THE year was 1746 and the place was Falkirk. January 17 is the anniversary of the last time a Scottish army dealt defeat on an English army in open battle north of the Border.

This was in the middle of the second Jacobite rising, often called the ’45, but here stretching into a further year.

The English were soldiers of the royal army of King George II, whose son William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, would soon arrive to direct the imposition of order on rebellious Scotland. Their Jacobite foes, led by Prince Charles Edward Stewart, were not just a rabble of clansmen but also ferocious inheritors of Highland wrath against the modern world, who had fought their way from the Hebrides to the English town of Derby and now were retreating back again.

The Scots felt spurred on in their bravado by the fact that the destination of their march – which would take them another 100 miles north to Inverness – would also bring them to a secure place, or so they hoped, while awaiting reinforcement and materials of war from their allies in France. These had not arrived in Scotland yet, but Parisian politicians were said to be preparing a second expedition better able to meet and defeat hostile regular troops. Then they would chase Cumberland’s force south again.

READ MORE: The lessons to be learned from the Treaty of Union

After that the House of Hanover, which had usurped the throne in London for more than 30 years, could take itself off back to Germany. Instead the House of Stewart, native to Scotland and the true heirs in England too, would be restored to their birthright.

That, anyway, was what the warriors of the clans were being told, and perhaps they believed it. But it hardly matched any reality. A month beforehand they had been turned round on their southward advance because they were failing to attract enough Englishmen to join them.

In the end, one of King George’s armies or another was bound to corner the Jacobites. Even back in Scotland few fresh recruits signed up. They were all doomed men. Glasgow gave them a sense of that as they passed Christmas 1745 among the silent and hostile townsfolk.

After New Year, the Jacobites set off again, traversing the country that stretched between the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth. The men slept in the open but their chiefs were sometimes able to find shelter from sympathetic local lairds. One was John Walkinshaw of Barrowhill and Camlachie, a wealthy merchant who had built up besides a landed estate in what is now the hinterland of Celtic FC.

Walkinshaw was an old man, but in his youth he had burned with Jacobite ardour and joined the ‘15 Rebellion. Captured at the Battle of Sheriffmuir, he escaped from captivity and fled to Europe. In 1717, he won a pardon from the British government and came back to resume the life of a prosperous trader as his hometown began to profit from the Union of 1707.

His youngest daughter, Clementina, was born in 1720, and by 1746 she was living with her uncle Sir Hugh Paterson at Bannockburn House, a magnificent mansion still standing today.

On his way north, Prince Charles stopped by. He and the young lady were of exactly the same age. Charles made to leave but soon came back suffering from a heavy cold so bad, he said, as to make travel in a Scottish winter impossible. He was clearly smitten with her but the progress of the rebellion meant he had to break off his courtship anyway. The couple would not see each other again for six years.

From Bannockburn, Charles had to outwit his enemies. Stirling Castle remained in Hanoverian hands under General William Blakeney. To his aid came a second force from Edinburgh under General Henry “Hangman” Hawley (below). He was a wild, fierce, sadistic (but not terribly competent) protégé of Cumberland’s who believed he could smash the Highlanders because they had no cavalry.

The National:

As the various forces converged across the hills south of Falkirk (where the Edinburgh-Glasgow railway runs now), Hawley’s handling of his army, mostly veteran regiments of foot withdrawn from the war going on in Flanders, showed he had little idea what he was doing.

The Battle of Falkirk lasted a mere 20 minutes. The Jacobites took the offensive and climbed up on to the moor. Hawley ordered his force to follow. The weather had broken and it was pelting down with rain. The artillery got stuck in the mud at the bottom of a steep slope, and played no part in the actual fighting. That showed how much Hawley knew about battlefields.

For the royal army, it fell to the infantry to mount the attack, protected on one flank by three regiments of dragoons. Hawley again gave the order to charge. But as his men approached the Highlanders these fired off an unexpected cannonade – a great surprise because they had hardly any artillery. The regular ranks broke and craven soldiers ran back down the hill to Falkirk.

Hoping for a rout, the Jacobites attacked the remaining lines of royal foot but these met the charge with steady volleys before withdrawing in good order back to their camp. They were still in some disarray as Hawley hustled them all away towards Edinburgh.

The clansmen, too, found it hard to stick together in the murky landscape and many did not know who had won the battle. It was reported the royal army lost about 350 men killed, wounded or missing, while 300 were captured. The Jacobites lost 50 dead and 70 wounded.

The royal troops rested and regrouped while they awaited the arrival from Holland of the Duke of Cumberland. He was in Scotland by the end of January, then began the methodical advance that would end with his final victory at the Battle of Culloden on April 16. In an age of endemic European warfare, this was not an impressive example of the military arts. But it marked an epoch in the history of Scotland.

​READ MORE: Pride of them a’: How the Gordons battalion earned their ‘undying fame’

Above all, the Battle of Falkirk was the last step before the ultimate downfall of the House of Stewart, which had shaped and strengthened Scottish nationhood since the time of Robert Bruce in the 14th century.

Now, for the foreseeable future, this nation was bound into a UK with no alternative to the existing constitution and politics of England.

Within it the Stewarts all but vanished. But Scotland had no more politics beyond dead arguments about legitimacy. With the Stewarts gone into permanent exile after their defeat at Culloden, they were left with no legitimacy.

Instead a new Scottish legitimacy would be forged out of the old one that had its last, stumbling excursion at Falkirk in 1746. It would still hold its own for two centuries into the future, and give us the Scotland of drones without deeds, of music without mirth, of kilts without clans.