Despite having endured so many years of ill fortune, the Jacobite cause was still powerful enough to be considered the greatest threat to Britain in mid-century. In 1723, an English newspaper had argued that the people of the Scottish Highlands "will never fail to join with foreign Popish powers, to advance the interests they have espoused; so they always have been, and infallibly will be instruments and tools in the hands of those who have a design to enslave or embroil the British nation. Notwithstanding the pains taken. . . to disarm them, they are still well armed by supplies from abroad, sent them on purpose ... to encourage and support foreign invasions, which it is not possible to prevent by any naval power, because of the wildness of their country, and the many convenient harbors and landing places that are on their coasts."
As if to fulfill this prophesy, Charles Edward seized his opportunity. At a time when George II was away in Hanover and the bulk of the British Army was fighting in Flanders and Germany, the Stuart prince landed in the Hebrides in July 1745. He was encouraged by promise of support from France, and indeed some ships did reach Scotland with supplies and artillery. By September, Charles had rallied thousands of Highlanders. Aided by the Provost's who secretly left a gate open, they had taken the city of Edinburgh (where he assured the Presbyterian clergy of religious toleration), captured Carlisle and defeated a small British force at Prestonpans where his soldiers employed their broadswords in the famous Highland charge.
Flushed with victory over the obviously ill-trained and ill-prepared British force of General Cope, the Scottish army marched south to England, hoping to rally support all along the way. At Manchester, the Prince informed them that the French would invade on 9 December. Encouraged, they continued their march to London, the capture of which was essential to their cause. They reached as far as Derby in the Midlands.
Notwithstanding the success of the Highland charge at Prestonpans, it was generally recognized by the more practical Jacobite commanders that their only real chance of victory lay with the securing of substantial military aid from abroad. In future engagements, the Highlanders were going to have face a disciplined army whose officers and men had been tested time and time again on European battlefields. It was also understood that, in times of peace, foreign governments were unlikely to launch a massive invasion of Britain on behalf of the Stuarts.
The Duke of Cumberland, George II's youngest son was Commander-in-chief of British forces on the continent. Whenever necessary, he was prepared to send troops to England immediately. In September, he sent ten of his best battalions, supported by a contingent of Dutch troops. England then undertook emergency measures to counter the threat from Charles Edward; those who refused to take the Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy and the Test Act Declaration had their arms and horses confiscated. The Lords Lieutenant of the various counties were instructed to raise troops for the defense of the realm.
As the Jacobite army marched southward through England, it became apparent that Charles Edward was not going to be successful in raising the men and money necessary to sustain the invasion. Even in the Scottish Lowlands, support had not been forthcoming. Interests of commerce overrode those of patriotism. Even at Derby, where they were received favorably, the Jacobite army managed to gain only three recruits. In addition, fear of a return to a Catholic monarchy was allied to a general indifference. On a number of occasions, without success, English Jacobites had urged the conversion of James or Charles to Anglicanism. We can only speculate as to the support he would have received in a country ruled by a unpopular German-speaking king had he done so.
The astute Dr. Johnson, no lover of Scotland, but who was not too fond of the Hanoverian dynasty either, commented that "If England were fairly polled, the present king would be sent away to-night." He then added that the English people "would not risk anything to restore the exiled family. They would not give twenty shillings of a piece to bring it about." On their way south, the Jacobites perceived that the counties through which their armies passed seemed to contain many more enemies than friends, a perception that decided a retreat from Derby rather than an advance to London.
Chapter 8: Charles Edward and the 45 Continued