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Edinburgh and The Lothians
Chapter XX -
The ‘45 In the Lothians


THE great event that rung down the curtain on old-world Scotland was the ‘45. It has permanent interest. The adventure of Charles Edward Stuart will never cease to charm because it deals in a fascinating way with elemental human passions. The romantic note struck at first vibrates to the end. Only as it affects Edinburgh and the Lothians does it enter within our field. On 20th June 1745 Charles left France on the Doutelle, a frigate of sixteen guns. He landed on the 25th July at Moidart, a wild and lonely spot in the West Highlands, accompanied by seven companions, known as the seven men of Moidart. On the 19th August he hoisted his flag at Glenfinnan. On the 15th September he crossed the Forth at the Fords of Frew. On the 16th he entered the Lothians, and that day he was at Linlithgow, where the Provost’s wife and daughters, adorned with white cockades, met him at the Cross. The ancient palace fountain flowed with wine in his honour. The dragoons fell back to Kirkliston and then on Edinburgh, and Charles pressed on to Corstorphine. The capital was in wild terror and confusion. It was the Old City, intact, unspoiled, unimproved, hemmed in by walls, and no stone of the New Town yet laid. The Highlands were a terra incognita, the folk there were savages. The citizens had vapoured and bragged when these were at a distance, but now they trembled; they had some excuse. The dragoons, who were regular troops, set them an example of cowardice. They had fallen back to Coltbridge, where the Water of Leith cuts the road between Corstorphine and Edinburgh. There was an interchange of shots and the retreat quickly became a panic flight. The soldiers dashed along the Lang Dykes, full in view of the citizens of the Old Town. Although they did not stop at Bearford’s Park, where is now St Andrew Square, at least they drew up, till a mischievous urchin shouted, "the Highlanders are coming!" when they went off again by the sea coast to Musselburgh and Prestonpans. Here they halted, but one of their number fell down a disused coalpit. He clamoured so piteously for help that his comrades, in craven fear of the foe, bolted to North Berwick and Dunbar, not without other false alarms by the way. The commander, Colonel Gardiner, had slept in his house at Prestonpans during the night. By the morning his troop had vanished. He tracked them easily by the arms they had thrown away. At Dunbar he joined with Sir John Cope, commander of the Government forces, who after rather a goose-chase expedition in the Highlands had returned by sea to the Lowlands, determined to crush the insurrection in one battle. This flight of the dragoons is known as the Canter of Coltbridge. It destroyed what little stomach for fight the citizens had. No doubt the substantial folk of Edinburgh, good, honest Presbyterians, were in favour of the Established order, but there was a strong Jacobite feeling both among the very high and the very low. The Union was still a twitching sore, and the women were all Jacobites. When Provost Stewart led out such forces as he could muster from the West Bow towards the West Port, half the women-folk in the city, with tears and sighs, embraced the warriors and urged them not to risk their precious lives against wild savages; the other half, from the windows of the street itself, jested and gibed with open scorn, and did not hesitate with pert assurance to predict the result of the conflict. A song of the time begins "The women are a’ gane wud." It had foundation in fact. Thus everything depressed the courage of the hastily-collected town levies. The Provost, douce man, suspected, though probably unjustly, of Jacobite leanings, headed his men from the West Bow to the West Port, but some drained away at every close, and at the end there were none worth the leading. The hours passed in fruitless interchange of messages and stern summons to surrender. The Blue Blanket fluttered from the steeple of St Giles,’ but the old fighting spirit was clean gone. Charles crept ever nearer, though he had moved from the direct road to the south to avoid the Castle guns. On the 17th September a party of the Camerons under Lochiel crossed the Boroughmuir by moonlight at five in the morning, and came round to the Netherbow Gate. A coach was being let out; they rushed in and the place was their own. The dawn was breaking as they marched up the High Street with yells of joy, whilst their bagpipes skirled "We’ll awa to Sherramuir, to haud the Whigs in order." The citizens gazed, some glad, some sad, the most sleepily and stupidly, from their lofty windows, but they did nothing else save submit to their fate, which was at least not terrible. If the Highlanders piped and yelled they hurt nobody. They seized all the coigns of vantage as quietly as if merely changing guard, and the main body stood in the Parliament Close for hours in silent order, although what seemed to their simple souls incalculable treasures were within their grasp.

The romance of the day was only beginning with these stirring early morning adventures. Charles, still keeping to the south of the city, passed along Grange Loan, entered the King’s Park at Priestfield by a breach made in the wall, and led his forces through the Hunter’s Bog, the valley in the midst, where they were for the time encamped. Under a guard of Highlanders he moved to the eastward, and so by the Duke’s Walk to Holyrood. There were thronging and cheering crowds all round, and the Prince paused again and again at this great moment of his life. There was everything to catch the popular fancy: the handsome form, the young figure, the fair hair, the gallant bearing, the tartan dress, St Andrew’s Cross on his breast, and more than all, the memories that thrilled through every heart. This was the heir of many and famous forefathers, and that was the house of many and famous memories.

