Remembering the largest battle of the Jacobite Rising - Falkirk Muir

In 1769 an English traveller called Thomas Pennant toured Scotland and passed through our area.

The Battle of Falkirk Muir, 1746.
The Battle of Falkirk Muir, 1746.

In his journal he wrote “We arrived in Falkirk a place to which Wallace did often resort.

There are many fields of battle in this place, for the Scots, if they had no public enemy to contend with, fell to fighting among themselves”.

What he had in mind was the Battle of Falkirk Muir fought a few years before over the lands of South Bantaskine.

The battle monument.

It was January 17, 1746, just 275 years ago.

The Jacobite Rising of the previous year was, without doubt, a civil war with a high percentage of Scots supporting the Government redcoats commanded by General Henry Hawley.

Of the three battles of the Rising, Falkirk was the largest in terms of numbers of men in arms (around 18,000) because Prestonpans four months earlier took place before the real build up of Jacobite support, and Culloden, three months later, found the scattered armies of Bonnie Prince Charlie much depleted by exhaustion and desertion.

Having retreated from Derby following the unsuccessful attempt to march to London, the Jacobite forces settled to the task of recapturing Stirling Castle.

Meantime Hawley’s army arrived in the Falkirk area and camped on the land between Dollar Park and the Kilns.

What happened next is a well-told tale and one I have written about in this column before.

The Jacobites marched west in secret and circled round to the south with the intention of winning the high ground above the town and descending on the redcoat camp.

However Hawley’s dragoons and foot soldiers picked up on this plan and marched up Maggie Woods Loan in appalling winter weather to intercept the Highlanders who formed the first line of the Jacobite army.

The clash in South Bantaskine was swift and bloody with the Jacobite right wing routing the dragoons.

In the end the bulk of Hawley’s troops fell back on the town and then retreated to Linlithgow and Edinburgh.

For the next eleven days the Jacobites occupied the town before withdrawing northwards towards defeat at Culloden.

The occupant of Callendar House, Lady Anne Livingston, came from a long-standing Jacobite family and the Prince had spent the night as her guest on his way south in the previous September.

Despite this, she had serious reservations about the Rising, and tried in vain to stop her husband, William Boyd, the Earl of Kilmarnock, from taking part.

But he was, as he said “in my boots for the Prince” and marched to Derby, fought at Falkirk and was captured at Culloden.

In September he was beheaded for treason on Tower Hill and the Livingston family departed Falkirk after close on four centuries.

Being essentially a Government supporting town there was very little attempt in the century or so that followed to mark the events of 1746 and it was not until 1927 that a public memorial was raised on the site of the battle.

By then the whole Jacobite adventure had assumed a romantic afterglow and, since the broadswords and targes were not coming back, people felt safe enough to look back and remember the Bonnie Prince and his gallant Highlanders.