I’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.
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.
A 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.
Image of the Duke of Devonshire from the National Portrait Gallery Collection.