"He travels far from other skies,
His mantle glitters on the rocks,
A fairy Prince with joyful eyes,
And lighter footed than the fox."

Perhaps not "joyful eyes," however. They say that the Stuart sadness was dark on his brow at the very moment of triumph; or perhaps men in after years, then knowing the sadness of the end, read their knowledge into the remembered impressions of the day. An ominous sign was not wanting. As he entered the porch of the palace of his ancestors a shot from the Castle struck James V.’s tower, and stones and rubbish rumbled at his feet. Inside the quadrangle, James Evan O’Keith, the very ideal of a Jacobite gentleman, stepped from the crowd, did homage to the Prince, and holding before him his naked sword upright marshalled him into what was now his home. Even yet the people were not satisfied with seeing. Charles needs must show himself at the window and smile and bow to an enthusiastic and cheering populace; and still there was more, for the Heralds, in all their old-world finery, marched in solemn procession to the Cross, and there with every pomp of circumstance proclaimed father and son as King and King’s Regent, and there round the Cross was a bevy of ladies, chief among them the beautiful Mrs Murray of Broughton, who sat on horseback, a drawn sword in her hand, a white cockade on her bosom. Even Edinburgh in its long annals had seen no more romantic sight. That same evening there was a great ball in Holyrood. The murmur of a crowd, surely the bravest of the brave and the fairest of the fair, echoed through its long, silent, historic halls. The gleam of torch and taper, the noise of the old Scots music of fife and pipe, rolled far and late into the summer night. To some shepherd on the neighbouring hill, or some peasant watcher in the not distant fields, the vision must have seemed eerie and uncanny, like a magic story of some ruined castle tenanted by ghostly revellers with spectral light and music and feasting.

In three days the Prince was off to Duddingston, which was his chief camp. Here it was determined to fight, and on the 20th September he moved on to Fisherrow, and over the Esk by the old bridge at Musselburgh, and then south-east to Tranent. Cope in the meantime had left Dunbar on the 19th September and marched to Haddington. His army and baggage occupied several miles of road. The country folk flocked from far and wide to gaze on a spectacle so unwonted as war in the Lothians. Cope continued along the high-road till he came to Huntington, where he took the low road to the sea, a road that leads you through exquisite fields and unfrequented ways, by streams and woods, and gentle hills and dales, with a friendly inland sea to bound the near view. Not these things occupied poor Cope’s solid wits. You fancy the look of perplexity and bewilderment which men noted in him after the battle was already there. Anyhow, he sought rather safety than vantage. He got down by the sea among old-world villages and houses, and there with the Firth at his back, and his wings stretching from Tranent to Seton, and a marsh before him, he fondly believed himself secure. He had 2100 men as against his opponents’ 2400, but of these latter only 1456 were engaged in the battle. The Highlanders had found a way over the morass. They had moved from the west to the east side of Tranent, and at 3 a.m. on the morning of 21st September they advanced in the darkness on the other army. They got across the morass and formed in line. A strange scene! The sun rose, it was light on the Firth and the hills, but the mist lay heavy over the two armies. No sound save the rush of the Highland brogues on the stubble, and now and again a drum beat in Cope’s camp. On the stone dykes that divided the fields were perched crowds of silent spectators, whom the rising of the mist made ever more clearly visible. The yards of a Government vessel on the Fifth were also crowded with anxious lookers-on. This is what they saw. When the mist at length clean vanished the Highlanders presented their guns. A flash, a crash, and loud yells of battle, and from out the smoke, right in the enemy’s lines, the Highlanders falling upon the foe swift and terrible as lightning, in the right hand the sword, in the left the buckler and dirk! Then came the shock, and the armies seemed fused in one, but in five or six minutes the English soldiers were streaming in hot flight in every direction and the Highlanders already collecting prisoners and plunder. The victory was complete. The defeated lost baggage and renown alike. None now resisted. Those who were not dead or prisoners were hopeless fugitives. Cope could not believe himself safe till he was within the walls of Berwick; everywhere he brought the news of his own defeat. A touch of the ridiculous lay in every action of the Government forces. A Highland boy disarmed a whole troop and drove them before him prisoners; a Highland chieftain, single handed, hunted a band of horse into and through the streets of Edinburgh, and right up to the very guns of the Castle. Charles marched triumphant into the capital, and the Jacobites went mad with joy, and there were gallant parades and reviews, and meetings of the Council every morning, and balls in the old Picture Gallery; and the old portraits of old Kings, that long line of shadowy monarchs of the house of Fergus, looked down on a Prince and his Court that to us seem not less shadowy than they. And yet, though the women were ready with everything, the men hung back, and the only new levies were from the Highlands. From the Forth to the Thames folk, unless they were in the Government employ, seemed to think, "well, this is no business of ours," they were mere spectators. Even professed Jacobites held their hands. What on earth was Allan Ramsay doing, I wonder? How is it we never even hear the name during all this stirring time of that reputable and prosperous citizen and sentimental Jacobite? Life in Edinburgh went on very much as usual. Business was interrupted, it was true, paper money and bills useless and credit unprocurable, but it was a time indifferent, it would seem, to such dull matters, and no one was in a desperate hurry, and there were compensations in speculation and adventure. The citizens had one decided crook in their lot. The Castle held stoutly out for the Government. The commander had been General Preston of Valleyfield, an old experienced soldier, but he was a Scot, and as such held suspect, and Guest, an Englishman, was appointed in his place. Guest had Jacobite sympathies, or perhaps he was only affected by the prevailing terror. At any rate he suggested surrender. His officers agreed, but Preston would not hear of it, and was allowed to resume the command. He was eighty-six years of age, and, too infirm to walk, was carried every two hours in his armchair from port to port to examine the positions. He mercilessly bombarded the town whenever the Highlanders proved troublesome. Nay, when he believed himself pressed hard, his cannon raked the High Street so ferociously that many citizens, with their wives and children, fled towards Leith; but they were met by the folk of Leith fleeing towards Edinburgh. Cannon from a Government warship in the Forth were raking their streets with equal ferocity. A plague on both their houses must have been in the hearts, if not in the mouths, of the burghers. A sort of informal truce was patched up: the Highlanders left the Castle unassailed; the Castle ceased to fire on the town.

