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The Story of the Royal Scots
Chapter VIII - The Spanish Main; The Seven Years War;
The 'Forty-Five, 1740-1755


Fighting Fever in the West Indies—Dettingen—Fontcnoy— The Fall of Ghent—Prisoners of Prince Charlie—Falkirk —Culloden—Fort Sandberg—The Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle.

In the spring of 1738 it was clear that the long reign of peace, during which Walpole had directed British policy, was coming to an end. The Spaniards had been guilty of depredations in the South American seas, and English opinion was rising to fever heat. War was declared, and a minor naval success by Admiral Vernon's squadron in the attack on Porto Bello, in the Spanish West Indies, inflamed enthusiasm for a vigorous policy. The admiral attempted to seize Carthagena, but failed, and asked for eight thousand troops to help him.

Six thousand were embarked on August 14 under Lord Cathcart, with Wentworth as second in command. Everything went wrong from the first. An infectious fever raged in the convoying fleet, and the men died like flies even before they set sail.

By March 1741, however, the troops had landed near Carthagena under the guns of Vernon’s fleet. Cathcart had meanwhile died of dysentery, and Wentworth, an amazingly incompetent general, bungled everything. The assault on Carthagena failed miserably. The British force had dwindled from six thousand six hundred effectives to three thousand two hundred by battle and sickness; the attempt was given up. Still they did not sail away, and when they did, the nominally fit were only seventeen hundred, and those actually ready to fight a bare thousand.

Returned to Jamaica, the commanders conceived a descent on Santiago de Cuba. Arrived at the island at the end of August, they quarrelled until December, by which time three hundred men were left fit for duty. It is a miserable story, and the reader may well be spared all the sickening details of bungling and suffering. But some reference is necessary because in February a reinforcement of three thousand men arrived, and amongst them a battalion of The Royal Scots. Hitherto, except on rare occasions, both battalions had served together, but it seems that both now contributed men to a service battalion which in the Irish Orders is referred to as a battalion, but in the English Orders appears as the first. Probably what happened was that the second battalion was brought up to strength for foreign service from the first, of which ten companies, doubtless skeletons, remained in Ireland.

When the first battalion reached Jamaica, the men were healthy, but yellow fever soon got to work. Wentworth’s army buried fifteen men a day, but by March they set sail for Porto Bello on a new expedition. In the nineteen days’ voyage nearly a thousand men were sick or dead, and the ill-fated convoy returned to Jamaica to find that five hundred sick, whom Wentworth had left in hospital, had been moved to the graveyard.

There is no need to elaborate the melancholy record or to examine the culpability of Vernon or Wentworth, or the people at home. Suffice it to say that nine men out of ten who sailed on this fantastic expedition left their bones in the Spanish Main. The survivors of The Royal Scots reached Plymouth in December, and from this year onwards this second battalion was on the establishment of “ The Kingdom of Great Britain.” Greater matters than the Spanish expedition were, however, afoot in 1740. Charles VI, Emperor of Germany, died in October, leaving his daughter Maria Theresa sole heiress to the crowns of Bohemia and Hungary. The Hungarian crown was claimed by the Elector of Bavaria, and France supported him. This was in direct defiance of the Pragmatic Sanction, by which, before the Emperor’s death, all Europe had recognized Maria Theresa's succession. Frederick of Prussia, who had not yet won the title of “The Great,” attacked the Austrians at Mollwitz, and all Europe was summoned to the fray.

England, Holland, and Hanover were for the Queen, Prussia, Saxony, Spain, and France for Bavaria. France moved so quickly against Hanover that the Elector, our George II, had miserably to proclaim Hanover's neutrality for a year. The British Parliament was aflame with anger, and voted 500,000 as a subsidy to Maria Theresa, and sixteen thousand men and five millions for a campaign in Flanders. On John, Earl of Stair, fell the responsibility of following in the footsteps of Marlborough, whose pupil in war he had been. The Dutch were very half-hearted in their support of the Hapsburgs and indisposed to help even by allowing their port of Ostend to be used as a British base, but they met Stair’s wishes eventually. The French were not such serious antagonists. In 1742, as in 1914-1915, Prussia was the real enemy. Maria Theresa had to buy off Frederick with Silesia, which has ever since been a valuable appanage of the Prussian crown. The Austrians, freed from the Prussian menace, were able to turn on the French in Bohemia, and the British were free to assail France through Flanders, on which frontier she was weak. It was a fine strategical plan, but King George and his home advisers forbade it, nor were the Austrian allies more intelligent; and Stair was forced into a German campaign to frighten some German princelets into joining Austria.

