Lord George Murray – role in the ’45 and later years.


In my last post I dealt with the first part of the ’45 and Lord George Murray’s part in it, along with the split in the leadership caused by the incompatible personalities of Lord George and Prince Charles.

The army had hardly crossed into England before Lord George resigned his commission as Lieutenant-General. He did this because Prince Charles allowed the other army commander, the Duke of Perth to negotiate the surrender of Carlisle. If this sounds at first to be a case of resentment at another leader being favoured over him, it wasn’t.  The Duke of Perth was a Catholic, and allowing him to accept the surrender of the first English town conquered would give a massive propaganda boost to the Hanoverians, whose chief argument against the restoration of the Stuarts was that King James would force Protestant Britain to become Roman Catholic and bow to the Pope. In truth this was highly unlikely, but fear of Popery was prevalent in the UK and anything that hinted of it would be exploited by the enemy.

James Stuart, father of Bonnie Prince Charlie

Charles had asked the Duke of Perth to negotiate because he’d played a huge part in laying siege to the city, but as the clan leaders had faith only in Lord George as their military leader, his resignation was catastrophic. Prince Charles asked Lord George to withdraw his resignation, and Perth accepted a demotion, which now made Lord George the sole commander of the army.

The Jacobites continued southward, but were not encouraged by the singular lack of any significant English support. When they raised this in the council meetings, Prince Charles brought forward the Marquis D’Eguilles, sent by Louis XV and promising French support. Reluctantly the clan chiefs agreed to continue south, raising some 300 recruits on arriving in Manchester before continuing to Derby.

The Marquis D’Eguilles, sent as an envoy from King Louis XV

At this point Prince Charles called another council meeting, to discuss the strategy for carrying on to London. It’s often thought that this is where everything went wrong, but in fairness the chiefs and Lord George had already manifestly demonstrated their unease about this invasion of England, which had been deepened by the lack of active support from the English. But it was at this council meeting that the whole issue exploded, resulting in the retreat of the army, just 120 miles from London, to Scotland and ultimate catastrophic defeat on Culloden Moor the following April.

I’ve stated in a previous blog that the prince wanted to carry on, and my reasons for believing that if he had, he had a very good chance of regaining the crown for his father. But even thinking this, I cannot paint Lord George Murray as the villain of the piece. It’s always easy to deride or blame people for wrong decisions when you have the benefit of hindsight. But neither Charles nor George Murray possessed that at the time.

Prince Charles was acting impulsively and intuitively, willing to take huge risks, confident in his own ability to win over the London mob, sure that the English, his subjects would rise for him against the unpopular German usurper when they realised his motives were genuine. And he very well may have been right.

Lord George Murray

But this was not the way of eighteenth-century warfare, and looking at it from that council room on 5th December 1745, Lord George looked at the evidence he had and saw victory as an impossible dream, real only in the head of a princely boy.  And his arguments for turning back were good.

Firstly, the English Jacobites had not risen to swell the army’s numbers, nor was there any sign of the French actually appearing. King Louis had made many false promises in the past, and there was no reason to believe this one was genuine. The council did not know that a fleet was already prepared and ready to sail, and when pressed, Charles had to admit that he had no written assurances from the French king, and no knowledge of how prepared to invade they were – which he had claimed to have before.

Secondly, as far as Lord George was aware, they had two Hanoverian armies behind them, and another one waiting ahead of them at Finchley, each army probably twice the size of theirs. As far as he was concerned there was a very reasonable chance of the Jacobite army being completely overwhelmed and massacred before they arrived in London. And as the English had shown no sign of rising yet, there was no reason to believe that a million Londoners would either.

In view of this I think it’s profoundly unfair to think that Lord George was a coward or a traitor. He, and the other Scottish leaders, made their decision based on the information they had at the time, and it was a reasonable one.

For the rest of his life Prince Charles blamed Lord George for losing his father the crown of Great Britain, which I think is unfair. The prince should have seen how uneasy the regimental leaders were about the whole invasion of England, and taken pains to reassure them, rather than assuming they would follow him anyway. And he should have made an effort to get along with a man who was a gifted military commander and who had the respect of the whole army.

At any rate, the relationship between Prince and Lord was now in pieces, and as the dispirited army retreated north, this was to lead to another poor decision.

Lord George had agreed to stay in the rearguard on the retreat, and make sure the artillery and baggage was safe. As they reached Lancaster on their way north, Cumberland’s army was chasing them, and Prince Charles, sick of running away from a usurper, wanted to do battle. However, when it appeared that Wade’s army was also close, they abandoned that idea and continued north, Lord George making an ill-advised jibe at the prince as they did.

The prince retaliated by refusing to allow Lord George to abandon any heavy artillery, even though they were fighting their way through atrocious weather and knee-high snow, and the result of this was that the rearguard of the Jacobite army was overtaken by part of Cumberland’s army on the 18th December, as they tried to transport cannons etc. A running skirmish took place then, until Lord George learnt that in fact there were only 2000 Hanoverian forces rather than the whole army as he had thought. This was a great opportunity to decimate a quarter of Cumberland’s army and deliver a massive blow to Hanoverian morale. Lord George sent a message ahead to ask Prince Charles to return with the whole army to attack.

