Jacobite Rebellion Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The attempt by Charles Edward to launch an invasion of Great Britain through the Highlands of Scotland astounded the world by coming very close to success. However, the withdrawal of the prince’s army back into Scotland gave the Hanoverian monarchy the chance to regroup and eventually to crush Charles Edward’s Jacobite uprising.

Summary of Event

From the time that the Catholic King James II had been overthrown in the Glorious Revolution (1688), his family and their supporters in Great Britain and Ireland—known as Jacobites—schemed to regain the British throne. After James’s death in exile in 1701, the Jacobites’ hopes rested on his son, James Edward, the “Old Pretender,” who maintained a court-in-exile in France. Three attempts were made to restore the “king over the water,” but James Edward proved to be a lethargic, uninspiring leader, earning the nickname of “Old Mr. Melancholy.” Three attempted Jacobite insurrections in Scotland, in 1708, 1715, and 1719, obtained only limited success before evaporating in futility. [kw]Jacobite Rebellion (Aug. 19, 1745-Sept. 20, 1746) [kw]Rebellion, Jacobite (Aug. 19, 1745-Sept. 20, 1746) Jacobite Rebellion (1745-1746) Jacobite Rebellion (1745-1746) [g]Scotland;Aug. 19, 1745-Sept. 20, 1746: Jacobite Rebellion[1130] [g]England;Aug. 19, 1745-Sept. 20, 1746: Jacobite Rebellion[1130] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Aug. 19, 1745-Sept. 20, 1746: Jacobite Rebellion[1130] [c]Government and politics;Aug. 19, 1745-Sept. 20, 1746: Jacobite Rebellion[1130] Charles Edward (Bonnie Prince Charlie) James Edward George II Murray, Lord George Cumberland, duke of Cope, Sir John MacDonald, Flora Wade, George

In order to perpetuate the Protestant succession to the throne, the German House of Hanover, which claimed descent from the Stuart King James I, had been installed upon the British throne by Parliament in 1714. Under its second monarch, George II, the Hanover Dynasty seemed by 1745 to be immovably secure, and Jacobite threats were generally dismissed as fantasy. However, James Edward’s son Charles Edward, a dashing personality whom his admirers dubbed Bonnie Prince Charlie, planned to journey to northern Scotland, where he hoped to raise the clans in rebellion and, with French support, to depose George and become King Charles III.

Landing on July 25, 1745, at Moidart in the Scottish Highlands, the Bonnie Prince at first met with an indifferent response and only gradually attracted supporters. However, at Glenfinnan on August 19, 1745, Charles Edward took the bold step of unfurling the Stuart standard, officially proclaiming the uprising. He was initially joined by younger members of the Camerons of Lochiel, the MacDonalds, and the duke of Atholl. Quickly amassing a small force of fifteen hundred men, Charles Edward set an ambush for government forces at the Pass of Corrieyairack. The British commander in Scotland, General Sir John Cope, had already been faced with chronic desertion from his ranks. Warned of the trap set by the pretender, Cope ordered his men northeast to Aberdeen, thinking that the rebels would try to secure the surrounding region and could thus be lured into the open.

It was a serious miscalculation. In an audacious move, Charles Edward’s forces marched unopposed to the southeast and directly into the Lowlands, capturing Perth on September 4, taking on new recruits at a spectacular rate, and entering the Scottish capital of Edinburgh on September 16. The outmaneuvered Cope hurriedly brought his troops by sea and landed just west of Edinburgh, deploying in a marshy area called Prestonpans. There, on September 21, the Jacobites’ ablest general, Lord George Murray, discovered an unguarded path leading through the marsh that enabled him to outflank Cope’s army during the early morning and launch a surprise attack. The Hanoverians were thrown into total confusion by the fierce Highlander charge, and in less than one-half hour they had fled the field, leaving Charles Edward in control of Scotland and poised to invade English soil.





Taking the initiative on November 1, 1745, Charles Edward and Murray outmaneuvered yet another British army, this one led by seventy-two-year-old Field Marshal George Wade, and entered England from the west, besieging the garrison at Carlisle. Carlisle fell on November 15, and again virtually unchallenged—Wade was unable to reach them in time—the Jacobite army marched into Manchester and then to Derby, some 130 miles north of London, on December 4, 1745. Murray had deftly given the new British commander, the duke of Cumberland, the slip. Cumberland was the favorite son of King George II and a veteran of the War of the Austrian Succession, having been wounded at the Battle of Dettingen. At Derby, Murray seems to have lost his nerve, and he began advocating a withdrawal to Scotland, rather than advancing on London to seize control of the government. In a heated war council meeting, Charles Edward advocated taking London, but in the end he reluctantly acceded to Murray’s opinion, and on what Jacobites later dubbed “Black Friday” (December 5, 1745), the rebels retreated north.

