Battle of Prestonpans

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Battle of Prestonpans
Part of the Jacobite rising of 1745
Cairn in memory of the Battle of Prestonpans
Date 21 September 1745
Location Prestonpans (near Edinburgh), Scotland
Result Decisive Jacobite victory
Kingdom of Great Britain Government Forces Jacobites
Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of Great Britain Sir John Cope Charles Edward Stuart
George Murray
2300 2500
Casualties and losses
300 killed
400 to 500 wounded
1400 to 1500 captured[1]
30 killed
70 wounded

Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found. The Battle of Prestonpans was the first significant conflict in the Jacobite Rising of 1745. The battle took place at 4 am on 21 September 1745. The Jacobite army loyal to James Francis Edward Stuart and led by his son Charles Edward Stuart defeated the government army loyal to the Hanoverian George II led by Sir John Cope. The inexperienced government troops were outflanked and broke in the face of a highland charge. The victory was a huge morale boost for the Jacobites, and a heavily mythologised version of the story entered art and legend.

It was initially known as the Battle of Gladsmuir, but was actually fought at Prestonpans, East Lothian, Scotland on that town's borders with Tranent, Cockenzie and Port Seton.


The second Jacobite Rising

As part of the War of the Austrian Succession, George II had sent most of the British army to the continent of Europe to do battle with their long-time enemy, the French. In May 1745 at the Battle of Fontenoy, both armies suffered heavy casualties, but the French carried the day and forced the allied British, Hanoverian and Austrian army from the field. Maintaining the offensive, the French invaded and captured a number of Flemish towns through 1745, and kept the opposing forces off-balance throughout.

With only 6,000 troops left in England, and the majority of those on the continent having been recently defeated, Charles Edward Stuart saw an opportunity to re-open the Jacobite Rising. He mounted a campaign to take Scotland and England with an eye towards reclaiming what he considered to be his father's two kingdoms (Great Britain, formally united in 1707, and Ireland). Against long odds, and aided by the early support of Donald Cameron of Lochiel, XIX chief of Clan Cameron,[2] his party of ten raised an army which eventually numbered over 2,000 Scots as they marched to Glenfinnan and then to Edinburgh.

The government response

Sir John Cope, the general commanding the government forces in Scotland, actually commanded less than 4,000 men, in two regiments of dragoons and three and a half regiments of infantry.[3] Most of his troops were recently raised and inexperienced. He was hampered by a variety of other problems including the sickness of his senior cavalry officer (Colonel James Gardiner), the lack of any gunners to man his train of artillery and poor advice from the civilian government officials in Scotland. Acting on this advice, Cope marched with his infantry and artillery towards Fort Augustus in the central Highlands to overawe the Highland clans and nip the rebellion "in the bud". He found that supposedly "well-affected" clans were evading calls to take up arms on behalf of the government, using a variety of excuses.[4] On 25 August Cope heard that the rebel army, whose strength he overestimated, was preparing to oppose him at Corryarrack. He turned about and marched instead to Inverness.

Prince Charles's officers briefly considered pursuing Cope, but instead they decided to march into the Lowlands, which Cope had left almost undefended. They reached Perth on 4 September, where the Jacobite army was joined by two prominent Highland nobles, the 3rd Duke of Perth and Lord George Murray, who was appointed Lieutenant General. On 11 September, Prince Charles's army resumed its advance south. The regiment of dragoons opposing them retreated in disorder to Edinburgh.

Brigadier Thomas Fowke had recently arrived at Edinburgh to take charge of the cavalry and some reinforcements. He decided that the two regiments of dragoons he took over were in no state to face the Jacobite army and ordered a further retreat, which was marked by unnecessary panics and alarms. This also left Edinburgh unprotected. On 16 September, some of Prince Charles's army captured the city with little or no fighting, though Edinburgh Castle was still defended for the government by Lieutenant General Joshua Guest.

Cope meanwhile had marched to Aberdeen, where he had urgently ordered ships to proceed and embark his army. On the day Edinburgh was captured, his troops began to disembark at Dunbar, where they met the disordered dragoons.


