Unexceptionable Conduct

Re-enactors wait for the Battle of Prestonpans to commence.
Re-enactors wait for the Battle of Prestonpans to commence.

But the most extraordinary Part of the ensuing Report, and what I conceive will be digested by the Publick with the most Reluctancy, is, the Account therein given of the Battle of Preston-pans. For, surely, after the Prepossessions which have so long prevailed, it will not be easily credited that the Field of Battle for the King’s Troops, was well chosen; that their Disposition was prudent, that the Army was perfectly formed before the Rebels attacked it; that after the Dragoons, both on the Right and Left went off, the Foot stood and were broken, gradually, from the Right, as the Enemy who first attacked the Right, moved up the Line. That Sir John Cope remained with the Foot till they were utterly routed, and exerted himself all he could, to have rallied them, and, if possible, to have retrieved the Affair; that at last, seeing the Foot totally dispersed, he then, and not till then, rode to the Dragoons, whose Flight had been retarded by a Park-Wall in the Rear, and tryed his utmost, in vain, to rally them, and to march them against the Enemy. That, indeed, when they had ran through the Village of Preston, 450 of them were collected, and persuaded to stand; but a Party of the Rebels appearing in Sight, their old Pannick returned, so that all the Intreaties of Sir John Cope, and the Officers who were with him, could not prevail on them to charge; that therefore, as nothing was then to be expected from them, no other Step could be taken than to march to Berwick. All these Circumstances of the Battle, how well soever supported by the most unquestioned Evidence, will yet, I presume, be insufficient, immediately, to destroy the contrary Opinions which have, so long, possessed Men’s Minds; and therefore, as I myself found it difficult to Master my Prepossessions, and impartially to weigh the Varacity of these Facts, I will lay before my Countrymen, the Reasons, which in Opposition to my former Sentiments, have prevailed with me to assent to the Report, and to believe, the Conduct of Sir John Cope at the Battle of Preston-pans to have been unexceptionable.

Preface to A Report of the Proceeding and Opinion of the Board of General Officers on Their Examination into the Conduct, Behaviour, and Proceedings of Lieutenant-General Sir John Cope et al., from the outbreak of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, until the Battle of Prestonpans (21 September 1745) inclusive. Conducted 1746; published 1749.

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Hey, Johnnie Cope, Are Ye Waking Yet?

Cope sent a challenge frae Dunbar,
Sayin ‘Charlie meet me an’ ye daur;
An’ I’ll learn ye the airts o’ war,
If ye’ll meet me in the morning.’


Hey! Johnnie Cope are ye waukin’ yet?
Or are your drums a-beating yet?
If ye were waukin’ I wad wait,
Tae gang tae the coals in the morning.

When Charlie looked the letter upon,
He drew his sword its scabbard from,
‘Come, follow me, my merry men,
And we’ll meet Johnnie Cope in the morning.’

Now Johnnie, be as good as your word,
Come, let us try baith fire and sword,
And dinna flee like a frichted bird,
That’s chased frae its nest i’ the morning.

When Johnnie Cope he heard o’ this,
He thocht it wouldna be amiss,
Tae hae a horse in readiness,
Tae flee awa in the morning.

Fye now, Johnnie, get up an’ rin,
The Highland bagpipes mak’ a din,
It’s better tae sleep in a hale skin,
For it will be a bluidie morning.

When Johnnie Cope tae Dunbar cam,
They speired at him, ‘Where’s a’ your men?’
‘The de’il confound me gin I ken,
For I left them a’ in the morning.’

Now Johnnie, troth ye werena blate,
Tae come wi’ news o’ your ain defeat,
And leave your men in sic a strait,
Sae early in the morning.

‘In faith’, quo Johnnie, ‘I got sic flegs
Wi’ their claymores an’ philabegs,
Gin I face them again, de’il brak my legs,
So I wish you a’ good morning.’

Adam Skirving.

Published by Christian Clay Columba Campbell

Christian Clay Columba Campbell is a Roman Catholic of the Anglican Use. As Senior Warden of the Cathedral of the Incarnation (Orlando, FL), he organised the process by which the parish accepted the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, petitioning to join the Catholic Church. The Anglican Cathedral is now the Church of the Incarnation in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Personal queries should be directed to me at eccentricbliss dot com.

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