John Cope (British Army officer)

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1745 caricature believed to be of General John Cope

Sir John Cope KB (1690–1760) was a British general and member of parliament. Although a successful officer in the Wars of the Spanish and Austrian Succession, he is best known for his defeat at the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745.


Cope was educated at Westminster School and from there joined the British Army. He rose quickly, and was appointed a Knight of the Bath (KB) for his performance in battle in Germany during the War of the Austrian Succession.

He went on to serve as member of parliament for Queenborough (1722–1727), Liskeard (1727–34) and Orford (1738–41).

In 1745 in his role as Commander-in-Chief in Scotland, Cope was in command of the government forces at the Battle of Prestonpans and was defeated by the Jacobite army of Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie). His men broke and ran as the result of a highland charge.

The battle is commemorated by Adam Skirving's heavily mythologized song Heigh! Johnnie Cowp, are ye wauken yet? (Hey Johnnie Cope, are you awake yet?).

In his popular book The Life of Colonel Gardiner (1747), the nonconformist author Philip Doddridge alleged that when Cope surveyed the forces that Bonnie Prince Charlie had amassed against him, he chose to gain the dubious honour of being the first British general to deliver the news of his own defeat by fleeing the battle and leaving his men without a commander.[1]

However, Cope was later court-martialled and exonerated of such charges:

The Report of the Board's proceedings was published in 1749. Anyone who scrutinizes it closely can only conclude that the Board was correct. What emerges from the pages is not, perhaps, the portrait of a military genius but one of an able, energetic and conscientious officer who weighed his options carefully and who anticipated - with almost obsessive attention to detail - every eventuality except the one which he could not have provided for in any case: that his men would panic and flee.[2]

Cope is said to have made a large amount wagering that his replacement (Lt Gen. Henry Hawley) would be defeated by the clans just as he had been.[3]


  1. ^ Cadell, General Sir Robert (1898), Sir John Cope and the Rebellion of 1745, pp. 2–4 
  2. ^ Martin B. Margulies, History of Scotland magazine
  3. ^ Tomasson & Buist "Battles of the 'Forty Five"

This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainWood, James, ed. (1907). "article name needed". The Nuttall Encyclopædia. London and New York: Frederick Warne. 

External links[edit]

Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
Philip Jennings
Thomas King
Member of Parliament for Queenborough
With: James Littleton 1722–23
Lord Forbes 1723–27
Succeeded by
Sprig Manesty
John Crowley
Preceded by
Thomas Clutterbuck
John Lansdell
Member of Parliament for Liskeard
With: Thomas Clutterbuck
Succeeded by
Richard Eliot
George Dennis
Preceded by
Richard Powys
Lewis Barlow
Member of Parliament for Orford
1738 – 1741
With: Richard Powys
Succeeded by
Lord Glenorchy
Henry Bilson-Legge
Military offices
Preceded by
George Wade
Commander-in-Chief, Scotland
Succeeded by
Roger Handasyd