Updated: Jan 17, 2022
Spare a thought, during this time of mince pies, mulled wine and warm, crackling fires for those poor unfortunates 276 year ago today, the 18th of December 1745, who stood upon Clifton Moor facing each other in the dark and the driving rain. They were about to participate in the Battle of Clifton Moor, sometimes claimed to be “the last battle on English soil”.
The Jacobites, with Bonnie Prince Charlie, were retreating from Derby despite not having lost a battle. The government dragoons facing them were about to make contact with an enemy that had, so far, swept away all regular troops sent to confront them. The Battle of Clifton Moor, that happened through hedges, over ditches and in the darkness of a late afternoon in winter, resulted in fewer than 20 casualties on each side. The Jacobite rear guard did its job; they bought time and hit the pursuing enemy hard enough that they got away themselves and escaped into Scotland.
A good commander would recognise and remember that the circumstances of the battle – the cold, the dark, the rain, the ditches and the hedges - were far from optimal conditions for the dragoons. Fortunately for the Jacobites, the man who would pursue them into Scotland wasn’t a good commander. Even his own men thought him to be incompetent ... but more on that next time!
On the surface, the Jacobite retreat from England looked like a dip in their fortunes but in actuality, this coincided nicely with a consolidation of Jacobite strength in Scotland. The North East had been pacified and French arms and money had successfully landed. Lord George Murray, the commander of the rear guard that did so well at Clifton Moor and the Prince’s most experienced lieutenant, was hopeful that the war could be carried on successfully within Scotland. And if we take into account England’s commitments in wider European conflicts and the martial record of the Jacobites so far, you could hardly accuse him of wishful thinking!
So the big question is; after winning the Battle of Clifton Moor, did the Jacobites get a peaceful Christmas? Well, in a manner of speaking, yes. Whether it was a merry one was another matter entirely because the Jacobites were in Glasgow for Christmas. Glasgow at that time was a staunchly Hanoverian city, having been very profitable under them, so support for Prince Charlie was lacking. The people were not swayed by his looks, his charm or his beautiful clothing, despite his dressing more elegantly in Glasgow than anywhere else.
Despite lacking support from the city, the Jacobites did get a Christmas present. According to Browne’s third volume of History of the Highlands (1852) the army received: “twelve thousand shirts, six thousand cloth coats, six thousand pairs of stockings and six thousand waistcoats”. And Prince Charlie was given a small amount of money from the council but, much to his disappointment, not the amount he asked for as they didn't have the people's support and the Provost claimed he was more afraid of the people of Glasgow than of the Highland Army!
It seems that Glasgow ... and Christmases ... never change!