Bonnie Prince Charlie Turns Back at Derby
One of the delights of studying history is considering the what-if moments. There can be few such moments of greater significance than the decision of Bonnie Prince Charlie , the Young Pretender Charles Edward Stewart, to halt his army’s push towards London at Derby and retreat ignominiously to Scotland.
The 1745 rebellion was no lightning strike. Bonnie Prince Charlie had landed with just seven companions at Eriskay in July that year; raised his flag at Glenfinnan in August; taken Edinburgh in September and defeated a government army at Prestonpans the same month; and then marched south, taking Carlisle on the way.
Though some Jacobite sympathisers joined as the 6500-strong force moved seemingly inexorably towards London, its numbers did not swell as the leaders hoped. At Derby they halted, the Prince taking up temporary residence at Exeter House in the city. Elements of his army reached Swarkestone Bridge between Melbourne and Derby before cautious counsellors persuaded the Prince to return to Scotland and regroup. Some claim the bridge is haunted by Jacobite ghosts still.
Had the rebels but known it London, with much of the British army engaged on the continent, was in a panic over the imminent arrival of the Highland horde; George II is said to have loaded a barge on the Thames with his valuables ready for flight.
Bonnie Prince Charlie later proved himself a laughable leader, but on this occasion he argued against caution. Had he shown the courage of his convictions, British history might have been very different; as it was the victory of the House of Hanover was cemented with the slaughter at Culloden in April the following year.
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