The Storm Before the Calm

The present unhappy troubles . . . David Hume, 1745

Except for one, they were all Macdonalds. All 150 of them. Marching in a ragged column on the dirt road headed toward the glen, this was the first time the brothers, cousins, and uncles of the sprawling Macdonald clan had seen each other fully armed. Wearing the plaids of the clan, they carried an odd assortment of old blunderbusses, pistols, swords, and pikes, most of them handed down from their fathers and grandfathers. Those without guns and swords carried sharpened farm tools such as scythes and pitchforks. Across their hips, they each wore a large bag in which they carried the provisions they would need to live in the field for two or three months.

Leading the column was the lone non-Macdonald, Charles Edward Philip Casimir Stuart. Standing a head taller than all the men, and dressed resplendently in a white coat saved for the occasion, this handsome twenty-five-year-old would soon be known to the world as Bonnie Prince Charlie. He was the reason why this small ragtag army had left their homes to fight the government; in the eyes of the Highland clans, Bonnie Prince Charlie was the crown prince of Scotland.

Charles Stuart was the grandson ofJames II, the last Stuart king of England and Scotland, and the son of the exiled James III. Stuart and his family had lived in Rome ever since his grandfather had been forced off the thrones of England and Scotland in 1688. Four weeks earlier, in July 1745, Charles had secretly sailed from France in a small frigate with only seven followers, and he landed in the western isles of Highland Scotland unannounced and unexpected. The prince and his confidants had made their plans clandestinely; no one, not even Charles's father, knew where he was. He had literally shown up on the doorstep of the leaders of the clans and announced that now was the time to muster the clansmen, attack Edinburgh, and regain the crown of Scotland for his father and eventually himself.

The prince had reason to believe that the Highland clans would rally around him. Twice in the past sixty years, they had formed armies to fight for the Stuarts. The first uprising occurred in 1689, soon after the Protestant- and Whigdominated English Parliament and the Scottish Estates General had voted to oust James II and invite the Protestants William of Orange and his wife Mary to wear the crowns. The firmly Catholic Highlanders, certain that a Protestant monarchy would cause only more hardship for them, quickly rose in support of

King James. They fought several bloody battles with the English army before finally retreating to their Highland homes. The king then went into exile.

This chaotic episode was known as the first Jacobite Uprising. A generation later, in 1715, the clans again took the field for the Stuarts, this time for Charles's father, James III (known as the Old Pretender to his detractors). With France's Louis XIV supplying French troops and arms, the rebellion looked serious to the English. However, bad weather and even worse coordination conspired to doom the affair before fighting took place, and the clansmen melted back into the Highlands to wait for another day.

William Hutton and most of his fellow merchants in Edinburgh thought that 1715 marked the end of the Jacobite menace. However, Prince Charles, growing up in a household that talked of little else besides the illegal usurpation of the Stuart crown, had simply been waiting his turn. He chose the summer of 1745 to act because most of the English army was not in the British Isles; they were deeply engaged on the Continent, mired in the War of the Austrian Succession. England would react slowly at best to a disturbance in Scotland. But, unlike his father thirty years earlier, Charles was receiving no support from France. He was relying completely on the loyalty and fighting ability of the Highlanders.

This had not been the case just a year earlier. Then the French government had viewed Charles as a key player in what they hoped would be a huge British conflagration. The French intended to put Prince Charles back on English soil, backed by their own troops, to spur a Jacobite uprising. If all went according to plan, the French would place the Stuarts back on the throne of Great Britain, gaining a powerful ally while deposing a nemesis. Even if the plan ultimately failed, they would at least create a major distraction, and perhaps succeed in removing the British from French business on the Continent. It was well worth risking the lives of 7,000 French soldiers. Unfortunately for Charles, the fleet carrying the French troops was scattered by a prolonged storm, and they were never able to land. On the heels of this failure, a new set of ministers and generals gained power in France, and they had no further interest in the prince or a restored Stuart monarchy. Charles, his hopes raised so high, was now left to his own devices.

