The principal theatre of the war for both Britain and France was the Netherlands, where on May 10th 1745 British forces commanded by the Duke of Cumberland were defeated by the French at Fontenoy. Cumberland’s army included the Black Watch regiment, led by John Campbell, Earl of Loudon. It was thus out of the country, which greatly weakened Hanoverian strength in Scotland. The Secretary of State for Scotland, Lord Tweeddale, proved a disastrous appointment, and the politicians in Edinburgh spent their time bickering. The only government official in Scotland to show much initiative and energy in the crisis was Duncan Forbes of Culloden, the Lord President of the court of Sessions. Military affairs were in the hands of Lieutenant-General Joshua Grant, in his eighties and senile, with hardly any troops. The highlands were largely left to police themselves, by arrangements between the clan chiefs. In October 1744 Keppoch, Glengarry and Lochiel formally agreed to work together the stop cattle-raiding. Other chiefs joined in, notably Ewan MacPherson the Younger of Cluny, who was to watch over the Grampians.
In midsummer 1745 came the crucial decision, as Charles set sail from Nantes with two privately-owned French ships. One of these was intercepted by a British warship, but the other, the “Doutelle”, made landfall at Eriskay in the Western Isles of Scotland on July 23rd. Just seven men came ashore, and the ship immediately turned for home. There are many unanswered questions here. How far was this expedition encouraged or sponsored by ministers in the French government? What promises had Charles received of French military aid? And how much did he know about Jacobite prospects in Britain?
Charles’s early meetings with the clan chiefs were not encouraging. They had some foreknowledge of his coming, but considered that a rising would be futile without French intervention. However, Charles had great personal charisma: he was just 25 years old and very good-looking; and he persuaded the MacDonalds of Keppoch and Glengarry and, most importantly, the Camerons of Lochiel to join him. Donald Cameron the younger of Lochiel (his father, the clan chief, being in exile abroad) advised Charles to return to France. What followed has been recorded:-
“In a few days,” said Charles, “with the few friends I have, I will erect the royal standard, and proclaim to the people of Britain that Charles Stuart is come over to claim the crown of his ancestors, to win it or to perish in the attempt: Lochiel, who my father told me was our firmest friend, may stay at home and learn from the newspapers the fate of his prince.”
“No,” said Lochiel, “I’ll share the fate of my prince, and so shall every man over whom nature or fortune hath given me any power.” Thus began the famous romantic story of "Bonnie Prince Charlie" and the last great flourish of highland clan society.
On Monday August 19th, Charles raised his standard at Glenfinnan, at the head of Loch Shiel. For hours he waited with his 300 men of Clanranald, perhaps wondering whether anyone would rally to his cause, but then in mid-afternoon the skirl of the pipes was heard, and 700 Camerons and 300 MacDonalds of Keppoch marched in. The rebellion was now definitely “on”. Lochiel did not inform Charles that raising his clan had proved difficult, and he had been obliged to threaten to set fire to their huts before they would agree to follow.
The government in London learned of Charles’s landing on August 8th. King George II was then in Hanover (where he spent more than half his reign, as Jacobite propagandists were always keen to point out), leaving the country under the control of a Regency Council. If government forces had stood at Stirling or Perth, as the Duke of Argyll had done in 1715, the rebellion would have been confined to the highlands; but instead General Sir John Cope was ordered to nip the trouble in the bud; a strategy which had worked well in 1719. He set off northwards with 2,000 troops of poor quality, but on August 26th on the route to Fort Augustus he found Charles’s men holding the precipitous Pass of Corrieyairack; and, fearing he might be ambushed and surrounded if he risked a battle on such unfavourable ground, he retreated north-eastwards towards Inverness. Many of the highlanders wished to pursue Cope, but Charles opted to advance on the now undefended road south, through Killiekrankie and down to the lowlands, arriving at Perth on September 4th. More supporters now flocked to the Jacobite colours: the outlaw MacGregors, Robertson of Struan, the titular Duke of Perth and others; but by far the most important recruit was Lord George Murray (see picture), the younger brother of the Duke of Atholl.
