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A Prince in Prestonpans

In September 1745 Edinburgh fell to the Jacobite army of Charles Edward Stuart – the Bonnie Prince of the romancers. It was a first coup for what became the exiled Stuart dynasty’s final bid for legitimacy, but set the scene for a fight with the British establishment. Government forces arrived by sea at Dunbar and the Jacobites marched to meet them. The two armies crossed East Lothian before clashing at Prestonpans.

On the morning of September 21st the Jacobites launched a terrifying Highland charge which shattered the British lines and secured Scotland for the Jacobites. Victory at Prestonpans won Charles Edward Stuart international renown besides putting the town firmly on the map. It was, however, a false dawn and the road led only to ultimate defeat at Culloden.

Thorn tree and hay wain at PrestonpansThe Battle of Prestonpans – fifteen minutes of frightfulness – left Scotland a disproportionate cultural legacy. Adam Skirving of Haddington immortalised history’s view of the loser by penning the popular song ‘Hey Johnnie Cope’, the romanticised death of Colonel Gardiner restored a modicum of honour to the Government side and the long rehabilitation and nostalgic glamour of the Bonnie Prince has influenced Scottish art and literature since the day the battle was fought. It continues still as the Prestonpans Tapestry demonstrates.

Charles Edward Stuart and the Battle of Prestonpans featured in one of the first four Personal View temporary displays of 2012 in the John Gray Centre Museum. Arran Johnston, who researched and curated the display, also recorded an audio description of the display, which you can hear and read on our Talking Museum pages.

Research by Arran Johnston, Executive Trustee: History, Re-enactments & Tapestry Touring, the Battle of Prestonpans (1745) Heritage Charitable Trust.

Keywords: Jacobite, Battle of Prestonpans, Bonnie Prince Charlie

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