Jacobite Uprising 1745-1746: Battle of Prestonpans.

(Above image is a view looking N.W. towards Edinburgh with Arthur's Seat in far distance)

This evening, I am posting information on the Battle of Prestonpans which took place on Sept 21st 1745 between the forces of 'Bonnie' Prince Charlie (Jacobites) and those of the British Government under Sir John Cope.

 View looking directly north with battle site in middle distance (ploughed fields) and Firth of Forth in background.

Key rehearsals

  • Prestonpans was one of three battles fought on Scottish soil between 1745 and 1746 in context of 'the '45' which was an uprising led by 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' to regain the thrones of England and Scotland for the Stewart dynasty which, in the person of King James VII (Scotland) II (England), was exiled in 1688 due his Roman Catholic leanings. Supporters of the Stewarts were known as Jacobites because 'Jacob'  is Latin for James and Latin was a language widely used in official circles in the 18th century..
  • The battle site of Prestonpans is located about twelve miles directly east of Edinburgh, close to the Firth of Forth (estuary).
  • As England and Scotland had agreed a formal union in 1707, the Jacobite uprising was a threat against the British state, not Scotland v. England, although the Jacobites were overwhelmingly backed by Highland Scots with some supporting manpower from France and Ireland.
  • In terms of weaponry, the Jacobites were poorly resourced with the army mainly relying on swords and shields whereas the British Redcoats were a professional army armed with the latest muskets plus some field guns. However, the main body of Jacobite soldiers were experienced and determined fighters whose 'secret weapon' was the Highland Charge which entailed the Highlanders lining up in front of the opposing force and sprinting at full pelt, smashing into the opposing lines of Redcoats and, in most cases, causing the Redcoats to turn and flee.
  • At this battle, the Redcoat soldiers were, in the main, raw recruits lacking appropriate training.
  • The Jacobite force amounted to 2400 infantry and 50 cavalry whilst Cope's force extended to only 2000 although the Jacobites believed it to be larger.
 View to N.E. with Firth of Forth in distance.

The Battle

Prior to Prestonpans, the Jacobites had taken the city of Edinburgh with little bloodshed. However, Edinburgh Castle was unaffected and held out for the Government.

Cope's force advanced from the port of Dunbar, about twenty miles to the east whilst the Jacobites came from Edinburgh to the west. However, these positions were reversed at the pre-battle line up because the Jacobites had benefited from local knowledge and manoeuvred their force before dawn into a superior position, hemming Cope's force between the Firth (water) on the right and a morass on the left.

The battle was over in about 15 minutes with Cope's raw recruits fleeing in face of the Highland Charge. The Government army lost 300 dead plus 1600 prisoners.

The images posted herein show the landscape today, from N.E. to N.W., clearly totally changed from that of 1745.

Subsequent Events

There was another battle at Falkirk (central Scotland) on Jan 17th 1746 (which the Government lost) but the final reckoning took place at Culloden (near Inverness) on April 16th 1746 when Government forces executed a defining victory over the Jacobites following which no further battles occurred on British soil and Bonnie Prince Charlie escaped into permanent exile.

Rough sketch of battle lines.


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