Scottish History Society
A prince’s landing at Prestonpans
In this edition (pg. 18), we have read about the fascinating life and career of James Gardiner – decorated soldier who fought on the continent and on British soil, early rake then religious convert, family man and lowlander. He joined the British army aged fourteen and saw considerable action, being seriously wounded fighting the French, before dying on a battlefield much closer to home: Prestonpans. Some of the context of Prestonpans is given in the Account which is the focus here.
The Account is a relatively short document – only 20 pages or so – but it is action-packed, covering the landing of Charles Edward Stuart at Glenfinnan to the night before the battle of Prestonpans, where James Gardiner would die in combat, mortally wounded as he tried to control fleeing troops. It is assumed to have been written by Ranald Macdonald, as his role in the tumultuous proceedings is emphasised throughout, sometimes to the detriment of the reputations of the other key figures in the rising, although to the reader’s amusement.
It is a pretty robust and straightforward account of the key operations, troop movements and decision-making at the heart of the Jacobite camp, peppered with sharp observations and some non-too respectful analysis of the actions and motivations of leading Jacobites, Charles Edward Stuart (referred throughout the document as ‘P.’) included. What comes across strongly is the sheer oddness and unreality of much of the campaign in the lowlands: great bodies of troops marching along roads and overtaking civilians in carriages on their way to balls, the endless negotiations with town and city councils, tents in public parks filled with troops and constant wrangling over funds for the campaign.
There was nothing unreal about the sharp military edge of the campaign, as the life and death of James Gardiner demonstrates. He was one figure among many, unjustly overlooked for contemporaries and historians since: this Account goes some way to redress the balance.
‘An Account of the proceedings of Prince Charles’ landing to Prestonpans,’ (ed. D. Nicholas) Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, third series, volume 50 (Edinburgh, 1958). Read the text at: http://scot.sh/prestonpans
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