Ewan MacPherson of Cluny was approximately 35 years old. Although his clan had been Jacobite, his own position, like that of many of the clan chiefs, was distinctly ambiguous; waiting to see which way the wind was blowing before committing themselves. He was the cousin of Lochiel, but on the other hand he held a commission in the regiment of the impeccably Whiggish Lord Loudon, and his first move was apparently to raise his clan for King George. His defection to the rebel side had not been anticipated by the government. It may well have been Cluny who warned Cope of the dangers of Corrieyairack. On August 27th Murray of Broughton summoned Cluny to join the rising, but received no reply. Next day, however, Cluny was intercepted by a party of Camerons; “a willing prisoner”, it was said; and agreed to change sides. “An angel could not resist the soothing close applications of the rebels” was how he explained it - though it seems likely that he was also promised compensation in France should the rising fail. As it was, Cluny was one of only three clan chiefs to commit himself unreservedly to Charles’s cause (the other two being Keppoch and MacKinnon). He then departed to raise Clan MacPherson for the Prince, though his men did not actually join the rebel army until the end of October; one of the last clan regiments to appear.
In mid-September extra companies were recruited for the government from the Hanoverian clans: the Mackays, Munros, Sutherlands and MacDonalds of Sleat. Other clans were hesitant, or divided in their loyalties: Ludovick Grant urged his clansmen to stay at home, but many joined Charles. In any case, government actions were far too late. Charles’s little force continued southwards unopposed, through Perth and Stirling, where they were unable to take the castle, but instead simply passed it by. Amongst those who joined Charles at this stage was a 26-year old Edinburgh man who gave himself the improbable title of the Chevalier de Johnstone. He became aide-de-camp to Lord George Murray and survived all the subsequent adventures to give us the most readable first-hand account of the campaign.
On September 17th Edinburgh was taken, when the highlanders made a surprise rush on the city gates before they could be closed. There was no resistance from the citizens, but the garrison of 600 men in the castle, perched high on its rock, refused to surrender, and their heavy cannon constantly threatened the city below, so the Jacobite hold on Scotland’s capital was always precarious. Meanwhile, General Cope had embarked his troops at Inverness, sailed down the east coast of Scotland and landed at Dunbar, to the east of Edinburgh; on hearing which, the Jacobites marched out to meet him.
On September 20th the two armies came into contact at Preston Pans. Cope took up what he believed was a strong defensive position, with his two flanks guarded by the sea and an area of marshland; but overnight a local man named Anderson led the Jacobites on a path through the marsh. Cope’s men awoke to find themselves outflanked, the highlanders charged, and the government forces were swiftly routed. An observer of the battle celebrated by composing a song still performed today: “Hey, Johnny Cope, are you wa’king yet?” This victory left Charles the master of almost all of Scotland: only the Campbell lands and a few isolated fortresses still held out for the government. More recruits came to join the cause: the MacDonalds of Keppoch, Lord Lewis Gordon and various other noblemen, and Cluny with 400 MacPhersons.
Because the British navy dominated the seas, direct communication between Charles and the French government was extremely difficult, and supplying significant military aid would present formidable logistical problems. Also, the Jacobite rising formed only a small aspect of the overall war, and the French government was deeply divided on what should have priority. In August, while Charles was mustering his forces, Marshal Saxe’s army in the Netherlands captured Ostend for the French, but this was balanced by events across the Atlantic, where a British amphibious expedition took Louisbourg, the great fortress off Nova Scotia which guarded the entrance to the St. Laurence estuary and to French Canada.
The lack of decisive leadership from King Louis XV meant that every minister tended to follow his own pet project. The French government learnt of Charles’s landing within a few days, and some ministers urged the immediate creation of an invasion force, but instead Louis, in a timid compromise, sent the Marquis D’Eguilles to liaise with Charles. He did not meet Charles until mid-October. Following this, the Treaty of Fontainebleau was drawn up between the French government and Jacobite agents in Paris, and Voltaire was recruited to draw up a manifesto. The French began to assemble invasion forces at Dunkirk and Boulogne. But already it was all too late. No serious invasion could be mounted before Christmas at the earliest, and by then the whole situation had changed.
Charles also delayed before making his next move; a delay which in retrospect could well have been fatal. He was advised by Murray and other chiefs to appeal to Scots nationalist sentiment, to denounce the 1707 Act of Union, call a Scottish Parliament and await French assistance, but his goal at all times was England. He received optimistic reports of French plans from D’Eguilles, but had no information of what, if anything, Jacobites in England were proposing to do. As it was, his little army did not set out from Edinburgh until the end of October. The immediate threat came from a government force of 11,000 men under General Wade at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Charles wanted to attack him, but instead Murray immobilised Wade with a feint before heading off westwards, and reached Carlisle on November 9th. The city’s antiquated castle was virtually undefended, bad weather prevented Wade from marching to its assistance, and on November 18th Carlisle surrendered; the first town in England to fall to the Jacobites.
