The Battle of Prestonpans
Dawn, 21st September 1745
On the 19th of August 1745 Prince Charles Edward (Bonnie Prince
Charlie) raised his standard in the vale of Glenfinnan and declared
his father King James VIII of Scotland and II of England and Ireland.
Gathering the clans who had come to support him he set off towards
With hardly any opposition the Jacobite army captured Perth and
Edinburgh. The army made camp in King's Park near Duddingston, 2,500
men in all.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant General Sir John Cope who was in command of
the Government troops in Scotland for King George II (almost 3,000
men in all) after receiving word of the Jacobite rising set off
North with his army. However he failed to intercept the Jacobites.
On hearing by messenger that the Highlanders had captured Edinburgh
he marched his troops to Aberdeen and embarked his force on ships
and sailed southward where he landed at Dunbar on the 15th of September.
On the 19th of September Cope set out with his army towards Edinburgh
by way of Haddington were they made camp. Sir John Cope and his
army marched at 9 am on the 20th of September, turning right by
the village of Trabroun and past Elvingston till they reached Longniddry
then marching past St Germains and Seton Palace. They halted for
one hour needing food and rest.
After resting Cope led his army into the open field two miles in
length and one and half miles in breadth. The field extended right
to the wall of Preston, this field was entirely clear of crops,
the last sheaves having been carried in the night before. Neither
cottage or bush were in the whole extent, except one solitary Thorn
The army marched straight to the west end of this field until they
came near the walls of the enclosure of Preston. This part of the
field was divided into three rigs on shots, as they were called,
"under-shot", "middle-shot" and upper-shot".
On 19th September, Prince Charles slept at Duddingston with his
troops. Early the next morning the army set off to meet the foe.
They halted at Carberry Hill, the Prince's scouts informed him that
Cope's army had halted at Preston.
The Highlanders' directed their course by Fa'side then Birsley until
they came within sight of the enemy. The Prince's troops raised
a shout of defiance which was heartily responded to by Cope's troops.
Being late in the afternoon the Jacobite army settled down for the
night in a field of peas, a little to the north-west of Tranent.
General Cope on seeing this took up his position with his army facing
south. Cope was happy with his position between his army and the
Jacobites. The ground was very rough with ditches and boggy ground.
This would make it impossible for the Highlanders' to make their
famous wild charge.
Cope's heavy guns would be able to pick off the enemy with ease.
He had 6 one and a half pounders and 6 mortars.
The Highland army had no heavy guns.
Late in the afternoon, Lord George Murray, Commander of the Jacobites
sent a scouting party down to the Tranent church yard to observe
the enemy. However they were spotted and the cannon that was only
300 yards away opened fire and sent them scurrying back to camp.
A good number of local people from Tranent had come to observe all
the activity, among them were two young men who were to be important
in the impending battle. They were Robert Anderson, a Humble lad
and his friend James Hepburn from Tranent. On discussing the two
armies Anderson said "If I were the Higheriands', I would-attack
from the east because that is where I go shooting for game, the
ground is a lot firmer and dryer on that side". Hepburn, who had
a good feeling for the Jacobites said-"You should tell that to the
Commander of the Highlanders". Off they went. Lord George Murray
listened to them, went and had a talk with the Prince who called
a Council with his officers and had a plan approved.
The Prince's army set off about 3 am on Saturday the 21st of September.
The scheme was to go around the south side of Tranent, over Tranent
Muir northwards and down by Riggenhead to Seton, then to come in
by Meadowmill westwards to take Cope's forces from behind.
Cope, who had been sleeping at Cockenzie, received word that the
Highlanders' were on the move rushed back to the field and started
organising his heavy guns, his foot soldiers and his cavalry to
Lord George Murray sent a division down the waggon way past the
Tranent Church and ordered his men to wait until the main body attacked,
then they were to attack the heavy artillery.
Just at break of day, the main body of the Highland army loomed
out of the morning mist. Cope's sentries seeing them, fired off
their pistols and ran back to give warning. Seeing they were discovered
the Highlanders' rushed forward firing their hand guns and muskets,
giving wild yells threw away their guns,-drew their broad swords
and advanced at a fast pace.
The heavy guns of Cope's army belched forth what might have been
a murderous fire, but terror seized the gunners and the grapeshot
flew harmless over the foes heads.
With hideous yells the Highlanders' fell upon the foot troops slashing
and cutting. Cope's cavalry under Colonel Whitney tried to make
a charge but all was confusion so they wheeled about and rode off
towards Dolphinston half a mile off.
Colonel Gardiner, yelled for his dragoons to charge but only eleven
followed him, the rest wheeled and followed Whitney to Dolphinston.
Colonel Gardiner continued fighting although being wounded several
times, at last being brought down with a mighty blow to the head.
Later he was carried to the Manse in Tranent where he died the next
On examination of his body he was found to have eight wounds, two
from gunshot on the right side and six severe cuts on the neck and
head. He was buried at Tranent old church.
General Cope with a white cockade in his hat, similar to that worn
by the Highlanders' passed through their midst without recognition
made his way up past Bankton House up to Lauder and down to Berwick
with news of his defeat.
Though acquitted of cowardice at his trial, he will go down in history
for two main reasons. Firstly, being the first General to bring
news of his own defeat and secondly by the words of a song set to
verse by Adam Skirving, a farmer in Garleton near Haddington:
"Hey! Jonnie Cope are ye waukin yet, to the tune Fye to the hills
in the Morning."
The actual battle was over in a very short time about thirteen minutes,
what followed was mere carnage.
Casualties in Cope's army was estimated at 300 dead, 1,000 taken
prisoner of whom many were seriously wounded.
The Jacobites, 30 killed, 70 wounded.