On the 19 August 1745, Prince Charles Edward Stuart raised his Standard at Glenfinnan in the north-west of Scotland. He proclaimed that he had come out of his exile in Rome to recover the throne of his ancestors - the ancient Royal House of Stewart/Stuart - and he called on the people to rally to his cause. Encouraged by the numbers that attended him, Charles Edward and his fledgling army marched out to gather more men and arms.
Attempting to stop the Jacobites, as supporters of the exiled Stuart kings were known, was the experienced military officer Lt-General Sir John Cope. He marched north with his red-coated forces to defend the claims of the Hanoverian dynasty led by King George II. Although the two armies nearly met in mountain passes of the Highlanders, the redcoats missed their chance to nip the rising in the bud and found themselves marching north towards Inverness as the Jacobites turned south towards the Lowlands.
General Cope hurried his men across to Aberdeen, where they boarded ship and sailed along the east coast in the hope of reaching Edinburgh before the Jacobites could threaten it.
The Prince's army meanwhile, still mainly composed of Highlanders collected along the line of march, successfully captured Perth and bypassed Stirling to secure the road to the capital. The Jacobites arrived before the gates of Edinburgh just as the masts of Cope's ships came into view from the city's mighty castle. But the wind was against the redcoats and they were forced to disembark at Dunbar, whilst the Jacobites secured Edinburgh and the Prince occupied the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
General Cope, embarassed that the capital of Scotland should fall without a shot in its defence, marched his army out of Dunbar on 19th September. He stopped overnight at Haddington before continuing west. The Jacobite Prince heard he was coming and assembled his army at Duddingston. The Highlanders left the capital behind them and eastwards towards Dunbar. The two armies were on a collision course, both eager for battle.
Re-enactors in 2018 hold their councils of war, discussing the strategic options available to the two commanders in the days before the battle.