The march southwards followed the line of the present railway and M6 motorway, through Penrith, Kendal, Lancaster, Preston and Wigan. They attracted little support, but neither did they meet with any organised resistance. Instead of making for the Mersey crossing at Warrington, the little army then turned eastwards. On November 30th Manchester fell to the Jacobites. Manchester was not yet the vast cotton-manufacturing city it would become in the next century, but it had a strong Non-Juring element, and it was in Manchester that the Jacobites recruited most of their English supporters.
They reached Macclesfield on December 1st. The intention was probably to continue south through Birmingham and Oxford, where there was likely to be strong Jacobite support, but by this time a government army was in position in Staffordshire. It was commanded by the Duke of Cumberland, King George’s second and favourite son, the same age as Charles, and Lord Ligonier, an exiled French Hugenot. So instead the small Jacobite cavalry contingent was sent through Congleton towards the Potteries, to immobilize Cumberland by confusing him about their intentions, while the bulk of the infantry headed eastwards across the moorlands, through Leek and reaching Derby on December 4th. There they halted, and two days later the famous and much-disputed decision was taken to turn around and retreat to Scotland, which surrendered the initiative to the British government.
They had now effectively sidestepped Cumberland, and in a race for London, they would win. But what was awaiting them further south? None of them knew. And if they were stopped, then Cumberland, and Wade (who was slowly moving southwards through the East Midlands) would be able to prevent any retreat to Scotland, and not a man of them would escape. Where were the French? the clan leaders wanted to know. Charles could not tell them. Or could Charles produce even one single letter from a prominent Englishman firmly promising to join the rebellion? He could not. It is not known precisely how many men had joined Charles in England (government propaganda was obviously keen to minimize the numbers, and imply they were all desperate cases from the slums of Manchester), but what is certain is that no Englishman of prominence had joined: not one single Lord, Member of Parliament or major landowner. Lord George Murray had always been doubtful about the wisdom of invading England. Now, in the absence of any hard evidence of support, and fearing that, even if they reached London intact, their little army of 5,000 infantry and a mere 500 cavalry would simply be swallowed up in a city of half a million souls, the clan chiefs were unanimous for turning back. Charles, with extreme reluctance, was obliged to accept the decision. It has been endlessly debated since whether a world-shattering opportunity was lost, and whether Charles’s instinct was wiser than Murray’s strategic common sense. As it was, Charles sulked for most of the retreat, trusted Murray less and less, and increasingly relied on the advice of his Irish friends, Sheridan and O’Sullivan, who were wholly without either military experience or strategic sense.
King George II had returned to London on September 11th, but politics was complicated by the fact that it was widely known that he had little faith in his ministers: the Prime Minister Henry Pelham and his brother the Duke of Newcastle, the Secretary of State. Opinion in England tended grossly to overestimate the size of the rebel forces, and the government had no clear notion of what the rebels intended: what support they might attract, and, most worryingly, what part the French might play. The turn back at Derby was crucial, because it at least showed that there was no co-ordinated plan between Charles and the French. The French invasion force at Dunkirk was not ready to set sail until the New Year, and was being closely watched by the British fleet under Admiral Vernon; and then there came the news of the retreat from Derby. In mid-January the Duc de Richelieu, who was supposed to command the invasion, cancelled the order to proceed. The whole affair illustrates the general confusion and irresolution permeating French decision-making throughout the conflict. But for Marshal Saxe, who had never been enthusiastic for an invasion, it worked out well, for he took over Richelieu’s troops, led them into what is now Belgium, and captured Brussels.
The Jacobite retreat followed the same route as their advance, with Cumberland in pursuit. Once again, the local population took no action, though the attitude was obviously more unsympathetic than during the advance. There was only one skirmish, which is traditionally said to be “the last battle on English soil”. By December 16th the Jacobite forces were at Shap, a village on the main route over the mountains, with Cumberland’s army at Lancaster, a day’s march to the south. Charles led the main part of his force north to Penrith, but the rearguard, including Cluny, Glengarry and Lord George Murray, was some distance behind, struggling over Shap Fell with the baggage and cannons through heavy rain, and they halted for the night of the 17th at Clifton, a few miles south of Penrith on the modern A6 road. There they discovered that they were closely pursued by some of Cumberland’s horse. Charles refused to send back any substantial aid, though the rearguard was reinforced by the MacPhersons and Appin Stewarts running back to help. Murray now had about 1,000 men, and drew them up in a series of enclosures by the road. Captain John MacPherson of Strathmashie described the action that followed. The highlanders fired a single volley then charged 150 yards in the dark to attack Bland’s dragoons, who quickly retreated. Fourteen claymores were broken on the dragoons’ helmets, but swords abandoned on the field were more than sufficient to make up the loss. The action lasted about half an hour. Cumberland decided to wait for reinforcements, allowing the Jacobites to retreat further to Carlisle. Charles left a garrison of 350, mostly volunteers from England, in the castle there as he withdrew into Scotland on the 20th. This decision achieved little apart from the sacrifice of his supporters. Cumberland brought up big guns from Workington and bombarded the castle, which surrendered on the 30th. Next autumn, 31 rebels taken there were hanged in Carlisle, Penrith and Brampton.