But, still angry the prince refused, agreeing to send only enough men to allow the Jacobite rearguard to get away. It was a terrible decision, and one that infuriated Lord George. It’s generally believed that the prince’s worst decisions were made directly after acrimonious encounters with his commander, and this was just one of them.


Stirling Castle

As the retreat continued other poor decisions were made by both men, including the one to lay siege to Stirling Castle. Highlanders were men of action, and to submit such men, already demoralised by knowing they were effectively running away, to possible months of inaction was a recipe for desertion. Lord George knew this, and yet he agreed to it, and made other uncharacteristically bad decisions of his own at this time.

In defence of both him and Charles, both men were under enormous strain. Unlike the Hanoverian leaders, they had both been in command of a very difficult campaign for five solid months without any respite at all, and must have been utterly exhausted mentally and emotionally, and perhaps physically too. Lord George did write to his wife that he was desperate for a little rest.

It was under this strain that he advised Prince Charles to retreat to the Highlands, advice that drove the prince incandescent with rage. He wrote a letter to Lord George laying out all his objections to this proposal, but as the clan chiefs and Lord George were adamant, he capitulated, famously stating:

“After all this I know I have an army that I cannot command any further than the chief officers please, and therefore if you are all resolved upon it I must yield, but I take God to witness that it is with the greatest reluctance, and that I wash my hands of the fatal consequences, which I foresee but cannot help.”

The breakdown in their relationship was now total, but they still continued to work together, because they had no choice but to do so. Having said that, Charles was now deeply suspicious of Murray, suspecting him to be a traitor and even at one point ordering his Irish supporters to shoot Murray if he showed any sign of defecting to the enemy. This was paranoia, and shows how complete the fracture between the prince and his commander was  – although arrogant and dismissive of the prince, Lord George was utterly loyal to the Jacobite cause, losing everything by following it.

This acrimony may have caused the Prince to make perhaps his most catastrophic decision, in choosing Drumossie Moor as a suitable battlefield to meet Cumberland’s army on. Both Lord George and the clan chiefs argued violently against it, as a most unsuitable terrain for the Highland way of fighting, but in this Charles prevailed, and it was because of this that Lord George and Lochiel reluctantly agreed to try to march the troops to Nairn and attack Cumberland’s army by night. They thought this had a better chance of success than fighting on the field of the prince’s choice.  The situation was not helped by it being Lord George who, rightly, eventually abandoned the night march, realising that it would be impossible for enough troops to reach Nairn before daylight.

Back in Culloden, Lord George and the Prince had another argument, Murray recommending three possible alternatives to a battle on Drumossie Moor, but Charles refusing all of them.

Battle of Culloden

It’s now accepted by many historians that had Lord George’s suggestion of an alternative field of battle been accepted, the Jacobites could have defeated Cumberland’s army on that fateful day. As it was, Lord George did his utmost to win the day, showing incredible bravery and military brilliance in a hopeless situation.

On the day after Culloden, Lord George arrived at Ruthven along with many other survivors of the battle, and was furious to discover that Prince Charles had sent a message telling them to look to themselves, causing Murray to send a furious letter to the prince cataloguing what he saw as all his failings.

Murray’s whereabouts from then until December are unknown, and it’s presumed he hid out in the Highlands, finally reaching the continent at the end of the year. He was welcomed by James Stuart in Rome and awarded a pension, but Prince Charles refused to have anything to do with him. He lived in various places after that, dying in the Netherlands aged 66, in October 1760.

Token of respect on Lord George Murray’s grave in the Netherlands

In conclusion: to me, Lord George Murray was one of the Jacobite leaders who fought for the Stuarts purely due to belief in their cause rather than for any ulterior motives. He was undoubtedly a talented military commander, and able to obtain and retain the respect of the Highland clans, no easy feat. Although some of the decisions he made could be questioned, he acted at all times in the way he thought was best, based on his knowledge and experience, and no one can ask more of a man than that.

In fighting for the prince, he effectively, along with many others, lost everything, and although I understand why Prince Charles disliked and shunned him, I don’t agree that was a fair response to a man who gave his all for the cause. I do believe that if the two men had been able to put aside their differences, work together and combine their remarkable but different talents to good effect, the Stuarts would likely have won the campaign.

Incidentally, although Lord George lost everything, when his brother the Duke of Atholl died, he left only a daughter to inherit. In order to keep the dukedom in the Murray family, she married her first cousin, John, who was Lord George’s son, and he became the next Duke of Atholl. The marriage was said to be a happy one. It is a descendant of Lord George who is the current duke as well, which may have been of some comfort to the Jacobite commander, had he known it.



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  1. As always your post on your blog well written and informative. Thank you for the time and effort you put into them. I love reading the historical facts about the people in your books.

    1. Thanks! I’m so glad you enjoy the historical articles. I love doing the research, it’s nearly always fascinating!

    1. Yes, it was, although the people involved could not have known that at the time of course. They did what they thought was best… but it was hard to write about for me.

  2. Love reading this history about the Jacobites, prince Charles and all the commanders involved. Something I never learned in American school where I am from.

    1. I’m so glad you’re enjoying my blogs! To be honest I live in the UK, and I never learned about this in school either! I think history is so important, as well as interesting.

    1. I suppose it is. As far as I know his movements are a mystery for that time. He could have been anywhere, and I can’t really see why he would go to Ireland, although he may have had reasons. Why do you ask?