On this day 1745: British soldiers flee as Jacobites head for Edinburgh

The road to the capital was opened up for the Jacobites when government dragoons 'fled in panic' along what is now Princes Street as a group of Highlanders advanced into Corstorphine on horseback.

The Jacobites caused government dragoons to flee on the outskirts of Edinburgh on this day in 1745. PIC: Creative Commons.
The Jacobites caused government dragoons to flee on the outskirts of Edinburgh on this day in 1745. PIC: Creative Commons.

Edinburgh was seemingly well poised for the arrival of the Highland army with around 600 to 700 men, including auxiliaries from Musselburgh and Dalkeith, stationed along the city walls.

Government dragoons were stationed at Corstorphine in preparation for the Jacobites with two regiments peeling away on the night of September 15 1745 to a field near Leith. Some, however, did remain.

The next morning, Brigadier General Fowkes, freshly arrived from London, took command of the dragoons and marched to a field just outside Coltbridge, about two miles west of the city, where he was joined by the town guard and the Edinburgh regiment.

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    When the Jacobites took over the Palace of Holyroodhouse

    As the Highlanders advanced that morning towards Corstorphine, they saw in the distance for the first time a number of dragoons lay in wait as they guarded this eastern approach to the city.

    To suss out the situation, a few Jacobites were sent forward on horseback to gauge numbers of government fighters in the area.

    The encounter became known as the Canter of Coltbrig.

    "To the utter astonishment of the Highlanders, the dragoons, instead of returning the fire, became panic-struck, and instantly wheeling about, galloped off towards the main body," wrote James Brown his 1852 text A History of the Highlands and of Highland Clans.

    Browne added: "Participating in the fears of his advanced guard, General Fowkes immediately ordered a retreat, and between three and four o'clock in the afternoon, the inhabitants of Edinburgh beheld the spectacle of two regiments of dragoons flying along the 'Long Dykes', now the site of Prince's Street, when no one pursued.

    "The faint hearted dragoons stopped for a short time at Leith, and afterwards proceeded to Musselburgh. The foot returned to the city."

    By this time, Bonnie Prince Charlie had already sent a letter to the city, demanding the surrender of Edinburgh. If this was not forthcoming, the city would be filled with armed rebels.

    After the dragoons fled, residents became frightened with some demanding that the city should not resist the arrival of the Jacobites.

    Bonnie Prince Charlie rode into Edinburgh on September 17 and set up court at the Palace of Holyrood House.

    Around 20,000 people lined the streets of the capital for a glimpse of the Prince, cheering as he rode past the foot of Salisbury Crags.