The well-worn road on which Prince Charles and the Macdonald clan were now traveling ran along the rocky and picturesque river Finnan and led to the vale of Glenfinnan. The vale was an open field bordered by tall trees at the spot where the Finnan flowed into Loch Shiel, a long, narrow lake surrounded by tall mountains. Charles had deliberately chosen this spot for the first gathering of the clans; the idyllic highland scene was meant to inspire the highland sons on whom his quest depended.

The question was this: Would there be anyone to rally? Since arriving in the western isles four weeks earlier, Stuart's original expectation of universal and enthusiastic support had been met with disappointment. The very first clan leader he summoned refused to join the rebellion, thinking it too reckless without French support. The chief of the Macdonald clan was also wary. The year 1715 was a long time ago, he told Charles, and without French backing a revolt made no sense. Still, Charles was determined, and at last he won over the chief of the Cameron clan, who said that he would be able to deliver nearly 1,000 men. With that, the Macdonalds reluctantly agreed to fight, too. The prince then sent letters to the leaders of all of the clans that he had not met with personally, and the returning messengers assured Charles that there was solid backing for his cause. So, bolstered by the allegiance of the Camerons and Macdonalds, the positive reports from the returning messengers, and the unwavering confidence of the seven companions who had sailed with him from France, Charles declared August 19 the day the fight to regain the crown would begin. And it would begin here, at Glenfinnan.

The column reached the crest of the last small hill before the woods opened to the vale, and when the prince marched through the opening, there was . . . nothing. No horses, no cannon, no bagpipes, and no soldiers. No one save his seven followers from France, who had come ahead of him, and who now stood near the lakeshore. The prince was completely bewildered. The Macdonalds entered the vale right behind him, and the chatter stopped immediately. Crestfallen, the prince walked across the field by himself to the area near the water where several huts formed a tiny hamlet. He entered one of them to deal with the shock and chagrin.

Nobody knew what to do. One of the prince's confidants went into the cottage to try to lift Charles's spirits, but he came out several minutes later looking glum. The Macdonalds scattered over the field, and it's probable that most of them thought they would be walking back to their farms the next day. Finally, after an interminable wait of two hours, the group heard the sound of bagpipes in the distance. The music drew closer, and with their eyes trained on the hill near the entrance to the vale, the Macdonalds saw first the heads, and then the bodies, of the huge Cameron clan. They were marching in two columns, and their order was impressive. They reached the field and kept marching toward the lake. The Macdonalds quickly got back into ranks, not wanting to be outdone. When Charles heard the bagpipes, he came out of his refuge, and watched excitedly as the columns advanced. He assembled his seven followers and moved to the small knoll adjacent to the lake, whereupon the 800 Camerons and the 150 Macdonalds formed a semicircle in front of the prince. There was nothing to be embarrassed about now.

Still, a prudent man would have taken measure of the situation and returned to France. Instead, and inexplicably, with only 950 men before him, Charles instructed his highest-ranking companion, a gentleman who called himself the Marquis of Tuillibardine, to unfurl the standard of the Stuarts, which was a red, white, and blue silk flag, and read the declaration of war against "the Elector of Hanover," a taunting reference to George II, whose German House of Hanover now ruled England and Scotland. The rebellion had begun.

Charles Stuart was charismatic, but he knew nothing about leading an army. In the hours after the reading of the declaration of war against King George, another 450 or so Highlanders made their way to Glenfinnan before nightfall, creating a force totaling 1,400 men. George Murray, an experienced officer who had seen a great deal of action in Europe as a mercenary, was among them. Murray was quickly designated as the military commander of the Highlanders. He and the other clan leaders decided to march straight to Edinburgh. By moving quickly toward their ultimate goal, they hoped to surprise the government forces. Other clansmen would no doubt join them during their march.

Meanwhile, in Edinburgh, rumors began circulating in early August that Charles had landed in western Scotland. No one believed them at first. But reliable intelligence finally arrived from the west. General Jonathan Cope, the ranking military officer in Edinburgh, was charged with outfitting an army and eliminating the nuisance immediately. Though Cope had been in the king's service for over two decades, he had seen little military action. One commentator later pointed out that, "From this point onwards, [Cope's] incapacity for high command showed itself flagrantly." Cope, like everyone else in Edinburgh, was confident that Charles could not possibly raise a large body of clansman, so the alarm was muted.

