Dilemmas at Derby

This week sees the 270th anniversary of ‘Black Friday’, the day the Jacobites turned at Derby and began their long retreat back up to Culloden. So, in honour of this we thought we’d look a little closer at the events that occurred in Derby.

On 3rd December 1745 word reached Derby that a nine or ten thousand strong Jacobite army was about to arrive. The newly formed Derbyshire Blues, under the command of the Duke of Devonshire, decided to retreat fifty miles to Retford and left Derby to its fate.

True enough the following day the Jacobite army entered Derby,  having marched south from Carlisle on 18th November. The entry of the army into the town was carefully planned to give the impression that Charles did indeed have 9,000 men, though the true number was a lot less. At eleven o’clock in the morning the vanguard, consisting of some thirty horse entered the town and ordered quarters for nine thousand men. In the afternoon the life-guards and some of the principal officers on horseback arrived and this was followed by the main body through the course of the evening; entering in detached parties to make the army appear as numerous as possible.  The capital was said to be in panic and the Bank of England in chaos as neither Cumberlands or Wades armies were well placed to tackle the Jacobite army.

The next day, 5th December, the Jacobites called a council meeting in Exeter House to decide the best way to proceed. They were now only 125 miles from London, just six days march and while Charles wanted to continue south and take on London many were against this decision. With the two government armies behind them and a third army defending London some Jacobites were worried they didn’t have enough support. They had not gathered many men on their route south and the long-promised French help had failed to materialise. Lord George Murray argued that during their march south they had seen more enemies for their cause than friends and he feared being penned in on three sides. He argued that even if the Jacobite army defeated on of the Government armies they would undoubtedly lose men and be unfit to face a second battle. If they were defeated so far from home then the reality was they would be captured and likely sentenced to death. The Prince was forced to admit he had no promise of support from English Jacobites and no idea when or if the French would invade.

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Exeter House in Derby

As the Jacobites began their deliberations Dudley Bradstreet, a government spy, met the Duke of Cumberland at Lichfield before travelling on to Derby to join the Prince as a ‘Jacobite’. Bradstreet was brought before the council at their second meeting and told them of a supposed fourth force of 9,000 men at Northampton. Apparently this extra army was enough to settle the argument and convince the Jacobites to retreat. However, there is no clear evidence this story is true and even if it is the decision to retreat had already been made at the first meeting with the second simply to try and talk the Prince around which was unlikely to ever happen.

On 6th December 1745, known to the Jacobites as Black Friday, the Jacobites began the march north from Derby  led by Lord George Murray. It is said that only those present at the council of war knew of the retreat and the regular officers and men were given powder and ball making them believe they were heading into battle. When it became clear they were actually in retreat the army was angry and despondent. The Duke of Cumberland did not hear of the retreat until late in the day but was determined to make chase. The Jacobites had a head start so he left most of his infantry behind and hurried on with just cavalry and 1,000 volunteers who claimed to know how to ride. Though not capable of taking on the Jacobites by themselves Cumberland hoped Wade’s army would be able to throw itself in the Jacobites path.

Ironically, unbeknown to Charles the French were preparing to invade England. Charles’s gamble that his military success would prompt the French king to act was paying off, the problem was timing. Charles’s success had been rapid and he had gone into England before the French were ready. When the French learned of the Jacobites retreat though the invasion was cancelled leaving many what ifs to ruminate on over time.

The events of Derby have been questioned by many people and the alternate paths the Jacobites could have taken have been argued over many times. However, the fact remains that Derby was as far south as Prince Charles managed to get in his campaign and his retreat north would eventually lead him to the fields on Drumossie Muir in his final battle.

statue
Statue of Prince Charles Edward Stuart in Derby

We hoped you enjoyed this insight into Derby and the Jacobite ‘Black Friday’, as always please like, share, tweet, comment and if you get the chance visit Derby and see the statue of Prince Charles on Cathedral Green.

All the best, K & D

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