On this day in 1745 the Battle of Prestonpans was fought between the Jacobite army of Charles Edward Stewart, also known as Bonny Prince Charlie or the Young Pretender, and those of the Hanoverian British Government, under the command of Lieutenant General Sir John Cope. The battle was a resounding and somewhat unexpected victory for the Jacobites who completely routed Cope's army, killing or capturing and estimated 2,100 men while losing fewer than 100 of their own. Following Prestonpans the Jacobites would march south as far as Derby, capturing Carlisle and Manchester, before deciding to return to the Highlands where they would eventually face defeat on Culloden Moor.
Having raised his banner at Glenfinnan on 19th August, Charles Edward Stewart and his Jacobite army had marched south, taking the cities of Perth, Stirling and Edinburgh with little in the way of resistance. Despite taking the cities they failed to capture the castles at either Stirling or Edinburgh, or indeed the Barracks at Ruthven, but these held only minor garrisons who could do little to effectively counter the Jacobites in what was essentially hostile territory. Cope had taken an army north with the aim of reaching Fort Augustus and over-awing the Highland clans. However, he overestimated the size of the Jacobite force and fearing an engagement at Corrieyairack, diverted his men to Inverness. Cope then marched his army to Aberdeen from where it sailed south, landing at Dunbar just to the east of Edinburgh on the same day the city fell to the Jacobites.
Cope was now keen to engage with the Jacobites, with intelligence suggesting they numbered but 2,000 but poorly armed men. His own army numbered around 4,000 and while they were mostly fresh recruits and lacked combat experience, they had cavalry and artillery in support. Meeting Charles' advance guard on September 20th, Cope decided to stand his ground and drew up his army facing south, with a boggy ditch to their front, and the park walls around Preston House protecting their right flank. It was a strong position as a frontal charge favoured by the Highlanders would flounder in the bog and be defenseless against the musket and canon fire of the government army.
The Jacobites knew this too and if it weren't for the knowledge of a Jacobite Lieutenant Anderson, the battle may have turned out quite differently. He was the son of a local farmer and claimed to know a path through the bog. At 4am the next morning, under the cover of darkness and the morning mist, the Jacobites made their way three abreast along this route to the far east of Cope's position. From there they were able to charge down the government army who were taken completely by surprise and thrown into a panic. While the government were briefly able to deploy their canons the battle became a rout in under 10 minutes. Out of the 2,300 men in the government army, only 170 troops managed to escape, including Cope himself.
The battle was a pivotal moment in the rising, handing Charles Edward Stewart a major victory and perhaps emboldening the Jacobites to strike south towards London. The defeat was a humiliating one for the government and now, taking the situation with the seriousness it deserved, they recalled their army from Europe. Consequently when the two sides met for the final time on Culloden Moor in the April of 1746, the government army would be quite different in character and experience to the one that fell apart at Prestonpans.
Our model The Jacobite Risings: The Fight for Britain's Throne explores the history of the Risings and in particular that of the 'Forty-five'. It will next be on display at the Great Western Brick Show on October 7th and 8th, why not come and see it there?
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