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September 20th 1760

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Prince Charlie's brilliant strategist

There is no doubt that from the very first it was a desperate enterprise. To land in Scotland with only seven followers and a few thousand pounds of money hardly betokened the sort of preparation needed for a successful overthrow of an established government.

But these initial difficulties were to a large extent overcome. The charm and youthful enthusiasm of Prince Charles brought in large numbers of Highland chiefs with their followers, and Jacobites throughout Scotland rallied to the cause. Most importantly, Lord George Murray, younger brother of the Duke of Atholl, who had been out in 1715 but later made his peace with the government, immediately declared his allegiance to the Prince.

It was an event of supreme importance for not only was Lord George able to bring out numbers of Atholl men to fight for the Jacobite cause, but he displayed a gift for organisation and leadership that helped to transform the raw recruits who had come mainly from the Highlands into a disciplined and effective fighting force. As for his abilities as a soldier, it was said that ‘had Prince Charles slept throughout the whole affair and left Murray in sole command the Rising would have had a different end.’

If Lord George had a fault it was that he did not suffer fools gladly and this combined with a certain arrogance obviously made for difficulties among the somewhat disparate group of leaders supporting the Prince.

It would not have mattered if Prince Charles himself had been able to show the qualities of tact and leadership that were so desperately needed. Charm he certainly possessed but with this went a fatal reliance on his Irish advisers who flattered rather than advised him; flattered his belief that he possessed military capabilities (he had in fact neither fought in nor read about any military campaigns); flattered his belief in the divine rights of the Stewart monarchy (“It is the obedience of my subjects I desire not their advice”  he told his followers early in the campaign.); flattered him with stories of the thousands waiting to join him in England, so that against all advice he insisted upon the advance south across the border. Lastly, his Irish advisers, particularly O’Suullivan, were at pains to suggest that Lord George Murray was in reality a supporter of the Hanoverians and would desert to the enemy when the time was right. The Prince, who as Lord Elcho said was ‘naturally of a suspicious turn of mind’ seemed only too ready to believe in the apostasy of Lord George and this from early on soured the relationship between the two men.

Eventually, after a number of disagreements Lord George wrote to the Prince asking to be relieved of his command as his “advice as a General officer had so little weight”  but saying that he desired to serve in the ranks as a volunteer. The resignation was accepted by the Prince with the minimum expression of regret. “I am glad of your particular attachment to the King but I am sure he will never take any proof of it but your deference to me. I accept of your demission as Lieutenant-General and your future service as a volunteer” .

The news however caused consternation and dismay among the army commanders. They were already in England with no sign of English Jacobites rallying to the cause. The last thing they wished was to lose the services of Lord George who had already shown his considerable abilities as a military tactician. “The Prince was thus compelled (though much against his will) to request Lord George to withdraw his resignation.”  wrote Murray of Broughton.

The Scottish army continued to move south encouraged by unsubstantiated rumours of French landings and hopelessly optimistic reports of support from Jacobite sympathisers. Finally at Derby, the advance halted and the Prince was persuaded, with the greatest reluctance to return to Scotland before they were cut to pieces by the better armed and very much more numerous English armies advancing towards them.

Thanks to Lord George, the retreat was conducted with the minimum of losses, only forty men were lost in the march from Carlisle to Derby and back. Lord Cobham wrote “I don’t know who has command of these people’s affairs, but this I can assert that they have not committed one mistake since they came into the Kingdom.”  A more modern writer commented “Lord George may be fairly described as a strategical genius. He dodged and outmanoeuvred the English generals on every occasion, marching up and down the country from Edinburgh to Derby with an absurdly inferior force, giving battle only when he chose.” 

But he received little help or thanks for his achievements, the Prince preferring to rely for advice upon his Irish favourites. The Prince insisted on leaving a garrison at Carlisle though Lord George pointed out that there were no adequate defences against heavy army cannon. The garrison were forced to surrender after ten days and all Scottish and English officers were later executed. Even at Falkirk, where Lord George was able to inflict a comprehensive defeat on the English forces under General Hawley the Prince insisted on continuing his siege of Stirling Castle rather than pursuing Hawley’s men back to Edinburgh.

After the disaster at Culloden, Lord George remained in hiding, probably near Tullibardine, for eight months until on December 16th he left Scotland for ever.

He travelled on to Rome where he met King James (Prince Charles’ father) once more. The Prince’s reaction to the event was typically vitriolic and unforgiving. He wrote to his father, “I have just received for certain that L George Murray past ye Carnivall at Venice with Lord Elcho and Earl Marischall, from thence he proceed to Room. If that be so it is of great importance he should be well secured there intil he can justifie himself to me for his past conduct, of which putting it in ye best light, one will find several demonstrative acts of disobedience, insolency and creating dissention. En fin besides for what he deserves I humbly represent your Majesty it would be of ye most dangerous consequences iff such a Divill was not secured immediately in sum Castle where he might be at his ease, but without being able to escape, or have ye liberty of Pen or paper.” 

It is difficult to understand the Prince’s unremitting hatred of Lord George and seems a poor recompense for the sacrifices he had made for the Stewart cause. It is also an interesting reflection on the Prince and his tenuous grasp of reality that he should think that he or King James had the power to secure Lord George in “sum Castle”  where he would not be able to escape or “have the liberty of Pen and paper.” 

Lord George was finally joined by his beloved wife and died in 1760, aged 66 at Medemblik in North Holland. His eldest son Johnny married his cousin Charlotte and became Duke of Atholl on the death of his uncle.

Prince Charles left Scotland for the last time on September 20th 1746 and arrived safely in France. He died in 1788 lamented by few who knew him.

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