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Prince Charles Edward Stuart
The rebels march to Derby

At Macclesfield Charles received intelligence that the army of Ligonier, of which the Duke of Cumberland had taken the chief command, was on its march, and was quartered at Lichfield, Coventry, Stafford, and Newcastle-under-Lyme. The prince resolved to march for Derby. To conceal their intentions from the enemy, Lord George Murray offered to go with a division of the army to Congleton, which lay on the direct road to Lichfield, by which movement he expected that the duke would collect his army in a body at Lichfield, and thereby leave the road to Derby open. This proposal having been agreed to, Lord George went next day with his division to Congleton, whence he despatched Colonel Ker at night with a party towards Newcastle-under-Lyme, whither the Duke of Kingston had retired with his horse, on the approach of the Highlanders, to get intelligence of the enemy. Ker came to a village within three miles of Newcastle, and had almost surprised a party of dragoons, and succeeded in seizing one Weir, a noted spy, who had been at Edinburgh all the time the prince was there, and who had kept hovering about the army during its march to give intelligence of its motions. The main body of the royal army, which was posted at Newcastle-under-Lyme, on hearing of the march of the division of the Highland army upon Congleton, retreated towards Lichfield, and other bodies that were beyond Newcastle advanced for the purpose of concentrating near that town, by which movements the design of Lord George Murray was completely answered. Having thus succeeded in deceiving the duke, Lord George Murray, after passing the night at Congleton, went off early next morning with his division, and turning to the left, passed through Leek, and arrived at Ashbourne in the evening. Charles, who had halted a day at Macclesfield, took the road to Derby by Gawsworth, and entered Leek shortly after the other division had left it. He would have remained there till next morning; but as he considered it unsafe to keep his army divided at such a short distance from the royal forces, who might fall upon either division, he set out from Leek about midnight, and joined the other column at Ashbourne early in the morning. The Duke of Devonshire, who had been posted in the town of Derby, with a body of 700 militia, on hearing of the approach of the Highland army had retired from the town on the preceding evening.

On the 4th of December Charles put the first division of his army in motion, and at eleven o'clock in the forenoon his van-guard, consisting of thirty horse, entered Derby and ordered quarters for 9,000 men. About three o'clock in the afternoon Lord Elcho arrived with the life-guards and some of the principal officers on horseback. These were followed, in the course of the evening, by the main body, which entered in detached parties to make the army appear as numerous as represented. Charles himself did not arrive till the dusk of the evening; he entered the town on foot, and took up his quarters in a house belonging to the Earl of Exeter. During the day the bells were rung, and bonfires were lighted at night. The magistrates were ordered to attend in the market-place, in their gowns, to hear the usual proclamations read; but having stated that they had sent their gowns out of town, their attendance was dispensed with, and the proclamations were made by the common crier.

The fate of the empire and his own destiny may be said to have now depended upon the next resolution which Charles was to take. He had, after a most triumphant career, approached within 127 miles of London, and there seemed to be only another step necessary to complete the chivalrous character of his adventure, and to bring his enterprise to a successful termination. This was, to have instantly adopted the bold and decisive measure of marching upon and endeavouring to seize the capital. The possession of the metropolis, where Charles had a considerable party, would have at once paralysed the government; and the English Jacobites, no longer afraid of openly committing themselves, would have rallied round his standard. The consternation which prevailed in London when the news of the arrival of the Highland army at Derby reached the capital, precludes the idea that any effectual resistance would have been offered on the part of the citizens; and it was the general opinion, that if Charles had succeeded in beating the Duke of Cumberland, the army which had assembled on Finchly Common would have dispersed of its own accord. Alluding, in a number of the True Patriot, to the dismay which pervaded the minds of the citizens of London, Fielding says, that when the Highlanders, by "a most incredible march", got between the Duke of Cumberland's army and the metropolis, they struck terror into it, "scarce to be credited". The Chevalier Johnstone, who collected information on the spot shortly after the battle of Culloden, says, that when the intelligence of the capture of Derby reached London, many of the inhabitants fled to the country, carrying along with them their most valuable effects, and that all the shops were shut, - that there was a prodigious run upon the bank, which only escaped bankruptcy by a stratagem, - that although payment was not refused, the bank, in fact, retained its specie, by keeping it continually surrounded by agents of its own with notes, who, to gain time, were paid in sixpences; and as a regulation had been made, that the persons who came first should be entitled to priority of payment; and as the agents went out by one door with the specie they had received, and brought it back by another, the bona fide holders of notes could never get near enough to present them; - that King George had ordered his yachts - on board of which he had put all his most precious effects - to remain at the Tower stairs in readiness to sail at a moment's warning, - and that the Duke of Newcastle, secretary of state for the war department, had shut himself up in his house a whole day, deliberating with himself upon the part it would be most prudent for him to take, doubtful even whether he should not immediately declare for the prince.

The only obstacle to Charles's march upon the capital was the army of the Duke of Cumberland, which was within a day's march of Derby. From the relative position of the two armies, the Highlanders might, with their accustomed rapidity, have outstripped the duke's army, and reached the capital at least one day before it; but to Charles it seemed unwise to leave such an army, almost double his own in point of numbers, in his rear, whilst that of Wade's would advance upon his left flank. Of the results of an encounter with Cumberland, Charles entertained the most sanguine hopes. His army was small, when compared to that of his antagonist; but the paucity of its numbers was fully compensated by the personal bravery of its component parts, and the enthusiastic ardour which pervaded the bosom of every clansman. At no former stage of the campaign were the Highlanders in better spirits than on their arrival at Derby. They are represented by the Chevalier Johnstone as animated to the highest pitch of enthusiasm, breathing nothing but a desire for the combat; and were to be seen during the whole day waiting in crowds before the shops of the cutlers to get their broadswords sharpened, and even quarrelling with one another for priority in whetting those fearful weapons. It was not without reason, therefore, that Charles calculated upon defeating Cumberland; and although there was a possibility that that bold and daring adventurer or his army, and perhaps both, might perish in the attempt to seize the capital, yet the importance of the juncture, and the probability that such a favourable opportunity of accomplishing his object might never come again occur, seem to justify Charles in his design of advancing immediately upon London. However, whatever might have been the result of the advance of the rebel army, other counsels prevailed, and Charles reluctantly yielded to the entreaties of his friends, who advised a retreat.

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