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I read recently that winning the battle at Prestonpans gave the Jacobites military control of Scotland. In other words, 5000 Highlanders could dictate to the whole of Scotland on pain of being slaughtered and their homes burned, without fear of retribution. Really! This is the land of Bruce and Wallace!

The truth is rather more prosaic. If you put 5000 men on a football pitch and they stand a metre apart, they will just cover the pitch, they won’t even fill a section of the stand at a decent ground. If they are in a double line, each rank a metre and a half apart they will make a column 3750 metres or roughly two and a half miles long. If they marched in the next valley, you wouldn’t even know they were there. They’d have scouts out and that might cover a strip five miles wide. Five miles wide in the whole of the Southern Uplands! The whole country might know they were there, but a town three or four miles from the line of march could relax and get on with their chores.

What happened was that Bonnie Prince Charlie and his army moved like drops of water over a pane of glass, leaving no more than a thin trail; the country in general let them go to where they’d be dealt with. A wasp might not be large and it’s sting little more than momentarily painful and really only inconvenient, but you don’t go prodding it. Apathetic would be the mot juste.