Riding (Mid-Georgian Britain: 1740-69, 2010, etc.), a specialist in 18th-century British history and culture, delivers a comprehensive history of the events of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745.
During that year, Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender, got tired of waiting in Rome and decided to take back the crown lost in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Depending on help from France, with no assurance whatever that it was forthcoming, Charles landed in Scotland to gather the clans he was sure would support him. The young Charles was willful, sullen, and generally uninspiring. He was naïve and had no political acumen or anything even approaching military ability. In fact, he had never set foot in Scotland or England. What is most interesting about the attempt to regain the throne is how few battles were actually fought. Poor defenses, fear of the ferocious Highlanders, and a British army busy fighting in Flanders caused first Edinburgh, then Carlisle, Chester, Preston, and finally Derby to capitulate without a fight. Charles’ unregimented army was made up of clans, none of whom would serve under another. The Highlanders’ army moved swiftly, with little in the way of baggage or armaments—so quickly that Sir John Cope’s troops couldn’t catch up with them, if they could ever figure out their destination. Readers may have similar difficulties with the book’s miniscule map, which proves largely useless. The return of King George II’s son, the Duke of Cumberland, was the death knell for the uprising. Even with help from France trickling in, Charles’ insistence on pushing on to London was doomed. They had no backup and nowhere near the support they had imagined. Most of us only know the ’45 for its desperate end at Culloden, but as close as they came to success, the author definitively demonstrates that it was always unsustainable.
Riding provides an exciting account of a doomed rebellion and ably explores the psyche of the fierce, devoted Highlanders.