Battle of Prestonpans
The Battle Of Prestonpans was the first significant victory for the Jacobites in the second and final wave of their rebellion. Bonnie Prince Charlie – ‘The Young Pretender’, grandson of King James II – and Lord George Murray, commander of the Jacobite forces, led their men to triumph over Sir John Cope’s Hanoverian army.
It was a massive fillip for the Jacobites ; their protracted campaign had stuttered since 1689. Their cause to restore the Stuart Kings to the throne, after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 had de-seated the Stuart dynasty, was emboldened by victory. The routing of the Cope’s Hanoverian forces monetarily gave the Jacobites the ascendency. More recruits would wear the white cockade and amass themselves behind the Stuart standard.
Support for the Jacobite rebellion came principally from the Scottish Highlands and Ireland, with allies from the north of England swelling their number. The Glorious Revolution that had brought William Of Orange to the throne in 1688 had begun to flex parliamentary muscle, unearthing dissent amongst those loyal to the Stuart dynasty, and those who’d found the economy in a post-Union Scotland intolerable.
The 1715 Jacobite Rising was lead by the Earl Of Mar – ironically, as he had voted for the Union. His rebellion dissipated; Hanoverian resistance and Mar’s lack of military nous ended his campaign in disarray. The Jacobite threat was still recognised in London , and rather than enter into a political settlement, Scotland was heavily fortified with Hanoverian troops.
By 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie was resurrecting the Jacobite cause; raising his father’s standard at Glennfinnan , he would lead the resistance’s last military campaign. Angered by the lack of French support for an invasion, he gathered an army and headed south, claiming Perth and Edinburgh . Cope, under instruction from King George II , would hear of Edinburgh’s fate, and sailed south from Aberdeen . On the 17th September he would arrive at Dunbar , and head inland. Conflict was imminent. On the 19th, Bonnie Prince Charlie would hold a council of war in Duddingston, by Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. The following day his men would march through Musselburgh , crossing the River Esk by the Roman Bridge, and onwards to Prestonpans.
Though Cope’s men were heavily armed, the Jacobites would have a feral aggression that unnerved the largely inexperienced Hanoverian troops. Crucially, the Jacobites would glean local knowledge of the battlefield, a local Tranent man advising them on their approach through the morass that offered Cope’s men defence. The Highlanders’ charge was surefooted, catching their enemy cold, bringing the battle to a swift end.
The emphatic charge suppressed Cope’s artillery, who took fright at the sight of the Highlanders. Bedecked in plaid, hirsute and brandishing fearsome arms – like the Lochaber axe – the Jacobite army were irrepressi-ble. Many Hanoverians were slain as they fled – a twelve-foot wall hampering their escape. Cope would survive the battle but suffer the greatest humiliation; for he would herald his own defeat and forever be dogged by accusations of cowardice. He would be immortalised in song. Even still, the strains of ‘Hey Johnnie Cope!’ reverberate to the skirl of pipes. For the Jacobites, their good fortune was perishable. The Duke Of Cumberland would be waiting at Culloden .
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