In my previous blogs I’ve looked at the childhood and adolescence of Prince Charles, and the events which led to his decision to mount an expedition to Scotland in the summer of 1745. Now I want to examine his decisions and behaviour during the rising itself.
When he landed on Eriskay, the reception he received was not what he had hoped for. Having spent the night in a poor crofter’s cottage, which Charles endured cheerfully, he was brought the bad news that the two great Skye chiefs would not rise for him, as he had not brought French troops. The messenger advised him to go home, on which the prince then uttered the memorable lines, “I am come home”.
Over the next days he was visited by a number of chieftains, all of them repeating roughly the same message – go home. Refusing to accept defeat at this early stage, the prince employed all his charisma, making an impassioned plea to the Clanranald chief that resulted in him agreeing to defend the prince, even if no one else came out. This prompted Glencoe and Keppoch to join him, but he still needed one of the larger clans to come out, and wrote to Donald Cameron of Lochiel, asking him to meet.
Lochiel, chief of Clan Cameron, a Jacobite, and an astute businessman, also had no wish to rise for the prince under the circumstances, but honour dictated that he tell him to his face. It says a good deal for the persuasive ability of Charles that he was able (although with much difficulty) to persuade Lochiel to bring his clan out. It was with that promise that the rising really began, and on 19th August 1745 he raised his standard at Glenfinnan. This was the moment he had been working towards for all of his twenty-four years, and he was exuberant.
Eager to win a battle and thereby not only increase the confidence of his army, but attract more men, he decided to head south and engage the Hanoverian General Cope in battle. The morale of the fledgling army was greatly enhanced when Cope fled without a fight, leaving them to march south and declare James King of Scotland in Perth on 4th September. Up to now, in spite of his lack of martial experience, all Charles’ decisions had been sound. But he recognised himself that he was in need of an able commander.
That commander arrived in the person of Lord George Murray. He was fifty-one, had fought in the ’15 and the ’19 and was an exceptional military commander. He was also cold, blunt and forthright, and completely immune to the prince’s charisma. The two did not get on at all, but Charles recognised that Murray was invaluable to the cause, and he was appointed lieutenant-general of the Jacobite army. However, the tense relationship between the two was later to have disastrous consequences, leading to a split in the Jacobite command.
At this point though, the two agreed that the aim must be to win Scottish support, and that meant enforcing strict discipline and paying for everything. They carried on to Edinburgh, taking the capital (except for the Castle) with relative ease. If the clansmen were impressed by the prince’s fitness and ability to cheerfully withstand the arduous marches and basic diet (the notoriously hardy clansmen once complained that he marched too quickly!), the residents of Edinburgh were won over by his looks and personal magnetism. He gave them exactly what they wanted; a fairy-tale prince combined with a martial hero, and he played his part to perfection. His reception in Edinburgh was riotous, and he settled into Holyrood Palace, the master of the capital city of Scotland.
He had already achieved more, in just a month, than all the other risings had, and was about to consolidate that with a resounding victory at Prestonpans, which resulted in the rout of Cope’s troops. With the exception of a few castles and barracks, the prince was now in possession of the whole of Scotland. It was an astounding success, although the prince was genuinely upset by the slaughter of those he considered to be his misguided subjects.
The prince returned to Edinburgh and set up a council, to which he appointed his own favourites and the regiment chiefs. They met each day to discuss strategy. Almost immediately there started to be tensions, and the ‘two party’ system of the prince’s followers and Murray’s that was to dog the rest of the campaign was formed.
Charles, rejoicing in finally being free of his father’s autocratic, critical influence, now found himself challenged by another. For him it was like having his father back, and unfortunately Murray’s enemies fanned the flames, accusing Lord George of all kinds of ridiculous things behind his back. Lord George ignored this pettiness, but his haughtiness just reinforced to the prince that Murray wanted to humiliate him. This antipathy simmered throughout the rest of the campaign.
On the positive side, Charles showed himself to be genuinely compassionate, often releasing prisoners upon them agreeing not to fight for the Hanoverians again (a promise they invariably failed to keep), and treating enemy wounded when possible. This was a trait not displayed by the Hanoverians in general; even at this stage they rarely gave quarter, treating the Scots as an inferior race and the Highlanders as barbarians. There are countless instances of the prince’s compassion, to the occasional frustration of Murray, who thought he was too soft.
