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The Derbyshire Militia – facing Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745

blue plaque derbyI’ve hopped away from the English Civil War for a couple of days. I’m currently trying to find out what I can about the Derbyshire Blues. This was the regiment of militia raised by William Cavendish, the Third Duke of Devonshire, in 1745 in response to the arrival of Bonnie Prince Charlie and his prospective invasion of England.

 

There had been an act to permit the raising of militia at the beginning of the eighteenth century which required regular renewal but this had lapsed when it was not renewed in 1735. In theory this meant that all the Lord Lieutenants of counties who raised regiments against the Jacobites were in breach of the law not that this stopped King George II’s ministers from approving the need for them on the 5th September 1745. George II was in Hanover and so Parliament could not sit until he returned so even though letters were sent out to Lords Lieutenant on the 13th they weren’t acting entirely within the bounds of legality. As a consequence the Militia Act of 1745 passed through parliament into law in one day. The Act stated that at any time up to the 30 November 1746, the militia could be called for active service, with each soldier to be provided with a month’s pay, advanced locally and repaid within six months. Any regiment of militia would be liable to serve throughout the country – although in Derbyshire there was a stipulation that none of its militia should be expected to march more than ten miles outside the county boundaries. So essentially, think of the militia as a proto-type home guard.

 

The problem seems to have been that the militia despite their pay and in many cases their new uniforms were not the kind of men that the Lords Lieutenant might have hoped for. In Carlisle men deserted in droves when they are required to defend the walls and in Lancashire despite their new coats, hats and shoes the militia took itself off to Liverpool before decamping in the direction of Warrington to destroy bridges. Beckett reveals that the militia were so ineffective that the Jacobites gave them the code name “small beer” although he does note that they were much more effective during the Jacobite retreat in that they harried stragglers and sought to slow the Highlanders by felling trees across various roads.

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In Derbyshire the Duke of Devonshire, a Whig supporter of the Hanoverians was also the Lord Lieutenant of the county. He had just returned from duties in Ireland where he had been Lord Lieutenant for six years. It was his job to raise the militia. On the 28th September there was a meeting in the George Inn on Irongate in Derby:

“to consider of such measures as are fit to be taken for the support of the Royal Person and government of H. M. King George, and our happy constitution in Church and State, at a time when rebellion is carrying on in favour of a Popish Pretender.”

As a result of the discussion a regiment of five hundred men was formed. One hundred and twenty of them had been paid for by the duke himself. Overall command of the regiment was to be given to the Duke of Devonshire with the Marquis of Hartington and Sir Nathaniel Curzon taking charge of one company each with the two county MPs taking the jobs of colonels of the regiment. The minutes of the meeting revealed the initial idea was that the men should be divided amongst Derbyshire’s market towns – Ashbourne was to have fifty men as was Bakewell whilst Chesterfield and Derby were to have a hundred men each.   Sir Nathaniel Curzon, Sir Robert Burdett, Sir Henry Harpur, Littleton Poyntz Meynell, William Cotton, German Pole, Edward Munday, Richard Harpur, Philip Gell were signatories to the document and in excess of £6000 was raised by subscription for the formation of the militia.

George InnA second meeting at the George, or the King’s Head as it became as the Jacobites drew closer was also recorded in the Derby Mercury.  It turns out that the Duke not only summoned the gentry of the county to discuss the need for a militia but that he wined and dined them as well.  Even so when commissions were sent out it was reported that some  were turned down.

The Derbyshire Blues were a nattily dressed bunch in blue serge coats, white breeches, black buckled shoes and tricorn hats sporting an orange cockade. In London it was arranged for armaments to be sent from The Tower to Derbyshire in two waggons.

On the 19th November, by which time the Jacobites had captured Carlisle, Lord Lonsdale, the Lord Lieutenant of Cumberland, wrote to the Due of Devonshire saying that he had heard from Penrith to the effect that the Jacobites were coming with an army of 8,000 men and where was the English army under the command of Sir John Ligionier? Lonsdale was concerned that his message had got lost en route and hoped that the duke could correspond with the army based at Lichfield more effectively. Ligionier was unwell and he was about to be replaced by George II’s son, the Duke of Cumberland.

 

As December approached the panic seems to have grown, trees were felled to form a blockade on the road between Buxton and Ashbourne; letters were written about the dangers of local Catholics who found themselves unable to own a horse worth more than £5.00 and forbidden to travel far from their own doorsteps. By the 3rd of December folk who could leave Derby did so.

 

The militia paraded, moved into position to guard Swarkestone Bridge and then at ten in the evening scarpered to Mansfield via Nottingham before deciding that it was still too close to the Jacobites having sent a scout to find out if they had yet left Derby and decamping to Retford – which is not exactly on a direct route to London but was much closer to Marshall Wade who was then in Doncaster! Part of the reason for their reluctance to encounter the Jacobites was that they believed that the prince’s army was considerably larger than it really was. Rumour suggested somewhere in the region of 9,000 men when actually the army was closer to 4,000. Even if they had known the true number it is hard to imagine what five hundred part-time soldiers could possibly have done against the highlanders in an unwalled city aside from getting themselves slaughtered.