File:Battle of Prestonpans.svg
Battle of Prestonpans

Despite the poor state of his cavalry and artillery, Cope determined to engage the Jacobite army. He had good intelligence that the Jacobite army numbered just under 2,000 men, mostly composed of fit and hardy men, but badly armed.[5] His officers apparently believed that the rebels would never attack a single force including both infantry and cavalry. They assured locals during their march that there would be no battle.[6]

On 20 September, Cope's forces encountered Charles' advance guard. Cope decided to stand his ground and engage the Jacobite army. He drew up his army facing south, with a marshy ditch to their front, and the park walls around Preston House protecting their right flank. He mounted his cannon behind the low embankment of the Tranent colliery waggonway, which crossed the battlefield.[7]

Although the Jacobite army had secured the high ground to the south of Cope's army, they were dismayed by the natural advantages of Cope's position. A frontal Highland charge would flounder in the marshy ground in front of the Royalist army's centre and be shot to pieces by musket and cannon fire.[8] Although there was much argument among the senior Jacobite officers, Lord George Murray was convinced that only an attack against the open left flank of Cope's army stood any chance of success. However, Jacobite Lieutenant Anderson was a local farmer's son who knew the area well and convinced Murray that he knew an excellent route through the marshlands. Following his advice, Murray began to move the entire Jacobite force at 4 am walking three abreast along the Riggonhead Defile far to the east of Cope's position.[9]

Cope, meanwhile, had observed some eastward movement of the Jacobite army as it grew dark, though this move was the result of confusion in the Jacobite ranks and was abandoned.[10] He feared an attack against both his flanks, and realigned his army on a north-south front, in the position in which they would fight on the next day. Three companies of Loudon's Highlanders were detailed to guard the baggage park in Cockenzie. Some 100 Volunteers were dismissed and ordered to report again the next morning, thus missing the ensuing battle. Cope also made a last-minute attempt to get some artillerymen from Edinburgh Castle. Some half-dozen gunners left the Castle disguised as tradesmen but their guide became lost.[11]

File:Advance of the highlanders at Prestonpans.jpg
The Jacobite Highlanders advance, from an 1873 book

To prevent a surprise attack during the night, Cope kept fires burning in front of his position and posted no fewer than 200 dragoons and 300 infantry as pickets. At the crack of dawn, however, at 6 am on 21 September 1745, Cope's dragoons beheld the spectacle of 1,400 Highlanders charging through the early mist, making "wild Highland war cries and with the bloodcurdling skirl of the pipes....".[6] Cope's inexperienced army wheeled to its left by platoons to face the Highlanders, who were charging in from the east following their night march. Cope managed to scramble some cannon up onto his right flank. Although most of his artillerymen (most of whom were aged or "invalids") fled, the two officers in charge of them opened fire as soon as the Highlanders were in range.[12] Undaunted by the light, inaccurate guns, the Highlander army continued its charge; however, the centre became bogged down in marshy terrain, and, as they continued forward, their different speeds of advance caused them to form into a "V". The wings on either side met the inexperienced dragoons on either side of the British centre, and the dragoons immediately fled the field.

This left the British centre, containing the experienced royal infantry, facing the centre of the "V" on their front, and the two unopposed wings on either side. The effect of this unplanned flanking manoeuvre meant that the royal foot soldiers were effectively sandwiched. They suffered heavy casualties and gave way. The battle was over in less than 10 minutes, with hundreds of government troops killed or wounded and 1500 taken prisoner. Cope's baggage train at Cockenzie was captured, with only a single shot fired. It contained £5000, many muskets and ammunition. The Jacobite Army suffered fewer than 100 troops killed or wounded. The wounded and prisoners were given the best care possible at Prince Charles Stuart's insistence.

Cope tried to rally his men, but could only lead about two hundred stragglers up a side lane (Johnnie Cope's Road) to reorganise in an adjacent field, where they refused further engagement. Cope and his aide-de-camp had no choice but to travel southwards to Lauder and Coldstream and then on to the safety of Berwick-upon-Tweed, 50 miles (80 km) away, the following day,[13] Brigadier Fowke causing scandal by arriving ahead of the troops.[14] Out of the 2,300 men in the royal army, only 170 troops managed to escape.

Colonel James Gardiner, a senior royal commander, who stayed at Bankton House close by the scene of battle, was mortally wounded in a final skirmish that included Sir Thomas Hay of Park who fought by his side and survived. Colonel Gardiner's fatal wounds were inflicted beneath a white thorntree, of which a portion is today in Edinburgh's Naval and Military Museum. Gardiner was stripped to the waist after his possessions were looted by the Highlanders. A servant took the mortally wounded Colonel after the battle, to The Manse at Tranent, where he died in the arms of the Minister's daughter during the night. An obelisk to Gardiner's memory was raised in the mid 19th century.[15]

A cairn to the memory of those who died in the battle was erected in 1953, close by the battle site and a coal bing, using the remains of the area's coal shale shaped as a pyramid, now provides a vantage point for today's visitors.

