Prestonpans wasn't a very lengthy battle. The Government forces ran right at the start of the fight, and the pursuit probably lasted longer than the battle itself. A book that focused entirely on the course of the battle would thus be very short indeed! Fortunately this excellent book covers a much wider time period. We start with an introduction which starts with a brief history of the Stuart dynasty's time in England, the fall of James II and the earlier Jacobite uprisings. We then move onto a detailed look at the build-up to the '45, a period in which French policy kept changing until eventually Prince Charles Stuart decided to act on his own initiative. This section is especially good on the way in which news of a possible revolt reached the Scottish authorities and the way in which various ministers reacted to them.
The section on the two armies is equally excellent, looking at their arms, equipment and fighting styles, and also examining the quality of the Government army in some detail - the poor quality of most of Cope's men played a major part in his defeat. After that we trace Prince Charles as he advanced from the western Highlands into the Great Glen and then south to Edinburgh, and Cope's move north to try and reinforce the line of Forts in the Highlands, his failure to intercept Charles, and his urgent attempt to sail back to Edinburgh. Finally we look at the campaign itself, and the short battle.
A key strength of this book is the author's use of primary sources, and in particular the many letters and reports sent between the various senior figures, to trace who knew what when, and who believed what when. This played an important part in the campaign that ended at Prestonpans, with different figures treating the possibility of an uprising with different levels of seriousness. Once the Prince had landed a stream of rumours, news and orders passed around Scotland, and this had a major impact on Cope's actions as he moved north to try and intercept the Prince, then took ship to try and get back to Edinburgh in time to stop the city falling. Cope's orders played a major part in the failure of his expedition into the Highlands, where he missed an early chance to intercept the Jacobites.
Although the battle was very short, both sides conducted a series of manoeuvres before the fighting began. These are traced in some detail, again using the primary sources to untangle the order in which moves were made. In the last period before the battle the Government forces were reacting to Jacobite moves, but remained in the same fairly strong defensive position.
The author pays equal attention to both sides, so we can also trace the slow expansion of Prince Charles's army, the disagreements between his key supporters and their progress to Edinburgh. We get a balanced view of Prince Charles, acknowledging his real achievements during the '45 and his many flaws. This book also contains just about the most positive view of Cope that I've seen - the author makes a convincing argument that Cope's plans were perfectly acceptable, and it was the poor quality and inexperience of his men that led to his defeat.
This is an excellent account of the campaign and battle of Prestonpans, the victory that turned the Jacobites of the '45 from a minor irritant into a very real threat to the Hanoverian government.
1 - The Run-up
2 - The Armies
3 - To Edinburgh
4 - Prestonpans 1745
5 - Aftermath
6 - Epilogue
Author: Martin Margulies
Publisher: Prestoungrange & Cuthill Press