DESCRIPTION: "The Chevalier, being void of fear, did march up Birslie brae, man," and prepares for battle against John Cope. The battle results in a complete win for the Jacobites. Many soldiers taking part in the battle are listed.
AUTHOR: "Mr. Skirving" (source: Hogg2)
EARLIEST DATE: 1797 (Scots Musical Museum #102)
KEYWORDS: Jacobites battle moniker humorous
Sept 21, 1745 - Battle of Prestonpans. Bonnie Prince Charlie's Highland army routs the first real Hannoverian force it encounters
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland)
REFERENCES (4 citations):
Hogg2 62, "The Battle of Prestonpans" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: James Johnson, Editor, _The Scots Musical Museum_ [1853 edition], volume II, #102, pp. 103-104, "Tranent Muir" (1 text, 1 tune)
Michael Brander, _Scottish and Border Battles and Ballads_, 1975 (page references to the 1993 Barnes & Noble edition), pp. 272-276, "The Battle of Prestonpans" (1 text)
ST DTtranmu (Partial)
cf. "Johnnie Cope" (subject: the Battle of Prestonpans)
cf. "Where Ha'e Ye Been A' the Day?" (subject: the Battle of Prestonpans)
Praelium Gillicrankianum (Scots Musical Museum, appendix to #102; a Latin piece along the same lines but apparently about Killiecrankie)
NOTES [617 words]: Hogg2: "This popular song was made by Mr. Skirving, a Lothian farmer...."
The tune is Hogg1 17, "The Battle of Killicrankie." - BS
This has been recorded by Archie Fisher (on "The Fate o' Charlie," under the title "The Battle of Prestonpans"), so it's perhaps worth indexing.
Despite the quality of the source, I rather doubt it's traditional; I know no field recordings, and the only printed version prior to Hogg seems to be that in the Scots Musical Museum. Which is extremely long (15 8-line stanzas), and quite dull unless you're a Jacobite trying to recall all the officers at Prestonpans. Whoever chopped the song down to the length recorded by Fisher did everyone a favor.
On the other hand, the Scots Musical Museum tune isn't the same as Fisher's, so maybe there has been some oral tradition in there somewhere.
I checked three sources to try to understand the battle: Reid, pp. 29-34; Wilkinson, pp. 95-108; and Magnusson, pp. 592-596. These sources can only be reconciled by assuming that the map on p. 103 of Wilkinson is printed with north and south reversed. But the general story is clear.
In September, the newly-assembled Jacobite army arrived in Edinburgh. Even as this was happening, Lt. General John Cope was landing his force at Dunbar (Wilkinson, p. 95). Cope's force was small (Reid, p. 32, give estimates on the order of 2000 soldiers), mostly inexperienced (though many of the troops were from famous regiments, including the Black Watch, they were generally reserve companies and new formations), and ill-equipped. Still, that description applied to the Jacobite army also; they had, according to Magnusson, p. 593, "no artillery and not many muskets." Although Cope's plan to defend Edinburgh had failed, he still decided to advance.
When he learned that the Jacobite army had marched out to meet him, he took up a strong position on the road from Haddington to Edinburgh. He was on a height, and his right was protected by the sea (Firth of Forth), while his left was guarded by a broad, boggy meadow known as the Meadow or Moor of Tranent. The hamlet of Tranent was to the south of the meadow. Preston and Prestonpans, the town for which the battle was named, were west of the battle site (Prestonpans, according to Smout, pp. 102-103, earned its name because it house the [salt]-pans of Preston, which will tell you how close to the sea it is). Had the Highlanders followed the main road, they would have passed through Prestonpans to attack Cope.
Unfortunately for Cope, a local led the Jacobite army by a track through the Tranent Moor (Wilkinson, p. 100; Magnusson, p. 593). Cope learned of this early enough to reface his army east (so the map in Magnusson, p. 595) or southeast (so Wilkinson and Reid), but his positional advantage was lost. Plus the sun was in the defenders's eyes. And he didn't have enough artillery to slow a Highland Charge.
Prestonpans was hardly a battle; it was an almost instant rout. The conflict is typically said to have lasted only ten minutes (Magnusson, p. 594). It ended with Cope's entire army in flight, with the general eventually carried away himself.
The Highlanders had no cavalry with which to pursue, so Cope's losses were relatively light -- Reid, p. 38, and Magnusson, p. 594, both accept that about 150 were killed. But over a thousand were taken prisoner, and the Jacobites also picked up a fair number of muskets, Cope's handful of artillery, and some cash. Plus, of course, they gained a huge morale boost.
For more details on Prestonpans, see the notes to "Johnnie Cope."
Incidentally, the reference to Charles as a Chevalier was more than just poetry; one of his father's titles was "Chevalier de Saint George." - RBW
Last updated in version 3.0
- Magnusson: Magnus Magnusson, Scotland: The Story of a Nation, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000
- Reid: Stuart Reid, 1745: A Military History of the Last Jacobite Rising, Sarpedon, 1966
- Smout: T. C. Smout, A History of the Scottish People: 1560-1830, 1969 (I use the 1989 Fontana paperback)
- Wilkinson: Clennell Wilkinson Bonnie Prince Charlie, Lippincott, no copyright listed but after 1932
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2018 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.