Charles spent six weeks in Edinburgh. He held a review on Portobello sands before his departure. He left Edinburgh on Thursday, the 31st October, for Pinkie House. The next day he rode to Dalkeith. It is not needful to follow the various routes by which his army drained out of the Lothians. On Friday, 8th November, he crossed the Border near Longtown. Many of the Highlanders were afraid of the terra incognita of South Britain. They deserted him in large numbers, yet he took Carlisle without much difficulty, but now he is beyond our ken. On the 16th November the Officers of State returned to the capital and things were as they had been. The Castle was soon the prison of Jacobite captives, and after Culloden their numbers were much increased. The standards of the clans taken at that battle were burned at the Cross by the hangman and his assistant with every detail of ignominy. The wheel of fortune had indeed come full circle!

Could Charles have succeeded under any circumstances? He wished to move straight on southward direct from Prestonpans, and that maybe was his only chance. Had he caught London napping a considerable part of England might have risen in his favour, and yet the hero of romance was neither a great general nor a great man. The ‘45 gets its pathetic interest from its very hopelessness. Such an event left a huge mass of legend and tradition behind it. Much was garnered by after historians, much has perished for ever. The Highlanders behaved very well in Edinburgh. Their wildness lay mainly in their looks, and it was the necessary theory of their leader that the city was full of his own, his very own, subjects. Many stories are told of the simplicity of the Highlanders. They plundered Cope’s army and strutted about in incongruous habiliments. One sold a watch for a trifle; it had stopped ticking and he judged that "ta crater was deid." Another changed a horse for a horse pistol. Some were seen cheerfully speeding towards their distant homes with a military saddle on each back. Chocolate taken from the General’s carriage was sold as Johnny Cope’s salve. Even the rascals among them had an air of amusing simplicity. One, pistol in hand and threatening in demeanour, stopped a prosperous burgher in the High Street. The trembling citizen gasped, "What would he?" "A bawbee" was the moderate demand. True, some ingenious rogues disguised themselves as Highlanders and did a fair amount of plundering, but these were presently seized and fusiladed. There are many instances of their kindness to captives, and there is no instance of hurt to a non-combatant — at least willing hurt one must add. During the occupation a Highlander shot off a loaded musket in his glee. The ball grazed the forehead of Miss Nairn, a Jacobite lady, as she waved her hand from a High Street balcony. "Thank God it did not touch a Whig or it were judged done on purpose," quoth the courageous damsel. Tradition records (apparently erroneously), how Charles was at a banquet in Provost Stuart’s house in the West Bow, and was well nigh seized by a surprise party from the Castle. The guests escaped through a secret passage, the entrance to which a cabinet concealed. The sturdy minister of St Cuthbert’s, a certain MacVicar, continued to pray for King George during the occupation, and expressed a not altogether pious wish that the young man who was seeking an earthly crown might rather find a heavenly one.

The whole episode of the Prince in Edinburgh is admirably told in Waverley, though the affair was too recent for Scott to allow himself to go as far as his sympathies had suggested in favour of the lost cause.

And so the curtain falls on this exciting drama. As the pipe music died in the distance on that autumn day when the Highlanders left Edinburgh, the historic and romantic interest of the city died with it. How can she ever bulk large again on the stage of time?


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