TO read many accounts of the 1745-46 Jacobite rising, you would think there were just two battles.

These are Prestonpans and Culloden; the former a stunning victory for Prince Charles Edward Stuart and his army, and the latter a devastating defeat that ended all hope of the Stuarts regaining the throne and which led to attempted genocide of the Highlanders.

Yet, another major battle took place during the Rising – and it is often ignored, probably because it does not fit the Unionist-dominated histories of the period.

This week sees the 275th anniversary of the Battle of Falkirk Muir which took place on January 17, 1746 and ended in victory for the Jacobites and humiliation for the Hanoverian Government army of King George II – for ease of reference, I will refer to them as the Government army.

It is a fascinating battle, not least because Charles and his commanders failed to follow up their success on the battlefield.

The site of the battle is well-known and is recorded in Historic Environment Scotland’s Inventory of Battlefields, where it is designated as Battle of Falkirk II. The first Battle of Falkirk was that of 1298, when the Scottish army led by Sir William Wallace was utterly defeated by King Edward I of England’s much-larger and better-equipped force. I prefer to call the second battle in 1746 the Battle of Falkirk Muir, not least because the moorland on which it was fought largely dictated the action.

The battle took place to the west of Falkirk and south of what is now the main railway line that runs through Falkirk High station. Greenbank Farm, as it is now, and lands to the south were the core of the battlefield, including the vantage point of Charlie’s Hill.

Lands to the east and south-east of Greenbank are now housing estates on the west of Falkirk and cover what was the probable route of the Government army’s retreat.

We can still see the landscape which dictated the battle, such as the Greenbank ravine and the areas around it held by the Jacobites and the steep slope to the north which the Government troops climbed onto the moor.

After taking over Glasgow – a Whig and Hanoverian stronghold – Charles split his force into two, and Lord George Murray led his six battalions and Charles took the remainder as both converged on Stirling by different routes. The split was a reflection of the state of relations in the high command of the army. The prelude to the Battle of Falkirk Muir showed that the seeds of destruction had already been sown in the Jacobite ranks. After the tremendous military achievement of the invasion of England as far as Derby and the retreat in good order to Scotland, Charles and his senior officers split into two factions, and led by commander-in-the-field Lord Murray, the larger number wanted the prince to hold, and listen to, his Council of War. The tone of the upset within the senior ranks can be told from this exchange preserved in the National Library of Scotland.

Murray wrote to the prince: “Had a Council of War been held the army came to Lancaster, a day (which at that time was so precious) had not been lost. Had a Council of War been consulted as to the leaving a garrison at Carlisle it would never have been agreed to, the place not being tenable, and so many brave men wou’d not have been sacrifized [sic], besides the reputation of his Royal Highness Arms.

“It is to be considered that this army is an army of volunteers, and not mercenarys, many of them being resolved not to continue in the army, were affairs once settled.”

A furious Charles replied: “When I came into Scotland I knew well enough what I was to expect from my ennemies [sic], but I little foresaw what I meet with from my friends. I came vested with all the authority the king cou’d give me, one chief part of which is the command of his armies, and now I am required to give this up to 15 or 16 persons, who may afterwards depute five or seven of their own number to exercise it, for fear if they were six or eight that I might myself pretend to ye casting vote. By the majority of these all things are to be determined, and nothing left to me but the honour of being present at their debates. This I am told is the method of all armies and this I flatly deny, nor do I believe it to be the method of any one army in the world. I am often hit in the teeth that this is an army of volunteers, and consequently very different from one composed of mercenarys.

“What one wou’d naturally expect from an army whose chief officers consist of gentlemen of rank and fortune, and who came into it meerly upon motives of duty and honour, is more zeal, more resolution and more good manners than in those that fight meerly for pay: but it can be no army at all where there is no general, or which is the same thing no obedience or deference paid to him.

“Everyone knew before he engaged in the cause, what he was to expect in case it miscarried, and shoud have staid [sic] at home if he coud not face death in any shape: but can I myself hope for better usage? At least I am the only person upon whose head a price has been already set, and therefore I cannot indeed threaten at every other word to throw down my arms and make my peace with the government.”

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THE ordinary troops were also showing their discontent – dozens of them deserted as soon as the Jacobite army got back to Scotland.

With Charles now resident at Bannockburn House, the town of Stirling was taken in a day, but Stirling Castle, as always the strategic key to military control of Scotland, held out under 74-year-old General Blakeney.