In May 1743 Stair joined forces with Austrian and Hanoverian armies on the north bank of the Main near Frankfort, covering the junction of the Rhine and Main. With the manoeuvring which led up to the battle of Dettingen, and the futile way in which George II refused to be guided by Stair, we are not here concerned.

The first battalion of The Royals was not moved from Ireland to Ostend until June, and only arrived at Mainz in July. Thus they did not reach George’s main camp at Hanau until a few days after he made the last appearance of a British monarch as Commander-in-Chief on the field of battle at Dettingen on June 27. This engagement, with its series of blunders on both sides, but with the happy issue of victory for the Allies, marked the true end of the year’s campaigning, but The Royals took part in the wind-up of the fighting in the west of Germany, and afterwards went into winter quarters at Ghent.

Meanwhile the second battalion was placed on the Irish establishment. An idea of the slow promotion of those days may be gained from a petition of Captain Patrick Wood, who had served for thirty-seven years and desired to sell his commission. A warrant dealing with regimental colours ordered that the Union colour was to be the first stand of colours in all regiments save the Foot Guards, and for the first time provided that the regimental number should appear on the private’s equipment. It also denied to colonels the right to put their coat-of-arms or crest on any part of the soldier's uniform, and so marked the slow change in the internal economy of regiments. Hitherto the colonel had stood rather in the position of a patriarchal commander who gave his name to the regiment and ruled it as a chieftain ruled his clan. The idea that he was the nominee of the State grew with an increasing centralization of army control.

The following year provided little fighting of interest in Flanders for the first battalion, but in 1745 the Duke of Cumberland followed Wade in the chief command and displayed greater activity. The French were besieging Tournay, and the Allies, with only fifty thousand men against fifty-six thousand under Marshal Saxe, resolved on an attempt to raise the siege.

Saxe was at Fontenoy in a good position, strengthened by elaborate field-works. On May n the British took the right, the Dutch, under Waldeck, the centre opposite the village of Fontenoy, and the Austrians, under Konigseck, the left. Opposite the British redcoats was the flower of the French army, based on a powerful fort, the Redoubt d'Eu. Brigadier Ingoldsby was ordered to take this position with the bayonet. The French artillery was well posted at the Redoubt and in Fontenoy, and vigorously served. As the British advanced, the enemy’s guns ploughed through the scarlet ranks with incessant round shot. General Campbell, a veteran of Malplaquet and nearly eighty years old, was carried from the field dying. Ingoldsby on the British right failed to attack the Redoubt, not from cowardice, but stupidity. Cumberland would not wait till this dangerous vantage point of the enemy’s artillery was made harmless, and ordered the advance. The Dutch had utterly failed in their assault on Fontenoy, and thus both flanks of the advancing British infantry were exposed to a murderous enfilading fire. Nevertheless, the British marched forward unconcerned.

The Royal Scots were in the first line with nine other battalions, including three of Guards and one of the Twenty-first. Behind was the second line of seven British battalions and some Hanoverians. All alike moved as though they were at a review. The trenches a thousand yards ahead vomited fire, but the British made no reply. The ground was dotted with scarlet forms, dead and dying, but as each man fell the ranks closed up and marched forward imperturbably.

Not until they wrere fifty yards from the trenches did they cease their measured tread. Lord Charles Hay, of the First Guards, stepped forward, drank from his flask to the enemy, and hoped they would wait and not swim the Scheldt as they had swum the Main at Dettingen. It was a superb piece of bravura. Twenty yards more and the time for attack had come. The order came to fire, and fire they did by battalions, twro loading as one fired. The French withered under the hail of lead; and as the British marched on three hundred yards into the French camp nothing could withstand them. The cavalry of the enemy hurled themselves on the British ranks only to stagger back broken to shivers. In a Frenchman's words, "it was like charging two flaming fortresses rather than two columns of infantry.”