Cumberland did not pursue them further, being recalled to the south coast to guard against any French invasion. But during the march into England, government forces in Edinburgh castle had regained control of the city, so instead the Jacobite army headed for Glasgow, arriving there at Christmas. They had to requisition food and clothing, but the city was preserved from pillage.
The rebellion was by no means over. Various other clans rallied to Charles after the retreat, including various Gordons, Farquarsons and MacKenzies. Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, after a long life of double-dealing and treachery, at last committed himself to the Jacobite cause: a decision which was to cost him his head. MacKintosh commanded a company of Loudon’s Black Watch, but his in his absence his wife, aged 24, raised Clan Chattan for Charles; an exploit earning her the nickname of “Colonel Anne”. Many clansmen were reluctant to turn out to fight, and Charles authorised Cluny to burn the homes of any of his clansmen who deserted the cause.
The New Year saw some manoeuvring for position as the Jacobites attempted to attack Stirling castle, and general Hawley advanced from Edinburgh to intercept them. On January 17th the two sides met at Falkirk. Neither side was well positioned, but the Jacobite right, led by the MacDonalds, advanced to seize the high ground and then charged. Hawley’s reaction was incompetent, his army was caught by surprise in a blizzard, and his guns and cavalry never came into action. Owing to general confusion, the Jacobite left failed to follow up this success: losses on the government side amounted to some 400, as against no more than 50 Jacobite dead; but the bulk of Hawley’s army was able to retreat rather than being routed, and the Jacobites were unable to take any strategic advantage from the victory. Cluny’s cousin, William MacPherson, known as “the Purser”, was killed in the action.
The clan leaders, led by Murray, Keppoch and Cluny, now insisted on a retreat into the mountains. Charles was opposed, but sulkily acquiesced. The unsuccessful siege of Stirling castle resumed, and there followed more disputes about strategy on February 2nd, which led to Cluny, by now a strong supporter of Murray, furiously storming out of a meeting. In mid-February they retreated further to Inverness, but Murray was confident that a war in the highlands could be continued for several years. A company of French troops arrived: actually Irish Catholic mercenaries in the French service, commanded by Brigadier Walter Stapleton; and with their help Fort Augustus was captured. Other ships from France were intercepted by the British navy. On March 15th, in one of the last successful Jacobite actions, Murray led his Athollmen south from Inverness, linked up with Cluny at Ruthven, and raided several government posts, though they lacked the heavy equipment to take Blair castle. Cluny then separated from the main force, to guard the Badenoch passes.
A great deal has been written about the disaster of Culloden on April 16th. From the Jacobite point of view, everything went wrong. Charles, against all the best advice, insisted in fighting a textbook-style battle, which inevitably exposed his weaknesses in cavalry and cannon. His food supply had broken down; some of the army, including the MacPhersons, were absent, and the rest, heavily outnumbered, were exhausted after an abortive night attack on Cumberland’s camp. The field had not been properly assessed, the troop dispositions were wrong, and few of the highlanders even managed to reach the government lines, most being destroyed by cannon-fire. Keppoch and MacGillivray were killed, and Lochiel, whose legs had been broken by grapeshot, was carried from the battlefield to take refuge in MacPherson territory at Badenoch. As his army disintegrated, Charles left the battlefield to the bitter cry of Lord Elcho: “Fly then, you cowardly Italian!” It tells us something about the military conventions prevailing at the time that the Irish mercenaries who surrendered were afforded what would now be called “prisoner of war status”, whereas many wounded highlanders were simply slaughtered in the aftermath of the battle.
This was the end of the rising. After Culloden, 4,000 men, including the still-intact MacPhersons, rallied to Murray at Ruthven; but food was short and the force would have been very difficult to hold together. Albermarle, who succeeded Cumberland as commander-in-chief in Scotland, reported that, if help came from France, many clans were eager to rise again; citing the MacPhersons, Camerons, MacLeans, MacDonalds of Glengarry and Grants of Glenmoriston. But Charles had given up all thought of continuing the fight. However, it was not the end of the story, and much of Charles’s legend depends upon what followed.