Reinforcements arrived from the north and from Ireland and France, and suddenly Charles had an army of 8000 men, plus a train of French artillery. There was also still the hope of a French invasion into England with 10,000 troops under the command of Charles’s brother Henry Benedict. Meanwhile, the Government army had a new commander, Lieutenant General Henry Hawley, a strict disciplinarian whose experience at Sheriffmuir in 1715 had convinced him Highlanders were no use against cavalry.

On hearing of the siege at Stirling, Hawley sent an advance detachment under Major-General John Huske via Linlithgow and then Hawley himself joined with almost all the rest of the Government Army, making a total of some 7000 infantry and dragoons.

Under Lord Murray’s direction and with Charles inspiring the troops, the whole Jacobite Army – the most they ever put in the field – left their camp at Plean Muir and took up an advantageous position high on Falkirk Muir.

Hawley, meanwhile, was having a long liquid lunch at Callendar House where his Jacobite-sympathising hostess Lady Kilmarnock plied him with drink and encouraged him to not believe the Jacobites would attack. For once, Charles and Murray were in agreement and late in the afternoon of Tuesday, January 17, they moved into their final position, drawn up in two lines with the Highlanders in front.

Hawley was told of the immediate threat of attack and moved his army uphill through bog-like ground in which artillery stuck fast. He then sent his dragoons charging forward to attack the Jacobite right.

THERE are numerous eye-witness accounts of the action. One Jacobite officer wrote: “Lord George Murray was marching at the head of the MacDonalds of Keppoch, with his drawn sword in his hand, and his target (shield) on his arm. He let the dragoons come within 10 or 12 paces of him, and then gave orders to fire. The MacDonalds of Keppoch began the fire, which ran down the line, from them to Lord Lovat’s regiment. This heavy fire repulsed the dragoons. Hamilton’s and Ligonier’s regiments wheeled about, and fled directly back: Cobham’s regiment wheeled to the right, and went off between the two armies, receiving a good deal of fire as they passed the left of the rebels.”

The Chevalier de Johnstone, Charles’s constant companion, described the combat close up: “The most singular and extraordinary combat immediately followed. The Highlanders, stretched on the ground, thrust their dirks into the bellies of the horses. Some seized the riders by their clothes, dragged them down, and stabbed them with their dirks; several again used their pistols; but few of them had sufficient space to handle their swords.

“The Highlanders did not neglect the advantage they had obtained, but pursued them keenly with their swords, running as fast as their horses, and not allowing them a moment’s time to recover from their fright. So that the English cavalry falling back on their own infantry, drawn up in order of battle behind them, threw them immediately into disorder, and carried the right wing of their army with them in their flight.”

This was the crucial moment of the battle. With Hawley’s men now dug in and repulsing the Jacobite right wing, had all the rampaging Jacobites wheeled in unison they would have obliterated Hawley’s army on the Muir. Instead, as Chevalier de Johnstone wrote: “When the dragoons were gone, Lord George Murray ordered the MacDonalds of Keppoch to keep their ranks and stand firm. The same order was sent to the other two MacDonald regiments, but a great part of the men in these two regiments, with all the regiments to the left (whose fire had repulsed the dragoons), immediately pursued. When they came near the foot of the king’s army, some regiments of the first line gave them a fire; the rebels returned the fire, and throwing down their muskets, drew their swords, and attacked.”

That was the first mistake – the clansmen went for plunder and could not be restrained, many heading for home with their booty. The second mistake was to suppose that the Government army was still orderly and had occupied Falkirk. But they had not done so. Instead Hawley and all his army were running for their lives through horrendous wind and rain back to Edinburgh, sure they were being pursued by the Jacobites. Yet Charles and Murray restrained their soldiers and went back to the hopeless siege of Stirling Castle.

Hawley’s army had lost between 300 and 400 men, including Colonel Sir Robert Munro, while the Jacobite losses were between 50 and 70. Hawley was not court-martialled for his poor command - there were rumours that he was an illegitimate son of a royal.

It is one of the great “what-ifs” of Scottish history. What if the Jacobites had pressed home their advantage and destroyed their opponents? What if the damned Scottish weather had relented and allowed the Jacobites to pursue and capture many more of Hawley’s forces? What if they had chased Hawley all the way to Edinburgh and set up Jacobite control of the capital once again? The likelihood is that the Jacobites would have been able to defend Edinburgh, especially if they had captured the castle, until the 10,000 reinforcements from France under the command of Charles’ brother Henry arrived, say at Leith. Instead, the collective loss of leadership nerve and the dispersal of much of the Jacobite army saw Charles lead his remaining troops north to Inverness.

Three months after Falkirk Muir, the Jacobites mustered on another moor, that of Culloden. But that is another story.