Having said that, all his sights were now set on invading England. He politely declined the invitations of his admiring female supporters, remaining single-minded. It was at this point that King Louis, hearing of Charles’ success, sent an envoy from France to Scotland to assess the Jacobite strength. This seemed to confirm French support, not only to the Jacobites, but also the Hanoverians, who were thoroughly alarmed. Success had never seemed closer. And if Louis had actually sent troops to Scotland instead of an envoy, history might well be very different – but by the time he received information in Paris, Charles was already entering England, necessitating a far more complicated French invasion of England. Nevertheless, Louis began to plan for one.
The council met. Murray wanted to consolidate the victory in Scotland, doubting that the English Jacobites would put their money where their mouth was; Charles argued to carry on, believing that the English Jacobites would join him, and not wanting to give the Hanoverians time to mount a massive invasion of Scotland, which they almost certainly would. Charles won – but by only one vote.
The clash of the titans now came to the fore: Charles wanted to march straight into England, attack General Wade’s force before it could be reinforced and then head straight for London. It was a daring and courageous plan, and in fairness, probably would have succeeded. Lord George, the tactician, advised caution, and this time he won the vote.
As a result the Jacobite army moved down through England in a series of feints designed to confuse the Hanoverians as to their real intentions, and in this they were successful. Where they were not successful, however, was in recruiting the English. Apart from raising a regiment in pro-Jacobite Manchester, the Jacobites failed to gain significant recruits. Lord George called a meeting at Preston, wanting to retreat, but Charles persuaded him to carry on, and they reached Derby on 5th December, where another council meeting was called.
Here, Charles was at fault. He knew the clan leaders were concerned by the lack of English support, but believed he could win them round by force of personality alone. He could not; to his absolute horror and dismay the council voted overwhelmingly to retreat, and the march north began on 6th December. I won’t go into speculation as to the outcome had they continued in this blog, (but may in another!) but the effect on Charles was catastrophic. Almost overnight he changed from the optimistic, exuberant leader, always at the head of his forces, marching on foot with them and encouraging them all the way, to someone who rode at the rear of the army, sullen and depressed. In fairness, he was not alone; the clansmen, eager to take London, were equally devastated when they realised they were to retreat.
The prince now began to show signs of what would later become a steep decline. Despairing and depressed, he slept late, started drinking heavily and often delayed the march of the army as a result. To an extent this is understandable, when you realise how close he had come to achieving his life’s work, only to have it snatched away at the last second. It’s difficult to imagine just how devastated he must have been. In addition to this, on their return, the citizens, believing them to be fleeing, now showed hostility, hampering them in any way they could, while the Duke of Cumberland pursued them up the country and back into Scotland.
Between January and April 1746 the prince, formerly in rude health, suffered from three bouts of illness, which we must assume were brought on by stress. He also started an affair with Clementina Walkinshaw (more of her in part 4), thus demonstrating that he really did consider that he’d failed. Unfortunately he also effectively abdicated from the army during this period, just when it needed an upbeat optimistic leader to revive the flagging morale of the troops. This left Lord George to cope with everything alone, a Herculean task even for someone of his undoubted ability. Unwisely he embarked on a siege of Stirling Castle, although the Highlanders detested siege warfare. Desertions inevitably followed.
When Charles then received advice from Murray that the army should retreat to the Highlands, where they could regroup, attract more followers and mount a new campaign in the spring, Charles was beside himself with rage. Quite rightly, he argued that a further retreat would only reduce morale further, end all hopes of French assistance, and that Cumberland would hardly leave them alone to reinforce their numbers.
But Murray and the chiefs were adamant for retreat, and it is at this point Charles announced that “I wash my hands of the fatal consequences which I foresee but cannot help”. He was right. The relationship between Prince Charles and Lord George, fragile at best, broke down irrevocably at this point, which probably played a large part in Lord George’s excellent suggestion for a battlefield location at Culloden being turned down by Charles.
The battle of Culloden is so famous that I don’t need to detail it here. What I do want to say is that following the abortive night march on Nairn, Charles, although he hadn’t slept for two nights with characteristic compassion for his hungry troops, personally rode to Inverness in an attempt to obtain food for his men. When he returned, however, he insisted against all advice either to retreat or to adopt Lord George’s advice as to a battlefield, believing that any retreat before Cumberland at this point would be an unacceptable loss to his prestige.
In this he was clearly in error, and his unwillingness to see what was staring him in the face really cannot be excused. It seemed at this point that he was incapable of seeing the truth that was staring him in the face. It resulted in the carnage of Drumossie Moor, and the final and utter defeat of the Jacobite cause forever.
In my next blog I’ll look at the aftermath of Culloden for the prince, and the rest of his life.