Outlander: Season 2, Episode 10 - "Prestonpans"

Alyssa Rasmus

A few victories, infighting, and mud put Jamie and Claire's ability to change history in doubt.


Airtime: Saturdays, 9pm
Cast: Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Tobias Menzies, Duncan Lacroix, Grant O’Rourke
Subtitle: Season 2, Episode 10 - "Prestonpans"
Network: Starz
Air date: 2016-06-11

Ready and able men await their fated battle. The Scots sit on one side of field, the British on the other. A muddy field sits between. Both sides are itching for the other to make the first move. Prince Charlie (Andrew Gower) is troubled by the realities of the war he's fought so hard to start. His generals can't agree on a plan of attack, and the men are becoming restless unsure of how to proceed. They are as ready as they ever could be.

Claire's (Caitriona Balfe) in charge of creating a field hospital able to take in all the battered and bleeding when the time comes. She knows that this particular battle was won by the rebels, but also that it’s up to them to make that piece of history come to fruition. This minor battle did actually occur, and set up the remainder of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. Considering that, it might be important to break down the history and see what opportunities our characters still have to exploit to save the clans and bring about a Stuart king.

Starting from the beginning, Queen Anne was the last reigning monarch from the House of Stuart. She had no direct heirs, so the family of Bonnie Prince Charlie didn't succeed Queen Anne, and the monarchy of England went to the House of Hanover. Prince Charles and his father were both Roman Catholics, an unfavorable religion for English royals at the time, only creating further reasons as to why they should be kept off the throne.

The Jacobite's cause was based on the doctrine of the divine right of kings; ie, they believed God, not the populace, chose the king and therefore any heir in the Stuart line should be King, because God had chosen that family. When the monarchy turned to the Anglican Hanovers, the Jacobites of Scotland, who believed the Stuarts were divinely chosen, decided to fight on their behalf.

Prince Charles did indeed rage against the monarchy in support of his father and was supported by the French, as they too supported the House of Stuart. The rebellion featured within Outlander was the Rising of 1745, the last of the Jacobite rebellions.

Charles arrived in Scotland to march through the highlands collecting troops and supporters. The small army took Perth, where Claire and Jamie (Sam Heughan) met them after visiting Lord Lovat (Clive Russell) to gain support and troops. They continued to take control of cities marching towards England.

One major notable stop was Prestonpans, a city to the east of Edinburgh. The Jacobite army had found the camp of Sir John Cope of the British Army. They were led by Lord George Murray to create a surprise attack in the early morning of September 21, 1745. Because the army wasn't prepared for the attack, the Jacobites conquered the group in a short time, a victory that resonated from London to Paris. Charles wrote the King of France to gain more support for an invasion into England.

"Prestonpans" showcases the strategy behind this strategic attack on the sleeping soldiers. There may be little historical evidence to support that a local townsman led the men to an opportune road around the marsh, but this dramatization doesn’t stray much from the brutality of this battle.

Following Prestonpans, many fighting Highlanders left the cause, because having won one battle, they weren't interested in losing another. Recruiting continued as the rebel army took Edinburgh, but there was opposition from Lord Murray about whether the army should enter England.

They did eventually enter England and managed to recruit a few hundred more men for the Prince's cause. They were also joined by French and Irish troops, but the Prince's army was still suffering from desertion. Lord Murray guided the men away from British troops and they rode into Derby, the closest city to London yet.

There were two British armies closing in on them with false reports coming in that one or two more were on their trail. Only Charles voted to continue to towards London, but with winter fast approaching, limited resources, and a shortage of English support the army decided to retreat back to Scotland on December 6, 1745. By Christmas, they were in Glasgow and demanded the city to resupply the army that had worn very thin on supplies.

As winter thawed, the army had taken Fort George and Fort Augustus, but didn't take control of Fort William or Stirling Castle, leaving them partially in control of Inverness by April 1746. There was a disappointing attempt at a surprise attack on April 15th, wherein the group tried to catch the troop off-guard, similar to the Battle of Prestonpans, under the cover of darkness.

They didn't manage to reach the troop before dawn, so they turned back before they were found. On April 16th, the army, under the insistence of Prince Charles, attempted to use the element of surprise using the Highland Charge. As Outlander has shown, in "Je Suis Prest", this tactic is a favorite of Dougal's (Graham McTavish), but "Prestonpans" shows that Jamie was correct in his assertion that it only works if the surprise is guaranteed to effectively break the line of battle.

Early in the morning, due to mixed ideas about how to proceed, the difficulty in managing the marshland ground, and trying to protect the Prince while steadying the fighting hungry rebellion army, their charge fell apart. The attempt was thwarted by the troops of William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland. Partway through the quick battle, Prince Charles fled. The flanks of rebels had been spotted ahead of their charge and the British army took full advantage of the rebel's lack of control of their front line.

As the line broke, there was an attempt to establish a second line, but the weakened and exhausted men, who had rested little due to the failed raid the night before, could not manage to defeat the Brits. They were outgunned and outmanned. The gruesome fight was over in an hour.

One of the bloodiest battles, Culloden, is marked as the last of the Jacobite risings. "The Forty-Five" created a mood across the lands that the British couldn’t be defeated and the Stuarts were not to be followed. The most direct impact Culloden had, which Claire and Jamie are most passionate about stopping, is the dismantling of the Clan system and the opposing of Gaelic culture.

Mark me, James: we will win this war. Prince Charles has led our characters into battles good and bad, misguided and inspired, but all unstoppable. Claire and Jamie are now hoping against hope for a change in the future, a change to how the war ends.

The majority of the reasons for the loss at Culloden was due to the Jacobite’s being unprepared and facing off without a solid strategy. There's a window of opportunity Claire and Jamie can exploit if they manage to solve the problems from the original battle. Mark me, James: history may not repeat itself.





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