But even such extravagant heroism in one part of the field could not redeem the utter failure of the Dutch, and the British infantry had to fall back to relieve their left flank from the incessant attack and a murderous cross fire. The French had six battalions of Irish fighting for them—it was in the bad old days when the Irish, harried at home, were always with the King’s enemies—and they fought like tigers. A British retirement was inevitable, but it was unhurried.

Every hundred yards the shattered but steady battalions faced about, fired a volley, and resumed their steady march, until the French ceased to pursue and retired into their own lines.

The British had not won, but they had not been defeated. Their losses were hideous, and the Hanoverians, who had fought no whit less steadily, were no less shattered in numbers though unbroken in spirit. The Royal Scots came off no more lightly than other regiments, for they lost thirty per cent, of their effectives, two hundred and eighty-six in all. The worst sufferers of all, the Twelfth and Twenty-first, only lost a few over three hundred each, and the Guards not as many as The Royals.

For all that, the French came out of the struggle no better, though they never confessed their losses. Fontenoy was the greatest test to which the discipline and courage of British infantry had yet been put, nor has the grandeur of their conduct been surpassed since. There is no battle honour on a regimental colour which represents a more deathless story of cool valour, but the historian is obliged to confess that its military effect was slight, owing to the muddled generalship which robbed so much heroism of the success to which it was entitled.

Cumberland had to retreat north-eastwards to Lessines : Tournay fell and released a big French army. The Duke’s generalship faltered, and he tried to do too much. He had men enough to defend Ghent or Brussels, but not both, yet he attempted to save both. The main army was before Brussels, and on July 8 he sent The Royals with the Thirty-first (Handasyde's) and Twentieth Foot and some cavalry to reinforce the garrison of Ghent. On the way they encamped at Most, but the French were at hand and they moved on again. The first brush was in favour of the British, but a larger body of the enemy attacked them three miles further on.

“Their fire (the enemy's) broke the Hussars. Rich’s Dragoons (4th H.) followed notwithstanding the fire from the Nunnery, for The Royal Scotch, marching close to 'em, drew on themselves the fire from the Nunnery, which favoured the passage of the Dragoons beyond the Nunnery; but they soon found the causeway lined with the enemy’s foot, whose fire would have destroyed them all if The Royal Scotch had not moved forwards to their assistance and engaged that fire of the enemy whilst the cavalry that had passed made the best of their way to Ghent.” 

Moltke, writing to Cumberland of this incident, said that The Royals “behaved like lions” and covered the passage of the cavalry by their fire. They captured an enemy battery and held it for a time under a murderous fire, but the other regiments could not make headway, and though The Royals fought their way through to Ghent, half the force fell back on Alost. Unhappily their sacrifices were only of temporary value. No sooner were they in Ghent than the garrison was surprised by the French, and The Royals shared their fate of imprisonment in France. In September they were exchanged, and arrived in the Thames on October 25. A descent by the French on the south coast was then threatened, so The Royals were quartered in Kent until the following May.

Meanwhile the second battalion was engaged in a less glorious campaign. Prince Charles had landed in the west of Scotland on July 28, 1745, and the Highlands were rallied to his banner. The Second Royals moved from Dublin to England at the end of September, but saw no fighting. Two companies of the first battalion, additional to the ordinary establishment and raised only in 1744, had been in garrison at Perth, and were moved with the Sixth Foot to defend the forts on the line of Loch Lochy and Loch Ness. After serving at Fort Augustus they were sent to Fort William, then in considerable danger. It was a disastrous enterprise. On the route they were ambushed by a greatly superior force of the Prince’s Highlanders, and exhausted as they were by the long march, Captain Scott, already wounded, surrendered to Keppoch with two other officers and about eighty men. They were brought before the Prince and released on giving their parole, which Scott was one of the few to keep.

However, it was a small success for the Jacobites, and even after the Prince’s notable victory at Preston-pans and his winning almost all Scotland to his side, the raid on England failed hopelessly. The Second Royals took part in the chase of the Prince back into Scotland, and were placed under Lieut.-General Hawley’s command at Edinburgh. Meanwhile the Prince had been joined by a battalion of the Royal Ecossais with battering guns from France, occupied Stirling Town, and began a siege of the castle.

