The Battle of Falkirk Muir was fought on the afternoon of 17 January 1746 and was the last significant Jacobite success of their rising of 1745, a rising that had seen Charles Edward Stuart and his army reach as far south as Derby on 4 December 1745. One of the great "what ifs" of British history is to ask what would have happened had the Jacobites pressed on to London. They were, however, unaware that the Welsh Jacobites has risen in support of them, and others in Oxfordshire were on the point of doing so. Neither did they know that London was in panic and that George II's court was packing his belongings onto ships on the Thames ready to flee to the Continent. So instead of marching south, they turned around and on 6 December 1745 headed back they way they had come, towards Scotland.
It has been said that had the Jacobites pressed on, George II would have fled; that the English and French would have avoided a further 70 years of conflict; that the English would not have had to raise taxes in the colonies to pay for the French wars; and that the Americans would have had no cause to fight a war for their independence. And, arguably, the French revolution would not have happened. The world might have been a very different place but for a closely and bitterly argued decision taken in the upstairs room of a pub in Derby on the evening of 4 December 1745.
Having returned to Scotland, the Jacobites unsuccessfully besieged Stirling Castle. The Battle of Falkirk Muir took place when the main Jacobite army moved north-east from Glasgow to intercept Hanoverian government troops under the command of Lieutenant General Henry Hawley who were en route from Edinburgh to relieve the siege of Stirling Castle. The Jacobite army numbered some 8,000 men, the largest army they managed to put into the field at any point during the 1745 rising. On the Hanoverian side there were some 7,000 regular troops. (Continues below image...)
On the morning of 17 January 1746 the Hanoverians were encamped to the west of Falkirk, while Lieutenant General Hawley was staying at Callendar House in the town. At 1 p.m. a messenger warned Hawley that the Jacobites were approaching the area, but he refused to believe that was possible. It was only at 2 p.m., when warned that a Jacobite attack was imminent, that Hawley realised the threat was real, and galloped off to join his troops. The Hanoverians lined up hurriedly to confront the Jacobite army to the west of them, but in their rush failed to do so properly, and lost some of their artillery in a boggy area.
Government dragoons attacked the Jacobite right wing at shortly before 4 p.m., but were beaten back and then fled in panic. What followed was a chaotic battle fought in the rapidly fading light of a winter evening and in the teeth of an oncoming storm. The The Hanoverians lost some 350 men killed or wounded and 300 captured, compared with perhaps 130 killed or wounded on the Jacobite side. However, the Jacobites failed to take advantage of their victory and allowed Government forces to reassemble in Edinburgh, perhaps inevitably paving the way for the eventual Jacobite defeat at the Battle of Culloden just under three months later.
There are plans to build a visitor centre overlooking the site of the battle. At present the battle is marked by a monument that was erected in 1927. A nearby information board gives some background information and provides an overview of the battle, though this might be easier to follow if the bird's-eye-view didn't reverse usual conventions about north and south. A few tartan scarves and wreaths suggest the monument has become something of a shrine to the Jacobite cause.