Cope exonerated at court-martial

Despite the conduct of his inexperienced troops and the humiliating fact that Cope had to report his overwhelming defeat personally to the garrison commander at Berwick-upon-Tweed, the frequent accusations that Cope himself fled the battlefield appear to be incorrect. Cope and his officers were exonerated by a court-martial. Martin B. Margulies, writing in History Scotland magazine, notes:

The Report of the Board's proceedings was published in 1749. Anyone who scrutinises it closely can only conclude that the Board was correct. What emerges from the pages is not, perhaps, the portrait of a military genius but one of an able, energetic and conscientious officer, who weighed his options carefully and who anticipated – with almost obsessive attention to detail – every eventuality except the one which he could not have provided for in any case: that his men would panic and flee.[16]

The second Jacobite rising continues

The battle greatly boosted the morale of all Stuart supporters, and more recruits were soon gained in Scotland. At this point, the campaign was going the Stuarts' way. The Prince's army advanced as far as Derby by December 1745 unimpeded, using the most skilled generalship. However, in Derby, the Council of Chiefs resolved at Exeter House to proceed no further, since they had been deliberately misled into believing that a major Hanoverian army stood between them and London. They conducted a skilled retreat, with a further victory at Falkirk, before finally meeting total defeat at the Battle of Culloden, near Inverness.

The battle in art and legend

File:Sliabh a' chlamhain.jpg
Contemporary depiction of Cope's flight to Berwick

Subsequent public perception of the battle in general and General Cope in particular has been influenced by Adam Skirving's popular songs. Skirving was a local farmer who did not see the battle itself, but visited the battlefield later that afternoon where he was, by his own account, mugged by the victors. Skirving wrote two songs, "Hey, Johnnie Cope, Are Ye Waking Yet?", and "Tranent Muir"; the former is quite well known, and is a short, catchy, and mostly historically inaccurate insult to Cope. The tune is still played by some Scottish regiments for Reveille and was also played as the 51st (Highland) Division disembarked on Juno Beach in Normandy on June 6, 1944.[17] While Cope's troops fled the battle, he himself did not; nor is it true that he slept the night before. Poet Robert Burns later wrote his own words to the song, but these are not as well known as Skirving's.

Tranent Muir, on the other hand, is a long and graphically violent description of the battle, and some of the events depicted are historically accurate. Myrie and Gardiner, mentioned in verses seven and eight, did in fact die in the battle. Lieutenant Smith, described in verse nine as fleeing the battle in dread, challenged Skirving to a duel after the song was published.[6]

Sir Walter Scott gave the battle a prominent place in Waverley. Scott's rendition culminates in the last stand of Gardiner, whose death the titular hero and Jacobite volunteer, Edward Waverley, unsuccessfully tries to prevent.

A heritage trust, described below, was established in 2006 and is most particularly concerned to capture, present and develop all these artistic dimensions. New poetry, theatre, paintings and songs have been commissioned.

Battle Heritage Trust

File:BattleBus 1745.jpg
Battle of Prestonpans Heritage Trust's "Battle Bus"

The town of Prestonpans is a long established centre of industrial activity not only in coal mining but brickworks, pottery, glass making, salt panning, soap and chemicals. It had not until 2006 sought to offer any significant year-round opportunity for visitors to gain a comprehensive understanding of the battle and its lasting importance, although a major re-enactment of the battle took place on the 250th anniversary in 1995.

However, in 2006 the Battle of Prestonpans 1745 Heritage Trust was established on the initiative of the local people to ensure much better presentation and interpretation. It attracted private and Heritage lottery funding to achieve some of its initial goals.

