If: A Jacobite Fantasy

by Charles Petrie

This article first appeared in the January 30, 1926 issue of The Weekly Westminster.

There can be little doubt that the famous Council of War held at Derby on December 5th, 1745, was the turning-point in modern English history, for had Prince Charles yielded to the almost unanimous advice of his counsellors he would have retreated to Scotland, and at this interval of time it is impossible to say what fate might have overtaken his expedition; in fact, it is by no means improbable that the House of Hanover might be reigning over the British Empire to-day in place of His Most Sacred Majesty King James VI and XI. It was the determination of the Prince Regent to advance, in spite of the apparent hopelessness of the future, that first showed the world that genius of which he gave such ample proof thirty years later, when, by his visit to America, he almost certainly prevented the loss of the British colonies in that continent.

The rebel army under the Elector's son had been outmanoeuvred, but the Prince hardly felt himself strong enough to march direct upon the capital, and he accordingly proceeded by way of Oxford, where he hoped to be joined by the Jacobites of Wales and the West. The depression visible upon every face save that of their leader has often been described by those who were with the army on the march from Derby to Oxford; hardly a man joined the colours, and while no news could be obtained of the levies of Sir Watkin Wynn and the Duke of Beaufort, the most ominous accounts were received of the Hanoverian preparations.

Nor did the situation improve when Oxford was reached on the afternoon of the 10th, for in place of the Vice-Chancellor only Dr. King of St. Mary Hall, and a few undergraduates, welcomed the Prince as he entered the city by what is now known as the Banbury Road. The army, by now thoroughly dispirited, was billeted upon the unwilling inhabitants, and there seemed no alternative but to retreat. "I went to bed that night," one of the survivors told Sir Walter Scott long afterwards, "with the vision of Tyburn before my eyes."

For the Prince and the leaders there was no rest. The Council met at a late hour, and it became clear almost immediately that even such men as Lord George Murray (as he then was) would follow His Royal Highness no further. The Council was unanimous for an immediate retreat to the North, and the Prince argued in vain for a delay of only twenty-four hours in Oxford. It was at this moment, when the iron was beginning to enter even into his soul, that there took place that incident which has so often since appealed to the imagination of painter and poet.

It appears that Magdalen Bridge was guarded by a detachment of the Manchester Regiment, with special instructions to keep a sharp look-out along the London road. the night was clear and frosty, and at about eleven o'clock lights were seen approaching at what was for those days a rapid pace. soon the sound of wheels and of horses' feet became audible, and the guard had hardly time to parade before there burst upon their astonished sight a coach-and-six driven at a breakneck gallop and escorted by a troop of dragoons in the Elector's uniform, but wearing white cockades. the equipage was halted and the cavalry disarmed, and there then descended from the coach with his wig on one side and his teeth chattering with terror His Grace the Duke of Newcastle, Prime Minister of Great Britain. The panic-stricken statesman was hurried to the Prince, before whom he fell on his knees ejaculating incoherently, "He's gone back to Hanover." It is perhaps the most dramatic episode in English history.

Next morning the inhabitants of Oxford were awakened by the bells proclaiming the second Restoration of the old Royal House, and the Vice-chancellor hurriedly invented excuses both in Latin and in English for his neglect of the afternoon before. The Prince received him with a good-natured tolerance reminiscent of his great-uncle, and merely expressed a hope that the University authorities would be as careful of his interests in the future as they had been of those of the Elector in the past. That afternoon the Welsh marched in, soon to be followed by the levies of the West: all told how in town and village alike men were declaring for King James, and that it was dangerous to wear the black cockade. The King was proclaimed by the Duke of Newcastle at Carfax, and so highly did the latter value his services that the Regent laughingly remarked, "I believe the old renegade thinks he is another Monk."