Not taking any chances, though, Cope decided to engage the Highlanders as quickly as possible, before their ranks were able to swell. Yet he was able to muster only 1,400 troops in Edinburgh because most British soldiers were on the European continent. Reluctant to wait for more men to arrive in the city, and expecting that his forces would increase as they marched through pro-government territories, Cope and the government's army departed Edinburgh on August 22. Without either side knowing the situation of the other, the two small but equal-sized legions began marching toward their first engagement on practically the same day.

That first encounter occurred about 50 miles from Edinburgh, at a mountain known as Corriearrick. Cope was preparing to engage the enemy there, when at the last moment he received faulty intelligence indicating that the Highland infantry was much bigger than his. He disengaged and led his troops north to Inverness, 160 miles from Edinburgh. This meant that the way was clear for Charles and the Highlanders to march into the former capital.

When news of Cope's shocking nonengagement reached Edinburgh, the citizens realized that they had been left unprotected. A hastily called town meeting made it clear to all just how unprepared the city was. There were no troops to prevent the highlanders from capturing the city, beyond the 600 elderly "soldiers" that Cope had left behind to guard the castle; the officer in charge was eighty-five years old. At the meeting, the majority voted to do nothing, praying that the Highlanders had no interest in destroying Edinburgh and fearful that their sons, if hastily assembled into a fighting force, would stand no chance against the ferocious clansmen. In addition, some townsfolk exhibited a lackadaisical attitude that revealed their pro-Jacobite leanings—clearly a larger number of Jacobites lived in Edinburgh than the Whig majority realized.

However, two town leaders would not accept such acquiescence, and they announced that they would take it upon themselves to raise volunteers and defend the city. One of the leaders was none other than Colin Maclaurin, Hutton's professor of natural philosophy. The other was George Drummond (1687-1766), a past mayor (called the Lord Provost), who had founded the University of Edinburgh's medical school in 1726, the year of Hutton's birth. Together, they enlisted 400 volunteers to defend the city, mainly students from the university. It is unclear whether James Hutton was among them. He and his mother and sisters could have been at the family farm 40 miles southeast of Edinburgh. In fact, many citizens of Edinburgh who had family in the country left the city when word of the Highlander threat first arrived.

On September 15, scouts in the countryside delivered the news to the leaders of Edinburgh that Prince Charles and the Highlanders were only 8 miles away, half a day's march. Maclau-rin and Drummond mustered the volunteers in the Lawnmarket area, near the castle, and then Drummond led them down High Street to take up positions at the town gate at the bottom of the ridge. Inexplicably, the crowd along the street, who were there, the volunteers surely assumed, to cheer them on, instead peppered them with jeers and catcalls. In the face of this antagonism, the fragile resolve of the young men disappeared. One by one, the volunteers quietly left the ranks and melted into the crowd. By the time Drummond reached the town gate, there were perhaps a dozen boys left. His army had become a brigade. This is when he gave up—furious with his fellow citizens—and let the last of the students go home.

The next day, an advance troop of Highlanders entered the city through the town gate unopposed. They quickly marched up High Street and secured the rest of the town. Not a shot was fired, and there were no casualties. The 600-strong garrison locked itself in the castle, and remained there for the rest of the occupation.

Then, on September 17, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, son ofJames III and grandson of the last Stuart king to reign in Great Britain, entered the city and took up residence at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the very spot from which his predecessors had ruled Scotland. Without losing even one soldier, and in just eight weeks from his arrival in the Highlands accompanied by only seven friends, the prince had taken over the capital of Scotland.

Charles, Murray, and the clan chiefs knew that Cope and his army would appear soon. After retreating to Inverness, Cope had marched his 1,400 men east to the port of Aberdeen. There they boarded several naval ships and sailed down the coast and across the mouth of the Firth of Forth to the town of Dunbar, which was about 30 miles east of Edinburgh. Cope was now marching toward the capital. But, in occupying Edinburgh, Charles had a major advantage: He could choose where the inevitable battle would be fought. George Murray did not want to face the government soldiers in the city itself, so he chose a field near the town of Preston, just to the east of the city, as the spot for the encounter. Cope's army would be marching through Preston on the way to Edinburgh. The night before the expected confrontation, the clansmen vacated Edinburgh to take up their positions.

