The Battle of Prestonpans – March into England – Retreat from Derby – Battle of Falkirk – Defeat of Prince Charles at Culloden – Character of Cumberland – His Cruelty – Trial and Execution of the Rebels.
SHORTLY after the events recorded in our last chapter the battle of Prestonpans was fought, when Sir John Cope was totally defeated. The one name that stands out with credit in the Royal army is the amiable and accomplished Colonel Gardiner, who fell fighting bravely in the park before his own house. This victory determined Charles to invade England, and the good fortune which had hitherto smiled upon him continued on his first entry into England. After a brief defence the town of Carlisle fell into his hands, into which the Prince made a triumphal entry on the 17th of November. The victorious rebels now pushed into England, but the expected rising of the Jacobites of that country did not take place, or only in such insignificant numbers as gave little encouragement or assistance to the invaders. They had no unfair Treaty of Union to stimulate their zeal, and the shadowy and romantic claim of a dethroned dynasty was not sufficient to tempt them to risk life and fortune. The march into England was equally unpopular with the rank and file of the Highland army. They were prepared to fight for their own country, but showed little inclination to invade England. On entering that country a large part of the army melted away, and, as recruits were not to be had in England, the Highlanders were compelled to retreat northwards, after having marched as far south as Derby.
It was in the depth of winter when the doomed army turned its head towards Scotland. The population in England, overawed by the victorious Highlanders on their march south, now thought they could fall upon their retreating foe with impunity. One or two sharp lessons which the Highlanders gave them soon cured them, however, of their temerity, and even the Duke of Cumberland and his disciplined troops were taught to respect their enemy. Large reinforcements awaited Charles on his return to Scotland, and had the French Government fulfilled even a respectable part of their large promises the war might have been protracted for some considerable time. A transient gleam of returning fortune came to the Prince’s army at Falkirk, where the boastful General Hawley received a severe lesson.
The fear of invasion of the South of England being now removed, the Duke of Cumberland hastened to Scotland and took command of the army. The Highlanders had retreated into their own country where the last tragedy of this deplorable insurrection was about to be played. On the 16th April 1746 was fought the decisive battle of Culloden. The army of Prince Charles consisted of about five thousand men. The Duke of Cumberland had nine thousand troops under his command, with all the most approved appliances of war. For the first time the Highland army had been opposed by a capable General; with such overwhelming numbers victory was assured, and that Charles should have risked his all on such an unequal contest can only be accounted for by madness or despair. By this ill-considered action one thousand brave men lay dead on the field, for the victorious army, especially the cavalry, who had played such a poor part in former encounters, took a mean revenge upon the vanquished foe and slew the wounded without mercy. They made diligent search among the neighbouring huts into which the wounded had crawled, and took the helpless wretches and shot them in cold blood. There are none so cruel as cowards, the extremity of their past terrors gives a particular zest to the ferocity with which they treat their victims when they fall into their power.
It is said the Duke of Cumberland was a brave man; if so, he acted with the malice of a coward. His military executions in the Highlands covered his name with infamy and shocked the moral sense of the whole Christian world. Man, woman, and child fell before his relentless arms, and we have to go back to the wars of the Jews before we find a parallel to his detestable crimes. Whatever may have been the opinion of his conduct in Scotland, Cumberland became the hero of the hour in London. Handel prostituted his genius by ostentatiously composing ‘See the Conquering Hero comes’ in honour of the Duke. The association of this air will ever appear a foul blot on a noble work. We confess when we have heard it thoughtlessly played in our concert halls or political meetings that we have felt a thrill of horror, and when our imagination conjured up the sad scenes of Culloden the unbidden tear has dimmed our eyes. These are but the sentiments of loyalty to our race; yet if the head should ever rebuke the heart for its emotions, may the grave then be the fitting resting-place for such a callous brain.
There is nothing which shows a meaner spirit than the taking of revenge upon the vanquished. In the regular warfare between nations, to slay your prisoners is considered so great an offence that the country which practised it would be ostracised by civilisation. In the war which was waged by Prince Charles there was nothing which removed it morally from the ordinary rights of belligerents. The dynasty which sat on the throne was a violation of the settled order of succession, and the mistaken enthusiasts who risked their all for what they believed to be the lawful rights of their Prince might well have expected the ordinary usage of civilised war. This was all the more their due, as in their hour of triumph there is no recorded military execution or abuse of power. The Government of the day had, however, been too sorely frightened to forego the savage triumph of the scaffold. The execution of Kilmarnock and Balmerino and the aged Lord Lovat was an ignoble revenge. The fate of the two former will claim from every generous heart the tribute of a tear, and if we cannot lament the fate of the wily Lovat, we may at least wonder that the Government thought it worth their while to abridge the life of so aged a man.
It is not recorded that any of the prisoners were tried in Scotland – surely a violation of the letter and the spirit of the Treaty of Union. The places selected for these mock trials were Carlisle and York, and some eighty persons perished on the scaffold before the terrors of the Ministry could be appeased. In all these troubles Scotland was singularly free from the vice of the informer. Although the people were inexpressibly poor, the reward of £30,000 for the apprehension of Bonnie Prince Charlie failed to attract to the side of the Government a single traitor. Scotsmen may be pardoned for a feeling of pride at this unique virtue of their race; and while we close this sad chapter of our history with the names of some of our martyrs, we may at least be permitted to remark that the Union had not been a success forty years after its completion. Let the memory of Sir John Wedderburn, Bart., Buchanan of Arnprior, McDonald of Kinloch-Moidart, Macdonald of Tiendriech, and the gallant Lochiel, be remembered with respect.