around, or for those who did. He was also very cautious, as many military leaders were, and Charles was the absolute opposite – more of an intuitive leader, as he had already shown by appearing in Scotland unbidden with a handful of men.

Prince Charles Edward Stuart, by Allan Ramsey

Lord George Murray was one of the few men who was completely impervious to Prince Charles’ charm, and that, coupled with Charles’ previous experience of overbearing men of his father’s generation, led to a clash of personalities as fiery as the rising itself became, and this relationship became a cardinal weakness in the whole rising.

Lord George had a good number of enemies, as such commanding men do, and a considerable number of those enemies, seeing the tension between the two, lost no time in pouring poison about the new commander into the ears of the prince, in a bid to maintain the authority they currently had merely by the fact of having sailed with him. The ‘seven men of Moidart’  certainly realised that their authority would be given no credence by this talented general, who would credit only those characteristics likely to win the campaign, of which the ‘seven men’ had few.

This clash of personalities led to a gradual split in the Jacobites into a Prince’s and a General’s party, further complicated by the fact that the Irish favourites took the prince’s side whilst the Scots generally favoured Lord George.

Lord George started his career with the Jacobite army by leading the first of a series of night raids with eight hundred men, including Lochiel, Keppoch, Glengarry and Ardshiel, after which the army headed to Linlithgow. In common with other Jacobite leaders, Lord George bivouacked with the clansmen, with no covering other than his plaid.

The army marched on Edinburgh, and in September achieved their first, and spectacular battle victory at Prestonpans.  Seeing that General Cope had achieved an excellent position on the battlefield, the Jacobite leaders were somewhat unhappy. Lord George made the decision to attack from the east, leading General Cope to keep his artillery to the left rather than where it would have done more damage in the centre.

Battle of Prestonpans
At the same time, these preparations for battle caused the first argument between the prince and Lord George, as Charles decided to deploy men elsewhere without telling his commander, at which Lord George lost his temper and Charles recalled his men.

In the evening discussions were under way as to the best way to attack, when a local man came forward offering to lead the army through the swampland which had been considered impossible to penetrate. As a result the Jacobites came upon the Hanoverian forces by surprise at dawn and defeated them easily, Lord George leading the left.

Following this the Prince set up a council, consisting of many of the clan leaders, and including of course Lord George. This council met every day to discuss and decide both long-term strategy and day-to-day affairs. It is through this that the disastrous ‘two party’ system came into effect, with the Prince and his faction against Lord George and his. As Lord George had the favour of the majority, being so highly regarded by the clan chiefs, this put Prince Charles in the unhappy position of having finally got out of his autocratic father’s domination only to find himself under the thumb of another autocratic older man.

Prince Charles’ frustration at this is understandable at a human level, and it’s true also that Lord George did occasionally attempt to play the courtier and attempt to humour the prince, but he was not good at this. Clearly it would have been better had both men tried to focus on the bigger picture and make allowances for each other’s personalities, but added to this was the fact that certain other members of the council did their level best to widen the gulf between the two men, with disastrous results.

John Murray of Broughton was particularly active in this, telling the prince that Lord George was really a traitor who would betray the Jacobites at the right time, and others, including O’Sullivan also fuelled the fire. For his part, Lord George quite reasonably treated this bitchiness with contempt, assuming erroneously that his past deeds and the fact that he was risking everything now would weigh in his favour.

King Louis XV of France


The next huge conflict between the prince and the commander came on 30th October 1745 as the Jacobites neared England. The prince’s intention had always been to conquer Scotland and England, and his argument now was that to keep the morale of the Highlanders high, they had to continue, as the clansmen thrived on action, not consolidation, and would be likely to desert if kept inactive in Scotland. He also stated that the French king would not send his armies to support the Jacobites unless they continued into England, whereupon there was very good reason to assume King Louis would actually land in both countries. Charles was terrified of giving the wavering Louis an opportunity to do nothing at all, which was a real danger if the Jacobites stayed in Scotland. In fairness these were excellent arguments in favour of an invasion of England.

Lord George had a different viewpoint. He stated that unless they had firm promises of French support rather than vague ones, it would be suicidal to march on England with around 4,000 men to face 30,000 soldiers as well as local militia forces. His idea was to complete the conquest of Scotland and in doing so raise the lowlands as well as further Highlanders, which could bring them over 20,000 troops, whereupon they would be strong enough at that point to march on England with a reasonable chance of victory.

Added to this was the fact that Charles believed an invasion of England would encourage the English Jacobites to rise up and join them, whereas Lord George and his supporters thought the English Jacobites to be no more than paper tigers. In fairness, Lord George had good reason for his lack of faith, as the English Jacobites in general, other than raising toasts to the Stuarts had not shown themselves to be particularly willing to risk everything by rising up for them.

Both Prince Charles and Lord George had very good arguments in favour of their stance, and the resulting debate in the council was a long and detailed one. It’s well known that in the end they decided to continue into England, but it’s interesting to look at both sides here.

It’s true that Prince Charles was not a seasoned military veteran as Lord George was. Prior to the ’45 he had only seen action briefly once at Gaeta. But he was, as Frank McLynn in his excellent biography of the prince states: ‘an inspirational commander, and intuitive opportunist,’ and in that was somewhat ahead of his time. Lord George on the other hand was cautious, practical and very much the soldier’s soldier, understanding perfectly the methodical way of eighteenth-century war. Both men had wonderful and valuable qualities, and if another person had existed capable of building a bridge between the two and uniting them, the outcome of the whole campaign could well have been very different.

General Wade


As it was, although the decision to invade England seems to have signified that Prince Charles won the day, he wanted to head straight for Wade’s army at Newcastle and defeat them, thus rocketing the morale of the Highlanders and encouraging both the Hanoverian clans and the English Jacobites to rise for him. Charles was very aware that if he did not attack Wade now but instead avoided him as Lord George wished to do, it would make the Jacobites seem fearful, and would leave a large army behind as well as a large army ahead of them, never a wise idea.

Lord George did not propose evading Wade’s army through cowardice – at no time in his life did he ever show any sign of that quality. He believed that evading Wade now would give the French time to reach them, after which they would be certain of victory.

Again, both ideas were reasonable, and as neither man was possessed of hindsight, we cannot criticise them based on what happened later.

In the event, although the council agreed to invade England as Charles wanted, they also agreed to avoid Wade’s army, thus negating a huge part of the prince’s reason for invading.

The problem now was that as the army entered England, they were effectively already thoroughly polarised, and this was eventually to lead to the decision to turn back at Derby, which I will deal with in my final post.


Leave a Reply

(Enter your URL then click here to include a link to one of your blog posts.)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


    1. Glad you enjoyed it! Thanks so much for including it on your blog. And congratulations on your good news!

  1. Many thanks for such a clear description of both personalities, I can imagine many a locking of horns between both the Prince and Lord George. Who knows what the outcome of the ’45 would have been if the distrust which was obviously well fuelled by others hadn’t existed.

    1. Exactly. One of the great what ifs of the campaign, which came so close to succeeding in spite of the issues. If the charismatic intuitive prince and the brilliant strategist could have found a way to mesh, it may well have changed history!