The accepted method of battle in the mid-eighteenth century was for the two infantries to face each other on an open field, get off one round of musket fire (neither side had cannons), and then charge each other with swords and pikes. This practice had barely changed for hundreds of years. The Highlanders, especially those from the Cameron clan, used a particularly nasty weapon for want of guns: a sharpened scythe, which was a long pole with a curved blade attached. Farmers used this tool for harvesting, but in battle it was an opponent's nightmare. If a Highlander got off a solid stroke of the scythe at close range, he could quite literally cut an enemy in half.

The battle of Preston lasted only thirty minutes. The soldiers awoke on the morning of the expected engagement to find themselves in a thick fog, a common occurrence in this area so near the Firth. The fog allowed the Highlanders to begin the attack before Cope's troops were completely ready. Eyewitnesses of the battle, and there were many, describe a gruesome encounter. The clansmen were able to reach government lines quickly, wielding their heavy swords and scythes ferociously. They sent Cope's men into flight, but not before there was awful bloodshed on the battlefield. One eyewitness describes an almost unimaginable scene, the field strewn with sliced-off legs, arms, hands, and even heads and torsos. Those who lost an appendage lay bleeding to death, probably in silence due to shock. Others were screaming, trying to keep their entrails from spilling out onto the field. There was so much blood on the ground that it appeared as if a red rain had fallen. One government soldier had raised his arm to block a Highlander's razor-sharp broadsword, which then cut off his hand before slicing halfway through his skull.

Even Charles was appalled by what he saw; in a letter to his father, he described the horror of watching so many young men, all his countrymen, horribly butchered. Approximately 500 government soldiers were killed, and most of the rest were taken prisoner. Cope's army no longer existed. The Highlanders, by comparison, had suffered fewer than three dozen casualties.

With the victory at Preston, the prince was now the undisputed leader of Scotland. Now what? Realistically, no one had expected Charles to get this far. But here he was in possession of Edinburgh, a solid army was still intact, and he had plenty of food, money, and able advisors. Murray and the leaders of the clans advised the prince to be content with the capture of Scotland and to prepare to defend Edinburgh and Scotland from the English forces that would eventually come from the south. But the prince believed that England was also part of his legacy, and he insisted that his men march into England, too. Murray and the clan chiefs reluctantly agreed, acknowledging that perhaps the best defense against counterattack was to move aggressively against their southern neighbor.

They would not do so immediately. It made sense to wait and allow more Highlanders to join the force already in Edinburgh. They also wanted to see whether the mercurial French government would change its mind and send support. In just a few weeks, the Highland army swelled to about 5,000 men. In addition to soldiers, Jacobite supporters who were not expected to fight—older men, women, and children—came from the surrounding countryside to be part of the new Stuart regime. Reports of the period are fascinating. Charles held court and behaved like a monarch, holding at least one royal ball and even announcing several edicts. His demeanor, though, was said to be modest and controlled. The most humorous accounts focus on the behavior of the young women in the city, primarily the daughters ofJacobite supporters. They apparently fawned over the young and handsome prince.

The respite did not last. Unable to wait any longer to hear from the French, in early November the army of Bonnie Prince Charlie was once more on the move, heading south into England. They would need to reach London before the heavy rains of winter commenced. Just as on their march from Glenfinnan to Edinburgh, the Highlanders met almost no resistance for hundreds of miles. On November 9, they took the town of Carlisle, just across the Scots/English border. By early December, the army had reached Derby, over 200 miles south of Edinburgh, and only 130 miles away from London. The Highlanders appeared unstoppable.

However, Charles's ultimate success depended on two factors. First, he needed the Catholics and Jacobites of England to join his standard and swell the ranks of his army of 5,000. Instead, they offered no support at all, either out of indifference or certainty that the prince's effort was folly. Second, he desperately needed the help of the recalcitrant French. Impressed by what Charles had accomplished, the French at this point were, in fact, hurriedly trying to form a small expeditionary force, but it would be several weeks before it would arrive, and then it would be too little too late. On December 4, 1745, Charles and Murray met with the rest of the clan leaders to decide their next step. They knew from firm intelligence that an English force of around 30,000 men, six times their size, was on the march from London. The Highlander chiefs voted to retreat back to Scotland. Charles argued vehemently to continue to London, but he bitterly caved in when Murray, whose leadership had been so impressive, voted with the rest of the Highlanders. The beginning of the retreat was the beginning of the end, not only for the Stuart cause, but for old Scotland as well.