Plans include a visitor Centre in the grounds of Prestongrange Industrial Heritage Museum, 'Living History' battle re-enactments, battle-related storytelling and new novels, and a new 'Flowering of the Arts' including embroidery. A "Battle Bus" helped to promote the project until 2012 by when the 105 metre Battle of Prestonpans Tapestry had become a major celebrity. From September 2008, biennial symposia are being convened to explore the past, present and future of the East Lothian battlefields of Prestonpans, Dunbar and Pinkie Cleugh. In 2013, the Battle Trust published Arran Johnston's "Blood Stain'd Fields - the Battles of East Lothian" with a Foreword by the 19th Duke of Somerset, descendant of the English victor at Pinkie Cleugh. The 4th such biennial Symposium in 2014 saw very wide involvement from battlefields across Scotland and an Accord was reached to establish a Scottish Battlefields Trust working in partnership with the UK Battlefields Trust.

Details of all the Trust's activities can be found at its website @ and these include the Alan Breck Regiment of Prestonpans Volunteers established by the Trust to ensure annual re-enactments. As well as Highlanders, the Regiment includes members of the redcoat Edinburgh City Guard.

Battlefield location

In 2008 the Trust commissioned Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division ("GUARD") to undertake a comprehensive survey, followed by selective excavation, of the battlefield.[18] Although the site of the main battlefield is readily located today, fixed by such surviving features as the tramway embankment, interim findings announced in April 2010 indicate that the true site of the Highlanders' charge, based on concentrations of musket balls and other evidence, is 500 yards to the east of the accepted location (Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.).[19][20] The battlefield has been inventoried and protected by Historic Scotland under the Scottish Historical Environment Policy of 2009.[21]

Great controversy has arisen in 2014 as proposals to redevelop the industrial activities close by the battle site have actually impinged on it. Historic Scotland has taken the view that such activities will have a minimal impact and it is in the national interest that they must be allowed. The local community has refused to accept such an outcome and is pledged to campaign to have it reversed.

The Prestonpans Tapestry

The Prestonpans Tapestry was unveiled on 26 July 2010. With 105 panels (each 1m long), it is about 100 ft (30m) longer than the Bayeux Tapestry. Inspired by Gordon Baron Prestoungrange, designed by local artist Andrew Crummy, and executed by over 200 volunteer embroiderers, the tapestry has already toured Scotland, England and France. Venues included the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Storytelling Centre, Cockenzie power station. In Autumn 2013, the Tapestry was a Guest Exhibit alongside the Bayeux Tapestry itself, in Normandy.

See also


  1. The Battle of Prestonpans 1745
  2. Cameron[page needed]
  3. Thomasson and Buist, pp.25–26
  4. Thomasson and Buist, pp.29–30
  5. Thomasson and Buist, p.42
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Brander[page needed]
  7. Smiles, Samuel (1859). The Life of George Stephenson, Railway Engineer (Fourth ed.). Boston MA: Ticknor and Fields. p. 67.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Thomasson and Buist, p.52
  9. Thomasson and Buist, pp. 62–63
  10. Thomasson and Buist, p.56
  11. Thomasson and Buist, p.60
  12. Thomasson and Buist, pp.66-67
  13. Magnusson, Magnus (2000). Scotland – The Story of a Nation. New York: Grove Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[page needed] Retrieved 31 December 2007
  14. Duffy, Christopher. "Victory at Prestopans and its significance for the 174 campaign". p. 14. Retrieved 25 February 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. James Gardiner
  16. Marguiles[page needed]
  18. Pollard, Tony; Ferguson, Natasha (2008). "Prestonpans battlefield archaeological project" (PDF). Centre for Battlefield Archaeology, University of Glasgow. Retrieved 13 June 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Pollard, Tony; Ferguson, Natasha (26 February 2010). "Prestonpans Battlefield Project Report" (PDF). Glasgow University Archaeological Division. Retrieved 13 June 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. MacLeod, Fiona (21 April 2010). "Charge of the right brigade: true site of Battle of Prestonpans found". The Scotsman. UK. Retrieved 13 June 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "Inventory battlefields". Historic Scotland. Retrieved 12 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Brander, Michael (1988). Scottish and Border Battles and Battles. Random House. ISBN 0-517-52500-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Cameron, Donald (1746). "Letter to Prince Charles Edward Stuart". Clan Cameron Archives. Letter. Archived from the original on 26 August 2005. Retrieved 25 August 2005. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Margulies, Martin B. "Unlucky or Incompetent? History's Verdict on General Sir John Cope". History Scotland Magazine. Retrieved 25 August 2005.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Margulies, Martin (2013). Battle of Prestonpans 1745: 2nd Edition. Battle of Prestonpans Heritage Trust.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Tomasson, Katherine; Buist, Francis (1967). Battles of the '45. Pan.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links