 

After the whole affair was over a satire purporting to be a chronicle of the “mighty acts of Devonshire” was published – presumably by a Jacobite sympathiser or by a forerunner of Jimmy Perry.  Very sensibly the author chose a pseudonym “Nathan Ben Shaddai.” He wrote it in the manner of an Old Testament reading.  The militia are seen arguing about where is safest for them and then go to Nottingham via the village of Borrows-Ash where “they make war on the poultry” and drank “much strong drink” before departing “forgetting to pay.” During the course of their flight a certain Captain Lowe does not emerge particularly heroically and having consumed rather a lot of intoxicating liquor the regiment confuses a herd of cows with the Jacobites. The chronicle descends into farce when one of the drummers leaves his drum on the road in the confusion and a Lieutenant accidentally rode his horse over it causing even more chaos not to mention a soiling of the aforementioned  white breeches.

 

Beckett, Fredrick, William. (1991)The Amateur Military Tradition, 1558-1945. Manchester: Manchester University Press

Lord, Evelyn and  Money, David. (2004) The Stuarts Secret Army: English Jacobites 1689-1752. London: Pearson

Riding, Jacqueline. A New History of the ’45 Rebellion.  London: Bloomsbury

Stone, Brian. (2015). Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Highland Army in Derby. Cromford: Scarthin Books.

https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/The_Chronicle_of_the_Derbyshire_Regiment.html?id=HLmDAQAACAAJ&redir_esc=y

Image of the Duke of Devonshire from the National Portrait Gallery Collection.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Jacobite advance.

bonnie prince chalrie derby38.JPGAs the Jacobites marched south via Lancaster the Hanoverians in the form of the Lancashire Militia and the Liverpool Blues marched into action – which meant breaking bridges.  The bridge over the Mersey at Warrington was demolished as were several others but by the time the order came to demolish the bridge at Stockport it was too late.  The Blues hurried off to join the garrison at Chester and Liverpudlians heaved a sigh of collective relief as the Jacobites headed for Manchester and Manchester’s magistrates promptly left.  There was something of an exodus prior to their arrival.  Such was the state of concern that Oates records that families packed their belongings and their families onboard boats in Liverpool ready to sail in the event of the army turning its attention in their direction.  Not everyone felt the same about the Stuart cause apparently two fiddlers played the Jacobites into Preston – though Preston a town with a reputation of jacobite sympathies didn’t offer up many in the way of recruits.

Once they arrived in Manchester on the 29th November 1745 the Jacobites set about having the bridge at Crossford repaired, food to be foraged for and Prince Charles declared regent.

The perennial problem of recruitment remained. Eight men had joined in Preston.  At Ormskirk the story was a bit different in that there was more popular support but it appeared that although Prince Charles had well wishers none wished to pick up a weapon in his cause.  This was disappointing as Lancashire had the reputation for being Catholic in outlook.  Oates observes that there was little correspondence between the Catholic Church in England and the Stuart court, ironically based in Rome, as the Stuarts didn’t wish the English to think of them as being a Catholic faction.  Ultimately a Manchester Regiment of Jacobites was formed. Charles took this as a good sign – his officers felt that two hundred men didn’t constitute a popular uprising nor for that matter did they come solely from Manchester.  They came from all over the north of England. They were in the command of Colonel Francis Towneley who had seen service in the French army.  The regiment was inspected on the 30th November.  When Towneley was tried for treason in London in 1746 he claimed that as a veteran of the french army he should be treated as a prisoner of war.  His plea was not admitted.

The Jacobites left Manchester with their new recruits on the 1st of December 1745.  They continued south via Macclesfield and Leek where they arrived on 3rd December- it is said that the Jacobites sharpened their swords on the tombstones of St Edward’s Church. The vicar’s wife either died from fright or gave the prince a flea in his ear depending on which story you chose to believe.From there it was a hop, skip and a jump to Ashbourne and Derby.

Meanwhile Cumberland decided that the prince was heading for Wales based on a feint that Lord George Murray made at Congleton so marched his forces from Lichfield to Stone south of Stoke where he waited to give battle – and was presumably very irritated when it didn’t happen. Murray’s manoeuvre meant that the Jacobites were able to march into Derby unopposed on 4th December with between six  and nine thousand men depending on the source.  The newly formed Derbyshire regiment commanded by the Duke of Devonshire having decided that discretion was the better part of valour and scarpered to Retford.  Bonnie Prince Charlie feeling that he was on a roll made arrangements for the capture of Swarkestone Bridge which was the only one crossing the Trent between Burton and Nottingham.

There was a meeting in Exeter House on the 5th December.  There are 125 miles between Derby and London – another week would have seen the army in England’s capital. However, it was decided that the army would return to Scotland  as it risked being surrounded with Wade and Cumberland’s men coming around behind them and another force to their south.  There was also the lack of support from the English for the Jacobite cause and in addition to which the Scots were a bit restive about the fact that the french were supposed to be offering assistance and so far there had been not so much as a hint of french boots on the ground.   Lord George Murray was very clear as to his concerns.

The final straw may have come in the form of Dudley Bradstreet who presented himself in Derby as a Jacobite but who was really a spy working for Cumberland – he “let slip’ that there were 9,000 men in Northampton on the Hanoverian side.  There weren’t but there wasn’t any way of checking.

So on the 6th of December Ashbourne once again played host to Bonnie Prince Charlie and his very cross army because whilst the officers didn’t fancy being pinned on three sides the men themselves were keen for a fight.

Oates, Jonathan D. (2006) The Jacobite Invasion of 1745 in Northwest England. Lancaster: lancaster University

 

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Filed under Anglo-Scottish history, Eighteenth Century, The Stuarts