By January 27, 1746, King George’s troops, The Second Royals amongst them, had moved on Falkirk with a view to relieving Stirling. Prince Charles moved out to the field of Bannockburn to invite battle, but General Hawley remained in camp near Falkirk, and the Prince decided to attack him, marching by way of Falkirk Muir. Hawley was surprised, but charged with three regiments of dragoons, only to be repelled by the fire of the Highlanders. The rain was in the faces of the English, and many of their muskets missed fire. The Royals were broken and ran at first, but rallied with the Buffs and made a steady retreat. Hawley retired on Linlithgow and wrote of his misfortune to Cumberland, "my heart is broke” by the cowardice of some of the troops. He hanged thirty-two of the Foot, but at that time1 none of The Royals. Indeed, one of their sergeants, Henson by name, so distinguished himself in the action that he was given a commission in Sempill’s regiment.

A curious incident took place in Falkirk the day after the battle, which shows that even amongst The Royal Scots the ties of clanship sometimes overcame the demands of loyalty to the King's uniform.

’’Lord Kilmarnock had come to Falkirk with a party of his men, who had in their custody some Edinburgh volunteers, who, having fallen behind Hawley’s army in its march to Linlithgow, had been taken and carried to Callander House. Leaving the prisoners and their guard standing in the street, opposite to the house where the prince lodged, his lordship went upstairs and presented to him a list of the prisoners. Charles opened the window to survey the prisoners, and while engaged in conversation with Lord Kilmarnock about them, a soldier in the uniform of The Scots Royals, carrying a musket and wearing a black cockade, appeared in the street, and approached towards the prince. The volunteers were extremely surprised, and, thinking that his intention was to shoot the pnnce, expected every moment to see him raise his piece and fire. Observing the volunteers all looking in one direction, Charles also looked the same way, and seeing the soldier approach appeared amazed, and, calling Lord Kilmarnock, pointed towards the soldier. His lordship instantly descended into the street, and finding the soldier immediately opposite to the window where Charles stood, the carl went up then to him, and striking the hat off the soldier’s head, trampled the black cockade under his feet. At that instant a Highlander rushed from the opposite side of the street, and laying hands on Lord Kilmarnock, pushed him violently back. Kilmarnock immediately pulled out a pistol, and presented it at the Highlander’s head; and the Highlander in his turn drew his dirk, and held it close to the earl's breast. They stood in this position about half a minute, when a crowd of Highlanders rushed in and drove Lord Kilmarnock away. The man with the dirk in his hand then took up the hat, put it on the soldier’s head, and the Highlanders marched off with him in triumph.

"This extraordinary scene surprised the prisoners, and they solicited an explanation from a Highland officer who stood near them. The officer told them that the soldier in the royal uniform was a Cameron: ‘yesterday,’ continued he, ‘when your army was defeated, he joined his clan; the Camerons received him with joy, and told him that he should wear his arms, his clothes, and everything else, till he was provided with other clothes and other arms. The Highlander who first interposed and drew his dirk on Lord Kilmarnock is the soldier's brother; the crowd who rushed in are the Camerons, many of them his near relations; and, in my opinion,' continued the officer, ‘no Colonel nor General in the prince’s army can take that cockade out of his hat, except Lochiel himself.’’’

The successes of Prince Charles were, however, nearing their end. The Duke of Cumberland arrived in Scotland to take command: the Highlanders raised the siege of Stirling Castle and retreated to Inverness. Cumberland moved north to Aberdeen, where The Second Royals were brigaded in the First Division under Lord Albemarle, and marched to Inverness, which they reached on April 15.

Prince Charles tried to surprise them by a forced march, but failed, and halted on Culloden Moor. The next day the King’s army advanced in order of battle, The Royals at the post of honour on the right of the first line. In an hour Cumberland had marched over the Highlanders and their French allies, and the cause of the Stewarts was finally broken. But the fight was not won without great efforts on Prince Charles’s side at first, as we learn from a full account of the engagement written by Alexander Taylor, a private in The Royal Scots, to his wife.

"It u-as a very cold morning, and nothing to buy or comfort us; but we had the Ammunition-loaf, thank God; but not a Dram of Brandy or Spirits, had you give a Crown for a Gill, nor nothing but the Loaf and Water. We had also the greatest difficulty in keeping the Locks of our Firelocks dry, for the Rain was violent. .

