Bonnie Prince Charlie

Prince Charles Edward Stuart

Prince Charles Edward Stuart, otherwise known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, arrived in Scotland from Rome in 1745, where he had been living in exile. He had raised an army and his intent was to march to London with the avowed aim of seizing the throne from King George II. On December 4, 1745, he reached Derby with his armies where he remained for two days. It was in Derby that the decision was taken to retreat to Scotland, a move that ultimately ended with his defeat at the Battle of Culloden in April 1746.

Prior to the arrival of the Prince in Derby, The Derbyshire Blues, a Militia regiment raised in Derby by the Duke of Devonshire in response to the invasion by Charles Edward Stuart, had been based around their HQ at The George Inn on Iron Gate, (now Jorrocks). However, on December 3, word had reached them that a ‘nine or ten thousand’ strong army was due to arrive in the town and they retreated 50 miles to Retford, leaving Derby to its fate.

On December 4, the Prince carefully stage-managed his arrival into the town with the intent of giving the impression that his army was indeed that large – although this was actually far from the truth. At 11am a vanguard with around 30 horses entered the town and requested billets for 9,000 men. Later in the afternoon at around 3pm, the life-guards and some of the principal officers arrived on horseback. These were then followed throughout the evening by the main body of the army, split into detached parties to give the impression of a much larger force. Within one of these parties was the Prince himself.

A small unit of around 70 or so Highland men were then sent from Derby to secure Swarkestone Bridge. The men reached the bridge before the Government troops and held it until December 6. Whilst the bridge was held, a council of war took place at Exeter House which stood on Full Street in Derby until it was demolished in 1854.

Swarkestone Bridge ultimately proved to be the furthest south the Prince’s troop would reach as, against what he believed to be his own better judgement, the council, led by his commander Lord George Murray, decided, that in the face of advancing government troops, they should retreat.

The Bonnie Prince himself expressed his feelings clearly on this when he said:

“In future, I shall summon no councils since I am accountable to nobody for my actions but to God, and my father, therefore I shall no longer ask or accept advice.”

Unknown to the council of war, the King in London was expecting the invading army any day and was preparing to flee. Had they been aware of this and carried on in their advance, it seems very likely that King Charles III would have been crowned in Westminster Abbey and our recent royal history would have been very different indeed.

Retreat commenced on December 6, and this action ultimately led to his defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

Following his defeat at Culloden, Charles remained at large as a fugitive for five months before eventually escaping to France in September 1746. After being expelled from France two years later, he wandered around Europe for a number of years, secretly visiting London in 1750 and 1754 to try, unsuccessfully, to win support for his cause. In 1772, the Prince returned to Italy where he married Louisa, Countess of Albany. It is suggested that he spent the remainder of his life drinking heavily and treating his wife abusively. He died an alcoholic in Rome in 1788.

Bonnie Prince Charlie statue – Cathedral Green, Derby.