The Battle of Prestonpans, 1745
The name Prestonpans is perhaps best known to
school children and Jacobites alike as the site of the
famous victory of Bonnie Prince Charlie over the Hanoverian forces of King
George II in Scotland on September 21st 1745. Each year on its anniversary a
Battlefield Walk is organised. It was
re-enacted on its 250th Anniversary in 1995 both in Prestonpans and later in
Milford, New York in 1999 as pictured below.
A scale model was made in Prestonpans. The battle is extremely well
documented from official enquiries at the time and was of course romanticised by
Sir Walter Scott in his first great historical novel that established that genre
- Waverley -
'Tis 60 Years Since, Chapters 43/48. Scott of course had considerable
association with Prestonpans as reported in his
Colonel Gardiner, of
Bankton House, who had the misfortune to lead the cowardly Hanoverian
dragoons, has been immortalised above all others for his personal bravery in his
own orchard as has the
Thorntree where he was mortally wounded. The Hanoverian General, Sir John
Cope was cruelly satirised.
Michael of Albany,
a present day Claimant to the Chiefship of the
Royal House of Stewart, has contributed his own account of the successes and
tragedies of the '45 - the very year
Fowler's Ales were first reportedly brewed in Prestonpans.
Dawn, 21st September 1745, By Jim Forster
On the 19th of August 1745 Prince Charles Edward (Bonnie Prince Charlie) raised
his standard in the vale of Glenfinnan and declared his father King James VIII
of Scotland and II of England and Ireland.
Gathering the clans who had come to support him he set off towards the lowlands.
With hardly any opposition the Jacobite army captured Perth and Edinburgh. The
army made camp in King's Park near Duddingston, 2,500 men in all.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant General Sir John Cope who was in command of the Government
troops in Scotland for King George II (almost 3,000 men in all) after receiving
word of the Jacobite rising set off North with his army. However he failed to
intercept the Jacobites. On hearing by messenger that the Highlanders had
captured Edinburgh he marched his troops to Aberdeen and embarked his force on
ships and sailed southward where he landed at Dunbar on the 15th of September.
On the 19th of September Cope set out with his army towards Edinburgh by way of
Haddington were they made camp. Sir John Cope and his army marched at 9 am on
the 20th of September, turning right by the village of Trabroun and past
Elvingston till they reached Longniddry then marching past St Germains and Seton
Palace. They halted for one hour needing food and rest.
After resting Cope led his army into the open field two miles in length and one
and half miles in breadth. The field extended right to the wall of Preston, this
field was entirely clear of crops, the last sheaves having been carried in the
night before. Neither cottage or bush were in the whole extent, except one
solitary Thorn tree.
The army marched straight to the west end of this field until they came near the
walls of the enclosure of Preston. This part of the field was divided into three
rigs on shots, as they were called, "under-shot", "middle-shot" and upper-shot".
On 19th September, Prince Charles slept at Duddingston with his troops. Early
the next morning the army set off to meet the foe. They halted at Carberry Hill,
the Prince's scouts informed him that Cope's army had halted at Preston.
The Highlanders' directed their course by Fa'side then Birsley until they came
within sight of the enemy. The Prince's troops raised a shout of defiance which
was heartily responded to by Cope's troops.
Being late in the afternoon the Jacobite army settled down for the night in a
field of peas, a little to the north-west of Tranent.
General Cope on seeing this took up his position with his army facing south.
Cope was happy with his position between his army and the Jacobites. The ground
was very rough with ditches and boggy ground. This would make it impossible for
the Highlanders' to make their famous wild charge.
Cope's heavy guns would be able to pick off the enemy with ease. He had 6 one
and a half pounders and 6 mortars.
The Highland army had no heavy guns.
Late in the afternoon, Lord George Murray, Commander of the Jacobites sent a
scouting party down to the Tranent church yard to observe the enemy. However
they were spotted and the cannon that was only 300 yards away opened fire and
sent them scurrying back to camp.
A good number of local people from Tranent had come to observe all the activity,
among them were two young men who were to be important in the impending battle.
They were Robert Anderson, a Humble lad and his friend James Hepburn from
Tranent. On discussing the two armies Anderson said "If I were the Higheriands',
I would-attack from the east because that is where I go shooting for game, the
ground is a lot firmer and dryer on that side". Hepburn, who had a good feeling
for the Jacobites said-"You should tell that to the Commander of the
Highlanders". Off they went. Lord George Murray listened to them, went and had a
talk with the Prince who called a Council with his officers and had a plan
The Prince's army set off about 3 am on Saturday the 21st of September. The
scheme was to go around the south side of Tranent, over Tranent Muir northwards
and down by Riggenhead to Seton, then to come in by Meadowmill westwards to take
Cope's forces from behind.
Cope, who had been sleeping at Cockenzie, received word that the Highlanders'
were on the move rushed back to the field and started organising his heavy guns,
his foot soldiers and his cavalry to face east.
Lord George Murray sent a division down the waggon way past the Tranent Church
and ordered his men to wait until the main body attacked, then they were to
attack the heavy artillery.
Just at break of day, the main body of the Highland army loomed out of the
morning mist. Cope's sentries seeing them, fired off their pistols and ran back
to give warning. Seeing they were discovered the Highlanders' rushed forward
firing their hand guns and muskets, giving wild yells threw away their
guns,-drew their broad swords and advanced at a fast pace.
The heavy guns of Cope's army belched forth what might have been a murderous
fire, but terror seized the gunners and the grapeshot flew harmless over the
With hideous yells the Highlanders' fell upon the foot troops slashing and
cutting. Cope's cavalry under Colonel Whitney tried to make a charge but all was
confusion so they wheeled about and rode off towards Dolphinston half a mile
Colonel Gardiner, yelled for his dragoons to charge but only eleven followed
him, the rest wheeled and followed Whitney to Dolphinston. Colonel Gardiner
continued fighting although being wounded several times, at last being brought
down with a mighty blow to the head. Later he was carried to the Manse in
Tranent where he died the next forenoon.
On examination of his body he was found to have eight wounds, two from gunshot
on the right side and six severe cuts on the neck and head. He was buried at
Tranent old church.
General Cope with a white cockade in his hat, similar to that worn by the
Highlanders' passed through their midst without recognition made his way up past
Bankton House up to Lauder and down to Berwick with news of his defeat.
Though acquitted of cowardice at his trial, he will go down in history for two
main reasons. Firstly, being the first General to bring news of his own defeat
and secondly by the words of a song set to verse by Adam Skirving, a farmer in
Garleton near Haddington:
"Hey! Jonnie Cope are ye waukin yet, to the tune Fye to the hills in the
The actual battle was over in a very short time about thirteen minutes, what
followed was mere carnage.
Casualties in Cope's army was estimated at 300 dead, 1,000 taken prisoner of
whom many were seriously wounded.
The Jacobites, 30 killed, 70 wounded.