Murray, who kept the ranks together and moving quickly, handled the retreat masterfully. They crossed back into Scotland in early January. Several days later, the Highlanders fought their second battle against government forces, this time at Falkirk. In a driving winter rainstorm, the clansmen once again chased the better-trained government troops from the field. The Highlanders could not take much from the victory, however. They could not go back to Edinburgh because a new government army, formed in Glasgow, had retaken and secured the city just a few days before.

The English army was getting reinforcements from the south daily. The Highlander army, on the other hand, was losing men to desertion at a steady rate. The clansmen had been in the field for six months now, and the winter weather, coupled with the realization that England had now made the Highlanders' defeat a high priority, made it harder and harder to keep all but the most committed fighting. Therefore, the retreat continued to the historic capital of Highland Scotland: Inverness. Bonnie Prince Charlie and his men remained there for the rest of the winter, preparing for the showdown with the government forces they knew would come with the beginning of spring.

The engagement occurred in early April 1746. Murray and Charles made the decision to meet the enemy at Culloden Moor, just outside Inverness. The battle pitted the Highland force of about 4,000 against a foe at least double that size.

More crucially, the government army now possessed numerous cannons. The battle began in the early afternoon, and though the Highlanders fought valiantly, it was over quickly. In less than an hour, over 1,200 clansmen lay dead or dying on Culloden Moor. The order was given to retreat. Though the losses were severe, Charlie's army was still basically intact.

What happened next, though, was unexpected, and completely foreign to the rules of war. To this day, it is remembered by all Scots. When it was clear that Murray's men were in retreat, the commander of the government forces, the duke of Cumberland (who was the younger brother of King George II, and therefore had a personal stake in the destruction of the Jacobites), ordered his soldiers to spare no one, not even the wounded lying in the fields and woods. "No quarter" was the order given. Hundreds of the fallen were shot or stabbed where they lay. Some were even buried alive. Many of the captured were shot on the spot. Those who were not killed were thrown into prisons.

After the butchering of the Highlander army at Culloden, the atrocity continued. Cumberland, with the complicity of the government in London, had decided that a repeat of this rebellion must never occur. He was going to "pacify" the Highlands once and for all. Several days after the battle of Culloden, the government army scattered throughout the Highlands, bringing destruction in their wake. Cattle and sheep were slaughtered, crops ravaged. Cottages, farms, and houses were burned in every district of the Highlands. The lands of the fallen clan chiefs were forfeited and turned over to special managers from the Lowlands. Laws were quickly passed that stripped the chiefs of all authority. Clan councils were declared illegal, as was the wearing of tartans, the playing of pipes, even the mere speaking of Gaelic. The "harrying of the glens," as the pacification came to be known, was thorough, cruel, and brutal. Butcher Cumberland was singularly successful in ensuring that the clans would never rise again.

Bonnie Prince Charlie escaped to the western islands of Scotland and then to the Continent, where he lived out the rest of his long and besotted life (he died in 1788). For the bonnie prince, "the 45" was a bitter disappointment, yet he was able to resume his privileged life in exile upon his return to Italy. Would that the clans could have returned to their former lives. The vicious reprisals against them forever changed the landscape of Scotland. The clans never recovered, and Highland culture became just a memory. Even Lowland Scots realized that something was lost with the passing of the clans. But what was lost in their eyes did not outweigh what was gained—the elimination of the fear and wariness caused by the Highlanders and their violent and martial culture, their arbitrary and antiquated laws, and the genuine risk of real conflict. The 45 was the third major armed encounter in as many generations. A modern society, which the Whigs were trying to create, could not achieve its full potential with this sword of Damocles hanging over its head. So, although Edinburgh's Whigs did not approve of the way the Highlanders were quelled by the English government and army, they were pleased with the result—the end of the specter of violence. An energy and determination fell over the city that laid the groundwork for an extraordinary intellectual flourishing a generation later, one of the leading participants of which would be the now somewhat aimless student, James Hutton.

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