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Plan of the Battle at Prestonpans as drawn by an officer at that time listing the regiments and showing the topography of the area.
Plan of the Battle at Prestonpans 21st September 1745, by an Officer of the Army/LIB.2016.75

The Battle of Prestonpans

Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s court at Holyroodhouse lasted only a few short months. While welcoming visitors and sitting to Ramsay for his portrait, the prince was busy consolidating his campaign.

Sir John Cope, who had led the government forces in the Highlands, sailed from Aberdeen on 15 September intending to halt the Jacobite army before it reached Edinburgh, but the prince had already occupied the city. Cope landed at Dunbar, in East Lothian on 17 September – on the same day that Charles took Holyroodhouse – and proceeded to march toward Edinburgh.

Four days later, on 21 September 1745, Charles led the Jacobites to victory in the first major battle of the ‘45 campaign – the battle of Prestonpans.

Many of Cope’s young, inexperienced, soldiers were completely overwhelmed by the speed and ferocity of the Highlanders’ attack.

The Jacobites had the advantage of high ground, which was best suited to their battle tactics. The Highland charge involved rushing towards their opponents, firing their muskets, which were then flung aside, in favour of using their broadswords to hack and cleave their way through the enemy and deflecting bayonets with their shields – the Highland targes.

We will hear more about the Highland charge tactic with costumed interpreter Arran Johnston, as a Jacobite, later this week.

Failing to rally the men, Cope retreated to Berwick-on-Tweed.

In the aftermath of the battle, Charles sent his surgeons to attend all the wounded.

He ordered that there be no public rejoicing of the victory.

The prince was adamant that regardless of which side the soldiers had fought on, they were all his father’s subjects.

This is one of the reasons we think there could have been no Great Ball at the Palace of Holyroodhouse to celebrate the Jacobite victory at Prestonpans.

Think about Charles’s order and the Ramsay portrait of him, as a European prince wearing the English Order of the Garter.

Do you think Charles saw himself as monarch of Scotland or of a United Kingdom?

You can reflect on this question using the comments below.

In our next steps, we find out what happened when Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite army headed for England. But first, let’s look at another portrait of Prince Charles Edward Stuart.

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This article is from the free online course:

Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites

The University of Edinburgh