The decision not to press on—one of history’s possible turning points—has remained controversial, but it is certain that the rebellion lost much of its impetus and Cumberland’s forces regained the initiative in the wake of the Jacobite withdrawal. French aid did not materialize, and British troops in turn entered Scotland. Murray proved that he was still a dangerous adversary, however, by defeating the Hanoverians under Lieutenant General Henry Hawley at the Battle of Falkirk (January 16, 1746). Though the Jacobites scored some minor successes in capturing Inverness and Fort Augustus, they were steadily forced northward.

On April 16, the rebels chose to stand and fight on the open ground of Drummossie Moor, near Culloden. Perhaps resentful of Murray for having browbeaten him into making the withdrawal from Derby, Charles Edward spurned the older commander’s advice that it would be suicidal to face the Hanoverians across a level plain that offered no protection: He deployed his men in such a fashion that they faced a relentless artillery barrage once battle was joined. Moreover, Bonnie Prince Charlie seemed confused during the battle and exerted no decisive leadership in the field. Perhaps as a result, a wild and ill-advised Highlander onslaught was mounted against Cumberland’s strong defensive positions. The onslaught broke upon the Hanover duke’s defenses, and the Battle of Culloden became a rout.

From April 16 to September 20, 1746, Charles Edward was on the run. A price of £30,000 was placed on his head, and Cumberland’s army scoured the Highlands for him, looting, pillaging, massacring suspected Jacobites, and launching such a protracted campaign of terror that the duke thereafter received the sobriquet of “Butcher.” The flight of Bonnie Prince Charlie became an epic. Among those who sheltered and succored the “Young Pretender,” the most famous was Flora MacDonald, who at one stage lent the prince women’s clothing and passed him off as her maidservant “Betty Burke.” After hairbreadth escapes from pursuing troopers and government agents, Charles Edward was at last able to board a French vessel at Loch nan Uamh, on the western coast, and sail away on September 20, 1746, his uprising long since collapsed.


Flora MacDonald, a Scottish Jacobite sympathizer, meeting Charles Edward. MacDonald helped the Stuart pretender hide from the Hanoverian authorities after his forces were defeated at the Battle of Culloden.

(Francis R. Niglutsch)

Charles Edward’s failure to take control of Britain marked the last serious attempt at Jacobite restoration. Upon his father’s death, the prince was acknowledged by his dwindling group of followers as the rightful pretender under the title of King Charles III. However, he degenerated into an embittered alcoholic, incapable of recapturing his past moments of glory. While the Jacobite Rebellion was a military fiasco, however, it left behind a glamorous and seductive legend, and the romantic vision of the dynamic and youthful Bonnie Prince Charlie and his doomed Highland followers has maintained an almost magnetic appeal for future generations. The duke of Cumberland’s depredations and the subsequent suppression of the Gaelic tongue, the kilt and tartan, and other icons of Scottish identity, on the other hand, gave rise to a long-festering atmosphere of anti-English sentiment in Scotland—sentiments which, though long abated, still carry an impact to this day.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Douglas, Hugh, and Michael J. Stead. The Flight of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Stroud, Gloucestershire, England: Sutton, 2000. The most detailed account of one of history’s most famous tales of escape.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Erickson, Carolly. Bonnie Prince Charlie. New York: Lillian Morrow, 1989. Scholarly appraisal of the complex personality of Charles Edward; attempts to explain both the positive elements and the character flaws that led to the 1745 rising and its eventual failure.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lees-Milne, James. The Last Stuarts: British Royalty in Exile. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1983. Studies the vices and virtues that made the last Stuarts a force to reckon with until at least the mid-eighteenth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McLeod, John. Dynasty: The Stuarts, 1560-1807. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. Analysis of the controversial royal house that adroitly balances the myth with the reality.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">MacLeod, Ruairidh H. Flora MacDonald: The Jacobite Heroine in Scotland and North America. London: Shepheard-Walwyn, 1997. Tries to shed further light on another legendary figure and continues this unusual lady’s saga into her years as a settler in North Carolina.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Speck, W. A. The Butcher: The Duke of Cumberland and the Suppression of the Forty-Five. New York: Basil Blackwell, 1987. Unusual study of an individual whose name has become a byword for repression and cruelty.

Defeat of the “Old Pretender”

Jacobite Rising in Scotland

War of the Austrian Succession

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Eighteenth Century</i>

George II; Flora MacDonald. Jacobite Rebellion (1745-1746) Jacobite Rebellion (1745-1746)

Categories: History