The Battle began by Cannonading, and continued for Half an Hour or more with Great Guns. But our Gunners galling their Lines, they betook themselves to their small Arms, Sword and Pistol, and came running on our Front Line like Troops of hungry Wolves, and fought with Intrepidity." 

Once the Jacobite lines were broken, the pursuing troops had their fill of slaughter. There is no need to enlarge on the work of the Butcher of Culloden, in which, no doubt, The Royals had to play their part.

The battalion remained in Scotland for the rest of the year, and it is odd to note in a return of its strength that Lieutenant Forbes and Ensign Lord Strathnaver were absent, being at school at Winchester!

We must now turn to the year’s doings of the first battalion in a very different field. The old colonel of the regiment, the Hon. James St. Clair, had become a lieut.-general, and was put in command of an expedition which was designed to attack the French possessions in Canada. The first battalion was to go with the force, but after many delays it embarked at Plymouth with five other regiments under secret orders for the coast of France. The French East India Company had its chief depot at Port L’Orient, near

Quimperle Bay, and the fleet dropped anchor in the bay on September 20. Next day the soldiers were landed and began the march on L’Orient, but the plan was ill conceived and had to be abandoned in favour of an attack on Quiberon in Morbihan, which offered better anchorage for the supporting fleet. Some fortifications were stormed and destroyed and the countryside laid waste, but nothing of military importance was achieved, and the end of October saw The Royals back in England, whence they returned to their Irish quarters.

In the following year the first battalion was ordered to the Netherlands, where a new campaign of the Seven Years War was opening. The French had overrun the Austrian Netherlands and had carried the war into Dutch Flanders. It may be suspected that The Royals were none too comfortable on this service, for much of their equipment had been destroyed by “ratts” on the transports which brought them back from the Quimperle expedition; the tent poles had been lost and their camp kettles rusted by the salt water. It does not appear whether these deficiencies had been made good, but anyhow their spirits were not damped. Soon after their arrival in Zealand, they marched with the Twenty-eighth and Forty-second to the relief of Hulst, then besieged by the French, and cut up an enemy force which was attempting to break the allied communications, with a loss to the French of over a thousand men.

A French attack on the fort of Sandberg, near Hulst, was beaten off by the Dutch with the aid of the British Brigade, and a later assault on May 5 found The Royals helping to defend the fort. The French advanced in the evening with their usual elan, and the Dutch were overborne. They then came to The Royals, who were of tougher stuff. It was a musketry fight in a confined space, which did not allow the usual manoeuvring in volley firing, and continued until dawn. Platoon after platoon of The Royals advanced, fired, filed back man by man to reload and so again, without any disorder, dispite hideous losses. Between three and four hundred of The Royals had fallen, but the survivors continued to fight on over the bodies of their comrades until a battalion of Highlanders relieved them. The French, who had suffered no less heavily, then retreated, dismayed by so fine an example of Scots tenacity. Sir Charles Erskinc was killed, and the following footnote in the Alva Baptismal Register shows in how serious a spirit the British fought.

"The Hon. Sir Charles Erskine of Alva, Bart., Major in the ist Battalion of The Royal Scots, fell in a battle near Hulst in the county of Axel in defence of Liberty and Property and all that is dear and valuable to us as men and Christians, on Friday the 24th April, 1747, betwixt 9 and 10 at night."

Unhappily the sacrifice of nearly half the battalion proved unavailing, for the French batteries dominated the position, and after a fighting retreat the British went into cantonments on the island of South Beveland and did no more that year. The Royals’ losses were made up by drafts from the second battalion, which remained in Scotland.

It thus happened that none of The Royals took any part in the main struggle of 1747 between Cumberland and Marshal Saxe, which culminated in the battle of Lauffcld, a defeat for the Allies caused by the feebleness of the Dutch and Austrians, for the British fought nobly.

The new year opened with bad omens, and, as the nation was sick of the war and the enemy was exhausted, the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle was signed, which left everything as it was before save only that Prussia had stolen Silesia. The main feature of the peace as it affected France and England was that each nation agreed to surrender its captures and to return to the status quo ante. Thus ended the Seven Years War, which was followed by seven years during which the regiment was reduced to peace establishment. In 1751 the Clothing Warrant was issued, which, for the first time, duly regularized the uniforms of all regiments.


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