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The Jacobites fight back at the Battle of Falkirk

The Glenfinnan Monument in the Scottish Highlands
With the shock of defeat at Prestonpans and a narrow escape following Charles Edward Stuart’s invasion of England that reached as far as Derby, the British Government of 1745 finally woke up to the threat of a new Jacobite rebellion.
 
Its response was to recall battle-hardened troops from Flanders. Their first act was to defeat a garrison of Jacobite troops who had been stationed at Carlisle Castle for a future invasion of England.
 
With the country secured Lieutenant General Henry Hawley led the Government force into Scotland.
 
Bonnie Prince Charlie had retreated to Glasgow and, on 3 January in 1746, his troops set out to take the Government-held Stirling Castle. Hawley marched to Edinburgh to relieve the siege.
 
Around 7,000 Government troops set up camp at Falkirk. They numbered slightly less than the 8,000-strong Jacobite force which included many from the Highland clans, but the commanders believed their soldiers' battle-experience would be enough to combat the feared Highland Charge that the Jacobites used so successfully.
 
On the 15th and 16th of January the Jacobite army prepared for battle at Falkirk Muir, but the Government forces refused to be drawn out of camp.
 
On the morning of 17 January General Hawley surveyed the prospective battlefield and decided there would be no fighting that day. Instead he went for lunch with a local noble lady.
 
The Jacobites saw their chance and raced to take the high ground of Falkirk Muir. They made the steep ascent, giving themselves the perfect position to deploy the dreaded Highland Charge.
 
Hawley sped back to the battlefield and tried to move his troops into position, but the weather had worsened and they faced a steep climb and showers in their face.
 
As they reached their battle position they were tired and wet, their gunpowder was soaked and their artillery was stuck at the bottom of the hill.
 
Trying to buy more time to set up, Hawley ordered three regiments of Dragoons to attack the enemy lines. They were repulsed and fled back down the hill - a frightful sight for the men still marching up it.
 
Encouraged by their success, and running low on ammunition, the Macdonald clan charged the Government left wing. 
 
With their powder wet the Government troops could not fire enough volleys to halt the charge, and they were soon fighting hand-to-hand with the Highlanders.
 
Seeing the success of the Macdonalds, more Highlanders came tearing down the hill to attack Hawley's troops. The Government forces were protected by a deep ravine on their right, but the left wing quickly crumbled and those troops fled.
 
Sensing the chance to profit the Highlanders raced to pillage the Government camp, missing the opportunity to wheel round and attack the opposite wing.
 
With fading light and fleeing troops Hawley recognised the hopelessness of his situation and withdrew. From his initial force of just over 7,000, he had seen 300 men killed and a similar number captured.
 
The battle was a Jacobite victory, but they had missed the chance to comprehensively defeat the Government force, who retreated to Edinburgh.
 
In the next few weeks they would be reinforced by Cumberland and the Jacobites siege of Stirling would fail. Bonnie Prince Charlie withdrew to his Highland stronghold, but a decisive defeat at Culloden would end the Jacobite fight for good.
 
Image: the picture above is the Glenfinnan Monument, a striking tribute to those who fought in the Jacobite Risings. The kilted figure at the top is Bonnie Prince Charlie, credit: Shutterstock.

 

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Led by expert Barry Hilton, The Jacobite Risings explores the rebellions from their start in 1689 to the end at Culloden. This four-day tour visits:
 
  • Killiecrankie, site of a stunning victory for the Jacobites during the first rebellion
  • Glencoe, where the MacDonald clan was betrayed and massacred
  • Fort William to re-live the Jacobite siege and visit the famous Highland Clans museum
  • Culloden, where the Jacobite cause was ended with the last pitched battle to be fought in the UK
 
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