Arthur Herman on the ‘what ifs’ of history, in another November, 263 years ago:
“In one sense it is idle to speculate what might have happened if Charles and his little army had decided to press on to London, but the temptation is overwhelming. Could Charles really have taken the city, proclaimed his father king at Westminster, and then crafted a political settlement that would have put the Stuarts on the throne again?
“It does seem indisputable that if Charles had marched further south, he never would have made it. Not just one, but three British armies were now converging on him, including the one commanded by King George’s son, the Duke of Cumberland, recently arrived from campaigning in Flanders. Thirty thousand troops were now available for action against the Stuart army of barely five thousand. From a military point of view, those who counseled Charles to abandon his plan to march on London were right. He never had a chance.
“But this raises a more interesting point: that the odds against Charles in November of 1745 were more military than political. In other words, if Charles had somehow evaded Cumberland (very unlikely), and if he had made it to London, it is hard to see how anyone could have stopped him from carrying out his plan. Despite the hopes of English Jacobites, the great majority of their countrymen were not going to rise up in support of the Stuarts; but the same majority was not ready to risk life and property to keep the Hanovers. A compromise between Parliament and the Stuarts was not only possible but probable. As early as 1739, when the War of Jenkin’s Ear was starting to heat up, Robert Walpole had sent secret letters to James asking what his intentions were regarding the Church of England and the personal safety of the members of the House of Hanover, if the Stuarts should come back to the throne again.
“If they had, the English constitution would never have been the same. The notion, enshrined since 1688, of the sovereignty of Parliament would have died on the spot. But in 1745, not only sentimental Jacobites but most Englishmen would have willingly traded it in to avoid a civil war and have a little peace and quiet.”