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OCCUPATION? Edinburgh September / October 1745

Tapestry Storyline - and more - revealed 'live' as Edinburgh Festival & Fringe are launched with a bang

The Edinburgh Festival was launched with a bang this weekend, as Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobites re-enacted their 'battle' for control of the capital, in support of the Battle of Prestonpans Tapestry exhibition at St Mary’s Cathedral. [The flyer was harbinger and drew a crowd of over 300 on Saturday, but torrential rains alas washed out the Sunday performance!]

Spectating visitors were treated to skirmishing and high drama as the events of September and October 1745 condensed to a single afternoon for their enlightening entertainment! The North Lawn of St Mary's Cathedral was transformed into a microcosm of the city: Jacobite encampment at one end and formidable Castle at the other.

As history tells, the Capital's occupation began with the storming of the Netherbow Gate, which fell to the Jacobites with rather stiffer resistance in 2011 than it saw in 1745! [Apologies here. History tells of an unopposed entry, but the suceeding episodes were authentic enough even though seldom retold.]

The victorious Jacobites soon taunted the Castle Garrison by Proclaiming King James VIII and III, to great cheers from the city crowd as well as the Jacobites. Unmoved, the Garrison held out resolutely in the vain hope of relief from Sir John Cope and his yet undefeated army just then landing at Dunbar.

When the Jacobite detachment received orders to march out to meet Cope at Prestonpans, the Garrison seemed confident that they would be saved. But soon survivors of the rout at Prestonpans were fleeing towards the Castle gates, Jacobites in hot pursuit. Only the threat of fire from the Castle restrained the Highlanders' eagerness.

As news of their astonishing Victory filled the city, the Jacobites retired to their camp and plotted how best to threaten the Castle. Later in the afternoon, the uneasy stalemate between Castle and Highlanders was broken when a sneaky sally out by a Government soldier caught several Jacobite sentries napping. One may have been quickly dispatched, but only a vicious sword duel could suppress the second.

The alarm raised, the Jacobites closest to the castle attempted to apprehend the attacker, but were driven back from the walls with heavy casualties, withdrawing their wounded under a withering fire.

At last the Prince abandoned his hopes that the Castle would yield to reason and ordered the detachment to force the Garrison. When the parley failed to result in surrender, the Highland officer brought forward one of Cope’s captured guns and threatened to bombard the gates. The Garrison responded with unexpected efficiency, blasting away the Jacobite gunners with their own cannon.

As Jacobite casualties mounted, the Garrison again sallied forth and drove the Highlanders back off Castle Hill. One unfortunate Jacobite officer was captured and executed on the spot! Eventually, at the close of the day, the Jacobite detachment received orders from the Prince to rejoin the main body of the army as they marched off to launch the invasion of England at Carlisle.

These dramatic, fast-moving re-enactments kept the eager public on tenterhooks as they watched the events unfold. The crowd were also told of the real events which inspired these cameos, and they shouted their support for the participants with great gusto. Many had already seen the tapestry within the Cathedral and were delighted to see so many scenes brought to life in this way.

Many thanks are due to all who created the day's re-enactments ...

The Battle Trust's most sincere thanks go to the Alan Breck’s Prestonpans Volunteer Regiment (which acted as host society); the Charles Edward Stuart Society (who travelled up from Derby to provide much of the Edinburgh garrison); Birkbeck’s Battery from Glasgow (for their spectacular gunnery); Veritas Vincit (for their sword duel); and Brett Fletcher (for commanding the Government forces).

Published Date: August 12th 2011

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