of the Royal Scots Chapter VIII - The Spanish Main; The Seven Years War;
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
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
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
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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