All danger was, however, by no means at an end, for the Hanoverian army lay on the Prince's flank at Bedford, and although the plans of the rebels had been disorganized by the flight of the Elector the Whigs had sufficient influence with the commissioned ranks to precipitate civil war if they were so minded. General Wade at Newcastle declared for the King as soon as he heard what had happened in London, and it was probably his influence which decided the army at Bedford. At any rate the men refused to march against the Prince, and when Lord George Murray arrived from Oxford to take command his reception was everything that the most fervent loyalist could have wished. A number of the senior officers were removed from their posts, but in view of the great personal courage of the members of the House of Hanover it is surprising how little support there was for that family in the army. Of course, the Regent's patriotic refusal to allow any French troops to be landed for his support once he had reached Oxford probably turned the scale in his favour, for had he appeared to continue to lean upon King Louis it is difficult to see how civil war could have been avoided. As it was, the arrival of the Duke of York with only a few companions made an irresistible appeal to British patriotism.

Some critics have animadverted upon the delay of the Regent in entering London in view of the fact that it was not until six weeks after the arrival of Newcastle at Oxford that a Stuart Prince was once more seen in the capital. On the other hand, it was essential that no untoward event should mar so important a ceremony, and the usurpation had lasted so long that many changes in the personnel of the public services had to be effected before it was safe for the man who but a few weeks earlier had a price upon his head to take up his residence in St. James's.

The arrival of the King in February, 1746, moved even the most uncompromising Whig to tears, and not a few of the older people must have thought of the infant waiting in the cold and wet by Lambeth Church over half a century before when they saw King James III enter the capital of his ancestors after a life spent in exile. Indeed, it was the personal character of the King which more than anything else guaranteed the permanence of the Restoration settlement, for it was in marked contrast not only with that of the two Electors, but even with that of his own father, as was proved by the clemency shown to the Hanoverian rebels of 1752, a clemency very far removed from the attitude adopted by James II towards the followers of the unhappy Monmouth.

It is interesting, but perhaps idle, speculation to conjecture what the history of these islands would have been had the House of Stuart not regained the throne in 1745. Of course, the Electors of Hanover continued to use the British royal titles until the French Revolution drove them into exile, and they were compelled to accept the pension so generously bestowed by King Henry IX, but they had as little influence in this country at the end of the eighteenth century as King James VI has in France, although the fleur-de-lis are still quartered in the royal arms.

The success of the royalist arms in 1745 proves how weak their government really was, and it is more than probable that after 1789 this country would have followed the example of France, and would have adopted a republican form of government. From this, as well as from many other dangers, it is no exaggeration to say that we have been saved by our Stuart monarchs. It is true that in Ireland the condition of affairs is deplorable, but there is not the slightest reason to suppose that it would be any better if a Hanoverian occupied the throne, for history has proved that unhappy country to be irreconcilable whatever form of government may exist in England.

The brilliant reign of Charles III undoubtedly fulfilled all the earlier promise of the Restoration campaign, and it must never be forgotten that the great commanders who eventually defeated Napoleon were all trained in his school of warfare. For twenty years Charles of England and Frederick of Prussia towered over the other rulers of Europe like colossi, and even to-day the memory of the greatest of all our monarchs is as fresh as when he died. A Hanoverian would have lost the American colonies without a shadow of doubt, and Washington might well have become another Bolivar instead of being renowned as one of the greatest British generals. The invention of steam, of course, did much to create better feeling between the mother-country and the Dominion of North America by enabling our monarchs to hold their Courts alternately in London and New York, but it was Charles III who saved the situation by his witty remark to Washington and his colleagues: "Gentlemen, we have one thing in common: my family have no more cause to like the House of Commons than you have."

The effect of the Restoration upon literature and art was enormous, and especially was this due to the patronage of the Duke of York, afterwards King Henry IX. One can hardly imagine the fate of the Muses under a prolonged Hanoverian regime, or picture Dr. Johnson at the Elector's Court. Horace Walpole, indeed, went into exile at Herrenhausen, where he died in extreme poverty at a great age, but every other man of letters welcomed the return of the old dynasty. In literature, as in all else, the usurpation was but an interlude in the national life, but it was one that will not have been without its purpose if it is regarded as a lesson upon the consequences of rebellion.

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